While the concept of a dragon teaching how to care for our environment sounds cute, the game seems to be in need of some cleanup of its own first.
Developer: Titan Deep Space Company
Publisher: Titan Deep Space Company
Release date: 18 December, 2020
As a professional educator in the scientific study of the natural world, Elva the Eco Dragon seemed like a game with high potential to dovetail nicely with my day job. Unfortunately, what seemed to be a cute and engaging 3D action-adventure on the surface fails to go deeper in terms of gameplay experience or learning.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Gameplay occurs in a third-person view directing Elva (a cute blue dragon) in tasks such as collecting trash, recycling, and compost as well as planting trees. At the time of this review, there are seven missions available and unlocked, with an eighth mission ‘Debris in orbit’ announced as coming soon. There are Steam Boards where players can compete against each other for collecting high scores. Players can also challenge themselves to beat their own Best Records. However, I found the mission objectives to sometimes be unclear, and in terms of beating your best times, the random spawning of collectibles seems to make that level of strategizing impossible.
There are special skills called ecopowers that Elva unlocks throughout the campaign, but it isn’t always clear what these powers are supposed to do or how to activate them. For example, the game kept saying I had Super Forest, but even when I appeared to have enough eco energy nothing would happen when I would try to use the power. The Super Cleaner Ecopower doesn’t even have a key listed in the instructions section, so I can’t say 100% for sure that one is mapped.
I tested playing the game with both controller and mouse and keyboard. While the mouse and keyboard controlled movements seemed frenetic, I felt like that method provided more player control and worked more effectively than the controller. However, I was using a Steam Link controller, and the game configuration does specify PS4 and Xbox controllers.
Art Style and Graphics
The art style is cute, brightly colored, and reminiscent of similar games (à la Spyro) in terms of color palette and character design. Unfortunately, the artistic charms are hindered and swiftly overpowered by the cluttered user interface. For example, there is a compass-style bar at the top of the screen and a circle map in the lower right that are supposed to help guide the player in finding items, but the spawn rate causes them to quickly become overcrowded and overwhelming.
Elva herself is the only character of note, but the only information that is really given about her is that she wants to save the world. There are human characters that seem to be Elva’s guides or partners (one of them appears in the lower left of the screen in each level), but as far as I can tell, there’s no in-campaign development of who these characters are or of any story that connects the various levels and collecting tasks together in a narrative way.
Considering the basic mechanics of the game revolve around recycling and other environmentally friendly and sustainable actions, there are some details that do not make sense. For example, recycling plastics is a questionable strategy for handling the issue of plastic waste. Even more bizarre, however, is that sometimes the items that are tagged as radioactive or toxic waste are still expected to be recycled or composted, which would realistically be dangerous and a highly problematic way to dispose of biohazard materials. Elva also cleans up viruses, but it’s unclear what the virus actually is and how it connects to the other aspects of the game.
Elva the Eco Dragon is marketed as an educational game, but as an professional educator in my day job, I wanted to really unpack that label. While the game has a good message about recycling and sustainability, it seems to be mostly a collecting game rather than creating opportunities for iterative critical thinking, problem-solving, and deeper learning experiences.
The music and sound effects, while frequently easy listening, often don’t feel as though they were created with this game in mind, instead seeming more like something where the developers searched for royalty-free music of the kind that is used in commercials and YouTube channels. Some of the sound effects seem extremely out of place, like the random cat meowing that happens from time to time.
As of the time of review, there are five possible achievements. According to a developer discussion thread, these achievements are related to how many ecopoints, recycling, and trash the player has collected. I’m not sure if there’s a way for players to track their progress towards these achievements since the goals of each particular achievement don’t seem to be noted anywhere and some of the numbers being tracked for those goals don’t sound like what is noted on the Steam Boards.
The first time I installed the game I encountered a couple of repeat bugs each time I tried to play. The first bug would occur when attempting to launch the game. It would say there was a missing executable, and I would have to reboot my computer to successfully start the game. The second bug, however, was more serious in terms of affecting gameplay experience. Progress (e.g. unlocked areas) was supposed to be saved automatically, but every time I exited the game and then went back later, progress would be completely reset to the tutorial. After communicating with the developers to confirm that wasn’t supposed to be happening, I uninstalled and reinstalled the game, and that seems to have fixed both of those issues. However, according to Steam, none of the time that I played the game before the reinstall seems to have been recorded in my activity.
If you are a fan of collecting games and challenging yourself to beat your own best records or compete against other players’ records, you may enjoy this game ($12.99 at the time of review). However, it doesn’t provide the expected educational gameplay experience given its marketing, and some of the technical issues I’ve encountered make me reluctant to recommend it to other gamers or educators.