Draconus is a 1988 release on the Atari 800 by British developer Zeppelin Games. It is a platform game with more than a hint of Metroidvania about it.
Draconus has a number of good things going for it.
Firstly: the 8-bit pixel graphics are excellent – a good example of how simplicity and the Atari‘s extended colour palette gave it an edge in the 1980s.
Secondly, the main character is beautifully animated and feels good to control. He jumps, claws, ducks, and spits fire convincingly and has an endearing amphibian quality to him. He also gets to turn into a different type of form (a ‘Draconewt’) when he enters water too (after collecting the Mystical Morph Helix). As a character, Draconus has a few interesting tricks up his proverbial sleeve.
Thirdly, Draconus is a heck of a challenge, without being too unfair. Yes, you can lose all your lives quickly if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, but the idea is to carefully make your way through the levels, not run through them quickly.
The key to survival in Draconus is in mastering the use of ‘claw punch’ and fire-breathing. The fire breath is limited, so you have to be careful with it, but the clawing hand move is infinite, so you can use it as much as you like without fear of it not working. Just stand out of reach of some enemy or other and… bam! Claw them.
You also have to learn to exit a screen, then re-enter it, to give yourself enough time to deal with certain enemies – otherwise they’ll home in on you and kill you, giving you no chance of escape. Again: you have to be careful. If you go steaming in, you won’t get far. Watch this video for a demonstration of what to do.
Draconus was published by Zeppelin Games, under the Cognito label, and was also released on the C64 and ZX Spectrum. It’s a game I have a lot of time for.
More: Draconus on Wikipedia