Dot Dash: episode 1

I’ve been stoked to play Dot Dash: episode 1 since last month when it was previewed in the return edition of Indies in Due Time.  Unfortunately, sometimes I psych myself up a little too hard before a game.  I was convinced that I would adore Dot Dash, as long as it got the controls right.  Despite somewhat succeeding there, I really am hard pressed to give Dot Dash a recommendation.  This is a tough one for me, because I really did have fun, but this game has more problems than an algebra text-book.

The idea is you’re a little wheel-thingie that has to avoid blocks that come at you from all sides.  In Marathon mode, if you touch a colored orb, you gain the temporary ability to absorb blocks of that color, for points.  Your goal is to score as many points as you can.  This is the only color-matching mode, but it’s also probably the most fun.   Time Extension is the second mode.  Grabbing colored orbs is replaced with avoiding the blocks altogether and looking for orbs that extend the time you have remaining.  Finally, there is Zone mode.  Here, a scoring zone randomly teleports around the play field and  you have to stay inside of it to rack up points.

All three modes are fun enough, but my desire to keep playing them was dulled once the problems with the game became more clear.  Fairness is the chief complaint I have.  Blocks and orbs spawn randomly, sometimes creating no-win situations and making Dot Dash require a little too much luck to truly be a game of skill.  During my best rounds of Marathon, I would get into a wonderful groove and show escape skills that would make Houdini proud.  Then the game would throw out a dick move by having blocks come at me from all sides with no space to escape.  This happens way too much, and it owes to the random nature of the blocks.  Dot Dash has to have a random algorithm.  I mean, it would suck if it didn’t have one.  But it has to be random in a smart way, and this is where the developers failed.  There’s no fail-safe that prevents inescapable situations.  At first, it was just annoying.  When I was closing in on a two million point game, only to be surrounded by blocks with the only gaps being smaller than my wheel, I let out what could only be described as a primal scream.  It was so loud that my parents assumed I was becoming a werewolf and shot at me with a silver bullet, but missed and hit my friend instead.  Thankfully she was a werewolf, because the silver bullet did kill her.  Huh, Hortense was a werewolf.  Who knew?

A totally different, but hugely annoying problem was highlighted in Time Extension and Zones, and funny enough, it’s something that’s meant to help.  It’s the speed-up orb.  In theory, it gives you the speed necessary to outrun the blocks.  In reality, it destroys the accuracy of the controls and makes you extremely more likely to run into a block.  In Zone, it’s worse because it makes lining up in the zone overly difficult, especially the smaller ones.   I played Dot Dash for over an hour and at no point was the speed-up ever useful.  Not even once.  And the game gets a little too generous with spitting them out.  Any game where you try to avoid getting power-ups like they’re the plague has serious problems.

As the blocks zoom by faster, you don’t always have a way of avoiding them.  It also doesn’t help that they’re not distinctive enough from the time extender orbs.   Let’s say you’re poisoned and you have five seconds to choose an antidote.  You’re given five options and told that the white ones will kill you faster, while the white one with the black stripe will save your life.  Choosing the correct one probably isn’t as easy as you think it sounds, especially when you’re under pressure and can only focus on so many separate things at once.  Chances are you’re going to be as dead as the dodo, just like I would be.

The pictures are a little misleading, because at times the entire screen seems to be filled with blocks. I did sometimes question the legitimacy of the game’s randomness. In Marathon mode, I swear most of the time the game would put only one color orb out, then throw at you nothing but blocks of the other three colors. This happened almost every time.

There’s a few minor annoyances.  The background is colorful, but it can get in the way.  I almost wish it had been shades of gray.  The blocks are colorful enough that it would be a neat visual contrast.  There’s also no online leaderboards, which is the type of thing that can make or break any score-based arcade game.  Ultimately, the biggest problem is the game just doesn’t play fair.  I don’t mean to sound like a crybaby, but when I die in a game, I want it to be because I fucked up, not because the game throws something at you that is impossible to avoid.  I have no problem with luck factoring into a game, but I would rather such situations only be to your benefit.  Bad luck in games is only good for making me want to play something else.

I still do very meekly recommend Dot Dash: episode 1 because it is genuinely fun.  But it has the potential to be so much better.  With the right adjustments, it could be something special.  As it stands, you might enjoy it, but it might give you as much trouble as my parents are having trying to fit Hortense into the crawl space.

Dot Dash: episode 1 was developed by Drop Dead Interactive

80 Microsoft Points said this shit happens every full moon and we’re running out of  space in the crawl space in the making of this review.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

8 Responses to Dot Dash: episode 1

  1. I too, liked Dot Dash (though I’m curious as to what the numbered episodes mean), and I only ran into those insurmountable block waves a few times, so I suppose I’m lucky for that. It’s a highlight in a slower week for XBLIGs. Needs leaderboards. Also, you’re doing a valuable service for your community, keeping the werewolf population in check. Didn’t know it had gotten that bad out west…

  2. GaTechGrad says:

    I tried the demo, and I liked the basic premise of this game. Only marathon mode seemed to be available in the demo. My biggest problem with the game was that there was very little warning when you are about to lose your color “power” from the orb. There is no visual warning, but I learned that there is a faint beep before your lose your power, which can blend into the background music if you aren’t specifically listening for it. This often gave me little time to back off of the block that I was pursuing before I lost the power. This basically made me have to anticipate when the power was about to end, which I think is poor game design. This reminded me of Pac-Man in the 80’s. When your power pellet power was about to expire, the ghosts blinked from blue to white for a good 5 seconds (on the lower levels at least) before you lost your power. That way, it gives the player an indication of when the power is about to wear off. Another example is the starman power in Super Mario Bros, where Mario flashes quickly when he is invincible, but a few seconds before the power expires, Mario flashes slowly and the music changes back to normal. The rest of the game seemed fine, but is the big square level the only level design? I would have liked to see some walls or mazes added in lieu of the increased block speed for higher levels.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      I played with the music muted (which is typically what I do with all games if that’s an option) and I didn’t think that the default music might drown out the warning noise. I admit, the warning is small, but I did get used to it and it didn’t bother me as much once I got the timing of it down. That’s why I didn’t bring it up.

  3. Jay says:

    There is a music and sound effects control so you can turn the music down, in the patch that is currently in review there is now 3 beeps and a visual countdown, plus online leader boards, tuning of speed when you get the white power up, plus other minor adjustments.

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