By Guy Rainey / March 30th, 2015
|Developer||Andrew Lim / James Montagna|
|Release Date||March 26, 2015|
Dot Arcade represents something incredible in modern game design. In an era in which millions are poured into producing the most realistic graphics imaginable, there’s a legitimate question waiting to be asked: can you make a compelling experience without modern graphics, or even any graphics at all? The developer of Dot Arcade thinks you can, so let’s see if he’s managed to do it.
Dot Arcade is a collection of three games designed around an 8 x 8 LED light grid. In fact, these are ports of games developed on an actual prototype light grid, manufactured by the developer. But, instead of being just the light grid, on either side of the screen, there’s some nice cabinet artwork. There are three games in this package: Mr. Snake, Dodge Club and Rally Driver.
Mr. Snake is the easiest to describe: it’s Snake with some tweaks. The rules of Snake are simple: your job is to go after the green light placed randomly on the grid. As you collect green lights, your tail will grow. If you touch your tail, it will be game over. That said, Mr. Snake has some interesting changes to the formula. For one thing, you can now wrap around the edges of the screen instead of hitting a wall. That gives you a lot more flexibility in approach. But with that flexibility comes some limitations: there are blue lights (water, maybe?) that move down the screen. If you hit them from any direction, you’ll get a Game Over. Now, these lights are predictable, as it’s simply a sequence that repeats itself, but it can still be just a little frustrating. That said, I probably played this one the most of all of them.
Dodge Club is probably the hardest to talk about, since I’m still not 100% sure how scoring works. Here’s what I do know: you are the solid yellow square. Your job is to avoid both the red/yellow blinking square and the green bar that orbits the outside of the grid. As you stay away from both, your score will go up. Not sure what makes the score counter tick, whether it’s a time thing or a number of moves kind of thing, but, either way, it doesn’t matter. That said, I can see why the green bar was added, and it was brilliant design decision. Without it, it would simply be too easy to avoid your opponent, as you could pretty much just stay in one corner to survive, but with, say, a solid string around the outside, it would be too hard since your options for movement would be limited. By having the bar circle around the outside, hiding in a corner is still an option, but you will be forced to move eventually. So, while I think this is the weakest game in the package, I respect the design, and it’s certainly worth playing. It’s just not one you’ll be coming back to again and again.
Rally Driver is probably the one that most resembles games you’ve played. At the same time, it’s the one I’m impressed the most by. The game is simple: you are the car represented by yellow bar. Your job is to pass as many blue cars as possible. So, yeah, it’s a straight port of the arcade rally racing formula, but what I’m so impressed by is how, with a just a few lights flashing, I can actually see it as a racing game. I can actually feel the speed increase. It’s amazing just how immersive such a simple experience is. This is the easiest game to rack up a high score on, but it’s amazing how easy it is to feel like you’re driving a car.
As for the presentation, what you see is what you get. There’s no music, and all sound is done with very simple tones. Of course, the graphics are perfect for what they are trying to be. They’re representations of LED lights. The illusion is so well done, that I have to remind myself that these aren’t LED lights I’m looking at. For what it’s trying to be, I’d say it’s perfect. Besides it’s not about the presentation, it about the design.
So in the end, Dot Arcade is a really compelling package. I would say that anyone currently in game design or wanting to go into game design should, without a doubt, play this game. Not that good graphics aren’t nice, but I think that it’s just as important to see that good design trumps graphics every time. For other Wii U owners, I’d say that, for $5, you’ll get a really interesting package. So, yeah, I fully recommend it to anyone with a Wii U. And, if this developer finds a way to bring a physical version, I’d buy it.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Dot ArcadeJAMES MONTAGNAReviewWii U