Let me begin with a quick disclaimer, I am not a huge fan of Breakout style games that have you bouncing a ball back and forth against coloured blocks over and over again. I know, I know, I’m a monster for dissing an arcade classic and I should be hung, drawn and quartered for it, but it is important for me to get that off of my chest. In saying that, I will admit to occasionally whipping out my phone in a waiting room and giving a game like Breakout a whirl as I wait. Doughlings: Arcade, developed by Hero Concept, attempts to combine this classic gameplay style with a dash of modern concepts.
Don’t just throw the ball, BE the ball
What exactly is a Doughling? Well I’m glad you’ve asked. Doughlings are a race of floating, squishy, ball-shaped creatures with a face and arms that live in a different dimension that love nothing more than to imitate characters from our pop culture. These little dudes live a peaceful existence until a meteor crashes into their world that emanates an energy that changes their attitudes, making them angry and mean. The player, a Doughling scientist, has formulated a cure that must be distributed in the fastest and most efficient way possible, by putting it in an orb and chucking it at infected Doughlings faces. Now the plot isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, but it’s not trying to be – besides it gives the gameplay some purpose and is light-hearted and charming, just like the Doughlings themselves.
Gameplay consists of launching the cure orb at a group of constantly encroaching, infected Doughlings in order to cure them and wipe them from the screen, earning points in the process. Infected Doughlings come in three different colours, each requiring a certain number of hits before being cured – Blue requires 1 hit, green requires 2 and red requires 3. Failure comes when the ball falls past the player and disappears off screen three times. Having the Doughlings animated gives the usually lifeless, coloured blocks of similar games a bit of character, but it doesn’t come without a price. At the beginning of almost every level when I was initially launching the orb, the game’s frame rate would drop significantly, a pretty large issue in a game that requires timing and accuracy. Numerous times this drop in frames resulted in a very quick loss of my first life as I was unable to locate the ball amongst the stuttering.
I was convinced I was getting top 3 for that performance
Once a Doughling is cured and cleared from the screen they drop a thumbs up icon that falls down towards the player. If a certain amount of these thumbs are collected the player is able to use the Show Off ability that lasts for a few seconds. In the early stages of the game, the Show Off ability comes in the form of Colour Ball. While active, Colour Ball allows the player to clear groups of the same colour Doughlings simply by hitting one of them. As you progress through the levels, DNA strands begin to appear within the stack. These DNA strands are power-ups that, once knocked down and collected, transform the player into one of a few different pop culture-related characters that grant a variety of abilities. These off-brand caricatures range from The Hulk to Neo from The Matrix and possess unique special moves that can be effective in their own way, but none are genuinely as helpful as the standard Colour Ball, which begs the question of whether it’s worth gunning for the power-ups at all.
Even with the power-ups changing gameplay, each level feels almost identical to the last. The placement of the Doughlings changes each time, but this isn’t enough to spice up the experience a great deal. There are 75 main levels with a number of hidden levels throughout, and getting through them all without fatigue setting in would be a real effort. This isn’t to say that there isn’t any fun to be had at all, but this game is one that should be played sparingly if you wish to play it more than once.
Leaderboards are present for every level for those who enjoy chasing seemingly impossible scores for bragging rights (the best that I could manage was 44th on one particular level, which I was quite proud of in fairness). Also available is a level creator which I am convinced is only there to facilitate community made, phallic levels. In the hands of someone more creative (and mature) than myself, I can see that the level creator could be fairly entertaining.
Overall, Doughlings provides an experience that is best described as a time-killer—a game that doesn’t require too much thought and fills in a half hour between activities or responsibilities. I did have moments of fun with it, and it does have a good amount of charm, but with some technical issues mixed with a general lack of variety between the levels, I find it hard to picture myself coming back to Doughlings on a regular basis.
Reviewed PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher