Dot Runner: Complete Edition
3DS Download | INTENSE | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | $4.99
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14th August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
If you ever wanted a glimpse into how action-focused dungeon crawling will be carried out in the future, you can find such insights right here. A little over one thousand years from now, dungeons referred to as Skillets house secrets in the way of collectable dots. Guarding these are a series of enemies known as the Yakkini-kus, and in the process of moving the game's storyline along, you'll learn all about the battles being waged between them and an underground resistance; a movement that you yourself lead. To put to rest any worry about aquatic life forms having taken over, only advanced robotic drones are found here, as per ordinary futuristic themes. Providing a back story on how all this came about is a secondary mode (Year 986) which chronicles the then-ongoing developments with a third-person narrative. Looking at the dialogue that's spewed out before and at the end of each level across both modes, the story is rather laughable to be perfectly honest. I can only hope this isn't a foreshadowing of things to come. Not that I'll live to see it, of course.
Getting me to second guess my stance on this future not being a positive advancement for mankind is the allure of the world itself. 3D is used really well in this game to make spaces pop considerably with the added help of shiny surface reflections, dynamic corridors, as well as glossy character models seen both within and outside gameplay. The music isn't as pleasing, painting the picture of a grumpy robot about to terrorize a group of unsuspecting city dwellers. Added to that, there are some minor framerate drops to observe when engaging in fights with a full party of characters. But I have to give the game props; there are definitely some praiseworthy qualities to the game's presentation, and its strong visuals really do a good job of making the overall themes more believable.
Back to the actual gameplay, though, players systematically make their way to a number of different worlds -- all designed in a different way -- by completing four standard missions as well as a speed test challenge. In every mission, the general premise remains the same: pass through orange-coloured portals in a specified direction to make dots appear for you to collect. Successfully gathering them all will award you with a Gold Medal, but as you can also go one step further and aim for a faster time, there is some average groundwork for replay value later down the road. The Touch Screen shows the layout of the entire level that you're in while the 3D Screen's dimensional scope is limited to what's in front of you, as per a linear, first-person perspective.
Because of the tight split-second turns and the speed required to collect the dots before they fade away completely, there's an uncertainty that players will have to face with increasing urgency on how they'd like to choose to go about making their rounds. Navigation of the isometric space is done through presses of the +Control Pad, with the L and R Buttons allowing you to quickly swerve around corners without a loss in speed. There's definitely a big learning curve when it comes to the timing of things -- knowing when to drift and remembering to change which button your finger is on as you do so -- and it's not something that ever goes away. Not helping is the fact that the Circle Pad, a mechanism that what would have offered greater fluidity, is not an available control option. And I strongly feel that this oversight does more harm for both the player and the game in the long run.
You won't have to deal with them right off the bat, but as I said before, Dot Runner does like to throw in a fair share of enemies to interfere with strategy and speed. For now, I'd like to point out that in another odd move, the environments, as they are displayed on the 3D Screen, never have any characters in sight. As if to suggest a dilapidated space, the fact that there are threats present makes for a misguided sense of security, one that you can only really penetrate by concentrating on the Touch Screen map. But this has some consequences that I'll also get into shortly. At any rate, as this isn't meant to be an RPG-focused system, the battle sequences aren't at all active and require no input from the player. Your character can't actually attack on his own. He must instead rely on support characters firmly situated in set locations or pick up power-ups that behave like Pac-Man's Power Pellets. Once a character has joined your party on a temporary basis, it is then that you can get by enemies blocking your path. If your numbers are evenly matched, you'll lose an ally in the aftermath, but if they outweigh in your favor, then you can maintain your team's numbers. On an engagement level, because the system is so minimal in involvement, I found myself wanting more from this element. The direction feels more sensible as you visit later stages, but in some cases it still feels like more could have been done with it.
On the related matter of progression, the further you get into it the more you'll observe stages leaning towards a focus on strategic planning. This will include situations where you have six or more allies who can join your team but a size restriction instantly destroys any additional characters you try to bring on. Then, too, there are instances where you have to face away from portals so as not to trigger dots that will result in a premature ending. This is necessary in missions where you have a secondary goal that must first be accomplished, like trapping enemies within a room or journeying to specified markers o the map. The game starts off on a challenging foot up front because of the learning curve brought on by the control scheme itself, and it's not something that starts up all over again once you get the hang of it. In fact, it would be much more accurate to say that there's a continual struggle throughout the entire experience. With this greater emphasis on planning movements strategically comes a crippling of whatever pace you were already having trouble getting a good handle on, and suffice to say the existing frustration surrounding the comprehension of this system is only amplified by these leadings.
I've already expressed my disagreement with the team's not committing to a smoother control scheme, but just to firmly encapsulate this point: The controls in their current state aren't always up to the task for any real consistency. The response time is there, but using the +Control Pad as your method of control doesn't lend itself to a reliable immediacy, something that is asked of you more and more as you progress. As a result, players will semi-frequently find themselves crashing into walls instead of turning, which of course results in you coming up short with timing windows. The fact that the controls aren't the most accessible is one thing, but your coming to a halt so regularly along with just the need to be cautious in your approach dulls the pace considerably. This thus prevents any pull factor from being drawn out by the presentation of the game space and its speed, and as additional elements liked spiked walls and fast-moving enemies come into the picture, the level of tensity is more geared towards the amplification of frustration and costly mistakes rather than minimizing slight failures in the interest of satisfactory outcomes.
Upon further inspection, there are added flaws surrounding the core systems that more often than not prove rather meddlesome. One of these I've actually touched on already -- the contrasting portrayals of the game space. With the pace already suffering for its unreliability as brought on by the control scheme and the integrated elements, the whole division of focuses presents an added negation in the continued push for speed. The constant need to concentrate on the Touch Screen map to get the full scope of your surroundings subverts your ability to navigate around the game space in an effective manner. What it ultimately does in principle is force you to have what amounts to tunnel vision and clouded thinking. It's not enough that the game feels like such a pain to play. The manner in which the game averts any process done in the interest of grounding oneself can be seen as a method to force players to come to terms with circumstances that cannot be improved.
Under such circumstances, Dot Runner: Complete Edition, as an experience, is dominated by frustrating gameplay demands that the core systems just aren't cut out for half the time. It's quite disorienting, not because of the pace, but because of the clunky manner in which this has all emerged. I'm willing to allow for the fact that others may be more patient than I was, but in all honesty, there are elements to the core system that you can't get around as they are inherently beyond their reach. Thus, the flaws not only serve to undermine the pacing and chosen methods of progression, but they, in their need for revision, cast doubt over the game's capability of achieving a discernible strength from a mechanical standpoint. Granted, this isn't a situation where the mechanics put up such a needless fight that you're forced into submission, but it is one that is marked with enough flaws materializing in the game's systems that you're better off sparing yourself the hassle.
Dot Runner: Complete Edition sure is nice to look at; I'd go so far as to say its presentation is a redeeming quality. But I'm afraid this isn't enough to push this game into the territory of being worth the risk. It's such a shame that its gameplay is less than desirable, but what's worse is that the progression takes the form of a steep incline with ample bumps in the road to throw you off balance. Its absent inclination towards lining players up with a comfortable plane they can move with naturally doesn't make the game outright bad; just flawed to an off-putting degree. Even with a dedication to see it through regardless, there is still an inherent lack of satisfying gameplay delivery. And to the effect of its environment attempting to convey those feelings on a holistic level, there are too many hitches along the way that prevent this from coming out to the level that it should. An honest disappointment over what feelings cannot be shaken, the level of upset surrounding these systems prove to be valid reasons for not indulging in this flawed affair.
17/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 4/10 - Core systems have inherent flaws, divided focus works against the attempted harnessing of a fast pace, controls aren't great
Presentation 8/10 - Great use of 3D as an aesthetic enhancement, impressive character models and environment layouts, music isn't as pleasing
Enjoyment 2/5 - More planning required as you progress, frustrations to be had with game space navigation, certain elements don't help the situation
Extra Content 3/5 - Multiple worlds and challenges to clear, some missions introduce secondary objectives, records and medals offer replay value
Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System