Review: DotMan (DSiWare)

Not quite on point

Welcome to DotMan, the game of driving in circles. And that's it, basically. There's also a small amount of strategy, along with boredom and frustration, but we'll deal with those shortly.

DotMan has its roots in classic games like Dodge 'Em and Pac-Man, but that's a bit like saying Twilight has its roots in Bram Stoker's Dracula: it's a thematic comparison only, and says nothing about the quality of either product.

You control a little red car, and your goal is to drive around collecting coins. When you collect all of the coins, you move on to the next level and do it again. But the game isn't as simple as it sounds – through each level you are pursued by a police car, and you must keep track of its placement, speeding up, slowing down and u-turning to avoid it. Get caught three times in a level and your game ends. Later in the game you'll be pursued by more than one police car. This makes the game end more quickly, and if the admittedly basic gameplay is becoming as dull, it'll prove your favourite feature in DotMan.

One very odd thing about this game is its name. The driver of the car is a short-shorted young woman, and if you're stopped by a police officer you see that she's a woman, too. With no other characters in the game, we have no idea who the "man" is meant to refer to. Additionally, you collect coins, not dots. This game could just as well have been called BananaSquid, as bananas and squids feature exactly as much as dots and men.

Later stages add power-ups to the mix, but these are explained neither by the game nor the manual, and their icons often look similar enough to each other that we had no idea what we were collecting. As far as we can tell, their effects range from speeding you up to slowing you down to dropping an obstacle behind you, Mario Kart style. Apart from the obstacle, though, none of them are particularly useful, and the police cars recover much too quickly for even that to do you much good. However, making sure you don't grab a speed boost when closely following the cop car makes for a small amount of strategy.

The turning is responsive and handles just fine, and is where the strategy of avoiding the cop car most comes into play. You can use the D-pad to switch lanes where there is no median, or L and R to make a U-turn.

However, DotMan gets extremely dull very quickly, and no complications are added later on to resurrect your interest. There might be another police car or a new layout for the roads, but none of that changes the way the game is played.

The screens you see when the game starts or when you're caught by a police officer are well-drawn and attractive, but the rest of the game is an unappealing mess of muted colors and poor design. For a game with only two or three moving things on the screen at once it's appallingly easy to lose track of your car, thanks to too many things looking alike. That's pretty unfortunate for such a simple game.

Aurally the game is even worse. There's a short song that loops endlessly, but it's not a bad one. What is bad is the fact that the police car switches its siren on at one point in each level and it doesn't stop until you lose or collect all the coins... at which point it starts up again. It's a constant swell of irritation and it doesn't stop. How such an egregious example of auditory torture made it through play testing we'll never know, and it's certainly not recommended that you play DotMan while wearing headphones.

The game does save your five highest scores, but it doesn't so much as ask for your initials, so good luck remembering who scored what. It's nice for a 200 Point title to have a leaderboard at all, but it won't make much of a difference in the end.

Conclusion

The simplistic DotMan definitely isn't for everyone, and the repetitive gameplay and confusing, ineffective power-ups as well as the ugly visuals and audio don't help. However, there's a subtle element of strategy there, and those who discover it will at least have some fun with this budget title.