Gaming, at it’s core, is about fun.It’s something that should seem like a basic truth, but it is often overshadowed by a gaming audience that is more concerned with an interesting narrative or high quality visuals. Neither of these things are bad, mind you, it’s just a far cry from what gamers expected when trying to win the right to enter their initials for the high score in arcade cabinets back in the 70s and 80s. Those games were meant to be stimulating, simple, and fun. While most of them were repetitive affairs, they still managed to bring people back with the prospect of steady improvement as they honed their reflexes and memorized patterns. Dot Arcade, a Nintendo eShop title created by James Montagna and Andrew Lim, manages to capture a bit of that old arcade magic by distilling the concept of a video game into an extremely simple premise: an 8×8 grid of lights.
Dot Arcade is actually a collection of three fairly basic but very engaging games. All three games can be pick up and played immediately, as the overall concepts are very intuitive and the controls minimal.These games are all played on the aforementioned 8×8 grid, with the player taking command of a dot (or series) of dots and moving them within the confines of the grid by using the Wii U’s left analogue stick or d-pad. There are no button pushes, and very limited sound effects… and that’s not a bad thing. Dot Arcade designed to be very basic in order for players to focus more on “fun.” It’s interesting to actually look at it as an experiment in minimalist game design. That’s not to say the games themselves aren’t fun to play. Dodge Club, Rally Driver, and Mr. Snake are all fun games, and the prospect of beating your previous high score will keep dedicated gamers coming back for more.
Out of the three games included in Dot Arcade, Rally Driver is the one that I kept going back to, as it was easy enough to challenge my previous high score while still providing a challenge. Mr. Snake, a variation of the “Snake” style game popularized by Nokia phones (but actually originating in the 1970s), was also a lot of fun, but the nature of the game (having an ever extending body size while dodging incoming hazards) made it feel like I had “maxed” out my high score rather quickly. Dodge Club never really grabbed me, as it was a bit too basic, but others whom I have spoken to have proclaimed it their favorite of the three, so your mileage may vary.
While the games themselves are plain, the actual presentation is very slick. Each game is set inside a retro-arcade panel. The artwork on these panels add a lot of character to a game that is otherwise represented by a series of blinking lights. Each game in the collection actually has two cabinet designs to choose from, one that is more “retro” themed and one that is considered “modern.” The modern are the default, and are in my opinion, overall better. It is a very nice option to have, though. The game’s soundtrack is fun but repetitive, and sound effects are relegated to simple “beeps” and “boops,” in order to match the game’s aesthetic.
While I liked my time with Dot Arcade, it may not be what everyone is looking for. The simplistic nature of the games make them best for quick gaming sessions, and I often thought during my time with them that it might be better suited for a handheld such as the 3DS. There is also very little to do in the game besides trying to beat your previous high score. While I am not generally a proponent of achievement systems in games, having some sort of bonus objectives may have made it so that the game had a stronger sense of purpose. That may have gone against the mission statement of the game, however. Gamers looking for a more in depth gaming experience might want to look elsewhere. Despite these rather minor faults, Dot Arcade is a very good game that I would recommend to anyone looking for a very enjoyable gaming experience free of all the heavy trappings of modern gaming.