Kalypso seem to have a thing about publishing almost great games. Alongside Enigma Software’s solid but ultimately flawed Alien Spidy comes Candygun Games’, Dollar Dash, a game even closer to greatness, but one ultimately let down by a few poor design choices that combine to derail what could have been a genuinely brilliant multiplayer game.
Now, don’t get me wrong, like Alien Spidy before it, Dollar Dash isn’t a bad game, it’s just a vaguely disappointing one; the kind of game that looks so easy to fix, so easy to push towards greatness but, thanks to said design choices, will most likely itself stuck in the gaming purgatory of XBLA also rans.
Playing as one of four robbers, Dollar Dash is built upon the simple premise of collecting as much money as you can and getting it back to your designated point on the map. First thief to get $5000 in the virtual bank wins the round. Easy. Well, it would be if it weren’t for all those snowballs, oil slicks and missiles flying about the place. Playing your need to get ‘dem monies against your want to empty your opponents’ pockets is a simple but effective premise, and one that, with a little more care, could, and really should have delivered some entertaining multiplayer mayhem.
The visual style, while slightly bland, is perfectly befitting of the gameplay, the top down viewpoint provides the freedom of movement and immediacy that a game of this ilk requires, while the addition of weaponry and gadgets makes perfect sense, keeping the gameplay fresh and immediate. Problem is, there’s far too much going on. Above all else, Dollar Dash needed to be balanced and simplistic, and while the core controls are basic enough, there are far too many pick-ups and skills to keep track off with many proving strangely obtuse. With three different types of skill (offense, defence and power-up), each of which are mapped to a different button, it’s amazing just how easy it is to forget what weapon is what and which button powers which action. It may seem ridiculous, but I found myself looking at the control pad….looking at the freakin’ control pad – 25 years of gaming, and suddenly I’m playing like my mum. Crazy.
It doesn’t help that you can’t pick up a new skill until the previous one has been used, and not knowing which pick-up relates to which skill leads to a lot of pointless frustration as you fail to pick up the items that you want – something doubly annoying in a game as frantic and fast-paced as this one. It really is the obscurity of the weapons and their effects that kill this game though. Yes, you’ll get it all eventually, but like Bomberman (the game it is so clearly aping), Dollar Dash lives and dies by its immediacy and capacity for pick-up-and-play gameplay, something largely lost due to the oddly ambiguous pick-ups. Sure, snowballs and rockets are fine, but honestly, for the most part, I had no idea what that bloody gloop was doing, and as for the cacti, well, that was nothing short of a mystery for the first few hours.
It’s all just a little unrefined. There’s skill involved, and when it all comes together, Dollar Dash can be a great deal of fun; it’s just a shame that so much of my time was spent thinking about what pick-up I had rather than what I should have been doing with it.
Still, if you can look past the few strange design choices that mar the overall experience, there is still quite a lot to like here and, if nothing else, plenty of content for those who stick with it. With unlockable hats and facial fuzz aplenty, there is always a carrot dangling to keep you playing (even if the top down view invariably blocks your view of your avatars new threads), new skills allow you to refine your style of gameplay and a varied selection of levels keeps things from becoming overly repetitive.
While the titular, Dollar Dash mode is unquestionably the main event and where most players will spend the vast majority of their time, there are two other game modes available to offer up a change of pace from all that damnable thievery. Hit’N’Run and Save the Safe are both fine in short bursts, but be it the combat oriented Hit’N’Run mode or the more evasive Save the Safe, both have an unpleasant tendency of descending into mindless group attacks with any form of skill or tactical nous lost amidst a haze of snowballs and rockets.
Like any game of this ilk, playing against human opponents is when Dollar Dash is at its best. While the bots serve up a decent enough challenge, Dollar Dash shines brightest when played with a few likeminded gamers of a similar(ish) skill level. Despite its faults and the fact that the additional game modes are mostly pants, the core, Dollar Dash experience can certainly deliver a few hours of amusing multiplayer action for the more forgiving gamers out there. The concept is sound, the base mechanics competent and its audio/visual design simple but charming – sadly, all of these positive aspects make it all the more disappointing when a few poor design choices end up turning a potentially great game into a positively mediocre one. Such a shame.
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