Doodle Hex (DS) review
"Rarely are the nuances of a game so succulently wrapped up in a game’s very title; Doodle Hex is all about slinging spells, curses and arcane incarnations through sketching runes on the touch screen in a frenzied attempt to out-wizard emo rock fairies, millennia-old, pre-teen Norse goddess, Valley-girl witches and flaming djinns hailing from Brooklyn."
The DS. Home of mini-game overkill, stylus-prodding and archetypical review intros that talk about how games released on the platform hinge or shy away from such features. Now watch as my archetypical review intro is different because, thanks to this header, I'm being post-ironic. Damn, I'm awesome.
Doodle Hex makes good use of the DS's touch screen gimmick. And I smell Pulitzer.
Rarely are the nuances of a game so succulently wrapped up in a game’s very title; Doodle Hex is all about slinging spells, curses and arcane incarnations through sketching runes on the touch screen in a frenzied attempt to out-wizard emo rock fairies, millennia-old, pre-teen Norse goddess, Valley-girl witches and flaming djinns hailing from Brooklyn.
The characters range from the subtle to the surreal, but they all share a brave and striking art direction that gets special kudos, helping set either person apart from the next all the more. They're unique, and, as such, come with unique stats and spells ranging from covering your touch screen in curses, turning you into a familiar or throwing your own spells right back at you. It means that when you select your character out of the twelve possible candidates (with a further four unlockable), it's not just a cosmetic choice.
The characters are separated by more than a spooky back-plot and a stand-out look: their personal statistics heavily effect the way you play. Some casters can throw out super-powerful runes, but the speed they travel at is sluggish at best, giving their opposition ample time to prepare. Others are the opposite: they can throw spells out at a hellish rate, flooding the screen with attacks, curses and buffs, but have a dismal defence. They’re all prone to collect unique spell books, too; some will have an arsenal of offensive spells that will seep through or irradiate opponents shields, others have stacks of buffs that might speed up casting or curses that fill the screen with cash-money of voodoo figurines.
It’s all very worthwhile in a cutesy macabre fashion, but the real joy behind Doodle Hex is a sense of complexity most players will probably fail to invest enough time in to truly explore. While there is a story revolving around a magical school that may as well have a big sign outside with Hogwarts crudely scratched off on, the hordes of ghosts, vampires and insane wizened, er, wizards simply provide a fitting backdrop to what can either be a cunning and unique slice of strategic spell slinging, it can be about throwing down a line of runes, timed to perfection and smacking your enemy with devastating combos all while tracing a defensive dance to evade counterattacks. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice to make the best use of your runes, so you’ll probably not bother for a while. You can get through the first few stages of the game’s story just by using constant lines of aggressive spells, but the tactic won’t get you far. You’ll have to embrace what the game’s all about if you want to prevail.
To do this, you need to strike a perfect balance between attack and defence. You can cast any spell by drawing it on the rune dial (the more exact you replicate the rune, the more powerful it is) which then rotates around the dial towards your opponent who is situated at the top of the touch screen. Your runes move clockwise at differing speed depending on the spell, while, on the other side, your foe's incarnations do likewise, snaking their way towards you. To defend against such attacks, you need to quit drawing for a while and press your stylus down on your character, activating a shield that will either block of weaken most runes; which is where combos come in. Using the right timing, you can send out a rune which will eat into a shield’s power followed by a curse to hinder, or an attack to strike. There are markers on the dial that give you some idea when to string such attacks together, leaving you to either memorise the few combos presented to you each time you win a new rune or experiment and build your own combinations of pesky anti-blocks, buff-downs or mana strikes.
These combinations are endless, the more complex they are the harder you’ll find them to weave as you dart between offence and defence, even with the help of your familiar who will store perfect runes up for you or temporally upgrade your shield into impenetrable. Each character contains numerous unique combos, different ways to hurt or frustrate, be it against the AI opposition or against another player over WiFi.
It’s a engrossingly simple procedure at first, but one with a underlying lair of complexity. Doodle Hex is never going to be a game for everyone because it’s a title you’ll only get as much out of it as you put in.
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