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Domino Man (Arcade) artwork

Domino Man (Arcade) review


"The heck with Jumpman fighting Donkey Kong for a woman--I'll take Domino Man's balding, emotional protagonist fighting society for his art. All the poor guy wants to do is build up domino chains in a city block, a golf course, and a construction zone, but the people and animals around keep knocking down his work. A frumpy washerwoman, a drunk on a golf cart, various construction workers--and time itself, in the form of a clock that walks, err, clockwise around the screen--conspire to keep..."



The heck with Jumpman fighting Donkey Kong for a woman--I'll take Domino Man's balding, emotional protagonist fighting society for his art. All the poor guy wants to do is build up domino chains in a city block, a golf course, and a construction zone, but the people and animals around keep knocking down his work. A frumpy washerwoman, a drunk on a golf cart, various construction workers--and time itself, in the form of a clock that walks, err, clockwise around the screen--conspire to keep him from completing his nice, long domino chain. All with an electronic "Maple Leaf Rag" in the background and a "roses are red" poem when the game ends.

It's a lot of chaotic fun even when enemies appear from off-screen in the worst possible place to tip over your chain. The rules are simple: if your leftmost domino gets knocked over (the clock takes a minute to get there,) or the buzzing bee touches you, your guy sits down and cries, and you lose a life. If you cover all the dots on the screen with dominoes, you win the level. All you have to do is walk on the dots, though sometimes you'll want to use the swat button to pick up a domino and stop a chain reaction early. Enemies get more unpredictable, from the propeller-hatted pushcart vendor who simple walks across, to the gopher who runs back and forth or golfer who moves randomly, to the construction workers spinning as they carry ladders or drive jackhammers. These can be pushed off-screen or to somewhere irrelevant or even swatted to freeze them temporarily.

Yet it's the bully who steals the show. He's twice your size and pounds down the center with gonging noises, karate-chopping as he goes, and whether you swat him with a domino (your only defense) to reveal boxers under his heart t-shirt. That way, he blocks enemies, and maybe you can win before he hits any dominoes. Or he can be pushed out of the way early. Either way, after three levels, there's a skit where you further abuse him.

Then, once you think you're good, you can gamble. At level's end you can knock down dominoes for a small bonus or wait and increase the multiplier. Dying resets the bonus, and if the current level's leftmost domino is knocked over, your little guy runs across the levels he's completed with a panicked look as the dominoes tumble. Not many early games have this sort of gambling, and losing several minutes' work hurts more than just losing a life, but winning eight levels in a row nets five extra lives with one swat. Once you've mastered the easier scenes, sacrificing a life to solve the construction area can keep play going until dumb luck gets you.

And it will happen, as though only five enemies show at once, they reappear more quickly. Eventually one will touch that left domino, or they'll attack everywhere at once. There are also some collision bugs where you can't move, or an enemy gets stuck on a domino square or tangled with another. Too often you'll pick up a domino instead of swatting, or vice versa. Or enemies will lump together--the game's collision detection stinks sometimes, and you can even wind up carrying the enemy you wanted to brush aside. It can be tough to tell if an enemy will clip a domino or not at times as well. However, by level twelve, you'll have seen all the cut-scenes with the bully and can probably get the best poem, so only high-score junkies can really complain.

The rest of us will find Domino Man as an entrancingly surreal fight between a misunderstood outcast and amusing people who belong in the scenes more than he does. Levels have no simple solutions, the pace is frantic, gambles pay off, and mistakes and bad luck are undoable. Even after a bad game, there's a chance you'll get a poem you hadn't seen before, and overall the light-hearted absurdism makes up for the maddening bits.

Rating: 8/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (October 20, 2010)

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