Dots is a charmingly presented puzzle game. Like many puzzle games, the board is a square of objects that you want to make disappear; in this game, the objects are colored dots, and you make them disappear either by connecting same-colored dots via paths or by making a square of same-colored dots. In the former case, the game plays a series of tones as you make larger and larger chains, and then the dots in the chain disappear; in the latter case, it vibrates excessively and all dots of the given color disappear.

The main mode asks you to make as many dots to disappear in a minute; there’s also a mode that asks you to make as many dots disappear as you can in 30 moves. And there’s an infinite mode, and a multiplayer mode; also there are special moves you can purchase, either for real money or through currency earned through the normal course of the game.

Like I said, the presentation is charming: the colors, the sounds. The gameplay itself, however, is fine but not wonderful: making squares turns out to be the key, both because it removes the most dots at once and, because for the next move, there will be one fewer color on the board, making it easier to make squares a second time. And if you succeed a second time, then one color will be completely gone and one color will be almost gone, so the chance of making yet another square increases. So the result is that, even though the aesthetics are about wanting to make longer chains, the gameplay turns out to be about finding a way to make a first square and then hoping it cascades, and I didn’t find that particularly satisfying.


With Two Dots, the developers recognized this: the sequel took the same game mechanic, but focused you much more directly on learning how to make squares. They built the game out of levels, instead of reusing a single playing field; each level asks you to destroy specified numbers of dots of specified types within a specified move limit, which focuses you on learning how to play as efficiently as possible; and the different levels have different shapes and numbers of colors, grouped into worlds that typically add a special types of dots with unusual characteristics.

In other words, they found the best aspect of the gameplay of the original game and expanded on it; they also continued to focus on the aesthetics of the game, adding some rather lovely artwork. But they also made another change: they added an energy mechanic (five lives, each taking 20 minutes to refill) while increasing the pressure for you to spend money on consumables.

I’ve never actually played Candy Crush, but this matches the descriptions I’ve heard of that game. You can make lots of progress without paying a cent, but if you do that, you’ll periodically hit levels that take days to make it past. (At least assuming that you’re dipping into the game instead of returning to it every 20 minutes.)

There is actually a positive aspect of the energy mechanic: it focuses your learning. You’ll only have five chances at a given level before running out of energy, assuming you don’t successfully complete the level; this, combined with the lack of time pressure for individual moves, encourages you to think about your moves instead of just charging ahead. So I actually end up thinking and learning more than I would have without the energy pressure: if the energy pressure hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t bother me if I had to take twenty tries at a level, I’d just keep on clicking instead of thinking about ways to make it so I only had to take ten tries instead of twenty tries.

And I did happily play the game for a week or two, and I got more out of Two Dots than I did out of Dots. But, ultimately: I’m at the mercy of the game’s designers as to how difficult any given level is going to be, and I don’t particularly have faith that they make those choices for my enjoyment instead of in an attempt to maximize their revenue. I would be entirely happy to pay money for the game, or to unlock levels, or what have you, but paying unpredictable amounts of money at unpredictable times isn’t my thing. (And the game’s badgering me to connect to Facebook didn’t help, either.) And, as I said when discussing Dots, the mechanics aren’t the best; I liked what they did with those mechanics, enough to make it through a hundred levels, but I didn’t feel like I was learning any more by the time I stopped playing.


Interesting experience, though. And it is charmingly put together.

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