Released: May 8, 2018
Anyone out there happen to be fans of Arkanoid and Arkanoid-type games? You know, the ones where you have a paddle and have to clear away blocks without the ball going past you. It's a classic formula and one that's gotten a makeover and creative twist with Doughlings: Arcade. But, I hear you asking: "What in the world is a doughling?" Well, imagine your Pillsbury dough slices gained sentience and weird, over-the-top powers. That's essentially what the Doughlings are, the creatures that make up this creative puzzle game from the developers at indie studio Hero Concept. Hero Concept was founded back in 2017, making them a newcomer to the scene. As the reviews and ported platforms will indicate to you though, Doughlings is doing well, and it isn't your typical Arkanoid game. In fact, it even has a story! And that's where we open up on as soon as you boot up the game.
The Doughlings live in their own unique dimension, where they observe other cultures and imitate them. They're a pretty happy bunch and peaceful too, but this all changes when a destructive meteor crashes onto their world. The meteor leaks out a sort of poison gas, which frenzies the Doughlings before turning them into stone. During all of the chaos and strife, an intelligent Doughling named Doctor Morpheus concocts a cure for his people and stores it inside a little metal ball. It's around this time that the crazed Doughlings start attacking him, requiring him to go on a journey across his world to save them all one by one. It all sounds like a plot out of an adventure game, rather than an Arkanoid-inspired puzzle game, but that's just one of the many things that makes Doughlings: Arcade a delight to chew into.
Gameplay starts off like your typical Arkanoid, with you having to bounce the ball back and forth in order to hit the crazed Doughlings that populate the top of the screen. They're color-coded, going from a low to high scale of blue --> green --> yellow --> and red. The higher on this scale they are, the more hits they'll take to turn back to normal. While you should cure as many as possible, the real goal of each level is to acquire the necessary amount of stars placed between some of the Doughlings. Acquiring these nets you a certain amount of upgrade potions, which you can use to upgrade Morpheus and his various forms as you proceed. These upgrades and your special abilities are where the tricks to the game hide. Every time you cure a Doughling, they'll drop a point for you to pick up, lighting the side of the stage a little bit. When all of the lights have activated, you can use your special abilities, which have a whole range of functions (like turning an entire set of Doughling colors down a level). Along with trying to get the stars, you'll be trying to nail the mutation upgrades. Acquiring these mutates Morpheus' DNA, changing him into one of six unique forms with their own properties and abilities.
The forms, and Morpheus himself, all look super great. There are even some cheeky references to Marvel superheroes like Spider-Man, Hulk, and the Thing, as well as a reference to Robocop. For each level, you're given two lives to work with and can find more placed throughout the stages. Let the ball fly past you, you lose a life. Game overs are generous in this game since it's played on a level-to-level basis, with each level running around 3-4 minutes in length, depending. As soon as a level begins, a countdown starts building at the top of the screen. Each time it fills up by one, a new row of Doughlings push down from the screen by one row, making things a little tighter and forcing you to use faster reflexes. Once all of the countdowns have finished and there are no more rows left to bring, you'll have only a moment to do what you can before the level ends. For all the above reasons, gameplay in Doughlings: Arcade flies by at a relatively fast pace; you can knock out a dozen or so levels in no time flat. Sometimes there will be mandatory hard-difficulty levels, alongside optional secret ones. You progress through the levels on a point-to-point world map stretching across the Doughlings little dimension.
Part of Doughling's charm is its cartoonish art style and sound design, both of which are impressive quality for an indie studio. Some might be fooled into thinking a bigger company made the game, as that's how solid the art style looks at a glance. The music is, like the story, serviceable and gets the job done, but it won't leave you humming the tune for hours after you quit or anything like that. The sound effects and related audio are a little more memorable, with the Doughlings all making goofy noises from time to time. Be prepared to spend a lot of time staring at the art and listening to the music if you aim for topping the leaderboards, which Doughlings: Arcade features in full. Each level has its own leaderboard and top rankings, so if you're one for a challenge, this gives the game some additional replayability. Not counting secret levels, there are 75 levels in total across the game, with 270 stars to collect. The aforementioned stars number between 3-5 per level, sometimes higher, and remain the key for improving your skills at the game.
One of the most impressive things about Doughlings: Arcade, however, and the thing that surprised me the most was the addition of a fully-fledged Level Editor. In this mode, you can either create your own levels, play others' levels, or both. The level editor is very extensive, letting you customize to your heart's content. It gives you a full-sized playing board to place your Doughling obstacles, and you can edit the level background and music as well. Finding levels is a cinch, and you can organize them by top rankings or most recent. Once again, commendable for an indie studio, and certainly not something you see in your average puzzle game. The addition of this mode adds an enormous amount of replay value to the game, even once you've beaten all the levels in the story mode. If you ever have a hankering for some Arkanoid, Doughlings: Arcade will always be there to have your back.
Overall, Doughlings: Arcade is a solid puzzle game that takes the foundations of Arkanoid gameplay and builds upon it with its own unique style and flair. It's not the most memorable experience, but being a puzzle game, it doesn't need to be! The important thing with puzzle games of these types is: Are they fun? Does the gameplay work as it should? Are there any annoyances? And to answer all three of those questions for Doughlings: Yes, yes, and no (depending on what you consider an annoyance). On the technical side of things, I only experienced one bug where the game force crashed after exiting a level. Out of my many play sessions, this only happened one time, so it's not a huge issue and the game worked completely fine after I rebooted it. Everything else appears to be in working order, and Doughlings: Arcade is the kind of game you can get lost in pretty easily. With the inclusion of an in-depth level editor and fun powerup mechanics, it's something people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy at any time. As far as platforms go, you can play Doughlings: Arcade on PC (via Steam), Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch! Its releases on the latter two were rather recent, coming out earlier this month and providing potential buyers an on-the-go option with the Switch port. Good news is that the developers are also building a version for PlayStation 4, which is set to come out "soon", but it hasn't been said how soon. If you're interested in buying the game, it's only $4.99, so it won't break the bank too badly. Get those reflexes ready!