In the past year or so, I’ve gained a lot of respect for mobile games from a design perspective. The Dots games have especially stood out. For me, and I’m sure many others, mobile games play a very specific role. If I’m on public transit, waiting for a meeting to start, or just wanting some wind-down time at the end of the day, mobile games are quick and engaging forms of entertainment and mental stimulation. If they’re done well, that is. And what makes or breaks a mobile game? One word: mechanics. That’s where Dots & Co. stands out, along with its predecessors.
When I download a mobile game, I expect to hit a sense of flow within 30 seconds to a minute. Many games fail at this. Not Dots & Co. Mechanically, the game is a simple iteration off of the games that were developed before it (Dots and Two Dots). However, the NYC developers succeeded with this installment because they did game dev right. They iterated on previously successful mechanics.
The basic mechanic for Dots & Co. is beautifully simple. You connect similarly colored dots to each other to destroy them. That’s it. And humans (not just gamers) love that kind of thing! We know “connect the dots” from everyday speech, and in a way, this game is as easy to understand as that expression. I can’t stress enough how important it is to nail down an engaging mechanic and then develop your game off of that, especially for indie or mobile projects. It’s good for the game’s development process, and it’s good for the consumers. Like its sister games, Dots & Co. features different and more exciting ways to destroy dots in the play space. Players can form squares, which destroys all dots of that color on the board. Players can form large squares surrounding a different-colored dot, which also leads to additional destruction of dots. Basically, it’s a lot of dot elimination. And it feels so good. Simplicity + flow state for the gamer = successful game design.
Obviously you can’t just rinse and repeat and get away with it forever. And Dots Inc. clearly acknowledged that with this game, as well as Two Dots. When you develop a game based off of something else, one should always ask the question: “How is this different?” Dots & Co. succeeds in this department. The “new” in this game is the “co.” part of the title. As part of the level progression, players gain special companions which have special abilities. An interesting facet of this gameplay element is that the companions will passively use their abilities. The catch here is that the player has to destroy certain dots that will power up their companions. This restriction balances the gameplay, allowing the player to do most of the work, and pleasantly surprises them when their companion executing their ability.
What could be improved-
The strongest criticism I have with this game is a small one, especially taking into consideration the fact that it’s a mobile game. I don’t really care about my companions. As I’m playing, I see extra dots being detonated (or otherwise disposed of), and I don’t think much of it, other than “I’m getting closer to clearing the level.” Perhaps this is what the game designers intended. But for me, the companions don’t mean much. In a way, they are just an extension of the abilities already given to the player (that can be refreshed through microtransactions). That being said, I haven’t played through 100 levels like my wife (a true addict of all Dots games). I realize the companions play a bigger role as the levels get more complicated. But early impressions are everything in mobile games, and that issue with the companions was one of my first thoughts.
It’s common for me to download a mobile game, play it for 30 seconds, and uninstall it. This game is designed in such a way that it prevents me from doing that. The immediate engagement that comes through the simple mechanics is astounding, and is a textbook example of how mobile games should be designed. Dots & Co. is entertaining and addicting. It’s also excellent at allowing the player to teach themselves additional features as they go along. I applaud Dots Inc. on this project, and look forward to seeing more from them in the near future!