For a debut title, the love which the Hero Concept team threw into their previous game – the brick-breaking Doughlings: Arcade – was hugely apparent. In fact, coming up to a year after it was first released on Xbox One, it is still in and amongst the few titles worthy of being ‘pinned’ for easy access, if only so you can settle down and blast out a level every now and then. Now though it’s time for Hero Concept to pay tribute to yet another classic genre, and Doughlings: Invasion looks to build on the success of that which has gone before it to run down a Space Invaders route. But does it bring a fun gaming experience to players of all ages like it promises?
Well, no, not really. And it really pains me to say that.
Doughlings: Invasion once more puts us into the shoes – or it would do if he had feet – of Dr. Morpheus, as he arms himself once more to defend his land from an evil alien force. With the simple narrative picking up from where the last game left off, and then completely forgetting itself until you’ve helped Morpheus blast his way through 5 levels and 50 stages, this isn’t a game you’ll want to be playing if you are in search of depth and lore. But hey, if you want some good old Space Invaders style gameplay, and are happy to sit down for a few hours to get it, Invasion just about does the job. But don’t expect it to last any longer than that.
Your task as Morpheus revolves entirely around clearing out 50 stages of alien invaders as quickly, and as safely, as you can. This is done by moving left and right along the bottom of the screen, firing a single shot up into the air and hoping that you connect with the ever decreasing waves ahead. So far, so Space Invaders.
With a variety of coloured foes in front of you, getting rid of them is a relatively straightforward process. Things start off with a swathe of blue guys to remove, and each of these takes one shot to be downed. As you would expect, the further you progress, the more shots each alien will take, with red, yellow and green enemies needing a few blasts from your proton pistol in order to turn them blue and then to be utterly destroyed. Each of these foes will fire out a single shot when they feel like it, and so dodging and shooting really does become the name of the game. Further enemies drop into action in latter stages, with orange guys firing out on a diagonal, grey ones plummeting to the ground at speed, and more still splitting into two, dropping out some tasty laser action, or coming equipped with shields. For the most part, all you really need to worry about is hitting what is above you, but a bit of tactical play needs to come to the fore, as you pick off those closest to taking down Morpheus wherever possible.
For each alien you remove, a thumbs up ‘like’ descends down the screen, tempting you to pick it up. Doing so, and then collecting 10 of them, will see a special ‘Show-Off’ move actioned, with Morpheus’ Colour-Gun linking together many enemies at once to ensure quick removal. But also occasionally dropping down the screen are DNA strands, and it is these which let Morpheus ‘morph’ into other personas, furthering the strategic nature of the game. These include Gunslinger who can fire diagonally, the rapid firing Armor, laser-toting Zap, and the all-conquering Destroyer. Each of these guys come with their own Show-Off too, and so picking up DNA strands and timing the collection of those all-important thumbs ups is an essential part of the gameplay, particularly as the time limits on using each new guy are very much on the short side.
It isn’t just about clearing out the screen of invaders though and occasionally you’ll find a Queen attempting to slip past the masses at the top of the screen. There are three of these in each stage, and nailing each one rewards you once the stage is complete with the opportunity to indulge yourself in some character upgrades. The first 10 waves see this focusing on Morpheus himself and powering-up his Colour-Gun or lengthening the time he can utilise his specials. From there on out, each block of 10 then focus the upgrade efforts on the other personas. These upgrades are certainly needed as you move through the waves, however it’s disappointing that the upgrades are hugely simple, with little decision making involved in switching them on. Basically, if you can afford one of the five available, you take the opportunity. If you can’t, you grind some more.
From rather simple beginnings which are a breeze to work though, Doughlings: Invasion does ramp up in difficulty at times, and even though you begin with a number of lives intact, and can free other Doughlings to increase your life expectancy, there will be times when you are left frustrated. The main source of issue comes in the way the levels and stages are laid out, with you left to try and battle through 10 stages, plus a boss stage without succumbing to the invading aliens. This can get pretty lengthy, and while much of the draw with Doughlings: Arcade was the fact you could just pick up and play it for five minutes, hammering out a stage whenever you could, with Invasion that is certainly not the case. Instead you’ll be left to set aside a decent amount of time in order to try and unlock further stages, hoping that death and failure doesn’t arrive. If it does, you’re back to the start of that set of 10 waves to try the whole damn thing again.
Even though this does give the opportunity to start grinding towards the achievements that are in place, you’ll quite possibly need at least one playthrough of the stages to see how everything works – and to see how the bosses attack – before giving it a second shot further down the line. And that’s not what I really want from a game like Doughlings.
Throw in the fact that the hit mechanics are occasionally off, with you getting whacked by an alien shot when you thought you were safe, and it certainly becomes a case of unfair death pickups and a bit of a grind being par for the course with Doughlings: Invasion.
This gets even more apparent when you consider the three different stages of difficulty that are available. Once you have met the requirements of the ‘normal’ difficulty, there really is little rhyme or reason to bother yourself with attempting the ‘hard’ and ‘insane’ options. Of course, these again help towards the achievements that run along the lines of ‘morphing 500 times’ and the like, but other than for collecting some Xbox One Gamerscore and seeing your name up in lights on the global leaderboards, I see no real reason to put yourself through even more of this Invasion.
Even though the wonderful art style used, the super wormy soundtrack included and the 15 unique enemies and five personas you can play with are all positives, the overall gameplay issues that Doughlings: Invasion includes really do even things out to leave a game that struggles to hold a candle to its predecessor.
Yes it’s okay for a couple of hours of game time, but unfortunately this is one Space Invaders wannabe which will ultimately be left forgotten.