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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Dwarfs!? (PC)

Dwarfs!? is an utterly charming, but utterly frustrating little game. It’s an indie release well worth the $10 asking price on Steam, but be aware that, just like the Lemmings that these Dwarves draw inspiration from, the little idiots make for some very painful moments.

At the end of longer games, the game is massive in size - this was the final moments of a 30 minute game

To start with, Dwarves!? is a top-down action game where the goal is to dig tunnels. There are two types of peons to control – there’s the miners, that do most of the digging, and the warriors, that do most of the fighting. You’ll have direct control over both, and direct them around by placing arrows on the ground and drawing paths for them to follow. Those paths cost money, but by collecting rare materials and treasure it’s relatively easy to keep the cash flow in the positive (at least, on the low difficulty levels).

Dotted throughout the rocky home of the dwarves is series of caverns – initially hidden under cloaks of darkness. By directing a miner to the cavern you can unearth a range of ‘interesting’ alternatives. Sometimes it’s a treasure vault. Less pleasant are the resovoirs of water and lava. These kill the poor sap that discovered them, then start to flow towards the home base in the middle of the map. They reach that, it’s game over. You’ll need to build walls and create holes for the liquid to flow into to stop this problem.

Hacking away at the goblins

Then there’s the caverns that are filled with goblins and other uglies. This is where the warriors come in. The more they fight, the more levels they get and the better they are at fighting. It’s not a strategy game or RPG though, so this part of the game is very half-baked, and frankly unnecessary. It’s easy enough just to leave the warriors alone and they’ll get the job done.

You’ll be too busy focusing on the miners, anyway, because they’re dumb little brutes. Without constant nudging, they’re likely to do something catastrophic like break down a dam you’d just built to hold flood water in. The game gives you a warning when something like that is about to happen, but if you’re busy looking after a different area of the map at the time, it’s not long enough.

I love the tower defence mini game

See, while Dwarfs!? starts easily enough – directing one miner and one warrior around is a snap, more miners are constantly spawned, and it doesn’t take long to have a herd of 20 or more of the buggers. As they spread out to the far reaches of the map, the ant-like tunnels become a chaotic mess, especially on the higher difficulty levels.

Thankfully though, the game controls well, and it is easy to send miners around the map. So with some practice, the frustrating elements are mitigated somewhat. It’ll still be a bit much like busywork at times, but for the most part, the game is genuinely entertaining.

Finding treasure rooms brings a mixture of joy and relief (that it's not a flooded cave)

There’s a lot of love that has gone into the game, too. The visuals are bright and colourful, and for $10 you’re getting a mass of gameplay. In addition to a standard arcade mode (where you need to try and survive for 5, 15, 30 or 60 minutes across four difficulty levels), there’s also some alternative ‘bonus’ play modes and, most importantly, a tower defence game. That in itself is worth the price of admission. In addition to standard tower defence gameplay (and with eight different towers, there’s no skimping on quality there), the game has the amusing twist that you’ll build the mazes yourself. It’s a cute twist to a quality interpretation of the genre – and that’s just a bonus mode.

It’s not the perfect game, but Dwarfs!? deserves a fair go. Fans of Lemmings will indeed get a lot out of this, but really anyone who enjoys simple arcade action games, and don’t mind a bit of busywork will get a lot out of this game.

Review: Dwarfs!? (PC)
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