Two Dots – Gameplay Review and Conspiracy Theories

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Two Dots is a game that promises to take you on an adventure. Throughout your journey, you’ll travel from the depths of the sea, through fields of ice to a snow-topped volcano and the flaming forest underneath it, past a dry, dry desert and into… Space? Then through a microscopic world and… into one of magic and moving sets of stairs, ending in a cave…

I really recommend it. 5/5. You can find it on Google Play for Android and the App Store on iPhones. Thanks for the read!

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Silliness aside, Two Dots is a game that caught my attention from the second I set eyes upon it. Like, literally, it’s a really good-looking game. Obviously, the folks at Playdots, Inc. meant to make a visually appealing game. Its graphics are both elegant and, along with the game’s soundtrack and sound effects, filled with personality. If I were to judge the game based on these things alone, it would be an instant must-play. Not something to write home about but definitely something to check out at least once. Alas, that’s not what I’m here to do! I’m here to delve into how the game actually plays, y’know, the important stuff!

So, first things, first: How does the game actually play? Two Dots is a tile-based puzzler similar to Bejeweled or Candy Crush. Except rather than switching tiles to do away with lines of three or more similar tiles, Two Dots tasks you with connecting 2 or more similarly coloured dots to make them disappear in order to complete several kinds of objectives. These objectives range from dealing with a certain amount of a certain colour of dot, to creating a path for an anchor tile to drop to the bottom of the grid, or breaking ice away from a portion of the level’s grid by deleting three dots in that portion of the grid.

At first glance these objectives seem pretty vanilla, but coupled with unique mechanics involving the shapes you create when connecting tiles and smart, varied level design, Two Dots becomes an intelligent puzzler indeed. It’s refreshing to experience such a variety of choices in a tile-based puzzler when too often, the game’s mechanics are too simplistic to make you feel like you’re in control. Two Dots really feels like a puzzle game rather than a game of observation and chance. Unfortunately though, that’s still what it is. And personally, I think it’s a shame that the developers of Two Dots made it this way.

There are times when I find myself struggling to beat a level, using every trick I know to reach for the level’s objectives more efficiently, but never quite reaching far enough. Then on my next attempt, things flow as smoothly as warm butter and I barely have to use my brain. Moments like these don’t exactly frustrate me but they do break the illusion that Two Dots is a game won mainly by my intellect.

To be fair, this genre of games may be the hardest to balance well, right up there with competitive RPGs and other complex multiplayer games, simply because some of its elements are expected to feel random (ie. new tiles introduced to the level grid). But there’s more hope for a game like Two Dots with its unique puzzle-strategy elements. Once a game has made the leap from a simple game of switch-tiles-to-connect-three to one of more varied abilities and levels, it doesn’t have much farther to go to giving players the control required to beat the game consistently once they’ve mastered its mechanics.

For example, one challenge I often come across in the game is how disorganized the bottom of my grid becomes unless I’m given the chance to clear up the rogue dots that accumulate down there. If the game expected me to slowly chip away at it all, I wouldn’t be complaining. But by placing a cap on how many turns you can make in each level, the game expects players to be weary of this from the start of each game, before things get out of control. But sometimes, carefulness is not enough and one is left with a grid so disorganized that they have no choice but to give up.

Now, there are ways to overcome a highly disorganized grid. You could skim dots off the top, hoping that a square of similar colours spawn, or you could force the game to shuffle the grid into the somewhat more organized state by intentionally making it so that there are no possible moves available to you. But these methods are both unreliable and turn-consuming, more like last-ditch efforts than actual strategies.

I can think of one way to aleviate this issue: Why not give players the ability to reshuffle the board for a price? For the low, low price of a handful turns, the game might become a lot more playable. That fixes how impossible the game can become, but what about how easy it can be once you’re on a roll?

Once a few early squares have been secured, it’s sometimes too easy to snowball through the rest of the level. That’s because, when you clear a square of one colour, no dots of that colour spawn in at the top of the grid to replace them. So in levels where only a handful of colours are in play, it’s quite easy to end up with another square just waiting for you.

The solution I propose for this problem is even simpler than that of the previous problem: Just spawn all the colours in play without excluding the one you just cleared off the grid. That way, although you may be granted a few squares with the dots leftover from the first square’s effect, it won’t be easy to keep finding squares for more than a few turns. It’ll be a small boost but not a game-breaking one. And if you get lucky at the start of a level, the game will still play like a puzzle rather than a point-and-click storybook.

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Two Dots is not a bad game by any means. It’s a refreshing, strategy-oriented take on the genre and it has its moments, just not consistently. I have no qualms playing this game every once in a while when I’m in the mood for the intellectual challenge that it brings, although I’m under no illusion that it’s always up to me whether or not I’ll win. It takes a mixture of luck and skill to win a level of Two Dots but I’m fine with that because I’ve yet to find another game like it.

But I’ve got to wonder if the developers over at Playdots, Inc. really meant it to be a game of skill, with luck taking the back seat. What has me wondering is the way the in-app purchases work in this game. You get five lives, refilling on a timer of 20 minutes, and you lose a life whenever you fail a level. I liked the game enough to want to buy infinite lives for it, rather than having to wait. But I soon found out that there’s no way to get infinite lives in this game. It seems the only thing you can buy are more turns or other bonuses at the end of a failed level: not a second chance but extensions for your attempts.

I don’t believe in paying to make a game easier. Paying instead of waiting or paying for added content, that I understand. Game devs need to eat. But when the option we’re given isn’t to pay for more to play but rather to pay for a better chance at winning… It then doesn’t seem like the devs trust the game to sell itself based on how fun it is. Rather, the devs then have reason to amplify the illusion of player-control while actually withholding it.

That, coupled with the game’s wait-to-play structure, makes me suspicious that Two Dots’ developers may just be aiming to make Two Dots a habit for some, then profiting from people impulsive enough to want to pay to win. I don’t mean to say that that’s what they’re thinking, just that they seem to have the incentive to play that way.

Anyway, that’s all I got. If you made it all the way down here, thank you. Feel free to discuss my idiocy and/or conspiracy theories with me down below in the comments.

Here’s an actual review of the game, in case you wanted to know what my cryptic babbling was meant to describe: http://arcadesushi.com/two-dots-review-ios/

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PS. I guess this turned out to be more of a rant than an actual review, even though I tried to be a little more professional here than I have in other articles. What? You couldn’t tell I was trying? Aw… I still have a long way to go. But hey, it actually took some discipline to sit down and pound this out for all to see. I should be proud of myself! Thanks again if you made it this far. I’ll make another attempt at a Professional Video Game Review™ tomorrow or so. Maybe I should play a game I don’t have much of an opinion on, to keep myself from talking too much. Ah, but then I wouldn’t have anything to say. Gee, this professional-ish writing business sure is tough. Thanks again if you got this far.

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