Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dino Run Review

I was aiming to put this up onto Giant Bomb, but apparently it's not worthy enough to get an Article. Not entirely certain why that is, but I guess I'll stick a review of Dino Run here, for future reference.

So, Dino Run is one of the best browser-based games I've played, for several reasons. It's not just because it's addictive, either. A lot of nicely designed elements are squeezed into such a little package.

I found that Dino Run was addicting for a very different reason than Civilization or World of Warcraft. Civ's legendary "One More Turn" addictivity stems from the game's management/reward structure. The more you order things around, the more often you get new units to do stuff with - like order them around. Vicious feedback. WoW's engineered to give you just the least amount of reward at just the right time for just barely the most amount of invested time.

Dino Run, on the other hand, is giving you things to react to every couple seconds. Well before you get bored, the race is over, and you see your score go up as well as any awards granted. The game rests firmly in the sweet spot of a Good Story - you know, the "Interesting people dinosaurs doing interesting things in interesting places" thing. Then you get to do it all over again.

Sadly the stages aren't procedurally generated. At least, I don't think they are. With all the different landmarks shuffling around, it's kind of hard to tell. Especially when they change with the difficulty. Which only adds to the replayability - the levels are familiar, yet they're always different. Though what you've learned from previous levels can still be applied to the future ones, since the major landmarks are recycled. For instance, the long flat riverbed that has a large herd of Triceratops is featured in several different stages.

This leads me into the difficulty curve. It's spot on. Especially when you're able to control your dino's increase in stats. Wall of Doom catching up with you? Increase your speed. Having trouble climbing hills? Increase your jump. Hard Levels still too difficult? Drop it back down to Medium and gain some more DNA for your stats.

One of the really cool things about Dino Run's difficulty is that the game tends to generate a steady stream of emergent situations. For instance, I was running along rather merrily when I fell into the second hole of a dual-pit. Jumping to get out, I was snatched up by a blazingly fast pterodactyl, who just happened to be at the right place at the right time (or at least, appeared to me to be, which matters more). This was pretty awesome, as the Doom Wall was fast approaching, and that act probably allowed me to beat the level. On the other hand, the game can harm you this way as well - like blasting a fire boulder down the egg-filled tunnel you were about to hop into, destroying them all and making you work to escape.

The game's frosting would probably be the multiplayer races, which also allow you to customize your runner's coloring a fair amount. If you rock the main game, you can unlock a few crowns and helmets to wear during the race. If you donate to Pixeljam, they'll give you even more hats to show off (including demon horns and an Aliens head).

EDIT! I forgot to include one of my favorite parts about the Immersion experience. The graphics at a glance are very retro, but at the speed you end up going it's actually a boon to only have to process shapes and colors. Besides, your brain ends up extrapolating a ton of detail anyway when you fly past a Stegosaurus, so it's not really a big deal. On top of that, when the Doom Wall gets close, the contrast is ramped up to black silhouettes against a red background. The effect does a great job of accenting the immediate danger you're in.

There's just so many really neat things to this game. I hope it picks up more attention.

Then again, I may just be totally full of it. Who knows.

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