Review: Doughlings: Invasion (Switch)

Space Invaders with a twist.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 10/04/2019 19:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Better than replaying the original Space Invaders; interesting new mechanics; colorful visuals and fun music
Poison Mushroom for...
Sluggish gameplay is too true to the original; arcade-inspired progression leads to lots of repetition upon death; enemy layouts don't take advantage of new mechanics enough

Looking far back in history, before even my time on this Earth, there were a number of games that really kick-started this little hobby of ours called gaming. Among them was Space Invaders, the very first shmup. While no one would doubt that legendary title’s significance, you don’t see its direct influence too much anymore as the genre quickly involved into flashier, more action-packed forms compared to the slow simplicity of Space Invaders. But that’s what makes Doughlings: Invasion such an interesting concept: for better or for worse, this is a game that declares its love for Space Invaders for all to hear.

Unlike its classic influence, Doughlings: Invasion has a story, or at least a setup. Doughlings are a species of cute-ish things with big eyes, no legs, and two arms and their home is under attack by aliens, one might dare call them invaders from space. Most of the planet has been rendered helpless by the villains’ initial attack, so it’s up to one brave soul, Dr. Morpheus, to take up arms and defend his home. It’s not exactly a Homeric epic, but it’s more plot than Space Invaders ever gave you.

Considering the inspiration, it should come as little surprise that the aliens attack in waves of various, increasingly stronger units that move back-and-forth across the screen while slowly marching downwards. And, of course, your character Morpheus moves along the bottom while firing upward. Levels also occasionally feature barriers that will block a number of shots before falling apart, but they take damage both from the enemy as well as your character, so you’ll need to be strategic about positioning as you decide whether to keep them there for defense or blast through them in an all-out offense. Like I said, it’s pretty much Space Invaders.

That being said, Doughlings: Invasion does take a few stabs at expanding upon the classic concept. First of all, most enemies are really the same type, with their toughness differentiated by their color. Blue aliens go down in one hit, while a green foe will become blue upon being hit, a red will turn green, and so on. The colors prove more significant thanks to a special weapon charged after collecting 10 “likes,” represented by thumbs-up icons dropped by defeated foes. Once charged up, you can activate the Color Gun, a weapon that will register a hit against all adjacent enemies of the same color as your target. In other words, a large cluster of blue baddies will be instantly defeated, while a group of greens will all become blue, who you can then wipe out with your next shot. This clever twist adds a nice layer of strategic, almost puzzle-like gameplay to many levels. Unfortunately, the usefulness of this ability really is limited by the enemy layout of each level, and many where clearly not designed around the strategic use of this weapon.

Thankfully there are a few other mechanics at play in the form of transformation power-ups that radically (yet briefly) change how Morpheus plays. For example, the first one you get effectively turns the hero into Cyclops from the X-Men, both in powers as well as appearance. With this transformation active, his attack turns into a vertical eye-laser that penetrates every enemy in a column. Or there’s the gunslinger skill which allows him to shoot bullets that ricochet off enemies and other surfaces. These abilities, along with the aforementioned Color Gun, can also be upgraded with a currency earned by special enemies, Queens, that will fly around three times in each stage. Unfortunately, the transformations, as well as the enemies, are all prearranged in each stage, so using each effectively is more a matter of memorization rather than adaptation.

Also, after every 10 stages you are presented with a boss fight, another nice way to differentiate the game from Space Invaders. Each boss presents a unique encounter with their own look and attack patterns. While these boss fights aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, they prove a nice change of pace and the first time you encounter each will prove especially interesting as you learn how they attack and move.

Tragically, for all Doughlings does to stand out compared to its big influence, it suffers from something that makes Space Invaders kind of hard to play nowadays: its speed. Apart from some of the boss fights, the game just feels really slow in just about every way imaginable: the enemies, your projectiles, their projectiles, the general progression of the game. Really the only thing that doesn’t feel too slow is Morpheus, thankfully. The last enemy in each level speeds up considerably, adding a brief hectic moment at the end of each stage, but the vast majority of the game feels like it needs a big boost of adrenaline. Yes, one could argue that this emulates the general pace of Space Invaders, but considering how much the game has done to add onto that formula, it seems strange that the developers would keep the pace.

Furthermore, this pacing problem exacerbates another issue that some gamers might not mind- the difficulty. Like many an old arcade classic, Doughlings is driven by how many lives you have. You start the game with three and then earn more as a reward for freeing the locked up Doughlings mixed among your descending foes. If you lose all your lives, then you’re kicked back to the beginning with nothing to show for your now lost progress. Yes, this is very much in line with the old games that inspired this, but it doesn’t make the repetition of the easy earlier stages any less annoying as you have to slowly work your way back to where you left off, dozens of levels into the game. Were the game faster paced, this would be less of an issue, but every inch of progress is made slowly, and those lessons you learn and skills you acquire really don’t speed up the process of beating those early levels again… and again… and again.

At least you’ll have decently pleasant visuals to look at and music to listen to as you retread that familiar territory. The game’s graphics are simple, cartoony, and efficient. Nothing really stands out as being particularly exceptional, but at least the characters and their animations are actually fairly cute and charming. The sound effects are an appropriate match. As for the music, I actually quite liked it! Once again, nothing really stands out, but it’s generally pleasant as it presents a fun and diverse mix of styles alongside some fun, albeit not really memorable, melodies and hooks. Altogether, the presentation is just generally nice even if it’s not really trying too hard.

I know this might be sacrilege to some, but I’d argue that Space Invaders hasn’t aged all that well and that presents a problem for any developer drawing direct inspiration from it to overcome. Douglings: Invasion definitely makes an effort to address some of these shortcomings through the addition of new mechanics and power-ups, but it fails to improve upon the biggest flaw- the sluggish feel of everything. And then the progression of the game just adds more emphasis to that issue. Perhaps this was entirely the intention of the developers, because the game most certainly feels in keeping with arcade traditions, but that doesn’t make the game more fun for most gamers- old school folks might just love it, though! Regardless of these issues, if I were given the option of playing the original Space Invaders or Doughlings: Invastion, I would absolutely prefer the newer title thanks to those new mechanics and its fun presentation.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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