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DS  header logo

Doodle Hex

For: DS

Spellbinding?

Product: Doodle Hex | Developer: Tragnarion Studios | Publisher: Pinnacle Software | Format: DS | Genre: Fighting, Puzzle | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
Doodle Hex DS, thumbnail 1
Considering the amount of support, or at least effort, the DS gets from western publishers and developers you'd think its success was more comparable to the N-Gage than the PlayStation 2. Because, apparently, western developers only like working on games with fancy 3D graphics, almost the entirety of the format's best games are Japanese in origin.

The French-developed Soul Bubbles was one rare exception to this rule, while this Spanish created offering seems to suggest that our friends on the continent are more willing than the Anglosphere to give the DS the respect its sales demand. Alas, although this is appreciably original in concept, its uniqueness is easier to admire than it is to necessarily enjoy.

Although it's tempting to immediately compare Doodle Hex's setting to Harry Potter, the truth is it could be any magic school for small children. The dress code certainly doesn't seem as strict as Hogwarts, with everyone enjoying what seems to be a perpetual mufti day. The artwork is actually pretty good, even if all the character designs come direct from the big book of video game chichés. The game can't quite manage a gigantically muscled black character with a bazooka, but it does the best it can.

Regardless of who exactly Doodle Hex is copying its characters from, they're all holed up at said supernatural academy and naturally terribly keen to test their witchcraft on each other in the magical equivalent of a playground brawl.

The means of doing so is a wholly original concept where you fire magic runes at an opponent in an attempt to whittle down their health bar to zero and your feeling of achievement to maximum. The top screen is used only to display beat-'em-up style images of the duelling wizards and witches, with all the gameplay taking part on the touchscreen.

In the centre of the display is a circular drawing board on which you scribble the various Tolkien-esque runes that activate your spells, assuming you've currently got enough mana energy to do so. Once cast, a little icon starts moving anti-clockwise around the board, up towards an image of your opponent at the 12 o'clock position. If it hits home the effects of the spell are manifested, whether it's simply inflicting damage or nobbling your opponent's runes, mana stockpile or shield.

You both have a shield you see, which can be activated by pressing your own icon (at the six o'clock position). Naturally a shield only last few a few seconds before needing to recharge and some spells are able to cut through it to a degree, so there's a great need to keep an eye on not only which spells are travelling towards you, but how yours are likely to be received by your opponent.

If this is all sounding a bit abstract and overcomplicated then you're not entirely wrong. It is absolutely abstract – none of the spells exist as anything other than squiggly symbols and if it wasn't for the art on the top screen (which you never look at) you'd quickly forget you were meant to be a wizard or warlock at all. However it's unfair to call it overcomplicated, since the game is very good at slowly introducing the various elements and the difficultly curve in Doodle Hex is appreciably shallow.

There are certainly more complications than have already been alluded to though, starting with combos. These are specific sets of runes that have to be fired off at specific intervals (each rune moves a different speed) and do greater damage or simply take advantage of a proceeding spell's effects (such as knocking out your opponent's shields for a short time). And then on top of that everyone gets a pet which can store spare runes and provide a super shield.

As you progress through Doodle Hex's single-player mode you're constantly rewarded with new spells. There's 200 of them in total and yet you're only allowed to select and use six at a time. The grimoire from which you choose them is very helpful in reminding you what they all do, but it takes a great amount of dedication to become familiar with them all.

And that really is the game's Achilles's Heel. Everything works very well – the touchscreen recognition is faultless – but it's an awful lot of work for little appreciable reward. Playing against the computer is an unfulfilling and repetitive exercise and the chance of ever meeting someone else that's an expert in the game is pretty minuscule.

It feels terrible to criticise a game that goes to such lengths to create an original concept and takes such effort in ensuring it's as well rounded and deep an experience as possible. But the reality is that as challenging and involving as it may be, Doodle Hex doesn't always feel that much fun. That's such a quantifiable statement though that we can still quite happily recommend you try a demo and see if you like it. The game deserves that much at least.
 
Doodle Hex
Reviewer photo
Roger Hargreaves | 21 July 2008
Hardcore Harry Potter action that's almost too involved for its own good
 
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