Once the game's distance from the player begins to dissolve, it rewards the player in the way that any good puzzler should. It flatters me by reminding me how smart I am.
DodoGo! RoboPublisher: Neko Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo DSi
Developer: Alien After All
Release Date: 2011-04-18
Initially I was rather underwhelmed by DodoGo! Robo.
Playing the role of babysitter to a cute, little Robo-egg is, on the face of it, a pretty sterile exercise. I know, I know the Robo-egg is supposed to be cute, and I'm supposed to feel sad when he drops off a ledge and cracks his pudgy body before staggering off with a slightly dazed look in his eyes. Maybe I'm supposed to feel a bit of “enviro-guilt” that I could be responsible for the demise of the simulation of an egg from a legendarily endangered species? But even with the cute factor going for it or maybe the game's appeal for the player to maintain an appropriate level of concern for conservation of species, c'mon, it's a robot. Am I really supposed to get suckered in by such an obvious simulation of a vulnerable character?
Distancing the player from emotional affect through its hapless and synthetic principal character also seems part and parcel of the gameplay itself, which like many programmable puzzlers like this one places the player in the position of voyeur in some sense more than participant. Your role as player is to assure the safety of a Dodo Robo across a dangerous landscape. To do so, you need to take a look over the game's 2-D terrain, correctly identify the deadliest portions of the course, and mitigate the danger to your egg by using tools that will bridge gaps, dig holes, and destroy obstacles before your Dodo Robo begins his perilous trek. In other words, after you have set up what seems like a reasonably secure course, you'll spend a fair amount of time watching the little robot saunter blindly towards cliffs, open flames, and falling rocks, before then revising your strategy by interacting more directly with the game world.
Now far be it from me to criticize a game for being what it is. What I have described is the nature of the genre of DodoGo! Robo itself. Programmable puzzle games are about watching and learning, watching and learning, adjusting, failing, watching and learning, again and again. My initial “meh” response was more a matter of the pacing of the game's tutorial levels, which very slowly introduce various ways to alter the landscape for your robo buddy, leaving me feeling far too passive (because of the obviousness of some of these initial levels, which make up much of the first 10 or so puzzles in the game), than active in playing the game for a bit too long.
However, once the game begins mixing up the elements a little and introducing timed elements (the act of burning walls, for instance, takes time, and you may need a wall to remain in the way of your egg to keep it safe or vice versa, figuring out when he will be where in a level becomes important in these moments), the game picks up because it requires a lot more careful (and, thus, more engaging) observation than the first third of the game requires.
At this point, the game becomes a more substantial and significantly more challenging puzzler. No longer did I spend my time sighing over my egg's ponderous plodding through the levels, as I began to care about how clever I was being in manipulating the environment. Once the game's distance from the player begins to dissolve, it turns into a pretty solid puzzler because it rewards the player in the way that any good puzzler should. It flatters me by reminding me how smart I am.
Additionally, given its price, a mere 200 DSi points, this is a considerably more substantial game than much of what has been released by other publishers at a $2.00 price on the system, making the consumer feel that much smarter as well.
Finally, for me personally, the game also reminded me that games can really be played and appreciated in very different ways. My oldest daughter has always been rather immune to the charms of gaming. My youngest loves them and frequently steals PC time from me to play “her” games (in that, this one is most like me -- I tend to be a very solitary gamer). But my middle child, she really only pays attention to games that I get stuck in. When she does, she plops down next to me on the floor, offers advice, suggestions, and pretty soon the two of us begin passing the controller (or in this case, the handheld, back and forth). The first third of DodoGo! Robo required little of my attention or effort, the final two thirds resulted in what amounts to hot seat gaming with my daughter because an extra set of eyes (and an extra brain) were necessary at times to reconsider the game's more difficult spots. There's nothing wrong with having to adjust your normal gameplay style once in awhile, and I appreciated the need to get someone else involved to play this one well. Getting to play with someone else for a change made me reconsider my initial perception of the game itself.
I still wish that the game would pick up its pace through its early levels, but being patient with it (and your oblivious little robot charge) yields some pretty decent challenges in the longer stretch of the remaining game.