Dan! Da! Dan!

I linked this on my side/del.icio.us feed, but I feel it’s worth mentioning here too. Free game alert part deux: Dan! Da! Dan!

The game is from “Omega”, who made my long time favourite, Every Extend. Dan! Da! Dan! isn’t as polished and focused, but it does do a few interesting (and original) things.

If not obvious, the controls are as such. “Z” fires. Hold “Z” to charge up, and release to fire a charged shot. This has a large radius and goes through “walls”, so you can destroy blocks you can’t normally get at. It also slows down any incoming bullets if they come in contact with it. As you break things, little triangles are released. Collect them to charge your “Hyper”. When the hyper is ready, press “X” to activate it. Activating it removes all bullets on screen (they turn into triangles and give you a point bonus, so use it when there’s a lot of bullets on screen). Hyper also gives you a limited ammo spread shot that does a lot more damage.

If you shoot a block enough, it breaks, along with any adjacent blocks of the same colour. Some blocks, when they explode, release a barrage of bullets (the type of which is determined by the symbol on the block). Some blocks have turrets that automatically fire at you. The orb blocks, when destroyed, remove all blocks on screen of that colour. The Mario-esque “?” blocks release a Time Bonus. In the end, you get bonuses for Time Left, Stock (lives), your Level (which increases as you use hypers), and your Distance travelled (how far you progressed in the game).

It sounds complicated and it’s hard to explain the nuances of the game, but after a couple of plays it should be quite obvious.

Once you finally figure it out, then you’ll be hit with an additional confusion — the final score tallies. Sometimes it might seem as though you play worse but score higher. Other times, you play to the end but score weak. It can feel arbitrary at times — as if you aren’t being directly rewarded for your actions — but that too will become clear after a few plays. It all has to d with getting a sense to how the reward bonuses are structured and what you need to do to maximize them. When that clarity hit me, I was impressed by it.

The reason for that is that there is a very subtle balance in the gameplay. The rules of the game universe are simple and strictly defined, so nothing ever changes in response to your play style. However, a certain emergent complexity arises because of your play style. For example, to get a higher “time” bonus, you need to destroy blocks as quickly as possible (the more blocks you remove from the screen, the faster you move up). However, destroying blocks non-stop means that you are more likely to fill the screen with non-stop barrages of bullets. It’s not the game making itself more difficult, it is the player making it harder. There is a similar balance with the “hyper” mode.

This kind of attention to detail is what separates an action shooter from a mindless action shooter. It’s the kind of subtlety that Popcap doesn’t get, as is evidenced by their recent dreck of a shooter, Heavy Weapon. Whoo boy, compare and contrast those two titles.

Current best Dan! Da! Dan! score: 312,840.

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