The party game is very tough to get right. The basics seem to be fine, but from there, the trick is convincing players that the game is fun enough to keep playing for hours on end. Games like Worms and Bomberman have gotten it right, as a number of their iterations have been good examples. Games like Dollar Dash, however, miss the mark.
In Dollar Dash, you're a robber who's trying to amass as much money as possible in each given area. Of course, you won't be alone, as up to three other robbers have the same objective in mind. Aside from worrying about how much money you can stash, you have to incapacitate the other robbers so they don't steal from you. On the flipside, you can also steal money from them, making the whole affair a big tug-of-war until someone gains enough of an edge to be the victor.
There are three gameplay modes, all of which are focused on multiplayer. The titular mode, Dollar Dash, contains the bulk of the mechanics. Cash litters the field, and your job is to pick it up before others do. The downside is that you can only carry so much cash at a time, and your speed decreases as you have more cash in your possession. You can dump you’re the cash at a getaway van that appears periodically at a random spot but is absent most of the time. Each time you make a deposit, you fill up a general meter, and the first one to completely fill it up wins the match.
Until that van arrives, though, you'll spend much of your time hitting your opponents to make them drop their cash while avoiding their blows. Punching others is your most basic attack, but each level is littered with weaponry. From a stun Taser to snowballs and bouncing rockets, there's no shortage of offensive tools. The same goes for traps, such as boomboxes, holes and oil slicks that you can leave behind for unsuspecting victims. You can also pick up items such as invisibility potions, protective jelly and speed boosts to boost your defensive capabilities. Each environment has gimmicks that work for and against you. Trains and cars randomly speed through some levels, knocking you out and knocking away the cash you have on hand. Bridges collapse or lift in other levels while a few guards take potshots at you if you're in their field of view.
Of the three modes in the game, this really highlights a number of the game's issues. The waiting periods between van appearances are a bit too long, leading the mode to devolve into something akin to a pointless deathmatch due to the limited cash you can hold. The lack of a more definitive indicator of how much cash you're carrying also doesn't help. The size of your loot bag is the only visual representation of how much loot you're holding, but there's never much of a difference between holding $200 and $1,000. That difficulty in determining the size of your loot bag is further compounded by your small size in the levels and the chaos around you at all times.
The chaotic nature works against Dollar Dash. None of the levels are large, but there are so many environmental hazards that occur so frequently that you can't help but get hit by them as you pass by. The weapons are hard to aim and imprecise, but there are so many pick-ups in each level that it's effective to spam the area. Instructions for each weapon are scarce, so you'll figure things out once you see them in action. Even then, there's no indicator to show that you've been hit with a modifier, so most of the time, you're eternally guessing if you are affected by something and what that might be.
The level designs aren't very open, so trap placement is a matter of hitting the right choke points, which would be fine except that you can forever paralyze a person since you don't gain any immunity from getting up after being knocked down. Throw in the fact that some weapons bounce all over the place, and you can even hurt yourself, and you spend most of your time getting beaten up instead of playing.
There are a few other things that mar the experience. The HUD is pretty badly designed. The energy meter for your character is right below your character but is very hard to see due to the chaos. The indicators that let you know which items you're holding are rather small and placed oddly. Traditionally, the indicators for player one would occupy the top left corner while player two is in the top right, etc. Here, the locations are reversed, so player one is in the bottom left while player three is in the top left. Worse yet, the indicators are small and placed in a way that's not intuitive to the controller layout. Veteran gamers won't find this to be a problem, but since party games try to go for a wider audience, casual players will find this odd. The plethora of weapons on the field makes it tempting to pick and choose the best ones, but without the ability to drop unwanted items, you're forced to spend it all in one fell swoop to get what you want, further adding to the chaos.
The two other modes are more straightforward and certainly try to make the best of the situation. Save the Safe tasks you with grabbing the safe and holding on to it for as long as possible in to gain the most cash. There's no van to worry about, and with the cash not slowing you down, winning doesn't feel like a burden. Hit 'n' Run, on the other hand, does away with the safes and getaway vans, as it is a pure deathmatch mode where you can only gain cash by beating the crap out of other players. Though both modes are very simple and minor offshoots of some multiplayer staples, they make the chaotic nature of the game more fun since there's not much you have to worry about aside from hitting or getting hit. You'll still hate the frequency of weapon appearances and the numerous environmental hazards, but it somehow feels less frustrating.
To give the game a little more depth, the developers added in a shop system. Win or lose, the amount of cash you gathered in each mode is placed into your bank. Reaching certain cash thresholds and accomplishing certain tasks unlocks all sorts of items. A good portion of these are cosmetic, like accessories, hats, taunts and special HUD icons to personalize your robber, a move that never hurts in games like this. The perks, on the other hand, modify the game in your favor by giving you things like a larger capacity money sack, immunity from your own specific weapons, or a damage increase to certain weapons. With a few exceptions, the use of these perks is more of a gamble since only two of them can be implemented at once per match, and with the weapon pick-ups being so random, the chances of you selecting a useful perk for that round are very slim. When you think about how much each perk costs, you'll be better off spending the money on things like beards and headphones instead.
With multiplayer being the sole focus of this game, it is good to see that the developers did some good work on the performance. Though there weren't too many online matches when this was being reviewed, the games that were found online ran smoothly. In an effort to get four players going at all times, bots take the place of absent players, and even though they can play very unfairly, they are a welcome addition. There's also offline and system link play, and, as expected, they work perfectly well.
As far as presentation goes, the game's graphics and audio are fine. The game has a cel-shaded look for the characters, but they don't really get a chance to stand out among the environments because of their diminutive size. The weapons and other activities in each level also obscure your location, though the weapons and particle effects look pretty nice. There isn't much to the sound beyond the wacky effects, but the music stands out because it fits in so well. The jazz music is peppy and gives the game a lighthearted vibe. It also isn't overpowering, so you won't be annoyed by it. You may find yourself sitting in menus and levels just so you can hear each tune in its entirety.
In the end, Dollar Dash is amusing but only in small bursts. The premise is fine, as is the progression system as far as outfits and perks are concerned. The gimmicks in each level make them stand out in ways that aren't just aesthetic, and the number of weapons at your disposal is always interesting. The chaotic nature, however, makes the game feel unorganized, and with very little variety between the modes, a sense of tedium creeps in after a while. It's fun for a short while but not fun enough to dethrone the giants of the genre.
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