Review: Dollar Dash

DollarDash

It’s always a refreshing change of pace when a game comes out with a more classic arcade feel. Even better, is when old school mechanics collide with modern hooks like weapon unlocks or character customization to bring a new level of addiction to traditional gameplay styles. These days games of all types provide some form of a leveling-up system to drive the need to unlock the next perk, however satisfying that reward loop only happens if the gameplay is fun too. Dollar Dash from Kalypso Media and Candy Gun approaches arcade-style arena combat with a more modern mix of capture the flag and a reward system that attempts to keep players clamoring for more. The question to ask then: is Dollar Dash a true heist or a bust?

Dollar Dash pits four burglars against each other through various arenas to complete one of three goals: Collect a set amount of money before the others, kill the other burglars to earn money and reach the goal, or carry a safe around the longest, slowly earning the burglar money while the safe is in their possession. Dollar Dash has no solo campaign or story, rather the focus is solely on a multiplayer experience.  Offering local and online thieving competition, games can be relatively short affairs or drag on for a while if there isn’t one overly dominant master burglar.

Keeping the burglar moving is key as the other crooks are likely to lob a potted cactus, baseball, boulder or even fire a bottle rocket at you with reckless abandon. Defensive powers range from dropping bear traps, cherry bombs, blaring boom boxes or a full-sized Jello sphere (honest that’s what it looks and acts like). Also available are support power-ups, which can boost ailing health, increase the speed of movement for a short time, or render a burglar completely invisible.  The problem with the power-ups however is the fact that they randomly spawn at set locations throughout the course of a match.  Given the frantic nature of each round as well as the fact that three other opponents are vying to either take out your character or race to pick up said powers, there’s a high probability that the weapon you want won’t pop by the time you steer your burglar back around to it.

Keeping track of where your burglar is in relation to the other three burglars and power-ups while also keeping an eye on when money spawns and avoiding environmental hazards makes for a chaotically messy experience.  All of the burglars are bright colors — red, green, blue and orange — and almost every map in the game also has a very busy color palette, which makes quick identification of character locations somewhat of a challenge. Laggy connections sure don’t help much either.

One of the biggest complaints that I can level against the game is the fact that like so many other competitive multiplayer games, playing an online match at a low level, with little to no useful perpetual bonus (for instance not being hurt by a potted cactus thrown by your own burglar), means that more often than not a match ends up being nothing more than running around as target practice for someone who is much more proficient with the game.  Collecting money is easy, keeping said money is not. Any damage taken while carrying cash means that some will be dropped.  Avoiding a speeding baseball that has ricocheted off of a wall only to bounce right where you intend to move is perfect study in frustration. Having to dodge a speeding baseball while also steering clear of environmental traps only further compounds this frustration.  Far too many times have I been heading to the drop off location to increase my score only to be hit by an enemy and lose everything I was carrying.

Of course other players are ready to swoop in and pick up all of my dropped loot and deposit it for their own stash of points.  At times it felt like no matter how much a match was slanted in my favor, by the end, someone with much more experience (i.e. better perks) would end up wiping the floor and winning the round. Rushing right into the fray gives opponents an easy chance to hit you and take your money, so maintaining a cautious distance while figuring out the perfect time to run in and deposit your cash is the key. That cautious strategy applies to the Hit and Run and Save the Safe modes as well.  Although Hit and Run is much more a free-for-all deathmatch, being a bit prudent with attacks will typically keep your points above the other opponents. Save the Safe on the other hand is refined chaos. Whoever has the safe does their best to keep from being killed, while the rest of the opponents all focus to take out the safe-toting criminal. Unfortunately lag never seemed to be in my favor during Save the Safe rounds as I inevitably would end up as frag bait for the others due to my inability to keep up with the pace.

The game gives players a chance to play local sessions, with AI bots available to fill in for any slots that can’t be played by couch-seated opponents.  My gripe with the bots is that no matter which level of difficulty I selected, it seemed like the balance was always in favor of the AI. “Noob” level AI seem to have the same uncanny ability to get in the right attacks each and every time as the bots on the higher difficulty settings. Regrettably, even my kids found Dollar Dash to be an un-fun mess, and so I was left to suffer through unbalanced AI or get pummeled online against opponents that always seemed to have an advantage over me. I will say, though, that online matches have been fairly easy to come by, which is quite surprising given that Dollar Dash is a new IP and not a typical FPS fragfest.

Dollar Dash has some neat ideas, but there isn’t enough depth or variety to make you want to play again and again. The reward loop for unlocking new perks and customizations is interesting, but the chaotic, unbalanced nature of the gameplay and the discrepancy between online opponents’ skills kept me from ever feeling like I had a fair shot at victory. Overall, I just felt like I was going through the motions without ever actually enjoying the game.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Lots of perks and upgrades to unlock
+ Online and local matches can be played
+ Joining online matches is usually pretty fast

Cons:
– Gameplay quickly becomes lifeless and uninteresting
– Skill-based online matchmaking is not readily apparent
– Bot AI feels unbalanced
– Random, slow power-up rates

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available for PC and XBLA
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Candygun Games
Release Date: 3/6/2013
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (offline and online)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.