I've wanted to play DigiDrive since I first heard about the Art Style games on the GBA. But at 20$ a pop, the price point wasn't too appealing considering I would have to import. Now the game has been remade, and it's cheaper and more accessible than ever. DigiDrive is here, and it is fantastic.
Check out this video explaining how to play DigiDrive.
Conveying exactly why DigiDrive is so well made will take a deep understanding of many of the game design concepts covered so far on the Critical-Gaming Blog. The order of topics is as follows: Mechanics, Tension & Timers, Dynamics, Reading, Skills, and Multiplayer.
- STEER cars using the D-pad.
- Direct: the digital on/off state of the D-pad perfectly fits the on/off state for steering cars down roads.
- Individual: Each direction on the D-pad corresponds to one and only one STEERing direction, which also makes the controls very intuitive.
- The STEER mechanic is not very dynamic in and of itself. The mechanic functions as nothing more than a simple sorting system.
- Activate a TRIGGER car using the A button.
- USE ITEM by pressing the B button.
- All of these mechanics are not very engaging by design. The point of DigiDrive is to master the puzzle system as a engine of timed, intersecting elements and to push your real time skills to their limit.
- No matter the mode, there is always the tension of a game over, which is obviously the loss of progression and your interactivity. In Digidrive if the Spike hits the Core it's game over. This "game over" timer is represented by a simple visual on the touch screen (in standard mode).
- The loss of resources/your investments in the form of squandered fuel cell and Trigger Cars creates tension.
- In certain circumstances, if you STEER a car down a non matching lane (by color) you can lose all of your saved up fuel. Without fuel, you have nothing to prevent the Spike from hitting the Core.
- Trigger Cars are special elements that ignite your fuel cells to move the Core farther away from the Spike. This is how you stay alive in DigiDrive. These Trigger Cars are limited, so you'll have to use them carefully. It's fairly easy to put yourself in a bad situation by using them too frequently.
- The majority of the gameplay revolves around managing timers that are constantly counting down.
- The cars that move through the cross shaped intersection are an organic timer. Once they pass the center, they cannot be directed down another path.
- The fuel cells sit on colored roads that slowly fade away. Unless refreshed, when all the color drains away the fuel is lost forever.
- The Spike and Core is a visual representation of the impending gameover game state.
- The tempo of the entire game increases slowly.
- The entire game tempo increases in speed the more fuel you store/build up.
- In Overdrive mode (a bonus mode), the tempo increases much more quickly than in the normal mode of play. Players have to be sharp to successfully STEER all of the cars down the right roads as long as they can.
- Other than through Overdrives and using random Trigger Cars (two methods that are unreliable and difficult plan around) the best way to activate fuel cells is to release a Trigger Car. You can only store up to 3, which gives the design a simple element of decay. Furthermore, you earn more Trigger Cars after burning a set amount of fuel. Interestingly, the amount of fuel you have to burn to earn each successive Trigger Car increases. The resulting dynamic: the longer you play the harder it will be to maintain a reserve of Trigger Cars.
- The most effective way to get a high score, escape the game ending Spike, and earn more Trigger Cars is to burn a lot of fuel as quickly as possible. The most effective way to burn lots of fuel is to not burn your cells immediately, but build up the stored amount using combos. The resulting dynamic: the more fuel you have stored up the faster the game tempo (making the game harder to play). Also, the more fuel you store the less you burn and the more you stand to lose if you make a mistake.
FUEL CELL DYNAMICS
- With 0 fuel cells on screen you are not storing/building fuel, and therefore you have nothing to defend yourself with. This is dangerous.
- With 1 cell STEERing the wrong colored car down the road will destroy the cell. Careful moves must be made to build up other cells while preventing the one cell from fading away.
- With 2 cells you have a bit of a safety system. If you STEER a wrong colored car down one of your cells, it'll combo and add the fuel to the other remaining cell. If this happens the gamestate shifts to the 1 cell dynamics. Also with 2 cells, you have only 2 free lanes to manipulate the other cars.
- With 3 cells, you have even more safety leeway. STEERing a wrong colored car down a road will take the fuel amount and distribute it to each of the other fuel cells. This effectively doubles your investment. In this set up, you only have 1 free lane to use. You can imagine that sorting colors and "juggling" with one free lane can be difficult due to the inherent limitations. Because of the way the cars are randomly designed to appear, it's difficult to reach a 4 cell or Overdrive state.
- Overdrive (4 cells). In this state, the Spike stops moving for a completely safe or bonus challenge.
- DigiDrive is a puzzle action game. In other words, it's composed of puzzle challenges. The best way to describe the act of reading the gamestate in DigiDrive is through the metaphor of juggling. Free lanes are like your hands and STEERing cars down these lanes can create cycles like the rising and falling of a juggler's balls. More complex than a simple what goes up must come down (with equal timing for both ways) juggling in DigiDrives invovles...
- Seeing the position and color of all cars/fuel cells on the screen.
- Counting the number of free colored cars on the screen.
- Conceptualizing the position of cars, decaying fuel lanes, and the Spike into a functional timeline.
- Adjusting the functional timeline as you shuffle car positions in free lanes, when Trigger Cars randomly appear, and according to the constant flow of randomized incoming cars (by color and direction).
- Though the game seems complicated, compared to some other puzzle games and most games of other genres DigiDrive is quite simple. The timers are visual (making them easy to read) and the math that makes up the combo system is simple as well. There are only a handful of elements to learn about.
- The reading is quite involved in how the timeline can involve many bits of information. Also, the functional timeline must constantly be recalculated.
- STEERing cars in specific directions becomes increasingly more difficult the faster the game speed gets.
- The longer one plays in the Overdrive mode, having quick reflexes becomes more and more crucial. Eventually the cars move so fast you only have a slit second to react.
- To be very successful one must be flexible enough to adapt to the constant and randomized stream of incoming cars. Even if you have one strategy all set up, a single car can prevent you from doing things according to plan.
- Moving the D-pad and the occasional button press is all there is to controlling this game in standard mode. In touch mode, you lose complexity of buttons and clear responsive controls while gaining a one handed interface. In this way, the touch controls can be more difficult to use than the standard step up. Still, you don't need much dexterous skill to be effective.
- The multiplayer is surprising balanced and deep (filled with interplay). Like with Tetris DS's Push mutliplayer mode, the VS DigiDrive mode challenges two players to push the puck like Core to the end of the opponent's side of the screen. This is an example of the game's more literal push-pull interplay.
- ITEMS: In classic Nintendo fashion, the items in DigiDrive add a randomized strategy element that increases the depth (interplay/counters) in the game. The item design is important because it is key in giving players varied ways to counter each other. Otherwise, the muliplayer mode would be more like two independent single player modes. The item dynamics are as follows...
- The more you stockpile fuel to try and make combos, the less likely you are to get items. This is because you get an item for every fuel cell you burn no matter how full it is. Items have the power to throw wrenches into the opponent's plans or completely turn the tides of battle. Going for a full item focused playstyle can be just as risky as going for a standard playstyle. Fortunately, the gameplay is balanced toward the standard and more difficult strategies (stock piling and building up fuel cells). Because you have to burn fuel to gain new items, and you can only hold one item at a time, there is a decay design that limits a fully committed items specialist.
DigiDrive is one more great game in Nintendo's selective and pristine Art Style collection. Though I attempted to analyze and describe DigiDrive's gameplay as succinctly as possible, I should say that the visuals and sound design hold up to the same quality as the gameplay. At just 5 dolalrs, this is a must buy for action/puzzle fans.