Doodle God is a game that offers a lot of value in the first twenty minutes of play.
Beyond that, the fun breaks down. The frustrating issues grow exponentially the further the player progresses until it reaches that deadly place where gaming becomes a chore. Players who can walk away from a game if it stops being fun may enjoy Doodle God for its good qualities; however, completionist gamers who have to finish no matter what may want to give this one a pass.
The intro scene is a good example of how gameplay advances in Doodle God. There is a hilariously illustrated deity on the opening screen and then the pages of an ancient book open to reveal the story. A deep-voiced narrator speaks: “In the beginning, there was only Doodle God. Doodle God created the first basic elements.”
OK so far, looks intriguing.
“From Earth, Doodle God created the planets. Seas and oceans were created”
Yeah, standard creation story. I got it.
“From fire were created volcanoes...and other stuff…”
“From air...well, you know...air…”
Doodle God used air to make air? How does that make sense?
Whether intended by the game creators or not, the intro perfectly defines the flaws with Doodle God. It starts out epic and peters out into aimlessness.
The controls are simple. The player begins with four basic elements and combines two to create new elements.The playfield is the open book and the two opposite pages are where the action happens.
Elements are split into groups. Both pages of the book have identical groups. The elements are represented on tiles. To combine elements, the player can click the two tiles, or drag a tile on top of another. If a combination isn’t viable, the tiles shake and return to their original positions. If they work together, the tiles swirl into a flash of light and a new element is born.
Each time a new element is created, it is accompanied by a relevant quote. For example, when lava is created, the quote is: “All civilization has from time to time become a thin crust over a volcano of revolution.”
Every combination, no matter how mundane, is rewarded. It lends a sense of accomplishment, even on the early levels where combinations are fast and easy to find. Not only does every element have an associated quote, many have more than one, which is useful because some elements can be reached multiple ways. The developers included an “encyclopedia” which lists all possible elements and their associated quotes. This is handy because the player can get hints on future elements, but it’s also nice to see the quotes in one place.
The game’s driving goal is to build all the pieces of the world, from dust to rocket ships. Elements start out basic: air, earth, fire, and water, but become increasingly complex and less element-like the more components are created. Metal is an element, but in the Doodle God universe, so are vampires. Significant components add a new item to the world map, allowing the player to see their discoveries take shape.
The world-building animations are an interesting feature in Doodle God. As pieces get added they blend into the globe as if they were always there. Each piece has its place. The unfortunate issue is the animations also distract from the gameplay. When a new element is discovered, it’s exciting, but the gameplay is dragged to a halt to watch the element fall into place on the world map. The player is ejected from the game field and must click to re-enter, and then click to reopen the new element’s category before resuming play. While I like the world-building feature, it would be better to save the animations for when the player chooses to enter the world map or at the start of a game session.
A side-effect of the game-halting animations is the player may not remember the category in which the element was allocated.
The game begins with four categories but has sixteen by chapter three. Some categories are obvious, fire goes to the fire category but steam is assigned to the air category, despite steam being mostly water. Fortunately, the game provides a history, which allows the player to see all previous combinations. This is helpful if the player wants to avoid making repeat combinations, or can’t remember which new element was created.
Doodle God was designed to be gamer-friendly, unfortunately, this does not make up for its fatal flaw: the actual gameplay. As Doodle God, the player must discover all the pieces needed to advance their world. The game offers little guidance on what the player needs to achieve this goal. The only indication the player has of how far they’ve progressed in each chapter is the number of blank element slots under each group. Blank spaces are missing elements that belong in that group, but there are no hints as to what those elements may be, without using the game’s built-in hint system.
The game does have quests, which list undiscovered elements. Knowing which elements remain uncreated can help give an idea of what parts are needed to get there. The problem with quests is they don’t always request items makeable with already existing elements. For example, a quest may require a car. I can combine each element I have, but I won’t get a car unless I have oil. There are no indicators that oil is a possible element, and the quest is impossible to complete until I have something I didn’t know I needed.
It would help if all element combinations were logical, but at times they seem arbitrary.
In our world, fire and water make steam. In the Doodle God universe, fire and water make alcohol, and air and water make steam. Other pairings are more obscure, and make less sense. The only option remaining is trial and error. With 249 elements by the third chapter, the potential combinations are enormous. To add to the frustration, in later chapters elements that did not combine previously become successful matches, meaning the player must retry failed blends to find new solutions. The game is no longer fun, it’s work. Mindless, uninteresting work.
Aside from its flaws as a game, there are other issues which doom Doodle God to the bin of never-play. Doodle God was originally released as a mobile app. It was converted to PC without removing all of the app-only elements. There are references to a store which does not exist, rate-me nag screens pop up indiscriminately, and the tournament section not only locks up the game, but Steam as well.
As a mobile app, the endless matching and aimless gameplay In Doodle God is more forgivable. The game works as a time-waster or a pointless occupier. As a standalone PC game, the droning repetition is not worth the energy.