Reviewed: October 26, 2005
Released: September 23, 2005
Those wacky anime artists are at it again, this time with D.I.C.E – DNA Integrated Cybernetic Enterprises – a group of kids and their mechanical “Dinobreaker” robots. Based on a short lived television show, DICE follows the kids as they set out to save the world from evil by smashing, crushing, shooting and racing (yes, racing) the factions dealing in the underground mining and trade of material called shell.
Shell is important to the D.I.C.E. universe because it is a newly discovered mineral-based element that is being used to build the satellite bots – a trendy line of personal robots that are present in nearly every aspect of life. Since relatively little is known about shell, and it is too new to be properly controlled, an underground black market has developed.
But when scientist discover that this mineral-based “element” is not really an element, but in fact a living fossil material – which if not controlled or handled properly could take on a path of wanton destruction, the D.I.C.E. kids spring into action.
This may all sound silly, and it is, but the story is quite clever in its societal parallels and symbolism. In our modern day society this shell could be oil, drugs, terrorism – or any of a multitude of subjects – and the story would have its equivalent. The problem with D.I.C.E. – the game – is that this relatively heavy storyline is packaged in a mediocre button masher of a game that is so simplistic and repetitive in gameplay, it will only be heard by those who least understand its complexities.
The gameplay style of DICE is a true throwback to the early days of gaming – back to the when games like Robotron and SmashTV progressed room-by-room through arenas of swarming enemies with little or no exploration or gameplay variation. But don’t mistake this to be “retro” or nostalgic, it’s more just the result laziness on the part of the developers.
Basically, there are 16 missions with a number of “rooms” in each. Most rooms are fairly rectangular, with dimensions that are no more than four or five Dinocrusher robot lengths long in either direction. Your chosen character, mounted atop his or her personal Dinocrusher, is placed in the middle of the room with enemies spawning in every direction. The premise is simple: move about the room (generally, rotating about the center will do the trick) and use one of three central attack methods; melee attacks, jumping attacks and ranged attacks.
Melee attacks are Dino-specific, but generally take the form of a head slash or charge. These are the quickest and easiest to perform, and rapidly become your primary method of eliminating enemies.
Jumping attacks are a variation on the melee, wherein the Dino jumps and while in the air a melee attack is initiated. This usually ends with some form of downward smash or dive that can crush enemies.
Ranged attacks come courtesy of the satellite bots – one of which you can choose at the outset of the mission. Each satellite bot has a unique ranged attack – be it homing missiles, lasers, projectiles, energy beams, etc. – which it can fire at select enemies within the level. Which enemies it will strike, as well as how many strikes it will dole out per selected enemy, is all commanded by the gamer using a targeting cone which can be rotated 360° about the Dino.
Each satellite bot has a certain firing rate and max number of objects that can be fired at any given time – and its up to the gamer to choose how to spread out the damage amongst the waves of incoming enemies. Would it be better to assign one missile to each of the seven incoming drones and weaken all evenly? Or, would you rather outright destroy two or three of them with multiple shots and fend off the remaining long enough for your weapon to reload? The choice is yours.
Every now and then, the gamer is called on to transform his or her Dinocrusher into its vehicular form and take part in an impromptu race. The problem with racing is that the controls are so clunky and generic, so all-or-nothing, that the racing sections end up being more an exercise in frustration than they are a fun experience.
Gamers can also call on characters to dismount their steeds and take to hand-to-hand combat with the enemies. This is really not the most effective way to eliminate the hoards of oncoming attackers, but every now and then it proves advantageous. Should the gamers’ Dino become overheated or injured beyond repair, the character will be forcefully dismounted. The trailing satellite bot then takes on an electrical attack that can be called on to temporarily disable enemies and protect the character until the Dino can restore itself.
Overall, there isn’t really a whole lot broken in the game, but the stale game design leaves a lot to be desired. Experienced gamers will quickly tire of the tap, tap, tap button mashing mediocrity long before the story ever reaches any level of excitement. And without any freedom to explore, the room-to-room combat becomes a boring bunch of “been there – done that” moments.
The cinemas seem to be ripped directly from the television shows and are straight cartoon fare. Very little CG is used, except maybe for the splash screens.
For what it’s worth, the in-game graphics are very well done, with great lighting, shading and explosion effects. The robotic objects exhibit great 3D rendering, and really fit well into the static backgrounds. Again, there isn’t much to render in the levels so it’s hard to go wrong. While there may be a horde of enemies onscreen, they don’t really move around very much – and if they do move, the animations are a bit stilted and jerky.
The non-robotic characters are a strange bunch indeed. Strangle-looking muscled behemoths sporting giant axes, enormous costumed bunny guys? What the heck is this show about?
One standout area of the game are the voiceovers, which are better than expected for a game of this level. Even before you hit your first mission, you will click through an entire three to five minute conversation between the primary characters. Each line of dialogue is voiced professionally, which is so much nicer than simply reading text.
As for the rest of the sound, it’s pretty generic stuff. You will hear the requisite metallic clunks and clanks expected of a robotic game, with cookie-cutter explosions and other effects.
The music is very much in line with what you would expect from a game based on a Japanese anime title – and again, any feelings of nostalgia stirred by the cookie-cutter midi fare can be attributed more to laziness and/or cost-savings measures than to any attempt at gaining a retro appeal.
The 16 missions of the story mode are short lived and can easily be exhausted in the period of a weekend. And once you complete the 16 missions, you probably won’t find yourself coming back any time soon.
A weak two-player multiplayer mode might keep a few gaming duos interested for a sessions or two, but the repetitive smashathon is sure to drive them away sooner or later.
DICE –the game – features a high-school story with grammar school gameplay. Only those who are willing to put up with the boring-est of the boring button mashing games will be able to see DICE through to its end. Even hardcore fans of the television series will have a hard time sitting through 16 missions of DICE.
DICE is a fair rental for the younger set, but older gamers would be disappointed with a purchase.