Back in the days before the Game Boy was the handheld king of the universe, before easily portable liquid crystal displays were popularized, there was a different sort of portable game. LED games, in which the display is nothing more than a grid of LED lights, are an old style of game that still maintains a niche audience; a quick Google search can yield instructions on how to build your own DIY LED game hardware. But for those of us without the time, resources, or dedication to build our own LED systems, a surprising little Wii U title called Dot Arcade has come along to scratch that itch.
Created by WayForward’s James Montagna and co-designer Andrew Lim, Dot Arcade is a Wii U eShop title that is quite literally three LED games in a single package. The games were even prototyped as physical LED titles beforehand. Each of the three games holds to the same basic format of an 8x8 grid of colored lights, but all are very different from each other.
The first and most complex of the three games, Mr. Snake, requires the player to guide a snake’s direction around the grid to gobble food up. Each time food is eaten, the snake grows in length by a light. Similar to the old Snake game, the player must navigate the snake around grid and continue to gobble food while avoiding its own growing body, as well as the asteroids that scroll down from the top of the screen. (Did I mention this game takes place in outer space?)
The second game, Dodge Club, puts the player in control of a raver represented by a 2x2 block, who must dance around the interior of a cage while avoiding a fireball of the same size. There’s also a 2x1 electric current that circles the cage that also needs to be avoided. The goal of this game is simply to survive for as long as possible.
The third and final game, Rally Driver, puts the player in control of a race car represented by a 2x1 block of light at the bottom of the screen. As the road zips by (represented by lights on the left and right borders that illustrate the speed, which increases over time), the player must dodge around the other cars in their path and try to pass as many as they can. The game ends the moment the player either hits another vehicle or moves too far left/right and goes off the road.
Emulating the display limitations of LED hardware, the scores earned for the three games aren’t displayed until the action ends. However, the high score for each is displayed on the game selection menu, and with the game being on the Wii U, sharing scores with others on Miiverse a snap. All three games also feature some well-done artwork to frame the action, resembling the bezzle art seen on many an old-school arcade title. There’s even alternate artwork that can be selected by holding ZR while on the game select screen. The game’s music, limited to a main theme that plays on the select screen, is another nice retro touch, and makes great use of the duality of the TV and Wii U GamePad audio.
And it’s on the GamePad that Dot Arcade really shines. While the games are absolutely playable on a TV, the three games in the collection are handheld games at heart, and the GamePad screen is perfect for displaying all three. No TV required, it’s enough to kick back on the couch after a long day and get in a few rounds of any of the games for a few minutes at a time. On the other hand, all three games are fun enough that that “one more try” feeling can easily make itself present, especially after just missing that new high score.
Dot Arcade isn’t big or flashy. It’s really quite the opposite. But it does what it sets out to do quite well, which is deliver three fun little LED titles with some extra bells and whistles. That’s not bad at all.