In a surprising shift in genre, Doughlings: Invasion, the sequel to last year’s Doughlings Arcade, moves past its brick-breaking routes, now acting as the indie scene’s answer to Space Invaders. Though at a glance its seemingly rudimentary gameplay appears to match its unappealing visuals, there’s a surprising layer of depth that makes for a compelling experience, providing a fun, if trivial, way to kill an hour. While it won’t be winning any awards and could perhaps rightly be labelled a bit of a knock-off, its bizarre charm makes it entertaining, if only fleetingly.
The core gameplay operates as a modern variation of the aforementioned classic, albeit with a slower rate of fire and a more garish art style. You’ll run from one side of the stage to the other, trying to rid the screen of squid-like aliens, which sport the colours of the rainbow, signifying how many hits they’ll take to eliminate. It’s as simple as the rudimentary mechanics of its predecessor, but the execution here is slightly more polished. The difficulty curve is decent, balancing challenge with fairness in a way that feels organic.
While simple on the surface, a few key components breathe life into the doughy monstrosities. The ability to upgrade your character with perks adds an unexpected layer of depth, and puzzle elements, such as temporary upgrades that let you destroy multiple opponents of the same colour, also keep things varied. The hard and insane modes offer additional layers of challenge, though the final reward of a leaderboard score likely won’t be enough to tantalise most players to keep coming back. The introduction of unique bosses, however, provides an appropriate level of challenge via distinctive battle styles, which ultimately help the gameplay to stand out as a welcome indie variation on the classic arcade formula.
What aren’t so welcome are the ghastly visuals inherited from the first game, which remain unequivocally dreadful. You play as one of the titular Doughlings, small creatures that resemble a cross between a Geodude from the Pokémon series and a flattened worm from, well, Worms. Morpheus is your protagonist, though that term is used in the loosest fashion, as he’s afforded little to no personality besides the most basic of character motivations; kill aliens first, ask questions later. It’s unclear why the introduction of an expository narrative was necessary for such a basic arcade title, as what is presented is simply bizarre and dull.
Perhaps the most mixed aspect of Doughlings: Invasion comes from its soundtrack, which sometimes grates to the point of nausea, yet at other times provides a beat that practically forces a tap of the foot. The title screen boasts an abrasive mishmash of jazz instruments, apparently allowing the keyboardist to freestyle over a continuing generic vamp, to mixed results. The main stage music, however, is both intense and exciting. Channelling its 80s roots, it has a heavy emphasis on synth and bass, which is really great for getting you in the alien killing zone.
Overall, Doughlings: Invasion is a surprisingly fun time. Though it appears on the surface to be little more than an unpleasant looking clone of Space Invaders, its surprisingly deep gameplay elements, well sloped difficulty curve, and some banging tunes make it a simple yet effective bit of arcade fun for short bursts. Though players are unlikely to pick it up for more than an hour due to the lack of multiplayer or meaningful rewards for completion, that hour will at least be entertaining. Don’t let the ugly graphics put you off; if you’ve got a spare bit of dough, it might be worth a look.