Saturday Spotlight: Dino Dominion

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had planned to write about something as experimental, unique and interesting as Mustache Armies this week, especially after getting this series off to a weak start by missing last week (I was at a wedding which was very nice, thank you, except for when the 82-year old man fainted and after waiting almost two hours for an ambulance two showed up, the crew of the first going inside to treat him and the second going up the hill to buy some ice cream).

Instead it turned out that the one game worthy of a few hundred words of attention, but unworthy of a full-length review, is more in the vein of a cynical tried-and-tested formula. That game is Dino Dominion, as canny readers will have surmised from the title of this post.

This is the latest in an intermittent line of freemium/IAP-supported, recharging timer-driven social singleplayer games to hook me in like the ruddy-cheeked country rube that I am. As if I had just blundered into the big game city for the first time, Dino Dominion took one glance at me and spotted a mark.

The thing that Dino Dominion has that other games don’t is dinosaurs. DINOSAURS.

Yes, I am sometimes that shallow. Would you like to see my dinosaurs? I have a rare Allosaurus which I have upgraded to about level 5 and tends to fight alongside my uniquely coloured T-Rex. I also have a rare Ramphorhynchus which is surprisingly effective in fights, something I’d not have expected from a pterosaur barely more than a metre in length. And let me just tell you about the time I hatched my own Triceratops from an egg which I lovingly kept warm (and levelled up) with the soft, delicate rub of my fingertips.

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Sure, Dino Dominion is every bit as cynical as its massively exploitiplayer bedfellows. Your first hour or so with the game sees your timers refreshed by levelling up before you can exhaust them, meaning you can stay constantly in the game, and you’re generously given a bevy of points and tickets to spend on ‘dino cages’, each of which contains a random dinosaur – possibly a rare one. There are rewards for logging on every day for the first ten days of play, and the IAP features include discounted special dino cage tickets for new players (handy to get a bit of a head start – I freely admit to dropping £0.67 on this).

Character artwork, dinosaurs and Jurassic Park-inspired scenery aside, is the typical embarrassing juvenilia – every one an anime-styled woman boasting antigrav boobage and similar ‘womanly virtues’. Charmingly, the character with the most sexualised poses and the most flesh on display is a naive young teenage girl. It’s the sort of thing I need to self-consciously mock when showing the game to someone; it’s like what Rab Florence described as a “gaming cringe” except in this case I’d say it’s driven by a genuine sense of shame, for me, and perhaps a genuine sense of knowing one’s audience, for Dino Dominion.

Ladies, am I wrong? It is just men who play this kind of empty, soul-sucking game? Is it just boys? Would you like to see my dinosaurs?

All of that accepted, it’s probably one of the better examples of this kind of game I’ve encountered. The challenges of gameplay are mostly focused around deck-building, balancing hitpoints and attack strength against deck cost whilst also designing decks for specific terrain types. There are enough different areas of focus to entertain you that there’s usually something to do; if you run out of fuel and don’t want to use a fuel tank to recharge that timer you can just trot over to the dino cages to acquire new beasties, the DNA lab or egg incubator to check up on your progress, upgrade your dinosaurs (this is accomplished by sacrificing dinosaurs in favour of the upgrade target, which is at odds with the game’s very loose narrative of combating the cruel actions of dino-hunters from a rival corporation), or just go and tinker with your decks for a bit while the fuel timer regenerates. I also get the impression there are regular community events; at the time of writing a Colosseum event pitting players’ decks against one another is drawing to a close.

All of that accepted, this is still a game in which you don’t do much. Battles are automated with no player input at all; it’s all down to the strength of your deck versus your opponent’s, which you won’t know going into a fight. Other than that exploration comes down to tapping buttons. You can even tell the game to automatically edit a deck for you, assembling a selection of dinosaurs given for a certain terrain type. As with a lot of these games, player gratification is derived from seeing numbers go up – in this case, the numbers of a range of dinosaurs that you swap in and out of decks. I’ve never played a Pokemon game, but this is what I’d expect a Pokemon game to be like if it had dirty prehistoric sex with Mafia Wars.

I fully expect to be done with this game in a week, and then to never play it again, but in the short term… well, I don’t miss that £0.67.

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