Go Home Dinosaurs’ Cute Overload

You, in all likelihood, are on the Internet right now, and as a denizen of the Internet, you probably like adorable little animals. By extension, I’m assuming you also frequent Cute Overload, a website dedicated to bringing you precious baby puppies, kittens, or what-have-you by the gallon. It is one of the few sites where its name is veritably representative of its goal and function.

I also have an inkling that this may be where Fire Hose Games artist Ryan Chadwick visits every day. Speaking with him on the show floor at PAX about their upcoming/semi-released game Go Home Dinosaurs, he described the art as an attempt to “overload the cute factor,” and I think they’ve done it.

Go Home Dinosaurs is a tower defense game about a gopher commanding other gophers to help defend their barbecue—I maintain it to be a cookout, though—from an onslaught of dinosaurs. Never mind the anachronisms or disregard for gopher anatomy (where did those thumbs come from?); GHD set out to be a unique tower defense game and it’s mostly getting there.

GHD is only the second unique IP from Fire Hose as they’ve previously contracted for Harmonix on Dance Central and Rock Band Blitz as well as Twisted Pixel Games for Ms. Splosion Man. They manage to carry over the heavily outlined art style from their first solo outing of Slam Bolt Scrappers but they’ve totally goosed up the adorableness, too.

Everything is still super cartoony and fun, but now the characters themselves carry a bit more of the Disney-fication of these cute little gophers and those infantalized dinosaurs: super round eyes, disproportionate features, and slightly exaggerated motions. And it works. They’ve achieved the aforementioned “overload.”

You may notice, however, that even for a smaller independent title, the graphics are a bit flat, and that’s because GHD is actually a browser game. It’s running on Native Client, or NaCl, which is currently Chrome-only. This technology allows for native code to run in a sandbox within Chrome so that instead of relying on JavaScript and WebGL, you can run code at near native speeds in a web browser. According to Chadwick, though, they toned things down a bit in this beta so more people could play and they could get more feedback and testing.

As for the actual gameplay, the most apt comparison I can make is to PixelJunk Monsters. You’ll be wandering around collecting coconuts to build up defense elements as dinosaurs trample down the path towards your delicious steaks. The difference is that instead of total control, you just click on the map where you want to go, your gopher burrows there, and then pops up, ready to either throw things or build things.

Which is a crucial difference. While burrowing, you can essentially preload your next destination so eventually you begin to view not just your defenses but your movements as a pure optimization problem. To make the most of your time between hurting the dinosaurs, collecting coconuts, and building towers/hamster wheels/lasers, you’ll start to attack it as if it were a traveling salesman problem, albeit perhaps not with a return to origin. You will, however, attempt to avoid retracing paths and making unnecessarily long trips as this prevents you from adding a little bit of cherry damage on top of your main stoppage sundae.

Sure, you obviously think the same way when you have free control like in Monsters, but the lack of that full autonomy also means the lack of a level of abstraction from the base problem. It’s an interesting way to change the fundamental thought process of the collect, build, attack cycle.

And while you’ll get the usual defense tower fare like the basic peashooter, the freeze/slow rays, and general AOE attackers, there are also linear, precision lasers and even a not-so-world-ending meteor attack that, according to the demo, is especially useful against the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Where GHD changes it up, though, is that all of these towers and weapons are built from cards that you load into your deck before starting. At first, you start with a maximum of six but this can quickly expand to eight or more. However, when you run out of cards, you are out of things to build. So if you just have six freeze towers, you’re pretty much shit out of luck since that leaves only you able to deal out damage. You need to properly balance your basic towers so that you can cause solid damage early on with more advanced towers so that you can take down the inevitable here-comes-the-end baddie.

This actually further reduces GHD to a base optimization problem. More so than with other tower defense games where you just sort of estimate which placement can affect more walking blocks, the limitation of what you can place forces you to seriously consider each click. If you aren’t achieving maximal utility from a shooter, should you really place it there? Is it even worth having in your deck at that point? With most other tower defense games, your mentality can usually fall back on knowing that you can always just put down more defenses. However, with each round wiping your setup and your defenses being limited, more thought has to be put into what and where you place your towers.

Your towers also are quite beefy. Some take just two blocks or maybe a cornered trio, but others like the laser require an uncomfortable amount of blocks. Each card has an associated Tetrimino shape that denotes what sort of space it will occupy once out on the field, so then not only does GHD become a distance and damage optimization problem but a physical space one as well. You have three basic elements to make as efficient as possible that, when combined, make for a rather manic experience.

All that said, GHD also has problems unique to how it approaches tower defense problems (along with the usual issues). For instance, with just a limited selection of defenses that is chosen by you, you can easily bone yourself and not know it until you’re several minutes into a round. Had the little notification not come up strongly suggesting that I put the comet card in my deck, I would not have been able to beat the second demo stage with the T. rex. I did, however, lose on my first attempt because I did not know he would be coming straight out the gate for me so I wasted my first six coconuts on basic shooters rather than the comet station, but I guess that one is on me.

I did, however, have fun with a tower defense game for the first time in a long time. Maybe it was the goofy characters or the ridiculous premise or maybe even the subtly unique game mechanics, but I enjoyed what I played. What I played, however, was apparently not at all close to everything the game has to offer. There’s a store, a deck and card manager, and more enemies and towers that I didn’t get to see. Maybe that over complicates things or maybe they make it better. I’m not sure. But I do know just how darn cute those gophers are.

And how much those four years of computer science courses have begun to affect my basic ways of thinking.

Look for the final release of Go Home Dinosaurs on an undetermined number of platforms at some point in the future. The beta is free right now in the Chrome Web Store.

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