The game consists of 5 varied yet short stages. This does not mean, however, that the game is short-lived, as players will be pulled back into the game to better their scores and also experience each of the “Elemental Dolls” endings. When starting the game, the player is given a choice between two different craft. One craft is all fire-power-orientated, while the other is much more agile and allows the player to maneuver with much more agility, but with less firepower. After this, the player can choose between 3 different Elemental Dolls. The dolls have two main purposes, each doll alters the capabilities of the ship: they affect the strength of the beam and regular shots and also the maximum amount of bombs you can carry.
Secondly, even though DoDonPachi DOJ is a shooter, Cave have implemented a story. For those that don’t have an understanding of Japanese, the story is concerned with the fight between the human race and the machines. The humans send these Elemental Dolls to aid them in their fight and, depending on the doll the player has chosen, the ending of the game differs.
The bombs can be used for two purposes. If there are too many bullets on screen, the player can hit the bomb button and all the bullets will be turned into stars that can be absorbed to increase your score. Also, when shooting a beam and using a bomb, the beam will absorb all the bullets that come its way, making the player invincible for short period of time, whilst also giving them a more powerful beam than usual. When enemies are destroyed, they occasionally release power-ups. Absorbing these can increase your ship's fire-power or even increase your bomb stock, giving you a wider range of fire and also a faster stream of bullets.
Yet the heart of the game is concerned with the kill combo system. When an enemy is killed, if the player kills another one in a short, specified time, the kill count will increase by one. It is possible to make the meter go into the hundreds, however this is much more difficult to achieve than it seems. The enemy chucks so many bullets towards you, that it seems impossible to dodge them. The player must therefore map out the best path to take through the bullet barrage while still being able to score kills.
Using a bomb (which turns the bullets to stars) is therefore more of a desperation move that will destroy everything on screen, meaning that you are unlikely to find another enemy for a few seconds, and will therefore be unable to keep the counter going. Another initiative for not using bombs is to use them as a multiplier. When your bomb stock is full and you absorb a bomb icon, your current kill combo gets multiplied by a multiplier and a set number of points is added directly to your score. This multiplier will only stop when you either die or reach a boss encounter. However, if you can withstand the tough bosses, you can continue your multiplying streak in the next level.
A new feature that has been added to this instalment is the “Hyper” item. When collected, it gives your ship an added burst of fire-power which can be used when shooting a beam, and will last as long as your ship does, but it doesn’t absorb bullets, meaning you remain vulnerable. Technically, it does let you absorb bullets for a few seconds by holding down the bomb button. This can only be done once during a hyper and allows you to escape from a tight corner if there are too many projectiles coming your way.
Graphically the game is ahead of the competition. The 2D sprites are fantastically animated, and the effects off the beams and “Hypers” are mind-blowing. The animation, coupled with the sound effects, convey the mad rush of bullets and destruction very convincingly. The design of the enemy ships, and particularly the bosses, is exceptionally well done, and the game as a whole has some of the best 2D sprites seen in any game. The arcade soundtrack has been replicated, and Cave have also included some new music just for the PS2 version. Yet, to be honest, the gameplay requires so much concentration that you are unlikely to be paying close attention to the music. However, once you have got to grips with the game and listen to the soundtrack, you will find that it fits in with the mad and hectic nature of the game very well.
Overall DoDonPachi DOJ is a very exhilarating game. Unlike the sublime Psyvariar, which focuses on making the player choose the best strategy of building up BUZZ by skimming bullets, DoDonPachi DOU is all about learning how to weave through the bullet patterns unharmed, whilst still making the combo meter tick. The game is all about skill and will take players months to be able to be able to one-credit the game – a mighty achievement in its own right. To aid the players, Cave have included a DVD that features a Japanese player building up massive combos while one-crediting the stages, giving the player a lesson in the art of bullet dodging.
The striking thing about the game is the adrenaline and satisfaction a player feels once they have been able to successfully come out alive of a bullet run, and it is this factor that makes the game a pleasure to play. To be able to do this, though, the player will have to dwell deep into the mechanics and successfully implement the use of combo multipliers, combined with the careful use of bombs. The game as a whole comes second to Psyvariar, as veterans of the series will not find a huge deal different in this incarnation, but as with all great gaming series, if it ain’t broke why fix it?