If you’ve jumped onto Google at some point through today, July 23, 2021, you’ll have probably noticed Doodle Champion Island Games available as the latest Google Doodle. This fully-playable 2D JRPG-inspired game from a top-angle perspective has you playing as Lucky the Cat right in your browser as she aims to complete various sports-themed challenges in light of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that are currently underway. Game designer at The Odd Gentlemen, Morgan Baker highlighted on Twitter that Doodle Champion Island Games has 3 accessibility advisors behind it: Peter Saathoff-Harshfield, Kiran Kaja, and Dominic Mazzoni. So we wanted to have a nose.
The game features a very simplistic controller scheme that allows it to be played with the mouse and keyboard or just the keyboard. Either the WASD or arrow keys can be used to navigate the game world or the menus while pressing key number 1 will open the compass menu hub area. You can also use the mouse to open and navigate the menus. It’s in these areas where you to see a map, the settings, fast travel to challenges, and a leaderboard – yep, it’s an online game where your score goes towards a global team score! I’m Team Red.
Let’s talk about the interactions first. Doodle Champion Island Games has a lovely large font for the text that appears in nicely contrasted boxes. This dialogue unravels itself fairly quickly and allows you to progress to the next line at your own pace. You can also skip the larger chunks of dialogue, but as it unrolls so fast naturally you’ll be practically rushing through to skip. In the settings area, you can also choose to have a stylized font that fits the pixel theme, but you can also change it to a modern, sans serif font for better legibility if need be.
What’s more, those you can talk to —or signs you can read— will have a dialogue prompt above their heads when you get within range. There are some moments where you can choose a reply, which is indicated by an arrow alongside the choices. The challenges you can take part in have a large play button appear above them when close by. These challenges are scattered across the world, which is actually quite large, so running from East to West, or North to South is a bit of a slog. Thankfully you can use the fast travel at will by using the menu and choosing a challenge location. You can’t however fast travel to anywhere outside of the challenges, which means exploring towns and such requires you to wander.
The challenges themselves will apparently be available over the coming weeks while the Olympics are taking place, and each one represents a specific sport. You can earn points by getting the minimum score, but to get a scroll you need to excel in the challenge at hand, and some of these are difficult with timed inputs, some with precision, and some with some form of endurance needed.
*Glares at the rugby challenge.*
I will say, I managed to smash through all of the challenges quickly, but a few required multiple tries. Now, while there are no difficulty modes available, I did feel like the sprinting challenge was dropping the opponent’s speed for me after I’d failed like 5 times. However, I’m unsure if that was just me dodging obstacles successfully.
Collect all the scrolls, and you basically become a champion within your game, but there are more things to do hidden around the world. Some characters ask you to perform tasks, such as the one who wants you to collect 5 blue arrows, while others send you to find a character but a rough indication of where you need to go. There’s even a dojo where you need to swap a fan, but you need something to replace it with. And that was my main issue with Doodle Champion Island Games, was that there’s a lack of information provided to you.
There are no waypoints to direct you in a specific direction, and signs that you need to read aren’t much help as they only reveal what one location is in that direction. It would have helped so much to have arrows around the edge of the screen that are tied to certain quests or even challenges. But there’s not even a type of journal to allow you to keep track of the folk you encounter. I remember someone wants me to find a person dressed in purple to the…North-West of the “docks” but I can’t find anyone dressed in purple near what looks like a dock.
To make it worse, there are already 4 other NPCs that want me to do different things, but I can’t recall where they are. The map isn’t particularly useful when it comes to showing you the locations, it just highlights where you are, the challenges you can fast travel to, and shows a graphical representation of the visual style of the areas. So if you go and chat with people, try and remember what the surroundings look like.
So despite a struggle with remembering tasks and getting lost in the world, Doodle Champion Island Games is actually simple to enjoy and navigate with keyboard controls for some players, although some of the challenges may wear thin. Particularly the sprinting, rugby, and dance routine that requires repetitive tapping or holds. But there’s no denying that this is a wonderful feel-good game that mostly focuses on conveying information with visuals rather than sound, and is available to play directly in the browser for the time being.
Note: One of the advisors, Saathoff-Harshfield noted on Twitter that they also tried to make the game as screen reader-friendly as possible, although I couldn’t test this out. It’s also said there’s room for improvement so…could we see more from this cute little adventure?
Check out our interview on how the first official Paralympics video game is breaking barriers.