Dam Beavers is a study in unfulfilled potential. Great word games don’t come along very often – it’s tricky to make a game that provides an interesting challenge to word lovers while still being accessible to those with less extensive vocabularies – but Dam Beavers might have been such a game if not for a few fatal flaws.
Players take on the role of an angry duck intent on bursting dams built by nefarious beavers that are drying up his pond. Players destroy dams by selecting letters found on the ends of logs to make words and using a catapult to launch attacks at those letters to knock the wood out of the dam. Beavers are constantly attacking the catapult with lumber, chainsaws, magic wands, and other weapons, so we have to work quickly to take down the dam before the catapult is disabled.
The basic idea behind the game is solid: Scan a grid of 24 letters and strategically select the ones you need to make words. The longer and more exotic they are, the more damage they’ll do to the dam. A variety of power-ups and “unique logs” add interesting secondary objectives. Using shield and repair logs, for example, helps keep the catapult in working order, and wildcard logs assist players in creating trickier words. Meanwhile, chunks of decaying wood and letters held in place by nails present challenging obstacles for players to overcome.
But these are rare instances of inspiration in Dam Beavers‘ design. The rest of the game feels exceptionally slapdash.
The most glaring issue is the game’s length. There is just one mode composed of a few dozen puzzles, each of which lasts between one and four minutes. I breezed through nearly the entire game in just two hours.
And that leads to the next big issue: Difficulty. It’s much too easy – or at least it is until the final puzzle. I didn’t fail one of the game’s first 35 levels, but I was stuck on the 36th and final puzzle for over an hour. It’s a stark and infuriating contrast to the rest of the game. Indeed, it felt almost as though the game’s makers realized Dam Beavers was too short and too easy, but instead of adding more puzzles or tweaking the difficulty of the puzzles that they already had, they decided simply to make the final level nigh impossible.
And as I tried and retried that final puzzle I found myself imagining all of the ways in which this game with such a good premise could have easily been improved.
First and foremost, Dam Beavers needs an arcade-like endurance mode or some other way to let people keep playing once they finish the too-short story. It need be nothing more than a grid of letter logs with a timer and increasing levels of difficulty with the objective of lasting as long as possible before the beavers destroyed your catapult. Such a mode would have been easy enough to include, and it would have done wonders for the game’s longevity.
Next, players should know how much damage each letter and word does. Before launching words we can check the damage meter, which shows a shadow of how much harm the dam will suffer from the current word, but there are no visible point values assigned to letters, which makes strategizing difficult.
The lack of point values becomes more aggravating once the dynamite power-ups show up. We’re told that if we make a word using a letter encased in dynamite it will do double the damage to the dam. However, without point values I was unable to gauge whether using two or more dynamite letters tripled or quadrupled the word’s damage or if I was just wasting valuable dynamite.
What’s more, points would have enabled a leader board, and perhaps even a glossary of top words used. I would have spent plenty of time poring over such a list, checking my best words in each puzzle and examining the words I used most often. A leader board would also have provided an opportunity for multiple players on the same computer to compare their puzzle completion times and top words. (My wife, also a word puzzle lover, was certain that she came up with more sophisticated words than those that I typically used and wished for a means to prove it.)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Dam Beavers is a game of missed possibilities. With a little more tweaking it could have been a brilliant word boggler. Instead, a series of oversights and a lack of longevity have all but guaranteed that it will disappear into the casual game ocean with little more than a ripple.