Release date: 2017
Version played: PC (via Steam) in 2017
Colourful language and some extreme, albeit pixel-art style, violence are plentiful in DOMINA, a gladiator-training/Roman ludus simulation game developed by Dolphin Barn, also known as ‘bignic’ – yes, one person did all the music, programming and artwork. Originally released in April 2017, players take the role of a Domina of a ludus, and must turn a group of unique slaves into warriors of the arena by managing their attributes, as well as maintaining favour with the Legate and Magistrate and keeping healthy levels of food, water and wine for your villa.
+ the main gameplay is best described as a “meat grinder”. Slaves become gladiators, who become gods of the arena, before being smashed into paste by a Behemoth from a regional championship before another rises to replace them. Don’t get attached to any warrior in particular, but definitely try to keep your best healthy; it is a management game afterall, and you will often need to choose how to respond to certain situations that the Legate or Magistrate will put you in
+ the graphics are simple pixel art, but incredibly gorgeous. All the various weapon and armour pieces all look great (with fantastic names, too, including “Leather Cock Sheath”) and blend together perfectly on the models. You are always able to determine an opponent’s armour level at a glance, and the detailing on the Domina/Legate/Magistrate all look amazing
+ the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. The countdown before each fight (hilariously, in roman numerals, no less) causes the menu music to transition seamlessly into an electronic/angry bass beat which just perfectly matches what happens in the fight. I cannot stress enough how great the soundtrack is
+ balancing resources (food, water, wine and money), as well as currying favour between the Legate and Magistrate both can at times be suitably challenging. The risk vs reward style of choosing new armour for your warriors versus not having enough food to last until the next fight (which you might lose if your warriors’ armour is not high enough) is where part the difficulty comes from
– several times I have been clicking on my warriors to check their statistics or armour and had a story decision pop up and I’d click on it before I even saw it had popped up. A short timer or confirmation dialogue could have helped, as one of these ended my game then and there, as I was told I was killed, but I never even saw what the choice was
Should you play this game: Absolutely. I got this for half price in the recent Steam Sale, but I would definitely even pay full price for it. The game is challenging, and you’ll need a slight sadistic side to knowingly send your men to their deaths, but the music, presentation and payoff for playing the game your way make it all worth it.