|Min OS X: 10.6|
Mac OS X: 10.6 | RAM: 2 GB | Graphics: 256 MB
What goes through your mind when you hear "Turn-Based Action RPG?" It's probably not squids firing at each other with ink pellets or ramming crabs off a giant turtle. Nevertheless, that's what you're dealing with in SQUIDS, from The Game Bakers. The premise is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is kill all the ooze-covered denizens blocking you from your grand quest to save more women. This is done by ramming them off edges, blasting them with special powers, or by knocking them into the underwater spike trap, the sea urchin.
Sounds pretty simple, right? It is. If you're a regular player of turn-based strategy games, this one isn't particularly difficult or varied. You basically take control of a small party of four squids, click and drag to send them flying into enemies or down the path, and click at specific times to activate their abilities. You can shoot, stomp, dash, or heal. Aside from that, there isn't really any difference between the units. As you level them up using the pearls you find in each stage, they all gain more armor, attack damage, special power magnitude, and health. Due to all units sharing the same stats, ramming an enemy with the head of your scout will tend to hurt just as much as with the head of your healer. The difference is that you can dash forward a few extra times with the scout every turn, thus providing more damage. As a result, it's extremely easy to learn and not particularly difficult to master.
The levels, on the other hand, can get quite evil if you try to rush. There are numerous instances where a pit is positioned perfectly for a stream to wash you off the edge or an enemy to ram you right in. This is especially the case around the middle levels where the enemies are numerous and the stages quite long. Ironically, as the levels progress, the game does tend to become easier. The last few levels even end up as short spurts, as opposed to the longer length of the middle ones. In addition, the final level doesn't even consist of more than a single giant enemy stuck in the center of a tiny stage. You'll likely end up feeling that they're more of an afterthought as a result. Still, there are a few bonus levels after the main campaign that are a little interesting if you don't mind the grind.
There's also a small bit of collecting in the game, with treasure chests scattered around that contain various pieces of squid gear. If you collect it, the squids that can use it gain stat points even if they don't choose to wear it. You'll also find regular stashes of pearls you can use to level up your squids. It's always very tempting to pump them all into a single favorite, but you should likely resist if you want any combat difficulty at all. A maxed out squid can clear an entire level of enemies without breaking a sweat, particularly if that squid is a scout. The maxed dash can be used three times, which is basically an instant death for any enemy in the game. Even if you go for an even spread, though, you'll likely find yourself moving through the game extremely quickly.
The graphics and sound do make up for the lack of length, however. The music tracks are very enjoyable, and it's surprisingly fun to have one particular squid get smashed to pieces by the enemies. It's just something about the way that one yells.... The voices do tend to fit nicely with their respective characters, although all cutscene text has no voice over. The enemies grunt, groan, and scream enjoyably, the random objects bounce with a thunk, the bonus pickups make quick sounds to demonstrate their effects, and the world just seems to sound like it should. The sprites animate smoothly, the background has plenty of moving objects, and the levels are very easy to distinguish from the decorations. It just seems to work.
In the end it all comes down to this. Should you buy it? If you have kids or enjoy simple action strategy games, yes. In the few cases that it's been on-screen in front of youngsters, they've been glued to it in seconds and asked to play. They may need a little hand-holding when they die over and over again on the middle levels, but they tend to have fun. It's also fun for the more experienced gamer, but it does tend to lack a little in length. So, to put it simply, if you've got a few bucks to spare and want a quick game, this one's a good buy. Just don't break into your Diablo 3 fund.
• Easy to learn
• Kid magnet
• Beautiful visuals and audio
• Unusual level difficulty curve
• Ends too quickly after the middle levels
Franklin Pride is a game development graduate and professional programmer/consultant for the Unity development engine. He's currently working on completing his first two computer games (The Farming Game, Uncle Fred's Deep Space Security) while consulting on the side.