- Format: Wii U (version reviewed), 3DS
- Unleashed: Out Now (Wii U), TBC (3DS)
- Publisher: The Game Bakers
- Developer: The Game Bakers
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/06O7lDzmLOpzcDTpeIdh48BWp8DcGQMy
If the name or look of Squids Odyssey is familiar, that may well be because Odyssey is two mobile games crammed together (Squids and Squids Wild West) along with a bunch of new content stitched in. Dismissing the game simply because it started on mobiles would be doing it a huge disservice; but that’s not to say that its heritage doesn’t carry some problems.
Squids Odyssey is described as a turn-based RPG, a title it just about earns. The turn-based side of things relates to limited movement. Each of your squids has a stamina bar represented by a circle of bubbles. You move each squid by pulling them back then letting go, like a rubber band that smells of fish and stares at you with inscrutable eyes. The further back you pull before release the further they travel, the more damage they deal to any enemy they hit, and the more stamina bubbles are used. When all of your squids’ stamina is depleted your turn is over, and it’s then the turn of any and all enemies close enough to start attacking.
As for the RPG bit, yes, it is – pretty much. There’s a story told between stages via on-screen text and static pictures, about a mysterious black ooze that threatens life as squids know it. It’s hardly Oscar-winning stuff, but it does succeed in infusing the squishy little characters you fling around with a little personality. Each squid also has a small set of stats (health, attack, defence etc) that can be upgraded – or augmented with a variety of hats. Just like real squids.
Though all squids can be flicked, they’re split in to four classes, each with a (usually limited-use) special ability. You can only have one of each. Scouts can be flung slightly further and have a Dash ability, that essentially extends a throw. A Shooter can shoot (as you may have guessed) at mid-range, damaging and/or knocking back an enemy without the need to expend any stamina. Troopers have a stomp attack that, while very limited in range, will damage any enemy caught in its radius (again, without using up stamina). Finally there is the Healer, who can replenish the health of others by smashing into them (don’t try this at home).
As you can see, the art is bold, colourful, and overall very nice indeed – not to mention complemented well with a jolly, keep-on-able soundtrack. This care and quality is thankfully reflected in the level design, which offers a nice variety of layouts and always encourages tactical play. You see, it’s not as simple as bashing into enemies until their HP hits zero. Whenever you or an enemy are damaged by an attack, they’re also pushed backwards, the distance determined by damage dealt. Some stages are missing borders and/or have holes in the floor, and being knocked out of the stage means instant death. Combine this with environmental hazards, mini currents, and teleport-like whirlpools, and where your enemies end up after being hit can often be more important than how much damage you dealt. Similarly, you don’t want any of your squids left in a vulnerable position when their stamina runs out. Squids Odyssey has almost nothing in common with Angry Birds, but an awful lot in common with Snooker.
There are also chests to loot, bosses to best, and stars to earn. Each stage has three stars to be had – one hidden somewhere in the stage, one awarded for keeping all your squids alive, and one for completing the stage within a certain number of turns. It’s compelling stuff and, with close to a hundred stages total, you get a decent amount of game for your money. That doesn’t change the fact that you can get most of the same content for your mobile or tablet (albeit spread across two games) for less than a third of the price. It still works well as a home title, but the game’s mobile origins run deeper than touchscreen controls – and not necessarily in a good way.
The bottom line is that you’re encouraged – required, even – to spend your way to victory. There are no dreaded IAPs, and everything is bought with in-game cash; but it’s still a design choice that should have been completely redone for console. Your squids level up not through XP, but through purchases (and then, stats increase in a pre-set manner). When new hats are found and unlocked, they must still be bought. Useful items can be found during play, but rarely; you can, of course, buy whatever you want in the Shop. While it’s possible (and recommended) to avoid simply buying a pile of stuff whenever you get slightly stuck, it’s undeniably impossible to finish the game without buying a large amount of benefits.
It’s far from game ruining. Skill and planning will get you far, but it can still be frustrating when you realise that you’re ultimately at the mercy of the game’s economy. You won’t be frustrated too often though because, most of the time, you’ll be too busy having fun. That’s all that matters really, and you’ll happily see this game through to the end. With some well-placed redesigning, however, it could have distanced itself from the original games even more, and irrefutably justified the eShop price tag.