- Format: 3DS (version reviewed), Wii U
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: The Game Bakers
- Developer: The Game Bakers
- Players: 1
- Site: www.thegamebakers.com/games
Squids have subtly infiltrated the public consciousness for a long time now. For years Mario has been bumping off their squishy heads, or using their ink to gain the upper hand in races; and we recently saw next year’s Splatoon where we’ll become the cephalapods ourselves! Squid advocates Game Bakers have recently ported over their Wii U title – itself a compilation of two iOS games – to the 3DS in Squids Odyssey.
Squids Odyssey features an inventive take on the turn-based RPG genre, using slingshot gameplay made popular by mobile games like Angry Birds. Players assemble a squad of four squids of different classes with unique stats and special abilities: Scouts are fast and can dash a little farther, Troopers have a ton of health and stomp the ground to scatter surrounding enemies, while Shooters shoot and Healers (wait for it) heal.
While these mechanics themselves are fine, Squids Odyssey comes with the baggage of its mobile origins – further exacerbated by a lacklustre job of porting to 3DS – that detract far too much from them.
Levels vary in size, but they aren’t designed particularly well. A lot of them feature ridiculously narrow corridors that you’re expected to slide four squids through, resulting in them just kind of slapping against each other. Gaping holes that will claim your squid’s life also litter the map, overreaching their visual boundaries far too much and resulting in squids falling through perfectly solid ground.
There was one particular map that was an absolute nightmare thanks to this. Two blowfish circled one of these infuriatingly narrow corridors, and the shooter’s attempts to move forward sent the healer between one of these blowfish and a wall, ricocheting her back into its path over and over until she went from full health to zero. The only way to circumnavigate such ridiculous scenarios is just to skip turns, eschewing the time bonus and artificially extending the length of the level.
Half of these problems come down to the fact that you can’t really see where you’re going. You can zoom out to get a better view of your surroundings, sure, but then you can’t fling your squid in that view. The problem isn’t as pronounced on the Wii U version, so it could simply be down to the 3DS’s smaller screen. More likely it’s the result of porting over from mobile and neglecting to take into account larger screens. Although there is one map where light obscures a spiky ball, making the path look clear until you kill your squid against it. That really is just down to bad design.
The adaptation to 3DS also severely hampers the artwork that was so striking on the Wii U. The backgrounds and sprites of the squids and shrimps appear to have just been shrunk down without the due amount of care in ensuring they retain their spirit, creating a lack of fidelity to the vision of the game that we’ve previously seen in lost details and blurry edges. This has also led to the colours becoming really washed out, losing the wonderful vibrancy with which the game’s world had been crafted on the Wii U version.
The missions require you to either kill all the enemies or reach the exit, along with time challenges and secret stars to promote exploration and replayability. The pacing of these are extremely weird; The first set of levels feature 21 levels, while the next seven have mostly three or four, though that can be attributed to the fact that the first set comprised the original iOS game and the next seven the sequel. Fair enough.
However, the difficulty pacing unveils an ugly truth: Nothing was done to remove the iOS in-app purchases tripe. Players will find one mission negligibly easy, only to be stumped by the huge jump in health and damage of the enemies – enough to kill your squids in a single hit – in the next level that was probably designed to sell players stat-boosting hats. The fact that you can unlock them via in-game currency doesn’t remove the fact that it’s an awful difficulty curve, forcing you to grind pearls because you can’t just buy the hats with real money.
The game surprisingly has a decent story, at least initially. The squid’s world is under attack by gooey darkness, and it’s up to a small group to go find the source of it and destroy it. Early on it’s said there are seven temples to travel to, though that idea was apparently quickly dropped as it’s never mentioned again. The dialogue gives rise to some amusing plays on spaghetti western tropes that exude a ton of charm.
Whatever good will this earns is dashed by the ending, however. It’s not even a cliffhanger, it’s just incomplete. Another symptom of the game’s origins: The conclusion of the story will no doubt pop up on the mobile app store at some point, if it hasn’t already.
On a technical note, the game crashed for us many times over the course of the story, often forcing us to restart levels and once halting our progress for several days on a particularly tricky boss. There doesn’t seem to be any particular cause, either; the game would just randomly crash and force a system reset. This happened once on a level where the character ran through a pre-determined course, but it didn’t happen under identical conditions the next time, indicating it might just be a bad port.
It’s a real shame that poor design in mechanics, levels, and progression hamper Squids Odyssey, as it really is a fantastic idea with a lot of charm. Hopefully The Game Bakers can hone all of this and produce something fantastic without the baggage that comes with being a mobile port.