By Phil Schipper / July 9th, 2014
|Developer||The Game Bakers|
|Publisher||The Game Bakers|
|Release Date||May 22, 2014 (Wii U); July 3, 2014 (3DS)|
|Platform||Wii U, 3DS|
|Age Rating||E (ESRB), 7+ (PEGI)|
From two games made for mobile phones comes a compilation that’s pioneering cross-buying between the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS (in Europe, at least). The Game Bakers combined the two games in the series, SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West, with a new chapter in order to create SQUIDS Odyssey. When you see the game, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the squid-flinging action is similar to a lot of arcade-style puzzlers. “How is this an RPG?” you might ask. It is true that the precision you use to throw your squid team members — slingshotting them with either the analog pad or the GamePad screen — is important. When you slam a squid into an enemy, you damage the target based on factors like your squid’s attack, the enemy’s defense and the speed of impact. Even getting to throw the squid has much to do with stats. Each turn, your squids are allotted a certain amount of energy. Tiny nudges expend a little energy, while chucking your squid across the map takes a lot.
In addition to the throws, squids have an additional ability, based on one of four classes. The main character of the game is an example of a Scout, which can dash in the middle of a throw to change direction or get an extra boost. Troopers emit shockwaves that hit all surrounding enemies in range, while Shooters, well, shoot things. Finally, you have Healers, which recover allies’ health simply by bumping into them. The strength of these abilities and even the number of times you can use them each turn are also determined by a special stat.
So, how do you make your squids stronger? Like many RPG’s, the main methods are through leveling up and equipment, but SQUIDS Odyssey has a slightly unique twist on both. For one thing, your squids don’t gain experience. Instead, you rack up pearls by defeating enemies, finding treasure or completing the challenges attached to each stage. You can spend them in the shop (more on that later) or on any squid you choose to level up. While the pearl cost jumps significantly with each level at first, the curve flattens out later.
The equipment is even more interesting. By going through the storyline or opening chests, you unlock new helmets in the shop. Some are free, but some cost a few pearls. “What? You have to find them and then buy them?” you yell. It seems crazy, but with this system, it’s worth it. Once you equip a helmet to an eligible squid (all are class-specific), you can then transfer that helmet’s power to the squid—permanently increasing that squid’s stats. This doesn’t use up the helmet or anything, though, and you can do this on multiple squids at once. In other words, every helmet is a permanent upgrade to all squids of its class. Once you’ve done that you can go back to whatever helmet you think looks cool.
Pearls can also be spent on single-use items that you’ll be able to activate at any time during the game. These feel a bit useless, though, considering the exact same items tend to be lying around each level, triggering immediately when you touch them. The in-stage ones all have the same little key-in-a-bottle icon, so you never know if you’re going to refill your squid’s energy, fire off shurikens at nearby enemies or hole up inside a spiky shell for the enemies’ next turn. It’s generally worth going after them regardless.
Conversely, each stage also has its share of obstacles and traps. Damaging spiky barnacles abound, along with powerful explosives and cannons that fire when bumped. Every map is also designed with lots of bottomless pits. Any of these things can easily harm or defeat your squids, but you also have the ability to use them against enemies. It becomes very important, therefore, to wipe out groups of enemies as soon as you enter an area, without letting yourself get backed into a corner. With water currents everywhere, pushing any unit that enters them in a specific path, this is often harder than it sounds.
Luckily, you will have plenty of time to master each of these mechanics–the original SQUIDS storyline is considered a single chapter in Odyssey, but it is by far the longest, and offers some pretty heavy tutorials. It focuses on a trio of squids in the midst of looting treasure from an ancient temple when they stumble upon an army of evil crabs and shrimp who have been influenced by an ancient Black Ooze. Eventually, the most powerful of your squids will stay behind to face the enemy boss in a difficult fight, while the rest flee to recruit new allies.
The next several chapters are taken from SQUIDS Wild West, where the quest to stop the Black Ooze continues in a completely different area. This saga has a spaghetti Western feel to it, complete with a very different look and sound for the menu. (I still prefer the original one, though, because of the song that you’ll end up whistling for hours.)
From that point on, the story can be a little frustrating because, instead of the usual team of your choice, many stages require you to use very specific groups, so the team of four that you may have focused on building from the best squids–the logical, strategic thing to do–falls apart. Near the end, a major squid actually leaves the party permanently, which is devastating when you’ve spent a lot of pearls leveling. The new chapters seem to have some hope for getting your buddy back, but ultimately end on a disappointing cliffhanger.
There isn’t even a final boss, despite the story having a couple of major boss fights earlier on. Some of these were just normal enemies with extremely high stats and an extra ability or two, but at least one features multiple target points and likes to blow squids across the map. Since the area is riddled with currents and traps, this fight was particularly interesting. It would have been nice to see another one like it closer to the end of the game.
I mentioned my favorite song a bit above, and it fits pretty well into the really water-themed soundtrack that plays through the SQUIDS part of the game and later revisits. The scenes do feel a little empty without voice acting, though characters do have a small pool of grunts and shouts during gameplay. The cartoon graphics look really sharp on the TV screen, though if you look down at your GamePad during TV mode you’ll notice a really blown-up version of your squid that doesn’t look quite as great. Did I mention that the game is fully playable on the GamePad alone?
SQUIDS Odyssey is, overall, pretty mean on a lot of occasions. It doesn’t reward great team building as much as many RPGs do. It is still worth it, mind you, to make your roster stronger because the challenges get pretty steep as you go on. The process is a nice way to back up your maneuvering skills and battlefield strategy — which are the real way to win — and the things that make the gameplay really fun. In the end, I came out of the 20-hour experience with some mixed feelings. Whether you want the Wii U version I played or the handheld 3DS experience, you should be getting essentially the same game for the same $15 USD. Remember, though, European gamers — buy the 3DS version, and you’ll get the Wii U edition free.
Review copy provided by publisher.
3DSRPGSquidsSquids Odysseysquids wild westThe Game BakersWii U