Sunday, December 9, 2007
If you have an Xbox, you're probably aware of Xbox Live, the pay-per-month service where you can play with other gamers online. And if you have Xbox Live, you've probably at least cruised past the Xbox Live Arcade, where you can find old classic arcade games and new stuff that you can download. And if you've downloaded many Xbox Live Arcade original games, you know that most of them suck like a high-powered vacuum hose.
Developing content for the Live Arcade must be tough. I don't know if it is or not, really. I just know I've downloaded a whole slew of trial versions, and it's like developers are really trying to make games that make me wonder why I don't just turn off the Xbox and see if I can find some soft porn on HBO.
So when someone suggested I check out Band of Bugs, I was skeptical. When nine out of ten games I've tried for Live Arcade are worse than free games I could play online (and some of them actually ARE free games I could play online), I'm hesitant to try a new one. It's something about nine times bitten, tenth time shy. But I figured I could at least take a whirl at the demo and see if I felt like asking for a review copy, and I'm glad I did.
Band of Bugs is like Final Fantasy Tactics, if instead of assassins and black wizards and clerics you had grasshoppers and cockroaches and mosquitoes. Except that the mosquitoes are more like thieves, and the grasshoppers are archers, and since the art in Band of Bugs is... stylized, I don't have any idea what the cockroaches are supposed to be. I think the ladybugs are warriors. There's a praying mantis who is apparently just a bad-ass.
Basically, you'll be moving your bugs one at a time in a turn-based game of tactics and strategy. You'll try to get a height advantage, strike from behind, maximize your offense and shore up your defense. You'll maneuver all over the map, and then because your main character has Popeye arms, shove your enemies off cliffs and laugh when they hit bottom.
Band of Bugs has something that a lot of games are missing - humor. In fact, having looked at other games from developer Ninja Bee, I think the humor comes from the programmers. And it's not lame anime jokes that can only be enjoyed by young children and fat guys dressed as Sailor Moon, it's actually really funny stuff. Like the load screens have these little tips and facts, but they're not really tips or facts, they just make you laugh. One of them mentions that there are hundreds of insects that are not identified, and that makes those bugs very sad. The game doesn't take itself seriously despite being a seriously decent game.
The mission types are widely varied, and it is extremely unlikely that you will get bored with the game before you finish the single-player mode. You can find yourself racing for the exit while the road collapses behind you, holding the wall against an impossible horde, throwing all your forces into a single-minded assault on a target, or just engaging in a classic game of last-man-standing.
The terrain types keep the game challenging as well. Water will instantly kill any non-flying bug that enters that space, and shifting sands will push your bugs into the pond. Exploding spores will damage any bugs next to them, and spider webs will slow you down. You can freeze a water space, push an enemy bug onto that space, and then thaw it back out again to watch your enemy drown without ever taking a hit. I was a little disappointed that I couldn't shoot hairspray over a Zippo to cook the bugs, but that only really works on slow-moving insects anyway, and besides, why would a flea carry hairspray?
Band of Bugs isn't perfect. The campaign mode is way too short, and while there are several single-player matches you can play outside the story, you'll still finish the game in less time than it took you to beat Halo 3. And if you do want to play multiplayer, you'll have to get some friends to buy the game, too, because as many times as I looked, I only ever found one other person playing online, and he quit halfway through our first game. I would love to tell both of my loyal readers how fun the multiplayer is, but the truth is, I don't have any idea, because I could never find anyone to play.
The game itself has a few minor flaws, mostly where I wanted to have more options and more control. Your characters go up in levels, but you don't control this. If you get to a level where your guys are supposed to be level 4, they'll be level 4. You can't do practice runs to get better. You can't find better weapons. You can't cycle through eight different options for helmets, all with the same armor rating, to find the one that makes your main character look the most dangerous (come to think of it, this last one might not be a flaw after all). It's a little simplified, but it's wicked fun, and really, that's what matters.
Basically, Band of Bugs is a very good turn-based tactical game that you can get for ten bucks and download to your Xbox 360. The graphics are great, the jokes are hilarious, and the tactics are tight. Good play is rewarded with wins, and bad play is penalized with wedgies (but only if someone bigger than you is watching you play). There's a level editor to make your own maps and a good amount of downloadable content. Now all we have to do is persuade another couple thousand people to buy the game, and you can hop online and play a smart-mouthed 12-year-old asshole any time of day or night.
Great sense of humor
Engaging tactical game play
Ten bucks - stop your whining and buy it
Lack of options
A little too basic
Can't find anyone to play online
If you want to own a copy of Band of Bugs, fire up your 360 and cruise over to the Live Arcade.
Posted by Matt Drake at 3:14 PM