Squids Odyssey (3DS, Wii U [reviewed])
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Released: May 22, 2014
Squids Odyssey tells a tale of a band of squids fighting against corrupted shellfish in the only way they know how: by pulling back on their legs and slingshotting themselves into the enemies. Since the view is top-down and the action is all happening underwater, gravity does not play a part in the physics. Instead, squids and shrimp bounce around like billiard balls, taking damage for each hit or being defeated completely for being knocked off an edge.
Additionally, there are four classes of squid to choose from, each with its own special abilities. Scouts can dash to go further in a turn or impart more momentum on a target, shooters can hit enemies without having to get close, troopers can perform an area-of-effect slam, and healers can bounce into friendly units to restore some health.
Each level has a unique setup, including points of interest like jet streams that will push units and objects further along, anchors that can be used to keep from being moved during the enemy turn, and powerups that confer a range of random benefits.
As a base concept, it's neat. Taken a few levels at a time, it can be a decent time waster. However, it does not really live up to the lofty claim of mashing up a tactical role-playing game with physics-based action. Certainly, players must employ some forethought in order to be successful, but the fact that success is based also on execution detracts from the tactical focus.
Additionally, the role-playing elements seem entirely superfluous with the game as it is. As the player progresses, pearls are spent to upgrade the squids' stats, but it does not have a tangible effect on gameplay. As attack power increases, so does enemy health and defense, so where it takes roughly two to three hits to defeat a shrimp in the beginning, it stays that way despite the character progression.
Though it uses the Wii U GamePad's touch screen and allows off-screen play, Squids Odyssey still betrays its status as a mobile port. The menus work fine on the touch screen but were clearly not designed for a D-pad and buttons, and every input has a slight lag that makes it feel unpolished. The game locked up entirely for me once, forcing a hard reset of the console.
Despite all that, Squids Odyssey is not bad. One of its high points is the colorful, hand-drawn artwork. Though most stages in any one set have a similar look, they are almost all unique backdrops, and the underwater setting makes for some beautiful environments. The sound design and music fit the theme as well.
Though it is not bad, it is neither great. The basic gameplay concept is fine, and it works as a way to pass time in short bursts. It seems like it could work better if it were a pure skill game rather than the hybrid it is, and it surely would work better on mobile or handheld. The sheer volume of content available for the relatively low price is commendable, but while there is a lot to play in Squids Odyssey, there is not a lot to really love.
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