When The Game Bakers set out to make Squids for the iPhone, they managed to come up with a really good recipe. Unfortunately, the game sometimes feels like it hasn’t been fully cooked through, and should perhaps have been left in the oven a little longer.
Squids is a unique sort of role-playing game that follows a group of treasure-hunting squids as they run into trouble when creatures composed of a black ooze begin to appear and take the form of undersea life, such as crabs and the like. The squids must form a group of fighters to take on the menace and save their undersea world from ruin.
Incidentally, Squids runs into that little trope shared by other RPGs where you’ll have a whole group of party members, but only be able to use about half of them in a battle. That said, you can still collect different hats and spend pearls to power up the members of your party, who each conform to different classes: Scouts, Shooters, Troopers, and Healers. And, like so many other iPhone and social games today, you can solve some problems by throwing real-world money at them.
Flick that fish.
Combat is turn-based, but rather than selecting attacks from a menu, you’ll instead just pull back on the active squid, aim, and let it loose, hopefully bashing into an enemy. Different classes have different abilities: Scouts travel further, Healers heal your party members by running into them, Shooters fire bubbles at enemies, and Troopers can perform a nice ground-pounding maneuver that smashes into all enemies within a displayed radius.
Turns are determined by stamina, which decreases up to a given point based on how much you stretch your squid before releasing. With the meter full, you can usually get two full stretches, and one rather meager one to finish the turn. In addition, the Shooters and Troopers can only perform their special moves once per turn, but as long as you have stamina, you can potentially attack the enemy. When all is said and done, these elements come together to form a nice package.
But it’s not perfect. Simply put, the game feels a bit rough from a gameplay perspective. When things go smoothly, everything seems fine, of course. But as more new elements get thrown in, things start to fall apart.
For example, each stage has a fairly wide-open map, typically with enemies to defeat, obstacles to avoid, treasures to find, and sometimes an end goal to reach. You can zoom out to get a better view of the stage, which is handy, but in order to move your characters– which requires the same rubber-band snapping action as you use to combat your enemies– you must be zoomed in close. In addition, there is a bit of guesswork involved in aiming, as there is really no way to tell precisely where your cartoon squid will go.
Under da sea.
That is to say, you get a pretty good idea, but as players of games such as Angry Birds can tell you, just the slightest shift in angle at the base can lead to a tremendous difference at the end of your shot. And with maps like these, filled with pitfalls aplenty and spiked balls capable of doing repeated damage, sometimes forming tight corridors, precision is a must.
In addition, the physics kind of feel off. The game itself seems as though it’s meant to emulate pool, to a certain degree, with your characters bouncing off of enemies and walls, but it doesn’t feel genuine in that regard. Striking an enemy head on near a pit (which, for swimming animals, seems like an odd trap to have in play, but whatever) may send them into the abyss, but your character is likely to go over with them.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, hit detection seems iffy at times, especially when you’re trying to make precise movements. Even more annoying are additional aquatic life that don’t adhere to the turn-based combat system– they can’t be attacked, but have no problem dealing damage to you while everything else is in standby mode.
All of this may sound unpleasant, and it can be. But even so, the game is still playable, and fun for as long as things go smoothly. Challenge is a good thing, to be sure, but when it feels like the challenge comes from the game not running as it feels like it should, that’s not quite as good.
There is a lot to like here, enough that some people will be able to overlook the flaws and power on. Perhaps The Game Bakers will release an update or a sequel that brings out the full potential of what is a really good concept with a fun premise. At least, we hope they do– this idea could be more, and should be.