Hidden off on one of the Indie Alleys of PAX was Fire Hose Games’ Slam Bolt Scrappers, and like so many indie titles SBS packed all its unassuming charm into a fast and furious battle (and a couple of fireman hats). When you first snag a controller and enter a game it’s easy to crumble under the visual onslaught that nears Japanese advert levels. After a moment your eyes and brain adjust and you realize you’re on a two-person team battling another team, punching cloud-like demons that turn into Tetris-like blocks, and then dragging and combining those blocks to form turrets – and it makes a beautiful kind of sense.
At the core of SBS is punching and combining enough blocks of the same color to automatically form a turret . Candy-colored demon piggies, once pummeled into block form, can be dragged to the desired part of the tower where they combine on their own with nearby blocks of the same color. The different colored blocks correlate to the type of turret created (offensive or defensive), and the size of the block to the strength of that turret, with the ultimate goal of destroying every last block on the other team’s side. This leaves a lot of room for tug-of-war battles, ferocious trash talk and some dirty playing. Somehow my teammate and I managed to dominate, and the gameplay is so frenzied, so fun, that the whole time you’re going mad with frantic block snatching and turret construction.
In addition to this versus mode there is a four-player co-op battle against a boss – a giant robot, in fact. The combining blocks to form turrets tactic still applies, but now instead of getting into a punch fest with the other team you have to attack the robot’s weak point thereby deactivating his shields so the turrets can got to work. Of course, Mr. Giant Robot does more than stand around and wait for you to kill him – he’ll pile snow onto the board to keep blocks from forming turrets, or unleash some lasers. Yeah, he’s pretty resourceful as Giant Robots go.
This co-operative effort is markedly different from the versus mode, and while I only observed the volcano stage it’s also a distinct(though still co-op) experience. Controlling two different towers on a scale, too many blocks on one side plunges the tower into the lava. To complicate matters you are surround by two towers controlled by AI, with flying birds (mounted by enemies armed with swords) out to kill you. Does that sound a little crazy? It is. Does it make you want to laugh? It will.
Adding to the wacky are power-ups that you pick up from punching those lumpy flying demons into a useful pulp – like the Crowbar, a powerful thief power-up that lets you steal an enemy block but makes you vulnerable, the Comet (a dash attack), and the Shield (invincibility). Since you’re pretty vincible the rest of the time, death happens, and when it does there are QTE style button sequences that – when completed successfully – reduce respawn time. Since no matter what death takes you out of the fight for a spell it carries enough of a penalty to encourage some tactical gameplay – and discourage you from getting into a brawl with the opponent with the Shield power-up.
The game has four primary characters, two brawny builders and two more svelte characters – including a lady-shaped one that I got to play as. Fire Hose Games founder, Eitan, says there will even be a story mode and, get this, a Beverage Mode. Yes, an entire mode that allows you to play one-handed while you have a drink.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is all about building and brawling: what strategy and turrets can’t solve, punching does. Look for Slam Bolt Scrappers on PlayStation Network in early 2011. The game is just fun, and that’s just right.