The premiere XBLA developer is back with their latest entry for Microsoft’s service. I am of course referring to NinjaBee; the same guys who brought you Outpost Kaloki X and Cloning Clyde. Their latest title retains the same charm and solid experience we have come to know and love with a very unique title that meshes the complexity of strategy titles with the quirky sense of humor we have come to expect from the folks at NinjaBee. While it is certainly a competent experience there are few hindrances that keep it from being the definitive chapter in the studios trilogy of arcade titles.
Visuals & Sound
From a purely visual standpoint Band of Bugs delivers more than you could expect from a bite-sized arcade game. Each level is of course grid-based so there are certain limitations to the environment, but it works and each level is distinct and distinguishable from the previous one making for a more enjoyable experience throughout. The characters are very animated giving the game an almost cartoon-ish overtone that works extremely well considering the source material.
The sound is also standard fare with a solid score accompanied by some goofy sound effects. It’s also worth noting that the entire dialogue is simply a form of gibberish that is accompanied by subtitles; think of it like the Sims language. The rest of the audio is pretty standard fare with some solid attack sounds and plenty of ambience that really set the mood and tone for the game.
Controls & Gameplay
The core game consists of twenty short-but-sweet campaign missions that involve you and your insect brothers as you work to fend off different factions of rival bugs. If you have ever played a strategy game before the formula here should be pretty familiar. Each turn you are allowed to position each of your characters around the map and then attack or unleash a spell if you are within range. After your turn you can also reposition your character to attempt to avoid an enemy’s attack on the next turn.
During the combat you have access to a limited, but well-rounded selection of units. Your main protagonist has a very strong melee attack while your grasshopper companion is dangerous from a distance with a bow. You will also acquire helper characters throughout the campaign that focus on other attributes such as spell-casting and of course healing. The spell casting isn’t overly complex and actually relies more on environmental aspects as opposed to character ability. Having the high ground is always a bonus and attacking from the sides and backs of your enemies will usually result in a critical hit on your unsuspecting adversary.
In addition to the standard warfare the game does throw some much needed variety into the mix with objective based tasks such as collecting items or avoiding environmental hazards. The downside is that these diversions are not always enjoyable and slip into the category of tedious much quicker than you would hope. This usually breaks the game down into a trial-and-error based affair that really takes away the strategy aspect the game is supposed to convey.
The list of Achievements for Band of Bugs is pretty standard; it is certainly nice to see a developer finally getting the hang of these addictive little nuances as the system matures. There are your basic single-player ones such as completing the tutorial and of course the campaign as well as a host of ones for completing specific events during your trek through the game. There are also a few for multi-player which is, as always, hit or miss to some gamers. Overall the set is well-rounded and easily obtainable by any dedicated gamer.
Band of Bugs features a full-functioning online mode that can be enjoyed with up to three of your friends either on Xbox Live or System Link. There is also a surprisingly robust map editor that allows you to create a bevy of new battlefields to wage war upon. The online mode is much more enjoyable than the single-player simply because it is all about fast-paced combat without the distraction of objectives. You can go at it head to head or even team up to take down swarms of spiders in a co-op mode. There are leaderboards and even a promise of DLC in the pipe so there is certainly plenty of fun to be had with this one down the road.
At the end of the day Band of Bugs is a solid experience that will likely only appeal to a certain number of gamers. Fans of casual pick up and play mechanics will likely find the learning curve a bit too steep for their liking, but if you invest the time to learn the ins and outs there is plenty of fun to be had here. Fans of past NinjaBee games will certainly appreciate the standard humor and solid gameplay they have come to expect from the team, but casual fans are still probably better off giving the trial game a whirl before purchasing.