|System: PS3, PC, Xbox 360|
|Dev: 8monkey Labs|
|Pub: Phantom EFX|
|Release: Q2 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes|
by James Trujillo
The gaming industry has seen a fair share of Puzzle Quest clones since its release in 2007. But what would happen if you remove the puzzle elements and replaced them with a slot machine? In a typical role-playing game, the outcome of a combat scenario is usually resolved by a behind-the-scenes dice role. However, the developers at 8monkey Labs have decided to give this concept a new twist. Battle Slots, a hybrid role-playing and casino slot game, has taken the challenge of bringing luck to the forefront in this all-new adventure setting.
My hands-on time with the game began in the land of Tellus, a once peaceful countryside now ravaged by an evil demon king. A young man discovered a strange and complex machine while spending time in the woods. After he brought it to the local smith, he discovered it was a magical machine that will bond with its host, granting them a variety of mystical powers. It's not a narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it managed to set up the gameplay.
After pushing though the random tutorial dialogue, it was time to see what the gameplay was all about. The initial battle screen gave a rundown on how the slot machine will determine the outcome of an enemy encounter, and how a stroke of luck can either make or break your experience. A large slot machine takes up the majority of the screen real estate, with three rows of five slot columns, and the goal is to match at least three symbols to get a payout. These payouts can occur by matching symbols on twenty-five specific patterns, called pay lines, which can span across all three rows and all five columns; but always start from left to right. It might sound a bit confusing at first, but once you see it in action, it's actually quite simple. You can also match more than three symbols to get a higher payout, but this early build of the game seemed to have a few more kinks to work out in that department.
The symbols in Battle Slots play a large role in how effective you are in combat, in addition to how quickly you'll level with experience or acquire gold for spending. Red and blue symbols pay out attack and mana points, which can be used to execute a variety of special attacks or spells called Techniques. Yellow and green symbols will pay out gold and experience points during battles, and if you're victorious in a skirmish, you can obtain even more Techniques with your earnings through a vendor or natural level progression.
Your opponent also has a set of techniques at his disposal, and depending on how lucky you are at the start of the game, you might be struggling with an uphill battle. During the first fight with a real adversary (the tutorial battle), a cruel twist of fate had me losing matches three times in a row. Each spin of the slots will give you a point payout or it won't, and you could be stuck without any attack or mana points for a large duration of combat. An enemies slot will spin at the same time, and if they gather an abundance of points during their spins, the match could be over before it ever starts. Not to mention, if they have techniques that can hinder your performance, like locking up your slot reels or providing you with consecutive damage on each spin, it could make matters even worse. It's a bit frustrating to experience at the onset of a new game, but persistence is surely the key.
Once lady luck began to change sides and I actually won a few battles, the strategic options in Battle Slots finally began to present themselves. You can earn new slot symbols during your travels to increase your payout chances and rewards, either though enemy encounters, completing quests, or by purchasing them in shops. Each newly acquired symbol will automatically install itself in your machine, and you can even change how frequently they appear when you visit your town Slotsmith. He can fine-tune the machine by giving you access to sliders that will adjust the ratio of attack and magic symbols, in addition to the ratio between treasure and experience symbols. There is also a special slot for a Summon Scatter, which is essentially a symbol that represents a type of jackpot, and can be achieved when at least three of them appear anywhere on the slot reels.
There is also a location in town called the Academy where you can swap out different Techniques. You can have any combination of six attack and mana techniques equipped at any given time, as well as a special Zoo Creature ability. The Zoo is where creatures are held once they've been captured during your hunting escapades. Each location that isn't a town or special place of interest will give you an option to go hunting, and this can act as a means of level grinding and/or a way to play the game casually. In addition to the techniques and zoo creatures at the Academy, you can also equip any collected Runes, which provide an array of statistic buffs, or assign an ally you've befriended during your journey.
Once Battle Slots finally opened itself up, it actually turned out to be an odd combination of frustration and fun. Honestly, if I hadn't been playing this game for a specific purpose, I would have probably thrown the game out after my three-loss streak in the tutorial battle. Not to mention the plentiful come-from-behind wins by my opponents, strictly due to unforeseen bad luck. But y determination got the best of me, and I persisted until I got "just one more payout!" Granted, this was an early build, so the randomized difficulty curve might not be as bad when it releases to PC in mid-April, and digitally on consoles in the coming months. Or, then again, maybe it's all just based on the luck of the draw.
Either way, if you're one of the unlucky folks struggling with a gambling addiction, or someone who just isn't a fan of losing due to unforeseen circumstances, then you may want to let this one slip by. Otherwise, any normal individual with a strong will and fierce determination might actually have a blast.
CCC Freelance Writer