It’s A Small World
In reality, creepy crawling critters are pretty disgusting, yet developer NinjaBee has managed to make them considerably more endearing by using a mixture of humor, colorful artwork, and simplified tactics gameplay with its latest offering Band of Bugs. The title made its debut on Xbox Live Arcade earlier this summer as one of the more fully developed downloadable titles on the platform. Players will get virtually the exact same experience in the recent port to PC. It does nothing to push the boundaries of the turn-based strategy genre, but Band of Bugs is still an entertaining journey through a wacky warring insect realm nonetheless.
With this particular title, NinjaBee makes a noble attempt to draw more casual players into a gaming niche typically reserved for those who get their kicks from level grinding and throwing down some d20s. The latter will likely find Band of Bugs painfully lacking in the level of depth customarily found in other games of this type. Whether players will find this to be a nuisance is a matter of personal taste. You can’t customize your characters in any way; you’re given a pre-set party for each mission; and aside from a few special abilities and spells, you’re fairly limited in what you can physically do other than basic attack. On the other hand, these limitations also let players focus more on the strategies possible with the tools you’re given without getting bogged down by too much customization (if there is such as thing). In some ways it’s extremely liberating, and in others it’s just irritating.
The bare-bones story mainly serves as a simple mechanism to loosely tie-in one mission to the next. You’ll follow a young warrior bug named Maal on his exploits to save an insect kingdom while facing giant spiders, burly thug bugs, moths, mantis warriors, and larger, even nastier beasts. It’s actually rather difficult to closely follow what’s happening in the game’s plot at times. You’ll basically be fighting this, saving that, collecting this, and protecting that. It’s basic stuff. The various bug characters are pretty amusing, however, and their antics help lift the game up beyond the surface storyline.
Band of Bugs gives players control over a small handful of unique bug characters which will be sent into strategic battles with numerous carapace-wearing foes across a range of 3D isometric maps. Each of the game’s 20 single player campaign missions has objectives ranging from destroying all enemy units, reaching certain map locations, defending an area, and collecting a certain item, among a few others. Loss conditions typically involve losing a specific friendly character unit or in some cases losing any unit. Controlling your small army can be done with either the keyboard or the mouse. Mouse controls are preferable, however, selecting units is imprecise and it’s too easy to accidentally blast your own teammates with a fireball or attack the wrong foe.
Combat progresses in rounds with each character receiving a single chance to move and take an action each round. For the most part, each side will alternate unit-by-unit based on individual initiative. During players’ turns they can select any unit that hasn’t already acted in the round. The range of actions your individual units can take is pretty limited depending on that unit’s type. In most cases, you’ll move and attack with either a melee or ranged weapon. Other times you can cast some form of offensive, healing or defensive spell via special units or use an item or skill. When your turn is done, you can select which direction to face your unit. Special care must be given to direction and terrain height as attackers will receive bonuses if they hit from behind, either flank, or from higher ground.
The battlefield is made up of grid tiles with varying terrain heights and land features similar in nature to those founds found in Final Fantasy Tactics and other isometric turn-based strategy titles. You’ll occasionally come across some interesting terrain elements which can be exploited to your benefit such as quicksand that will draw enemies into the gaping maws of sand lions, spider webs that slow the progress of friend and foe alike, and switches that build walls. Water plays a surprisingly important role in the game as well since most bug units that make contact with the wet stuff will instantly perish. Chill magic can be used to freeze water solid to open convenient pathways of travel while fire magic can be used insidiously to melt the ice beneath the foot of a foe to send them to a watery grave. These few touches make the environments slightly more interesting to battle in.
A built-in level editor lets you create your own map scenarios for play against the computer A.I. or human opponents both in hot-seat and online matches. The local multi-player modes offer a brief amount of additional entertainment, but you may be hard-pressed to find others to go up against in online matches. In multiplayer, you can play any mission scenario or pick from a selection of pre-built maps in elimination, escape, and capture games. An additional gameplay mode, spider hunt, is only available in online matches. A currently unusable (but potentially excellent) option is a feature to download additional content to expand the game. XBLA players have already seen a few downloadable add-ons, so hopefully the PC version will get the same treatment.
Though Band of Bugs may not completely satiate the turn-based strategy cravings of the gaming elite, new players to the genre will find it to be a great entry point to get accustomed to the gameplay concepts. It may even very well serve as the “gateway” game to other more established turn-based strategy franchises. The game is certainly capable of holding its own, but without the same high-level of expansive content found in other titles it’s likely to get overlooked by many players in favor of the competition. If you’re seeking some short and sweet turn-based gameplay with a fun, original presentation, then look no further. With some gameplay expansion, a slightly more involved story, and additional content, Band of Bugs could prove to be a substantial contender down the road.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Though they’re not incredibly groundbreaking, the cartoony 3D graphics are visually pleasing. The bug characters are charming and funny. 3.4 Control
Keyboard controls are solid. The mouse controls are less unwieldy, but sacrifice some accuracy. Both are functional. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects aren’t particularly enticing, but the insect gibberish voices are hilarious. 3.7 Play Value
It’s a fairly short turn-based strategy experience that can be a lot of fun if you don’t go into with high expectations. It’s a great starter game for players who are new to the genre. 3.7 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.