"...one of the most unique SRPGs I've seen, and its endearing appearance betrays its challenging difficulty."
When I first started playing Squids Odyssey, I was immediately taken with the cute characters that would be very marketable as cartoons, comics, plushies, and all that good stuff. According to The Game Bakers' website, they have these ambitions as well, wanting their Squids IP to branch out and evolve beyond the realm of games. Of course, like the Pokémon juggernaut Squids is aiming for, all these dreams are for naught if the core foundation, the game, is lacking. Luckily, such is not the case here, as Squids Odyssey is a solid game. It has its flaws, but it remains an addictively fun, unique, and challenging strategy RPG that is worth checking out.
The game contains 8 story campaigns, each with several chapters. The main campaign is Squids of the Caribbean, which is 21 chapters long, plus a few unlockable bonus chapters. The other cleverly-titled campaigns are The Wild Wild West, The Wild Hunch, Six Squids Under, Red Squid's Redemption, Once Upon a Time in the Sea, Little Big Squid, and Rising Squid. These chapters have anywhere from 3-7 chapters each, plus some unlockable chapters. To make a long story short, there is a fair bit of mileage to be had from this game, and it kept me busy for a good 18 hours or so. The Squids' stories are still not complete, so I'm sure The Game Bakers will produce additional and ongoing episodes of our heroes' misadventures.
In Squids of the Caribbean, a nefarious black ooze is turning otherwise harmless crustaceans and other assorted sea creatures into bloodthirsty monsters, so it's up to our daring, if somewhat foolhardy, hero Steev and his funky friends Vahine, Sammo, and Clint to save their homeland. Along the journey, the foursome encounters others who join the cause, making for a robust little army. It's the classic save the world plot you'd find in most any RPG, and the other smaller campaigns are various "save the day" plots. But what's interesting is not that the world or day is saved, but how
So how do Steev, Vahine, Clint, Sammo, and the other squids save the day? By launching themselves like slingshots into nefarious nasties in pinball-esque battlefields, that's how! The best way to describe Squids Odyssey is Fire Emblem meets Angry Birds. Squids Odyssey has the foundation of a top-down SRPG, but the battlefields feel more like pinball machines than chess boards. Instead of moving one of your four chosen units from square to square on the field, units are launched like slingshots, Angry Birds style, to different locations on the field. The trajectory physics are a little rubbery, so it's difficult to predict where on the field a unit will ultimately end up, and that kind of unpredictability will either be adored or abhorred by strategy aficionados.
Each unit has a stamina meter that determines how many moves you can make with them, be they launches or unit-specific actions (e.g. Scouts like Steev can do a few post-launch ricochets, Shooters like Clint can shoot bubbles at baddies, Troopers like Sammo can do a "Hulk Smash" style area attack, and Healers like Vahine can restore units' HP by ramming into them). Aiming and launching is done via the 3DS's analog stick, in that the further you pull it, the stronger the launch.
Enemies are only one obstacle in the battlefields. Other hazards include currents that may carry you where you don't want to go, spiky sea urchin shells blocking the quickest routes, and lots of edges that one miscalculated launch could send you careening off of. There is a lot of strategy involved in properly placing units for optimal results during the player turn phase. And when it's the enemy turn phase, you'd better have strategized well, because they're merciless. Enemies hit hard, hit fast, hit often, push you over the edge, and then do a victory dance after you're defeated. Level ups, items, and stat-upgrading hats cost money, and money is difficult to come by in the game, increasing the challenge even more.
Despite Squids Odyssey's cute and casual appearance, the game is pretty hardcore in its difficulty. There were times I would lose battles 5, 6, even 7 times over. But I never wanted to give up. Each defeat gave me insight to progress further the next time. It's one of those games where punching above your weight class only makes you more determined to take that opponent down, because you know you can. That being said, Squids Odyssey would have wider mass appeal if it had a casual or easy mode option. As it stands now, the game would frustrate casual gamers, which is a far larger audience than the "hardcore" and the one that Squids should be marketing to for maximum exposure. The one aspect that lends itself to casual fans is that the game is best played in small doses, maybe a handful of battles a day. Playing long marathon sessions like a typical RPG fan would do just leads to fatigue, due to somewhat repetitive gameplay (there are only so many possible stage objectives) without a strongly motivating narrative.
The dialogue might not be anything special during the pre-battle cutscenes, but what lends it personality are the expressive character portraits within the dialogue boxes. The characters' body language and posture in those portraits tells as much, if not more than, their facial expressions accompanying their words. Environment graphics are appealing to look at, with lovely design and coloring. The sprites are a tad small and pixelated, though, given the limitations of the 3DS hardware. The sprites look much nicer on the Wii-U and tablet versions of the game. Enhancing the visuals are a jaunty soundtrack and satisfying sound effects. The little squid cries of "ow!" when they get hit are rather cute.
The Game Bakers has something cool here with Squids Odyssey. The game itself is flawed, but also charming and loaded with potential. It's one of the most unique SRPGs I've seen, and its endearing appearance belies its challenging difficulty. I encourage RPG fans seeking something different to check this Fire Emblem/Angry Birds mash-up out. I'm glad I did, and I want to see what The Game Bakers do next with the Squids IP.