Developer: Rich Make Game
Pineapple Smash Crew stopped us from playing some of the biggest games at last year's Eurogamer Expo just by being there. Rich Edwards, the (only) man behind Rich Make Game, singlehandedly crafted a delicious mash-up of Cannon Fodder, Alien Breed and hectic shooters wrapped in a crisp voxel shell. Garnished with crunchy chiptune. Getting around the rest of the Indie Arcade, let alone the rest of the expo, proved to be extremely difficult thanks to its moreish 'just one more level' factor and I'm delighted to report that the finished article does the business.
The universe is a terrifying place. Derelict space hulks drift through the cosmos, infested by alien horrors and dormant, insane security systems. However, these floating death traps are worth cash money to anyone brave enough to scuttle them and steal what salvage they can... which is where Smash Crews come in. These elite mercenary fireteams deploy hard and fast into the hazardous wrecks, bring the rain, nick everything that isn't nailed down and get out as fast as possible; blowing their hard-earned cash on pineapple fritters in sleazy Venusian bars. They're hardbitten, leatherneck meatheads who aren't afraid to jump boots-first into hell.
And they're so adorable, too. Pineapple Smash Crew hits that sweet spot between hardcore and fun, between serious and silly. Only British developers ever really managed to strike that balance back in the nineties, and thanks to Rich Make Game, those grand old Team 17 days are back again.
As mentioned, Pineapple Smash Crew's gameplay is best described as Alien Breed meets Cannon Fodder. Your four mercenaries are deployed into randomly generated maps and controlled as a single character, with the ever-faithful WASD setup giving you responsive direct command of the gaggle of roughnecks. The mouse, as you'd expect, governs shooting and causes your squad to deploy a hail of neon firepower at the reticle. Though missions range from bug hunts, boss fights, toxic waste disposal and locating valuable commodities, the action usually just boils down to killing absolutely everything that moves. Slick controls, hectic battles and unique squad mechanics make this an absolute joy, as do a varied range of disgusting Xenomorphic enemies boasting different attack patterns.
Deployable grenades and gadgets help to streamline the genocide, and provides one of Pineapple Smash Crew's neatest unique draws. The right mouse button can be used to deploy and detonate regular grenades, guided rockets or radial healing devices. However, as you smash up the scenery and kill enemies, you'll collect Power Cubes that gradually unlock a dizzing array of alternate firepower. Teleporters let you set up devastating ambushes. Poisonous 'damagers' sap away at stationary foes within their killzone. Lasers blast through walls. And that's just the tip of a satisfying strategic iceberg that encourages you to experiment with new toys rather than falling into a predictable rut. Pleasingly, an incredibly generous supply lets us smoke 'em while we've got 'em rather than stockpiling.
Cannon Fodder's influence is felt far beyond the squad-based shooting. At the end of each level, your four mercenaries gain persistent experience that grants them increased damage and health... but their deaths are permanent. Weak replacements can be drafted in, but at the cost of points, prestige and power. The fact that you can name your original foursome means that you'll likely form a strong attachment to them - and occasionally restart a level just to avoid saying goodbye.
And, of course, the first two replacements are called JOOLS and JOPS. We see what you did there, Rich, and we like it.
Repetition tends to be the enemy of twinstick shooters, and there's no denying that Pineapple Smash Crew does become slightly homogenous after a couple of hours. But we prefer games - especially Indie games - to focus on doing one thing and doing it well, and Pineapple Smash Crew absolutely nails the fun and frantic shooting experience. More importantly, though, the simple structure provides scope for practically limitless replayability. Ships (levels) are randomly-generated right down to their names, and optionally exploring their randomised halls for terminals and pickups can also ultimately reveal the location of a valuable mothership. It's perfect for a few frequent minutes of play or hours of hardcore destruction: a game that you'll keep on your hard drive just in case you've got a few spare minutes and an itchy trigger finger.
Presentation is top-hole. Colourful, brash art design and crisp voxel visuals make Pineapple Smash Crew a chunky and attractive affair; augmenting the furious nature of the combat with enormous, satisfying explosions.
Syphus' gloriously emphatic chiptune soundtrack adds a real sense of urgency and weight to the proceedings - and in all seriousness, could well be a contender for 2012's best original score even at this early stage. Be sure to check out his official site and consider downloading the crunchy, noodly masterpiece in its entirety.
Finally, Pineapple Smash Crew wraps up the inexpensive package with genuine personality; something that's lacking from most major titles these days. Randomised mid-mission dialogue and terminals reference everything from Aliens and Hunter S. Thompson to cask ale and the Chuckle Brothers. Your tongue will remain firmly in cheek, during the few moments when your teeth aren't gritted in desperate concentration.
- Slick, sexy, addictive SHMUP action
- Near-infinite randomised replayability, genuine personality
- Phenomenal soundtrack and retro visuals
- Repetition comes with the territory
- Could use a few more varieties of bosses and regular enemies
The Short Version: Pineapple Smash Crew is the best of British: a shooter that's both hardcore and accessible, comfortably familiar yet riotously anarchic. Randomised replayability and raucous fun factor make this one-man indie powerhouse a force to be reckoned with.