Platform: Wii U (eShop, £9.99)
Developer: The Game Bakers
Hello SQUIDS. We meet again. I've been waiting for this day.
See, I last encountered the colourful lovechild of turn-based strategy, pool and Angry Birds back in 2011 during my stint at our mobile sister site Mobot.net. It let us lead squads of stretchy squid into battle in tense battles, but replaced traditional battle systems with trick-shot catapult combat as our squishy soldiers careened around the battlefield and slammed into foes. Praising its big ambitions and tiny price tag, I awarded the original iOS game a perfect score and suggested that it would make a superb handheld or home console title with extra content and polish.
The Game Bakers certainly took their sweet time, but three years and a sequel later, the complete SQUIDS experience has been gussied-up, blown out and delivered onto the Wii U eShop, with a 3DS version in the pipeline.
It's a perfect fit for both platforms and just as fun as ever. But can a mobile title, even an expanded one, survive in the open seas of a new ecosystem?
The premise remains the same, as both SQUIDS and SQUIDS: Wild West have been remastered into higher resolutions with both campaigns and gameplay intact. A diabolical ooze starts turning sea creatures evil and only a crack team of cephalopod soldiers can stop them. Battles and exploration translates into mid-sized arenas full of treasures and nasty hostile sea creatures, with players controlling their squad as an omniscient top-down commander.
As a turn-based strategy game, positioning your units (all of whom boast different classes and abilities such as ranged six-gun attacks, radial blasts and contact heals) and prioritising key enemy threats is paramount to success... but this ain't Etrian Odyssey. Instead of designating where you'd like a unit to move, you'll actively grab it by the tentacles, stretch it out, aim it and let fly. Your watery warrior then shoots across the screen, damaging and knocking back anything it touches.
This sounds simple, but in practice unlocks a seriously surprising wealth of tactical depth and trick shots that even seasoned pool sharks would balk at. On a basic level, you'll need to perfectly weigh and aim each shot for maximum effect, ensuring that you can bounce foes off ledges or into hazards yet end up in a safe position at the end of your turn. Various level-specific hazards and features, from spikes to water jets, ensure that you'll need to maintain a nimble mind as well as nimble fingers. Thankfully the GamePad's touchscreen makes setting up tricky shots a cinch, and we suspect that the 3DS stylus will do just as well. It's also a natural fit for off-TV play given the smartphone roots.
SQUIDS Odyssey's difficulty pays testament to just how robust and versatile the mechanics are. The challenge curve ramps up after the first few levels, due mainly to the ferocious enemy AI doing its best to slam your squad into hazards and pits, alongside increasingly durable enemies and ever longer odds. But there's always a way to use your class skills effectively to succeed -- a speed boost there, a perfectly-aimed heal there -- while the star system encourages you to replay earlier stages to find hidden items and boost your high score, accruing experience all the while. There's even an online strategy guide if you need it.
Admittedly some levels are better than others. There's some definite filler here, alongside some sections that seem a little too large, effectively bulking out a couple of arena battles with lots of empty space to traverse over multiple turns.
Crucially, SQUIDS' adorable personality stops the action from feeling frustrating, at least in the main. Characters are larger-than-life and likeable with hilariously referential dialogue, our firm favourite being grizzled gunslinger Clint and his numerous homages to Spaghetti Westerns. The luxuriantly-detailed backgrounds are also packed with personality and animated asides, newly brushed up to HDTV standards, set in colourful and unpredictable locales not limited to the shell of a massive swimming sea turtle. Sharp character portraits and sprite art seals the deal, making it a real feast for the eyes that's childlike enough to appeal to everyone, yet rarely childish enough to patronise.
SQUIDS' economy is underpinned by collecting pearls from defeated enemies and chests to spend on levelling up your characters, purchasing a range of stat-enhancing hats and buying useful consumables. The mobile titles predictably used this setup to shoehorn in a plethora of optional microtransactions, but I'm delighted to report that Odyssey has been totally rebalanced as a single purchase. Buy once, get all the content - and just replay earlier levels to accrue more pearls. That's just the way we like it.
However, it's a crying shame that The Game Bakers didn't take the opportunity to overhaul how the levelling system actually works, because the original mobile model feels very cumbersome and inelegant on a home console. We have to spend pearls to manually level up every specific squid in our expanding roster, then individually equip each squid with every single hat to confer their stat bonuses. The process takes an age, not least due to some small yet cumulative menu loading times, and it's all time we should be playing rather than fiddling around in menus.
Value is also worth discussing in more detail. SQUIDS is certainly no slouch in terms of quality and quantity, packing the two original campaigns alongside a new chapter and a handful of new unlockables, and feels appropriately-priced on its own merits.
Mind you, seeing as saving money is a fairly major part of our remit here at Dealspwn (the "Deals" stands for... well, deals), I have to point out the pricing disparity between the console release and the original mobile games. SQUIDS is available for £1.49 on iOS and less on Android. The same is true for SQUIDS: Wild West and both games look gorgeous whether on phones or tablets. But SQUIDS Odyssey costs a cool tenner; less than Nintendo could have charged, but sadly slightly too much to stop it becoming an impulse purchase.
- Enjoyable gameplay blends artillery combat and strategy
- Plenty of levels, stiff challenge
- Cheeky and adorable personality; sharp colourful visuals
- Cumbersome manual levelling and equipment needs a serious overhaul
- Some levels feel padded, overly large or tough
- The original mobile games cost £1.49 apiece (sans IAPs, natch)
The Short Version: SQUIDS Odyssey brings calamari-flinging catapult strategy to the Wii U, where it feels right at home with sharp visuals, plenty of content and an enjoyable challenge. Though the mobile originals are admittedly incredibly cheap, curious Wii U owners should definitely take a look at this definitive console edition.