Slam Bolt Scrappers
If you’ve ever wondered what a Tetris-style block puzzle game would be like if it had physical combat, demons and towers that fight each other, then you’re reading the right review. Released as a PlayStation Network game for the PS3, Slam Bolt Scrappers is the inaugural release from a new independent developer known as Fire Hose Games. The best way to describe it in genre terms is a mixture of a puzzle game and a side-scrolling brawler, with added combat between your tower and your opponent’s. It’s an odd, but very original and creative mixture to say the least. I’ve never heard of another game like it, so Fire Hose Games definitely deserve commendation for thinking outside of the box.
As one of several different caricatured characters (including an angel, a construction worker, a young woman and a demon,) your goal is to destroy your opponent’s tower before he (or she) annihilates yours. Players get to control their chosen character as they fly around the environment, above the towers. Everything is completed through the control of this avatar, as they are your fighter, architect and carpenter all in one. It adds a new and unique dimension to the core puzzle game experience, but it can become overly chaotic at times, which is a major drawback.
Towers are designed by the use of carefully placed (and rotated) blocks that are almost identical to those found in Tetris. When you create a square of blocks of a specific colour, a weapon or shield takes form. For example, red blocks turn into lasers, blue blocks turn into shields (which protect any other blocks it’s touching) and green blocks turn into little drill minions that can be shot at your opponent’s tower. In addition, there are three other types of blocks with different attack qualities. As you drop similarly coloured blocks around weapons you’ve created, they will grow to potentially enormous sizes, increasing their ability to withstand and dole out damage. One addition that impressed me a lot was the 'block rearranger,' which allows you to change the position of blocks that you've dropped. Its helping hand takes you out of the combat experience for a minute or so, so there's a pro and a con to using it, which makes perfect sense.
Unlike in Tetris, blocks aren’t just given to you continuously throughout each battle. You have to earn them by defeating tons of airborne enemies who randomly appear at the top of the screen through hand-to-hand combat combos. The basic minion enemies vary in colour, representing each type of coloured block or potential weapon. Their demise results in a new block for you to use to build your towering war machine. On top of the basic minions, there are larger (and more powerful) enemies who will come to visit you, including gargoyles and ninjas. Gargoyles pack a much more powerful punch with their heavy hammers, whereas ninjas represent the game’s special enemy, giving the player who beats them a special power-up. These power-ups range from a powerful comet attack to the ability to steal an opponent’s weapon and a gigantic wrench that will repair your towers. Power-ups become very handy and can turn the tide of a battle, but they only last for a short period of time, provided that you keep your character alive.
Both your chosen character and your opponent(s) (1 vs. 2 or 3 and team battles are available,) have a limited amount of health. If this bar of life is drained, then you have to wait a certain amount of time to respawn, thus giving your opponent(s) a chance to take the blocks that you were holding and to defeat all of the enemies that have shown up. Timed button presses are required for faster respawns. This creates an interesting dynamic, as it sometimes becomes a tactic to take the other avatar out in order to steal their stuff or just have a break. Luckily, the developers added a block button, which protects you from pretty much anything, by placing a bubble around your avatar. This is very helpful when an opponent is attacking you because, if you block long enough, they’ll sometimes forget about you.
Upon selecting the campaign option at the main menu, you are greeted with a rotating map, showing different types of areas such as a volcano, city and icy mountains. Each location contains one or two levels or challenges, which unlock as you progress. This campaign allows for local multiplayer and primarily consists of battles against one opponent, though there are three decent boss battles as well. There are also special one-off levels with unique objectives such as having to defeat your opponent while you have two towers hanging over a volcano’s core on a weighted scale. In this mode, you have to make sure to add even amounts of blocks to each scale and are also forced to continually clear ember that will harden around your blocks when the volcano occasionally erupts around you. It’s an interesting twist to the game, albeit a bit too chaotic at times. This level is a perfect example of the grand amount of creativity Fire Hose implemented into the experience, but is also a good example of one of the game's major drawbacks: its chaos. On just about any difficulty, some portions of the game are just too busy for their own good, forcing players to worry about too much at once. It's more stressful than fun. Luckily, these sections are few and far between.
Unfortunately, the campaign doesn’t last a long period of time. You could beat it within a couple of hours, especially if you choose the casual difficulty option. There are four difficulties, which potentially add length for players who like to 100% games, but most people will only play through it once or twice. The variety in game modes was impressive and I liked that hidden levels presented themselves occasionally (such as a mega blocks level where you can create gigantic weapons,) but there just wasn’t enough content overall. As you complete levels and defeat bosses, you unlock new things such as battle mode maps and hats (to customize characters with.) The unlockables you earn depend on how well you do on a specific stage, so some people will find fun in trying to unlock everything by completing all of the challenges for unlockables. That’s not something that interested me much, though.
The game’s two tutorial missions do a pretty good job of setting you up for what the campaign will throw at you. However, I was disappointed by the lack of descriptions for each mode. Instead of being able to read what you have to do in each new game type, you are forced to try to figure it out on your own, which can be a bit annoying at times, resulting in the need to restart a level or two. It’s something so basic that you’d expect it to be included, so I found it odd that they overlooked it. Luckily, the game is easy to understand for the most part.
In addition to the game’s brief campaign, you can select a secondary mode known as battle mode. This is where you can set up personalized skirmishes, by selecting teams (or 1 vs. 2,) your favourite map and the type of weapons you’d like to use. It’s nice that they allowed you to set up your own games. Multiplayer is also available through this section of the game, though there is no online multiplayer, which is a huge drawback. It’s too bad, because it really could have improved the game and would’ve turned a ho-hum battle mode into a fun online experience. At least four player (competitive and cooperative) multiplayer was included, which allows couch combatants to battle each other. It's just too bad that such a great seliing feature as online multiplayer was omitted.
Slam Bolt Scrappers features a cartoony visual style, which employs some cell shading. It’s a very colourful design that lends itself well to the style of gameplay it presents, and adds some character to the experience. I liked the use of colour in relation to the different types of weapons you could create, as well as the variety within each level’s backdrops. It was also nice to have creative types of avatars to use, with basic customization, though these options were very limited. Though the visual style looks decent, it’s missing a wow factor and is not something that will leave a memorable impression on you. Still, for an independently developed game, it looks quite good.
The audio within this downloadable title is quite basic. In addition to a very basic and forgettable original score, the game features several different sound effects. Each of these sound effects represents a different type of weapon, melee combat move or environmental catastrophe. I liked the variety in the sound effects, but found that they were also quite basic. The experience would have benefitted if the developers would’ve infused the audio with a lot more character, to try to tie in with the cartoony and colourful experience that they created. That would have made the game much more immersive, interesting and entertaining.
Though it’s quite unique and does a good job of mixing different genres together into one game, Slam Bolt Scrappers is a ho-hum experience. There are some really strong elements and good ideas implemented, but its campaign is very brief with little replay value. The inclusion of online multiplayer battles would have made the game a much more robust and engaging experience, adding length and interest. It’s too bad that the developers omitted this capability because the game screams for the opportunity to battle against your PlayStation Network friends. If you’re looking for an interesting new puzzle game, then there is definitely some fun to be had, though it’s a frustrating and lacking experience overall.