I'm somewhat of a specialist when it comes to games starring the order Teuthida, an interest that began when IGN reviewed 'Hail to the Chimp' and claimed squids weren't animals (a line subsequently removed without notice). What can I say? You've got to feel sorry for them after that.
Our ink-loving chums are responsible for many fine games. Aside from scene-stealing cameos, there are brilliant shooters like Squid Yes, Not so Octopus (both SYNSOs can be had online, and are highly recommended), the awesome survival horror Night of the Cephalopods, and now it's time for some turn-based strategy with the defiantly plural Squids.
Squids' levels are top-down arenas filled with spiky obstacles, clamshells, fatal drops, anchors, currents and lots of giant enemy crabs. You'll have four squid most of the time, and during your turn twang them across the place like elastic bands. Each squid has a set amount of stamina per go (a full-on twanging uses roughly half of that), and you can of course control how far and fast they're going.
The object of each level is different: some are all about defeating enemies, some about getting to a particular location, some are one-off solo ops. Combat is a matter of boshing your squid straight into an enemy, and the strategy is in either sending them over the edge, into a bed of spiky sea urchins, or setting them up for the next turn. It's a bit like crazy snooker. The squid also come in different types: Scouts are all about movement, and have a dash ability; shooters can gun enemies once per turn; troopers are hefty types with an area-of-effect slam; and healers bump into the other squid to heal them.
Despite the cartoony visuals, Squids is a game that needs thought. It would go too far to call it tough, but if you don't plan moves in advance and use your whole team, then those bastard crabs waste no time in isolating your squid for a kicking, or bouncing them into oblivion. It's great at mixing things up as well, moving from large-scale battle royals to perilous ledges, deathtrap mazes, freewheeling rides on the currents and a giant final boss.
It's the little details that tie everything up. The scenery is full of gorgeously-drawn background objects, as well as one secret star in each level, and the animations when characters get whacked are just like Loony Tunes. Later levels hide all sorts of chain reactions that you know someone has spent days and days tweaking to get right. And finally a word for its superb soundtrack, which manages both jaunty and jangly backdrops with a hint of the waves and a truly stirring battle anthem.
Squids is only a few hours long, but within that it absolutely over-delivers and not just in terms of production values. This game didn't necessarily need a levelling system, or a phalanx of interchangeable hats for each squid - but it's got them. Squids has been made with a lot of skill, but more than that it's been made with a lot of love. That why it's a sheer pleasure to play, and why my faith in our betentacled brethren stays strong.
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