Version tested: PC
A pineapple may be a fruit, but as every good merc knows, it is also a grenade. Pineapple Smash Crew has grenades and then some, focussing all its attention on a small but polished arsenal of rockets, mines, deployable turrets and shields. This is a top-down shooter all about a few good mercs and a lot of big bangs.
You control a team of four mercs that move in tandem after an assigned leader. This role can be cycled throughout the team, which is basically used as your inventory - each merc has one item slot. The mercs have default lasers that can be fired almost constantly thanks to a fast cooling-off period, but they're incredibly weedy. All the oomph is in the items.
Their simple icons pop up constantly from destroyed crates and enemies, and you're very rarely without one. The grenade's vertical animation is a beautiful arc that can be bounced off walls into lurking packs - but the need for a second click to detonate is what makes it feel mighty. The rockets are even better, launching out at low speed with a right click, whereupon your mouse aims mid-flight, before another click sends it hurtling in the chosen direction. There's a heave after the second click, a tug of inertia backwards as the rocket prepares to re-launch, that's so satisfying to perfect the timing on.
The rest of the weapons never quite reach these heights, but a turret placed like the rocket is fun enough, and everything explosive does the job with gusto. Healing's an item too, which slaps down a circle you stand in to regenerate health, which you could combine with a decoy in tight situations. The only squib is a placeable shield, which stops bullets but lets melee attackers in - which, given that melee attackers are ubiquitous, is rarely useful.
The way these weapons are cycled through keeps them surprising, though Pineapple Smash Crew's first disappointment is that the combat is rarely exciting. These great weapons should have been the foundation for a red-hot shooter, and instead the battles here barely reach lukewarm. The relative paucity of enemy types is one part of it, including a single boss that repeats throughout.
Each level in Pineapple Smash Crew lets you choose between three ships to raid and three mission types. The mission structures are exactly the same - go to a set number of target rooms and do X, kill anything in the way. The ship interior is made up of randomly generated rooms connected together, the vast majority of which contain that familiar double act of crates and monsters.
Plenty enough monsters spawn, there's a mix of ranged, melee and explosive types, and later they start wearing metal shields. But something doesn't click - rather than a fearsome army ready to rip you to shreds after a misstep, this is an amorphous crowd of feeble arm-wagglers. It has moments of difficulty, sure, but it never gets more exciting.
What Pineapple Smash Crew lacks is intensity - it never gets you nervous or charged. Though there's a difficulty displayed for each level, there's no great leap in threat or, after a point, number of enemies attacking. Though the explosions have all the boom in town, there's just not much worth exploding.
Pineapple Smash Crew feels half-finished at times. Its ending is perfunctory, the rare text logs are witty but under-used, and then there's the levelling system. The game begins by asking you to name four mercs. In a top-down shooter there's only one way to handle that, and soon Jools, Jops, Stu and RJ were back in the saddle. I played the first few missions like an absolute jessie, nursing even the slightest wound and taking no risks whatsoever.
They levelled up, their armour changed colour - but nothing much else seemed to. Jops fell in the third level. If it had been RJ, I would have left him. Instead I replayed the whole thing. Later, it happened again - but Stu be damned, I was too close to the end. Jools went down, then RJ. Jops fought on, a desparate rearguard action - and fell.
But no game over. Four new mercs appeared, who turned out to be just as good as my carefully-husbanded and levelled dream team. The boss went down easily. The next time one of my men died, I barely noticed. Soon my teams were kamikaze-running through the levels, absorbing bullets in the face and running through laser walls for efficiency. Pineapple Smash Crew's levelling system doesn't matter.
That may seem a rather minor point to make about a shooter. But it's the most obvious example of the superficialities that run through Pineapple Smash Crew's design, flaws that quickly turn riotous destruction into a humdrum errand-round. It's a game where the core activity is implemented very well - running around and shooting - but it doesn't know what to make you do with it other than the same again.
Its levels are randomly generated maps of increasing size. But there's no reason for them to be randomly generated! The level elements can't do anything surprising with it - they're made up of the same old floors, walls, crates, and plates. Consider how much the mixing-in of arrow blocks adds to Spelunky's first world. There's nothing like that here, and so the scenery all blends into a forgettable whole.
Pineapple Smash Crew's weapons are by far its strongest point, an arsenal well engineered enough to support a much more intense game. Here they're wasted on a shooter that starts slowly and never speeds up, with solid foundations but nothing on top. Even if you enjoy mindless shooters, think twice about Pineapple Smash Crew. Those grenades may look awfully tempting - but the man from Eurogamer, he say no.
5 / 10