Squids, the first title from The Game Bakers, is the best type of game to discover on the iPhone: addictive, charming, and accessible yet not lacking in depth. It gleefuly combines catapult-like squid-flinging with turn-based tactical RPG combat – all while keeping the whimsy of a Saturday morning cartoon.
For all its excellent window dressing, it’s the control scheme of Squids that really shines. Moving a squid in one of the game’s twenty levels is as simple as pulling back on it like a slingshot and letting the little guy (or girl) fly. The farther you fling, the more stamina you use. Attacking is handled simply by shooting squids at enemies like billiard balls, and you’re rewarded with extra pearls – which serve as both currency and experience – by performing trick shots like bouncing off a wall into a bad guy.
Each squid also has a secondary ability to supplement your attacks. Scouts, like the de facto protagonist Steev, can dash with an extra tap of the screen. Shooters squirt ink like snipers. Healers restore hit points to fellow squids by bumping into them, and troopers can perform a stomp attack that shoves away surrounding enemies. It’s not incredibly complex, but having the four classes gives you tactical options deeper than “Do I hit this guy or that guy?” Without them, this would just be a game of marbles with hit points and a palette swap.
But what a delightful palette it is. Your intrepid team of treasure-hunting squids accidentally open an ancient temple and release a voracious evil ooze into the ocean. You must then save the ocean by recruiting a small army to beat back this menace. It’s not a story you’ll remember for years to come, but it’s as good as any environmentally-minded childrens’ movie and is peppered with amusing dialogue between your party members. Speaking of the characters, their designs are all colorful and distinct, which is crucial for picking them out from the vivid environments that include underwater cities and the back of a giant turtle.
Like many mobile games, Squids constantly rates your performance on a three-star scale. You can simply beat each scenario and move on, or you can try to earn pearl bonuses by fulfilling each star’s requirement. This can lead to you either spending more time with a game you enjoy or growing to resent a game you know you used to enjoy. I had to abandon my quest to three-star every level because I could feel myself beginning to dislike things about the game, things I’m certain I loved before I replayed one level fifteen times.
What wore on me was the breakdown between the level design and the flinging mechanics. Navigating treacherous paths in the later missions requires extremely precise movements that weren’t reliably executable with the controls. And the tiny motions needed to survive those passages felt antithetical to the fun of shooting a squid wearing a pumpkin hat across the board at an evil crab.
Squids’ story leaves it open to a sequel, but periodic updates may be the way to go. The Game Bakers already delivered a free piece of Halloween content that includes a challenging twenty-wave survival mission. Like the best of the levels in Squids, it’s fun, easy to jump in and out of, and rewards smart tactical play. While late game frustrations make me doubt that I’d pay for more Squids, I definitely got more than my two dollars’ worth.
You can find Squids in the App Store for $1.99. It requires iOS 3.2.2 or later and is compatible with the iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch, and iPad (an iPad-specific version is still in the works).