January 29, 2013 4 Comments
I hate reviewing local-only multiplayer games. First, you have to round-up players. Then you have to tell them what we’re playing. Then they leave, because they thought they were coming over to play something they’ve heard of, and you have to round-up more players. Writing these reviews makes me sound like a broken record, because there’s only so many ways to say “it’s tough to sell non-indie fanatics on playing these games.” Even when they turn out to be exceptional, like Hidden in Plain Sight, the real challenge is finding interested parties to play. I think I would have an easier time finding people who want to watch a video of me having my appendix removed.
Squadron Scramble ups the ante by offering eight player local support. Uh huh. Excuse me for one second.
(Ahahahahahaha! Eight players? Wahahahahaha yea right!)
Seriously, I even don’t know eight people by name. There’s Brian, Mommy, Daddy, and everyone else is Whatshisface. And this is one of those games where you get eight players by sharing controllers, with one person using the left stick and trigger and the other person using the right one. It’s the gaming version of a three-legged race. Finding three other competent players would be tough enough, but seven more? Tee-hee, right. Plus, I’m quitting smoking right now and nobody wants to be within assault-and-battery distance from me, let alone sitting right next to me, getting their hand-sweat all over MY controller.
Thus, I only found three other suckers to play Squadron Scramble with, and surprise, we had a damn good time playing it. Actually, it’s not that surprising. As long as the game is fast-paced, user-friendly, and not broken, any four player experience is bound to be jolly-good entertainment. Such as the case here, where you have 2D dog fights with all actions reduced to one stick and one button. Anyone can pick it up and play it. Whether they play it well is really irrelevant to the amount of fun you can have. That’s the mark of a good multiplayer game. At first, Squadron Scramble does that. It just doesn’t last.
The first thing you have to do in Squadron Scramble is move a little dude into a hanger. Once you enter the hanger, you take off in a fighter jet. Each player gets a team of four dudes. You get a point for every plane you shoot down. If you’re in the sky and get shot, your dude parachutes down. You have two options from this point: you can return the dude to the hanger, or you can switch him out for another dude. Since points are tied to dudes that are alive, switching out is meant to add an element of strategy to the game. Switching out dudes “banks” whatever points are made and protects them, since you lose all points scored with a dude if he dies. Sounds like a good idea, but actually this was a game crippler for my session.
The game goes by rounds, with the person who has the most points winning each round. You need three rounds to win. Here’s the problem: points carry over between rounds. So if one player builds an insurmountable lead, they can spend the next couple rounds stalling, with their highest-scoring guys grounded, and never worry about losing. It’s an utterly brain-dead decision and it ruined more than one session of Squadron Scramble, because it was too easy to protect a lead.
This is one of those times where the developers lost track of the fact that not everyone who plays their game will be as highly knowledgeable or skilled as they are. They forget that they, you know, made the fucking thing and thus know how to play it best. It’s not exactly the same as making a punisher too hard and losing track of that, but it’s a common theme in multiplayer games. I’ve had five developers who make such games send me detailed instructions on how to best play their games to ensure maximum entertainment. The developers of Squadron Scramble did this too. Nice guys, mind you. And very patient, considering that I’ve delayed and delayed this review. I like their game. I’m putting it on the Leaderboard. But it’s time for a reality check, fellas: unless you’re going to personally contact every person who purchases your game and give them the same instructions, which obviously you can’t do, you should recognize that maybe your game has a problem. If you need to explain to people the best ways to make your game fun, you’ve screwed up somewhere along the line. The best multiplayer games are self-explanatory. Choppy Chomp-Chomp, the only multiplayer game to reach the top 10 on this site, requires no hand-holding. Squadron Scramble shouldn’t need to, but the developers wanted to hold my hand anyway. Personal space, guys. Don’t make me break out the pepper spray.
It’s still fun though. Very fun, in fact. It’s hugely satisfying to shoot down a guy on a scoring-streak, watch them parachute to the ground, and then Kamikaze your plane into them before they can duck into the hanger. The controls have only a slight learning curve. The action is incredibly fast-paced. I wouldn’t at all recommend trying eight players though. We played with four players and four AI planes, and the game became an unmanageable clusterfuck that nobody could follow. Also, there’s not a ton of depth here. While games like Hidden in Plain Sight might be dusted off from time to time, you’ll get one, maybe two, sessions out of Squadron Scramble and then mothball it for good. Not because it’s bad, but because it wears thin after an hour or two. Once a player emerges from the group as the unquestioned God of the session, the rules skew too much in their favor. This either leads to everyone ganging up on them, or the leader stalling, none of which produce exciting gameplay for anyone involved. Squadron Scramble’s first hour will be the best, and then it will all fall apart after that. That’s fine. That’s how every Will Smith movie plays out, and people still watch them.
80 Microsoft Points stabbed their boyfriend in the ribs for humming Ride of the Valkyries in the making of this review.