Going into Squids Odyssey, I was not looking forward to it. This comes down to my own personal stigma toward mobile games with this particular game having its roots on cell phones. However, if there is any game to break this stigma for me, it is Squids Odyssey. It is a blend of a tactical RPG mixed with class-based gameplay all combined with engaging and entertaining characters. This version of the game comes packed with two campaigns from the original Squids and one from the sequel Squids: Wild West as well as a new chapter, a new squid and more helmets as well. This is my sleeper hit of 2014.
The story of Squids Odyssey is simple enough yet turns out to be pretty satisfying. It begins with the squids, Steeve, Vahine and Winnick hunting for treasure when they come across shrimp covered in ooze that has corrupted them and begin to attack our protagonists. This black ooze is spreading throughout the ocean converting the sea life and threatening the lives of innocent creatures. Thus begins the journey to save the ocean (and pick up some treasure along the way). The writing is witty and while the overall plot isn’t the main draw, the interactions between the squids is more than entertaining enough to keep you interested.
What will keep you coming back level after level is the gameplay. There are a surprising number of aspects to combat that one may not have expected at first glance. Basic gameplay consists of pulling the squids to fling them in specific directions which will damage enemies on contact, travel across a level or gather powerups. However, there are four different classes in the game: Scout, Shooter, Trooper and Healer. Scouts have the ability to dash mid fling resulting in a greater distance traveled that doesn’t use any of the character’s stamina allowing in the greatest distance to be covered by any class. Dashing into an enemy causes more damage as well. Shooters are exactly what they sound like. Within a certain distance, these squids will be able to shoot their enemies knocking them back and causing damage. Troopers are the tanks of the game who come with an AOE attack great for knocking enemies off of cliffs. Lastly is the Healer who is very weak but can heal your party members by being flung into them. The tactical options here are satisfying and you are allowed to create whatever kind of team composition you want. Early on I used one of each but eventually I went with a risky approach of two Scouts and two Shooters for maximum damage. There are also mounts in the game that allow for even greater traversal and defense as well. The game itself is turn-based allowing all of your characters to move then your opponents will do the same. There is no grid system, but it is completely free-form across the map with the only movement limitation being the stamina of your squid.
The RPG element deals with the in-game currency, pearls. These can be collected by hitting clams in levels, defeating enemies or earning stars (which will be discussed later). These pearls can be used to level up your squids increasing all of their attributes by a small amount or buying helmets which often provide a larger increase the main stats of a character class. This system strikes a good balance letting you focus on a more rounded party or hone in on one or two attributes for each. Helmets also have aesthetic differences allowing for customization opportunities. Once you buy a helmet, you will transfer its power to the squid for a permanent stat boost. After it is transferred, you can equip a different helmet that you might like the look of better while still maintaining the stats of every other helmet that has had its power transferred. Also all hats bought for one class are automatically unlocked for any other characters within the same class allowing for more viability if you want to switch up your party members. This seems like a small thing, but kudos to developer The Game Bakers for putting this in the game.
Each level also comes with three stars to earn netting you more pearls to either level up your squids or buy new helmets. In every level is a secret star that starts to fade into existence when one of your squids are in close proximity to it. The second star deals with survival which requires you to end the level with all of your squids alive (which becomes much more difficult as the game progresses; also there is no perma-death) and lastly there is a speed star. As one might imagine, it is for finishing a level in a certain amount of turns or less. Completing each objective nets you a decent amount of pearls to go toward upgrades.
However like many RPGs, there is a chance that you might hit a wall like I did. Throughout the campaign new squids will be recruited to join your roster and they all come at preset levels. About halfway through I noticed that the new squids that were joining me were a higher level than the ones I had . . . and then I couldn’t beat a level because my characters seemed too weak. This was the point where going back and gaining stars for levels that I may have missed came in handy and served another purpose: boosting my shattered self-esteem. Going back and playing earlier levels made me feel empowered as the enemies don’t scale with your squids on a level by level basis. It felt great and was productive in helping me progress.
Lastly in terms of gameplay is the 3D effect since this was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS. As someone who is not a huge fan of 3D, I liked it here. It does a great job at showing the depth of the ocean as water currents and schools of fish swim by seeming much closer than the battlefield below. At times it may seem subtle, but I think overall it enhances the game
The music in the game also enriches the experience. Each track is playful keeping true to the tone of the absurdity that you are flinging a fat squid named Sammo in a mawashi (sumo belt) with a cooking pot as a helmet into an ooze covered shrimp. Also the main menu song has become one of my favorite video game tracks in recent memory. Suffice it to say the game is as charming to the ears as it is to the eyes which maintains a cartoonish and colorful artstyle. There is no voice acting to speak of which could have added to the quirkiness of the game but doesn’t detract from the game too much.
The main story mode is the only mode in the game which is somewhat unfortunate as multiplayer could have been a ton of fun, but it is a relatively beefy story mode clocking in at anywhere from 5-10 hours depending on the completionist in you. There is also a decent amount of replay value finding a couple of hidden squids to play as, collecting all three stars in each level and maxing out your characters if you so choose or simply enjoying the atmosphere. Also when the final mission is completed, (which has a satisfying and fitting cliffhanger) a Pro Mode is unlocked which can be toggled on or off on a mission by mission basis. This allows for any clams full of pearls to be refilled and collected once again. And it is very difficult.
This game is one of my favorites of the year thus far. There are a couple of downsides to the game including a lack of explanation when it comes to power ups in game (you can see what they all do through a menu outside of gameplay) which you can’t even see the names of and at times the balance between spending pearls on leveling up versus buying new helmets can result in scavenging levels for every last pearl you can find, but these are small complaints. This game is a wonderful break from the serious games that tend to be the best sellers and results in a feel good experience with very satisfying gameplay and a campaign that will have you saying to yourself “just one more level” when you noticed that far too much time has passed. You can pick it up for $14.99 in the Nintendo eShop while its Wii U counterpart was released in May.