Band of Bugs Preview: Gameplay

April 29, 2007 at 5:57 am (Gaming, NinjaBee, XBLA, Xbox 360)

Formula for BoB

Band of Bugs has a pretty simple formula.  Take one part inspiration from tactics games (e.g., Final Fantasy Tactics Advance), add one huge mess of bug parts, sprinkle an addictive dash of speed (say “no” to drugs but “yes” to Band of Bugs…wait…did I just rhyme?), bake at 4770 feet above sea level for a year or so and hopefully you come out with a game like BoB

The speed part of the formula not only describes the importance of the BoB‘s genre divergent pacing (i.e., this game moves quickly) but also the game’s addictiveness.  To explain my predicament after really digging into BoB here is a slightly adapted version of Wikipedia’s description for speed (the drug, not this): “Tolerance is developed rapidly in [Band of Bugs use], therefore increasing the amount of [time for playing the game] that is needed to satisfy the addiction.”  Enough about me.  Follow me down the rabbit hole and I will break down the gameplay more so you can see just what has me so hooked.

As you play through the tutorial you will get a basic breakdown of how the game flows but do not expect to be babied throughout the rest of the campaign.  There are many strategies and abilities that will not be laid out in front of you.  If you want to play the game casually and your ranking seems unimportant you can play through without worrying too much.  However, if you are looking to get Gold rankings throughout (and get that achievement!) then you must learn about the strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities of each character type even if they are not highlighted through the story.  The absence of detailed information about the effectiveness of each bonus can be frustrating at times but this frustration lessens as the game becomes more familiar.  And it should be noted that many things are explained to a degree on the “More Info” screen.  Just put your cursor over any unit, hit X (extra unit stats display), and then hit Y for the “More Info” option.  (Note: This screen overwhelmed me at first because of the sheer quantity of info.  But “knowing is half the battle,” right?) 

BoB uses a tile-based map as your battlefield.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each tile’s type and elevation.  Some tiles move your unit like a conveyor belt and some even do damage to your unit.  A higher tile can be useful as a perch for an archer as it can add distance to his shot, but being knocked off that ledge can result in extra damage taken by the archer.  A bridge made of ice tiles may create a shortcut, but it can also be melted under your feet resulting in a watery death (unless your unit can fly).  There are plenty of these checks and balances that make the gameplay strategic without being overly complicated. 

A big departure from the genre comes in the innovative turn structure.  Unlike most turn-based games BoB allows you to move only one unit at a time before your opponent has a chance to move a unit of his or her own.  This back and forth gameplay puts pace back into a genre that typically uses the “I move all my pieces then you move all yours” structure which results in brutally long turn cycles.  The importance of this change for multiplayer matches cannot be understated, but I will cover that more thoroughly later, in the Multiplayer post.

A very simplified RPG element (i.e., your characters level up as you play through the game) adds another interesting facet to the game.  The leveling happens between chapters in the story so you do not need to micro-manage your team in an effort to level up faster or more effectively.  As your characters level up they can withstand more damage, gain special abilities (Knock Back FTW!!), attack twice during one turn, and/or increase their attack power. 

Other genre simplifications in BoB include the absence of resource management and unit creation.  When you start a battle, what you see is what you get.  As a result, the emphasis of the game falls squarely on strategic combat and the management of your units.

You may have to conserve health of your units but the “dead characters are dead forever” that was in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (among others) is thankfully absent from BoB.  If your character fades under the pressure of battle (read: they lost all their life) they merely remark that they are unable to continue in battle and will join you later.

All these simplified aspects of the game (i.e., simplified leveling, fast paced turn structure, lack of resource management, and battle focused gameplay) demonstrate NinjaBee’s philosophy of creating a much more casual point of entry to the tactics/strategy genre.  However, those looking for depth will find plenty of it in the stat sheets, location-based attack bonuses, status effect spells, and special abilities.

My gameplay hint for you: you can knock your enemies into water or off the edges of the map for instant kills…but they can (and will) do the same to you.  Beware!

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