Let me make something clear right off the bat. If you have seen the Band of Bugs screenshots from January avoid judging this game too quickly. Of course, the game looks similar to those shots, but the look and feel of the visuals come alive when everything is animated. Even the units’ idle animations have much more visual impact than those flat and still screenshots, trust me. So, if you have written this game off just because of those old screens, wait for the release, download the trial, play it, and then make your visual assessment.
Well, you could wait, but you might as well check out the new screens below which I think give a much better impression of the game’s style and feel. Check ‘em out. (Click for Full 1280×720 Versions)
These new screens display how Band of Bugs has a kickin’ cel-shaded feel for the characters. (I just found out you can actually turn that effect off if you want, but it defaults to “On” and personally, I think that is the only way to travel.) Besides being stylish, the bold lines around each character also convey the party to which each unit belongs. Blue outlines for the blue party, red for the red party, etc. (You can actually see all four party colors in the top picture: Blue, Red, Purple, and Black.) This is very helpful because there are a finite number of unit types and you and your opponent may have the exact same combination of units.
Fight animations range from dazzling (see: everything the mages do) to silly, but there is good overall variety. Occasionally a death animation takes a tad longer than expected. That seems to be the result of the dead body passing all the way through each layer of the map and out the bottom. You can see this happen if you kill someone while they are standing at the edge of the map.
As for the maps themselves, there is a decent variety of tiles, doo-dads (e.g., mushrooms, rock piles, animated cattails), and lighting effects. In combination they prevent any staleness as you move from level to level.
Of course, to appreciate all these graphics you will have to manipulate the camera to see everything. The right thumbstick and/or the trigger buttons handle that job very well. Flicking the stick to the right or left (or using the triggers) will rotate the view 90º. There are only four viewing angles but I liked not having to futz with the camera during my turn to find just the right angle. In multiplayer you lack the time to mess with the camera anyway, so this “snap to 90º” helps out. You can also zoom in and out with the right thumbstick. This setup works well but many times I wished I could zoom in further to watch a particular battle animation or get an up-close look at the characters. And also, it was sometimes difficult to see just how far an enemy character could move to attack you without zooming completely out. And even then, it was still not easy to tell depending on the arrangement and elevation of the tiles.
Mind you, the bulk of my time playing the game was on a small standard-def TV so and I can honestly say you will not be “missing out” if you are still rockin’ the SD. The game still looks great even stuffed into 13″ of SDTV (and is easily playable too at that size even with all the complex stuff on screen). But the game will look super crisp for those that can take advantage of the widescreen HD. And those with widescreen will also have a bit of an advantage in the Level Editor as more options will be displayed at the same time.
Going from SD to HD you might also notice little touches like the different fonts for HD. Simpler fonts allows the SD version to maintain clarity and readability and the HD version gets fonts with a little extra detail. As another aid to accessability NinjaBee has included GUI Scaling for HD resolutions so you can prevent eye bleeding while trying to read the text on-screen. The game defaults to large in HD but if you have hawk-like eyes and want to scale things down you can. This all demonstrates NinjaBee’s committment to making games that are enjoyed in any setup, something not even Capcom seems to consider until after mountains of complaints.
Overall though, the character stylings (wait till you see the NinjaBee in 3D!) and particle effects during spells (even the typically boring healing spells look cool) highlight a solid visual presentation.
[Update]: Changed “team” to “party” to help clarify the difference between teams and parties in this and future posts.