Band of Bugs Review

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Publisher: NinjaBee (Wahoo Studios)
Developer: NinjaBee

Platform: Xbox360
Reviewed on Xbox360

Maal is a unique bug. That's remarkable, considering that Maal is already surrounded by sentient bugs replete with weapon-toting warriors, shamen, spellcasters and prosthetic limbs. But then, Maal never got that dose of jelly that his friends all received at birth – the jelly that turns an impressionable egg into a career bug (of a specific type). Of course, not all bugs are quite so bright. Distant groups of bugs weren't transformed by the remarkable event that made Maal's society sentient, leaving them unthinking monsters.

Sentience, however, may be overrated. It seems that conscious thought leads to war, and that's what happens in Band of Bugs. Bugs of varied tribes, abilities and armaments battle in this turn-based tactical game that takes warfare closer to the ground than any other game (save that franchise about annelids).

Kyle Ackerman

As the loading screen says, "This game is guaranteed to be filled with bugs." Band of Bugs lives up to that promise. Fortunately, all the bugs I encountered were combatants in this game of turn-based tactical combat, and not the kind that crashes your Xbox 360. In fact, Band of Bugs turns out to be a marvelously deep title with engaging options for both single-player and multiplayer gaming that make it easily worth the price of admission. Even if it is a nest of scorpions. And centipedes. And beetles and mosquitoes.

Hidden Hornets

It's hard to imagine that Band of Bugs began as anything more than a desire by developer NinjaBee to create a game that included a... well... ninja bee. A turn-based tactical game for the Xbox 360 must have seemed like a particularly good route, given the dearth of tactical options for Xbox 360 owners. So NinjaBee produced a solid tactical game for the Xbox 360. It's fun, and it has a surprisingly rich set of options for entomological enlistees.

The turn-based essence of Band of Bugs is familiar. You maneuver insectoid infantry around a grid, launching melee attacks, firing ranged weapons and casting spells. But after a few moments of play, the real depth becomes apparent. All sorts of complex options and statistics are hidden beneath the colorful and cartoonish veneer. You don't have to get involved with those details – it's easy enough to just send your bugs charging across the battlefield to pound on the opposition – but that depth is there for those of us who thrive on victories we owe to detailed tactical schemes.

More Options Than Limbs

Each bug has two weapons, which are more or less likely to hit, do more or less damage or can send foes sprawling backward. The chance to hit (and do even more damage) depends on the respective elevation of the units, their facing, and whether those units are in contact with your allies. In other words, flanking is actually meaningful in this game. And it's still simple to jump into. So you'll have to consider how to deploy your stealthy crossbowman and hopping archers relative to your stealthy ninja bee or burly, barbaric beetle.

Things get more complex when you add the many spells and items available to your six-legged armies. Healers can mend wounds, haste allies, slow enemies, initiate regeneration or enhance the protection of your units' exoskeletons. Spellcasting moths can hurl fire and icy blasts to damage foes and engulf much of the map in a blistering inferno. Those same abilities can then freeze trickles of water to let your bugs cross, or melt the ice beneath the opposition to send them to a watery grave. Some bugs (or weapons) can push (or knock back) other bugs to push them into water or off the edge of the map. The tactical options are truly wondrous, and that means the game stays entertaining for a long time.

Multiple Missions for Maal

The single player campaign sports 20 missions that tell the story of these remarkable and sentient insects by following the travails of Maal as he grows into an awesome warrior. These missions combine odds stacked (carefully) against the player and plenty of scripted events, such as reinforcements and ground that collapses into nothingness. While it's usually simple enough to complete these missions to unlock the next in the campaign, the campaigns are also scored, with sufficient scores unlocking medals. Silver medals can be won by fighting well with minimal casualties. Gold medals require doing the same, but quickly (and gold medals are needed to unlock an achievement). Platinum medals reward truly exceptional performance.

The medal thresholds are well chosen, and provide good incentive for perfectionists like me to replay the campaign missions. Most of the missions should only take a few minutes, but can easily be replayed over and over. There's even a selection of stand-alone missions to supplement the campaign with further variety. If that wears thin, you can play skirmish battles against the AI. Or better yet, you can try your hand at multiplayer.

A Slithering Salient

The online play adds yet more depth. You can play against friends in a local game, or take advantage of your Xbox Live connection to battle against friends and strangers. A variety of pre-made maps and play modes keep things interesting. You can play to escape from the map or eliminate the opposition (among other options), but I'm personally a big fan of the "spider hunt" mode in which players can (cooperatively or competitively) hunt for unenlightened critters like water striders, spiders and small centipedes.

The multiplayer games might only give Band of Bugs a short lifespan online were it not for the ability to construct your own maps. The map editor allows players to create complex geography with all the goals, insects and special items you could want. It's easy to quickly whip up an interesting, symmetrical battleground, but the potential for incredibly clever user-made content makes online battle interesting. For better or for worse, you can only acquire new maps by playing against players who already have those maps. While it would be nice to simply download an assortment of user-generated arenas, this does provide an incentive to play against random people online.

If there's anything to be disappointed about in Band of Bugs, it's the visuals. Certainly, the character designs are cleverly stylized and cartoonish. The textures and arenas are colorful and supported in 1080i HD glory. It would, however, be nice to see more continuity and smoothing between tiles, transforming the map into something that doesn't look constructed out of a child's blocks. Still, that's an ambitious request for a game that only costs $10 to pick up and play.

With a wry sense of humor and surprisingly deep tactical options, Band of Bugs is easy to recommend to Xbox 360 owners. The 800 points that Band of Bugs costs is a reasonable price to pay for such cheerful, microscopic mayhem.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 26, 2007 8:53 PM.

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