November 13, 2012 9:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in The Harvest Bundle currently running on IndieGames' co-created site Indie Royale.]
In this round of the Indie Royale, the oft-requisite arena shooter position is filled by a neat game that's quite a bit different from previous entries. Pineapple Smash Crew, from one man developer RichMakeGame, is most definitely an arena shooter, but it's set apart quite a bit in both style and substance. It's a delightful squad based shoot-em-up about a smash crew, team of mercenary treasure hunters trying to strike it rich by tracking down a ship carrying the ultimate mother lode. And of course, doing this means quickly shooting your way through randomized rooms packed with baddies, controlling four squad members in a tight formation.
Arena shooters are typically quite stylish to begin with, but Pineapple Smash Crew opts for a bright style that fuses pixels with 3D models and cel shading. Particularly nice is the sprite based explosions, but the entire game looks excellent and unique. Often it seems like retro inspired games can be far too focused on matching the original style, so it's nice to see a game with a clear retro look that simultaneously looks like nothing else out there. It doesn't hurt that Pineapple Smash Crew also features a high energy soundtrack from chiptune musician Syphus, complimenting the visuals perfectly.
My personal favourite aspect of the game, however, is the actual gameplay itself. The key here is grenades; there's a grenade that explodes, a grenade that shoots a rocket, a grenade that opens a wormhole, a grenade that teleports you, a grenade that generates a turret, a laser or a shield and plenty more. Grenades drop from enemies like crazy, so it's important to fire as many as you can to compliment your four hired guns. Each squad member carries their own grenade, so you'll be quickly swapping out members to serve as the point guy as the situation calls for it. Of course, each squaddie also has a separate life bar, and permadeath is in play here. Keep a member alive for multiple rounds and their health bar will level up, but make a few stupid mistakes and you'll have to finish the level with less than full strength and pull a newbie replacement for next time. XCOM it isn't, but it's a nice layer of depth to a generally simple genre.
The game's difficulty settings are built around this permadeath mechanic, and create totally different styles. Playing on the easiest difficulty gives you an unlimited pool of recruits and as much time as you need to explore the randomly generated ships. It's fun but plodding, giving me a so-so first impression. Cranking the difficulty up one notch, however, granted limited replacements as well as a stressful time limit. That simple tweak radically changed my approach, forcing me to rush from room to room, carefully taking out enemies efficiently with well timed grenades. It's fascinating to see the difference and the hardcore difficulty actually gave Pineapple Smash Crew more long term replayability then I initially suspected. But whatever your skill level, there's never been a better time to try the unique little shooter. It looks good and it plays well, using traditional roguelike elements to give the arena shooter genre a solid twist.
[Mutant Mudds, Spirits, BasketBelle, Avernum: The Great Trials Trilogy, and Pineapple Smash Crew are available now in the Harvest Bundle at Indie Royale.]