I used to love strategy RPGs but as age has warped my enthusiasm so has it stolen my patience for all the genre’s clutter, meandering UI constructs, same-y production values, punishingly difficult fights, and oftentimes tedious leveling systems. The Game BakersSquids [99¢] is a great change of pace. It’s a kinetic, clean, charming, and particularly streamlined entry in an aging genre that has a ton of character, fun, and unique constructs to share. I'm not particularly turned on by its free-to-play functionality, but it's an otherwise solid game.

Squids' setup goes a little something like this: in a troublesome period of squid life, you’ll be tasked with stopping an evil black ooze that threatens to destroy civilization with its ooziness. To accomplish this great deed, you’ll need to assemble a team of eclectic and multiple-armed things, all with different abilities and varying degrees of awesome, and take the fight to the core of the conflict.

There are four classes in total – the scout, the healer, the brawler-dude, and the gun-guy who can hit enemies at massive range. It’s a pretty uninspired setup saved by Squids’ inventive, grid-less, and active combat mechanic. Instead of moving space by space, you’ll be flinging your squids into enemies and areas of interest in the environment that contain goodies. When you connect with a foe, you’ll do damage according to a bottom-line. A stamina bar keeps you from endlessly flinging around the map to and fro and allows for turns. Enemies do the same.

Combat manages to remain consistently interesting throughout the experience, as the maps have a ton of surface area and even the more modest flings cover a lot of ground. Positioning your characters takes as much style and touch as it does thought, and you’ve got an entire map to work with, as opposed to constricted and designated kill zones featured in other similar games. You’ll also need to contend with the lack of level borders. Squids is fond of holes as much as it is of its pinball-like physics engine. When you make contact with an enemy, there are physical repercussions as the two (or more) of you spin off. Knocking foes off the ledge-less levels is a valid play strategy, but same goes for the enemies.

All blended together, Squid’s combat ends up being delightfully action-heavy, while still remaining a strategy game at its core. Individual fights never dance with monotony because you’re always moving around the breadth of a map, frantically avoiding edges and attempting to position yourself for rounds that’ll hopefully swing in your favor. The level design in particular is huge for the combat: Squids boasts a ton of colorful and intricate environments with not-so-subtle zones you can “capture” and control, as well as traps you can exploit.

Keeping true with conventions, invisible dice-rolls and statistics provide the groundwork for the damage dealt and taken. The currency for leveling up is the pearl, which you’ll receive for every downed opponent and find scattered around in the game’s world.

This currency rubs me the wrong way: it’s monetized and the balance of the late game kinda reflects that. At some point, you’ll probably be aching for levels, items, and characters in exchange for pearls and I feel like the only reasonable way to get them outside of tedious backtracking methods is by spending real-world coin on the fake-world currency. It's a weird, out-of-place value proposition that really bummed me out on an otherwise sharp experience.

While Squids might suffer for its off-kilter payment model, it doesn’t make any sacrifices on the visual front. It’s a delicious, warmly crafted game that has an indescribable charm and whimsy that springs from its painterly look. It’s gorgeous, and all of its constituent parts, including the animations, the cutesy writing, and the sound production, support its style and tone spectacularly well. It’s an impressive feat.

The strategy RPG is, like, my arch-nemesis. I want them until I actually play them and start remembering why I dislike them while wading through their overbearing setups. Squids is remarkable in that it cooly throws out a lot of the garbage I associate with the genre and turns it on its head with a kinetic combat mechanic that keeps you in control without sacrificing any strategy. If it wasn’t for a wonky layer of in-app currency, I’d be screaming about its greatness. Instead, I can only tell that it’s definitely a good game with a fresh approach, but it’s a little rough around the RPG edges. I think you’ll like it, though, model be darned.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Emeric Thoa

    Great review, although I must say that I'm a bit surprised by the comments on the model. We did a beta test and we tweaked the economy so that no one should need to buy pearls. The goal was to offer pearls only as a shortcut, following the model of Jetpack joyride for instance. The model is honestly 0.99$ game + shortcuts iAP, but if it feels too difficult to finish without buying pearls we can update it quickly to balance the economy better. 
    (Emeric - The dev)

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GHIIHTRJXIOZCAF2GESNKZH264 himanshu

      If the IAPs are meant as a short-cut, players will be ok with that, but the review very strongly suggests that IAPs become necessary to get going with the game. Please do sort this out since most people here (including myself) will want a clear price-point that they buy a game at. Hidden costs are bad news for all products everywhere.

    • http://twitter.com/tweeterchamp Alex Bratu

      I agree.  The editor clearly has some issue playing this game that no one else has.  I have upgraded all my characters and bought all the hats I could and I never ONCE paid for anything with real money.  I even have some revive items.  I played a level two or three times to get all the stars, but my no means did I have to "tediously backtrack through the game" to get more pearls.

      I don't know what your issue is, but the IAP is perfect. I would like you to play this game and update your review. It's misleading and no one in the forums has had this issue aside from you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GHIIHTRJXIOZCAF2GESNKZH264 himanshu

    how long does the game last - Assuming no shortcuts via IAPs?

    • http://twitter.com/tweeterchamp Alex Bratu

      You can play all the levels without ever buying anything, as I have.

  • Emeric Thoa

    Please go check the players comments on TA forums: 
    So far no one said iAPs are necessary (and I would add "at all"). 
    The game is 4-6hours long if you just go through the end. 4h would be a pretty good player. If you want to unlock all content and max out characters, then, you'll spend some time on it. And we are currently working on updates with new maps, new characters, new helmets. Hope we can continue doing that!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GHIIHTRJXIOZCAF2GESNKZH264 himanshu

      cool... 4-6 hours is just perfect!

  • Chris Aanerud

    Awesome game, and I agree that the IAP is a non-issue. I'm amazed that the reviewer focused so much on the IAP here. Even if you did spend an extra buck on more pearls, the game is only 99 cents. This is a 'DS' quality release and we are spoiled to get it for 99 cents.

  • Anonymous

    I'm always surprised by how often the developers show up here.

  • Ardantha Grendyosa

    I think we dont need to buy iap to fully upgrade our char, and for a dollar, this is a steal. i have so much fun playing this game

  • Anonymous

    I agree IAP that hide hidden costs are bad, not played the game because I don't buy any games nowadays that have 'coins' IAP, as you can't be certain that a level won't appear that will force you to buy at a later date. I'd rather pay a little extra for a all encompassing app without IAP altogether.

  • Justin Salsburey

    One of the best games i've played on iOS in a long time... What does this reviewer have against the game. I didn't once need the IAPS or feel hindered whatsoever by lack thereof.  

  • http://twitter.com/Pvt_Oats Omar Aviles

    This game by far exceeds 5 stars. I use in-app purchases to help support game companies that I like and I have made a few for the gamebakers. I wish them a lot of success and hope they make more stunning sequels.

  • GertjeD

    What a fantastic mechanic for a turn based strategy RPG and wonderfully made,

    Anything turn based could be a huge worldwide hit if you're the first in your genre doing it the right way, but it in its current form it looks like it only wants to appleal to children (girls) playing alone.
    I really can see adult commuters around the world play something like this every day, but it will have to:- be two-player (like Draw Something and Words With Friends)- have even shorter learning curve- take not too many turns to win- be without upgrade paths- have small play area, with minimal obstacles- a mine laying unit (compensates for less interesting maps, brings variation in games)- look less ostentatively cute

  • Butlerman

    Loved it from start to finish.  Missing a few hats and the last Squid so I'll be replaying it again to make sure I don't miss out on anything.   Artwork was fantastic as was the score. More. Please!!

  • Wavylayz

    Worst review ever. This game is awesome and i have never considered paying for anything.

Squids Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 4