Game business crept into the game design of Squids, and the game's creator The Game Bakers will be the first to tell you that its RPG had an identity crisis. It was difficult without being rewarding, which made the free-to-play elements feel like they were necessary solutions as opposed to merely options. Squids Wild West isn't like this; it's a premium game, and as a result, it's a cohesive whole with much stronger and coherent messaging.

This change doesn't mean Wild West won't straddle two business models. It has in-app purchases similar to the ones we saw in the original game, but there are no choke points and no pushes to pay real money to solve problems.

Game designer Emeric Thoa tells us that the key difference between the two games is in the messaging. In our e-mail conversation, he brings up a few specific examples. You'll never be told to head to the in-game store, for instance, whenever you lose fights in Wild West. You'll also keep all the pearls you've earned if your team wipes. And, you'll get the option to drop the game's difficulty if the fight you're on proves to be much too tough. Functionally, we've noticed that Wild West is not as linear; you'll never feel tied down or at the game's mercy.

The hands-off approach makes this a better game, and as we play, we wonder if the overall design wasn't informed by the decision to keep IAP pushed into a corner. Tougher fights seem to net higher rewards. Pearls seem to flow more freely. Back-tracking has a point now, too, as you'll get similar rewards to the first time you went through a level.

These are important changes that make Wild West feel much more like a game, as opposed to a cool game with a bummer business model. During our session with it, we never even considered its IAP functionality, which speaks volumes.

Outside of the business model, Wild West is a faithful follow-up to the original Squids, as it combines the same free-flowing action model of the first to turn-based action. It doesn't have grids. Instead, environments are open and boast real-time hazards that can affect you or the enemy in disruptive ways. Also, movement is chaotic. You fling squids instead of move them space by space, bashing them into and off of enemies and walls. A beefy physics engine informs the way you approach conflicts; as a whole, you can think of borders like backboards and your heroes as pinballs. It's an interesting mix, which makes for much more fluid and unpredictable action.

Action in Wild West comes at a steadier clip and richer scenario design bolsters its increased pacing. The game's first chapter, for example, really gets into the positive and negative relationship you'll have with the game's environmental hazards. Levels in the late game just functionally do more, as they present objectives or just offer much more to do in terms of raw design. Another mission in the first chapter, for example, has you pulling levers while fighting off bad guys. Another has you using sea horse mounts to knock shelled enemies onto their backs so you can damage their squishy middle parts with your other, unmounted, multi-armed heroes.

The sea horses are just one new element in a game full of iterative additions. There's boss fights, new enemy types, and many more squids with different abilities, to name a few minor examples. But more interestingly, it feels like The Game Bakers are really stepping up how you use in-level items. They're scattered everywhere now, and they tend to regenerate at a steady clip. Identifying and getting to these items can have massive impacts on how battles progress. For instance, if you grab a shell, you can't take hits at the end of your turn. Picking one up on the way to a confrontation is huge.

There's also an inventory mechanic. At the store, where you use your pearls to level up your dudes, you can buy single-use items to use in battle. These range from health and resurrect items, to even summon monsters. Having problems? Whip one of those bad boys out. You can also find them in in-game treasure chests, if you're the exploring type.

If you're wondering what's up with the theming like we were, by the way, know that the Squids universe is split into seven kingdoms. The Wild West is one of them. In this, the black ooze is still spreading and blotting out the Squids underwater haven. You follow the team, and a few new members, as they venture into this western world to find answers and hopefully stop the ooze from progressing.

There's a lot more to note with Wild West, but we didn't spy a single thing that felt more important than its new, clearer business model. Wild West is a fresh canvas and instead of doubling-down on a flawed monetization strategy, The Game Bakers is backing off and doing something even better: it's making a fluid, normal-feeling game.

Wild West is due out very shortly on iPad and we'll have a review for your eyeholes soon. Stay tuned.

  • http://twitter.com/appleatw Laura

    This is my favourite turn based strategy game

  • Adams Immersive

    Squids is one of my all-time favorite iPad games, and I can’t wait for the sequel!

    Gaming is subjective, and my experience isn’t everyone’s. But I can hardly believe I played the same game the reviewer did: “It was difficult without being rewarding, which made the free-to-play elements feel like they were necessary solutions as opposed to merely options”

    I found Squids highly rewarding, and in the time since finishing it, I completely forgot that IAP was even an option. I certainly never bought any, nor needed it. (And it’s not free to play: Squids is a paid game + optional IAP; although it was free briefly in March.)

    Good games should be hard at times, and sometimes it seems that IAP being present in a hard game makes people assume it’s necessary. In reality, some games are just challenging, and I’m sure I had more fun with Squids by not buying IAP. (Nor was it one of the hardest games I’ve played—and I don’t consider myself all that skilled a gamer.)

    I can’t imagine playing squids and feeling like the business model harmed game play. It’s one of the few games I sat down over several days and played all the way through without playing anything else—and I’d do it again! Still, I’m glad the devs noticed flaws even if I never did, to make the sequel even better!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MR4IKQCBWIP6JHMN2FT562MGLI Web

    Amazing how many hoops the devs had to go through to please a reviewer. Anyways, I'll be picking this up as soon as it comes out. A pretty looking game with a unique spin on turn based strategy.

  • Alex

    Brad still can't give up his hangups on the IAP of the original game when almost 100% of all users said there were none.  Talk about pride.  With that said, this preview of the upcoming game is certainly informative and if what Brad writes about an already great game getting better, then I eagerly look forward to it.

  • jcifrit

    Is this sequel iPad-only?!

  • http://profiles.google.com/ethancathcart ethan cathcart

    I'll definitely be picking this one up as the first was a great rpg.

  • vic_viper_001

    In what way did the original Squids force IAP on the player? I could see if it was overly difficult, but I played the entire game without once feeling like I was being "exploited". Makes me think the reviewer just couldn't handle himself when things got slightly challenging!

  • Con

    I had a really confusing time reading this article. I bought the original Squids when it first came out and even though I got sidetracked and never finished it (which maybe I'll go do now!) I was never under the impression that it pushed lots of IAP on you? So this article's focus on how the IAP system has changed etc seems like a very superfluous element.

  • BigSteve

    Completely agree with other comments regarding IAP being hardly necessary in the first game. I finished the game without feeling pressured by IAP and enjoyed the small but manageable difficulty spikes. Reviewer, were we playing the same game?

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

    The first thing I am going to do when I purchase SQUIDS 2 is buy some IAP's because I LOVE THE GAMEBAKERS :-D
    Emeric if you read theese comments please know that there are a lot of us that felt the original SQUIDS had no flaws with the IAP's :-)
    I purchased the original game for myself and gifted it to a few of my friends, purchased several IAP's to support your devs as well as the OST because SQUIDS was an AMAZING game!

  • Dogs in hats

    Interesting read. I am looking forward to this one. I totally understand the need to please critics as review scores have such impact on sales.

    • Alex

      I think it's sad as well though because a blogger with a beef can cause detrimental results to the sales AND stability of a company even if their game is great and has no real issues.

      That's why many developers have to rely on word of mouth.