Wii | Activision / Magic Pockets | 1 Player | Out Now (North America)
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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19th June 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
I'd venture to say that nearly all of your time will be spent cruising through the game's Campaign Mode -- a 26-long mission-by-mission progression. The gameplay builds itself around a strategic mold that involves a turn-by-turn maneuvering of units until one team comes out the winner or another objective is achieved. If this sounds familiar, it should. You will find that the game adheres to principles that point back to previously-established mechanics and an overall commitment to having multiple, considerable variables that each play a role in the rise of the underlying foundation. The Nunchuk is used along with the Wii Remote to select units (A Button), switch between them on the fly (Z Button), see detailed information (Minus Button), and put them into place (D-Pad). The Nunchuk's purpose is non-essential here so I'm not sure why they made it mandatory that players have it connected at all; they could've easily transferred some of the functions over to the Wii Remote. It should be noted that with the amount of times you'll be pressing the A Button to select your units time and time again, your thumb may get sore.
At any rate, the first of these aforementioned variables has to do with the units themselves. At the start, you'll only have a few to work with but in time, you'll have more than 20 under your control at a given time. Players will really have to hand in the pool as it were, and, like a good leader of a team, understand the strengths of each unit and recognize that when danger presents itself, the need to pull back and recuperate will allow you to fight another day (or turn). What, then, are some of these strengths?
Take, for instance, the Carrier vessel. It can not only perform ranged attacks, but also deploy aerial fighter planes that can prove valuable for getting to enemies that you'd otherwise have to go around a piece of land to reach. Submarines behave much like Knights in Chess, but instead of jumping over units, they can travel under them and even go underneath wreckage. Then there are also vessels that can carry smaller boats in a load compartment, a similar mechanic as one that was present in games like Fire Emblem. The effectiveness of each unit is governed by their own limitations (e.g., the spaces they take up in size) as well as the environmental conditions.
A number of the units have, in addition to the normal Attack function for when you're right up against an enemy, a Far Attack option that will only be seen if you try attacking from the place where you last left off. This will come at the risk of vulnerability to a counter attack, so caution should be exercised especially when choosing to do so with a unit that's low on health. The range with which this can be executed varies depending on the vessel; Destroyers, for example, have a really long reach and can therefore execute this with great effectiveness, whereas Heavy Cruisers are strong attackers but can only attack at close range.
Next, while some units (like the Inflatable Boats) have infinite attack potential, others require a supply of missiles in order to pull off the stronger moves. If it comes to a situation where one you run out of missiles, they'll need to rely on a secondary weapon. Also, moving a unit at all requires fuel, and although you can still attack when you run out, you won't be able to make a getaway when the going gets tough. In both these cases, the more vulnerable Supply and Repair Vessels come in handy. Icons appear directly above the unit on the map to indicate low fuel gauges and missile count so you know where they need to be sent without having to physically select each unit. I just wished that when using the Supply Vessels, you could view the stats for the target recipient so you could more easily know who is in greater need when there's a group of ships around you.
Finally, the terrain -- specifically the varying water types -- is a variable that takes on significance when using submarines and the larger vessels in later missions. Only then is it ever important to keep an eye on the changes in terrain, as finding out after the fact that you're not able to tread down a certain path can prove costly. Slight colour changes are used to help you tell the difference between deep and shallow water, but I will admit that because they blended together at times, there were instances where I found out the hard way that the vessel I was using to plan a frontal attack couldn't go where I wanted it to.
Getting back to the offensive attacks you can perform, there are still more variables that must be considered in your attack plans. Low HP has a negative impact on your attack power, not to mention your defensive abilities. Even the direction you face impacts your attack power. Although fairly minimal, this can sometimes mean the difference between destroying the unit and having it fire back on the next turn with a few pellets. All of these were good decisions because it amounts to an experience where the degree to which strategy rules over your decision-making is multi-faceted. What wasn't a good call was having to watch these annoying -- and frankly not well done -- animations of seeing your ship fire missiles in one scene, then seeing those missiles hit and possibly sink the ship in the next. Thankfully, they gave players the option of disabling these entirely as it made my experience better without them.
Complementing your standard methods of attack is a series of special attacks that are specific to the commander in charge for that mission. The Lightning Strike special attack will see an increase in attack power for each of your units, while Brute Force will allow you to use some ships twice on the same turn. These and other specials can only be used when the energy meter at the top-middle of the screen is full. You need to remember that the aliens have their own special attacks as well, albeit with uncreative titles like "Light Years". (Really?) My only complaint with these is the developers should've really disabled this function from being used at the end of your turn to prevent younger players from accidentally wasting it, particularly when they're exposed to it for the first time.
One final feature they've added as an optional form of attack is called Duel Mode, principally used for the large flagships. It's a good thing these are optional, as I found these to be very boring. All you have to do is use the B Button to shoot at rocket launchers and aim your cursor at targets. It's a lot quicker and less boring just to attack head-on. Plus, in some cases, I found the shot recognition to be not so great. Now, this could be an imposed side-effect of going up against an enemy ship with more health than yours, but if that is indeed the case, then, to me, that's a stupid way of trying to undermine your chances or level the playing field, however you want to call it.
The role of BATTLESHIP's story is fairly functional with the proof of this being in the changing mission conditions and objectives. However, its core make-up is bland. By this, I am specifically speaking about the dialogue, the cutscenes, and the cinematics. Let me break it down one at a time. The dialogue, first of all, is relevant to what's going on but it's meaningless in the sense that it does nothing at all to get you in the mood to play the game and feel connected to everything that's progressing on a higher level. And just in saying that I feel a tad uncomfortable because, if anything, the story is very low in the order of importance. Just as an example of what I mean, there is one particular shuffle or incident where, after making a certain discovery, the main character exclaims, "Great news!" In the context in which it was said, this comment was a bit inappropriate, not to mention far from convincing.
Second of all, the "cutscenes" -- wherein the player has to read a bunch of text relating to the storyline post-completion of the last mission -- always show a vessel at sea in the background, with the dialog boxes appearing near the bottom of the screen. And as you continue seeing the same conditions again and again with maybe a slight change or two in the weather or the ship that's displayed, you'll come to the conclusion that there's an absence of effort here.
Last but not least, there are indeed cinematics included in the game; actual animated cutscenes that show ships exploding or the globe being encapsulated by an alien beam. However, these are very underutilized as they not only appear on rare occasions, but when they do occur, they are really brief. I'd say there's less than five minutes of cumulative time taken up by these movies, and given my last criticism about the "cutscenes", it stands to reason that more could have been done on both these fronts. All of this adds to the point that the story doesn't sell the game very well, and normally you might be able to make the case that this game doesn't need it, but when you consider the flaws found within the gameplay (which will be discussed at greater length shortly), seeing this aspect to the game fall flat doesn't do it any favors.
Generally-speaking, battles go on for 10 to 12 turns, but it has happened in my case where they've gone on for, maybe not double the time, but certainly half that amount. Traditionally, you will be placed on either the left or right side of the ocean grid and, like that much-talked-about chicken, have to get on over to the other side to destroy the alien forces. You'll find, though, that the situation isn't always quite this straightforward. Additional objectives are occasionally ushered in as part of the advancing storyline as a means of getting you to act even faster than usual or at least be cognizant of a secondary threat. Still other missions direct you to focus, not on fighting back, but retreating from a fight you cannot win. Examples of both of these include having to clear a path blocked by wreckage to escape from a group of aliens that are closing in on you, as per a flashback; protecting a marked vessel or defending a station; and racing into enemy territory to prevent an ally camp from being wiped out. Even the final mission is different from the norm in that you need to destroy towers set up by the aliens to ensure they cannot carry out their invasion plans. All of this can be seen as a good thing if it were not for the fact that the game still suffers from an almost inescapable flaw that I will get to in a bit. For now, though, this is a good time to evaluate how the grids are laid out.
Since it the final mission was the last thing I spoke about, I'm going to start off on a negative. With this mission in particular, things are set up in a way that's bound to create frustration. You can't even reach the alien bases unless you perform one specific strategy, and to do this proves difficult because of the surrounding forces; sending in the small units will almost always result in an ambush from afar that you don't have a great deal of control over. Other missions have narrow passages that you're forced to enter through, making it difficult to navigate through when you have a number of units essentially playing follow-the-leader and leaving you open to a long-range attack from the enemy. In some cases, there is frozen material that must be cleared away so you can press forward while at the same time dealing with enemies shooting at you. Some of these ice barricades are covering useable ships, so there is a benefit to doing so. Generally, though, the layouts are fairly open. It's only as you get closer to the end that there's more of an actual navigation element present.
Your performance in each mission is evaluated based on the following three criteria: Speed, Attack, and Defense. The letter grade you receive (with the A Rank being the highest) is based according to the remaining troops and how you used said troops over the course of the battle. In this experience, these rankings don't mean anything, so it's nothing to really say "Oh, I need to focus my efforts next time 'round so we can do better!" No, as you progress further and further into the experience, it actually turns into a situation where you just want to see it to the end for the sake of doing so, not because you actually care to be the best at everything.
While BATTLESHIP doesn't go so far as to convey feelings of tension and anxiety, the use of strategy in multiple avenues of the gameplay umbrella proves to be a great way of encouraging managerial-type combat in ways that actually bare resemblances to other strategy games that have come along over the years (some of which have been mentioned already). An added benefit to all of this is that although the difficulty does ramp up to an adequate degree and you will find yourself facing tough decisions over possibly leaving units behind, BATTLESHIP is a fairly family-friendly affair that predictably encourages calculated decisions.
Flexibility is something that can come into play with games of this sort, but I didn't feel that was especially felt here. I'd say the reasons for that reside with the level of repetition present, which makes the game's attempts to surprise you and throw you off balance quite futile in the grand scheme of things. It's interesting, though, because I didn't feel the game was repetitive initially. It wasn't until I was into the second third of the game that I started to notice the attempted variety of missions didn't feel like it wasn't enough. So viewing the campaign as a whole, it does indeed get repetitive and with hardly anything else to anchor you to the experience, BATTLESHIP's already lack of compelling value in its gameplay coupled with this flaw can unwittingly keep you at bay for good.
When all is said and done, BATTLESHIP is roughly a 10-hour experience, which isn't bad at all. A Skirmish option has been included to encourage you to keep playing, but as this consists of replaying the same missions again to improve your overall rank and with no real incentive to put yourself through unexciting times again, its existence doesn't serve the purpose the development team had intended it to serve. And when that fails, you can always rely on achievements to back up the experience, right? Incorrect. The achievements (or medals) in this game consist of mission-specific objectives, challenges (i.e., cumulative objectives), and campaign progress markers. One of these challenges asks you to engage in a total of 120 Duels. When I saw that, all I could think was "How long will that take?!" Needless to say, it was a complete turn-off. But how about the rest of them? Is there any motivation to be had towards seeking after these medals? No, for the point I just made (and even points made prior to this) still stands: going back is very unexciting, even a waste of time. No presence of medals is going to change that.
It's one thing that the medals are negligible. But I think where the developers really made a mistake was choosing to omit any sort of multiplayer experience. It was very surprising for me to come to this realization because the tabletop game has always had this projected image around it of two individuals sitting across from each other with a fold-up grid dividing their line of sight. To choose not to buy into that suggests that maybe they didn't have as strong of a grasp on what the original property stood for as they may have believed.
One last word about the game's presentation, I've already commented a bit on different aspects not looking visually-pleasing, but the overall graphics are decent with colours used on the maps to isolate key points when necessary. Because of the template that's often used, the layouts feel samey at times, and when a change in weather pattern occurs to, presumably, mix things up a bit, the atmosphere gets a bit on the murky side. The animations of the ships are fine but not smooth, and I did observe some slight graphical instability with the overall look. Finally, the music mostly stays the same, and while usually fitting for the action that's presented, it never took me by surprise or caught my attention.
All said, BATTLESHIP is ultimately not a tide-turning experience that individuals -- strategy fans or otherwise -- will see to be worth investing in. While the experience is decent for what it's worth and it does have its moments when the strategic elements come together nicely, as a whole the experience is a tad short-lived and there's not much stopping the threat of repetition from creeping in. And when you also include that there is next to no reason to return to this, you may just be better off sinking battleships the way you already know how.
17/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 6/10 - Varying units that range in effectiveness, different objectives, repetition still present, Duel Mode isn't good, assorted minor complaints
Presentation 6/10 - Graphics are decent but don't always meet expectations, environments contribute to the feeling of repetition, weak use of story
Enjoyment 3/5 - Much of the fun comes from observing possibilities to make strategic moves, lack of excitement will mark some of your sessions
Extra Content 2/5 - Lasts a few hours, achievements aren't worth your time, very little reason to return, no multiplayer modes to speak of
Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System