This town ain’t squid enough for the two of us

SQUIDS Wild West is worth the money. I don’t really like evaluating games from the cost/benefit perspective, but SQUIDS Wild West is undeniably worth the budget price it costs in the App Store. This game could sell for $35 on the 3DS and it wouldn’t be out of place next to the other pieces of software available for the system. Yet at launch, this game only costs 99 cents. Its artwork, its animations, its character — almost everything about SQUIDS exudes warmth and attention to detail. It is a labor of love, not just a product. And, most importantly, it’s fun.

SQUIDS Wild West is a bit of a mish mash, as far as genre classifications go. I would call it — deep breath now — a physics-based, turn-based tactical strategy/role playing game. Picture Angry Birds alloyed with elements of classic strategy titles like Final Fantasy Tactics or Jagged Alliance.

Heres the breakdown: You are thrown into a stage (fantastical oceanic/wild west pastiches) with a team of four units (cute squids) and must direct them toward a goal. To achieve this goal, you move your squids by pressing a finger on them, pulling back and aiming just like you would in Angry Birds. Your squids visibly stretch out as you aim them — a nice touch — and when you’ve worked out the proper trajectory, lifting your finger flings them across the screen. Launching squids into enemies causes damage, but your squids have other means of destruction at their disposal as well.

This is where the RPG/strategy elements come into play. Before each level, you have the ability to choose the composition of your team. Each character available corresponds to one of four classes — healer, scout, trooper, and shooter — each of which adds a new dimension to the considerations you must make on the battlefield. The healer, when flung into a friendly unit, restores health. The shooter can, when within range of an enemy, fire a projectile at them. The scout, with a tap after flinging them, can use a speed boost. The troopers are big fellows who slam the ground, causing a shockwave that hurts all enemies around them.

As you progress through SQUIDS Wild West’s story, you’ll meet new squids that’ll join your ranks, all with their own personalities and statistics. One shooter may have more endurance than the other, allowing them to be flung more often in one turn. Another shooter may have two shots per turn and more health. As their commander, it’s your call which characteristic is more important to you on the battlefield. Once you decide which squids you like, you can spend the pearls you collect during each stage to level them up, making them more and more powerful.

SQUIDS Wild West

You can also purchase hats for your squids that augment their abilities when equipped. And if you need that extra edge, one-time use items that that revive dead squids, damage enemies, etc are available for purchase as well. Items like these are randomly scattered throughout each stage in little jars — usually next to spike-y urchins that hurt when you bump into them — but having them on hand in your inventory whenever you need them can give you the edge during those particularly difficult levels.

There is some depth here, yet it manages to remain extremely simple and accessible. Anyone can pick up this game and have fun, yet still it can be challenging at points. The real beauty of SQUIDS Wild West though is in the presentation. Adorable characters lead you through an charming story, and it all happens in a wonderfully realized world. Waffle cone teepees and Pez dispenser totem poles combine to make an American Indian inspired stage. Bottle Caps and forks juxtaposed against natural oceanic objects come together to create a wild west setting that is so convincing, you may not even notice the forks and bottle caps, instead seeing things as your squids do. This game is an image from a child’s imagination.

SQUIDS Wild West

Even the title screen is expertly crafted. And this is such a minor thing, the title screen. There’s no real reason to put any time or energy into it, but The Game Bakers did. A lovely image showing the game’s characters looking out onto an American Southwest vista is rendered in parallax, so that when you tip your iPad in one direction or the other, the fore, mid and background move by varying degrees, simulating three dimensions in a subtle, almost dreamlike way.

Even the game’s credits are enjoyable — each member of the company is drawn as a squid. These details are very nearly irrelevant, but I think they are telling of the game’s quality. Time, care and love were put into this game, and it will cost you less than a half-gallon of gas to play it. Give it a shot.