There’s some good news for casual gamers who can’t bear to play yet another hurry-up-and-serve-all-the-customers time management simulation or find-all-the-items-on-the-screen hidden object games. Increasingly, we’re seeing many different genres and experimental designs ranging from music-based rhythm games and space shooters to fantasy role-playing games and story-driven point-and-click adventures.
Based on the Xbox Live Arcade game of the same name, Band of Bugs for Windows PCs is the latest deviation from the casual game norm, offering a turn-based strategy game experience for those who crave something deeper. While not for everyone, this game is fun and refreshing, and it’s quite funny, too, with humorous dialogue spoken by the various characters in the game.
Before we dive into how the gameplay works, the story follows a multi-legged hero named Maal, who joins the royal bug army under the direction of a mantis warrior, Tiernan. Maal and fellow insect soldiers will visit many environments to fight over — from lush gardens to icy landscapes to sandy battlegrounds — and eventually save his Queen and defeat the menacing threats that are destroying the kingdom he has sworn to protect.
In case you haven’t played a turn-based strategy war game before, the idea in a nutshell is that your soldier takes turns moving to a specific spot on the level, and you’ll be limited on where on the grid you can move to. The idea is to tactically move on the board so that you’re facing an opponent, preferably on elevated ground, so that you can attack and defeat the rival bugs.
The strategy involves where to move (which will vary on whether that bug uses a melee or range attack), which weapon to use and how to best flank the enemy with allied troops. Each person on your side takes turns with the enemy soldiers, and you’ll advance to the next stage so long as you complete the mission, be it ridding the battlefield of enemy fighters, reaching a particular spot on the map, and so on. In between each of the 20-odd levels in the main campaign, and during the levels, too, players will meet all kinds of zany characters, who help push the story along.
Along with the single-player campaign and individual missions you can tackle (totaling 50 levels in all), players can also create and save their own fields with the built-in level editor, which is fairly easy to use thanks to the clear instructions.
Another bonus: the game offers a handful of different head-to-head online modes, including skirmish games you can jump into. Problem is, despite trying on different days of the week and at varied times of the day, I could never find someone to play against (therefore I’m not able to review the multiplayer experience). You can also host a game, but alas, no one joined my game. Allegedly, you can also play your custom-made levels online.
But as unique Band of Bugs is in the casual game space – delivering a deep fantasy tactical war game – it might not hold the attention of a real casual player. Sure it’s funny, and offers attractive 3-D graphics, but not everyone will have the patience to learn these turn-based game-play mechanics. It’s not a fault of the game, of course, but it won’t likely appeal to as many players as other genres. Plus, I also found controlling the bugs a bit confusing at first since the keyboard worked better as a control scheme – navigating your units, selecting a command, undoing a command, and so on – compared to the mouse, which didn’t always register your move.
That, and until the game gets more popular, the multiplayer modes may be inaccessible since there’s no one to play against, unless you arrange to play an online match with a friend who also owns the game.
But this $15 game is perfect for those looking for a meatier casual game experience – with a lot of entertaining characters and many levels to wage your war over.