SRPGs (Strategy Role Playing Games) are few and far between. Most of them cater to the hardcore gamer, offering thousands of customized options, weapons and spells, which would scare off any casual fan. Band of Bugs seeks to debunk the “SRPGs are hard” myth, but the question is: is it worth the money?
SRPGs are best explained as a more complicated version of Chess, complete with a grid-based playing field. Band of Bugs is one of the few strategy games I’ve played that keeps it simple: there is no customization, no time required before a battle to plan out your strategy, and your units are chosen for you in each mission; even in multiplayer. Having the same exact units most of the time, while it allows fairness in multiplayer battles, keeps some of the battles from feeling unique. A solution for this problem is found in the level editor, which I will get to later.
The campaign mode consists of 23 levels, all of which are pretty interesting, but don’t take that long to complete. It follows the interesting story of Maal, a bug who seeks to find who is threatening his homeland, and stop them dead in their tracks. Considering each level is disjointed from each other and there is no unit “carry-over” between them, it’s hard to feel like the missions are cohesive, but the story is interesting enough to finish. The game’s real bread and butter is “skirmish mode”, which you can play either by yourself or with friends. For a $10 Arcade game, it certainly has a lot of options:
- Wallbuilders (attack/defend a base)
- Sneaking Mission (Escape from an area with zero losses)
- Capture Mode (Stop/Steal Eggs)
- Protect Mode
- Escape Mode (Similar to Sneaking Mission)
All of the game’s modes feel distinctly different from one another. If you get bored of the main story, jump out and do a few missions, or play with your friends. The AI isn’t extremely challenging, but it’s smart enough to give most gamers a run for their money.
Specific complaints I have with the game include the lack of diversity in terms of abilities, spells, and units. The Clerics (healers) only have a few spells available, and once they’re gone, that’s it. There’s no way to replenish your mana or any alternate way to attack. Some of the units also serve the same purpose. The warrior, barbarian, royal guard, and grunt all feel exactly the same, save for one slightly different move between them. A few of the units (the assassin and pikeman) feel very underpowered. Allowing unit customization like other popular strategy games could have fixed all these problems. Another problem is the absence of a tactical withdraw (escape) after making an attack. Ranged units are forced to shoot, then stand still, leaving them completely vulnerable to the enemy.
To call the level editor simply an “editor” does not do it justice. Much like Kingdom for Keflings, it feels like an interactive zen garden. While the total space you can work with is not astoundingly large, it’s tons of fun to make your own level. You can place various terrain, from water to fire, as well as objective points and item pickups. I’m extremely delighted that you can choose which units go on each map. For instance, I can make a “water battle” map, consisting of small islands and nothing but ranged attackers and flying bugs. You really could make any “scenario” you can dream of, and if you want more of a challenge, feel free to create a mission that starts you off with less units than your opponent. Adding to the fun is the fact that you can share your level with others, or play it again and again against an AI opponent. Download content is also available in the form of 3 map packs (one of which is free), and “level/unit” packs, which include new bug types and campaign levels. If you enjoy Band of Bugs, there is plenty of content to go around.
Band of Bugs doesn’t have particularly exciting visuals, mostly due to the fact that the game is 34 MB in size. The character models all look different enough from each other, and the game has it’s own distinctive “cute” style, seperating itself from the pack. If you take it at face value, Band of Bugs is a fun, simple SRPG. While the most hardcore of the genre require you to spend hours in a menu preparing your troops for battle, Band of Bugs just makes you jump right in. If you’re a hardcore strategy fan, I’d be careful before making a purchase, but if you’re new to the genre or like to dabble in it every once in a while, you’ll easily be able to enjoy yourself.
The actual graphics leave much to be desired, but the character models and style are very charming.
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For a strategy RPG, it's pretty bare-bones in terms of actual gameplay. While there are a swarthy amount of levels and modes, I wish there were more spells, abilities, and customization.
It gets the job done. The music is very relaxing, which is needed for a game of this genre.
Multiple game modes, a well-done level editor, and online play will hold you over for a long while. However, if customized units were allowed, the game's replay value would be increased tenfold.
Band of Bugs is a very basic SRPG, and the ultimate starting point for new fans of the genre.