One of the things that’s eternally frustrating about the Xbox LIVE Indie marketplace is the fact that it’s cluttered with terrible thumbstick shooters. They bring nothing new to the genre and most are plagued by worn out gameplay and terrible music that makes your ears bleed. Fortunately, Gnomic Studios seems to have it right with Square Off.
The basic formula for Square Off stays true to the genre, with the two thumbsticks controlling movement and fire, but Square Off departs from the usual in both graphics and gameplay. It’s a great combination that is only marred by the fact that it has no support for Xbox LIVE play, even if the local multiplayer is a complete blast.
Square Off actually features a story, which is something severely lacking in most thumbstick shooters on the marketplace today. Of course, the genre doesn’t lend itself well to story telling, but Square Off features just enough story to give you a reason to be playing as the cracked invention of a mad scientist in a last few desperate attempts to save the world from a horde of aliens.
Players take control of a square of their color choice, equipped with a basic ray gun and bombs, in order to fend off a horde of alien invaders. Each horde is divided into waves, similar to what you would find in a tower defense game, but the beauty of this formula is that it gives you time to organize with your friends in order to mutilate the waves as quickly as possible.
There are a wide variety of environments for you to explore, although you’re basically set in the arena that you choose, no matter if you are playing solo or with friends. The environments are lush and beautifully drawn, which makes for visually pleasing gameplay.
Aside from the typical shooting mechanics, one of the things that successfully sets Square Off apart from other games in the genre is the inclusion of several different types of weapons, and the ability to cycle through them. Traditionally, when you get a new weapon in a thumbstick shooter, you’re stuck with that weapon until you’ve used up the ammo. This has always been a gripe of mine, and it’s something Gnomic Studios successfully addressed by allowing you to cycle through all of your pickups.
This ability to reserve weapons for later adds a bit of strategy to the game, as you can use your standard ray gun to pick off rogue alien blobs and save those shotgun blasts for when you’ve got a mass of aliens bearing down on you. It’s also great when playing with friends, as you can plan your attacks together to ensure you’re blasting aliens with maximum efficiency and not worrying about who is getting what power up.
My only real complaint about the game is the fact that it lacks Xbox LIVE support, something that would have done wonders for improving the longevity of the game, considering it’s a game best played with friends. It can be enjoyable alone, but I can’t help but feel as though the inclusion of LIVE support could have rocketed Square Off from an Indie title into the Arcade category. Hopefully, this is something the developers will consider in the next iteration.
Square Off is pretty much a pure extract of fun if you can conjure four friends to gather around the same TV. But even if you can’t, you should give the game a run through solo. The graphics are wonderfully quirky, and the variety of weapons available keep the game from becoming tiresome after a few waves of enemies. Square Off’s graphics and game play combined makes for an enjoyable experience that will have you plodding along to unlock new environments, slaughter even more aliens, and perhaps beat your best times.
Gamer Limit gives Square Off a 8/10.