PAX East ’10: Slam Bolt Scrappers
Combining elements of close to a half-dozen established genres, Slam Bolt Scrappers is a game that isn’t easily described. Rather than waste our time trying to classify the game, let me break it down the best I can and let you know why it was one of the most original and exciting games – indie or not – at PAX East.
Before getting my mitts on Slam Bolt Scrappers I was perfectly content to watch a few matches in an effort to understand what the hell was going on. Without the proper context, a match of Slam Bolt looks like absolute madness. Four players fly their winged avatars around punching each other and what appeared to have been flying pigs, while this is happening they’re collecting and dropping Tetris-like pieces. Unlike Tetris though, these pieces aren’t disappearing, rising or netting points, they’re forming weapons, which lends some explanation to the constant barrage of missiles and laser beams that further clutter the screen.
After watching a few rounds, one of the guys from developer Fire Hose passed me a controller and it was time to put my limited understanding into practice. First of all, Slam Bolt isn’t a free-for-all and luckily enough for me my teammate had either played a few rounds prior or was some kind of mad genius. Anyway, punching the flying enemies released colored blocks that could either be dropped into your team’s tower or discarded for a small health boost – the other team can punch you. The main goal is to create squares of increasing size using the same color, which creates your weapons; the bigger the square, the nastier the weapon.
It didn’t take me long to understand the building and attacking concept, but even by the time my team had won I still didn’t quite grasp what the actual win conditions were. Tucked away at the furthest corner of each team’s tower is a lone blue square with a gold outline, which can be shifted and enlarged during the match. Destroying all gold rimmed blocks is the objective and protecting it is just as important as attacking your opponents’ tower.
Knowing the rules and a wee bit of strategy I saddled up for my second turn. Partnered with another freakishly good stranger, we quickly had a 5×5 red square in the front of our base that belched out dozens of missiles. Getting this weapon deployed quickly made it difficult for the other team to ever truly get going. Additionally, my ally and I erected a number of blue shield squares above our gold block so even if they had been able to turn the tide we were more than ready to absorb some serious projectiles. If we hadn’t been happy with our arrangement, either team can grab the block rearranger from the center to shift their pieces around in hopes of creating larger squares. Of course, arranging is difficult enough given the cookie cutter nature of the rearranger, but it’s especially hard while you’re inundated by the normal on-screen mayhem.
One of the better aspects of Slam Bolt is the strategy isn’t confined to tower arrangements. Since you’re free to fly over into enemy air space at will, you can go out of your way to disrupt your opponents by killing them or stealing their blocks by punching their live stock. Once a player has been knocked out they’ll have to wait to respawn but can expedite the process by hitting the appropriate buttons of a quick-time event that plays near their health bar. Having a party member out can be a huge disadvantage, even if it’s only for several seconds.
Having digested all of this over the course of the day, Anthony and I decided to give the game a go together. Since we both had played a round or two prior and had positive results, we assumed our combined intuition would be far too much for any pair of random show attendees – we were dead wrong. I think I likely got too concerned about accumulating purple blocks for our main laser, which left our tower under populated. Since we got off to a slow start, it seemed our defeat was ultimately inevitable. I understand that it was our planning – or lack thereof – that sealed our fate, but both Anthony and I felt there was little chance of reversing a battle once it had matured.
Despite our single minor complaint, Slam Bolt Scrappers was easily one of our favorite titles on the show floor. It mixes so many simple aspects into an entirely new and puzzling experience, and miraculously has a pretty short learning curve despite its eclectic design. Slam Bolt Scrappers is likely a little ways off still and hasn’t actually been officially announced for any specific platform(s) yet – it was running on 360. However, if the addictive multiplayer is anything to go on, it should be one of the more refreshing games of the year.