Slam Bolt Scrappers
Slam Bolt Scrappers has been a game I’ve been looking forward to for the better part of a year. I had the pleasure of previewing the game twice over the past 12 months, once at PAX East, and then again, later at PAX Prime. Both times I had a blast with the game. I found myself blown away with the ingenious premise and manic gameplay, but somehow, the final game hasn’t quite matched my previous experiences.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is not a game that lends itself to an easy description. Players control a flying construction worker that punches an assortment of random flying minions to produce colored blocks. The block is then taken and dropped into a grid, not unlike Tetris. When like colored blocks form a square it creates a weapon, or other support object, such as a shield. The weapon then proceeds to bombard the opponents’ grid, which they’re simultaneously filling in order to attack you. And matches play out in this manner until one team’s board is destroyed.
Needless to say, there is a ton of stuff going on at once in a typical match and this is the fundamental problem with Slam Bolt Scrappers. In addition to worrying about the collection and distribution of blocks you have to defend your grid from enemy power drills, fight off the AI or player controlled opponents, manage the occasional power up, and deal with whatever environmental obstacles the current stage presents you. Having so many different, but related things to keep track of at once makes the game feel even more random and manic than it probably appears. One second you might be carefully lining up the drop of your next block and the next second you’re dead, killed at the hands of any number of on-screen adversaries.
What makes the overabundance of activity so frustrating is that it hides the potential for strategy in Slam Bolt Scrappers under a myriad of chaotic layers; as hard as it may be to see, there is a fun, solid piece of game design hidden deep underneath. But so much time is spent trying to decode everything that is happening from one second to the next; you rarely have a moment to think about the optimal design and weapon placements of your grid, or the time it takes to use the block rearranger to fix a misplaced piece.
During Slam Bolt Scrappers’ campaign – which can and should be played in co-op – there is the occasional boss battle and stage that slightly breaks up the crazy nature of the game. About halfway through a powerful cannon weapon type that needs to be manually loaded by the players to fire, is introduced. At first this new mechanic might seem like yet another task to give the player, on top of the numerous distractions already, but like fighting the bosses, it creates a tangible objective to work towards, something most of the game sorely lacks. In the boss battles there is a distinct focus on attacking the enemy’s weak point and protecting your grid, while in the stages with the cannon there is the obvious benefit of devoting your attention to keeping it loaded, and thus, firing. Having a singular objective to focus on makes Slam Bolt Scrappers infinitely more playable, and enjoyable. It alleviates a lot of the scatterbrained gameplay that organically devolves from one match to the next, as there is always something specific to work towards: a plan of action.
The title could also use a clearer vision of what it wants to be. With support for up to four players – local-only – in co-op, team versus and free-for-all, Slam Bolt Scrappers is clearly intended to be a party game, unfortunately it can’t decide whether it’s a party puzzler or a party fighter. The simple answer is it wants to be both and the issue is the fighting frequently overshadows the puzzling, and it’s the weaker aspect of the two. Although there are two separate attack buttons and a block there doesn’t seem to be much of any strategy at all when it comes to combat; mashing out punches and then immediately holding block seems to be the only viable option. In a game of this nature the combat shouldn’t be terribly deep – since it’s a means to an end – but the number of attacks it takes to defeat even the most basic enemies means you’ll be laying into that attack button far more than you’d like. The disproportionate amount of time spent mindlessly exchanging blows and respawning makes it unsurprising that the current condition and shape of your grid will always take the back seat.
Mashing together as many gameplay styles and genres as it does, it’s no wonder Slam Bolt Scrappers brings an unprecedented amount of ideas to the table. The basic idea of physically fighting over puzzle pieces in a versus based puzzle game is sound, but it’s sadly often drowned out by all the other noise that populates the game. With a greater sense of focus Slam Bolt Scrappers could have been a truly unique, awesome party game. It’s sad you’ll spend more of your time fighting to make sense of it rather than simply fighting with your friends.