Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: ACORN Tactics


In general when I think of tactical turn-based strategy games I’ve traditionally thought of PC as being the platform of choice, even though there have been some games of that genre that have hit the consoles over the years. The series that I have had the most fun with over the years has by far been X-Com, and until Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle arrived on the Switch I don’t think I ever anticipated how well it was possible for that formula to translate over to console. In the somewhat unenviable position of having to follow such a big and ambitious title this week sees the release of the indie strategy title ACORN Tactics, and while it is a much more humble title it isn’t without its charm.


The world you find yourself has apparently been through a rough time and has been covered in water for the last 100 years. Survivors now apparently live on platforms on the water and are fighting to survive the best they can. The problem is, apparently King Blob has set his sights on conquering the watery planet and it will be up to you ACORN to defeat them. OK, so it makes very little sense it but also minimizes the production budget, and for a lone wolf developed project I can respect the decision… and the time he saved may have helped bring the game hats! Sorry, a big Team Fortress 2 fan so a little personality from a viking helmet on my mech makes me smile.

What it boils down to is that you’ll have missions of progressively higher difficulty where you’ll first slowly get to know how the game works, your enemy, and the game systems in general. As you get further in your squad’s diversity of mechs will grow, enemies will get more varied, and you’ll end up working through the sort of chess game that these games require, being sure to position your units appropriately to isolate and eliminate enemies while making sure they can’t focus their damage too greatly on a single unit or something key like your healer mech. To help up the challenge each unit has its own range and limitations, snipers can’t hit anything too close, shotgun units have to literally be on top of their target, you won’t want any units between your machine gunner and its target, etc. Once you get a bit deeper into the game cards that you can utilize once per turn will also show up, introducing some additional strategy as well as an element of luck. Once you get through the 25 mission campaign you’ll then be able to engage in additional randomly-generated missions as well, so the bones of a game you can stick with and enjoy with are present. The question in all of this is whether it will suit you well.


As a long-time X-Com fan who has played a lot of games like this I’ll say that, overall, I think the target audience is bit less experienced. It’s not to say the game is easy but for the most part in missions I always felt I was ahead of the progressive difficulty curve it was shooting for, likely trying not to alienate less experienced players. I was never stretched to pay for any upgrades (though for the most part with the mission structure this seems mostly intentional) and I rarely was at risk for losing units since I went through missions very carefully and methodically. Just as in all games of this kind there can be tense and frustrating moments where your squad can’t seem to hit things at point blank range but rest assured the aliens can be equally imprecise so it works itself out. Protect your damaged or weaker units, set your sniper up in strategic spots, try not to trap anyone in where there are single-unit wide spaces, and be willing to take an extra turn to set up and you should do well.

If you’re a strategy die hard I’d probably say the game isn’t well-suited to you since even if you eventually get to something challenging it will take some time since the pacing of the battles is pretty slow and meticulous. Graphically it isn’t going to win any awards but it is also very clean and shows glimmers of personality nonetheless. Perhaps even moreso than Mario + Rabbids I’d say this is a very accessible tactical strategy game for all ages and for newcomers it is likely a great fit since at least half of the missions take their time to layer on strategic elements piece by piece. While it isn’t blowing the doors off it is at least a reasonably good game for people interested in checking out strategy games on a budget.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • A great first strategy game for novices with a generally mild learning curve
  • Extended play past the 25 core missions, though mileage will likely vary
  • A budget price… and HATS!
Cons:
  • For experienced strategy gamers it is likely too slow a burn to get challenging
  • The pacing of the missions could be called “deliberate”
  • The shadow of Kingdom Battle unfortunately looms over it greatly


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