Review: Slam Bolt Scrappers
Not since the Street Sharks chomped their way into our hearts in the mid-nineties has such a jawsome junction of ideas made its way onto our TV screens. On March 15th, Fire Hose Games released their flagship title, Slam Bolt Scrappers, and the PlayStation Network got its answer to Super Smash Brothers. That’s not to say that Slam Bolt Scrappers is a fighting game with memorable PS3 characters duking it out on nostalgic battlegrounds. Slam Bolt doesn’t even fit into one set genre. Rather, it’s an amalgamation of genres: building, brawling, and strategy are just three of the easiest ways to describe Slam Bolt’s gameplay to a newcomer. What Fire Hose did with Slam Bolt Scrappers is create something truly unique. You’ve never played a game like this before, and you’ll wonder why it took so long for someone to think of it.
In Slam Bolt Scrappers, the main objective of the game is to destroy your opponents turrets. This can be done by building your own turrets. What’s a turret, and how can you build one? Let me explain in the briefest way possible. Each team playing has a platform to build upon (think Tetris). Different colored baddies fly onto the screen at different intervals. Beating the crap out of said baddies will drop a block (again, think Tetris) that can be picked up and dropped onto your platform. Though the game uses platforms and Tetris pieces, it’s one major difference from the iconic puzzler is that you’re building squares rather than clearing lines. When you build a square of like-colored blocks, it turns into a turret which will automatically start attacking opposing turrets. There are seven different tower types, each with its own offensive/defensive appeal. As one loading screen tip notes, “Big squares = big weapons. Bigger squares = bigger weapons.” I don’t want to get held up on a tutorial, so check out this video if you need further explanation. Also, there are a few different tutorials and a full-on guide to how everything works within the game. You get a hat for completing the tutorial, so do it. There is a wide variety of ways to get your scrap on; it’s up to you to decide how you’d like to play.
First of all, the controls for Slam Bolt Scrappers are entirely remappable. I stick with the default controls, and I’ll explain them, but if you’d like to play a different way, you’re free to. The default controls have you flying with the left analogue stick, punching with square and X, rotating pieces with R2 and L2, blocking with L1, scrolling through pieces with R1, and, finally, dropping pieces with the O button. Sounds like a lot to handle? It’s not. Once you get a hang of it, the controls feel natural. The game even features a control scheme that’s simplified enough that it allows you to play with one hand. Donned ‘Beverage Mode’ by the Fire Hose team, the single-handed control scheme allows you to free up your off-hand to do some other things. That’s called efficiency, and I like it. I like it a lot.
The two main modes in SBS are Campaign and Battle. Both modes allow for up to four players to play either cooperatively, competitively, or both. The campaign spans across 13 different stages. A cool feature of the campaign is that a handful of levels have more intricate win conditions than “kill your opponent’s towers.” One stage rotates players’ platforms while a supercharger counts down to powerup whichever platform is adjacent to it. Another stage gives each team two platforms to build upon. The platforms act as a balance beam and there’s lava below; if you build too much on one platform, it’ll dip into the lava and do major damage to your turrets. There’s even an escort mission to be found in Armageddon, the game’s final (not final final) mission. There are a few boss battles along the way to mix things up even more. The stages ramp up in difficulty and unlock new turret types over time. You can also set the difficulty of each level when you play it. They range from the Beverage Mode friendly Casual to the laser-like focus requiring Expert. Battle mode has five stages to play on with an additional three made specifically for two teams only. If you have three friends around to play, I highly suggest this mode. You can play in any combination of teams, or go nuts and have a full-fledged free for all. Besides for selecting your stage, you can also select what block types to use. You’re going to want to play with around three or four since too many types bogs the game down, but each combination will require a new strategy to scrap your way to victory. The battles get crazy and sometimes lengthy, but the to ensure that they’re not everlasting, the weapons become more powerful as the game goes on. The one glaring flaw here is that the game is strictly a local affair. You can add computer players, and they’re competent, but you can’t play with others over the network. I understand the appeal of local multiplayer and I’m a huge fan of it myself, but I know a lot of people simply don’t have other people to play with at all times. I live with two roommates and, truth be told, we’re not all simultaneously free much of the time. Again, I’m a huge proponent of local multiplayer, but the complete lack of online interactivity is a tough sell nowadays. At the very least it would have been nice to have some leaderboard support for the campaign levels (the game records how fast you complete each level with however many players and on what difficulty). Getting through all of the campaign levels on Expert is tough and will take a fair amount of time to do, but it’s not the concentrated fun that is Battle mode. It does unlock a hat, though, so you might as well go for it.
So many games reward your hard work by allowing you to unlock guns and equipment upgrades. In Slam Bolt, since the six selectable character models play the same way, the only unlockables are hats. Each hat is tied to one of the 25 challenges in the game. Some challenges are funny, like Stop Hitting Yourself (win a match with only ping pong weapons), while others are downright tough (win a 2v1 match against hard computer players). The challenge list can be pulled up at practically any time and makes for some objective-based fun times.
The biggest surprise for me in Slam Bolt Scrappers is its sound design. I played the game at PAX Prime and PAX East, two noisy conventions with a ton of bustling and strictly short-term play. In playing the game in my own home I found that every meaningful action has an appropriate sound effect connected to it. Every punch, every powerup drop, every time a tower forms or crumbles, everything that should give auditory feedback does. I wouldn’t say I could play the game with my eyes closed, but when I hear certain sounds it alerts me to what’s going on in an aural manner, a huge aid in what’s sometimes a visual overload. For instance, the green turret type shoots drills which will wreak havoc on your blocks unless you punch them off. That’s annoying. The sound associated with the drilling is equally agitating, which is actually a good thing because it reminds you that, “HEY, THERE’S A DRILL ON YOUR TURRET. PUNCH IT THE FUCK OFF!” All of the music tracks are stellar. Some are a combination of upbeat synthesized keyboard melodies and horn-filled fanfare while others are low, dark, string movements.
I’m overall impressed with the sound design in Slam Bolt Scrappers. I’m also impressed with how Fire Hose managed to make such an obscure title so playable. The game doesn’t fit nicely into one genre. It’s not a puzzle game, nor is it simply a tower defense game. It’s a fun game, though, and it deserves to be played. If you have a consistent playgroup, Slam Bolt Scrappers is a no-brainer. If not, it’s still a fun game that will feel at once familiar and fresh as you pick up the controller for the first time. Nice touches like easy menu navigation, remappable controls, hat-rewarding challenges, and superb sound design are all reasons to stop by Slam Bolt City; the frantic four-player Battle mode is a reason to stay.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Sound design is excellent
- Jawsome genre-breaking gameplay
- Remappable controls
What I Dislike:
- No online interaction at all