Developer: Petroglyph Games
Publisher: Petroglyph Games
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Rating: Everyone 10+
Real-time strategy is not typically an easy genre for a beginning strategist to play, or at the very least, not a simple one. That being said, the 8-Bit Armies series seems to try and change just that: make a complex genre simpler, especially when porting the series to console. Here you’ll see if we think Petroglyph did well doing so.
Violence: While cartoony and animated, 8-Bit Hordes is still, in essence, a war-game. Defeated units burst into little red blocks representing blood, and often make a death cry before doing so. Particularly disturbing may be the sound of units as they are being burned alive by dragonfire. Later chapters also involve gunfire and weaponry associated with many modern-day weapons.
Evil Armies: The “Deathsworn” is an army almost straight out of any fantasy story: hordes of orcs, skeletons, phantoms, etc. are units within the faction.
Sorcery/Magic: A main type of unit in battle is that of sorcerers/wraiths who can use magic for long-range attacking, and large spells exist towards the end chapters of the game via “mana crystals,” and the like.
While being relatively new to the real-time strategy scene, I had previously played such masterpieces as Pikmin and Star-Wars: Empire at War, and enjoy strategy games such as Stratego and Fire Emblem, so I figured that playing 8-Bit Hordes would be a cinch. I was wrong.
Starting off the game, I first went through the menu screen to see the game manual. I then looked in dismay as a 12-page list had appeared, detailing the basics of resource gathering, skill trees, unit advantages vs disadvantages, and terrain types. It was here that I first found out this game wasn’t going to be quite as simple as it looked, and certainly not as simple as the attack-and-retrieve style of Pikmin.
After skimming the instructions, I went to put them to use in the campaign’s tutorial. It was here that I found out how the gameplay actually works, and after some awkward controller action, I got the hang of it. The tutorial is basic, but effective, and signaled some of the first red flags to some of the personal flaws I would have with the rest of the game. We’ll get to those in a bit.
Humor, or Just Bad Writing?
Upon playing the first real chapters of the campaign, I realized very quickly that the story is akin to a joke. It is so thin, stereotypical, and almost non-existent, that it’s pretty clear that 8-Bit Hordes is not meant to be a story-driven game. Most of the “story” involved finding out what your opponent is up to, uniting your forces, and “proving yourself,” three of many cliché ideas one can find in 99% of any other game with war and fantasy elements. Now, if the cliché-ness of the story were intentional, it would be a clever little quirk that adds to the humorous aesthetic of the game, as seen in Dungeons III. Otherwise, here is an example of where Petroglyph should have gotten some assistance in storytelling.
The battles of 8-Bit Hordes are definitely the meat of the game. Each of the Lightbringer campaign’s chapters has , unique challenge to them, and the difficulty definitely adds to the game’s replayability. Across 12 battle chapters—with a few repeating maps; they didn’t think I’d notice, but I did—opponents became steadily more difficult and always had an upper hand against me, requiring some more creative solutions as the campaign neared its end. However, as creative as the game seemed to want me to be, I almost always just ended up breeding together a ton of units and sending them to their deaths hoping for the best, while constantly defending my home base and supply caravans from attackers.
Strategy Is Everything
While the previously-stated battle method may have been just my own poor strategy, battles were absolutely exhausting nonetheless. If I failed to pace things correctly, my base would run short of funds and anything I tried to do would prove in vain. I would be stuck until I either stopped trying to build my army, or tried to make things easier for my supply caravans. I usually ended up doing a little bit of both, which just added to the total time each mission would take me. I often had to restart battles while already being more than thirty minutes into it, due to irreparable supply conditions. I can count at least 8 times I had done this, and each completed battle took me about an hour and a half on top of it. Because of the level of stress this gave me, I began to dread starting each battle, knowing my time might be wasted, and that my will and patience were going to be tested.
The “Little Things”
I believe I would have enjoyed 8-Bit Hordes much more if it hadn’t been for several little factors that eventually brought down the game as a whole. All the way back in the tutorial, one can already see that AI is poor, button instructions are unintuitive, and there isn’t a satisfying conclusion for your efforts.
1. The supply carts follow simple paths, and move automatically. When it comes to having large areas full of enemies, having a cart that goes to the nearest supply depot often automatically proved disastrous, as it would run into enemy territory without any means of defense. Then, for example, losing even two supply carts out of 10, is enough to turn your income level from increasing, to heading towards 0 and stopping everything. And in the heat of the moment, it’s easy not to notice until far too late.
2. Similar to the supply carts, fighter units also run to their deaths rather automatically. Since units have to spawn one at a time according to unit type a la many mobile RTS titles, this means that when you send your army in a certain direction to fight, newly spawned units will try to catch up to your army by taking shortcuts through enemy territory from your base. This would not have been much of a problem on a PC, as a keyboard and mice can typically be configured to prevent disunion from happening. It also wouldn’t have been a problem if there was a way to set a path for them to travel to. However, with a controller that restricts army variety to just three buttons (a la Pikmin), and having no stated way to set a place for them to go, hitting a button and telling an army to advance toward a base would likely cause at least 3 units to run to their deaths via an ambush on an unconquered bridge.
3. I often found myself making things more difficult than necessary, purely because I didn’t know there was an easier way. For example, when sending my army somewhere or attacking something, I would keep pressing their button whenever I wanted them to perform a new command. It wasn’t until late-game that I found out I was just confusing my units, and their designated button only needed to be pressed once before the string of commands. I had also never used the D-pad, not knowing it had some useful commands attached to it until after I had already beaten the game. The buttons are mentioned in the game manual, but they are never practiced in any tutorial and are pretty easy to miss. I had found out about the “sepair” and “sell” buttons accidentally, though they were also in the manual in a small box labeled “hotkeys.” Even menus lack basic button notifications at times, such as volume control.
4. There is no ending to the campaign. No “game over,” no cinematic—nothing. The game just drops you back to the menu screen as a disappointed and battle-worn strategist.
8-Bit Hordes was fun for a little while. However, while I never tired of seeing the bright colors, areas to explore, and snippets of story, the gameplay problems always loomed over my experience and made it frustrating at times. Eventually, the negatives of my experience with 8-Bit Hordes equally clashed with the positives, resulting in a middling experience.all. While the game has its good points, I’m disinclined to pick it up again, regardless of never finishing the Deathsworn campaign.
If you’re interested in other games in the series, check out our review for 8-Bit Armies!
Review code generously provided by Soedesco