It’s been a long while since I’ve played a good tactical RPG.  (I think the last one I put a good amount of time into was Jeanne D’Arc on PSP, if that gives you any sense of how long it’s been.)  Anyone familiar with the genre will instantly conjure up visions of massive grids, turn-by-turn gameplay, restricted movement and challenging scenarios.  Most tactical RPGs out there follow a tried-and-true formula; just plug in a different storyline and characters.  Squids–a new mobile game from The Game Bakers—is a tactical RPG with a unique twist that gives it lots of personality and playability, and also keeps it from getting lumped in with the many cookie cutter games of the genre.

As the name suggests, Squids has you taking command of a group of squids as they try to save their kingdom from being completely overtaken by… black goop.  (I promise, this game isn’t carrying any undertones of environmentalism, though you may not be able to keep your brain from drawing parallels. I know mine did.)  The black goop has been turning good sea creatures bad, and just generally creating a whole lot of chaos.  Your team has taken it upon themselves to evacuate the remaining citizens and find the source of the problem, so they can eradicate it.

Your party is made up of four squids, one from each class; scout, trooper, healer and shooter.  Even though you will eventually have 8 different squids to choose from, they all fit into those four classes.  The skill each squid has corresponds with their class name; the scout has a “boost” ability, making it able to travel further each turn.  The trooper has an area of effect attack that can destroy a group of enemies at once.  The healer heals, and the shooter has a long-distance shooting attack.  Fairly simple.

You’ll be familiar with the RPG elements; each character has stats, and as you earn more money (pearls, in this case) you can buy levels to raise each squid’s stats, to a max of 11. (Insert your favorite Spinal Tap reference here.)  Unlike some games where the stats don’t seem to make much of a difference, you will definitely see the improvement as your squids grow tougher and are able to deal a lot more damage.  You can replay levels to earn pearls and boost your team’s stats if you run into a level that’s harder than you’re ready to deal with.  No time to replay levels just to make money?  Like many other mobile games these days, you have the option of paying real money to purchase in-game currency.

Also available are different hats each squid can wear; these hats provides a bump to one or more of your stats. If you have the pearls, there are items you can buy as well to help you out; there are things to bring your squid back after they’ve fallen off the level, to revive a knocked out team member, and things that deal damage to all enemies in the level. You can get quite strategic doing some mixing and matching, depending on the type of level you’re trying to conquer.

The levels are more varied than I was expecting for a tactical RPG on a mobile platform.  Part of what has put me off of the genre in the past is some of the level design.  In Squids there are your basic “defeat all enemies” scenarios, but they are mixed in with other types of levels. You’ll see maps where your sole objective is to survive a multi-wave onslaught, to rescue someone from a far-off part of the map, or to simply make it from point A to point B alive while dodging multiple pointy obstacles and currents that will push you off the level into the wide open sea.

“Why would you have to dodge anything?” you might ask.  “Isn’t this a tactical RPG?  Aren’t you confined to a grid?”  That’s where this game’s twist comes in.

Instead of being confined to the strict grid systems, Squids takes an Angry Birds-ish twist and has you using the squids themselves as slingshots to get around each level.  You simply pull back on their tentacles, and when you release they go flying in whichever direction you’ve chosen for them.  This adds an element of skill to the game; not only do you have to follow your strategy to make sure you meet the level’s objectives, but you’ve got to make sure you don’t send your squids flying over an edge, or into a spiky urchin that’ll take away your much-needed life points.  You also have to be aware of where you leave your squids at the end of the turn; enemies have some pretty smart AI and will bump into your squids, sending them off the edge of the map.

The characters and storyline border on cutesy, but the experience overall is super fun.  The RPG elements add some depth, and the turn-based gameplay is perfect for short bursts; making it an ideal game to have on your phone or iPod.  Just like a lot of other tactical RPGs, some of the later levels can prove downright difficult, but with some determination and good strategy you’ll master them in no time.  There are even Gamecenter and Open Feint achievements to keep you playing when you’ve beaten the campaign, and the ending definitely will leave you clamoring for an immediate sequel.

I had a blast with Squids, and with content updates in the works (a Halloween-themed pack is due for release THIS WEEK) it’s definitely worth the price at 99 cents.  If you’re not convinced, check out the trailer… then go pick it up!

Disclaimer: A code for the game was given to WouldYouKindly by The Game Bakers for review purposes.


Platforms: iPhone, iPod Touch

Price: $0.99 (iTunes App Store)

ESRB Rating: N/A

Developer: The Game Bakers

Publisher: N/A

Release: October 11th, 2011 (iPhone/iPod Touch) TBA (iPad, Android, PC/Mac, Facebook)