Developer: 8Monkey Labs
Publisher: Phantom EFX
# of Players: 1
At first glance, Battle Slots might look like yet another Puzzle Quest clone, but you'd be mistaken if you thought it wouldn't be as solid or fun as Infinite Interactive's two gems. It only takes a few spins of this one-button winner to find out it's a really fun and addictive little hybrid RPG that's easy to pick up but very difficult to stop playing. The light and breezy humorous notes the story hits keeps the game from sinking into overly serious territory even as the battles grow increasingly more challenging. While there are no multiplayer modes at all, this is one of those tightly focused single player experiences that makes the hours fly by whenever you sit down for a session. After a few of those hours spent spinning reels and leveling up you'll be wanting to hook up a coin drop and REAL slot arm on the side of your PC, is all I'll say...
There's a polished, yet no-frills approach that gets you up and playing right away, so don't expect any deep character customization or lengthy cinemas. In a nutshell, you're a young adventurer type in the land of Tellus who discovers a mysterious device while out exploring one day that just so happens to be a magical slot machine. As soon as you hoof it back to town with your new find, you're told that this machine is going to be of great assistance in defeating a certain evil menace that's been spreading across the land. Sure, it's not exactly the epitome of epic RPG plots and in fact, the game does a great job at poking fun at the usual genre cliches you'd expect. But the use of humor works in the game's favor as well as letting you know that yes, it IS a bit goofy for you and your enemies to be toting around portable slot machines for use in combat.
While the game does indeed lift its core design elements from the PQ games, it's in the gameplay where the true difference lies. Where PQ emulates the typical match three puzzle game with a few cool twists, Here, you have 25 pay zones similar to actual slot machines. Additionally, the ability to customize the slot reels and choose your attack style makes Battle Slots even more compelling. Want to be a total sword-swinging barbarian? Choose only physical attacks and skills. Want to use magic only? Go for all mana reels. Want to play a balanced character with skills in both physical and magic attacks? Go for it. The great thing is the game allows for success no matter how you play as long as you're using the skills you've gained effectively to crush your opponents as quickly as possible.
If you're a hardcore PQ fan familiar with the occasional enemy AI "lucky streak", you'll be pleased to know that BS feels a lot more "fair", although if you're not switching up your tactics every few hours, things can get ugly. I never ran from a fight during the game (that message you get if you choose to duck out makes it seem that you'll be scarred forever or something), but I did get a few Game Overs because of my stubborn play style. Fortunately, the game saves automatically and frequently, so it's easy to pick yourself up, dust off and get back on the battlefield. One huge difference here between BS and PQ is the single solo mode here. You can't back out to play a versus AI game or practice at all. While this seems like an oversight, in fact, it's not. There are Go Hunting zones all over the map which get you grinding away without backing out to menus choosing who to fight against and waiting for the game to reload.
As the game progresses, you'll also gain the opportunity to hunt and capture animals that can lend you their powers or gain assistance from the occasional NPC partner once you meet up with them in the main quest. You're also allowed to slot up to five assorted attack and defense runes, many of which are ridiculously useful in terms of helping you survive an dish out damage add treasure bonuses and more. The supreme user-friendliness of the game almost makes it seem too easy at times once you grind up a few levels, but the game does try to limit your hanging out in one spot for too long. Once you're powerful enough to beat down weaker creatures, you're penalized a chunk of experience and gold post-battle should you continue to wail on the low-end lowlifes. Granted, you're still gaining experience and loot along with the occasional skill drop, but the game does its best to nudge you along to the next plot point.
Presentation is solid throughout, but the graphics hounds with super high end PC's will probably be a bit disappointed that the game isn't sporting any eye-popping effects they can show off (or any adjustable graphics settings for that matter). On the other hand, if you love 2D art and some light 3D fun, the combination of lovely character art, the overworld map with it's shimmery water and moving clouds add appeal. Battles are restricted to two tiny windows on either side of the screen, but there are some pretty spell effects and enemies explode into fiery bits when you land the killing blow. Other than some narration early on and a ton of recycled sound effects, there's no voice acting at all. Again, the game is made to be played at a rather speedy pace, so having to listen to voice actors yell out some of the cheesy (and funny) battle commentary would distract from the experience. As for the music, I liked the battle tunes a lot while the happy light overworld music almost sounds like something you'd hear in a hospital elevator... it does grow on you after a while though.
I didn't run into any major glitches during my time with the game other than one Alt+Tab crash ( which was my fault). As for the lack of multiplayer, while it would have been an excellent addition, the way the game is set up would have made it nearly impossible not to cheat against another live player. All you'd have to do is load up your machine's reels with the biggest damage icons, a stun spell or two and a multiple turn icon and you'd be steamrolling any and all comers. Of course, some sort of points system where players had to purchase icons with earned single player gold and distribute them under strict limits might have helped. On the other hand, online cheating is rampant, so I'd hate to be anyone fielding complaints from multiple players if there were a few unbeatable punks out there ruining any online experience.
Overall, the appeal here is pretty wide. Slot maniacs will love the spinning reel action (even with no chance for real life payouts), RPG fans will groove on the tried and true storyline along with the nice art and the low system requirements mean just about anyone can get their twenty bucks worth a few times over. As for replay value - it's there if you want it. You can go back in and play as a pure magic user or warrior type (which is a lot more challenging against certain enemies), maybe skip a few or take on a few side quests and play mix 'n match with the insane amount of skills you'll unlock. Personally, I'd love to see this become a series that ends up on multiple platforms - the easy controls make it iOS friendly and I'm sure it'll be a cool fir on any portable system with a few visual tweaks. Sure, it doesn't scream "Game of the Year" in big flashy colors, nor is it anything earth-shaking and innovative, but in the end Battle Slots wins you over with charm, humor and spinning reels galore and that's all it needs to do.
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