What do you get when you take one part Tetris, one part Super Smash Bros, one part tower defense, and one part bear-tastic construction worker? You get Slam Bolt Scrappers, the puzzle combat game that finally released on PSN last week. Mind you, this isn't something like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, where it's really a competitive puzzle game with only the presentation of a fighter. No, combat is integral to the puzzle matching in Slam Bolt Scrappers. And while that amalgam of genres may sound like a mess on paper, it actually works surprisingly well. But at the end of the day, is this multiplayer battle-fest worth your digital dollars?
While other puzzle games have you placing blocks to clear the level, Slam Bolt Scrappers is designed on the exact opposite principle. As a jet-pack wearing construction worker, it's your job to place blocks to build tower defense-like turrets and destroy your opponent's stack. These turrets come in a number of varieties, each associated with a block color. Pink blocks create lasers, red fires missiles, blue is a shield, and later on there are more unique turrets like the yellow ping pong paddles that deflect your opponent's weapons. Also, larger turrets provide more firepower, so while a 2x2 missile turret may only fire one missile, a 5x5 turret and it will unleash a volley of projectiles to rain on your opponents.
Naturally, this leads to a lot of strategy in block placement. Do you continue to build on an existing turret, or begin building a second one as backup in case the first is destroyed? Do you build several smaller shields spread throughout your turrets, or build your offensive towers around one large central shield? Whatever strategic decisions you make though, you need to make them fast, because there's a lot more going on than just building your own turrets.
As I mentioned before, combat is a big part of Slam Bolt Scrappers. Throughout each match of Slam Bolt Scrappers, waves of enemies will fly onto the battlefield, including aviator goggle wearing Cthulhu-like creatures, knights riding chickens, and imps with giant hammers. You'll want to beat these creatures senseless the moment they appear, because defeating them is the only way to obtain new blocks to build turrets. Of course, you're further motivated by the fact that they will attack your existing turrets, but prioritizing which enemy to target first will often be determined not by the enemy's strength, but by what color block it will leave behind.
Again, strategy comes into play with the combat. All players have free range of movement, so it's possible to go ahead and defeat enemies on your opponent's side to steal those blocks. Or, you may choose to attack your opponent directly, forcing them to respawn. And if an opponent or creature begins attacks you, you can always shield yourself or use one of the blocks you're carrying to recover some of your health. It seems like a lot to take in at first, but once you play through a brief tutorial it all becomes second nature rather quickly.
The big wild card in any match are the power-ups. In order to get a power-up you need to first defeat a flying ninja carrying it, much like smash balls in Nintendo's mascot brawler. These can give you advantages like super strength (which can also hurt enemy turrets), a temporary infinite shield, or the ability to steal one of the opponent's turrets. They tend to be a bit overpowered, but there's usually so much going on that they hardly ever actually get used.
It is probably a good idea to begin Slam Bolt Scrappers with the campaign mode, which gradually introduces players to new turret types. Because there is so much going on in the game, it's very helpful to have time to focus on individual turret types and how they can best be used before jumping into multiplayer. The campaign also is host to some very enjoyable boss battles, which highlight the duality of gameplay by using punches and kicks to open a boss's weak point, at which point only turrets can actually hurt the boss. The campaign is rather short, though it can be replayed on four difficulty levels and with a second player in co-op, allowing you to unlock some extra characters, maps, and hats to show off in multiplayer.
It is that multiplayer that is the real star of Slam Bolt Scrappers. Up to 4 players can join in, either in a free for all match or with teams of two building turrets together. Like the items in Super Smash Bros Melee and Brawl, you can toggle which turret types you want to be active in any given match. And though you can select all seven turrets at once, any more than four and the game will flash a warning that too many turrets isn't much fun. Having played a lot of the game over the last week, I'd have to say I agree with the game, so it's not wise to overload the arena. Though it is nice that the game still gives you the option if you want to. the only oversight in match customization is that there isn't an option to toggle on or off the power-up ninjas.
In my experience, free for all is a bit too chaotic, and takes away from some of the strategy since you can't control which player is attacked by your turrets. But playing with teams of two is an absolute blast. Players can build and fight together, or divide tasks for some true teamwork. This is clearly the way the developers intended for the game to be played, and if you can get four friends together it will rival just about any multiplayer game out there.
There's a catch though, and for some this may be the deciding factor in whether you buy Slam Bolt Scrappers or not: there is no online multiplayer. It's a brave, if perhaps foolish, move on the part of Fire Hose Games to bring back the feeling of friends gathered around a gaming console. When it works, and you bring a group of friends together, it's intoxicatingly fun. But I worry that many gamers will miss out on that experience because of the offline-only restriction. From personal experience, my group of regular gaming friends are scattered all across the country, and I had a lot of difficulty finding people to play with.
In the end, Slam Bolt Scrappers is an amazing game hampered by the development team's idealism for the optimal play experience. If you already have a group of friends that you can play with, it may only be a matter of time before Slam Bolt Scrappers becomes your new go-to game. However, the campaign on its own, and even playing against CPU opponents in the battle mode, just isn't enough to warrant a purchase without a fresh stream of human opponents.
A review copy of Slam Bolt Scrappers was provided by the developers for purposes of this review. I completed the campaign mode on two difficulty settings, and played several dozen multiplayer matches against both a human and CPU opponents.