"Squids Odyssey" has a completely lovable collection of undersea characters and a unique play mechanic. But, like a squid on land struggling to breathe, this 3DS/Wii U game flounders and chokes.
As the game begins, a merry band of heroic squids must rally against a strange influx of corrupted crabs and shrimp. Seemingly pulled straight from the design notes of an animated series, the adorable squids are the game's greatest strength. They're cute without being cloying, plus they're unsurprisingly merchandisable in the Angry Birds style. Designwise, these characters have legs. Lots of them.
Squids come in multiple classes, each with a set of special abilities. The shooters can fire off an attack, while healers can deliver a rejuvenating kiss, for example. You can also improve your squids' stats with fun costumes and items. By mixing and matching the various classes and extras, you can make your own team that suits your play style.
However, what you're supposed to do with these stretchy cephalopods may turn you against them. "Squids Odyssey" is a physics-based game that plays a lot like pinball or pool. You grab a squid and tug it so as to launch it around the playing field. Usually, you have a finish line to reach, and the path to that goal is dangerously peppered with enemy fish, spiky sea urchins and other hazards. Enemies are dealt damage when your squids bounce into them. Depending on your personal strategy and the particular squids on your team, you can try to defeat all the baddies or slip around them.
While this is an interesting basic concept, the random nature of pool table physics means your squids are continually falling off ledges, getting stuck behind corners and knocking one another to their deaths. You do have control over the angle and intensity of each squid's attack, but as any pinball player can tell you, that goes only so far. It is frustrating to have attempt after attempt at completing a level fail because of a wild bounce.
Yes, that's the nature of pinball, but perhaps it is a bad match with the turn-based strategy that compromises the other half of "Squids Odyssey." Any botched attack means ground lost against the aquatic enemies, and when it feels like that loss was unfair, you start to hate the game for being so unyielding. "Squids" is a difficult game, but that difficulty too often comes down to punishment via random chance.
Maybe the levels need checkpoints, or the squids need stronger life meters, or each level's boundaries need to be better marked so you don't keep mistakenly tossing your squids over the edge. "Squids Odyssey" needs a lot of improvements and polish before it could be considered a recommendable title. As it stands, if you want to help the squids save their ocean home, you're going to need a lot of patience.
Released: July 2014
Verdict: You can SKIP this game.
2 out of 5 stars