When I last left you, our constant readers, I had shared my experience of playing a round of Slam Bolt Scrappers at PAX East. Based on that one round of madness, I imparted what knowledge I had to give in regards to the game just as it hit the Playstation Network, and then went on to wrestle with the full game to slam some more. I have been on high amongst the skyscrapers where blocks are built and saw my dreams rise among them, only to have them shattered in a hail of cannon fire. I have battled with monsters and robots and gods and mortals and stood victorious. I have returned from my slamming, dear brothers and sisters, and it was good.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is the brainchild of Fire Hose Games and product of an evolutionary process that spanned 5 different versions. (On their website, the team at Fire Hose has actually started detailing each of the iterations that led up to the version that was finally released on Playstation Network if you’re interested in seeing how things changed over time.) The final version of the game has you building blocks in a manner similar to Tetris, but instead of trying to clear out lines you are forming weapons that attack your opponent’s blocks. First one to destroy all the opponent’s weapons wins. It’s a pretty straightforward concept, but one that Fire Hose has thrown a couple of novel curve-balls into to create a new form of action puzzler.
You control one of 6 characters (let’s call them scrappers) – four are available initially, two others are unlockable – who have different looks and styles between them, but who all play the same aside from their visual quirks. Each one of these scrappers are customizable with different color schemes, as well as being able to choose from an assortment of hats/helmets to set them apart. There is more headgear unlockable by completing different objectives and playing through different modes, such as a graduation cap that is unlocked by completing the tutorial. There aren’t any unlockable color schemes, they’re all available from the start. Don’t go getting greedy, you’re getting hats people, hats!
At any rate, your chosen scrapper doesn’t just float around placing blocks leisurely, no sir. In fact you have to fight to even obtain blocks in the first place! The X button takes care of light attacks, while square is relegated to heavy attack duty. Fighting game players will be immediately familiar with the different combo attacks that are available depending on the input combinations of the X and square buttons. It may seem strange at first that Slam Bolt Scrappers has such a focus on fighting game staples, but it is more than just a puzzle game with brawling tacked on; it was designed with the fighting as an integral part of the gameplay.
Like I mentioned before, you have to fight to even obtain pieces to place on your field, and this is done by beating up the various baddies that fly on screen to attack the blocks of friends and foes alike. There’s a wide variety of the block-giving baddies that you’ll face, from the default baddies who fly in that only take a couple of punches to knock out, to big bird-riding imps who carry swords and are more formidable than other scrappers in a lot of cases (Their birds shoot freaking laser beams from their eyes!). They all come in colors based on which types of blocks are present in that particular match, and as expected, beating up a specific color baddie gives you that block color to build with.
There are a total of seven weapons that you’ll see in the course of block building during the game. The red blocks correspond with the missile weapon which, obviously, shoots missiles at an opponent’s blocks. The purple blocks build up lasers which, like the rockets, are self explanatory. Green corresponds with a drill weapon that does damage over a period of time to a block until an opponent punches it off, or it runs out of gas. The teal color is for lightning, which causes enemy weapons to malfunction for a time after they’re struck by it. The orange and blue blocks are the defensive ping-pong paddle and shield, respectively. The ping-pong paddle reflects an incoming attack from an enemy weapon, and the shield reduces damage to any adjacent friendly weapons while it is active. Last but not least is the cannon, represented by the black blocks. The cannon is the most powerful weapon in the game, but it must be fed other blocks to fuel its vicious onslaught, and it must be reloaded manually. Every weapon can grow in size and power if you place more of the same color blocks around it in a square pattern (2×2, 4×4, 10×10, etc.).
Different levels in the campaign will have different weapons to use, while in the versus battle arena you can choose which weapons you want for the match. Early on in the campaign there are levels that serve as a sort of introduction to new types of blocks and let you get acclimated with them before really throwing you into the fire. I was impressed with the balance that Fire Hose Games built into the weapons. Even the cannon, which is the most powerful weapon, has limitations so as not to make the other weapons useless when it’s available. No weapon works indefinitely, all of the weapons have a time where they fire off their particular effect (or protection, as appropriate) followed by a cool-down period before they will fire again.
There are also power-ups you and rival scrappers can pick up and use for a few seconds by defeating the sneaky ninjas that show up and teleport around the screen. There’s a comet power-up that causes you to dash around and do more damage, a shield that makes you impervious to damage, a bomb that sets off an explosion that kills all baddies on screen and stuns opponents, a monster power-up that gives you the coveted ability to attack another scrapper’s blocks directly, a thief power that allows you to steal an opposing weapon (bigger weapons take longer to steal, and you are vulnerable while stealing), and a repair power that gradually heals your blocks.
Matches can go quickly in Slam Bolt Scrappers, with one side taking down the other quickly in a tide of overwhelming firepower, but everything happening within a match makes this sort of scenario unlikely. It can certainly be chaotic at times, but actual planning and strategy goes a long way towards winning matches. In addition to the baddies you have to beat for blocks and deciding how you’re going to build, there’s a big factor that provides the true chaos to the game: other players. Not only can you brawl with the baddies that come after your blocks, but you can also engage in fisticuffs with other scrappers.
Each scrapper in a match has a life bar, and depleting that life bar will knock them out of a match. The eye towards balance in the game is still present here as a knockout is only temporary, and a scrapper’s life bar will refill until they’re revived at full strength to carry on the battle. There’s also a little mini-game that keeps you engaged even when knocked out; you can get your scrapper back into the match faster by matching button presses as that button appears over your health bar. Little things like this help keep you focused so you can be ready to storm the field immediately. Every scrapper gets the option to block with the L1 button, which makes you immobile, but makes normal attacks from baddies and other players harmless, and even causes other players to be bounced away from you and give some much needed breathing room. Many boss attacks will break right through your shield and leave you dazed, as they are more powerful by a few degrees.
“Wait, there are bosses in Slam Bolt Scrappers?” I hear you ask.
“Yes, yes there are.” is my reply. There are only three true boss encounters during the campaign, but they require a slightly different mode of thinking than normal matches. The bosses don’t build against you, instead they show up with a huge life bar and crazy attacks in tow, attempting to destroy your weapons. Not only do you have to contend with baddies to get your blocks and build up weapons to attack the bosses, but you also have to exploit the bosses’ weak spots with your fists so that your weapons can deal any damage at all. I won’t spoil anything here, but each of the boss fights play out quite a bit differently from each other, with different weapons available between them that will change your strategies for trying to defeat them. They’re a great challenge and a welcome surprise. In one instance, I didn’t even realize I was in a boss encounter until the boss showed up partway through the match!
Aside from the boss fights, the campaign pits you against other computer-controlled scrappers in a variety of scenarios across different playing fields. You may find yourself in a sunny beach setting in a pretty standard one-on-one, or a neon-infused city that swaps the playing field and has a special supercharger that causes weapons to fire faster for a short time. There’s even one very devious level set in a volcano that forces you to balance how you build on two play fields, otherwise you will find one of your fields getting slowly destroyed by lava. There are seven stages in total, with all but two having multiple levels within them. There are even secret campaign levels to unlock after the last boss. (I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the game to this point and I still haven’t unlocked them all.) The campaign can be difficult at times even in normal mode but I never found it to be frustrating, and the variety of the levels made me excited to see what quirks I would be dealing with in each new match.
Slam Bolt Scrappers can be a little overwhelming at first but, in yet another show of forethought, there are tutorials available for both the basics and the advanced tactics of slamming. Even having gotten to play the game at PAX East, I still found the tutorials to be useful. Another good move is the different control modes that are at your disposal. There are the builder controls (the control scheme I’ve been referencing in this review) which is the standard control layout, and also more specialized control modes like the brawler layout (who needs intricate building controls when you can just punch something?), the custom layout (Set up my own preferences? Don’t mind if I do.), and the beverage control layout. This mighty mode allows you to lay your foes low with one hand tied behind your back – literally. You may also get beaten up quite a bit until you get used to the beverage mode, but there’s a nice trophy and helmet in it for you if you win a match using it.
Even with the amount of content in campaign, it’s the battle mode that will absorb the majority of your time with Slam Bolt Scrappers, and with good reason. The game is at its best when you are sitting in front of the game with a bunch of friends, shouting at each other and the TV. All the weapon types are available in battle mode (the more advanced ones will need to be unlocked in campaign, though) and there are 8 stages to cause a ruckus in (3 are specifically designed for team matches). All the rules and powers from the campaign side are in place in battle mode, except that in addition to one-on-one matches you can also engage in team matches of two-on-two (or three-on-one, or two-on-one-on-one), and even four-player free-for-alls. Given the match types and varying possibilities, battle mode is a joy to play and never gets tiresome.
Ultimately, Slam Bolt Scrappers is a wonderful new entry into the puzzle games genre that has almost no faults to poke at. I can’t even say I had true problems with the game so much as a few quibbles. In particularly chaotic matches it can get hard to keep up with all the action going on, even if you’re an experienced hand at the game. I do also wish there were a few more characters and stages to choose from, but for the price ($14.99) it’s a good offering. The one thing that I didn’t personally have a problem with but many other gamers may is the fact that there is no online multiplayer. This didn’t faze me because, as I mentioned before, the game is the most fun when you’re sitting right next to your partners and foes, shouting with excitement and trying desperately not to get shoved off the couch. Slam Bolt Scrappers is well worth the cost and will pay you back in hours upon hours of gameplay and fun.