Robert Hale of Squid In A Box offers an apology to those who are (top down arena) shooter fans and wants to break the barrier of entry for those new to the style of game as well. He feels the markets offerings don’t present enough to satisfy the hardened fan. He also feels some of the games are a little too hardcore for casual players to get into. He wants to change the perception of top down arena shooters and would like you to open your hearts for a leap of faith. His apology comes to gamers as a game titled Waves. We will evaluate if the game hits the mark of satisfying shooter fans, while also being easy to play casually.
The point of Waves is simple: You are a rolling ship in an arena, shooting down waves of enemies for points and experience to increase the challenge factor. You are to chain together as much kills together as you can without meeting death for maximum scoring value. Combo chains are when 3 enemies are killed within 1 second consecutively and keep incrementing as long as the player keeps the momentum going. If they player cannot keep the pace of 3 kills within 1 second going, the combo chain is reset. The player is also given a level meter that keeps track of experience points earned in the current game. On leveling up, a multiplier tile will appear and give the player a chance to increase their score multiplier. Leveling up also increases the number of enemies that spawn inside the arena and turns up the tempo of the game’s hectic pace as well.
The main nuances of the mechanics are using a Time Buffer and bombs to maximize scores. Time Buffers slow down the action for precision evasion and multiplying scores for slow motion kills. The Time Buffer is also generated over time, allowing for more scoring antics. Bombs are earned after earning a 10x increment combo chain and last for a few seconds after arming. Much like other arena shooters, there are various enemies that have unique attack patterns or movements that will alter how they will try to stifle your plans.
To mix things up, Waves has a couple of modes of game play. Each of the modes have different nuances regarding how certain mechanics and death affects the player. Crunch Time is a mode where the player is given about 3 minutes and infinite lives to rack up as many kills as possible for scoring purposes, dying clears the enemy board and the timer clicks away while being respawned. Survival gives the player 3 lives and challenges you to last as long as possible with a reward each 10 levels, providing an extra life. Rush remixes things with infinite lives, 2 minutes of time, and a set of rules on how time bonuses are awarded. Rush penalizes a player 10 seconds for each death, level ups reward 10 seconds back, and destroying armored cubes gives a 25 second reward on the clock. In Rush, level-ups still also increase the number of enemies that spawn in the arena just like in every other mode in Waves.
Bombing Run puts the player in control of Terrance the Bomb Disposal Ball, who cannot fire bullets at all, has three lives, and must rely on rolling over timer tiles (putting 10 seconds on the clock) and a detonation pad. The player must use the detonation pad to blow up the loaded bomb and take out any enemies within the blasting radius. Bombing Run also gives the player an extra life after 10 levels. Lastly, Challenge is a mode that tests the culmination of the player’s entire skill repertoire to rack up the highest score and the fastest kills over 20 levels with ranks of 1 – 5 stars on performance over 3 lives.
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While Waves looks deceptively simple and is easy to play, the real charm behind it is how all the mechanics interact together with each other and incorporate the need to be patient. For all the manic pace of Waves, players will be initially surprised on how patience works together with the equation. The meat behind the interaction of mechanics is to learn how to use the Time Buffer in conjunction with detonating your bombs for maximum kill value and point bonuses. Slow motion kills with the Time Buffer are multiplied with a 2x modifier and kills with-in point blank radius are also rated at a 2x modifier. Mix being patient to get a good swarm of enemies in your point blank radius with a Time Buffer-backed loaded bomb results in huge score chains.
At the same time, Waves challenges players with the formula of high risk leads to extreme rewards. In modes such as Bombing Run, the merits of that very formula are the main basis on how to maximize scores. Mastery of patience through hectic battles is the real underlying value in Waves. It will also be the key component when one gets addicted to chasing after the most perfect score…and maybe beating their friends on the leaderboards into submission.
Waves is a real pleasure to play and is a well made game that really puts shooter game fans through their paces. Even with the tight mechanics, the game is very easy to pick up and play. Understanding the merits and risk of having clusters of enemies cluster around you for maximum scoring potential is a path to glory that may end up quietly consuming your time. While Waves is a simple game at its core and paying homage to retro gaming as a whole, it definitely looks great and brings the arena shooter genre up with a visual bang thanks to the use of the Unreal Development Kit Unreal Engine 3. Add in some very catchy electronic music to deepen the immersion of retro gaming and the result is a wonderfully presented package. Waves is available now on Steam for the price of $9.99 as a digital download.