Xbox Live Arcade is finally starting to pick up steam and, as a result, more game genres are being represented. We've got fighters, beat 'em ups, puzzle games, arcade classics, board games, and many more. There hasn't been much in the way of turn-based strategy though. That is, there wasn't until Band of Bugs. Coming to us from NinjaBee, the same folks who brought us Cloning Clyde and Outpost Kaloki X, Band of Bugs takes the same lighthearted, humorous approach to turn-based strategy. Read on to find out how Band of Bugs fares.
Band of Bugs should be familiar territory to fans of turn-based strategy. If you've ever played Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Band of Bugs, albeit in a simplified form. Players move their army of insects about a square grid and attack enemy insects. At its most basic, this is all you do. Each insect represents a different unit. You've got grasshopper archers, praying mantis warriors, and basic beetle grunts, and plenty more. Flying insects are typically pretty weak, though they can move over any terrain.
Speaking of terrain, positioning is very important in Band of Bugs. Attacking enemies from higher elevations, from the side, or from behind all confer bonuses onto the attacker, upping the chance of a critical hit. Bonuses are also given for surrounding an enemy or attacking while adjacent to other allies. Certain terrain types are dangerous, like water or shifting sands. Knocking a non-flying insect into the water means instant death (for you or an enemy).
Each unit has a certain number of skills or spells based on its level. As in most strategy games, skills and spells are divided into defensive or offensive categories. Healer units can heal wounded units and can also cast spells that grant temporary bonuses, like speed boosts, to friendly units. There are also spells with negative effects -- slowing down an enemy for example. Some spells are more tactical in nature, such as using a spell to freeze water and create a temporary ice bridge. Of course, there are offensive spells as well. Beyond spells, there are a number of special skills which create many of the same benefits. Skills usually boost a players stats or perform a special attack. Finally, as units gain levels, they earn innate skills like the ability to attack twice in one round.
As we've said, gameplay is simple and familiar. Players alternatively take turns with the enemy, doing their best to cause the most damage and jockey for the best tactical position. Objectives vary from killing all the enemies to capturing certain areas to simply reaching the exit in one piece. One of the more difficult missions we've played so far required us to hold out for 5 turns against a numerically superior force. Thankfully, the game doesn't force you to wait long during enemy turns. In fact, rather than have each side move each unit consecutively during a turn, the CPU calculates how many moves each side gets based on the number of units in play. This keeps the waiting to a minimum (and requires more tactical thought from the player). The online play seems decent enough, though we were only able to find and join a single game. Online play offers various objective-based gametypes or pre-designed missions. A level editor is also available, which could conceivably create limitless replay value.
Of course, all of this is layered with a certain level of charm that we've come to expect from NinjaBee's games. The game is aware of its outlandish premise -- insects at war -- and more than a few references are made towards this. Our favorite bit so far, though, has to be the inclusion of an actual ninja bee (whose portrait strikes the same pose as NinjaBee's logo). The character designs are clever and the animations are satisfactory. Sure, it's not a graphical powerhouse but it's more than adequate for an Xbox Live Arcade title. At the end of the day, Band of Bugs is more or less exactly what it's supposed to be: a quick turn-based strategy game that you can either play in 30 minute bursts, or for hours at a time. Naturally, the final question concerning an XBLA game is whether or not it's worth the price -- in this case 800 points. Given the single player and multiplayer options, and the potential longevity created by the level editor, we're inclined to say yes. Of course, you don't have to take our word for it; you can always download the (rather lengthy) trial game and give it a try for free.