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Slam Bolt Scrappers review: Not enough order in the chaos


The Fire Hose Games-developed PSN title Slam Bolt Scrappers combines the tower defense of Rampart with the puzzle mechanics of Tetris and adds a fist-throwing, jetpack-wearing scrapper on top of it all for good measure. The scrapper's meant to not just pulverize the enemy scrapper, but also groups of flying beasts which periodically descend and release new blocks for placement upon defeat. The scrappers' jetpacks allow them to float around the screen, beating up stuff and placing blocks while avoiding as much themselves ... OK, deep breath.

Sounds hectic, right?

It is! At least initially. In my experience, the frantic confusion meant "fun" more often than not, but it also wore off pretty quickly. At least in the game's single-player campaign, the handful of mechanics that are combined to form SBS' gameplay almost immediately turned into a grind: punch enemies for new blocks, grab/place block, beat up enemy character so he can't build, repeat.

Surprisingly, for a game with so much going on, Slam Bolt Scrappers wore out its welcome far too quickly.

Gallery: Slam Bolt Scrappers | 9 Photos

I started by plowing through the game's campaign -- a small island map with a smattering of battle locations which unlock as the campaign progresses. After being forced through the game's actual training mode, the single-player felt like little more than a less structured rehash. Beyond changing up background art and sporadically offering a kink on the regular gameplay, the campaign doesn't so much "progress" as "drag on." Good for practice, but little else.

Slam Bolt Scrappers is absolutely intended for multiplayer with four human beings, which is why the lack of any online multiplayer support is such a detriment -- not to mention why the single-player is so disappointing. Sure, I was able to gather some friends for couch play, but the game is really, really intimidating upon first glance. How much would it help if those same friends could play through the relatively short campaign mode -- which is mostly intended as tutorial anyway -- from home before taking me on in online multiplayer? Quite a bit, I'd wager.

Once everyone got up to speed, multiplayer was the best kind of madness. The formulaic rut that the single-player fell into was thankfully circumvented by the sheer number of things happening on screen. Strategies quickly formed in multiplayer, à la Smash Bros., but unlike Nintendo's brawler, the depth was more shallow ditch than a rabbit hole -- a recurring problem with SBS. As quickly as strategies formed, the well had run dry and we were falling into a familiar rut.

Sadly, without an army of players at my disposal, I spent most of my timeplaying the game's mundane campaign. Beyond enabling the crazy, collection-obsessed gamer in me to unlock a bunch of stuff (levels for multiplayer, other scrappers, etc.), it also serves as an overblown tutorial.

New level types mixed up the instruction, with some requiring me to manage two puzzle wells, making the job of prioritizing block placement all the more difficult. Occasionally I'd encounter a level where I had multiple wells that moved, and their proximity to various on-screen items imparted various, barely-noticeable benefits. The "boss fights" are neither plentiful enough nor different enough from the core gameplay to spice things up.

Don't get me wrong, I like Slam Bolt Scrappers when it works, I just wish it'd have been planned a bit more deliberately. While Smash Bros. is a game of relentless chaos, there's deep strategy to be found in that noise -- I don't see that in SBS. I see a fun diversion that's an absolute blast with other folks (at least initially) ... and shockingly rote when played alone.

If you're in college or live near lots of friends who regularly visit your abode as a group to play games, Slam Bolt Scrappers is perfect for you. Unfortunately, I don't have either of those luxuries. If you're in the same boat, you may want to think twice before laying down your money.

This review is based on the final PSN version of Slam Bolt Scrappers, provided by Fire Hose Games.

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