‘Bug Heroes,’ by Foursaken Media, quite simply deserves to be on every iGamer’s device. Its gameplay is a wickedly fun hybridization of the dual-stick shooter and castle-defense genres, with light RPG leveling-up elements. Admittedly dual-stick shooters and castle-defense games have been around on the App Store for what feels like forever, but ‘Bug Heroes’ combines its various gameplay elements with such a masterful touch that it seems almost in a league of its own. If you want to stop reading this review right now and go ahead and buy the game, I would endorse that decision. ;)
‘Bug Heroes’ is a pick-up-and-play game on the surface, but there is so much depth to the gameplay that a good session in Adventure Mode might literally take an hour once you get the hang of the game. In Adventure Mode, the player controls a trio of heroic bugs, an ant, a spider, and a beetle, and leads them in the perpetual battle to protect their stash of food against a never-ending horde of enemy bugs. You control only one of the three bugs at a time, although you’re able to switch freely between them as much as you like and they all bring unique skills to the team. Alternately, you can choose Coliseum Mode, where you control one of the three heroes against a never-ending horde, without having to worry about the additional complexities of defending a food stash. When your food stash is entirely eaten by enemy bugs, or all three of your heroes are killed in battle, it’s “game over.”
Your demise is inevitable (and you never really ‘win’), but you have a wide arsenal of upgrades for your characters and to build turrets for your base, leaving you with the constant task of gathering food, dispatching wave after wave of vicious enemy bugs, and strategically upgrading your resources in order to set high scores. Nearly every aspect of the game is highly polished, and the wide variety of skills, upgrades, and turrets rewards experimenting with new strategies. The tone of the game is wacky and fast-paced, and between several arenas, two different game modes, three levels of difficulty, three different heroes (all with their own unique strengths and weaknesses), and many different types of enemies with their own strengths and vulnerabilities, there is a huge amount of variety to enjoy.
Two Classic Flavors that Taste Great Together: Quite frankly, before I played this game I had gotten a bit tired of both dual-stick shooter games and castle-defenders altogether. Sure, these are styles of games which lend themselves very well to the touch-screen interface, but by now I thought there was relatively little room for innovation within these genres. ’Bug Heroes’ is enough to prove I might have been wrong because the developers have managed to merge these two styles into an excitingly fresh and addictive treat, much like the mad scientists who first combined peanut butter and chocolate back in days of yore. Giving the player multiple characters to fight with and manage, as well as the food stash (the ‘castle’ that you defend in this game) provides a unique twist to the usual dual-stick action shooter formula that we’ve all become used to. I also like how your food stash doubles as your main supply of health in the game’s main mode, Adventure Mode. This creates an interesting dynamic, because you must protect the stash above all else, but you also have to know when to dip into it to give a much-needed health boost to your team. All in all, the gameplay is just dynamic and fun, and I obviously get a little verbose in trying to describe just how awesome it really is.
Charmingly Detailed Graphics: This game reminds me of playing a Pixar movie in the palm of my hand. The environments are impressive to behold, and all the character models are lovingly rendered with a huge level of personality and detail. Even playing on a 2nd generation iPod touch, which only allows me to select the lowest level of graphical detail possible, this is a visually striking game with a lot of character and appeal.
Memorable Protagonists & Vile Villains: I guess it’s a little dorky, but if the three insect heroes from this game were real, I would totally keep them in an extra-large Mason jar in my room just so I could hang out and watch their goofy antics. Which is my way of saying they’re pretty cool, and I enjoy the variety that having three protagonists brings to the game. While the beetle has the highest armor and is best at controlling swarms of less powerful enemies with a stick he uses as a club, the spider is best for one-on-one combat, since she is quick and capable of dealing out massive critical damage with the blades she wields with her four front arms. Meanwhile, the ant is a very strategic character who not only has the only ranged attack of all three of your heroes, firing with a machine gun, but he also has a lot of team-player type skills, such as healing your team in small increments or laying mines and miniature turrets around the battlefield to control the swarms. Managing your team and coming up with a strategy for each level is essential to doing well in this game, and there are a wide variety of tactical choices you can make.
The enemies are also a lot of fun. There are hordes of army helmet wearing ants with pistols and fleas with knives chasing you down at every turn, and never-ending hordes of grubs who go straight after your food stash, disregarding you entirely. Then there are the bigger, meaner baddies who range hilariously from grenade-launcher-wielding cockroaches, to lady-bugs swinging huge clubs, to queen ants (who boost all the other ants on the field to dangerous levels), to poison-spitting slugs, heavily armored snails, and finally all the way up to vicious scorpions and voracious centipedes who can wipe out your food stash in about three good bites. There’s an impressive variety of enemies, I’m even leaving a few types out of the list. Some levels also have a huge indestructible enemy that roams the environment, attacking you or the hostile bugs indiscriminately. These are a toy robot in the playroom stage, and a house-cat in the back yard stage. They can create a lot of havoc, but they’re pretty easily outmaneuvered, so you can manage to use these as additional defense with a little crafty gameplay. Basically… it’s a lot of fun.
Room for More in Updates: Maybe this is just me being greedy, but I’d love to see the developers give us even more bang for our proverbial buck in future updates. There is a wide range of stuff they could expand on, such as giving us more levels in either Adventure Mode or Coliseum Mode, more skills for the three protagonists, more types of turrets and base upgrades, more enemy types, and perhaps even more heroes to unlock. (I for one, think it would be really cool if we could play as this “Bruce Flea” that they mention in one of the unlockable ‘history scrolls’ that you get from some of the side quests. (Double parenthetical: that’s right, there’s also side quests. Seriously, just buy this game already. For two dollars, it’s insane.)) The game is already pretty close to perfect, but a little extra content in a free update never hurt. So if anyone out there from Foursaken Media is listening, more please.
No GameCenter: My only major gripe won’t even be an issue for much longer, since the developers have already responded to user requests for GameCenter integration, and they’re promising it in a future update. It’s really a no-brainer in a game like this, which hinges on addictive high-score action gaming elements, and I’m looking forward to it. The developers have already shown very fast turnaround time in giving us an update that fine-tuned the controls and squashed several bugs that caused the game to crash after long extended play, and are showing themselves to be very responsive to users’ critiques. So, even in my dislikes section, I must once again issue some well-deserved kudos.
In short, this is the first superb new iOS game of the new year. I sincerely hope this review convinces at least a few people to head on over to the App Store and give it a download. This is a truly creative, well-designed, highly polished, and downright enjoyable game, and I think it deserves to be a big hit. In short, it’s what I’d call a…