Thursday, June 30, 2011

Battle Slots Review

Battle Slots, developed and published by Phantom EFX.
The Good: Large variety of spells and attacks, enemy resistances require different tactics, slot probability customization
The Not So Good: Repetitive and tedious drawn-out battles, some unbalanced spells and attacks, one-note campaign quests
What say you? This slot machine inspired role-playing game offers a unique approach with dull and occasionally lopsided combat: 5/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

Before computer games (remember? Me neither), role-playing games were handled with pen, paper, and dice of different shapes and colors (the more sides the nerdier!). But with increased computing power, all of these combat calculations are now done under the hood, letting the user concentrate on the battle at hand instead of having to do simple math. But dice aren’t the only chance-based method in gaming: enter the slot machine. Yes, these addictive devices that suck quarters out of Grandma have proven to be very effective in both real life and computer form. Now, the power of slot machines has been combined with a role-playing game in Battle Slots. Does this mix hit the jackpot?

Battle Slots features some relatively simple 2-D graphics. The focus is on the slot machine, which consists of different weapons and items that spin by. When matches are made, highlights shoot across the screen, which give a dynamic feel to the game. While each particular weapon and spell has a specific animation directed towards the enemy, the damage it causes is underwhelming: just a simple slash and a slightly redder enemy portrait. The pictures used for the enemies are varied and visually distinctive. Overall, though, this plain approach to the graphics is fine, but it isn’t memorable either. Combat is accompanied by appropriate sound effects for receiving damage and casting spells, some of which are done well. The game features no voiced dialogue during combat or the early tutorials, and the generic fantasy music is, well, generic. In the end, both the graphics and the sound of Battle Slots deliver exactly what I was expecting: no more, and no less.

Battle Slots combines slot machines with role-playing. The single player campaign has you traveling around the map, visiting towns and completing quests. All of the quests are exactly the same: travel somewhere and defeat whatever enemy happens to be there. This makes the campaign obviously repetitive and quite linear: the only choice you have is the option to hunt (battle) local animals in rural locations to capture their attacks for future use. The difficulty is poorly balanced: you can get stuck quite easily early in the campaign as you face enemies with powerful and annoying attacks. There is no severe penalty for death (just a do-over), but you’ll have to hunt animals between quests to level up and unlock more powerful abilities.

The strongest aspect of Battle Slots is the customization. First, you can choose six techniques (spells and attacks) to bring into battle, along with one from a defeated creature. You’ll quickly have to make tough choices in determining which attacks are best, and the available attacks and spells have good variety. Coupled with this is the ability to customize the slot chance for attack and magic items: if you use a lot of spells, you’ll want to alter your slots to display mostly magical items to build up mana. You can also adjust the probability of earning cash or experience with each spin. Additional customization options include bringing up to five runs that provide small bonuses and an ally to provide the occasional helpful spell into battle. Money earned in battle can be used to purchase new attacks, runes, techniques, and symbols for the slots. Clearly, the custom aspects of Battle Slots are quite strong.

Battle Slots, not surprisingly, involves a lot of spinning. On the slot machines there are several items that can be matched across twenty-five paylines: weapons (swords, clubs, axes), magical items (scrolls, potions), treasure, and weird things that give experience (bread?!). When the same item is matched, your enemy is attacked (if you matched a weapon) and an amount of attack or mana is built up. The attack and mana points are then used to employ techniques, the six attacks and spells you assigned earlier. You can only use one technique per turn, so even if you make multiple matches in a single spin, your opponent still has time to prepare some defenses. Once health is reduced to zero, the battle is over and the victor collects all of the money and experience earned by both parties. While it’s usually prudent to simply choose the most powerful spell or attack you can afford, damage resistance to the five attack types may alter your strategy a bit (although you’ll end up just picking something else in another category). Battle Slots is highly dependent on luck, and the opponent’s slots seem to be “better” than yours: I found a tendency towards more gold and experience for my hero and attacks for almost all of the enemies. This makes them really tough to defeat, as they get small attacks almost every turn and really powerful attacks every couple of spins. The enemies also tend to have some really annoying abilities you simply don’t have access to. It’s irritating when I earn gold and the enemy earns attacks, especially when you lose all the gold you earned when you die from all the enemy attacks.

Battle Slots is inherently more interesting than a typical slot machine game, but it isn’t quite up to the level of contemporary role-playing titles. The customization options are quite nice: you can choose different spells and attacks, and then customize the slot machine items to give you more spells and attacks (whichever you prefer). You are also limited in your choices, leading to tough decisions. The rest of the game, though, is (obviously) left up to chance, and the enemies you fight always have more attacks than you do, making them tough to defeat and leading to some balance issues. Strategic choices are dependent on which damage types the current enemy is resistant to, but beyond that, you’ll always simply choose the most powerful spell or attack you can afford. The campaign offers the same repetitive quests over and over again: battles against yet another foe. Your enjoyment of Battle Slots will depend on how much you like slot machine games. While the role-playing elements make Battle Slots more interesting than a typical slot machine game, traditional role-playing fans will be turned off by the repetitive nature of the combat.