Beast Breaker

PC, Mac, Switch

As I have oft remarked, it is the very height of laziness to review a game by describing it as a cross between two other games. Fortunately, I am extremely lazy, and nothing can better describe Beast Breaker than explaining it’s a cross between Advance Wars and Peggle.

I love that this is no exaggeration. At its core, Beast Breaker is about aiming your little mouse character at enemies made of multiple polygons, and watching him bounce around like crazy, bashing bits off and ultimately destroying the creatures’ cores. But surrounding this is a huge array of tactical choices, weapon sets, resource gathering, companion choices, narrative nuggets, and quest chains. The more you play, the more it opens up, into an intricate and involved tactical combat game, just where the combat involves a pinball-meets-pachinko combination of precision and luck.

You play as Skip, a little mouse with big ambition, determined to rid his homeland of these enormous polygonal beasts that are rampaging through the villages. Skip lives with his grandmother, who was once part of the battle herself, and returns to her forge to reluctantly help Skip with new weapons and armour. As you progress, you bring an ever-growing number of other creatures back to the farmyard house, including Poppy, a baking squirrel, Jonquil, an archer porcupine, and Dandy, an aristocratic parrot with a penchant for hammer-blows.

You also quickly start gaining new sets of weapons, and the game is keen that you keep switching up for these, offering bonuses for weapons you’ve used infrequently or not at all. You begin with a sword and shield, but are quickly given a bow and arrow, alternative sword set-ups, hammers, etc. Each comes with four attack/defence moves, which you use in battle based on accrued attack points. It’s actually pretty complicated to explain, but mostly self-explanatory as you play.

In the end, it’s about making tactical decisions about how to use your current set-up, in order to bounce around the enemies in order to smash through their shields, then destroy their various cores. Each beast has a certain number of turns before it’ll go destroy the village it’s near, however you can reset this countdown by destroying any of the pink cores around its body. Some of these are easy, maked with a “1”, just one hit to reset that counter. Others are much higher, surrounded by sheilding blocks. All will drop resources when broken, another factor to try to aim for when bouncing about, with the end goal of destroying the beast’s main core before your turns/health runs out.

There’s an awful lot to it. Beasts have attack zones that you don’t want to finish bouncing around into, or if you do you’ll want to have built up enough shield points to withstand it. Beasts move around each turn, and can regrow a stated number of shielding blocks, meaning you need to use your attacks wisely before this happens. You’re managing their countdown, while also trying to bounce through resources, while choosing whether to farm them for more cores, or just going for the main one to see the battle over. And rather terrifyingly, loss doesn’t mean restarting the battle: it means that village gets ransacked by the beast. Albeit just in text on the screen, but that doesn’t make me feel less guilty.

Oh, and I’ve forgotten to talk about the pre-battle sequences, where you scout out the enemy on hexagonal grids, gathering further resources for bonuses that fight, and then either spring or get sprung upon.

Things get even more Advance Warsy with the interactions with the companions between battles. There are little skits between you and them, or amongst themselves, mostly very silly and charming. These pop up all over, even in the pre-battle hex grid moments, and add a lot of flavour to an already detailed game.

It is something of a shame that the first male companion you find comes back to the house and sits around on the couch, while the first female is immediately assigned to the kitchen. For all the game’s rather ostentatious attempts at being progressive (it gives the pronouns for the animals, for heavens sake), this feels starkly regressive.

There are elements that are a little too muddled. Those hex sequences don’t seem to add a whole lot, and seem a little arbitrary when they don’t let you stumble upon the creature before he destroys a village. And crafting is poorly explained, especially with regards to what you might need to gather to craft anything new. Instead you just get what you get, and then craft if anything becomes available. That could have been a lot more engaging.

But importantly, alongside the cheerful and entertaining story, the core battles work, and offer a bunch of different ways to play. I have struggled to get along with the bow and arrow, but others might find it their bag. The good thing is, I don’t have to use that if I don’t want to. And while you lose bonuses when not using new equipment, it’s still perfectly accessible if you stick to a favoured setup.

I honestly don’t understand why all games don’t try to implement at least something from Peggle. What’s special about Beast Breakers is that it doesn’t just rest on that notion, but instead creates a unique and elaborate game around the mechanic, meaning it’s so much more. While it’s a little rough in some areas, there’s so much going on here, with the satisfaction of its ping-pongy combat, that it’s got its hooks in my anyway.

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