Ever wondered what a game would be like if they mixed Pikmin and Diablo? Me neither. However, the folks from Square Enix are making that twisted idea a reality with the Vita launch game, Army Corps of Hell. Leading up to the launch, it was one of the most unique looking and yet strangely mysterious games on the horizon. Now that it’s in our hot little hands, is it actually worth anything?
The game is probably exactly as you’d expect. You play as the King of Hell, leading a legion of demonic goblins with the desire to become the supreme ruler of…erm…Hell, which admittedly seems like you’d already be if you’re introducing yourself as the King of Hell, but I digress.
The game is played by going from stage to stage and wiping out all the enemies on the level. You start on a platform with enemies, take them out, unlock the next platform, then lather-rinse-repeat until you get to the end of a given stage, with a few bosses thrown in for good measure.
Combat is done entirely with your army of goblins, which come in three flavors. The sword-bearing soldiers are flung onto enemies Pikmin style until a set amount are covering whatever it is you want to die. A quick hit and good timing of a button and the soldiers will all attack the monster they’re sticking to, causing large amounts of damage. The focused spearmen are smart enough to attack things on their own, but you need to order them to move forward and attack. The powerful magi cast various spells depending on what equipment you’ve given them. You can only command one type of goblin at a time, and must switch between them by using the face buttons. Each goblin has its advantages and disadvantages, meaning you’ll be switching between them frantically.
For example, soldiers are great for chipping away the health on a boss, but you shouldn’t throw them at an enemy that’s on fire. That’s better left to the magi and their projectile spells.
Aside from their main attacks, each type has a special attack if you hold the left trigger and get everyone into formation. In formation, soldiers can be thrown two at a time, and all spearmen can be sent towards one particular enemy. Magi will move quicker but cast slower. These attacks are important to remember, because they’ll come in quite handy during certain situations.
It’s also important to pay attention to indicators on the Mario-esque level select screen, as they’ll often tell you what kinds of enemies and hazards you’ll encounter in a given level. If you land on a level that has a little flame symbol below it, it’s safe to say those magi units you have equipped with fire staves probably aren’t a good idea. It actually took me awhile to notice that these indicators even existed; an unfortunate oversight I blame on Vita games not having manuals and the game itself having a mostly unhelpful tutorial.
Within the levels, players will collect items from slain enemies used for the game’s alchemy system. These items are used for making regular helpful items like health pickups, but can also be used to make weapons and armor to outfit your army with. You’ll use the appropriately morbid items you pick up in levels, such as eyeballs, the flesh of those who oppose you, a severed tail, etc.. to make your fighters stronger and able to take more of, or give more of, a hit.
You probably shouldn’t concern yourself with your goblins too much. If they get hit, they simply get knocked out at first, and show a little bubble with a skull indicating they’re near death. If you can manage to get to them, you’ll automatically revive them. However, if they die, you can always find one of the many cages on the various level maps in order to summon more, for a price. This mechanic becomes incredibly annoying during certain boss fights when an unavoidable area attack will wipe out your entire army. Though, keep in mind that there are items you can equip to your own character which increase the range at which you can be in order to revive your guys.
Oddly enough, the game would be loads better if every single level had a boss battle. The game really shines when you’re fighting off an enemy up to five times your own size by attacking strategic weak points. The fact is, however, that you end up with only one boss per every three levels or so, and many of the levels start to feel like filler because of how similar they all look. The level design isn’t exactly anything groundbreaking.
The game itself is lacking severely in the aesthetics department. Story segments are told simply by the same four or five still pictures being used over and over featuring the King of Hell talking to his goblins using speech bubbles with some unknown language. There are no voice overs, and the subtitles move quickly. Much of the story revolves around the same formula:
Goblin: “There’s a very big enemy ahead m’lord!”
King of Hell: “HU HU HU! THEY ARE NO MATCH FOR ME AND MY MINIONS!”
*you play the level*
Goblin: “We’ve lost many m’lord, but we are victorious…”
King of Hell: “OF COURSE WE ARE! QUIT YOUR WHINING! I’LL SHARE MY POWER WITH YOU AND MAKE MY ARMY STRONGER!”
There’s not much egging you along here unless you’re just looking for mindless slaughter and destruction. Even the in-game graphics are terribly misrepresentative of what the Vita is capable of. At best, the graphics look like a PSP game. Not a late in the cycle “if you squint your eyes, it looks like a PS2 game” release, but an early, “I think I can count the polygons on that character with the fingers on my hands,” or “Is the ground made of rock or muddy water?” kind of game. If you’re looking for a game to really show off that $250-300 handheld system you just bought, Army Corps of Hell is NOT it.
Also noticeably absent? Aside from touching the item in the corner of the screen in order to use it, the game doesn’t use any of the Vita’s unique features at all. I suppose this could be considered both good and bad. While it’s good that the game doesn’t feel overly gimmicky or anything due to forced use of something like the SIXAXIS controls, it’s bad because there are all these features in this wonderful little handheld and none of them are really used. At all. Ever.
What’s really cool, and I know I’m clearly biased in this department but it needs to be mentioned anyway, is the soundtrack. As evidenced by the trailers we’ve posted over the past few months, Army Corps of Hell has an appropriately heavy soundtrack to accompany the devilish visuals. Your slaughtering and trail of destruction will be accompanied by several thrash, death and power metal tunes all pushing your forward in the name of metal. Considering metal is usually only used in cheesy scenarios or games that are trying too hard, and Army Corps of Hell doesn’t really fall into either, the music is easily one of the best parts of the game. I’m not just saying that as a renowned metalhead; I’m saying that in terms of music that works well with the gameplay.
There’s a lot of potential here, but unfortunately Army Corps of Hell suffers from being a little bit repetitive and quite ugly, while relying on a gameplay style that really isn’t used much anymore. I’d be glad to see another one in the future that features more polish and maybe mixes things up a bit, but Army Corps of Hell is a difficult game to recommend. Oddly enough, I think if you love all things metal as much as I do, you’ll enjoy it significantly more than most other gamers will. However, I’m here to review a game to the best of my ability as reference for the everyday gamer that might have a passing interest in the game. Due to this, I say wait for a price drop, because while I love what’s here, paying full retail price feels like too much for what would have been much better as a cheaper download-only title.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.