EDIT: Check the comments for some additional discussion of Pineapple Smash Crew; while I stand by most of what I say here, at the very least it seems I had some expectations of what the game would be like that weren’t entirely valid.
I wanted to like Pineapple Smash Crew. I really, genuinely, desperately wanted to like it. It should have heralded the bombastic return of the top-down arcade shooter. It should have featured a game world where literally everything exploded. It should have left me with a perpetual silly grin when playing it. Unfortunately only one of these things turned out to be true.
I loved Cannon Fodder. My family owned an Atari ST – the Amiga’s inferior cousin, for all that it could do some amazing things with sound1 – and when the ST finally got a port of CF I… well, I badgered my brother to let me play, my parents deeming me too young to buy my own games at that point. I was predictably terrible at it; even splitting up my men seemed like impossibly advanced tactics to the seven year-old me, and so I mostly focused on the explosions and mayhem without too much concern for the dozens of my own soldiers who came back from each mission as corpses. As a result my version of Boot Hill quickly looked like this, and I didn’t get very far with the actual game part due to a sudden lack of new recruits to toss into the meat grinder.
Still, Cannon Fodder left a very good impression which was only slightly dulled upon revisiting it a decade later. Truly they do not make them as they once did, and I was very excited to hear that Pineapple Smash Crew was “inspired” by Cannon Fodder. In retrospect this was incredibly stupid of me. “Inspired” is gamedev speak for “Has very little to do with but we want fans of the inspiring thing to buy our game anyway.” It’s been less blatantly abused in the case of Pineapple Smash Crew, but abused it has been since the game is frustratingly insubstantial. There’s almost nothing here.
Your squad of four boxy grunts get dumped onto a boxy spaceship built out of a series of randomly generated boxy rooms and filled with boxy enemies. WSAD moves the squad, left mouse button fires in the direction of the mouse pointer, and right mouse button fires one of thirteen special weapons that each of the grunts can carry. Thirteen sounds like a lot, but in reality most of them either make something explode (grenade, land mine, missile) or fires a powerful shot in one direction (machine gun, laser). The visual effects are slightly different, but if you count the stuff that’s functionally identical you wind up with about four different types of offensive weapon plus utility items, and that’s how you end up prioritising them when deciding what to pick up.
The boom-weapons are one of the few things the game gets right since the explosions in PSC are highly destructive and very satisfying; this reaction is somewhat muted when you try to throw a grenade through a door only for the door to suddenly shut and the grenade bounces back in your face. Doors are opened by shooting them but they automatically shut once you’re a certain distance away, which happens to be exactly the same as the minimum safe distance from the boom you’re trying to make (the explosions take up most of the screen). So you lob the grenade, and you back off to avoid being caught in the explosion, and then the door closes in your face and the squad gets blown up. This sort of thing is rather emblematic of the hundred different niggles that do not exactly make for a harmonious gameplay experience.
Still, it might not have been a total loss; hurtling around the levels making everything blow up is reasonably fun. For five minutes. Then you start wondering what else there is to do in Pineapple Smash Crew, and the answer is: nothing. This is it. This is the entire game. The randomly generated levels do it no favours whatsoever since the parameters used to do so result in every level being basically the same: either some corridors filled with crates and monsters or a slightly wider-open space filled with crates and monsters. The monsters themselves are completely braindead, mindlessly walking towards and shooting at your squad even if they’re separated by, e.g., two foot-thick bulkheads and a laser field. The “missions”, if you can call them that, consist of either shooting crates, shooting baddies or sliding explosive hockey pucks onto target areas. And the end boss of every level is the same. The end boss of the game is the same, just with a different coat of paint and roughly a hundred times the hitpoints. Pineapple Smash Crew is possibly the most repetitive game I’ve ever paid money for, and it quickly becomes tedious after the second level. Unfortunately there are ten more left to go after that before you “complete” the game and get booted back to the main menu.
So well done, guy behind Pineapple Smash Crew. You’ve taken the Cannon Fodder concept and twenty years of advances in game technology and created something so crapulous that the best thing about it is the deliberately retro chiptune music2. I appreciate that getting a computer to generate the levels cut down dramatically on the amount of time that had to be spent coming up with some clever, challenging level design, but what it’s resulted in is a gameplay experience that’s shallower than attempting to drown yourself in a puddle and about as much fun. Do not buy this game, not even when it goes on sale. Instead, why not spend the money on…
This is going to be brief, because Titan Attacks! is really easy to describe. It’s Space Invaders. Or to be more precise, Space Invaders as seen in that one episode of Futurama, with the tank going along the ground and everything. It’s made by Puppygames, developers of Revenge of the Titans — an indie tower defence game that I loved every second of — and while Titan Attacks! is far more limited than that I still think it’s a worthy game because it knows exactly what it’s trying to do and doesn’t fall on its face by trying to overstep the bounds of the concept. Instead it concentrates on squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of the Space Invaders concept, and there’s actually a surprising amount to be found in it. The addition of upgrades for the tank which can be purchased in between rounds adds the tiniest dash of decision-making to the mix, while there’s a whole bunch of neat little touches like the occasional alien who parachutes out of his doomed spacecraft to be captured by you for bonus cash.
Titan Attacks! isn’t particularly deep or different so if you hate Space Invaders you’re unlikely to enjoy it that much, but it is very well-made for what it is. Really the only criticism I can make of it is that it’s not set up to accommodate high-scoring runs; there’s a hundred waves of bad guys and the game loops back around to the start once you’ve run through them all, and so building up a big score is more a question of being willing to grind through the game for an hour or two than it is any real skill on the part of the player. Titan Attacks! is unlikely to entertain you for more than a few hours, but it’ll last at least as long as Pineapple Smash Crew while being far more fun and – best of all – less than half the money, allowing you to spend the remaining four quid on Revenge of the Titans next time there’s a Steam sale. Everybody wins.
1. This is where my adult predilection for chiptunes comes from.
2. This is fantastic by the way, but there’s only a few tracks, each track is only a couple of minutes long and levels go on for anywhere up to twenty minutes so you get to hear the same tunes looped over and over again. No music can survive that.