The Sony fans out there picking up a PS Vita at launch might not be familiar with the lesser known GameCube series Pikmin, but developer Entersphere sure understands it. Created by a dev team headed by a former Nintendo game director, Army Corps of Hell takes the simplified RTS combat of Pikmin and shrinks it down with a mature edge. Of course, when they shrank the concept, they also minimized the fun.
Army Corps of Hell takes the RTS genre and recreates it in a more manageable size, as dozens of minions surround a demonic overlord traveling the underworld to reclaim his lost status. At each turn some hideous creature is out to kill you, but your once and future King of Hell won’t dirty his hands in self-defense. Instead, you fling minion after minion at your enemies until they explode in a bloody mess. Eventually you kill enough lower demons to control a level of Hell (sometimes following an interesting boss fight), then progressing to the next stage.
At first it’s a compelling proposition, as each stage moves fast enough to accommodate portable gaming, and we hadn’t enjoyed a good Pikmin game since, well, the last Pikmin game. The ability to vary the makeup of your team, switching on the fly between knights, spearmen and the like kept things interesting to a point, as did the customizable armor. For the first few stages throwing your mush mouthed demons at fiends until your team is eating your foe’s carcass was fun. Then it sadly wears out its welcome for a number reasons.
What happened? It mostly just comes down to a lack of variety, as we came to understand that throwing your goblin pals at things was really all that was going to happen. It isn’t helped by the setting either, as each stage is a series of flat squares that feature a few obstacles, but little to differentiate one from the next, aside from the number of monsters you fight. The humorously self-important metal soundtrack in the background helped lighten some of the blandness of the level layout, but sadly electric guitars can only do so much. The same goes for the humorously gory combat.
This lack of variety is only hastened by the repetition of the battles. You can take out some enemies faster if you use different troops, but if you hired 80 of the same type and just threw them with little thought, you’d get similar enough results. Meanwhile, the touch controls feel very tacked on, with the rhythm games on the back touch pad an afterthought compared to the rest of the game. It’s realizations like those that show what a let down ACoH is for those looking for some real strategy in this strategy game.
System launches exist in a realm of lowered expectations, so right now Army Corps of Hell is a novel experience and one of the few launch games with a real budget that isn’t an updated port or half-sequel. And Pikmin fans desperate for anything that copies the series will have a good time for a little while. Yet Army Corps of Hell comes up short in the end, probably thanks to a lack of time or money. Perhaps the sequel will be a more successful realization of the concept, but as it stands ACoH is a noble effort that’s not quite ready for the big time.