Bang! Howdy is a free online game about turn-based, cartoon cowboys, the second game from the developers who jollied up the concept of waterlogged thieves in Puzzle Pirates. Each level of Bang! Howdy starts with your little posse of units jogging onto the map, and your control over them is limited to telling them to move, or shoot or move then shoot when they get there.
The twist is that in addition to having different movement ranges, shooting ranges, health and so on, Bang! Howdy plays in semi-real-time and everyone takes turns at different rates. You’re always checking to see who gets to move next, and making sure you’ve given everyone their next order so they’ll move the moment they’re recharged, so to speak.
It’s a neat little concept, executed well, with variety and depth added by different map types requiring gold nugget collecting, cattle rustling and land grabbing, as well as special units and power-ups.
After sinking a few hours into the offline experience you realize this game isn’t diminished by the worrying label of “family-friendly entertainment,” it’s just something everyone can play. We began looking past the visuals and feeling like a master tactician, thinking and hoping this might be the manly experience we were hoping for. Then we went online to play. Before long, and in no uncertain terms, we got our ass handed to us by a bored housewife from Alabama.
In our defense the woman had a huge advantage thanks to Bang! Howdy’s business model. As with Puzzle Pirates, anyone’s free to dip in and play, but if you want one of the many upgrades or items available you’ve got two choices. One, win a downright disgusting number of games until you’ve acquired enough “scrip” to afford them. Two, bust out your credit card and spend an itsy-bitsy amount of real money buying them. In principle there’s nothing wrong with this. People can try the game for free, then if they want to get more involved they can invest money in it, or not, as they choose.
But Bang! Howdy runs things a little differently to how we’d like. Entire units that you’re free to use in single-player are locked out of multiplayer until you’ve purchased them, although this isn’t as bad as the purchasable one-shot cards. Picture the scene: your Old Codger unit is swaggering towards a cow in the dying seconds of a round, about to lay the brand that’ll win the game. Your heart’s in your mouth. Then a bomb falls out of the sky and instantly takes him out, leaving you with nothing to do but wait for the match to finish with a lemon-sucking look on your face.