In the buildup to the release of this game, there was a great deal of talk about how the it resembled the classic cult-favorite GameCube title Pikmin. I freely admit that I never played these games, and other than being aware of them due to Shingeru Miyamoto’s involvement, I know little about them. I do, however, know fans who still look back fondly at the original and its sequel through nostalgia-tinted glasses. They rave about the unique brand of real-time strategy the Pikmin games used, and the originality of the design. Regardless of feelings this game may conjure from its similarity to the GameCube title, Army Corps of Hell lacks both of those things.
For those, like me, who never played Pikmin, the real-time strategy style in Army Corps of Hell consists of controlling minions. In that, it is a bit like the Overlord series, but it lacks the third-person action that characterized that game. Instead, you control the recently deposed King of Hell after being stripped of most of his powers, as well as his flesh. He in turn controls a small army of goblins that do your bidding.
The object is straightforward enough. You traverse through multiple levels of Hell while fighting bosses, and destroying enemies determined to stop you. While you do physically control the King as he hovers over the battle field, the King himself never gets his hands dirty. Instead he sends his goblin hordes out, which are made up of three classes: warriors, spearmen, and magi.
The three goblin types each have their own attacks. The warriors mob up on enemies then attack as one; the spearmen run in a straight line and attack anything in their path; the magi have ranged magic attacks. In practice though, only the warriors and the magi are of use — the magi distance attacks are better in almost every way than the spearmen, rendering them mostly obsolete.
You simply choose the type of goblin you wish with the touch of a button, then send the goblins out to attack using the shoulder button on the Vita. Using the right analog stick to aim, the main focus of the game is keeping your goblins alive while avoiding traps and collecting items that can be used to upgrade weapons and armor. The goblins are expendable, but when a goblin dies, you can walk over the body to reanimate them. They can die permanently though, leaving the King undefended and without any offense.
The gameplay can have a few good moments, especially the odd boss battle, but for the most part it is a grind. Collecting items takes an increasingly annoying length of time as well, and there really is no exploration to be had — enemies either drop items or they don’t. There is a decent amount of strategy to be exercised, especially later in the game when the enemies get tougher. You have to decide whether to hold your ground in a defensive stance and issue forth strong attacks from a fixed position, or bob-and-weave through the platform while avoiding traps and nickel-and-diming the enemies to death. But it gets old, fast.
The game is broken up into 20 levels that comprise a handful of enemy-infested platforms. The number of platforms and the variety of enemies changes — a bit — but the levels are incredibly dull and lifeless. Most platforms are just brown squares that connect to another brown square. The bosses are actually interesting to look at, but the rest of the fairly short game (about four or five hours) is boring to see. This isn’t helped by the overload of action on the screen, as goblins and enemies become one giant jumble of motion.
The highlight of the game is without question the original, heavy-metal soundtrack. It paints a better atmosphere than the game can deliver. When the soundtrack of your game is better than the game itself, there is something seriously off.
Square Enix deserves credit for going outside its comfort zone and trying something totally new. As far as the Vita launch titles go — and as far as most titles go — Army Corps of Hell is in a genre of its own. It is unique, and the closest comparison is a slightly obscure GameCube title that was released over a decade ago and had one follow up in 2004. Unfortunately, the game is mired in repetitive attacks, boring level designs, and generally uninspired gameplay. The soundtrack rocks though, so there is that.
Score: 5.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Square Enix)