Wot I Think: Pineapple Smash Crew

By John Walker on February 7th, 2012 at 1:02 pm.

Oops.

Developed by one-man team RichMakeGame – aka Rich Edwards – Pineapple Smash Crew is an indie take on top-down action shooters that was the winner of our Indie Games Arcade award, and has recently arrived on Steam. I’ve played it through to the end, which makes me Space Captain Walker and able to tell you Wot I Think.

When trying to understand what it is that makes a particular genre engaging, it’s revealing to play a game that lacks some of those elements. Like the hum of an air conditioning unit, you only notice them once they’ve gone away. Which means I’m a bit disappointed to say that the inoffensive Pineapple Smash Crew is such a game, with the former hums of better examples of its genre echoing in your ears.

But this is no disaster. Far from it. This is a game that just needs more work. The foundations are there – procedurally generated missions and levels in which you rush around your crew of four men from your top-down vantage, shooting at absolutely everything whether inanimate or shooting back at you. There are a wide variety of enemy types, each of which attack in particular styles, and each multi-area mission has a particular task that can be completed in your own time. Along with the main weapon for your gang (for which the ammo recharges super-quickly) are a large number of bomb types that let you use different tactics for taking out enemies, and there are bonus drops here and there that give you invincibility, slow-time, etc. So all of that is in place – what does it do with it?

Precisely nothing else. That’s it. I just summed up the entirety of the game, and despite an afternoon playing it, the only variation I saw as the levels got harder was more enemies on screen at once. Not a single thing wrong with those levels, other than the occasional odd piece of design due to the random generation. But I’ve sure as heck played them.

So what’s missing? Variation, certainly. As much as the levels may change colours and decor with different difficult levels, they’re all pretty much identical to play. A collection of large rooms are connected by passages on any number of the four walls, with specific rooms containing mission targets. The rest are… there. The mission might be to kill all the enemies in that area, find all the glowing green shapes, or shove some slidey discs onto certain tiles. Do that and no matter how much of the level you haven’t explored, it ends. Which is odd.

I think that was the first jolt I had. Being a completionist, my instinct is to clear out absolutely everything from an area before completing it. This is why I never do any of the races in Burnout: Paradise but just smash every yellow barrier with the starting car, and never get past the third floor in Dungeons Of Dredmor. So discovering that chambers shown on the map were literally impossible to reach was odd. If you have to go through a mission-completing area, the game locks down that room until you’ve completed it. Final area to complete? Can’t get there. Which made me realise the game doesn’t want me to go to all the rooms, and I quickly realised it makes far more sense to ignore most of the level and just focus on the mission rooms. That’s sad, for me to find myself so mercenary about a game. But more-so, it’s emblematic of a larger problem – the game feels incomplete. Because even when I persist and explore as much as I can, there’s no gain for it. Sure, you gather more XP that will unlock new bomb types slightly sooner, but that’s it. And it’s not enough.

Those bombs are a lovely feature. From a standard grenade, thrown with a right click, then detonated with a second, to lasers that fire through walls, remote flamethrowers, vortexes that suck in all bullets, machine guns, and healing pads, the more you unlock, the more variety you find dropped by enemies. You can hold four at a time, one for each of your squad, and you scroll through them with the mousewheel. It’s definitely the game’s finest feature, and it would be a great starting place for something much more involved. Currently if you’re holding a bomb you don’t want (they’re picked up by walking just near them, and very hard to avoid), the only way to get rid of it is to use it, which is a pain. However, using them can still be a huge pleasure, and a well thrown rocket launcher, then fired by aiming the cursor, is a splendid thing – it lets you take out a group without going around the corner, and it’s very satisifying. It would still make a lot more sense if you could select a bomb type for each soldier, and then pick up generic drops that become whatever’s selected. None is in rare supply such that there’s any skill in finding the right one, and being limited and committed to just four in a level would be much more interesting than the free-for-all here.

And yes, those squadmates. That’s another peculiar thing. The longer they survive, the higher a level they become. But I’ve honestly not been able to detect much change in how things play as a result of that. Lose one and you’re down a man for the rest of the mission, when a new one is hired back at level 1. Lose three and you’re struggling through the level alone. But lose all four and you’re just given another four and you instantly carry on where you were. There’s a “credits” cost, but you gather so many of these as you play that I didn’t even notice the number went down, and it took me a while to spot if there was even a cost. Certainly not one that affected me before I finished it.

It takes away the notion of peril, or suggestion of challenge. In what’s already a pretty easy game, you realise there’s no threat here, and thus little reason to care if you fail. You can’t save, so there’s no notion of going back and trying again with your previous team, so if you want to carry on you’re stuck with the newbs anyway. And since they can cope just as well in the tougher levels as a vet, it’s not important if you lose the lot. It’s deeply peculiar that all four dying isn’t a mission over, restarting you with a new level 1 squad to try again from the start of that challenge. It would mean there was a sense of achievement for having reached the end. The first time I was down to one man, the game suddenly became more interesting. Survival forced me to work far harder to duck behind walls, ration my use of bombs, and innovate to defeat the spinny boss thing that features in most missions. I did it, and it was great. The next time I was in a similar situation, my last two got killed at the same time, and four more appeared, and the illusion was shattered. Oh, I could have just fought that boss with four guys and it would have been no different?

To get to an end you need to gather information, which involves entering each mission’s room with a terminal and clicking on it. Each comes with a really wittily written passage, genuine laughs, and when you’ve gathered 100% of the info, the final level is available. What this does is highlight that the guys behind this are witty, and it’s something I’d love to have seen playing a larger part. Some notion of a story being told between missions, perhaps, or more writing to find in levels, reasons to go into the many, many blank rooms other than to just dash to the next door. Some sort of motivation to explore would have made such an enormous difference, whether it was for more story, more meaningful collection of XP or weapon components, or even just a percentage of completion at the end of a level would have been good.

I was easily able to finish the game despite having a crew of level 2s for the final mission, and knew there’d be no problem if I lost them all, as more would arrive throughout. And, sadly, it played no differently than any of the previous fifteen or so. And there was no explanation for what it had been about, no game ending beyond a screen showing how many soldiers had died. It ended how it had been throughout – functional, harmless, and missing something.

The combat is mostly lovely (later on some enemies carry so many shields that killing them can be a slog), especially with the splendid bombs. I was very surprised that the main weapon never upgrades at any point, again removing a feeling of progress, but you always feel powerful enough. The art design is really cute, and while I couldn’t cope with the old-school music for more than a few minutes, the sound is simple and fun. But this still always feels like the early version of a game, before all the features are added in. I’d argue this is the basis for a really decent game, once the rest is added. Just for now, it’s not there.

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37 Comments »

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  1. kukouri says:

    Kind of disappointing, looked so promising.

  2. Scoops says:

    I’m with you on that one Kukouri. I was really looking forward to this one. This review hasnt stopped me though, I’m still going to get it and have my own play through. We all make mistakes here and there, and the format of the game would allow for updates from Rich. So maybe he will continue, we shall see.

    • kukouri says:

      I know what you mean, I pulled the trigger on the purchase soon as it popped up on Steam, have not had time to get around to playing it, and still plan to give it through play through despite this review.

      Here is to hoping the game gets what sounds like some much needed balancing.

    • Guvornator says:

      It IS fun. But only in small doses. And I’m not going to claim it’s for deep thinkers. For £6.29 it’s worth getting, if only to fund PSC 2 which, if it happens, should be a whole lot better.

  3. Alexander Norris says:

    To get to an end you need to gather information, which involves entering each mission’s room with a terminal and clicking on it. Each comes with a really wittily written passage, genuine laughs

    Wait, what, you can do this? I’ve just been walking into the terminal and considering the fragment collected.

    Also, despite all this, I am still having £7’s worth of fun out of this.

    • The Innocent says:

      Just brushing up against the terminal gives you the coordinates fragment. Clicking is entirely optional (though fun).

  4. Dominic White says:

    I beat the game without losing a single soldier, which made the abrupt and remarkably un-celebratory ending screen over screen all the more unfortunate.

    The core gameplay here is excellent, but there’s no difficulty curve to speak of, and very little sense of progression. It needs another dozen enemy types and another 2-3 map tilesets (each with their own quirks and objectives), along with a unique one for the final level.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Same opinion here. The core gameplay really feels good and satisfying… But that’s all there is, nothing really changes from it. So it will be a nice game to pick up and play a bit, from time to time. But it could have been more interesting indeed in the length.

      And also, as a completionist myself, I realize I’m conditioned to expect a reward of some sort for clearing all the area, and it’s somehow disappointing me to not get one :P

  5. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    I don’t think this is for me, but I think there are a lot of people who can’t get enough of this and will love it forever.

  6. Premium User Badge

    RobF says:

    Yup, I agree with both Dominic and John here. It’s got the foundations to be something *really* good and by the sounds of things, Rich is happy to work on improving it.

    Give it a difficulty curve, *any* sense of progression to speak of beyond “slightly bigger map” and this could be really special. It’s all a bit too skeletal right now but totally on the right track.

    I don’t regret the money I spent on it and look forward to seeing what it becomes.

  7. Guvornator says:

    Are there many of these impossible to get to rooms? I’ve had it since it came out on Steam and haven’t encountered one yet. Also I’ve quite enjoyed it, albeit in short sessions. Personally, despite agreeing to a certain extent to your criticisms, I would say it’s a lot more fun than the review makes out – I’ve played this a hell of a lot more than Darwinia, which is *NOT APPARENTLY* it’s closest modern relative. A local co-op mode would be rather splendid as well.

    Edited. Happy now?

    • John Walker says:

      I can think of almost nothing this has in common with Darwinia.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Squads of little men shooting stuff, I guess, but that’s all I see similar.

    • Guvornator says:

      Just in terms of the combat mechanic. But if you are being picky, I’ll settle for Cannon Fodder, which I was avoiding using as an example because it’s a billion years old.

    • qrter says:

      Darwinia is more or less a slow, tactical RTS.

      Pineapple Dance Studios (can’t stop reading the game’s title like that) is the opposite. If ‘little men shooting stuff’ is your main criterium, there are a lot of other games with that feature.

    • Grape says:

      “Darwinia” is it’s closest modern relative?

      Just… what?

    • Guvornator says:

      @grape Yo momma…what? (is this an insult? I’m told it it is, but I don’t really understand…you kids today…I’m so old now, so very old…someone fetch my slippers…)

    • bill says:

      I’ve seen this compared to Cannon Fodder many times recently.
      I saw Darwinia compared to Cannon Fodder many times when it was released.

      I’m confused how the two can have nothing in common. But then again I haven’t tried this one.

      I did try Darwinia though and it sure as hell wasn’t an RTS.

  8. Keroton says:

    I like certain things about game very much, other things i find very iritating. My worst enemy in this game is the repetition, i can’t play more then a 1-2 levels a day, i get really bored and just run through the rooms so i could collect data and find targets.

  9. carn1x says:

    I was somewhat excited for thia, but I think I’ll hold out for a bundle.

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    LaunchJC says:

    I agree with a lot of wot you think, but i’d still recommend the game. I think some of the boredom I’m negating by playing in small one mission bursts.

    As someone who finds it easy to get emotionally attached to characters I create I was over the moon at being able to name my space guys as I’d assumed losing them all would mean having to start everything over, it’s a real missed opportunity.

  11. Dominic White says:

    Thinking about difficulty, one tweak that I think that would increase the tension of the game somewhat would be to replace the heal grenades with one-man resurrections. Having to carefully cycle your dudes so that damage is spread out, or let it deliberately pile up on one guy that you hope to revive before the end of the mission would be an interesting challenge, and if a guy is still dead when the mission ends, he’s gone for good.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Problem is that with the way the squad is moving, it’s more often than not the guy you control which is the safest, and the other ones randomly taking damage. So it’s quite hard to have one guy take the damage in this case.

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    Hodge says:

    The review over at RGCD pretty much echoes what John, Dominic and Rob have said above. Here’s hoping the patches throw some meat onto its pretty bones.

  13. RichMakeGame says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth analysis John! Even though you found elements lacking I’m still hugely proud to see a review in RPS :]

    Rest assured I’m taking on board all the crits I see, and this article has a lot of great points as a basis for expansion. I feel some points stem from some personal tastes of mine, lately I’ve felt frustrated with games that give me something fun to do and then keep taking it away when I don’t do well enough.. So I wanted to focus more on a flow of destruction rather than chopping it up with game over / start again messages.

    Having said that, It’s not just a game for me, and if people ask for difficult I can certainly do that :D. Amongst other things I intend to add some difficulty modes, including a hardcore ‘you only get 4 guys, ever’ mode which a few masochists have requested…

    • Guvornator says:

      Good work!

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      deadfolk says:

      Hey Rich,

      Just a quick question for you, if you don’t mind me asking.
      What did you use to develop this game? Specifically, I’m interested in language, engine, dev tools, IDE, etc.

      I’m toying with the idea of trying a little game project myself (I’m a developer, but not of games) and am starting to consider my approach. I noticed that PSC is compiled into a single executable, which aroused my curiosity.

      Anyway, loving the game so far.

    • menderslan says:

      Great job on the game, I played through it and had a blast, but I definitely felt like it needed more. I’m glad to hear that you’re going to continue working on it, I’m looking forward to future updates!

    • RichMakeGame says:

      Hi deadfolk- The engine I used is called Quest3d- it uses it’s own unique node based programming language. I’m a little hesitant to actually recommend it as the support and flexibility Unity offers seems superior, I just really like the work method in Quest

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      deadfolk says:

      Cool – thanks for answering.

      I have been considering Unity myself, but will have a look at Quest3d for completion’s sake. Never hurts to have alternatives.

    • CMaster says:

      I’ve just started working in Unity.
      I’m not an experienced developer by any means – I have some passing familiarity with programming, but nothing great.

      I’m very impressed with just how much of the more awkward work Unity takes care of for you – handling inputs, detecting collisions, preventing trivial exceptions from crashing the game etc. Also, Boo (one of the supported languages) is lovely to work with. (It’s very close to python, but if you have more experience with JavaScript or C#/C++ you may want to use one of the others.)

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      Stompywitch says:

      I started a game with a named team, had a panic attack after the first mission when I realised that the COMPUTER PEOPLE who I had named after real friends COULD DIE.

      So I restarted with generics and didn’t clear half the first ship before losing one.

      So I restarted with a named team, and did it straight through without a single casualty.

      It was an okay game, just… like the WIT says, lacking in variety. “Boss” versions of each of the enemies would have been nice, rather than just the UFO every time, as would mixing up which mission room the boss is in (So it’s not always the final room). A skill tree for each character would have been okay, and I like the single-grenade-type-each idea, above (But then you’re basically writing DoW2 lite…).

      I don’t begrudge the cost of it, but I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone yet. Sorry.

  14. Kamen Rider says:

    Pretty sure this game woulda sold like pineapple flavored hotcakes if only it had an online option. A lot of indies spend their first day on steam SOMEWHERE on the top ten sellers list, I checked every now and then when this came out and didn’t see it on there once. It’s a shame cause it looks so close to being a hit.

  15. Baines says:

    Wait. You described how the game didn’t really want you to explore the entire level. And then complained that the game didn’t reward you enough when you went out of your way to explore the entire level anyway?

    Adding in motives to scour an entire level can be bad for a game. Actually, I think it is a problem with game design in general, and years (decades) of conditioning from encouraging people to entirely explore has damaged or even broken some types of games.

  16. Keroton says:

    Not so many good new games right now, soon there will be kingdom of alamur, alan wake, darkness 2 and others, but currently I don’t have nothing to play so pineapple smash crew does its job. Great release date.

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    The Master Chief from Halo says:

    This game is super fun, and it has cute grenades. I’m at level 12 or something. It’s too bad to read that it doesn’t really go anywhere. I’ll still play it, though.

    I’ll be looking forward to the dude’s next game, or any updates to this one.

  18. sicbanana says:

    I got a nice idea where the developer should take the story…
    Somebody remembers “Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters” for Amiga?! :D