Publisher: Entersphere Co.
Developer: Square Enix
Medium: Vita Card/Digital Download
You’ll hear a lot of people throwing out comparisons to Pikmin when talking about this title, Army Corps of Hell from developer Entersphere Co., and publisher Square Enix. And a lot of that comes from the fact that part of the development staff actually worked on Pikmin, but I really feel like the game derives a lot of its look and feel from Overlord, which released back in 2007.
Part of that is the gothic, dark theme of the game; the other part is the fact that the minions look surprisingly similar. Both use little demonic goblin creatures, and both involve a character that moves about the field while commanding evil hordes to destroy or incapacitate enemies. Overlord’s protagonist is a little more hands on, but you do field a life bar in ACoH.
But unfortunately there are a lot of things that Overlord got right, that ACoH doesn’t. One of those things is field exploration. ACoH has stages that are literally identical to each other, so much so that I was surprised at how downright lazy the world design seemed to be. I entirely expected it to change after I hit the 10th stage or so, but instead ended up taking on the same enemy types across the same square platforms, with the same fiery backgrounds raging around me, and that was pretty disappointing.
Another aspect that Overlord trumps ACoH in is unit manipulation, and hero control. You’ve got very little control over how your units attack, outside of putting them in formation with the top left button, aiming them, and then commanding them to attack with the top right. You can opt to make units attack out of formation, but only the soldier units are ever really effective without forming up.
Army Corps of Hell utilizes three units throughout the game, which can be upgraded with a variety of weapons and armor. These upgrades are obtained by farming monster materials from the demons you kill, which is by far the most interesting aspect of the game. It’s a little bit like Monster Hunter, in that there is a rarity level to the drops, and that you’ll constantly revisit locations to farm the correct materials to build fire-proof chestplates and what not. If the combat was a little more fun, I definitely feel like ACoH could have been a stand out launch title on the Vita.
As the game progresses the amount of goblins you can take out on the field increases. Prior to starting a level you select how many of each class you want to take, and while in the stage you can switch between the three with corresponding face buttons. All goblins surround the hero (anti-hero?) character that you have direct control over, and goblins can, and often will, be killed by enemy attacks. If you lose enough goblins you’ll start to take direct damage, and if your life bar depletes it’s time start the level over.
One small aspect that helps to make the gameplay a little more tolerable is the ability to resurrect dead goblins by running over to them on the field. When a goblin takes damage, he’ll get a little skull icon above his head, and you have limited time to reach him for a resurrection. The revival happens automatically, which is nice, and is pretty much instantaneous, which keeps the action going.
Another thing worth mentioning as a positive is the all metal soundtrack. I’m not a huge fan of metal, outside of Amon Amarth I don’t listen to much that you’d consider heavy, but this is a game where the soundtrack really, really fits the on-screen action. It’s pretty much non-stop, and outside of a couple oddball tracks, I found the music to be largely enjoyable in tandem with the gameplay.
And the last thing worth noting is that unlike a lot of Vita launch titles, Army Corps of Hell doesn’t bother with forcing you to use a lot of goofy Vita specific mechanics. Even the menu screens are traditional in their button-based controls, and touch screen implementation is limited to using special items, which might require you to tap the back touch pad or the touch screen a few times. You won’t find yourself using items often, so trust me when I say it’s pretty unobtrusive.
I’m disappointed to say that I didn’t care for Army Corps of Hell as much as I had hoped. A lot of the early stuff released about the game prior to the Vita looked pretty great, but I find the execution lacking. It’s not entirely devoid of fun, but it’s hard to get a great deal of enjoyment out of this when other, very similar titles, have done so much more with the idea.