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Boom Box… Pineapple Smash Crew [Review]

Four men, a sack-full of Boom, a spaceship full of mutant alien beasties and a high-energy chiptune track to keep you moving. What’s not to like? Pineapple Smash Crew – the first game by one-man outfit ‘Rich Make Game!’ (with help from chiptune musician Syphus) – has been one to keep an eye on since it’s debut at the Eurogamer Expo last year, where folks played and enjoyed it a lot. Now it’s out and available to buy from Steam, Desura and other stores – so, the big question: How does it hold up to long-term scrutiny?

PSC is a game with a lot of immediate charm. The chunky brick-headed spacemen that you lead around have a characterfully low-fi bouncy run animation, the explosions are pixellated and move just right through the tunnels of the spaceships you’re clearing out, and the enemies behave exactly as you’d expect them to at first glance, with spiders scuttling, bugs leaping and zombies shambling. The music is addictive Amiga-era chiptune energy incarnate, and there’s even a strong sense of humor with a lot of silly British wordplay and casual banter between your squad. It makes a fantastic first impression.

Pineapple Smash Crew is – as you’ve probably gathered from the trailer above – a bit of a no-brainer. Reminiscent of some classic PC games like Cannon Fodder and Syndicate, you lead a squad of four little soldiers around with the WASD keys and mouse, the squad acting as a singular entity, their formation only changing as you switch which guy takes the lead. The controls are as simple as you can get beyond that. Left mouse button makes them fire their little laser guns at the cursor, right mouse button throws the current squad-leaders grenade (the crux of the gameplay), and either the mousewheel or Q and E keys cycle who takes point. Simple enough.

Firey Deathplosions! Always best to stand around a corner from these.

The grenades are the star of the show. Every time you smash a crate or kill an enemy, there’s a good chance it’ll drop a random grenade. Your squad can hold four in total (one each), and they’re the key to everything. Basic grenades might just bounce and explode, but rocket grenades can be launched a second time from where they land, shooting into targets. Turret grenades can shoot enemies from a safe position, shield grenades can push back foes, and health grenades magically un-explode your squad. They bounce and roll and feel just right, and the chunky flames spread through tunnels in just the right way. Your basic laser guns might feel underpowered, but the sheer number of explosive tools you have more than makes up for it.

Your goal is equally straightforward. Make your way through a series of infested and randomly generated spacecraft, shooting stuff, completing simple objectives along the way and collecting notes that’ll lead you to the location of the Mothership, a rare and supposedly treasure-filled craft that would set the Crew up for life if they were to capture it. The core experience here is excellent – the basic gameplay cycle of entering a room, expertly dispatching enemies with a variety of creative one-shot grenade-based weapons and moving on is finely tuned and compelling. It just doesn’t have quite enough meat on it’s bones to support it for as long as the game lasts.

The big red beam of the wall-piercing, room-clearing Laser Grenade.

The central ’30 second’ gameplay cycle is rock solid. The first 30-50 minutes or so of the game are interesting and varied, dropping new enemies and mission types on you. And then it runs out of steam, and just kind of coasts from there to the finish several hours later. One key problem is the lack of variety – once you’ve seen the first three or four levels, you’ve seen all three of the possible mission objectives (Kill Everything, Search Boxes or Push Barrels Onto Squares), and almost all the enemies. Beyond the slow introduction of new grenade types, there’s just not much else to see, and as the difficulty level barely seemed to increase (I finished the game having not lost a single man), it just became very repetitive by the last hour or so, made worse by every mission ending with the exact same ‘big saucer with some guns on’ boss.

In the end, the game comes to a close not with a bang, but a whimper. The final level is identical to all so far, just a different color. The final boss is the same UFO-thing but with maybe another (easily destroyed) gun or two attached and the end sequence is a half-hearted ‘congratulations’ screen that unceremoniously drops you back to the main menu with nothing but some updated character skins in the background to indicate your victory. Not even a high-score board to cheerily tap out your name on. There’s no sense of escalation, and no sense of victory. It just ends, and you feel like you’ve been for a dozen spins on the worlds shortest rollercoaster, just wishing it had gone a little higher before each drop.

The one and only boss. It comes back with more guns on, but that's about it.

There’s enormous potential here for expansion – PSC isn’t a bad game, just one that runs out of content too quickly. More modes, more map tilesets, more enemies and more missions would all bulk the game up significantly and extend replay value massively. More difficulty modes, or perhaps a more finely tuned learning curve wouldn’t be too hard to implement either. I can’t help but imagine a multiplayer mode working a lot like a freeform Bomberman, too. PSC starts out bombastic and – taken in small doses – is plenty of fun. It’s just that any extended play session is going to feel like going through the motions, as once you’ve conquered one room of a ‘Hard’ difficulty ship, you’ve beaten them all.

Pineapple Smash Crew is out now for Windows PCs, and is available from Steam, Desura and Gamersgate for $10 or equivalent.

[Pineapple Smash Crew]