May 30

Armored ACORNs: Action Squirrel Squad Review

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Armored ACORNs: Action Squirrel Squad for the Wii U is a beat ’em up style video game with 1-4 player couch co-op support. My son and I both enjoy this type of game as gamers from different generations, and Armored ACORNs delivered the fun to each of us…mostly. The game is entertaining and becomes more fun as you add more people to the mix. Though it has a few issues that hold it back slightly, it still packs in a varied assortment of fun that kept me coming back.

Story
Armored ACORNs is about a group of friendly squirrels on a mission to rescue the fifth of their group that has been captured along with many other squirrels of the forest. It’s all part of funny story that does a good job introducing the playable characters and the reason you are playing. For a game type that doesn’t require any story to work, I liked the character dialogue. Something tells me someone in the NEXCRA Software development team doesn’t like hipsters. Enough is told to give players understanding why squirrels are operating mech machines. Yes, you are a squirrel, inside a robot that is large enough to put up more than a good fight against the assorted henchmen that stand in your way.

Sights and Sounds
Armored ACORNs has some excellent music that is perfect for the game style. Sound effects aren’t the most robust, but they accomplish what they match. The visuals are crisp and bright, with attention given to the look of the different four characters’ mechs and the abilities they have and sounds they make. The option screen needs a screen adjustment feature as the top and bottom edges of the screen get cut off on my TV. It’s minor, and doesn’t seem to affect others I checked online when looking into this, but something that could easily be corrected.

Gameplay
The controls feel spot on with what they do. Thing is, they don’t do a whole lot. Compared to games from generations ago, where players simply punched and jump kicked, it is a match. But for gaming today? I’d like the punishment palate to be improved. If we can choose from four characters with distinct mech power-ups, I’d like if the mechs themselves could do a bit more to the enemy. Something I did notice while jump kicking against the enemy, which could easily be fixed in an update, is the hit detection is off. These style of games are presented as if you are fighting others on a street from an angled view. Thing is, I found I could jump kick and hit those viewed higher on the street. This and a couple other things could easily be updated in today’s age where minor adjustments can be made to downloadable games. The enemies themselves aren’t drastically varied, each being from the same cut of henchman cloth. But their actions are different enough that they kept us on our toes. Some levels also get you out of the same old dance by having you destroy drones, trip switches, or even ride hover scooters. The level variety in Armored ACORNs, to include bonus stages, means things always stay fresh. Boss fights are also fun, as they employ tactics that require players to successfully maneuver the area as well as causing damage.

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Multiplayer
My household enjoys a good local multiplayer game, especially a cooperative game. We have kids ranged from five to nine years old, with one in his late thirties if you ask my wife. I had fun playing the game on my own, but we had a lot more fun as a family playing up to four players. The amount of enemies does seem to also adjust depending on how many players are in the game. My youngest was able to join in with a remote with the game only using three buttons, and being told when to hit the A button to activate her power-up. One other thing I would like addressed is the scoring system. Playing with two-three other players meant that we had a lot of fun during each level, and also bragged at the end of the levels when one of us had the highest score. But if you get a game over and players are given the same score screen, the scores are zero. I’m not asking for a participation trophy here, but I’d like to see the scores that players got up until they lost. I’d also like to suggest something here, if possible. See, in multiplayer, when a player goes down another can come to their rescue and help repair their mech by tapping a button. It helps make things feel frantic when one is fighting on the other side of the screen but the other player on the couch goes down and calls for help. Thing is, when playing the game alone, you lose this aspect of the game. You still have your acorns to replenish health. But if you run out of health, that’s it. There’s obviously nobody around to help you. But I’d like to see something change either in an update or if a sequel happens. Let the lone single player conduct his own repairs just once or twice. It’d be like in the game Punch-Out, where tapping the button fast enough gets you on your feet and is only possible a couple times. Just a thought, and a way to add back some of the fun frantic feeling in multiplayer when my son and I play and one of us needs repair.

Replay
The game isn’t that long at just a few hours, but the twelve varied levels did keep me entertained throughout. That said, some of the bonus levels counting as levels feel lopsided to other longer levels with several stages within. As Armored ACORNs leaves me wanting more, I’d like to see some additional content added to the game via an update that would extend playtime a bit. Requests aside, getting the game right now means you would have fun with a group of people playing through the dozen levels. There just wouldn’t be incentive to play through again once you did.

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What Does it do with Wii U
Armored ACORNs does something fun with the GamePad that isn’t necessarily game-changing, but is still fun for my son to do while we play. Player 1 is able to use the screen as if it were their mech’s visor to scan enemies and get their current hit points. It’s fun for the novelty, and something my son enjoyed doing every time he saw a new enemy. Controlling in general is easy to do with move, attack, jump, and use your special mech ability. This bodes well for younger kids using a Wii U remote. But why can’t I use my Pro controller? Another simple update and this issue would be fixed.

Respect to the Genre
Double Dragon. Golden Axe. Final Fight. Battle Toads. These are some classic games I grew up playing, and what shaped my interest in the beat ’em up genre. Castle Crashers of almost ten years ago proved to me that the genre stands the test of time. So what does Armored ACORNs do to properly respect games of the past while applying tweaks to apply a fresh coat of paint to the beat ’em up? Some things it does pleasantly surprised me, whereas other parts of the game seemed to have ignored some opportunities. The mech gameplay brings something fresh. It’s just fun starting the game as a meager squirrel and using a mech to fight. Rack up enough hits and a meter allows you to temporarily transform from a regular mech to its high-powered version with a power specific to the mech your character controls. I prefer the female squirrel Foxglove, because her blue mech plants itself and shoots lasers from the sky wherever you guide a target. The power-ups last just a few seconds, which seems short but is actually timed just right. Because if another player needs assistance recovering, you need to be in regular form to do so. This gameplay mech-anic is fun, but why stop there? In their regular form, the mechs are indistinguishable. This doesn’t lend much to their personality – found in abundance elsewhere – and it makes the majority of combat rather uneventful until you build up your meter. I’d like to see them varied more in their regular form that they use most of the time, with different basic moves similar to Haggar and Cody of Final Fight. Another pleasant surprise I’ve mentioned before that I applaud the developer for is how they changed up the formula a bit. My son and I were yelling as we had fun trying to remember the final puzzle pattern later in the game. And while the drones are tricky to destroy, doing so on your own requires you to be quick and with another requires you to communicate. Lastly, the health acorns are placed in such a way that they act like a checkpoint, with plenty available together in fixed locations rather than individual health here and there like other games. This is fine, but I’d wish the stage didn’t push forward in the same place as the health. Having a couple young cooperative players moving to the right means those of us taking on the majority of the bad guys have to think fast in order to get those acorns.

In summary, it should be known without me saying that I enjoyed my experience with Armored ACORNs. It has its flaws, but most could be easily remedied along with some fun content as this game has more personality than a squirrel with nuts in its cheeks. I’d recommend it for a family with a few controllers as its loads more fun in a group. NEXCRA Software has made a fine dent in the beat ’em up genre with Armored ACORNs for the Wii U.

The Zarf logo review score better

Four out of Five
Reviewed on Nintendo Wii U on 29MAY17.
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