If you’re of a certain age, and you owned a GameCube, you might have played a delightful strategy game called Pikmin. You’re probably wondering why I’m mentioning a decade-old Nintendo game when reviewing a Vita title, but bear with me for a second. In Pikmin, you played as an extra-terrestrial called Captain Olimar, who ends up stranded on a distant planet. Olimar quickly realises that his survival depends on “enslaving” the planet’s multi-coloured inhabitants (called Pikmin). With their help, he sets out to retrieve ship parts, in the hopes of blasting off, and “never returning to this dreadful rock”. In this game, the Pikmin (of a specific colour) can be used in a number of novel ways. The blue Pikmin can wade through water, the red ones are resistant to fire and the yellow ones can be equipped with explosives and thrown to their deaths. It made for a surprisingly enjoyable game (and if you haven’t had a chance to play it, apparently there’s a re-release of the original on the Nintendo Wii).
Fast forward, a decade and Army Corps of Hell is attempting to bring the joy of Pikmin to the glorious Vita nation.
In Army Corps of Hell, you’re a wannabe-demonic overlord, who attempts to dominate the Underworld, by forcefully enlisting the help of a bunch of impish goblins. Here too, your goblin army come in three flavours: rugged sword-wielding imps who can be thrown at unwary foes, or battle-hardened pikemen/spearmen who can charge to their deaths, or even staff-wielding magi, with a penchant for destruction. However, unlike Pikmin, Army Corps of Hell leaves a hellish first impression. There’s no easy way to say this but, for a Vita game, it is an ugly, foul-smelling beast. It certainly looks like a PlayStation Portable (PSP) game, and on the Vita its muddy textures and disregard for detail becomes an eye-sore. It’s hard not to get the impression that Square-Enix initially intended it to be a PSP title. Instead, it now graces the PS Vita as a launch title (presumably, as a means to torture would-be Vita owners).
I can actually see Dante Alighieri slowly turning in his grave, because Army Corps of Hell has a very dull and uncreative take on the Underworld. If microphones were to be placed in his tomb. You would probably hear an incorporeal murmur floating on the stagnant air. It would demand to know, where are all the burning fires, the sulphur plumes or even the blood-curdling screams that emanate from the droves of damned telemarketers, televangelists or other sinners (who find themselves burning in the fiery pits of Hell)? Instead, this version of Hell resembles the drive between Laingsburg and Beaufort-West. There’s nothing to see, except the simple pleasure of spotting a passing truck with its convey of cars. In this title, Hell is apparently a bunch of flat islands, connected to each other by bone bridges. It certainly gives a different meaning to the game’s tagline “Hell is in your Hands”. Maybe if I had unnaturally flat hands…
There is certainly a modicum of fun to be scraped out of Army Corps of Hell. The game is challenging and it’s certainly a decent strategy game. Before entering a new area, you can decide on how many swordsmen, sorcerers (magi) or pike men (spearmen) you’d like to drag along. You can even choose which weapons to equip them with. But, since, certain demonic monsters are vulnerable to one of your three regiments, it helps to prepare for all eventualities. In addition, there’s an alchemy section where you can craft new weapons and tools, from the pilfered remains of your slain foes. But, there’s a fair amount of grinding involved to upgrading your weapons. In order to fill your vault with all the necessary raw materials (from dragon scales to demon bones), it’s nearly impossible to not revisit previous areas. It becomes even more important to keep up with the arms race as you progress through the game. This ultimately means constant grinding through earlier levels for resources.
But, the real highlight of Army Corps of Hell is the challenging boss battles. There are fire-breathing dragons, creepy-looking demonic insects, and even goat-headed monstrosities. Each one requires a very different approach, from flinging impish swordsmen at their knees, or engaging in a bit of guerrilla warfare with your sorcerers. It’s one of the few parts where the game shines brighter than Beelzebub’s new rims on his convertible.
However, at the end of the day, once you’ve played through the first few levels, there’s really no incentive to carry on. The various “worlds” get a slight paint-change, and few of the monsters acquire new abilities, but essentially you’re merely waging war on Hell to upgrade the equipment of your army. In this sense, Army Corps of Hell, is an underwhelming launch title. It should have been sold as a PSN arcade title, because in its current state, it’s definitely not worth the asking price.
Army Corps of Hell is all about flinging imps at your demonic enemies, and watching their bodies explode into a gory mess of bones and guts. Fortunately the controls are easy to grasp. You can select which demonic regiment to use with the face buttons on the Vita, and the fury of your army can be unleashed with the shoulder buttons. The left shoulder button controls your army’s formation and the right shoulder button is used to attack. Your survival depends on keeping your army alive, but Army Corps of Hell excel at finding cheap ways to obliterate your Impish horde. These range from navigating electrified fences, to pits of fire or even charging demons that can easily bring your army to its knees.
Design and Presentation: 5/10
Definitely not the prettiest girl at the ball. Army Corps of Hell resembles a PSP game, and there is virtually no attempt to use the Vita’s auxiliary features. You can use touch to use some crafted items, or even to revive your demonic overlord by banging a bunch of drums. However, for a game about controlling an hellish army, it would have benefited from more touchscreen controls.
It’s hard to recommend Army Corps of Hell given the asking price for Vita games. By all rights it should have been an arcade title on PSN. At least, the game comes with a ridiculous J-metal soundtrack and a series of hilarious still-sketch images that tells the story of your demonic horde and his rise to power.
Army Corps of Hell promises to put “Hell in your Hands”, but ultimately it squanders an opportunity to create a fun game that could challenge the great Pikmin itself. The game is saved by a control scheme that’s easy to get a handle on, and boss characters that’ll have you sweating, but ultimately it struggles to impress.