Slam Bolt Scrappers is one of those quirky yet classic indie titles that have proliferated since all three major consoles have gotten into the download market. Online distribution removes (or at least reduces) the financial barriers preventing smaller companies from getting their stuff out there, and similarly shifts the potential lower limit on price point as manufacturing, packaging, and physical distribution costs are now eliminated. It opens up a new market for fun, simple, original games requiring (usually) a smaller investment of both time and money. Slam Bolt Scrappers is the first title from the small team of 20-somethings that make up Fire Hose Games and at first glance it’s cute and unique. I fired it up wanting to like it, but unfortunately it left me a bit cold.
The 2D gameplay is self-described as a “mash up of brawling and puzzle solving” and this is pretty much on the nose. You have a free-floating character who can drop different coloured blocks, which come in different shapes but are always comprised of four square units. There are only a few different combinations, and they’ll be familiar with anyone who’s played Tetris. These shapes merge with others of the same colour whenever they make a square block, be it 2×2 or 5×5. Once you’ve created a block of the minimum 2×2 size, it will start functioning as a different kind of weapon, depending on what colour it is. Red squares fire missiles, a certain shade of blue fires a stun-gun arc of electricity, another shade of blue creates a shield around any adjacent block.
The bigger the block, the more powerful it becomes in both offense and defense, so wrapping a layer around your block to make it one size bigger is always a sound strategy. However, your blocks are firing on — and being fired upon by — your opponents platform, which has blocks of its own. As you take damage, little unit squares may be blown away just as you were about to complete a new block, or upgrade an old one. Further, the many coloured enemies that constantly swarm in to the level are necessary sources of new blocks — once you give them a good pounding — but left unchecked, they will rain destruction on your carefully built up forces.
Your free floating character has a number of punching and kicking moves, including combos, to destroy these enemies, who will in turn attack both you and your platform building opponent. You, however, cannot attack your opponent’s blocks directly. It can get a bit confusing as you battle the floating enemies with your character, or battle directly against your opponent (but you can only knock each other out); the enemies attack both you and your opponent, as well as your platforms; your platforms attack the enemies, your opponent and yourself, and each other; and your opponent can attack you but not your platform.
There is so much going on that it is difficult to keep track of it all. I’m a veteran of all the classic puzzlers — Tetris, Bust-a-Move, Dr. Mario, Puzzle Fighter — and I’m no stranger to action brawlers either, but I just couldn’t get the rhythm here. The Fire Hose team violates the basic premise of most puzzlers, which is that you are always one step removed from the game — you interact with your opponent (or the level) only through your blocks/bubbles/jewels/whatever. Replacing a cursor with an actual character with a life bar of his own gives you too much to think about.
Although the various block types promise the potential for some deep strategy, this game invariably turns into a button masher where you kill enemies as fast as possible and rapidly try to throw like-coloured blocks at each other before the next swarm. Given just a little more time you could arrange your offensive and defensive blocks in an optimal way, but there’s not a little more time. Though there’s the core of a solid puzzler here, the brawler aspect prevents you from really engaging with it. Playing this game is somewhat akin to playing Tetris while someone is throwing french fries at your face. You could call it an added challenge, but would be nice to just be left alone so you could play the actual game.
Slam Bolt Scrappers is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence.