For anyone that's played video games for an extended span of time, the name Square-Enix has long been synonymous with epic role-playing adventures and in-depth strategy battles. So when you see the company release a rather offbeat spooky-themed storybook adventure on WiiWare, your first reaction is likely one of bewilderment. But with the release of Tales of Bearsworth Mansion: Chaotic Conflicts, the company has traded its swords and shields for tiny paper bears and frogs, and while not quite as deep as their usual brand of strategy title, there are still enough classic Square-Enix influences to keep things interesting.
While the basic game itself feels a bit like a strategy or tower defense title, you'll quickly find that reflexes play a much bigger role in the game. You're given a squad of bear units that you must toss into battle on the playing field in order to protect your blue jewels from the angry mob of Badbears looking to destroy them. Each blue jewel comes equipped with a condition gauge that will tell you how many more times the jewel can be attacked before it's wiped out. Lose even one jewel and it's game over. Lose all of your bear units and you're also finished.
Tossing your units into battle is as easy as flicking the Wii Remote. You aim your directional arrow by twisting the Wii Remote left and right. Once you see the arrow pointing in the direction you wish to toss a bear unit, you lock in by pressing the A or B button. Then all you have to do is flick the Wii Remote up and your character will toss a bear unit. The harder you flick the Wii Remote, the farther your bear will travel before hitting the ground running. This accuracy becomes more integral once you begin playing levels with ledges that you'll have to land your bear units on. It's quite tricky, but you'll begin executing it accurately with a little practice and timing.
There are several ways to protect a jewel. The easiest way involves merely tossing your bear units into battle wherever you see Badbears popping up on the playing field. Of course, as the game progresses the Badbears become stronger, not to mention begin bringing special units along to help them, such as the Fire and Water-spitting Sprites that can quickly devastate your bear units if you're not prepared. Luckily the game gives you a little help as well in the form of special items and units.
Special items range from elemental spells like Fire and Ice to special units like Jack 'o Lanterns that set fire to enemies and Penguins that freeze them. There's a very wide range of specialty items and units, but there is a catch: in order to make use of a special item or unit, you'll have to toss your bear units at them for collection. Then with a quick press of left or right on the D-Pad you can select them and toss them into play just as you would a bear unit. As you encounter some of the game's stronger enemies, you'll soon find out just how integral a part of the game these special items and stronger units are for your survival and that of your jewels.
Once you've wiped out all of the Badbear threats in a level, the level is completed and the number of bear units you have remaining will be tallied up. Depending on how many bears you have left, you'll earn bonus medals. Getting better medals yields certain advantages and bonuses, so this facet of the game alone gives you plenty of incentive to go back and try to win better medals in each of the game's levels. And as you progress through the story, you can even unlock the game's Endless Story mode that will offer you up a, yes, endless number of levels to tackle – yet another incentive to keep improving your play throughout the game. Plus, if you can't get enough of what's included in the package, you can always spend a little extra dough for some downloadable content to sweeten things up a bit.
The simple and responsive play control gives the game a very smooth and playable feel to it. Even switching between specialty items and units feels quite intuitive and easy to do, even in the heat of battle. The timing and feel of tossing the bear units is something that takes a little practice and getting used to, but that's part of the learning curve that proves to be so much fun as you learn the best ways to deploy your units and when and how to use the special items and units to really do some damage. There's a method to the madness and part of the fun is figuring it all out.
When you first start the game, you're treated to a very nice level of visual polish in the opening scenes and menus, but for some strange reason, when you get into actual play the graphics tend to take a rather large dip in quality. Things begin to look a bit unrefined and jagged, and even the bear units and enemies tend to look rather bland and lacking in visual detail. It seems like a silly thing to gripe about considering the game does make use of a rather simple storybook setting, but the game's impressive opening cinema sets the bar right from the start and things tend to head downhill a bit from that point forward.
One area the game is certainly not lacking in is in the audio department. Not only is the spooky-themed music absolutely amazing, the sound effects are also quite impressive as well. Even the surround sound used in the game is put to good use in setting the chaotic audio mood the game employs. There's honestly not a bad track or sound effect in the entire game and you can't help but appreciate what it adds to the other aspects of the game.
Tales of Bearsworth Mansion: Chaotic Conflicts is obviously not a game that's going to appeal to everyone. Gamers who tend to prefer a more "grown-up" strategy experience will likely find the cutesy bears and penguins a bit much, but for those who can appreciate the silly theme and intense gameplay mechanics, the game certainly has its charms and can be downright addictive. Sure the game is a bit expensive at 1000 Wii Points, but considering how much content is included, it's certainly not an outrageous price to pay for some good silly bear-tossing fun.