Thanks to Fire Emblem, strategy role-playing games have found themselves in a position far-removed from the niches they once resided in. With consoles and handhelds in particular, there’s been an emphasis in keeping the complexity and deep thinking that’s involved intact, but introducing them to players in a way that isn’t as daunting. With its silly B-movie sci-fi story and easily comprehensible design, ACORN Tactics looks to take a stab at introducing Switch players to the world of SRPGs via mechs and alien invasions.
ACORN Tactics takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is forced to live on man-made islands and outposts in a never-ending sea. Shortly after being introduced to your battalion, a mysterious alien lands atop one of the many stations strewn about the ocean, which then sends you on a 25-mission campaign to study the blob-like creatures, stop them from encroaching on the last remnants of the world and maybe stop a full-scale invasion in the process. At no point is the story or history of this world truly fleshed out, instead they're more of a means to an end than anything else.
ACORN Tactics plays out like your standard strategy role-playing game – you’re placed upon a board game-style map replete with tiles upon which your blob investigation will take place. The various islands make for an interesting setting as it helps both confine battles and promote a natural progression, complete with bottlenecks and the like while waves bob up and down beneath you. After a few short tutorial missions, you're then tasked with systemically eradicating all the enemies from the map in successively more challenging stages.
Between stages you will be given opportunities to customize your party of mechs based on weaponry, movement speed and armor. The artillery is pretty stock standard, from close-ranged shotguns to distance shooting snipers and everything in between. You can name them and give them personalized paint jobs, a cute touch that gets you invested in your army. As you progress further your battalion will level up, making them hardier for the challenges ahead. To round out the package, there’s options to research various things that will power-up your crew with perks and enhancements that you’ll need for the road ahead. This felt a bit arbitrary as having enough coin to fund this research was always within grasp, but it does make you feel invested in your team.
For better or worse, ACORN Tactics feels like a standard SRPG affair. You must be mindful of your surroundings and chose each move carefully. At first you only start with a squadron of three, but as the story progresses your limit is raised, which gives you ample opportunity to mix and match with various mechs. Permadeath is included, manifesting in some painful hits every time you lose a leveled up soldier in the heat of battle. They're easily replaced back at your base, but starting from scratch can make for an unintended challenge. Your enemies have fairly rote approaches which can be exploited, meaning they never use any peculiar or sneaky tactics that might surprise the player. After the main campaign is over, you can keep working on your strategies in randomized battles that are much harder than those you initially encounter. They don’t re-invent the wheel, but are a nice way to pick-up-and-play the game and keep investing in your contingent.
ACORN Tactics has a curious design to it, in that the battles look like an odd juxtaposition of more realistic areas and playable characters that fight off very cartoony looking aliens. During conversations and return trips to your base, you’re treated to goofy-looking bean people that take the serious situations you find yourself in with a giant grain of salt and supply it with witty and humorous dialog. It’s by no means off-putting, but it lacks a visual cohesiveness. The package is rounded out with a mix of militaristic tunes and B-movie-like songs that fit the game nicely.
ACORN Tactics has its heart in the right place, but it plays it very safe. It’s a very solid strategy RPG, taking elements of games such as Fire Emblem and Advance Wars and wrapping it in its own aesthetic. However, for as liberally as it borrows from its inspirations, it never goes above and beyond and does anything that might be construed as unique. Without many peers at the outset of the Switch’s life, ACORN Tactics might be the kind of game to sate your SRPG cravings until something meatier comes along.