One of our favourite trends in the eShop has been seeing titles that turn tried-and-true gaming experiences on their heads by putting the player in a new perspective. From Weapon Shop de Omasse's comedic take on the day-to-day drudgery of an RPG smithy to The Legend of Kusakari turning Zelda's grass-cutting mechanic into a laser-focused landscaping adventure, we love seeing bits of the gaming canon re-contextualized in novel ways. Adding to the list is CIRCLE's Ambition of the Slimes, a strategy-RPG that puts you in the sticky shoes of the Slimes — low-level enemies lifted straight from Dragon Quest — as they defend their homeland from invading would-be RPG heroes. It's a fun little game that delivers on its quirky premise, and an easy recommendation for SRPG fans looking for a fresh take on the genre.
Right from the start, Ambition of the Slimes does a good job of flipping the tables and making its human adversaries seem like the orcish invaders they are; as a family of Slimes is out minding their own business in the first level, a party of humans cry out "Now, hunt them. They are a hinderance for making the field!". To defend your territory, you'll lead your army of Slimes in classic strategy-RPG combat in the vein of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics: it's turn-based and gridded, where each unit gets its own turn to move and — if near enough to an enemy at the end of its path — attack.
In addition to the standard attack, however, each member of your slimy platoon has access to the 'Claim' command, a surprising Slime skill that's adds a fun new twist to the basic gameplay template. If you move a unit next to an opposing fighter and choose 'Claim', your slime will jump right into the enemy's open maw, wiggle its way down, and assume control over the human's body and brain.
While it doesn't come with a 100% success rate — different enemies are made of more or less slime-resistant gut, apparently — Claiming is absolutely central to Ambition of the Slimes' take on SRPG gameplay, and a lot of fun. We loved the idea of taking over enemy units and manipulating them to win, rather than always fighting full armies directly, and it opens up plenty of interesting strategic options as well. The slimes rack up a win when the number of humans in control of their own senses is zero — rather than when all enemies are defeated — so Claiming units edges you closer to victory just as well as KOs, with the added bonus of being able to use any newfound avatars to your own ends.
Ambition of the Slimes' skirmishes take place on bite-sized stages that feel much more compact than the sprawling maps of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, and the smaller scale is a great fit for the portable nature of the game. Stages often fall comfortably in the 5-10 minute range, and usually have a 'hook', making each individual area feel a bit like an SRPG Picross puzzle waiting to be solved.
In keeping with the puzzle-like approach, you'll have plenty to think about as you command your squishy troops, including a Pokémon-style elemental triangle of Water > Fire > Grass. Water attacks will do more damage against Fire enemies as you might expect, for instance, but you'll also be treated to bonuses for Claiming enemies of the same element as the commandeering Slime. Environmental features come into play as well, so units attacking from higher to lower ground have an advantage, and you'll find health refills and other helpful spots marked with flags.
For all its systems, however, Ambition of the Slimes' most appealing feature is undoubtedly the Slimes themselves, and they're given the attention they deserve. Each stage gives you the chance to meet and befriend one of a few different Slimes afterwards — via a percentage chance for 'lucky drops' — and in addition to cute names like 'Carrot', each Slime has its own special ability. They might be super speedy, be able to slow down your enemies, or even freeze your adversaries entirely and leave them vulnerable to Claim attacks; one early ally even has the ability to split into two when receiving damage, opening up all kinds of tactical possibilities. Uncovering new Slime allies is one of the most engaging aspects of the game, and replaying stages for rare Slimes is made more palatable by selectable difficulty levels and scaling experience points that will level up your mucousy minions.
There's a lot there in Ambition of the Slimes, but it's all doled out gradually, so you have time to get to grips with gameplay elements before the next set is introduced. There's also a nice tutorial, full of on-theme and only-slightly-oddly-translated hints like "An 'Heavy Infantry' is hard to claim, since its mouth is covered by a helmet and it makes it difficult for a slime to enter". In terms of translation in general, Ambition of the Slimes recalls the early NES era: the English is wonky but entirely readable, and there's not that much text to deal with besides. Whether intentional or not, it also results in some cute touches, like your turn in battle being confidently announced by a banner reading 'SLIME TURN'. (The original Japanese and both Traditional and Simplified Chinese options are also included, if you're so inclined.)
Translation isn't Slimes' only asset that hearkens back to the NES days; it also gets a lot of mileage out of its retro-inspired presentation. The world is made up of chunky 3D tiles, with cute pixel-art sprites for characters, and the action can be viewed from three different zoom levels for either a top-down or isometric effect. Attacks are handled via character portraits bashing at each other — the overlay approach means there's no loading or separation, and it strikes an excellent balance between being quick and still being more appealing than the sprites just knocking into each other on the field. The graphics are simple, but work well as a cohesive style, and they look fantastic in stereoscopic 3D — being able to rotate the map around with the shoulder buttons really helps shows off the effect.
The 8-bit throwback continues into the audio presentation — where a sparse but rockin' chiptune soundtrack shines — and even the user-interface, with a blocky font and Dragon Quest-style white-on-black menus. Controls are straightforward and simple, although they also bring one of our few gripes: the D-Pad is set up for the isometric perspective so that pressing 'Up' will move the cursor northeast and 'Right' southeast. That's fine, and will definitely click for some, but it's a shame there's no option to rotate the inputs 45°, as in many other grid-based games that take place on an angle.
All in all, Ambition of the Slimes is a lovable little game. It takes a classic concept — the grid-based strategy-RPG — and infuses it with a fun new conceit, by placing characters in the role of the lowly Slimes that would be experience-point fodder in any other RPG. Even better, it runs with that idea to deliver fun twists on the gameplay — like the 'Claim' command that lets you take over your enemies — that make the most of the theme. Add in a fun old-school presentation and a heap of personality, and Slimes is an easy recommendation for SRPG fans looking for quick, quirky fun.