A cast of cephalopodic heroes embarks on a quest to save their underwater world from a corrupting black ooze the best way they know how: by launching their soft, squishy little bodies against anything that opposes them. Mechanically, it’s as simple as flinging a rubber band. Pull back on a squid using either the left stick or stylus, aim, then either press A or lift the stylus to send it flying.
Sending squids careening around maps sounds like a recipe for chaos, and it can be, but it soon becomes clear that Odyssey rewards a small amount of planning and precision. Each squid has a set amount of stamina for each turn, usually providing enough for only two or so full-strength flings. A lighter touch spends less energy and can manoeuvre a squid into a better position. Since an attacker inflicts more damage on enemies that are closer to it, this could mean lining up a squid to throw a heftier hit or using that last bit of energy to put some distance between opponents. Add pointy, damaging environmental hazards and holes that are instant KO’s and the need for strategy rises all the more. You don’t want to push an enemy crab down a hole only to be sitting on the edge when its friends turn comes up.
In addition to the standard attack, every squid belongs to one of four classes that offers an additional move or ability each turn. Scouts can make a few more short bursts of movement, Shooters can fire a ranged attack, Troopers can damage and knock back enemies with an area-of-effect stomp attack, and Healers can recover some health of those they collide with.
Several members of each class will be found along the journey but will all play the same, their only differences being some initial alterations in stats. It’s a little disappointing that individual squids don’t have their own special attacks, but their cute designs and the appealing, often humorous personalities they express in dialogue definitely help make up for it. Each player will likely pick up a few favourites for their four-squid squads, but switching around can be beneficial if, say, one stage is more attuned toward Shooters than Troopers.
Pearls are the currency through which almost everything in the Squids Odyssey universe runs. Levelling up costs pearls, as do stamina- and life-restoring items. This seems a residual effect of the series’ mobile roots with in-app purchases, but the Wii U version does not charge real money for anything in-game. Pearls are widely available within the levels, with additional bounties earned for finding secret stars, keeping all your squids alive, and finishing within a certain number of turns.
Some parts of the management and menu systems are somewhat clunky, however. Hats found through the game are unlocked for purchase and can grant permanent stat boosts to every squid of the proper class who wears them; this involves equipping a squid with a hat, then pressing a button to “transfer” the stat boosts to it. Rinse and repeat with other squids using the same hat. This means a squid does not have to be stuck with one hat all the time, which is a great decision, but why not automatically apply the bonuses to every available squid as soon as the hat is bought? Who doesn’t want stat boosts? The menus themselves are also a bit clumsy to navigate with both touch and buttons. It all works, but it feels like it could have been streamlined better.
Aesthetically and in gameplay, the rest of Squids Odyssey feels well at home on the Wii U. The art is cartoony, colourful, and eye-catching, with scenes across 90+ levels ranging from the back of a sea turtle to an underwater Wild West town. The music is equally appealing, offering light, catchy tunes and more serious battle themes.
On- and off-TV modes are both supported, with stick and stylus flinging options for each. The stick feels a bit better for aiming, while the stylus feels slightly more suited for pinpointing the strength of a launch, but both function fine.
Squids Odyssey takes a simple concept and crafts an engaging yet not stifling amount of challenge out of it, resulting in a nice balance of haphazard fun and strategic thought. Although out-of-action menu work might be a bit of a pain, a beautiful world and a good sense of humour provide more than enough charm to forgive it. Another pearl to add to the eShop.