Put aside the underwater setting and the bubbling pools of sea urchins and crabs. At heart, Squids is a turn-based strategy RPG based around billiards. Your sweet, tentacled party members are both cue and ball, and you launch them around the screen, bouncing enemies into the abyss in the watery equivalent of pocket shots.
The system is elegantly realised. The firing system will be instinctive to anybody who’s ever drawn back the catapult to fling an Angry Bird, and combat starts with merely head-butting enemies for hit points, but quickly expands to include rebounds off spikes or other environmental hazards, and a series of class-specific special attacks, most of which hinge on character placement and proximity.
The campaign’s fairly short, but everything’s beautifully presented, from the lavish hand-painted backdrops to the slow trickle of new characters and the wonderful elasticity of the squid that you knock about. Want to restore a character’s health? Bounce a healer into them. Want to get yourself into deep trouble? Let your mind wander for a single round, and leave your team scattered around the map in isolated pockets, for the vicious enemy AI to move in on and crush.
Squids is clever, but it's a cleverness that can slowly give way to devious manipulation: the game has fallen for the easy money of microtransactions, and it’s fallen hard. Almost every upgrade in the game requires you to pay for it with pearls – even basic levelling, or equipping an item you’ve already located through playing – and while you can earn those pearls by churning through early levels again and again, it’s much less tedious to give in and simply buy them by the bundle – using real-world cash.
And that’s just enough to make you distrust the grindy balancing of the game’s combat, especially when it comes to the over-powered enemies you start to meet from the middle of the campaign onwards. It’s just enough, in other words, to turn a smart little RPG into a smart little shop, with an RPG attached to it.