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Band of Bugs

Score: 87%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: NinjaBee
Developer: NinjaBee
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 -8 (Online)
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

The other day Geck0 and I were discussing Casual Games. While we agreed that "simple" is the way to go, I mentioned that it seemed that even these games seemed like they were slowly growing more complex - an observation Geck0 quickly dubbed the "No Child Left Behind Act of Gaming." When I played Band of Bugs a few months ago, my main criticism was that it was too simple for the game's target audience - which I assumed was most strategy fans. However, I've grown a bit wiser since that review and realize that the target audience I had in mind may not have been the one Ninjabee intended to reach.

Nothing has really changed about the game's visuals, which is a great thing since I really liked the bright, cel-shaded look of the original. Characters have their own small traits, like a praying mantis with prosthetic limbs made of sticks, which give them a small bit of personality. The grid-based maps are presented from an isometric point of view and are every bit as colorful as the characters. However, the color scheme is still a bit too bright and it is really easy to lose units if you take a quick glance before making a move. It doesn't do anything to hurt gameplay too badly, though it does hamper the ability to quickly make decisions based on unit positions.

Audio is pretty good, though it is limited mostly to background music that is oddly reminiscent of what you would expect to hear during an episode of Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Characters "speak" during mission briefings, though in a warbly bug speak. This is usually an easy way to annoy players, though the tones are downplayed enough that they sound kind of cool.


Band of Bugs follows an insect prince named Maal who is thrown into a position of leadership despite having little battle experience. What looks like a simple stint in the army turns out to be a major battle between a rival group of bugs out to take over the kingdom. Since Maal doesn't have much experience, a battle-scarred mantis is assigned to him as a sage. Eventually Maal is joined by other insects, each with special abilities that will help him defend the kingdom.

Story is secondary to action, which takes place over a 20 mission Story-based campaign, as well as eight-player multiplayer and a handful of standalone missions. Story missions are relatively simple and short. Most take no more than a few minutes to complete, which places them in a nice playtime range. They're long enough to be interesting and make you feel like you're getting your money's worth, but not so long that you can't squeeze a mission in if you have a few minutes to kill.

Mission goals are kept simple, usually requiring that you simply defeat everyone on the map. However, there are a few missions where you will have to escort a character across the map (usually protecting an egg) or other little twists. These latter missions tend to be longer than the "Destroy Everything" ones, but are still doable in a matter of minutes.

A number of standalone missions are available outside the main game and put you through some pretty interesting mission parameters and mechanics - some of which would have been fun to experience in the single-player campaign. A level editor is also included that lets you create and share your own custom levels with other players. The toolset is incredibly easy to use, though making a good level is harder than it looks.


Band of Bugs is like a math test when it comes to difficulty. Getting the basics of movement and combat down is very simple; knowing how to do these things is only part of much more complex equation. You also have to learn to think strategically and place your units in the best possible position. Even when you have that down, each level introduces new mechanics that screw up what you are already comfortable with.

Remember the day when your teacher introduced the concept of letters in a math problem or even worse, fractions? The level-based mechanics are a lot like that; once you know what you are doing, they come in and cause you to have to relearn things -- but not in a good way. Rather than adding challenge, some mechanics are just annoying. Granted, some will take to the new concepts with ease, though others will probably just give up and pray for extra credit or a curve.

Game Mechanics:

While Band of Bugs is simple, there is still a healthy amount of depth. The best part is that the strategies are very easy to grasp and never feel intimidating.

The core mechanic behind Band of Bugs is finding the best place on the field to attack enemies while also keeping your army close enough to each other that they can watch each other's backs. Even though some units can travel across half the map in a turn, it isn't a good idea to move them that far since it places them in a bad spot. Position is one of the most important aspects in battle; from a good position, your troops can earn attack bonuses, including critical hits, or be in a good defensive spot.

In addition to the strategy that comes from positioning your troops on the field, you also have to consider attack types. Each unit on your army can switch between two weapon types. For instance, Maal can use either a sword-like stick to deal damage or a hammer, which doesn't do as much damage but can knock a character back one place on the grid. While more damage is always a good thing, the knockback ability becomes important on maps with water since you can knock enemies into water, instantly killing them. Some characters can even switch to ranged attacks, allowing them to attack characters from a distance. This is useful when facing units that can only attack an adjacent square.

While I still think the unusual map mechanics might frustrate some players, I also think I may have underestimated just how tolerant some players are to more complicated mechanics - especially if they're fun. While Band of Bugs will never stand up to some of the strategy genre's heavy-hitters, the simple, yet relatively deep gameplay is great for a more casual strategy-minded players who are intimidated by other games in the genre.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP or Windows Vista; 800 MHz; 128 MB RAM; 3d Graphics Card 32MB, supporting OpenGL 1.1 or later

Test System:

Windows Vista; 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor; 2 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 120 GB HDD; GeForce Go7600

Windows Next Life Nintendo Wii Medal of Honor: Heroes 2

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated