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19 June, 2016

Smash Time Review - Missile Command, Whack a Mole and Colour Matching. Sure, Why Not?

The world is a golf ball. I remember reading that in one of Shirley MacLaine’s books in the 1980s, back when the Internet was in relative infancy. MacLaine was writing of the ability to jump on a plane and in 48 hours be almost anywhere in the world, thus enabling a long distance relationship with her daughter who was being raised in Japan.

With online connectivity, the golf ball analogy has never been truer than in 2016, and I thought back to MacLaine’s words earlier this week after receiving contact from a small indie development team out of Portugal. Releasing its debut game - Smash Time - Bica Studios reached out with digital feelers to us in Australia, hoping to spread the word.

Pleasantries and emails were traded, Smash Time was downloaded and booted up for the first time, and fingers were crossed, hoping for a positive experience. After long hours of development, it’s a big roll of the dice for a new indie team to see a game through to completion, so you want it to be good.

And? Well? Enough with the words already, is it?

The very first thing that occurred to me after launching Smash Time was just how complete and polished it was. Some games - whether it be due to frame rate issues, obvious bugs, or outright crashes - will cause you to see them as thin frameworks over a layer of code. Others however, will take you back to the early days of consoles when you would pop a cartridge into the slot and the console would become all but invisible, as you were immersed into a complete and seamless gaming experience. Smash Time thankfully falls into this latter category.

The only rough edge I experienced was a lengthy secondary download of content after the initial tutorial level. Once over that obstacle though, it was smooth sailing.

As monstrous blobs endeavour to devour cute animals and take over the world, players are tasked with defending both, which is done by tapping on the blobs to hurl magical missiles, being careful during the frantic action not to disintegrate the cute animals. Should the blobs make their way to your avatar at the bottom of the screen - the magic hurling witch Agnes - it’s game over.

Adding a colour matching puzzle element, score multipliers are added if the player smashes blobs in a certain order displayed in the top left corner of the screen. Bigger blobs are smashed to reveal different coloured smaller blobs, all of which are trying to consume your animal friends on screen and gameplay is at times a crazy mayhem of reflex tapping.

Smash Time oozes charm. The vibrant 2D characters recall the glory days of 16-bit arcade action, as does the world level map. Scrolling left to right through the map teases a winding path through forests, deserts, temples, castles and towns, with 87 levels currently visible before hitting a shroud of cloud or fog. These different environments are reflected within the actual levels themselves, adding some nice visual variety to the gameplay, which does start to feel a little repetitive until some new mechanics are unlocked around level 20.

There is no shortage of content, with plenty of avatars and alternate costumes to be unlocked through gameplay and quests. Occasional boss fights add more variety, as does an arcade challenge arena for leaderboard bragging rights.

The free-to-play structure is thankfully one that never stops players altogether from playing - one of this writer’s pet hates. Once your energy is depleted, play can be continued by spending collected gold or watching short video ads. It’s great to see that the trend of stopping play with timers seems to be a little less prevalent these days.

It’s easy to see Smash Time as a fun diversion for work commutes or TV commercial breaks, with levels able to be completed within a few minutes each. With its cute characters, stacks of levels and extra avatars and cosmetics to unlock, Smash Time may not be completely original, but the recognisable elements it borrows and blends, creating its seamless game world, is vibrant, frantic, charming fun. For its debut game Bica Studios has put its obvious talent on display, and we look forward to more from the Portuguese team. 

Check out the trailer below and grab Smash Time right here.

Garry Balogh

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