Game: “Impious Pumpkins”
“Now this is where it’s going to get a little bit gory, ok?”Gordon Ramsay’s Pumpkin Soup with Wild Mushrooms
Impious Pumpkins by Note Missing Games bills itself as a ‘Real Time Tactics Game’ which I found to be closest to meaning that it’s a tower defence game. I have a soft spot for tower defence games. In the time before mobile phones the only good games you could regularly play at high school were the ones on sites like Newgrounds. Tower defence was a very popular genre amongst people who should have actually been studying.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Cute characters|
+ Easy to learn
+ Consistent theme
|Negatives||– Lacks strategy|
– Poorly balanced
– Quickly becomes an idle clicker
|Price (When Reviewed)||£3.99|
|Our Playtime||3 hours|
Impious Pumpkins shares a lot of DNA with it’s tower defence cousins. As a disembodied commander you place your army of ghosts to protect their grave sites from oncoming hordes of enemy pumpkins. It’s a short run at a tried and tested genre but unfortunately doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Using your resources, which are dripped to you slowly, the player gradually places more units and upgrades them as the enemy waves get stronger. Unfortunately it’s the ways in which Impious Pumpkins shirks the usual mechanics which let the game down. I don’t want to slate a dev for trying something new but what Note Missing Games have tried just doesn’t land.
Your first experience with Impious Pumpkins will be with the campaign mode which is broken up into 5 minute rounds. To beat a round the player needs to have more of their ghost units on the map than enemy pumpkins when the timer reaches zero. Those not so pious pumpkins spawn in random locations across the map in greater numbers as time ticks away. They will attack any ghosts they find so removing them rapidly is the core pressure point on the player to avoid a snowballing fail-state.
The camera viewpoint is isometric, overlooking a single square of terrain which will be the battlefield for the coming round. At the start of a round, the map is empty apart from some cover elements and the player starts with a few points to spend on their initial spooky defenders. More resources are dropped randomly on the map as time passes; little glowing orbs to be clicked similar to Plants Vs. Zombies sun motes. Once placed, your units act automatically and cannot be moved or interacted with, and you have four types of ghost to choose from; Warriors, Rangers, Mages and Priests. Warriors are the only ghosts that can move, they can aggro onto enemy pumpkins and move into melee range to smack them upside the head. Rangers are static, shooting rocks at long range. Similar to Rangers, the Mages cost a lot more resources but their attack ignores line of sight and does high damage in an area of effect. The last ghost type is the Priest and you may only have one active at a time; it heals all other ghosts simultaneously in a wide area around it. The pumpkin enemies all spawn following the same class-type rules with the exception of the occasionally spawning mini-boss pumpkins; these have considerably more health and an elemental theme, adding some additional hazards such as spitting poison patches onto the map which can upset your own ghost formations.
Sounds familiar? The format is a well trodden one. Different units, with point costs tied to their power level. Where Impious Pumpkins mainly comes unstuck is that there isn’t much to think about tactically. One utility unit is thrown in to get the player to think they’re being clever when they decide to cluster all their units together around the healer. A realisation which ultimately becomes pointless as the poor mechanics and balancing make trying to play tactically a useless endeavour. There are several things wrong with the power balancing and implementation of mechanics in Impious Pumpkins that lets the experience down. For example, that ‘crowd around the healer’ tactic you’re guided towards is a recipe for frustration. This means that using the warrior ghosts is inefficient as they’ll wander outside the healing range then stand still and die. Additionally some of the mini-boss pumpkins, which spawn in random locations, can often appear in the middle of your cluster of ghosts and then pop like an un-telegraphed and uncounterable tactical nuke, wiping your squad and forcing a reset. This random chance to instantly lose without making a mistake or even making a real choice is incredibly sloppy design for a tactical game.
The win state for each round completely undermines resource management or ideas around synergy with units. You win by having the most units on the map, so placing lots of ghosts is the obvious way to play. To explain why this is a problem I need to explain the upgrade system. There are 5 distinct maps which the player will battle over in several 5 minute rounds. After each round the player is awarded with an upgrade point, then after beating the final round of a given map a few extra points are awarded. You can use these upgrade points on a tech tree, one branch for each of the ghost types. Several upgrades lower the resource cost for that specific unit. Making an already cheap unit cost even less. In a puzzle where maintaining a critical mass of units is the win state, units which you can spam out faster than your opponent can kill them is utterly game breaking.
Sadly, the problems with the upgrade system don’t stop there. Even more choices are functionally taken away from you simply because they don’t gel properly with the core mechanics of the game. Being given ‘good’ options and useless options isn’t a choice, it’s railroading. You won’t get enough points in the campaign to grab all of the upgrades so it’s best to focus on one type. Since you’re only able to place one healer, that branch is useless to you, similarly the mages cost too many resources to be useful. Between those two problems, half of the entire tech tree is meaningless, forcing the player to choose between a strategy that makes the game trivially easy or practically unwinnable. The best choice is to pick one of the cheaper units, either the ranger or the warrior and spam it for 5 minutes while you click on glowing orbs. I elected to use rangers which are cheap enough with upgrades that even when placed randomly all over the map can quickly lead to a runaway win with the map filled with ghosts able to instantly alpha strike any pumpkins that spawn, preventing them from doing any meaningful damage. That’s the rub, I was able to beat the game by clicking around randomly for 5 minutes at a time which is a fairly unforgivable flaw for anything calling itself a tactical game.
A tactical puzzle that’s sorely missing from Impious Pumpkins is the ‘Defence’ element of a tower defence game. (I know it was me who decided it’s in the tower defence genre but Note Missing Games say on the Steam page that the ghostly army is ‘defending their resting place’), so I think it’s a fair jump to make. There aren’t any game elements to defend. If you decide to place no units then the enemy pumpkins will continue to spawn for the duration of the 5 minute round, slowly filling up the map, attacking nothing. You would lose because there are more pumpkins on the map than your zero ghosts and not because of some tangible failed objective. There isn’t really a tension point with any meaning on the game board itself. The story that your ghostly units are defending their gravesites is mostly in service to the Halloween theme the devs have adopted for the world. This spooky theme is consistant throughout; the little ghost and pumpkin minions are cute and Missing Note Games have done a good job with the art style, music and sound effects,making each map feel like a tiny bottled world with a cartoony battle taking place rather than the pumpkin genocide that it becomes. Keeping it light and breezy helped me ignore the game’s flaws for long enough to beat the campaign and save the ghosts from having to put up with having healthy foods like vegetables or fruits (whatever pumpkins are) in their immediate vicinity, an ideology I can sympathise with.
If Impious Pumpkins was a mobile game that you could poke at for 5 minutes while you’re waiting for a bus then it would be a nice little distraction. At the time of writing however it’s a Steam only release and I can’t recommend it as anything more than an excuse to turn off your brain for a few hours.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.