Mighty Tactical Shooter isn’t the most subtle of names for a game but the directness of it is certainly charming. When I first read the press release and arranged for the interview with the nice people of Sock Thuggery, the concept of a Turn-Based Shoot’em Up (SHMUP) intrigued me. I’m used to the fast-paced nature of SHMUPS and the thought of stopping them for moment-to-moment decision-making was really odd for me.
But I had to give it a shot. The game opens with the presentation or a new type of fighter ship, the first of a fleet of millions. But just as they’re getting ready for the test flight, the space station they are in falls under attack and life support systems fail. Here is where you regain control and the first choice you have in the game is to pick your would-be pilot. The problem is there isn’t anyone qualified around, just clerks, janitors and in my case, an accountant. The ship’s AI quickly gets you into the cockpit before the ship falls and crashes into the planet below.
This is where the game really starts and works as a tutorial stage. The controls are fairly simple: there are two reticule around your ship, you drag the larger one to where you want to move and you use the smaller one to add curves to that path. With a right-click you access your weapons menu and select what kind of attack you’ll do, from a normal shot to even a V-shaped and a back shot, or none at all.
But how does the firing work with the turn-base? Well, as you move, and he longer you do so, you’ll see horizontal lines branching off from the path one, these are the moments your ship will fire and you’ll need to carefully plot out your trajectory so the shots fire at the right times and places to hit enemies. In fact, these predictive lines don’t just show how your stuff will work but will also predict enemy movement and fire, allowing you to either kill them or avoid them by taking advantage of the predictions.
It’s actually quite difficult to master but incredibly fun, turning the reflex-based SHMUP into a deep thinking strategy game. I was blown away by it. Better yet, once you’ve finished the level, you can watch a real-time replay of it. I saw mine, it looked like an effortless level clear instead of the hard-earned battle it was!
Beyond the flight and firing, there are other supporting mechanics. First of all are the buddies, the ships AIs, each with their own distinct personality, one more outgoing and aggressive and the other much more protective, almost maternal. It’s a nice bit of characterization, giving game mechanics a voice and personality. One takes care of your weapons, and makes sure they keep recharging, while the other does the same for your shields. They work automatically and you don’t need to worry about them, just enjoy their commentary.
Your shields represent your health and as you take damage, you start losing systems, which means you lose your weapons until your health recharges. As I didn’t know this at the start, it confused me a bit because I just kept losing access to the cool weaponry, and no one likes that, right? Johnny admits he needs to put a bit more of an explanation in the game, but once I knew what it was about, I took better care of my health!
Your weapon energy level determines just powerful your shots are. If it’s high enough you’ll fire three parallel lasers for a boost in damage but if you let it get low enough (by continually firing) then you’ll get one measly little laser. This adds another layer of strategy to your play…unless you’re me in which case you’ll just go through it with the single shot, because patience is not one of my virtues!
I really liked the visual design, which the artist tells me was like that because they wanted the old-school Atari or Amiga SHMUP feel. It really looks old school, with only the turn-based mechanics betraying that. In particular, the level design reminded me not of a SHMUP but of Super Metroid, something about the greenery in the jungle stage.
As we spoke about the release plans, they mentioned they weren’t sure it would make it to Mac, as there are elements in the time-travelling story that were perhaps too dark for Apple to consider, and they didn’t like the idea of having to change the story for that release. Following up on his, Johnny told me the plot involves several points of time travel but he wouldn’t reveal much more than there are five zones with a few stages each and that you would be able to re-visit them at any point.
The stage revisit is also to work with the objective system. Each level has a set of checkpoints separating different areas and waves of enemies, and there are objectives listed at the start of each, such as killing X enemies with Y shot, or take Z damage. If you complete the objective, you get elements that you can use to upgrade some of your ship’s systems. Some of the objectives however, are ludicrous, like beat a boss in under a second. It’s for these you’ll need to revisit later on when you’ve unlocked better weapons as you progress through the story.
As of now, the game is still early in development and there are still things they need to work on. The latest addition was the upgrade system, the one you use the elements for, but it’s at a state where they still don’t know how it’ll mesh with the rest of the game. I personally thought the auto-scroller could use a little boost in speed, but overall I loved Mighty Tactical Shooter and would keep playing it. I don’t have the best reflexes in the world but I love puzzles so this seems like the best way for me to enjoy a SHMUP. And I only played a level using the basic weaponry. I’ve seen videos of missiles and gravity wells and so much cool stuff that I can’t wait to try out.
The Sock Thuggery team are confident they can release it this year on Steam (PC, Mac & Linux), but you won’t be seeing it on Early Access because they already had a successful Kickstarter campaign!
There are also discussions for a Vita release, but they’re still discussing the legalities of it.