Console RTS games are notoriously difficult to create. You often have to take complex systems and quick inputs, mapping them to ensure that they are accessible for when using a controller. Developers can usually get around this by making some simplifications to the gameplay to make it work, and sometimes that can lead to a great experience. Other times however it can make what would otherwise be an interesting take on the RTS genre a slow and sometimes tedious experience.
8-Bit RTS is a series made by Petroglyph Games, veterans of the games industry with many of the employees having worked on previous RTS games including the famed Command and Conquer games. Each entry in the series – Hordes, Armies, Invaders – focuses on a different genre, whether that be sci-fi, fantasy, or good old fashion armies. While sold separately, all of these games allow for cross play, so you are allowed to chose the title that interests you the most and that won’t prevent you from playing with your friends. However, you will be finding yourself paying $30 – or your regional equivalent – for only two factions to play as. If you find yourself entertained by the game and want to try more factions out, paying more and more to unlock them all will need to be entertained.
Luckily the two races available in 8-Bit Invaders feel unique enough to make their only inclusion worth it, and there are some slight differences when it comes to the overall mechanics. When playing as the humans you need to focus on building energy, with every building made harnessing this, ensuring that you have to constantly be building more and more power plants to stay in the green. If you go over your power limit, buildings will shut down and work at a much slower speed. Meanwhile as the Cranoids, your main focus will be building motivators – each of which will increase your population by 20 up until the maximum of 100. Each race also comes with a variety of different special abilities that offer various bonuses like increased movement speed and stealth for the humans, and teleportation and extra vision for the aliens. These little changes, on top of the very different unit types the both races offer, are welcome additions to the game that help make the limited race pool just about worth taking in.
8-Bit Invaders comes with two campaigns, one for both races, and these will teach you the basics going forward. Each has 12 missions, with these filled out with up to two bonus objectives. As you complete the missions, you unlock more of your tech tree, while taking down the bonus objectives on the normal or hard difficulty sees you gaining pre-built units or buildings, accelerating the start of each mission. This encourages you to play through a mission multiple times to try and get all the bonuses you can. That said – and this is especially true for the early missions – you may find this difficult as you are so heavily restricted in what you can build; you’ll find these rewards almost a necessity as the early game starts off rather slow. This is primarily due to the fact that you can only build one structure at a time. So if you want to expand your base and building capabilities, you are forced to wait over and over again with little to do aside from twiddling your thumbs.
One mission in particular tasks you with surviving for 20 minutes, but by this point in the campaign you only have two units and a handful of others you can build. This means you sit around just amassing an army of the same units all waiting until the mission ends. Unfortunately, a good portion of the missions end up like this due to the way you progress in the story, and you will find yourself severely handicapped in the strategies that you can employ. Later in the campaign, once you have all units and buildings available to you from the start, it must be said that an enjoyable time can be had, mainly due to the amount of army compositions you have available at your disposal. With a good amount of unique units for each race, you can easily create a diverse army capable of wiping the enemy off the map in a stylish manner.
The whole 8-Bit vibe allows for a fantastic art style that accompanies the mayhem on screen. What could be described as a voxel based art style, Petroglyph Studios have managed to create unique and cute character models, all of which are vibrantly colored. On top of this, almost every map is visually distinct and comes along with downed planes, dinosaur bones and other objects that help give some life to the otherwise barren landscapes. This experience is all tied together with a great soundtrack from Frank Klepacki, who previously worked on creating the soundtracks to the Command and Conquer series. But, while the art is very well done, units can easily be lost in the midst of battle, often overwhelming the screen in colors and flashes.
The major reason that we don’t see many RTS games arrive on console is due to the command mechanics; mapping all of the functionality to a couple of buttons can be a daunting task. For the most part, Petroglyph Games pulls off this task well. Building menus can be accessed from anywhere with the tap of the left or right bumpers, and the radial menu is easy to use and responsive, though the text could be a bit larger.
But as with any entry in this genre on consoles, there are sacrifices to be made. For the 8-Bit RTS Series, that comes in the form of control.
When creating units, you have to map them to the X, Y, or B buttons, and once built, the button mapping can’t change. If you want to separate your armies further after assigning them to a specific button, you can tap down on the D-pad which selects all units on your screen. But aside from that option, you are very limited in what you can do, and there is no way to select a certain portion of your army. This forces you to plan ahead of time when creating your army. For the most part I have never really found myself needing to execute those more difficult strategies of flanking or taking the high ground, and the easiest solution always ends up mapping all units to one button, moving them across the map like a giant death ball.
While the experience of watching your army destroy everything with a myriad of lasers and bullets is good, the process of getting there is not always as satisfying due to some quality of life issues. As mentioned earlier, text can be incredibly small making it hard to read, especially when working with the radial menu. And when playing as the humans, information regarding your energy levels is often hard to understand, causing you to go into the red more often than you would like. The most disappointing however, is that sometimes, when you have large armies clashing against each other, the frame rate can dip below what the game usually offers.
But despite these control issues, there is still tons of content to be found in 8-Bit Invaders on Xbox One. The standard A.I. Skirmish battles are available, as well as a co-op campaign with 10 missions, allowing you and one other friend to fight back against the aliens together. As mentioned before, you can also cross-play with other entries in the series, allowing for multiplayer matches verses a varied amount of races, covering up to six players and ten different maps. There are four different multiplayer modes, all of which are rather standard, centred around either wiping your enemy off the map or killing key units and destroying buildings. With all of these modes available, there is more than enough content to keep you coming back if you enjoy the gameplay.
Petroglyph Games have managed to pack a ton of content into what could be considered by some to be nothing less than an expansion pack, however there have had to be some concessions made in making this console RTS experience, as well as attempting to make it accessible to beginners; not all make for a better experience. If you can get past some of the issues, namely the unit control and slow early game, then you will find that 8-Bit Invaders can stand on its own with the amount of content that is offered.