After finding critical success when released for PSVR in August of 2018, Tribetoy has ported Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing to the traditional console experience. Expanding on their previous release, you find yourself commanding your airship through up to 10 different levels with randomly generated missions. In order to make it out on top you have to create alliances, cripple your enemies and turn your back on those asking for help. But is there enough in Bow to Blood to differentiate itself from other rogue-lites? Or is it destined to sink below the mist?
If you’ve seen any reality TV show before you’ll be well accustomed to the format of this game. Each round consists of two maps, each with their own objective and combatant to face off against. Killing enemies and completing the goal of each map nets you points that at the end of the round get counted up and the bottom two performers are put up for elimination. The rounds add up, so one slip up and you could find yourself struggling to claw your way back to the top of the rankings.
This game show setting is one of the highlights of Bow to Blood. Between rounds, and even during the matches themselves, you get to interact with your opponents. Here you are able to make alliances, which can net you extra weapons or even sabotage other combatants to help you out. But you’ll almost never find yourself pleasing everyone. This forces you into making decisions and sometimes turning against your own friends for the best rewards. While this is one of the more satisfying aspects of the game, it is a shame that playthroughs don’t change much from one to the other. All contestants act fairly similarly, and I have noticed that they will always ally with the same people every time. This makes repeat playthroughs a little more dull, especially after you’ve already allied with them in the past.
The announcer can also become a bit grating towards the end of the game; these sections are to be among the worst of Last Captain Standing simply because you are forced to sit around while he talks to you. In these sections you don’t have any interaction so you just hear him remind you that you’re slipping in the rankings. It also acts as an unfortunate break in the flow of the overall game, preventing you from having fun.
When in the matches themselves, you have a varied amount of objectives, ranging from fighting a boss and a combatant at the same time, to a race against the clock to collect a load of leviathan eggs. While there are definitely repeat objectives, the fact that they can fit to almost any map and the layout can be randomly generated adds some variety, helping prevent it from getting stale.
Some of these are more enjoyable than others however. And oddly enough it doesn’t stem from the actual gameplay of the matches themselves, but the amount of points you can earn from them. I found myself dreading the racing segments because they would only net a measly 2000 points, while other matches will easily accrue over 5000. This can severely put you at a disadvantage in the leaderboards. And on top of this, even if you get a good string of objective types, you can find yourself slipping down the ranks. This can get increasingly frustrating because unless you make a hard move to take out another combatant, which can put you in the crosshairs of multiple foes, they seem to have flawless rounds almost all the time. While this does force you to rely more heavily on the alliance system, it does feel almost unfair at times.
The systems of Bow to Blood are surprisingly complex. Reminiscent of games like FTL, you’re in command of a fleet of two who can take up different stations to give you bonuses. For example, if you want to be able to fly around the map faster you can put one of your crew to the engines, but if you want to automatically avoid missiles instead of having to shoot them down, sending a crew member to the radar can throw them off target. You can also change the power levels of your shields, weapons, drones and engines. These systems allow you to put up an overshield, fire your special weapons, send out drones to both distract and take out the shields of enemies, and boost respectively. Finding which setup works best for you will be instrumental to making it out alive. All of these systems and crew configurations can be switched out and changed on the fly, allowing a fair amount of customization and freedom in play style.
The combat itself is satisfying to play. Flying around your enemies to flank them, or being stuck in a swarm of grunts wearing away at your shields mostly brings an entertaining time. All of the weapons have a satisfying punch to them, and the ship’s controls are decent, having an understandable weight behind them. While that weight makes quick manoeuvres much more difficult to pull off without getting blasted, there is something especially satisfying as you circle another ship, blasting it with your side cannons. But the slower nature of your movement poses some major issues for the game.
As you are the captain of the ship, you stand on the deck above everyone else. While this sounds nice, your ship ends up taking a large portion of the screen up. This can become a problem when in the middle of battle because it can be a struggle to see where you are getting shot from, especially when you’re left traversing the mist on the bottom of the map. The best course of action is to boost out of combat and put distance between yourself and the enemies so that once you turn around it is easier to take better stock of where everyone is. This can end up drawing out battles longer than you would like.
It also poses an issue for when trying to lose altitude. The lack of visibility to see what is beneath you often leaves you ramming into cliff sides, and sometimes getting spun around. The slower and heavier movement also poses an issue when getting around the maps themselves, as almost every one has the objectives spread out rather far, making it a chore to complete them. This fast becomes the single most irritating part of Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing on Xbox One.
With the unique setup of being in a reality TV show competition, the entertaining social systems do however stand out in the forefront. Supported by solid combat and in-depth mechanics, Bow to Blood can certainly be something special. While it doesn’t hit all the marks, with the sometimes painfully slow map traversal being the main issue, developers Tribetoy have successfully ported and expanded upon their original PSVR release in a meaningful way.