It's never easy being an overlord with tons of minions to toss around and command for global conquest, especially if the overlord is stuck in hell, where every other demon overlord wishes to be top dog in that particular field. That's pretty much the setup of the new real-time strategy title Army Corps of Hell, an oddity of a strategy title coming from a role-playing-game-focused company like Square Enix.
If you are getting a Pikmin vibe from the screenshots of the company's debut PlayStation Vita title, that's partly because Motoi Okamoto (who wrote Nintendo's cutesy real-time strategy game) and his studio Entersphere are developing the title. For the most part, the game is accentuating the "hell" part of the title. Rock music permeates the game, while a mishmash of grey and brown serves as the game's background. Your skeleton overlord, his goblin-esque minions, and the enemies you face off against (ranging from purple floating eyeballs to humanoid bulbous things) are the only brightly colored elements bringing life to the game's dull canvas.
Players control the skeleton overlord with the left analog stick while activating minion commands using the face buttons. Press the square button to fling sword-wielding minions onto enemies; once 10 or more of them are clinging onto them, press the square button when the screen prompts you to. This will make them simultaneously stab their target for big damage. Pressing and holding the circle button commands your spellcasters to throw and power up their fireball spells, while pressing triangle lets you lob spear-wielding minions.
If your troops are away from your reach, via getting knocked away by enemies or from missing your throws, they need to be picked up before they expire after a few seconds.
To keep your minions in tip-top shape, you have to first activate your potions by touching the bottom left icon on the screen (the PS Vita has a touch screen, remember?) and then touch the Vita's rear touchpad in sync with the onscreen prompts. Your soldiers can also eat enemy corpses to replenish health if you wish to conserve your potions. If you're desperate, you can search for a cage on the map to trade spoils of war for extra minions. While the face controls were fine in commandeering minions across the skeleton-bridge-connected landscapes, we felt that the healing minigame could interrupt the flow of the battles.
We resorted to taking things slow while feasting on enemy corpses; our main strategy consisted of walking back and forth, flinging spear and sword minions onto enemies, and then charging up a fireball to finish them off. The simultaneous stab attacks were easy to pull off and seemed necessary to kill sole enemies in a flash so that we could focus on other threats onscreen.
The game could also live or die by its boss fights, and the demo's sole giant goat demon we clashed with could be a sign of good things to come. We couldn't damage it by conventional means, so we had to use our spear minions to stab its knees. Once it was kneeling, we had sword demons latched onto its head for maximum damage, and then we unleashed charged fireballs thanks to our spellcasting minions. It was simple once we figured out its pattern--all the better too, as the goat demon could wipe out our minions if its jumping attack connected.
For players who would much rather take control of a skeleton king ravaging the landscapes of hell than take control of a spaceman, this Vita title could at least pique their interest. Army Corps of Hell is a Japanese launch title for the PS Vita, which will be out on December 17. The retail version will cost 4,980 yen ($64.80), while the digital version will cost 3,990 yen ($51.90).