Pineapple Smash Crew is a really impressive effort for the one man indie development studio, Rich Make Game. It’s surprising how much the game manages to do well, but inevitably, a few problems come up in terms of depth and content. It’s a retro take on the classic top-down arcade shooter, but with a few tweaks. There’s a lot of good things to be said about this release, but also a few issues that keep it from being a solid recommendation.
Thankfully the good elements of Pineapple Smash Crew really stand out. First of all, the game’s art style is fantastic. It generally consists of smooth, simple polygons textured with retro sprite graphical overlay to create a game that looks both modern and old school. The explosions look particularly excellent, and the game succeeds in finding that perfect balance between retro and new. The soundtrack, contributed by chiptune musician Syphus, is similarly caught between styles. It uses chiptune songs, as one might expect, but the soundtrack sounds closer to modern styles of music, rather than the outdated, simplistic music you would expect. The entire game is an exercise in retro modernity, and it definitely succeeds in terms of presentation.
The gameplay is, more or less, classic top-down-shooter combat. There are a few extra tweaks to the gameplay, but don’t expect this game to reinvent the wheel. The most obvious distinction is the fact that you control a team of four characters that try to stay in a close formation, making your movement a little less precise, but more fun to manage. You can swap your lead character freely, and each character has their own health bar and grenade slot. But while the four man team might jump out at you, the most exciting tweak is the grenades. You only start with a couple of options unlocked, but as you collect credits and level up your team, more and more grenade styles are unlocked. These include nearly every grenade trope in the book, including poisonous fields, wall-piercing lasers, and even a decoy hologram. Each grenade is a one use item, but enemies and crates drop pick-ups like it’s Christmas. You can play the entire game through with just your guns, but it’s far more fun to use the huge supply of unique grenades, swapping between characters and their grenade slots as you see fit.
The main issue with Pineapple Smash Crew is that it just doesn’t seem to do enough. The four character gimmick is underused, with zero distinction between characters. You can name your first four salvagers, but if they die, they’re just replaced by random level one characters. Your characters can level up, but the only thing this accomplishes is a health upgrade and a cooler robot suit. Adding in things like weapon modifiers, grenade enhancers, or minor perks feels like it would have fit nicely in this game, and really seems like a missed opportunity. Even the most grinding-oriented of games can become a lot of fun if you’re working towards a goal, but Pineapple Smash Crew just doesn’t seem to have a goal to give you besides beating the game.
The biggest issue is the repetition. Pineapple Smash Crew uses a random level generator, and it brings all the issues usually associated with it. While it’s true that you’ll never play the same level twice, it sure doesn’t feel that way. There are a few additional characteristics that change how the level is built; one level might have a generator acting up, and while you don’t have laser gates to deal with, the lights are very dim. It’s all minor and cosmetic complaints, with the biggest change being the pool of enemies spawned in the different tile sets.
Essentially, the game lacks a hook. There’s no real incentive or excitement about leveling up your characters, nor are there any new areas to look forward to. Then there is the difficulty. The game is fairly easy, although I had a couple of deaths and one or two tense moments. It does get a little more hectic when you reach the higher levels of enemy concentration in the second half, but that comes more from the longer length of levels, rather than more difficult enemies. If the game was a little more challenging, the difficulty itself could be the hook. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In the end, this game is fun, but there is just not enough content there for longer sessions.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of old school fun to be had, but there isn’t enough variety or incentive to keep the game interesting for a long stretch. On top of that, there is nothing in this game to encourage players to replay the game. The game itself is around four hours long, which is a decent length for an indie game. The biggest thing keeping this from being a recommended title is that, while it manages to make the retro inspired graphics and sound feel fresh, it doesn’t quite manage to give the gameplay that same retro modern makeover. The repetition and simplicity is right of out older arcade titles, but there aren’t enough new hooks and elements to balance it out. The grenade system is the biggest innovation, but the game is easy enough that you never really find yourself in need of grenades. You use them because they’re fun, not because they make things any easier. In the end, Pineapple Smash Crew is a competent, fun release, but could have benefited from a little bit more in the way of gameplay development, extra modes, and better features (Co-op, perhaps?). Still, for a project with only a single developer working on it, the outcome is fairly impressive and deserves some applause. But in terms of gameplay, you might prefer to wait for a sale or some expanded content updates.
Final Verdict: Excellent and unique graphic style, plus a great (albeit short) soundtrack. The gameplay is a bit too simple, and the levels a bit to repetitive to make this any more than a couple of hours distraction in small doses. It is hard to suggest this title at full price, though, considering its weaknesses.
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam version of Pineapple Smash Crew provided by Rich Make Game.