Way back in 2001, a game called Pikmin arrived on the Nintendo GameCube. For a strategy game on a console, Pikmin was outrageously successful, and it spawned a couple of sequels under Shigeru Miyamoto's legendary leadership at Nintendo. For those who remember Pikmin, Army Corps of Hell will feel like a blast from the past. But while Pikmin was innovative, adorable, and well written - this PS Vita game sadly misses the mark in spades.
Army Corps of Hell sounds like an album from a death metal band and, fittingly, features a killer soundtrack to suit. But while the concept of hellspawn and diabolic themes has its well-deserved place, this game fails to deliver through sloppy story and even more lackluster gameplay.
The game is a hybrid strategy / action game that tasks you as The Devil King, a commander of a small army of minions in the middle of Hell. Banished from his world, The Devil King is out for revenge and soon realises that a credulous race of Goblins are easily manipulated into becoming his slave army. You must claim your rightful place, then, as the leader of the underworld by fighting through legions of demonic enemies and huge bosses, using the aforementioned Goblin horde, in order to get there.
At least this is what I ascertained of the story. Unfortunately Army Corps of Hell’s plot is revealed via a series of crudely animated, painted stills and nonsensical voice-overs. To make matters worse, the game attempts to mix in demonic horror with cartoonish, comic relief in the form of slapstick Goblin humour. It fails to amuse at nearly every turn.
Army Corps of Hell is broken down into stages, where the game ramps up the difficulty while rewarding you with new types of units and upgrades along the way. For each stage, you get to determine the composition of your army from three types of Goblins; Soldiers, Spearmen and Magi.
Soldiers are your basic grunts, armed with swords and shields, who leap onto enemies at close range and latch on to deal out damage. If you manage to pile enough on by holding down the right trigger, you can get them all to unleash a combined attack and take the enemy down.
Spearmen are your long-range, narrow attackers that will run in a straight line along your aiming receptacle under they hit an enemy (or a trap unfortunately). They are ideal for enemies whom you don’t want to get close to.
And finally the Magi, special units that require time to charge up their abilities and whom are essential when dealing with magical enemies, as well as anything with enchanted protection or shields.
You might ultimately have 30 troops in your army, with a mix of 40% soldiers, 40% spearmen, and then 20% magi. You can also set different formations, including a defensive one along the lines of ancient Roman soldiers presenting shields in rows to lessen damage from attacks.
While your faithful Goblins are nameless cannon-fodder, you’ll need to care for them as they are the only protection for The Devil King. Despite his almighty appearance, your character is oddly completely incapable in combat, and when The Devil King’s health bar reaches zero, it’s the end of the game.
Goblins however can be healed by picking up food (bits of meat left over from dead enemies) or saved from the brink of death by simply running over them as they lie dying on the ground. There doesn’t appear to be any explanation as to why this is, but this is the least of the game’s problems.
As a concept, most of this sounds like the basis for a decent handheld strategy game and titles like Pikmin and Overlord have proven that it works. But sadly Army Corps of Hell suffers from poor controls and - above all - highly repetitive and unrewarding gameplay.
Although the different enemy types make for some intriguing encounters, just about everything you come across can be defeated by constant strafing around in circles and holding down the right trigger to send troops out. Even the big bosses, which include massive sand worms, dragons, and minotaurs lack any variation to the gameplay, with glowing weak spots to aim at and recycled attacks to evade.
Compounding the repetitive gameplay is the unimaginative level designs, where every single stage takes place on a big brown slab floating in a dull vacuum. The disconnection between you and your Goblin troops (you’ll hardly bat an eyelid when one of them dies horribly) makes every mundane battle forgettable.
For truly dedicated players, the dozens of upgrades and new weapons for your army might keep you coming back for more. But even then, the menu system for updating attributes is so poorly thought out and clunky that you probably won’t bother trying to locate new unlocked items.
For Square Enix, Army Corps of Hell is amazingly disappointing. It lacks their usual polish and even the touch controls of the Vita are terribly executed. They usually involve mindless, jarring interactions, such as tapping the back pad to simulate drums in the middle of battle while the action still takes place in the background.
Army Corps of Hell feels more like a low-key Mini title; certainly not a full retail game being sold in stores for close to $90! The highlight of the game is probably the thrash hardcore metal soundtrack and even this won’t appeal to everyone. Best to avoid this hellish title, at least at full price.