Thanks to Dispatch Games for the review code
Title: Penguin Wars
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 06/27/2019, 08/15/2018
In this reimagining of the UPL classic, you take control of a Penguin named Riley, who goes on a world tour to get to GiraGira Land while competing against a variety of opponents who stand in his way!
It should be stated that Penguin Wars looks real pretty, with great cel-shading and expressive characters! For a 3D take on the original arcade game, the new look is very welcome and helps show off the cute world that the game has, considering the simplistic nature of the original games. Each world has its own unique court and theme music, and the songs are all pretty dang good, with some great remixes of tracks old and new. In the multiplayer modes you can go crazy with the court choices and pick your favorite, so find a track that works great and go for it!
Penguin Wars offers only a small amount of game modes to pick from, which is pretty jarring at first. You have a single player campaign taking place across multiple worlds, along with your standard Local and Online Multiplayer modes. Besides that, there’s only an endless mode where you keep knocking out opponents as you randomly switch characters to get the highest win streak. So, if there’s really only two single player modes to mess around with, are they any good?
Thankfully, I can assure you that yes, you do get a good amount of things to do when playing solo. The Single Player campaign takes place across several worlds and tasks the player with building up Riley’s reputation in order to take on the boss of each world, but in order to gain reputation you have to take on several groups in the area. These randomly rotate onto a bulletin board alongside normal encounters, and defeating these groups will fill up a meter. When the meter reaches a certain amount, you can take on the boss of the world and move onto the next once you beat them and they join your group. Of course, there are reasons to focus on more than just the major encounters, as standard battles will award you with candy, which you can feed to Riley or another unlocked character to boost their stats to your liking. Likewise, some battles and group encounters will be consecutive matches, which in turn rewards you with more than a single battle would. Since there are several group encounters per world, you could go for taking out every group in a world after a boss for that extra candy and replay value.
Along the way, you’ll also be able to purchase special abilities for each character you unlock. Every character has two to use in-battle, with one being when you’re holding a ball and the other taking place when you’re not. Multiplayer gives every character their full set from the start, but in the campaign you have to purchase every move one by one. Thankfully, the prices are fairly cheap so the trouble mostly comes from hoping that they’ll appear on the board.
When it comes to the actual battles, they’re a ton of fun, with the boards varying in difficulty depending on the obstacles you have to deal with. Typically, you’ll have a set of balls and you need to toss then to the opponent’s side of the field by using A for a standard shot and Y for a charged shot. Hit them in the head enough times or get all the balls over to their side at once, and their health will decrease. Whoever runs out of health first (or has the lowest amount after a timeout) is the loser, making this pretty standard stuff. Luckily, Penguin Wars adds a bit more to make these battles incredibly quick and to the point. Each character has those aforementioned special moves I mentioned earlier, which can be pulled off by using X. Sometimes these moves will help defend your field while others will power up a charge shot to the point it’ll almost certainly knock out or stun the opponent, allowing you to send the rest of the balls his way for a big attack.
The fields change now and then too, ranging from replacing the standard balls with deadly spikes that deal a lot of damage, dealing with bombs that will instantly kill the player that they detonate near, pucks that will explode upon reaching one side of the board, to even deadlier spike balls that will instant kill the opponent. Some rulesets are so chaotic that there’s honestly no sense of balance and thus matches will end based on who can act the fastest, but honestly I had a tremendous time with some of these rulesets, as playing these with friends led to a bunch of laughs. In the single player mode, it’s not nearly as fun to get screwed over by a spike ball, but the quick pace of the matches make retrying any you get stuck on less of a hassle.
With all that out of the way, how’s the multiplayer? Well, the local multiplayer is a ton of fun as I already mentioned, and allows the player to choose their favorite ruleset and table and stick with it, while also having the option to choose a random ruleset upon a rematch to keep the successive rounds fresh. You can choose from any track in the main game and play on that stage, so you have total free reign.
As for the Online aspect, I unfortunately couldn’t get that to work as despite weeks of trying off and on to connect to a single match, I never got anyone to play with me. I knew some friends that did indeed own the game, but the lack of a Switch messaging feature led me unable to invite them, which isn’t the developers fault at all. Still, it’s sad to see this fun game have such a dead community and I hope it picks up somehow. The last thing to note is that there is $3 DLC available containing characters and songs from the Hebereke series, and as a fan of the NES game it was great having two of the classic tracks as selectable battle themes, although they can only be used in the multiplayer modes.
In conclusion, Penguin Wars is an excellent remake of a classic arcade game, adding a bunch of new mechanics to the mix alongside an engaging single player mode, which I’m very thankful is a thing considering the unfortunate fact of this game’s dead servers. Still, if you even have one friend over to play a game with you, then this is a multiplayer game that I can absolutely recommend due to the sheer amount of laughs and fun some of the rulesets have provided, and in a multiplayer game that’s the most crucial aspect of all. While the Single Player isn’t the longest thing in the world, it at least gives you a great value for the $15 price and I feel the game is just the right length. Heck, I even think the DLC for the Hebereke characters is worth getting despite how the characters are exclusive to multiplayer, since the DLC feels like a great tribute to the short-lived franchise and sports some killer remixes.
As for a physical copy, Penguin Wars is a bit harder to recommend. Since the online isn’t too active, you may just want to pick it up only if you see it for $25 or less. That being said, the game is still strongly recommended as a frantic multiplayer experience, so if you don’t mind paying more the physical version isn’t a bad option for this game, even if I personally prefer the cheaper price of the digital.
I give Penguin Wars an 8 out of 10.