Beast Breaker

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: Sept. 23, 2021


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PC Review - 'Beast Breaker'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 8, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Beast Breaker is a turn-based action adventure where you play as a tiny warrior named Skipper, tasked with defending innocents from giant mosaic Beasts that threaten to destroy everything.

How do you stand out in a crowded genre like the RPG? Anthropomorphic animals have been done quite a few times, and so has a medieval setting with a few modern and futuristic trappings. If you're Vodeo Games with its debut title Beast Breaker, you make yourself seen with a likeable cast of characters and a battle system that is eye-openingly unique.

You play the role of Skipper, a young mouse who lives on a small farm with his squirrel cousin and grandmother, who was a famous warrior in her own right. One day, Skipper takes his grandmother's sword to help someone. He succeeds in felling a beast, and while his grandmother isn't happy that he risked his life, she can't deny that his heart is in the right place. Thus begins Skipper's journey as he tries to protect the settlements from the rampaging beasts while trying to figure out why it's occurring.

The story may be familiar, but like any good RPG, the characters drive the tale. Skipper isn't the typical silent protagonist, but he doesn't say too much. Your grandmother is the world-weary type but is neither overbearing nor gruff, while your cousin may be aloof but is also carefree and adventurous. The game introduces more characters like this, such as the nobleman who can be clueless but means well and a frog with a positive outlook, and all of their interactions provide just enough character depth accompanied by genuinely humorous dialogue moments. Even the interactions with the villain don't play out as expected, making this a game where one shouldn't skip the cut scenes.

After a short introduction, Beast Breaker goes into the first fight, where there's plenty to take in. The one-on-one fights are between you and a giant beast, making it more in line with the likes of Furi instead of other titles where you fight small groups of minions. This is a turn-based affair, so the ability to break order is rare. When the beast isn't attacking, you'll see visible attack lines so you know where the attacks will go, and their stats are visible and constant, so there's no chance of delivering critical hits for a tad more damage. Enemies only perform two actions (attack and move) in a specific order, and you have a set number of moves, but using items doesn't count against that number.

While you only get to fight off one beast at a time, the large behemoths are comprised of tiles that need to be broken. The dark-colored tiles cannot be broken, while the silver ones break and eventually regenerate based on the beast's stats, minus any ailments you inflict on them. Tiles may have numbers to indicate how many times they need to be hit before breaking, but at least the regenerative phase doesn't affect silver tiles that are weakened but not destroyed. The pink tiles are the real targets, as they don't regenerate when destroyed. The most important of these pink tiles is the beast's core, which is signified by a sparkle; destroying that kills the beast outright, no matter how many other cores exist.

The beasts are distinct, but so are your attacks. With the basic sword and shield combo, your primary move delivers a base amount of damage and builds up a charge meter. Once you have enough, you can perform other moves that build up defense or inflict damage. Each move has a number of paces attached, and that is an important stat since you have an aiming cursor for your attack. The cursor shows where you're going, and the paces give you an idea of how far you'll go before you stop moving.

If you want to shorthand it, the attack system is essentially you playing pool where Skipper is the cue ball and you hope that your angles and predetermined strength are enough to send Skipper bouncing between enough tiles to make a significant dent —while also landing far from attack zones. It's chaotic since you have no idea where he'll stop, but the system provides enough of a dopamine rush when you score a tremendous number of hits. To make things more exciting, there are specially colored tiles that can be hit to give you some bonus effects, such as more paces for your move or an extra action to take before the enemy's turn. Likewise, the beasts don't stay with one form; after every turn, they'll change shapes and keep things fresh while you're constantly compensating for a new battlefield layout.

As if the constant changes to the beast layout and billiards-style attack mechanics weren't enough, Beast Breaker adds one more wrench in the form of the rampage. Part of the enemy stats includes a rampage countdown that ticks down after their turn is completed. Let the counter go past zero, and the beast ignores you and heads straight for the town you're protecting, resulting in an instant game over. While you can aim for the main core and try to get in a quick kill, your best strategy is to destroy any pink tile, which instantly resets the rampage counter to its max before counting down again.

Destroying the pink tiles also provides a few other advantages. Depending on the tile being destroyed, you can limit the range of the attacks that the beasts use or, if you destroy a tile that's being used in the attack, cancel it outright. You can also gather motes that can be used to craft new gear that grants new abilities, like temporarily stopping tile regeneration or causing the rampage meter to temporarily stop counting down. Destroying the beast outright also gives you motes, but getting them from individual pink tiles means that you'll retain them if you fail in battle.

All of the above describes a typical battle using a sword and shield, but the game features a few more weapon types that change up your attacks. For example, using a bow and arrow has you do a dodge roll to build up ammo, aim for bounces with arrows to deal damage, and skipping turns to build up more powerful attacks for later. Meanwhile, the hammer has you charging into an area and delivering a larger area of damage for taking that risk. Like the sword and shield combo, crafting bows, daggers and hammers adds some attacks and abilities, with the one drawback being that you can't combo things like shields and hammers.

The last wrinkle that the game throws into the battle system is the presence of companions. They don't necessarily fight with you on the field, and they can't be activated like an attack, but if you let the rampage counter get down to zero, they'll come in to reset the counter and activate a technique of their own, such as throwing healing items on the field or using a hammer to bash in more tiles. The act is more of a last-ditch effort, as it can only be used once per battle, but it comes in handy when you consider how complicated the beast configurations can be and how there are times where your attacks don't go as planned.

That's a lot to take in for the combat system, but the game executes it well. Even if you're the type of player to ignore the stats, the act of bouncing around to take out the beasts piecemeal makes for some exciting fights. You're only fighting one creature at a time, but unless you have the most powerful attacks lined up, the fights feel like they take up a substantial amount of time without dragging. Even when fighting the same creatures, no two fights feel the same thanks to the bouncing mechanic and different beast configurations. The designers have done a good job of stretching out a core set of mechanics without making it tiresome for both long and short play sessions.

Compared to the fights, the rest of the game seems simpler to execute. Your farmhouse acts as the main hub, but two of the sections let you converse with some characters to flesh out the story. Unlike most modern RPGs, there isn't a need to stay on a character's good side or maintain a relationship with them, so it's only for those interested in the lore. Crafting yields unique items, so there's no chance of accidentally crafting duplicates. The cellar houses your map so you can take on missions, and there are clear designations of a mainline mission versus a side mission; you'll need to complete some side missions to open up some mainline ones.

Once you take on a mission, things get more complicated when you're thrown onto a small hexagonal map. The purpose is to find the beast and start the fight, but another objective is to find ingredients to craft potions to refill status bars or craft weapon augments to add explosive or acid effects that only last for one fight. On occasion, you'll use the map to find characters or items that'll relate to either that mission or unlock future ones. You'll also locate the beast tracks to get a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses, so you can be better prepared for the fight.

While the mode might seem a little mundane, the tension ramps up when you discover that there are corruption pools that the beasts aim for to power up for the fight. Once they use all three pools, they head straight for the village, and the game automatically ends if they reach it. You must decide whether to go in prepared to fight a strong beast or dart around and meet up with it quickly while you're without any bonuses.

The flaws are few but worth noting. The beast variety feels very limited. While none of the lands sport the same designs, each land only has about 3-4 repeated types. When crafting, a bug can occur where the text shakes violently until the crafting animation is done. As for the crafting, there's no way for players to know what the stats are until the crafting is done, causing some disappointment when you craft something you didn't want and have to farm for more motes to try again.

Like the gameplay, the presentation is simple but effective. Beast Breaker features no voices, but the sound effects are fine, and the soundtrack fits perfectly with every situation. Graphically, the game aims for a bright storybook look during the cut scenes and menu navigation, with bold colors throughout and expressive poses for everyone speaking. In combat, there's more emphasis on the beasts rather than Skipper or the environment, but things are very easy to read. The fragmented designs of the beasts makes them stand out compared to a more detailed cartoon style.

Beast Breaker is the kind of game that flies under the radar but rewards those willing to give it a shot. The battle system for the genre is distinct but easy to understand, and even if you're fighting a small roster of creatures in each land, the fights are never dull. The variety in the attacks gives min/max players some room to play with their builds, while the story and characters provide enough motivation to see it through to the end. For those looking for a different kind of RPG, Beast Breaker is worth checking out.

Score: 8.5/10

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