When you write about video games every week while also holding down a day job in a different area of journalism, you end up accumulating a lot of them. And to be perfectly honest, once the column on a particular game has run, said game is usually not booted up again. There’s always the next column to think about.
“Cannon Brawl,” a new real-time strategy game by Turtle Sandbox Games just released for Mac, PC, and Linux, is a loud exception — maybe the title that has elicited the strongest “I don’t want to stop playing this” reaction in me since I gushed over “Don’t Starve” way back in January. It’s a wonderfully well-designed and satisfying game.
The basic format — and it’s the latest version of a style of game that goes back to “Gorilla” for the ancient operating system QBASIC, “Scorched Earth,” and later the “Worms” series — involves two-dimensional levels in which you have to defend your castle and take out your opponent’s.
To do so, you pilot an airship around the level, expanding the territory you control, laying down mines on gold and diamond deposits to raise funds, and using those funds to build various weapons and defensive counter-measures. There are straightforward cannons, as the game’s title suggests, missiles that spread out in a manner designed to foil the force-field-like shields that are the primary defensive tool, walking bombs that can go right through those shields, and so on. What appears at first glance to be a relatively simple game in the rock-paper-scissors sense ends up being extremely complex. Everything from your enemy’s arsenal to the topographical layout of the level needs to be taken into account if you are to prevail.
The tide of the battles can change in a heartbeat; there’s a palpable ebb-and-flow feel to them. There are moments when your front-line artillery and mines have been destroyed and you need to frantically build shields around your castle just to survive a few minutes and figure out how to regroup. There are other times when you break through your enemy’s defenses and have the pleasure of setting up multiple powerful laser weapons right next to his sitting-duck castle.
The game has a nice personality — before levels in the single-player campaign there are brief, acrimonious exchanges between your character and your opponent — and the cartoony visual style works, with appropriately BOOM-y explosions.
But what stands out, over, and over, is the gameplay. It’s nicely balanced and satisfying. The fact that you can’t just click on a spot on the ground to build something or click on a gun to fire it, but rather have to frantically pilot your airship all over the place to do so, adds to the frenetic pace and makes you feel more immediately involved in the action, which is often not the case with real-time strategy games. I am not usually the fist-pumping type when I play games, and yet I found myself repeatedly doing just that the moment I destroyed my opponent’s castle.
I should say that my impressions of the game come entirely from the “campaign” mode, in which you progress from level to level, facing and learning new weapons and tactics along the way. I haven’t yet tried out the online multiplayer option — which, I suspect, will be even more fun and require even more deep tactical thinking — but I can’t wait to. This is not a game that is going to languish on my hard drive.Jesse Singal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this column misidentified the game “Scorched Earth.”