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Review – Slam Land

In December, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will finally come to the Nintendo Switch. And it will be the best couch-multiplayer fighting party game the Switch is likely to see. Until then though, the market is briefly open for Smash-clones to gain some traction and take advantage of all the Nintendo gamers who just haven’t been able to get their Smash-fix on the company’s newest console.

And so in comes Slam Land. At the inoffensive price of $8, Slam Land is the cheapest Smash-clone for the Switch, with the closest neighbour, Brawlout, still retailing for around $12. Billed as a “4-player couch fighting/party game” by Bread Machine Games, Slam Land sets out to offer “Super Smash Bros chaos with a fun new twist”. With low price comes low expectation, and it’s fair to say that Slam Land doesn’t promise anything it doesn’t live up to, but I don’t think I’ll be returning to this one when my friends come over for gaming times.

Starting with the big positive: Slam Land looks awesome. Each of the landscapes, characters and even the items all have eye-catching qualities, and the way that the stadium lights up every time a point is scored is positively merry. While there were occasional issues in gameplay with some of the characters becoming hard to identify while playing due to blending into the background, and the lack of any P1 or P2 marker to show where the players were, the playful art style is the most enjoyable part of the experience.

However, the gameplay itself is where Slam Land justifies its cheap price. The first thing to note is the overall lack of any diversity or single player experience. When the first Super Smash Bros. was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999, it featured 9 very different levels and 12 very different playable characters, as well as a single player tournament experience. Almost 20 years later, this remains the minimum expectation for any game trying to bring 4-player couch co-op as its driving factor. Slam Land offers 10 stages (that clearly come from 3 different ideas), 5 identically-functioning playable characters, and no single player mode. The sole focus on couch multiplayer is clear as all single player gameplay comes from setting up a match as you would with friends, except just by playing with the AI. Meanwhile, the lack of any diversity in the gameplay of the characters or levels themselves would be forgiven if they were gratifying to control and play in, like in Nidhogg.

Unfortunately this is not the case. The controls are simple in Slam Land and offer very little in the way of meaningful combinations. Players are given buttons to grab, upwards strike, jump, shield/dodge away from other grab or strike attempts, and move with the D-pad or left joystick. Controlling the characters in Slam Land never felt comfortable despite many long and persistent attempts to get along better with the game. The hit boxes and movement never felt consistent, and it would likely take days of practice to be able to become skilled enough to compete against the top AI of the game; which, while certainly a big positive regarding the ability of the AI to serve up a compelling challenge, did strain me into contemplating the purpose of becoming good enough to do so. In a game that’s billed as a party game that only features 5 modes, 5 characters, 10 maps and no online play or leaderboards, it’s hard to see a reason to train at this game for any purpose other than makeshift competition between friends.

Looking at the game modes themselves, it’s clear what Slam Land means when they mention the “fun new twist”. An obvious difference is that there is no health bar or system in Slam Land, with points accrued based around DOUNKing (dunking) an item or your opponent into various scoring zones – basketball style. You either win by DOUNKing the most points in Time-based play, or by having the most points before all lives are used up in Stock. While the Time mode worked without a hitch, I found the changes made to the Stock gameplay unnecessary, in that you win by scoring the most points, as opposed to being the last player alive. This is very different to traditional Stock gameplay, and not in a good way, as it led to many games me and my friends becoming a matter of math, where whenever one player would score enough points to likely win the game, they would intentionally start getting rid of their lives to ensure that other players couldn’t reach their score.

The other game modes in Slam Land are all variations of the same idea in Trash, Peanut and Horse, in that they all involved collecting an amount of items and DOUNKing them without being stopped. The highlight here was definitely HORSE, where you only won the game if you dunked each letter once, as it brought a subtle level of tactics into a pretty simple game.

Slam Land provides a competent Smash-clone that, while beautiful and innovative, failed to provide any compelling gameplay value for extended periods of time. Arriving on August 7 at the low price of $8, it may be worth the money and could be a good time for a short period, considering that if 4 people play it only once it’s only $2 each, but that’s really the biggest advantage. If Slam Land really succeeds at anything, it’s as an advertising tool for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which will be released later this year.

I give Slam Land a passing grade at 2.5/5.

Pros:

Effervescent art-style

Inoffensive price tag

DOUNKing friends feels great

Cons:

Clunky gameplay

Too narrow range of characters, stages and modes

No longevity

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