Combat of Giants: Mutant Insects | Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Developer: Ubisoft | Publisher: Ubisoft | Genre: Action | Year: 2010
Throughout the years I’ve played many video games that were supposedly designed for children, and it’s amazing how often I’ve come away wondering how such titles were ever expected to keep a child’s attention. Something like Sonic Heroes fails because of its absurd difficulty (that most adults would struggle with), whereas a supposedly easy game like Mini Ninjas still felt too complicated for an audience that you can bet wouldn’t read the instruction manual. Combat of Giants: Mutant Insects doesn’t really suffer from either of these problems, but it is very boring, and that will surely be a worse sin in a child’s eyes.
Players begin by creating their own insectoid kaiju. Whether it be a hulking spider or a deadly mutant wasp, you’ll start by selecting a torso and various appendages like a poison stinger or flaming mandibles. The range of customization options are sparse, but I must admit to creating a pretty badass black scorpion in my own run.
When my scorpion’s powers started to glitch out during the first level though, I knew I was in for some hurt. Indeed, Mutant Insects just isn’t entertaining. It was clearly developed on a tight budget, with the primary gameplay loop getting the player to do little except scuttle around irradiated worlds fighting rival insects on a quest for dominance, or something.
The levels themselves are overly linear and very repetitive. Pointless obstacles like fog or burning vents attempt to break up the near constant battling, and the touch screen combat is so simplistic that it can be mastered with minimal use of its already basic features. Insects can often win fights by swiping over and over again, so the ability to block or dodge often feels slow and pointless, however accessible it all may be.
Another thing that doesn’t really work about this game is its theme. The concept behind creating a giant monster and then stomping around a miniature 3D world is cool, but compared to the previous Combat of Giants games which allowed players to control fantastical dragons and dinosaurs, playing as a big ugly bug whose only unique gimmick is burrowing underground seems a bit lame.
The concept might have worked if the cartridge wasn’t so lacking in value. There is a multiplayer mode in there, it’s just the combat system is so basic and imprecise, I can’t imagine anyone squeezing any enjoyment out of it. What really could have enhanced this mode is some kind of shared interactivity with the other Combat of Giants games. Having the ability to trade hybridised limbs or abilities for your insect could have a been nice idea for instance. The question about value though is further muddied by the main campaign that lasts no more than four hours. Forget the insects; it’s the paying parents feeling the real sting here!
When you really get down to it, there are only two things about this debacle that I like. First is the presence of several spoof battles where your mutant brawler fights some very surreal opponents. The earliest of these inspired match-ups is against a sentient fly swatter, with later spectacles squaring players off against a hostile can of bug spray, and perhaps even more brilliantly; a hovering school bus!
Also good is the cheating system that grants players bonuses for entering secret codes found on trading cards included in the game box. Not only do these cheats take the edge off of the initially unforgiving combat, they encourage owners to share their codes with each other to unlock insect skins, extra skill points and other helpful goodies.
I find this especially relevant for a child-friendly video game for the simple reason that kids love to cheat. In our modern mania of microtransactions and loot boxes, cheat codes are quickly becoming a thing of the past, which is a shame because I think any game claiming to satisfy children needs to seriously consider including them. Ever wonder why the 3D Grand Theft Auto games are so popular with kids? Combine cheat codes with a painfully simple and front-loaded gameplay loop and you’ll have your answer!
Whilst its commercial success might throw my assessment about its market suitability into question, I still found Combat of Giants: Mutant Insects to be a pretty awful experience that should have been much better considering it was made by a veteran studio like Ubisoft.