Bow To Blood is a fantasy reality show and tournament taking place in massive arenas, complete with an audience and host, in which competitors must challenge each other to earn points in hopes of topping the league table. Each playthrough consists of seven matches, which are split in to two separate events. The first gives you freedom to earn points as you see fit; explore the zone in which you can mine, fight or search for secrets to rack up your score before finding the warp key and scarpering. The second event offers a more focused objective such as exclusively hunting but any damage sustained in the first is event is carried to the second, making you think twice about being too greedy before turning in.
Aim to Please
After the crew gives a short introduction and light-but-well-paced tutorial to get you up to speed, it’s go time. From atop the bridge of this beast of a ship (which is armed to the teeth) movement is controlled with left stick and aiming with the right, in the usual flight/FPS tank control style and speed is adjusted and locked-in with the shoulder buttons rather than controlled on-the-fly, much like many a space/flight-sim. The slow and steady movement of the ship is offset by the freedom of cursor movement and, to keep everything expeditious, a lock-on targeting system is deployed. With the aiming done for you, it’s a breeze to fire through groups of enemy ships or to competently dogfight with your rivals.
With aiming out of the equation and movement slow for the most part, I found my mind free to think about skill selection and ship maintenance. Your on-ship resources can be reshuffled mid-game by balancing the amount of ‘essence charge’ to one of the systems in place. More practically speaking, this means you can determine which of your skills have shorter cooldown times. If you’re facing a heavy hitter that uses some oversized artillery, you might make more use of your shield skill, or for mining samples you may want to weigh resources towards your boost, enabling you nip around the map more efficiently, for example. Your crew can be assigned specific tasks on the ship as well, such as manning a particular turret, all of which is easy to keep track of. These features are built in to a simple-to-use UI and, though initially tough to navigate in the panic of a flight fight, all gelled quickly.
Don’t Vote; it Only Encourages Them
In terms of structure, Bow to Blood has the DNA of a sports title mixed with a game show. Points determine your league position however, after each match there’s a popular vote to determine who, from the bottom two, is to be knocked out. I found this brought an additional dimension to the competitive spirit in itself, but the developers took extra steps to explore the concept even further.
During matches you will bump into opponents tackling the same mission as you, where they will interact with you in some way. They may just say ‘hi’ as they’re just scoping your skills, or perhaps they’ll seek your aid when they’re in a spot of bother. Adding this dynamic really helps build rivalries or comradery giving extra meaning to each victory or loss. Naturally, people remember your antics, be those helpful, impolite or full-pirate, which can be a blessing or curse.
Pathos Ethos, who needs Logos?
On one playthrough, in between matches, as I procrastinated in my fancy ship, I got a phone call from a douchenozzle whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to trash-talk like a 1960s boxer, just to wind people up. Turns out he wanted a bit of a truce but, gains be damned, I wasn’t about to be strong-armed by this chump. Bound to get you fired up, right? Indeed, I couldn’t wait ruin his day. Thing is, next time I’m up for the axe through the voting system, I can count on Cpt. DoNozz and his allies to send me packing.
When selecting responses, a sidebar shows the effect on the other competitors’ perception of you. And it works both ways. A polite chap needed my aid with some pesky ships. I had nothing better to do so thought, why not get on his good side while stealth stealing his points from under his nose. Win-win.
If the characters leaned the same way every playthrough, things would end up thoroughly predictable. The secret sauce for replayability however, is the randomisation of these events; a simple concept that becomes a masterstroke in this context. Adding to the character is your ship’s crew who drop the odd line here and there, perhaps bounce off each other during downtime. These elements don’t affect anything directly beyond control tips, and there’s nothing special about the writing with these two, but it all helps to get the blood of competition flowing. Conversely the writing elsewhere is strong, with character bios adding another charismatic layer.
Performance is steady even if the framerate isn’t high. Image quality is impressive on the Switch’s screen giving the game a polished feel, though anti-aliasing is used sparingly and perhaps a little motion blur could be employed. There are neat touches like your bunk’s wall being adorned with photos of the locations you’ve visited so far alongside voting records. The ship designs are particularly impressive ranging from buccaneering to sci-fi, while the setting itself also falls firmly into the fantasy-meets-sci-fi realm with an almost Borderlands colour/tone style, especially in the rocky areas. The broad selection of stages offer a multi-planetary feel and there are few similarities between layouts too, meaning map rotation helps give each ‘season’ a different flavour.
Though sticking to bot matches is more my bag, I can’t deny Bow to Blood would make for a very interesting online multiplayer experience. Perhaps something for a sequel? This game deserves a sequel. Just saying.
Overall Score: 8/10
The AI rivalries affording options to plot betrayals speaks to the devilish manipulator inside us all. Or just me? Either way, this unique blend of genres with pseudo-roleplaying beats will keep the replay value floating and help Bow to Blood negotiate into my pick-up-and-play rotation. I’m glad we could have this talk.
Format: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4, PC
Price: £17.99 (UK eShop)
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Release Date: 03/04/19
Review copy provided by publisher