When the game first begins, you can choose between hundreds of available names to call your goblin-leader by. We learn that you used to be all powerful, but are now relatively weak and you must battle to reclaim Hell and your rightful place as its leader. To do so, you take control over the minds of some goblins, enslaving them to do your bidding, no questions asked. Players begin with just twenty goblins, but that number swells to several times that in the first few hours.
In addition to the generic soldier goblin with a melee weapon and a shield, spear-men and magic-infused goblins eventually join the ranks. Before each mission, you can select how many of each type of goblin you want to start with. There are cages throughout most levels where you can cash in your jewels to instantly replenish your troop. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of these moments before the boss encounters as these are generally long and fairly difficult.
Level design is very basic, with environments built like square-shaped arenas. The stages also look drab, with plenty of oranges and reds and browns. The monsters are actually fairly colorful — purple, green, and so forth — and of course there is copious amounts of blood. Each stage starts off with your character surrounded by his minions. You can swiftly move with left stick and X, which is sort of a dash. Dashing gets more important after about stage five when enemy projectiles and environmental hazards require that you move quickly to avoid losing a bunch of your minions. When your goblins die — and they will often, and usually in droves — you can generally revive them if you get close to them within a certain amount of time. A skull icon appears above their bodies when they first fall, and after several seconds that changes to a blackish icon. If you don’t float over their bodies by that time, they will be lost.
The variety of enemies seems promising at first, but, like the level design, it never really turns a corner. I will say that the bosses are nicely done and mixed up well, but the standard enemies, that you fight over and over again, get tiresome after just a few hours. Other than the boss fights, that really can be said for all of Army Corps of Hell — the entire experience gets stale and becomes a grindfest. I found myself having to replay stages just to kill certain monsters again for the inventory items they drop, which are used to alchemize new weapons and shields and such for your goblins. I like the idea of managing an inventory and making decisions on what to alchemize for my minions, but it gets tiresome having to replay areas just to get more items.
Controls are ok, but I felt like actually controlling my units was restricted. The only touch controls are used sparingly and annoyingly. Players must tap the rear touchpad to use a revival power-up, for example. Square, Triangle, and Circle are used to cycle between the different types of goblins, and then you aim at your enemies with a basic targeting system whose reticule changes depending on the type of goblin you have selected. So with the spearmen, the width of reticule is narrow, but the depth it has is more than that of the soldiers’ reticule. Attacking is as simple as holding RT, and as you do, you will see your goblins hop onto the enemy (they’re usually much bigger than a single goblin).
As you continue to target the enemy and hold down RT, a counter rapidly fills up as more goblins jump onto it and start hacking away. Different enemies require a different amount of goblins to attack them like this, but after some multiple of 10 you will get a prompt to press Circle for a Salvo attack. This is a sort of instant combined attack that the goblins perform which is usually enough to take down the enemy. You can also salvo attack if you don’t have enough goblins, although instead of just pressing circle, you have to enter a five or six character long random button sequence. After killing the enemy, you may have to target and attack their remains to retrieve any dropped items. This actually takes a few seconds — and no that doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you’ve done it a hundred times it starts to add up.
In between battles you can head change your character’s appearance with different capes that become available. You can also prepare new equipment for the goblins by spending the items you looted and jewels, which are given at the end of stages based on your score taken from things like completion time and other criteria. These new items have different stats for attacking and defending. This does add a much needed bit of depth and variety to the experience.
Presentation quality isn’t all that great, but it’s not bad. In the field of play the detail of the goblins and your character is pretty rough. I have yet to experience any framerate issues however, despite the amount of action that is on screen at times. I would attribute some of this to the very basic level design that literally has you going from one arena battle to the next. The soundtrack is great sometimes and really annoying others; it’s high pitched metal, sometimes instrumental, and sometimes with vocals. To me the style of music and some of the antics of your goblins made ACOH feel like it doesn’t know if it should go full on dark and serious tone, or more goofy and comical. Personally I would have rather seen a more consistently darker tone.
More than anything though, ACOH could have benefited from some variety in gameplay. There is a local four player mode that allows you to either compete with one another or work together. I imagine this would spice things up nicely, but I was not able to test this with the review copy we received.
To the summary…