Perhaps it was because of the era I was born, the place I grew up, or a combination of both that I did not have marbles in my childhood. I was more of a pogs kid, so when I think of marbles today it’s usually because I’m making a lame, anachronistic joke about how youths these days are always making a ruckus with their marbles, jacks, hoop rolling and moon pies. But perhaps I’m wrong in my assumption that the little glass balls are relics of an age where child labor was accepted, as it seems French developers The Game Bakers had enough fond memories of the game to use it as the inspiration for Squids.

Originally released for mobile platforms, Squids boils down to what is essentially marbles with some light RPG elements. Players control squid characters in turn-based combat to either knock enemies out of the playing field, or wear down their hit points. Characters are moved by using the mouse to stretch them back in various lengths to determine how much momentum they’ll use to move forward. Each character has a certain amount of stamina that is represented by a ring of circles around your character, and is spent in relation to how far they’re stretched, which results in being able to move them multiple times per turn. The game controls quite well, as I felt I was always able to both aim and stretch my character with the precision I wanted, and the implementation of stamina added a nice touch of movement management reminiscent of other turn-based strategy games.

And like many good strategy games, the field of conflict plays an important role in how play is conducted. Pits that will instantly kill both enemies and player controlled characters are placed around the maps, as well as spiked urchins of various sizes that cause damage when touched. Currents will shoot characters in the direction they flow, and anchors can be grabbed onto to prevent being moved. Treasure chests and oysters can be smashed to collect the game’s currency (pearls), which are used to buy equipment and level characters. Add to all this the class system that the game uses, and I was at first blush eager to find out what kind of conflicts the game would provide.

The implementation of classes adds to that strategy game feel, and is what keeps the game from becoming dull early on. Squids are divided into four classes: scouts, troopers, healers and shooters, with each class having unique stats and special abilities. Scouts serve as the main melee force, with a high attack and stamina rate that lets them be sent across the field quickly. Their dash ability can be triggered while they’re moving, and adds an extra speed boost that’s useful for avoiding pits and traps or increasing damage. Troopers are heavy characters that don’t move as fast or cause as much damage as scouts, but are harder to push off ledges and have much more health. Their ground pound ability is an area-of-effect attack that knocks back enemies caught within its range. Shooters are weak in both attack and defense, but their shoot ability lets them attack and push back enemies from afar. Healers have the lowest attack power, but can heal other characters by either hitting or being hit by them. Enemies are made up of the same classes, and I was initially excited at the prospect of strategically using my characters against opponents, but both the well designed battlefields and the simple class system go to waste as the A.I. doesn’t have quite enough of either strategic verve or aggressiveness to make the combat very exciting. In addition, the levels don’t start to vary until far too late in the game, and by that time, I was already rushing past enemies to get to the end.

Now, if Squids’ only problems were an unimaginative A.I. and slow level ramp, I would feel quite enthusiastic in recommending the game as a kid’s introductory strategy game; a stepping stone to more complex games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Jagged Alliance. In fact, Squids’ pleasant and colorful art direction, anthropomorphized animals, upbeat music, short levels, and simple mechanics all seem to be directed towards being a game designed specifically for kids. As I mentioned earlier though, the game was originally released for mobile platforms, and it’s that mobile legacy that makes me hesitant to say you could just hand this game to a child.

Right from the start, it’s evident that the port was lazily done. Buttons to start up the game, check settings, exit the game, change levels and go through menus are small and placed far apart. It’s as if someone was aware of mouse precision, but decided against grouping them for accessibility. The equipment and character screens are bound up tight, making you scroll through each in a small window instead of taking advantage of the screen space. While graphically, the game scales incredibly well, the small UI common to PC gaming has no place here, and ends up being tiring.

The game is terrible at conveying information. While a some basic tutorials about how stamina and combat works are placed in the game, I had no idea how to equip characters, use currency, use particular buttons or even level up until I did some experimentation. It turns out that some of that stuff is clarified in—of all places—the settings menu. While kids are certainly smart enough to figure that stuff out on their own, it seems odd as to why a designer would overlook such a basic principle.

In the end, I feel as if I can only recommend this game for a very specific audience. If you’re looking to play a game with a child, are willing to trudge through learning how the game works so you can provide help to that child when the game fails to teach something, and enjoy simple, though often dull, strategy elements, this game can be a great doorway to exposing that kid to a world of much better and deeper games. If you don’t fall within that particular demographic, I suggest you pass.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ Well developed class system
+ Pleasant art and music
+ Mechanics are easy to grasp
– Systems aren’t conveyed well
– A.I. is too simple
– U.I. is tiring

5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just don’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.

Squids is now available for PC and Mac and can be purchased at the game’s site here. The copy used in this review was provided by the developer to RipTen.