Tactical and strategy games come few and far between, and even more so on the Nintendo Switch. Established franchises such as the X-COM and Sid Meier’s series have yet to make the move to Nintendo’s hybrid-console. On the Switch, tactics fans have only a port of Disgaea 5 and Ubisoft’s collaboration-byproduct, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. If you’re like me and itching for some new tactical strategery, then studio TACS Games’s newest Nintendo exclusive may provide the tactical-backscratcher you need. Here’s our review of ACORN Tactics.
ACORN Tactics is a light turn-based tactics game exclusive to the Nintendo Switch. You are in the future, a part of the Alien Counter Offensive Response Network (ACORN), and it is your job to command a squad of robots in fighting the good fight against alien blobs. The world has been consumed by water, presumably by aliens melting the polar icecaps, and the only landmass available isn’t land at all but rather oil rigs left behind by what I assume was a very active Snake setting up Mother Bases all over the world. The game itself is most comparable to X-COM, in how the different character classes and the gameplay progresses; even some of the UI elements as well.
Enemies won’t attack you until they’ve spotted one of your mechs. Which is nice, as it allows you to maneuver your mechs into what will hopefully be an advantageous position to take them out quickly. When you’re planning your tactics, it is imperative to note the color type of your enemies which denotes what kind of attacks are effective against them. There are two forms of health: main health and shield energy. Your health and shield bars are displayed much like X-COM’s bubble gauges above each mech’s head. Enemies are easy to differentiate: the ones that cause physical damage are green and the ones that cause energy damage are blue.
Your mechs come in several different classes, each having distinct attributes and dealing specific damage types: Machine Gun mechs, Sniper mechs, Shotgun mechs, Missile Launcher mechs, and Repair Drones. Your squad can be a maximum of six mechs and you can customize each one by color and little hats that you can put on them – because why not? This can greatly help you to differentiate their mech types at a glance, and you can use the hats to denote which ones are your favorite. Kills give your mechs a rank up and mechs can ultimately go up to Rank 5 which improve their overall health and damage. But be careful, as permadeath and friendly-fire are both things to be mindful of. If a mech dies, they’re gone for good. I would have preferred the option to turn this feature off, as the difficulty ramps up significantly after the few first missions. By mission 6 I had to completely start over my squad of mechs.
The main Missions, of which there are 25, are replayable, which helps to rank up new Mechs when you inevitably lose some. But these missions aren’t fun to begin with, let alone playing them over and over again, and it’s tedious to have to replay the same opening missions. The cutscenes and dialogue play again each time as well, forcing you to waste time when the game should respect the fact that I’ve done this same mission 20 times already – just skip the cutscenes automatically for me, please. Thankfully, they are at least manually skippable.
Occasionally between missions, you’ll have access to upgrades via the research lab. These upgrades can be wholly new mechs, shield upgrades, or other small buffs. Although I would’ve preferred a skill-tree setup or at least a list of what research items will be available and when, the quest for new research advancements was the only thing that enticed me to keep progressing through the campaign. You purchase research upgrades with credits you earn from missions. The only other thing you can spend credits on is buying new mechs, although the game will not tell you how much the mechs cost for whatever reason.
There is also a card system you unlock and utilize after a few missions into the game. These cards provide boosts, such as repairing your units, enhancing their speed, or even adding leech effects to your attack to steal the life from your foes. Defeating enemies gives you a chance to earn extra cards, and you can edit your deck of cards at home base in-between missions. The cards available in-mission are randomized from your deck. Although I like this additional gameplay element, I don’t like how it’s implemented. I wish I could choose which cards I could activate at any given time, and not have to rely on chance to provide a card I direly need in any given mission. Organizing the deck of cards itself is also a challenge. First, it’s layered within other menu options making it difficult to find. Then, it’s unclear how you even can organize or edit the cards. Last, the cards come in different levels and the game doesn’t show you by how much each card affects you, leaving you guessing blindly at their effects.
When you’ve progressed enough through the campaign missions, as well as unlocked a few upgrades, you’ll want to check out the Random Missions option. Accessible while you’re at Command HQ, these missions offer a rogue-like element and offer more challenging gameplay for endgame players. There are also daily missions that provide pre-made levels to challenge yourself as well. This is a great addition for some endgame difficulty and can keep strategy fans engaged long after they’ve completed the story.
Overall, ACORN Tactics was not enough to scratch any sort of itch – tactical or otherwise – and it was more of a frustrating exercise in futility than an enjoyable experience. If you’re a tactics or strategy fan, I would urge you to pick up Mario + Rabbids instead for a more polished and enjoyable X-COM like experience. At only $12 though it may be worth it if you’ve already got your fill of the wanna-be minions or are otherwise at a loss for what to play. Unfortunately, with a lack of deep gameplay, poor design, slow combat, and no multiplayer options whatsoever I think ACORN Tactics should go back to the drawing board.
Note: Our review copy was provided for the Nintendo Switch by PR.
Compares to: X-COM, Disgaea 5, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle