The idea of a majestic galleon that can sail gracefully across the sky is an idea which has captured the imagination for centuries, so of course there is a certain appeal in the idea of taking command of your own airship and rolling out the cannons for the ship-to-ship combat. This fantasy is exactly what Bow To Blood aims to provide.
The set-up for Bow To Blood is that of a contest between captains of these amazing airships, with a hint of the old reality TV set up, as a leaderboard is set up, and whoever sits on the bottom two slots at the end of each round is vulnerable to being voted off.
The airships are powered with a Captain’s ‘essence’, which provides power to all systems, and can also act as a kind of currency – a point I will get to later. You need to pilot your airship around the spacious arenas, fighting off opponents and trying to reach that coveted top spot on the leaderboard in each round.
If using the Dual Shock controller, the accelerator is controlled by the right thumbstick, while movement is on the left, and aiming the ships cannons is done using gaze control, as the cannons will fire where you are looking. Muscle memory can get in the way here if you are used to controlling a camera with the right thumbstick, but after some practice it comes together. The PlayStation Move controllers can also be used, but their lack of analogue stick makes them a poorer choice, over all.
Players who are prone to simulation sickness may wish to be careful and check the comfort options, as the airship does move convincingly like a ship at sea, so may cause problems for some.
You also have additional systems, such as a shield, advanced weaponry, attack drones and turbo boost. These all take essence to operate, and can be a lot of juggle early on, but become vital tools later. You also have a crew who you can send to perform various tasks so you aren’t completely overwhelmed, though said crew members might be more tolerable if they talked a bit less, particularly early on.
Beyond the combat, there is an impressively in-depth relationship system, which involves trading favours and making alliances with other competitors. This can involve lending some ‘Essence’ to another captain, in return for their aid. This does put you down on your essence total in the next round, but getting an ally might be worth it. You often find you need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of helping or hindering another contestant in a way that is often more engaging the the actual combat.
The graphics have a very cartoonish feel to them, very colourful, bright and interesting. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part, though many of the conversation you have end up being mostly by text.
Interestingly, the stages are all procedurally generated, so if you fail in round three, the next time you play, round one and two will be completely different. While this does provide some variety, there seems to be a limited toolset to draw on, making them look somewhat similar anyway, which is something of a shame.
Bow to Blood is a fine, fun title with some minor niggles. The combat is good, though somewhat tricky to get used to, but the alliance system offers something interesting and unique that elevates the title to a higher level.
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