Though I can honestly say that I expected more from Touch Orchestra, I still have to commend the package of instant fun they managed to deliver in Grenade Madness.
My hopes were raised by the fact that I was picking up a project 5 years in the making, and I thought I would be enjoying a much more complete experience. Despite my reservations, what I played is unlike anything I have in my collection, and I didn't even know I wanted it. There is a place in the world for a multiplayer shooter focused only on tactical weapons: grenades, barriers and knives. I am happy to pick something so unique up.
I like to think of Grenade Madness as a competitive round based shooter for people who don't like them, or aren't good at them.
I took quickly to controlling my goofy little robot and was surprised at how easy the controls were to pick up. It is a simple WASD configuration that's smoother than warm butter. Nothing feels clunky or glitchy at all and I love that, considering that the one and only objective is to run around launching grenades and erecting crates with the express purpose of demolishing all the other robots on the map. I also feel that the visual textures, lighting and physics are a bit better than what I typically see in a lot of 3D indie titles. Each of the maps looks different from the others. The robots have a streamlined design and cute dorky faces.
There are relatively few guns available, mainly just the various types of grenade launchers and the crate gun. Grenades come in the standard sticky, frag and flash varieties. The guns are color coded according to which kind of grenade they launch. I preferred the sticky grenades because they allowed me to lead my target very well, laying a wildly dangerous trail of explosive breadcrumbs. I am sure the frag grenade is supposed to do more damage, but actually hitting anything with it is a mildly frustrating prospect. The most annoying grenade to be hit by is definitely the flash grenade, as it turns the screen white, but I got plenty of kills without using it. The crate gun is certainly an interesting tactical addition in that it provides the ability to wall off opponents and block grenades, but it lacks the level of options available in grenade launchers in that it only makes crates. I point this out because explosive barrels actually appear on the map during each round and it would be neat to have an explosive barrel variant of the crate gun. Even the melee weapon has an extra option: it's a choice between a knife and a tazer. I do like the streamlined weapon loadout options in that the player can choose any two guns and any one melee weapon, but I do want maybe one or two more options.
My opponents were so stupid that I refuse to accept that I was playing with real people.
The simple controls and smooth gameplay leave the player open to really come up with strategies for the unique power up system, and it rewards quick thinking. Often in multiplayer shooters, players are provided with a few abilities that can come from a class or be selected a la carte. Here, those abilities come in the form of power ups that pop out of destroyed crates and scatter across the ground. Each robot grenadier picks them up by running over them and can hold up to three at a time. Because they can all be used immediately and last for short periods, the player is constantly augmenting their play style by collecting and expending the wonderful little blue squares. They can also be held indefinitely before use, so the player has the benefit of customizing their loadout simply by controlling where they walk. My favorite abilities were the ones that turned me invisible, cloaked my grenades, detonated all explosives on the map and slowed other players. My least favorite was the teleport power up, as I found it confusing to use. I don't know where I will be teleporting to and it turns the screen white during activation. It's all up to the strategy you prefer and I don't like gambling on potentially bad positioning, even if it does present the opportunity to lay a sticky grenade trap.
My complaints are mainly with the interface and lack of any features other than rounds of multiplayer deathmatches. There is no actual description or name for each powerup available and the player is forced to guess until they know what they are doing, which is difficult when some different options share the same exact icon (the icons for speeding your robot up and slowing all the other robots down are identical little clocks and I don't know which is which until I use it). I also had no way of telling whether I was playing with real people or bots. I don't have any friends who have this game, so I would appreciate a more definitive experience, like a general chat or even player profiles. My opponents were so stupid that I refuse to accept that I was playing with real people. No one with a functioning brain commits grenade-assisted suicide often enough for their kill count to be in the negatives. It just isn't possible. Even the leader-board has me confused because it only ranks players by the number of kills they have achieved. I played for over two hours and found myself ranked second in a list of names I didn't recognize, and felt sad that I hadn't played against them. There is also nothing to do except run around various maps murdering robots. I find that so disappointing because the elements of strategy present are strong enough that a few different game modes and objectives could do nothing but help. I found myself wishing for a short campaign mode at the very least, just to provide a little character to my robot and the guns. For such a unique title, Grenade Madness falls flat in personality.
I hope that's only because it's still in early access. Despite the flaws, I admit that the instant fun is worth the $8.99 price tag. Due to its currently incomplete state, I am giving this a 7/10 when I know it has the potential to be a solid 8 if Touch Orchestra keeps ironing out the kinks and adding features.