‘Kaiju Wars’ review: a scrappy, stylish, sometimes stilted tribute to B-Movie mayhem

Tactical snackrifice

Turn-based tactics are often all about smashing overwhelming odds. You’re outnumbered and outgunned, sure, but with a little ingenuity, your small team of capable veterans can pull through and win the day. Grizzled commanders. Skilful wildcards. Companions who’d die for each other. In turn-based strategy title Kaiju Wars, your chain of command is incompetent redshirt goofs all the way down. Giant apes. Monstrous lizards. They’re the real elites. You’ve just got a near-endless supply of fodder to hurl at their feet, hoping they stamp on one of your human Lego bricks hard enough to cause a meaningful distraction.

You won’t kill the Kaiju. It’s not happening. Drop it. The most you can hope for is developing a repellant serum before your head scientist gets got. The Kaiju are adaptable, though, which means each mission needs a new serum development. So you hunker down in labs and start tinkering, collecting breakthroughs and praying you’ll learn enough, quick enough, that the Kaijus (yep, sometimes multiple) slink back to their lair.

When a Kaiju stomps into a new grid square, any building or unit it contained is now gone. No percentages, no dice rolls, no shields. The trade-off is predictability. Kaiju will always target the nearest building, level it, and then stop. Armed with this useful, though perhaps not comforting, knowledge, you can plan to slow the clumsy colossi. Whether this means building a trail of office blocks to breadcrumb then in a favourable direction, or setting suicidal traps, or some third genius play I’m not smart enough to have figured out yet, is up to you. Most military units have a counter attack value, so when the Kaiju bites, the tank bites back. If you can deal enough damage on the Kaiju’s turn, it’ll lose any remaining movement points and take a temporary dirt nap.

Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.
Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.

How rapidly you’re able to create distractions is based on income, most commonly a passive cash flow from buildings already on a given map. The more of these buildings go down, the less you’ll earn per turn. It’s a testament to how tense Kaiju Wars can be that it’s often a relief when these structures get targeted, though, since labs and military buildings are frequently much more vital.

The spanner in the works of Kaiju predictability is a resource called ‘security’ that ticks down as the mammoth monstrosities destroy key certain buildings. When it hits zero, the beastie will beeline straight for the lab housing your head scientist, regardless of distance. You’ll need to evacuate and set up shop somewhere else, and once that lab is destroyed, the monster will resume its regularly-scheduled rampage.

The final ingredient in this stompy stew is a deckbuilding aspect, where you’re able to use a single ‘Operation’ from three choices a turn, either from a pre-assembled or customised deck. These range from quick cash injections and restoring lost security, to experimental weaponry like non-branded legally distinct Gundams. However – as if the Kaijus themselves weren’t enough – you’ll also be the target of hostile operations from a shadowy organisation, hitting you with all sorts of unpleasantness. Almost knocked out the giant monkey that just flattened half the city? Bad times: It’s just got half its health back.

Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.
Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.

It might seem damning to say that the absolute best thing about a game that lives and dies on its ruleset is the presentation, but there’s no shame in coming second place to such excellently crunchy retro-chaos. Bit-starved line art meets anime retrowave mix, complimented by what sounds like a rousing JRPG soundtrack played through a cassette tape left to warp in a bath of New Coke for a few decades. The menu room is lit by the fuzzy glow of CRT news reports and links to public domain Kaiju classics, and a host of custom animations bring every wince-worthy fist pummelling to life.

The light, handheld aesthetic clashes somewhat with the actual pace of the missions, though, which can end up being quite measured, occasionally slow affairs. A lot of this stems from Kaiju Wars’ pure generosity. The reasonably distilled ruleset is stretched over a tonne of missions, and the game makes up for this by quickly slapping constraints on systems it may have only introduced a few missions back. So you’ll soon get twists thrown into the mix, like stripping you of offensive units, or only allowing you a single lab. And as the stages become more experimental, they also become more prescriptive, and more drawn out. The tightest constraints are saved for optional stages, but the sense of a tight ruleset being stretched to its limits sets in far quicker than I would have liked.

This prescriptive approach can clash with the deck of projects, too, where a certain mission will effectively require a certain project for success, but leave you at the mercy of random draws to dictate when it turns up. And while I can appreciate the efforts to keep me on my toes and not stagnate, the constraints shift so often that it feels like you’re required to play and lose each mission at least once to get the lay of the land.

Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.
Kaiju Wars. Credit: Foolish Mortals Games.

Again though, Kaiju Wars is a seriously generous package. Each mission has both standard and hard difficulties, often with set project decks, and then a freeplay option to build your own. Throw in an optional time limit for each, and there’s a breadth of baked-in challenges you can complete to earn medals. You spend these to upgrade ‘Ace’ units – a single elite from each category that persists from mission to mission. They’re one of the many things that Kaiju Wars lets you name, too, from your own honorifics to the Kaiju themselves.

Mission dialogues keep up the silliness too, and even when the pacing can get a touch lethargic, Kaiju Wars stays stylish, colourful, and farcical enough to keep up its sense of fun. It’s certainly one of the more ‘check out the demo first’ games I’ve played in a while, but once it clicks, it’s one of more unique and stylish TBTs in recent memory. If you can shake off your instincts for self-preservation, and accept that victory is going to mean a lot of smoking ruins and grieving families, there’s a good time to be had here. Also, if this paragraph gets quoted by Metacritic, I’d like to make clear that 3 stars is not the same as 6/10, you reductionist donkeys. 3 stars just means ‘pretty good’. Kaiju Wars is pretty good. Thanks.

Kaiju Wars launches on April 28 for PC.

The Verdict

While the stylish B-movie mayhem and endlessly entertaining presentation can sometimes clash with overly prescriptive and slow missions, Kaiju Wars is a generous package stuffed with retro turn-based fun.

Pros

  • Stylish as heck
  • Great soundtrack
  • Absorbing, crunchy ruleset that lets you plan around terrifying but predictable foes

Cons

  • Some overly prescriptive mission design
  • Loves giving you new toys one minute, then stealing them away the next
  • Even with animations toggled to a minimum, the pace can get stodgy
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