Developer: Sokpop Collective
Publisher: Sokpop Collective
Reviewed on: PC
I’m sure we’ve all pretended to be samurai at some point in our lives. Putting on an oversized bathrobe and brandishing whatever we found in the moment to pretend we were one of the great honorable warriors of legend. No? Was it just me then? Doubtful. And yes, overtime there have been a number of excellent games that have captured the essence of samurai. Games like Way of the Samurai and Onimusha, and even the recent and excellent Ni-Oh all offer such experiences. But not all of them capture the frantic, tense intensity of swords clashing in a way you’ll find inside Bamboo EP.
Let me start off by saying that I absolutely recommend this game. Yes, right at the beginning of the review odd as it may be. Let me also say that the entire bit about samurai just now, that’s only one part of what Bamboo EP is, and what an excellent part it is!
Bamboo EP is a collection of three mini-games by Sokpop Collective, a group of Dutch developers, some of which have been behind the odd Bernband and the quirky Lisa games. Bamboo EP, if the name doesn’t already give it away, contains 3 games – all of which involve bamboo in some way. They’re all intriguing in their own different way. They’re also very pretty to look at.
The first game, Bamboo Moon also doubles as the game’s menu. Scattered through this little pondmoon are lots of lilies, bamboo, fish, and frogs to swim with. This is also where you can access the other two minigames that make up Bamboo EP. Not everyone might be keen on swimming around a small pond just to access other games, but fret not, there’s more to this than it seems. A number of secrets lurk around the pondmoon, awaiting those that look for them. I mean, there’s a reason why you can interact with the fish and frogs after all. I’m not going to say what they are, obviously, after all a secret’s a secret. While it’s nothing particularly new or inspired, the pondmoon is charming, and charm is something this game has by the truckload.
Bamboo Ball is the second game. This cute little dodgeball game has you trying to crush your opponent’s bamboo before they get yours. Open to one or two players, Bamboo Ball offers up four different seasons to play in, each altering the game slightly. You could play during Summer, throwing large beach balls at each other, or end up playing in Spring for something more straightforward. I like the challenge, so Autumn’s the go to season if you prefer the same. Strong changing winds alter the trajectory of your ball, turning a simple game of destroying bamboo with balls into something more demanding. Or if you’re in the mood for some winter cheer, why not play in Winter? Snowballs eventually grow in size and little dabbing snowmen keep you entertained. You, however, still must bring death to the bamboo. If it’s not your bamboo, it’s gotta go.
Set against the backdrop of a bamboo forest, Bamboo Heart is the final game within Bamboo EP and what a game it is! The early talk about samurai was just because of how good Bamboo Heart really is. To make that clear, I’d happily buy it alone for twice the game’s price. Within Bamboo Hearts, you take control of a woodland creature whose heart has been replaced with one made of bamboo. Standing between you and your heart, unfortunately, are other woodland creatures hell bent on the kill. Should you get killed, you’ll have to start from the beginning.
What makes Bamboo Heart so absolutely fun is just how good combat feels. Think the precision of Nidhogg and the fun of Samurai Gunn and you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of how a clash exactly feels. It’s frantic, it’s fun, and it left me wanting so much more. A lot factors into each fight, from the angle of your blade to the timing of your strike. Of course, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as getting a kill with a single draw. A draw slash, an aspect of Iado, can really make all the difference in an encounter. Simply sheathing your sword after a fight, or even during can often turn the tide. Why? Because you move slower with your blade drawn, and you leave yourself more open.
There’s a lot of variety to Bamboo Heart, leaving play open to a fair bit of experimentation. Each creature has their own strengths and weaknesses, like Bonang the boar’s extra heart at the cost of movement. Different swords also switch up the game, making you move faster or attack quicker. Personally, I always loved taking an enemy’s Haste+ blade, making my attacks quicker and therefore deadlier. There’s also a number of skills to be earned. Yes, earned. Throughout the game, at random intervals, and in random order you’ll be facing various Masters. These Masters are either intent on claiming a bounty on your head or stopping your reign of terror. If you do manage to best them, you can absorb their heart and learn their signature skill. Dash Draw is an excellent one, so hope you get that pretty early.
On top of all of that, Bamboo Heart also has a cooking system. It’s nothing too deep or complicated, but having a full belly means having a full heart. You’ve got a choice of mushrooms and birds to feed on, and the amount of health recovered changes if the food is cooked or not. To recover a lost heart you’ve got to eat to fill up your stomach. Once that’s done, you recover one full heart. If only it was this easy to keep it. If you really, really feel up to a challenge, try eating five mushrooms raw. Trust me, it’s worth it if you succeed.
Lastly, while there are three core games within Bamboo EP, there’s one small thing left. Bamboo Duel is basically Samurai Gunn. Up to four players can duke it out in a small arena to determine who is truly the greatest of them all. It’s all the frantic fun of Bamboo Heart but with friends this time! And no cooking at all! (You might still want some treats ready though.)
With all of that, Bamboo EP unfortunately is not without flaw. To truly enjoy the game you’re going to want to use a controller. I personally played with an XBox controller because it doesn’t natively support a PlayStation 4 controller. . Since you can’t remap keys, the game is intensely awkward on the keyboard. For example, you won’t be able to run around inside Bamboo Heart with the arrow keys, or WASD. The arrow keys work perfectly in Bamboo Moon, but for some reason Heart opts for the awkward TFGH layout. I have no idea why. Plug in a controller though, and it’s as intuitive and as responsive as you’d expect from any game.
With that all said, Bamboo EP is still a beautiful game, and a steal at its low, low price. Beautiful pixel graphics and charming a soundtrack make for an excellent experience. There’s a homely charm in the environments of Bamboo Ball and the swaying grass and fluttering leaves may call you back into Bamboo Heart. There’s a little something for almost anyone inside Bamboo EP, and I wholeheartedly recommend you at least check it out. Seriously, there’s not enough people talking about this. It definitely deserves at least a few hours of your attention. A few hours that may become every chance you get, if you’re like me.
Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Intel Core i7-6700HQ 2.60GHz
GeForce GTX 960M 2GB
There's a little something in Bamboo EP for everyone. Whether you like finding secrets, tossing around beach balls, or trying to reclaim your heart while murdering dozens of enemies, you'll find something to enjoy here. It's charming, it's well crafted, and most of all, it's pure, absolute fun.