Combo Crew, the latest Android title from developer The Game Bakers, aims to eliminate one of the problems inherent to mobile action games: poor touch screen controls. Instead of requiring gamers to continuously jam their digits onto a glass screen, Combo Crew maps punches, kicks, and super moves to swipes?a far superior way to interact with a touchscreen interface. While it's easy to unleash moves in this arena-style 2D brawler, design elements intended to streamline the controls remove the challenge and the need for move set mastery.
Welcome to the Jungle
Combo Crew opens with a generic backstory that plays out as a pseudo-parody of games of this type: Mr. Boss invites Gina (a Hair-Fu practitioner), Dolph (an action movie star), and Parker (a video game junkie) to his Boss Tower for dinner?but it's a trap! The baddie simply wants to challenge and defeat the best fighters in order to stroke his ego.
Although Combo Crew introduces you to three cutesy protagonists, only Gina and Parker are available for fisticuffs duty right away; you unlock Dolph after you've fought a few matches and earned 20 in-game credits (that's right, in-game currency?no cash needed). A fourth character, Sammo, is also a 20-credit buy.
Each brawler starts with four attacks?a mix of regular blows, guard breakers, and crow ground attacks. New moves are unlocked as you complete chapters, while other moves are unlocked after successfully completing missions in Combo Crew mode (a series of fight-based challenges). Once new moves are acquired, you can use them to replace the old ones if you'd like, but you can only carry four attacks at a time. Spending credits in the Shop lets you purchase Boosts (temporary power-ups such as a health-replenishing burger) or Perks (permanent character improvements such as a greater damage output).
Swipe-based inputs are how you unleash your fury onto Mr. Boss' foot soldiers. Swiping up, down, left, or right executes basic attacks, but there are advanced methods, too. Tapping the screen, holding, and then swiping toward an enemy delivers a guard breaker that crumbles a block defense. Swiping with two fingers uncorks impressive auto-combos that string multiple hits together without any further input. When your super-meter is full, tapping the super-attack icon lets you bust out a flurry of hard-hitting moves. There's a surprisingly amount of depth to the combat system: you can even do air juggles and knockdown attacks. Your combos are tallied as you land blows, and the music gets remixed on the fly as the total grows.
The simplified combat works well and the hits are quite satisfying, but there are some associated tradeoffs. You don't actually move your opponent; swiping causes your character to dash toward a foe and attack. You can't rely on positioning to set up attacks/dodges as you can with classic beat 'em ups like Double Dragon or River City Ransom. If you want to avoid an attack, you must swipe attack when an exclamation point appears over an enemy's head to perform a counter. The streamlined controls also result in button-mashing as a viable combat scheme, which removes the challenge.
Combo Crew is a solo experience, but there is an unusual (and creative) asynchronous co-op element. Suppose a bad guy gives you the business and whittles your health down to zero. Instead enduring a game over, you can ask a Combo Crew-playing friend to remotely take over your game. Your buddy has the opportunity to finish up your mess, and if s/he beats the round, your friend's score is converted into health for your character. When your fighter's health gauge is filled, any remaining points are added to your score.
Combo Crew is an entertaining diversion that should scratch genre fans' beat 'em up itch. It's cute, colorful, and had a surprisingly deep combat system. Still, you don't necessarily need to learn it; button-mashing can get the job done, too. What makes Combo Crew work, the simple control scheme, also works against it. Still, those who want to punch a few grunts in the face will find a lot to like.