Something about VR brings out the primal destructive nature of humanity. Seriously. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. Damn near every person that I’ve exposed to the PSVR would first marvel at the immersion, then promptly attempt to break some virtual doodad, all in the name of testing the limits of the technology. Regardless of whether it was tossing staplers across the room in Job Simulator or intentionally causing massive pile-ups in Gran Turismo Sport, one thing remains consistent: some people just want to watch the virtual world burn.
Breaking the Mold
Oddly enough, there’s actually a game that not only acknowledges this aggressive predisposition, but embraces it with open (and most likely sleeveless) arms. Right out of the gate, Smash Hit Plunder allows players to inflict more reckless damage than the Kool-Aid Man tripping on bath salts, trapped in a drywall factory. Especially when you consider the game’s name, you can only imagine that nothing is absolutely nothing is safe. This is further complemented by the environment, which seems to be held together with shoelaces, chewing gum, and good intentions. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The player starts the game being tucked into the oversized sleeves of a wayward wizard, which one might expect to find tremendously empowering. I mean, if you possessed the ability to manipulate the forces of the universe to your will, why wouldn’t you take full advantage? Unfortunately, it looks like the main protagonist flunked out of Hogwarts, because all he learned was how to make shit levitate. Yes, the lack of advanced incantations is obviously a bit disappointing, but you might as well make the most of your limited skills by blowing everything back to kingdom come.
Smash Hit Plunder Review - Bringing the House Down (PSVR)
The key steps to success in this game are extremely simple:
- Break everything
- Break everything else
The core conceit couldn’t be more straightforward. Using the powers imbued in either Move controller, players can highlight objects, then take control of them with the trigger. Once controlled, you can do anything imaginable to unleash untold amounts of devastation. Want to lob a crate across the room and watch it splinter to bits? Have at it. Interested in grabbing an ax and swinging it through an entire shelf of wine bottles? Be our guest. The only limitation is the malicious creativity of the person under the headgear. Additionally, once items have been decimated they usually release a cache of treasures, scattering in every perceivable direction. These precious materials can then be vacuumed up holding down the face buttons on the controller and directing the wand in the general vicinity of the bounty.
A Quest for Booty
One of the campaign modes, known as “Treasure Rush,” consists of reducing everything not strapped down to rubble and smoldering ash. It’s never explained in the narrative why damn near everything that’s eradicated leaves behind valuable trinkets instead of broken glass. But don’t get too hung up on the lack of realism, because it only goes downhill from here. Soon you realize that you’re actually gathering these assorted treasures to pay off a loan-shark poltergeist, looking to collect on the debt of a family member that was accrued before they kicked the bucket. That’s right, you’re trying to pay off the debt of your deceased grandmother, to another ghost that she once owed money. I mean, what is at stake here? What’s this shifty guy going to if this debt remains unpaid? She’s already dead for Christ’s sake. It’s not like he can kill her again. *shake head*
While the logic of the world is questionable at best, the overall aesthetic of Smash Hit Plunder is a sight to behold. Consisting of a series of sprite inspired visuals, most environments are densely populated to maximize the demolition potential. In motion, the game looks like Minecraft if the designers decided to take on the Medieval era. It’s only because the design goes all-in on the low fidelity visuals that they’re allowed to get away maps chock full of the same repetitive objects. Plus, it never hurts when these same items can be blown to smithereens with a simple flick of the wrist.
There’s a star rating mechanic for each stage that takes the total collected currency during each round and compares it against a trio of targeted scores. The three-crown scoring is very much like the standardized Angry Birds star grading system, only with far less feathers. The crowns are then used to unlock other locations in the castle to explore. Each stage can be utilized across the game’s three core single player modes, consisting of an additional scavenger hunt and free roaming objectives.
One thing that proved to be a bit of a wildcard was the multiplayer functionality, which makes use of the television screen to interact with the onlookers. This was the first time that I can remember seeing the screen used for something other than mirroring what the PSVR is seeing. Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but I had no idea that the device was even capable of rendering the visor and HDTV screen independently. While an interesting use of the technology, I was admittedly disappointed that my audience wouldn’t be able to share in my amusing experience. They’re only able to see the action from a third person perspective, with a wide-angle view of the map.
An advantage to the “social screen,” as I’ve heard it called, is that it allows for up to three additional participants, playing using standard PS4 controllers. It might not be as exciting as experiencing everything in first person, but these helper gnomes can help in the dismantling of a stage in coop, while the primary player still collects the booty using their magic hovering Move controllers. The third person perspective can also be used in competitive multiplayer as well, with observers trying to sabotage progress, but that never really resonated with my couch-play partners.
Smash Hit Plunder makes a fantastic first impression, pure and simple. The easy-to-grasp mechanics and ever so gratifying destruction creates a fairly addictive gameplay loop. However, it doesn’t take long before the “one trick pony” aspects of the design begin to surface. Sure, breaking shit is fun, but it’s the only thing to do. You can help prolong the appeal by swapping participants during social gatherings, but it doesn’t erase the fact that once you learn how to decimate destructibles, the game has very little else to teach.
Don’t get me wrong. Smash Hit Plunder is an extremely entertaining game. However, if you’re playing the game in single-player exclusively, expect to get burned out rather swiftly. Unfortunately, aside from keeping onlookers busy, the social screen mechanics don’t deliver much more than an interactive distraction until they get their next turn under the visor. While I can guarantee that everyone will get some enjoyment from this rambunctious romp, depending upon how you consume the game, your mileage may vary.
Smash Hit Plunder review code provided by publisher. Version 1.0 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.