The Behemoth is well known for combining its distinctive style with recognizable gaming tropes and somehow, through this alchemy, discovering and exposing the pure heart of whatever genre is on display. Alien Hominidbrought the run-and-gun genre’s manic paranoia to the surface by flipping the script of hero and villain, while Castle Crashers smartly exposed the side-scrolling beat ‘em up’s stupidity by introducing RPG elements to elevate the experience, even if it still falls into the genre’s familiar trappings. And then there’s BattleBlock Theater, where The Behemoth’s sense of humor and storytelling finally seemed to come into its own to service what is, I’m convinced, one of the best 2D platformers ever made.
Pit People is The Behemoth’s take on the tactical RPG genre, and while it might not live up to the highest highs of BattleBlock Theater, it definitely delivers on the promises of The Behemoth’s previous successes and can appeal to players who don’t even particularly care for tactical RPGs, like myself, while also satisfying long-time fans of the genre who might be hankering for a fresh, whimsical variation.
Pit People tells the story of a humble blueberry farmer named Horatio and his quest to retrieve his son from a giant space bear who caused a global cataclysm after crashing into Horatio’s home planet. Along the way, Horatio teams up with a ragtag group of adventurers, princesses, and cupcakes, each with varying degrees of stakes in Horatio’s quest. The entire journey is narrated by said space bear, who’s got a gigantic chip on his shoulder and mocks players and narrative gaming conventions at every turn in a way that will be familiar and pleasing to anyone who played BattleBlock Theater and reveled in its narrator’s constant verbal harassments.
The story and voice acting lives up to the reputation that The Behemoth has made for itself. Taking the self-serious idea behind post-apocalyptic narratives and turning it on its head, Pit People’s story and world are thoroughly entertaining, and the text-based dialogue is sharp and even funnier when it’s delivered in Pit People’s gibberish language. The only character who actually says real worlds, the bear, is voiced to sardonic perfection once again by Will Stamper, whose angry ramblings and antisocial insults are music to my ears. And speaking of, Pit People’s actual music is as bouncy and memorable as ever.
The main story is short but sweet. It should only take you about six hours to complete, but within that time span you will have taken on a multitude of different challenges that service the game’s somewhat simplistic combat system. While the first few story quests basically teach you Pit People’s core micro- and macro-mechanics, later quests will task you with avoiding devastating, environmental hazards and even with sneaking your way through a high-security compound during a solo stealth mission utilizing the game’s hexagonal, turn-based movement system. Almost every main story quest goes beyond Pit People’s core objective, which is to kill every enemy in each fight, by creating unique stages and obstacles to overcome—while also laying waste to enemy forces. Not every quest’s gimmick pays off; most notably, the last mission is more chaotic and repetitive than it needs to be, and results in what could be considered an anti-boss battle. But, for the most part, each quest presents a unique challenge that builds off of Pit People’s deceptively simple combat system. I just wish it lasted a little longer.
Fortunately, Pit People offers a ton of additional content beyond the main quest. There are side quests with occasionally unique objectives (like defending one character or specifically capturing another) that will net you rewards like gold, helmets (the only form of armor), and new weapons. Many of these side quests will have multiple parts of increasing difficulty, expanding the world’s mythology and introducing new characters in smaller vignettes within the main narrative. The structure of these quests never reaches the complexity of some of the main story quests, but it’s serviceable in keeping the action going and giving players a good excuse to keep playing.
Besides side quests, Pit People’s world map gives players plenty to do in the form of random skirmishes. Enemies can be found everywhere, and that’s where one of the game’s most interesting mechanics comes into play: capturing enemies and turning them into friendly units.
Pit People has almost 20 different classes in the form of different species found throughout the game’s world. Humans are the most flexible, as their abilities are strictly determined by the equipment they’re carrying, but the other character types in the game have access to more specific abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that make them worth exploring. There are walking, talking mushrooms that emanate a cloud of poison gas, fluttering pixies that summon a burning explosive attack, electrobots that can hit multiple enemies with one zap of electricity, and much more.
Each of these character types have specific weaknesses, too. The pixies, for example, are weak to the electrobots’ electrical attacks, and hair trolls are weak to the pixies’ fire attacks. The electrobots, meanwhile, can only be healed by gnomes, not the normal cupcake unit that can heal every other character type. Composing teams out of a seemingly infinite combination of character types and seeing how they work together is one of Pit People’s most interesting and rewarding mechanics.
In order to use these character types, you’ll have to capture a character and bring them back to the town that acts as your home base, and in order to capture these characters, you’ll have to whittle down their teams until they’re the last enemy standing. As you travel across the world map and encounter enemies, you can capture specific enemies by killing the rest of their crew and tossing a cage at them. In order to do that, however, one of your human (or cyclops) characters must have the net equipped, which takes up space normally reserved for a shield or ranged weapon. Not only does this capture mechanic provide hours of replayability and give completionists something to live for, but it’s another way that Pit People forces players to carefully consider their teams’ compositions in a constant risk-reward metagame.
Building your team is almost more fun than the actual combat. That’s not to say it’s bad, but there is a certain level of simplicity and predictability in how battles will play out. Pit People’s gameplay is fairly straightforward tactical RPG fare with one big twist: you don’t necessarily get to choose which enemies your characters attack in a given turn. Instead of targeting specific enemies, Pit People’s combat is proximal in nature. Move your character next to an enemy (or within your character’s specific attack range), and your character will attack that enemy. However, if your character is positioned next to multiple enemies, you don’t get to decide which specific enemy your character attacks. In fact, depending on your positioning, friendly characters might catch some of the collateral damage of your own attack, as is sometimes the case with a pixie’s explosive attack or an electrobot’s ranged shock.
This leads to you mostly relying on a single strategy throughout the entire game, a strategy that Pit People will literally tell you to use during one of the first battles in the game: isolating a specific target and ganging up on them. The more characters you have targeting a specific enemy, the quicker they’ll go down, and the quicker they go down, the less enemies there are to perform attacks on you. That means planning an offensive strategy around cutting enemies off from their teammates, leading to some nifty cat-and-mouse maneuvering during battles. This strategy translates into how you consider your defense as well, as it’s best to keep friendly characters close to one another in order to minimize the chances of a single character getting mobbed and trapped by enemies.
It’s satisfying, but it can get repetitive, and since battles play out in pretty much the same way no matter who you’re fighting, experimenting with different character combinations is really the only way to find some sense of variation within the gameplay, especially since leveling up your characters only results in them getting a new bar of health and lacks normal stat boosts you’d expect in an RPG. You can play in Insane Mode, which makes battles more difficult, and turn on permadeath for some added stakes, but generally the combat remains the same throughout the entire game.
Otherwise, Pit People is an easy game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a player like me who came for The Behemoth’s humor and art style and stayed for the enjoyable tactical RPG mechanics. However, veterans of the genre might become bored with the game. Fortunately for these players, there’s always the Pit, where players can either take on waves of AI enemies or team up with a friend to fight another duo in Pit People’s PvP multiplayer mode. Oh, did I forget to mention that you can play the entire game cooperatively as well? Yes, there’s a ton to do in Pit People, and fans of The Behemoth or fans of tactical RPGs looking for a twist on the genre will find plenty to love.
Pit People offers a ton of game to chew on, and while it might not be the deepest tactical RPG, it manages to translate The Behemoth’s distinctive style while providing an entertaining, often engaging strategic experience. It might not reach the insane heights of BattleBlock Theater’s take on the 2D platformer, but Pit People almost does something even more impressive, by taking an often opaque genre and turning it into an enjoyable romp.
T – Teen
|Pit People is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by The Behemoth for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|