Oh, Keith died! Sad faces.
Jeff, Steve, Bob and Keith were my precious quartet of mercenaries during much of my first run of Pineapple Smash Crew. You're allowed to name your initial batch of recruits as you start this top-down shooter, and if they die their spot in the fab four is filled by a pre-named outsider. Your gang levels up over the course of missions, gaining progressively fancier suits of armour and slightly increased health and damage potential, along with the rich comforting sense of nurturing for the player. Despite a max level character (level 8) sporting a dapper suit of dark armour with a skull emblazoned across the torso, these chaps remain flimsy throughout. So it goes.
Life goes on, as it always does, and Keith was replaced by JOOLS. Who later died alongside Steve and Bob (in the same mission, all together, boxed into a corner by an aggressive boss monster - quite annoying) and were replaced by JOPS, STOO and RJ. If you hadn't noticed, Pineapple Smash Crew is heavily influenced by Cannon Fodder.
Made by one man - Rich Edwards - this is a trim, retro-themed shooter with chunky pixel graphics, a SEGA Mega Drive colour palette and a jazzy chiptune soundtrack. It's a twin-stick shooter but on a mouse and keyboard, with you bashing your way through enough randomly generated enemy spaceships until you work out the co-ordinates of an elusive yet integral mothership before exploding it real good, winning the game and harvesting your high score to immortalise yourself in the annals of history.
The control system is extraordinarily well tuned, with you directly controlling your lead character and the other three following suit with a short delay. This posse always moves as a gang, and there's a nice mix of wibbly-wobbly streams of fire from the looseness of your supporting cast that's tightened and focused by the pinpoint accuracy of your lead character. In a game largely focused on making stuff go boom, Pineapple Smash Crew knows how to make explosions feel good.
Your other trick is grenades, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes and every member of the team can carry one each. These range from simple fragmentation devices to more elaborate tricks that can teleport the player, launch a rocket, or open up some kind of enemy-hoovering vortex. They feel great to throw, and suitably weighty and devastating when used properly.
What's nice is that Edwards understands that while shooting monsters into lo-fi bits and filling corridors with puffy pixel explosions is an absolute whale of a time, too many noisy fires and peppery bullets can grate the psyche quite quickly - it's a problem a lot of boxed retail games find themselves encountering, as their developers find themselves contractually obliged to puff up eight hours of gung-ho stuff-shooting in a single game. That's just much too much shooting!
Pineapple Smash Crew takes the edge off by breaking itself down into weeny micro-levels with multiple rooms to explore (read: loot for credits) and a smattering of goals to achieve. You've got the option of shooting a direct path or blasting yourself a wider route, and while this isn't much of a choice it gives the player just enough agency to feel somewhat involved in the proceedings.
That's pretty much all there is to it, though, which is a bit of a problem - there's just not enough meat on Pineapple Smash Crew's bones, and there's a sense that even Edwards isn't quite sure what he wants his game to achieve. Matters aren't helped by the fact the game isn't particularly difficult, and even if you lose your entire squad in a match you'll almost always have enough credits left in the bank to teleport in another batch of recruits.
What's most upsetting is that the game is simply crying out for a greater sense of urgency to the proceedings, and some sense of challenge for the players to get stuck into - some genuine reason to use those lovely grenades and core shooting mechanics.
Levels seem to be designed to promote exploration, too, but there's not anything to actually rummage around for. The occasional terminal gives you a bit of text to read, but the rest of these quirky environments are just padding, and you'll find yourself just making a simple beeline for the designated 'important' rooms.
This is a tiny but broad game, and while it's easy enough to blast through in a couple of brief hours the shooting is just competent enough that you'll be happy to fire it up for a second spin. Those with an appetite for the modern gaming trends of online play and Steam achievements will be disappointed - the game has neither at present - but Pineapple Smash Crew can just about get away with this as it's got one foot unashamedly wedged in the past.
Still, Pineapple Smash Crew is a blast for the afternoon you'll spend ploughing through it. It's not the longest game, but everyone knows it's what you do with it that counts.