As Ripley once said to the crew of the Sulaco, I’ll tell you what I know. Spuds Unearthed is a PSVR, Move-mandatory title that is best described as a mix of turret shooter, tower defence and MOBA. Each stage is a battleground with your base at one end and the enemy’s base at the other and the obvious objective is to destroy theirs before they destroy yours.
Each side has an endless supply of potatoes to do their bidding. These potatoes press forward down one of three paths and will attack the base if they make it that far, however they are more likely to get into scraps with opposing spuds. Where you’ve got larger groups of small potatoes, the enemy has larger units that can take out your units fairly easily. So that’s the MOBA side of things covered.
The turret shooter/tower defence element is where you, the player, come in. In your base you’ll have two turrets and these can be used to shoot enemies on the battlefield, helping turn the tide for your units and hopefully clear a path for them to put some hurt on enemy HQ. You also have hero units, larger potatoes with special abilities that you can fling onto the battlefield and these can make quite the difference too.
Okay, that’s the basic gameplay in a nutshell and trust me, I’ve explained it better than the game does. When firing up Spuds Unearthed you are given 14 pages of text tutorial. While it explains some stuff it doesn’t do a very good job at all. I was struggling to figure out the controls from the off and not just in the combat stages but also in the game’s main hub world.
Here you can manage your hero potatoes in terms of which ones to pick and how you upgrade them and you can modify your turrets. The game does such a terrible job of explaining this that I almost quit this whole review but I did persist and, look, if you want a review of this game yep it’s a 4 out of 10 kind of effort but there’s probably a public service act in explaining some of this stuff, so forgive me if this becomes an instruction manual too.
Hero potatoes appear in this hub. They’ll walk around the outside with other, non-hero, units. You have to pick them up and place them on a device that is located to your right. You then take a token which is usually carried around by another unit (prying it out of their hands is needlessly difficult, aim just past the token away from them when you’re grabbing it) and you put that in the slot of the same device. Then you pull a handle and the upgrade happens. Then you take the upgraded unit and place it on one of the three spaces at the front of the space you are in.
It is super unintuitive though. Like in the worst way. The device has a flat surface on it with the faint outline of a token. It screams ‘put a token right here’ but don’t. That’s not where they go. The fact that there is a slot elsewhere should make this obvious but here’s the thing: there are other tokens that look much the same that don’t go in that slot.
Those tokens allow you to upgrade your towers but again the process is as clear as mashed potato. You don’t actively do anything with those tokens. Sure, they are carried around in the same way as other tokens. They look the same in terms of shape and colour too. But they don’t go in that slot. They don’t go in the device that is to the right of that slot (that one just plays the game’s credits).
They don’t even go in the turrets that you are upgrading them with. Nope. Just ignore these tokens. They’ll upgrade your turrets but after the next battle. So, let’s get that straight. You start a battle that promises you a token. You win the battle and go back to your base. You then are presented with the token in the same way as you are with tokens that you have to actively use. But you can’t use it and instead have to wait until after your next battle where it will then be automatically applied. It’s literally some of the most baffling design I’ve ever encountered in a game and screams of a lack of playtesting.
To actually modify your turrets, you take the handle which normally moves their position in the main game and pull it up. That then gets you to the settings where you pick the type of turret and its ammo. Again, pretty unintuitive to have the same handle do something different depending on where you are.
Another device on your control console here is a hand scanner. Flip up the case, put your hand on the scanner and you’ll descend down to an area where you get to pick your next battle. Here you pick up a planet and place it on the console in front of you. You’ll then get some basic information about it: the environment type, the difficulty, the number of units you’ll earn and an indication of if there’s a token to be earned there.
Before we get into the main combat, we might as well stay here for a bit. The planets here come in various sizes, which is an early indication of their difficulty. There’s some sort of asyncronous multiplayer element here where planets you’ve beaten become yours and then other players can battle for them. None of this is explained at all though. Planets with a blue layer on the outside appear to be yours and even though you can pick them up, scan them and find out that someone is attacking it, you can’t actually do anything about it. The action you take for starting a battle (pushing two handles forward) just doesn’t do anything here. I still don’t fully understand this screen. Especially the two blobs of light that show two gamertag names. You can’t interact with these at all, so what do they mean? After a while you can move to another system but give that every planet is owned by ‘Zombuds’ (which is the race of potatoes you are battling), the multiplayer aspect here is entirely baffling.
Once you get into a battle, things do get a bit better. But are still odd. The match starts (annoyingly quickly, I’d like the opportunity to adjust my position and controls which the game resets every time you start a battle) and the potatoes on both sides begin moving forward. Your console now has two turrets in the front, with your hero(es) below.
You start with two basic guns that require that you crank a handle to fire them. So you hold a turret with one hand that you use to aim it and you crank the handle with the other hand to fire it until it overheats. Do you see a problem here? If guns take two hands to operate, why have two guns? Anyway, you can also slide the guns around but given that all the action happens in front of you, the easiest thing to do is move one gun slightly out of the way and move the other to the middle.
The turrets are a fun way to interact with the battle but they do have their problems. Firstly, there’s not much visual feedback when you shoot something which makes the guns feel ineffective or inaccurate. And then there’s the cooldown. The cooldown rate when you completely overheat a gun is much faster than if you let them cooldown before they overheat. This takes away any kind of strategy as you may as well just crank out shots as fast as the gun allows.
Your hero units can be thrown into the battle, generally as a defensive measure, and these work well. They cool down pretty quickly too and once you have three of them, you’ve got a nice layer of extra protection there. The heroes all have different attacks to each other which does make them quite interesting and fun to unlock.
After three or so minutes of potato carnage, it’s over. The enemy base is destroyed. I couldn’t see any indicators of their damage or my own, which is annoying and again takes away any kind of tactical depth. But anyway, you’ve won and are given some spuds and maybe a token.
Back in the main hub, those spuds count towards a total. Get to the next milestone and you’ll either unlock a new hero to use or an upgrade token. The heroes don’t come with any kind of description or information and neither do the tokens that upgrade them, so you’ll be doing it all on faith really. But after a while you’ll have three of them, and a choice of more.
You’ll also eventually have a choice of turret configurations and eventually I had a set up that made sense. I was using a turret where instead of cranking, you pull back with two hands, crossbow style, and unleash a more destructive shot that isn’t quite as fussy to aim. My other turret was an auto-targeting, auto-firing one that just needed a string pulling to activate.
At this point battles were pretty trivial to beat, no matter what difficulty they claimed to be. But here’s the thing: they already are. Even when I didn’t get the controls or understand what I was doing, I was still winning. Upgrading heroes and turrets just made it easier. I only ever lost one battle and that was because I was experimenting with a rubbish turret configuration and was trying to figure out something to do with the controls.
Each battle plays exactly the same. On harder battles there may be more enemy units and they might occasionally use the outside lanes a little more but once you’ve seen a battle, you’ve seen them all. The only variables are the turret configurations you use, the heroes you pick and the environment type.
There are three of these: caves, labs and a factory. They don’t affect the gameplay but they do look okay. While this is one of those PSVR games that is more of a ‘Move game’ than it is a VR one, the visuals are quite nice and the arenas you fight in are feel like large spaces. The actual gameplay areas aren’t but there’s a good sense of height and openness to the areas they are in. The colourful visuals and character models do give the game a lot of charm.
Unfortunately though everything else is just too flawed to recommend Spuds Unearthed. The utterly opaque gameplay mechanics are a problem but when you add complexity to the user interface and it doesn’t convey any kind of advantage to the game, that’s just bad design. The fact that the game is so easy that all the upgrades make no difference also takes away one of the better elements of the game. Ultimately, PSN has a few turret shooter options and most of them are better than this. They might not have Spuds Earthed’s imagination but they are generally always more challenging and accessible.
There’s a spark of something good here but it just needed a bit of playtesting by someone neutral to ask the very obvious questions that could have ultimately made Spuds Unearthed a much better game and the sad thing is that it would have probably been easier to do that what they’ve implemented here.
+ Combat mechanics are solid enough
+ Battles can be fun
+ Fiddly controls
+ Full of bad design decisions
+ Entirely lacks difficulty
+ Very samey