In an industry fast approaching fifty, it’s easy to take a lot for granted. Smash Boats is a physics-heavy combat game, with around a dozen toy boats zipping around bathtubs, paddling pools, and more. They sway and capsize, it’s possible to dive bomb and submerge, and many attacks are physics-based – varying from projectiles to pummels. It wasn’t long ago something like this would be considered cutting edge, recalling the infamous PS3 rubber ducks demo in particular. Yet, it took me around 10 minutes to realise Smash Boats is probably crunching a lot of numbers behind the scenes.
The game itself is relatively simple. It’s a case of picking a boat – with a surprising amount to choose from, each with different forms of attack – and then battling waves of rival toy boats and submarines. During battles dummy vessels carrying purple stars appear, and it’s vital to go out of your way to sink them and collect their precious cargo – a certain number of stars are required to unlock the next location. Stages are short, but high in number, gradually introducing new enemy types or featuring an interactive object or two – such as a bubble wand that can be used to dive bomb.
Helping to induce further variety, bonus ‘Mayday’ missions feature – including a couple set in poop-filled toilets, one of which also has a fountain of urine to avoid. While gross-out humour has its place, these two missions feel out of character in something otherwise family-friendly.
While it does bear arcade-like sensibilities, such as bold and brash presentation, Smash Boats is nevertheless reasonably demanding. Ramming enemies is the default method of attack and lining up hits takes a few seconds – think along the lines of taking a shot in a snooker sim. Enemies are quick to gang up, and some must be attacked from behind to avoid their bow-side spinning blades. Health pick-ups are slow to regenerate too, meaning they must only be used when critically damaged. Proficiently using other power-ups, such as 2X damage, can turn the tide of a battle in an instant.
Later stages, in particular, took us a couple of attempts to complete. A lifeline is occasionally provided, in the form of a nuke that can potentially destroy an entire wave. Experimenting with crafts can be the key to success also. It’s worth trying out each of the dozen-or-so boats for a couple of stages at least, as they’re suitably different. One attacks with spring-loaded boxing gloves that only strike from the sides, while another has a front-facing frying pan. The ghost ship, meanwhile, can turn invisible for a few seconds to leave enemies confused.
Controls are responsive throughout, giving the ability to turn tighter, dive to avoid incoming attacks, and reverse ram.
If you’re thinking this sounds like the ideal formula for a multiplayer party game, then you’re right. There’s just one snag – this Xbox One iteration has launched minus the new MP update. So, for now, this is the vanilla experience, hence the ‘Waterlogged Edition’ moniker. If you want to hit the pool with friends, the recently updated Switch version is currently the only way to do so.
While far from being the deepest of experiences – and it’s perhaps appropriate that a game predominantly taking place in a paddling pool is a tad shallow – Smash Boats gets a surprising amount right. It’s satisfying to destroy several enemies in quick succession, the difficulty curve is well judged, and the mechanics have subtle nuances. If you’re looking for something a little different, by all means dip a toe in. There’s nothing sinister lurking in the depths below.
Smash Boats: Waterlogged Edition is out now on Xbox One and Xbox Series. A version for Switch, known simply as Smash Boats, is also available.