The airship has been a part of many fantastical worlds for decades, whether it be in video games or cinema. A lot of people have tried their hand at giving the audience their version of what an airship should be or what it should do. Developer Tribetoy has taken their turn at creating these incredible sky boats, but they unintentionally set the bar for everyone else who iterates off this concept moving forward. Put simply Bow to Blood makes you want to be a Sky Pirate.
Futuristic game shows that involve contestants risking their lives for big rewards is not a new concept, but Bow to Blood takes this idea and runs with it, delivering a fantastic single player experience that will surely catch most off guard. In this game show, eight contestants compete in a gauntlet of trials that put all of their skills to the test. Sometimes it could be a simple one on one race to the finish, others involve you collecting as many points as you can because coming in eighth place is not an option, and then there are the sky battles between you and another airship which was my personal favorite.
For starters, let’s talk about the airships themselves. These hulking monstrosities take time to navigate, and even though you’re flying around the skies, there is a weight to them that really sells the whole ship concept. There are certain arenas that can feel pretty tight, so knowing how your ship controls is vital to your success. There is a very childish, giddy feeling you can’t ignore while playing this game though, and it just feels great to play.
Controlling these ships is more than just steering them around a map, however. As the Captain, it falls on you to decide where to divert power in order to maximize your ship’s effectiveness in combat. An excellent mechanic that adds another layer of depth to your experience. Boost, overshields, drones, and advanced weapons each require your attention and management throughout your session.
Changing the flow of your ships power in order to bolster each of these systems can sometimes be the difference between a win or a loss. Knowing when to divert power to your shields or weapons though will fall on you, and while the early matches might be tricky to comprehend, you will quickly get the hang of when to utilize which feature.
Along the way, you’ll make friends, or enemies, who not only may choose to help you, but are crucial for the times you end up in the culling. These cases involve the other 6 contestants voting on who they want to see exit the competition. A cool mechanic here is that if you made nice with enough of them, even if you end up in eighth place, you might still be able to make it to the next round, assuming your friends vote in your favor. There is always the other option, if you’re skilled enough, where you can say “fuck the friendships” and go at it on your own. For me, I enjoyed having a few people in my corner in case I ended up underperforming in a particular challenge.
These friendship mechanics make Bow to Blood more than just a re-skin of other arena based space shooters. By giving the player a chance to form alliances with other competitors it changes the way you approach every challenge and drastically alters multiple playthroughs. If you’re in a space battle and see someone in trouble, you can offer them aid while they make the necessary repairs to their ship, in exchange for their support later on, of course. On top of this, in between missions you can interact with these characters and strike up deals that let you trade in points for items that might help you in the next match.
These interactions gave me something to look forward to in between sessions. If I noticed a particularly tough opponent, I knew I would have the chance to form an alliance with another lesser ship in hopes of tag teaming him in the next round. The enemy of my enemy is my friend certainly applies here. Later on, I could always double cross them or make sure I got more points in the leaderboards than them to ensure my victory if need be. Space Pirating is a messy business after all.
The environments are all very vibrant, and the art style itself is a clever blend of stylized and cell-shading. However, a downfall of this title is the procedural element to each match. While procedurally generated levels are always a good way to keep things feeling fresh, a common pitfall is a chance that all of your arenas may end up blending together.
Bow to Blood certainly falls victim to this issue. While upon first glance, things might feel exciting and unique, after a handful of playthroughs, you’ll soon notice that everything just looks like everything else. Thankfully, the gameplay is tight enough where this is more of a minor grievance than a deal breaker.
By focusing this game on its single-player aspects, Bow to Blood differentiates itself from other similar titles. The morality mechanics and power diversion elements make this title stand out in ways few other space shooters do. While the procedural aspects don’t really hit their mark, this game is extremely fun to play. Procedural elements, friendship mechanics, and all around fantastic minute to minute gameplay make this a title everyone should at least give a shot.