The future is cool, right? It’s full of floating advertising boards, foggy neon cities and food replicators, but that’s not what most people are obsessed with. Nope, it’s all about future blood sports, and Bow to Blood: Last Captain Standing is the latest to throw its cap into the futuristic arena. This time out you’re piloting a floating airship/galleon affair, trying to take down other captains with some carefully aimed cannon fire.
So far, so similar to umpteen other games, but where things get really interesting is that you’ve got to do all this while commanding your crew and taking careful control of your ship’s subsystems in order to win the day, while also making bargains and agreements with captains of the other ships in an attempt to make it through unscathed.
You’re aiming to become the Bow to Blood Champion, and to get there you have to win a season in this sci-fi airship sport. Each season consists of seven matches, with a match made up of two events, so you’re looking at fourteen events to work your way through, if you can survive them. In a nice touch for fans of Strictly Come Dancing, the two captains with the fewest points have a chance of a reprieve through voting on who will be ejected. If you’re voted out, that’s it for the season.
Earning points in battle by blowing stuff up in your floaty airship isn’t the only way to stay safe though, as Bow To Blood also offers you the chance to make allies along the way. They might ask you for aid during the opening round as they’re set upon by drones, or come to you with an offer for the final battle, and sharing points might serve you well strategically, or maybe not. You can play into the hideous pirate captain role and blow them all out of the sky while double-crossing them on a deal at the end of the day, but in the long run that might come back to bite you in the unmentionables, especially if you find yourself in one of the final two spots.
While balancing the strategy and nice guy act, you’ll need to be in full control of your airship and there’s a fair bit to controlling it beyond just aiming your cannons at the bad guys. You’ve got two crew members who you’ll need to direct to two of five different ship systems depending on what you’re looking to achieve. Manning the engine slot lets you go faster, while your shields will recharge faster with someone at those controls. Alongside that there’s sensors, drones and weapons, each of which gives you a different advantage. There’s a nice bit of nuance to support the way you play, and while weapons, shields and engines were my main three, I can imagine people switching between them all as the situation demands it.
On top of that you’ve got a batch of special abilities which you also want to take advantage of. You’ve got a finite supply of charged slots and you need to choose where you want to place them. There’s four abilities: a turbo boost, an overshield, a smart drone or more powerful weaponry. You might want a super strong overshield, do away with the boost and have the option of a weak smart drone and extra weaponry or any variation that you choose. There’s a great deal of variety to be found in both systems, but to be honest my biggest problem was remembering the controls that activated each one. I got there eventually, but there was surely a better way for them to be mapped/displayed so that you could stay on top of it, especially when you’re trying to pilot your ship.
There’s a real Firefly/Serenity vibe to the sci-fi setting, and I was immediately drawn in but this. There’s not much in the way of narrative save for what the charismatic announcer is nattering about, but there doesn’t particularly need to be for this type of game. You do get a sense of the other captains along the way though, not least from vid-call conversations with them in-between matches, and this is a world I’d happily spend more time with.
Bow To Blood: Last Captain Standing has an impeccable sense of style, and the chunky visuals look great whether you’re playing on a TV or on the Switch’s screen. You can see the game’s VR heritage at play – Bow to Blood released on PSVR last year – but the art style is strong enough to work no matter what. There’s the odd performance hiccup on Switch, but when you’re in the thick of battle you won’t notice it at all. The music really adds to the setting as well, with an atmospheric country/synth mash-up that works surprisingly well.
Things didn’t start well mind you, as when I first set off in my ship I discover that the analogue control sticks on the Switch’s Pro Controller weren’t doing anything. It turns out that the game seemingly doesn’t support it at launch, but it will be patched in. The difference between playing with a Pro Controller and the Joy-Con in a grip is like night and day for me. Beyond that, and despite the game’s origins as a VR game, this is a sci-fi battler that will likely draw you in without too much trouble.