Arrow Heads

Oddbird
PC/PlayStation 4/Xbox One
September 21, 2017

Arrow Heads, OddBird, 2017

Arrow Heads, sadly, is proof that cuteness isn’t everything.

Before I played Arrow Heads, I had a dream that my friends and I would sit down and play it together and do a fun group review of it, discussing how local multiplayer games shaped our love for gaming and how the fact that they’ve fallen by the wayside is a gross injustice. I wanted to come away from this game with something new to do with friends—a little competitive, but not quite as intense as Smash. You know, fun.

And Arrow Heads is fun, I guess. It’s not a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s quite cute—the music is upbeat, the animations are nice, and the character designs are fun and unique, with plenty of unlockables that did indeed make a friend and I play an extra round so we could get the bows we wanted. But that’s it. The most this game could wring out of me was an extra round, because after ten minutes with it, you’ve seen pretty much all it has to offer.

It’s a simple game to pick up. Over the course of short rounds, you shoot arrows at your opponents to knock them out. Defeating waves of enemies gets you harder enemies, while knocking out other human players nets you a point, and the person with the most points wins. These fights don’t have a particular rhyme or reason; there’s no storyline, only the drive to defend yourself from presumably hungry bears and your similarly bloodthirsty friends. Arrow Heads is best played with a controller, as you use the analog stick to draw your bow and fire arrows at your opponents, which can be your local friends, online friends, online strangers, or enemy AI.

Arrow Heads, OddBird, 2017

At least, in theory—the multiplayer community for the game is incredibly small. I didn’t see anybody else online when I was playing despite an announcement that multiplayer matchmaking was fixed in September, and many Steam reviews cite similar matchmaking problems. According to SteamSpy, peak hourly players cap out at about four. You’re more likely to spend your time shooting arrows at computer-controlled enemies, which, while not necessarily bad, makes the gameplay feel repetitive and short-lived. You can get powerups that give you different abilities, such as bear traps, rockets, or multi-shot arrows that give you a brief advantage, but after that it’s right back to the standard mode of shooting.

It’s possible that, if you play long enough with other people, you’ll develop unique strategies and the game will become more varied and challenging as a result. But that’s a big if, especially because the game offers so little replayability. In single-player mode, the longer you play, the more kinds of bears there are to shoot at and the more abilities they gain. That’s it. The levels and increasing difficulty meant nothing to me as a player because it ultimately all felt the same—sometimes the enemies had stronger weapons, but otherwise I was using the exact same weapon to fight the exact same enemies with only occasional breaks for powerups.

Shallow and silly as it sounds, the only reason I played as many matches as I did of Arrow Heads is that the character unlockables, which include unique bows, arrows, and character models, are genuinely appealing. Though they’re only cosmetic, they feel so much more interesting and varied than the gameplay itself.

Again, this isn’t to say that Arrow Heads is bad. It feels like a babysitting game—something you’d play with someone else, especially a kid, to pass a short period of time between other activities—rather than something you’d invest a lot of time into. In fact, it seems particularly ill-suited to being a computer game, as the mechanics of drawing your bow, the short rounds, and overall fast pace and low investment make it feel like a misplaced mobile game. Though its lack of long-term engagement is the real hindrance, having it available for a mobile platform would make me, at least, more likely to pick it up when I have multiple mobile games to choose from than when it’s competing with other local multiplayer PC games, like Jackbox, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, or Overcooked.

Arrow Heads’ greatest sin is not that it’s broken or poorly made or ugly; it’s that it’s merely okay. Its mechanics are interesting at first blush, but don’t evolve or offer alternative methods to play. Slapping new cosmetic items over a boring premise is just a fresh coat of paint on something that was just okay to begin with. To unlock all the costumes I like, I’d have to bust out a few hours of grinding, something I’m absolutely unwilling to do because the game is so underwhelming.

Oddbird, the team behind Arrow Heads, has promise. The game won multiple student awards and does have some genuine charm, even if the gameplay itself is lackluster. Although this game isn’t the local co-op revolution we’ve all been waiting for, it’s clearly a game that was made with effort; Arrow Heads isn’t lazy, even if it is ultimately dull. While we’ve been maligning its decline for some time as big developers make their games online only, Arrow Heads’ inability to generate long-lasting interest proves we’re not yet that hungry for local multiplayer. Oddbird’s got the vision, and hopefully next time they’ll be able to back it up with solid, engaging, and original gameplay to match their excellent sense of aesthetics.