Though the game made the rounds for some time, it’s only recently that developer The Behemoth has been showing off the co-op portion of Pit People. The hex-based strategy game borrows the aesthetic and humor of the developer’s previous releases Castle Crashers and BattleBlock Theater, but the underlying mechanics are entirely different. Which is why myself and fellow Inverse writer Steve Haske decided to give it a whirl while at PAX West.

The two of us spent around 40 minutes playing through the relatively new co-op campaign demo together. This was on what appeared to be an Xbox One, though there’s no reason to think the PC version would be terribly different. Once we got going, we had a decent time of it, but the getting going … well.

ROLLIN: I came late to The Behemoth. Castle Crashers was something I only ever played with friends when visiting their houses. I didn’t even own an Xbox 360 until the release of Mass Effect 2, I think? I want to say I got an early copy. Anyway, I fell in love with Behemoth’s brand of nonsense then, and it’s definitely present here. But man, the controls do feel a little rough around the edges.

STEVE: I agree, Rollin. I’m actually not as much of a Behemoth fan – I played some of BattleBlock Theater in co-op, which was a bit fun, but their schtick isn’t necessarily my favorite. So Pit Peoples take on strategy RPGs, a favorite genre of mine when done by some Japanese teams, feels a bit off. Mostly I just felt immediately overwhelmed, and the controls were a big part of that. Maybe because we were playing with these giant hulks of arcade controllers?

Jolly good critical hit up there.
Jolly good critical hit up there.

ROLLIN: Oh jeez, yeah. Those things were kind of intense. I both loved and hated them. For those not actually at the event: Other than resembling a traditional arcade fighting stick, the Y button was mapped to a giant lever (shaped like a Y, of course) that you held down to confirm your actions.

STEVE: They were fun, but also they’re not at all conducive to the genre. It just added another layer of confusion to everything that was going on, which was already an insane mess given the very shallow tutorial and the extremely noisy on-screen action itself. It took me a few rounds to realize that you had to incongruously “drive the action forward by using the stick shift-esque Y lever. I doubt theyll release the arcade stick for home use anyway. It’d be about as useful as Steel Battalion.

ROLLIN: Yeah, speaking of, you were not a fan of how the user interface worked for this. Something about the way it communicated which unit each player was controlling at any given time, and which had already been given commands? I feel like I caught on pretty quick, but then I’ve played way more of the hex-based games than you, it sounds like.

Cupcake is lookin' fine.
Cupcake is lookin' fine.

STEVE: Yeah, it was a matter of the game not clearly communicating who I was controlling. The fat lines used to indicate where you can move any given character – replacing the easier to read but less stylized method of just highlighting which hexagon you want – made it difficult to track their origin point very easily, particularly since they stay on screen after confirming an action. So at any given time it seemed like you had a bunch of crisscrossing waypoints all over the map, obscuring characters. But you’re right, I’ve only ever played the Sega hex-RPG Resonance of Fate, which only kind of counts and no one knows about anyway. I don’t like overly (or needlessly) cluttered UI.

ROLLIN: In defense of the lines, it looked like there are actually hazards on the map that characters can cross over. In that one arena map, there were spikes on the ground that apparently hurt characters moving through the hex!

STEVE: I feel like they still could communicate pathing with an easier grid overlay that disappears, or just by keeping destination hexes highlighted so you’d know who was moving where after setting the proper path. I guess my big problem isn’t just that lines stay on-screen, but it’s unnecessarily hard to tell which character you’re moving (especially when the UI is obscuring things) because at least I think this is the case because it’s so poorly communicated – each hex your team is standing on all flash at the same time. I just watched some gameplay footage because the action all blurred together, and I still find it irritatingly confusing and counter-intuitive. That was a kind of a common thing throughout the game design though – what the hell was all that stuff in the city?

There's... a lot happening here. Magic, it looks like?
There's... a lot happening here. Magic, it looks like?

ROLLIN: Oof, okay, yeah; I can agree with the city critique if nothing else. I had basically no idea what was going on or why, and I we spent all of three seconds in the equipment screen because of how overwhelming it was. I imagine that kind of thing gets easier as time goes on, but being dumped with that immediately wasnt pleasant. If I had a better sword, or something like that, I don’t think I could tell you how I was supposed to figure that out — let alone equip it.

STEVE: Same. Also, why were we initially fighting each other and then teaming up to fight a common enemy? Why add that extra confusion even if it was just there to illustrate how turns worked or something?

ROLLIN: I’m going to be honest here and say I dont know. It didn’t make too much sense to me at the time, and still doesn’t.

STEVE: Agreed. Sterling recommendation from me, then. As it stands (as far as strategy game are concerned, I can’t really pinpoint any motivating factor to play this aside from it being a Behemoth game (if you’re into that). Who knows, maybe the final version will be better. One can hope.

Here's hoping the full game's smooth sailing.
Here's hoping the full game's smooth sailing.

Photos via The Behemoth (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Rollin Bishop serves as gaming editor at Inverse, though his heart is full of anime. Currently based out of Austin, TX, his writing also appears at the likes of Motherboard, Playboy, and Popular Mechanics. You might recognize him from that one time R.L. Stine tweeted at him.