Mage Gauntlet iOS Review – I Love A Good Harkening!
Developer: Rocketcat Games
Publisher: Rocketcat Games
Release Date: October 20th, 2011
ESRB: NR (Not Rated by the ESRB)
The type of freedom afforded to a developer when designing games for mobile platforms is one that is nigh on impossible to resist for an indie developer. As long as you follow several content-related guidelines, it’s cost-effective and quick to publish games to these sorts of outlets. This is probably why studios like Rocketcat Games have chosen to delve into the sweet nostalgia of 16-bit era gaming, find their niche, and snuggle closely into a corner of the market that is hard to resist and even harder to move on from. There is no shortage of great memories that come flooding from those days when Crono and his pals flew across time to save the world, Link swashbuckled his way through a new set of dungeons in search of the Triforce, Mario had his first adventure with his pet Yoshi, or Terra and her motley crew of heroes set out to defeat the evil machinations of the sinister Kefka. This era, these moods and feelings – this is where Mage Gauntlet makes its comfortable and pixelated home.
In a land filled with magic and those who can wield it, as any child grows older they’re expected to hone their magical powers, go to a respectable academy and then become the understudy of one of the many famous wizards taking up residence throughout the land. When someone is unable to cast spells or even successfully perform the simplest incantations, they’re considered nothing less than an oddity – such is the case with Mage Gauntlet’s young hero, Lexi. Lexi was born with strange tattoos all across her body, an ancient but extremely rare sign that that person will never be able to wield magic.
Isolated and discouraged, Lexi never gives up on her quest to find the reasons behind her malady and seeks out the help of the legendary wizard, Whitebeard. Famous for ridding the world the malicious entity known as Hurgoth, if anybody can help Lexi with her “handicap”, it’s Whitebeard. After a hilarious romp through the aging wizard’s castle (one of Lexi’s pastimes includes smashing everything in sight to see if anything valuable will pop out – a hobby none too appreciated by the owner of the homes she enters), Whitebeard finally concedes to helping the young girl.
Fitting her with an experimental and powerful device known as the Mage Gauntlet, Lexi should be able to cast spells if she can gather the energy needed from her environment. After a successful test run and getting into a tangle with some of Whitebeard’s tower’s resident pests, Lexi’s new found teacher sends her on an errand to round up the greatest wizards of the land so that they may again come to their world’s aid. The evil of Hurgoth is beginning to spread once more, and unless Lexi can succeed in her quest, all might be lost for the world.
And so begins Lexi’s greatest adventure of her life, and there’s no shortage of fun to be had in coming along for the ride. The core of the game revolves around exploration of different dungeons (each made up of several smaller stages), fighting off monsters, searching for secrets and hunting down new weapons and accessories to change Lexi’s in-game appearance and abilities. At the end of each dungeon, not surprisingly, is a boss to fight – and with each one’s defeat, the game’s heroine comes one step closer to alerting the world of Argoth’s resurrection and the final showdown with the master of evil himself.
While there isn’t even a twinge of originality to be found in the storyline, this isn’t really the point – each line of dialogue, character and story beat is deliberately crafted to not only pay homage to the era but also possess a loving, satirical tone towards each of the genre’s many narrative clichés and stereotypes.
There are three different “world maps”, each comprised of the aforementioned dungeons. Searching every nook and cranny, smashing and bashing every piece of pottery and furniture and vanquishing every foe earns the player up to three stars for clearing each level. This casual grading system offers the sort of completionist opportunities often present in mobile games.
While unlocking the later levels is obviously the end goal, going back and three-starring each stage is a familiar gameplay attraction in this platform. With secret chambers hiding in-between walls and behind breakable pieces of upholstery, it’s an enjoyable challenge discovering each level’s secrets. Also, notes and files scattered about bring insight into the game’s characters and their actions behind the scenes, often with hilarious detail and language.
The gameplay itself comes very familiar to those accustomed to any 16-bit era action-RPG – Lexi can hack and slash, charge up a powerful sword strike, cast spells (that are found in breakable pots and jars), and dash around a fight with cat-like agility at a simple tap of the screen.
While nearly all of the game is made of hand-drawn pixel sprites, Rocketcat’s artists have skillfully employed different particle effects to colorful success – torches, the splash from a waterfall, and most all of Lexi’s powerful spells explode in cascades of cleverly animated flashes that look astonishing on the iPhone’s crisp display. By utilizing these extra 3D techniques to bring the more animated portions of Mage Gauntlet to life, an added layer of eye-pleasing giddiness flickers in every portion of every level.
Controlling Lexi on her quest is no less a treat than any other part of the experience, but it doesn’t provide anything strikingly novel in terms of mobile game controls. On the left side of the screen, pressure with one’s thumb simulates a virtual analog stick that moves their avatar in any direction. On the right side, an icon of a sword activates either a regular swinging attack or a more powerful charge attack by tapping or holding then tapping the button, respectively. Up top, icons of the player’s current spells are shown, and with a quick tap of those same icons the menu system pops up, giving quick access to spell selection, viewing the map or tweaking specifics in the options menu. Everything is responsive and compact, but without feeling crowded – even though casting a spell requires launching into another screen, the ease with which these actions are performed makes up for any inconvenience.
Loot comes in no small amount in Mage Gauntlet, and each treasure chest opened puts a new collectible and (mostly) useful pieces of equipment in the player’s personal Wardrobe. Received buffs are different than other RPGs, however, as Lexi doesn’t possess any stats that directly influence her physical strength or defense. Luck, Vigor and Magic are the key attributes here, each one playing on the strength of the player’s equipped spells, physical and magical critical hit rates, and more. When a new weapon or garment is discovered, their uses are usually centered around making certain spell types more effective and common, or they can increase Lexi’s critical hit rate or extend buff durations.
With more stars collected and maps completed, the player also unlocks pets (much like in modern action-RPGs a la Torchlight or Diablo). On top of most of the sprites being adorable and silly, Lexi’s familiars also help with the buffing and boosting of stats, but beyond that do not offer any help in combat. Also, there’s an extensive range of collectible hats to be found dropping from monsters and in chests, but these are purely for comical aesthetic value. With all the specialized tweaking of buffs offered by the other equipment categories (weapons, robes and accessories), it would have been nice to see some added depth in customization coming from pets and hats, but it isn’t something that detracts from the fun too much.
For all of its whimsical characters, hilarious dialogue, well designed swordplay and gorgeous magical effects, Mage Gauntlet’s few criticisms may well come in the fact that beyond what lies on the surface, there is little else to see. While there is an extensive achievement list (86 in total) and a new gameplay model called Master Mode to unlock after beating the game once, sometimes there is a feeling that there could have been more to experience. There is no currency system, and additional content in the form of in-app-purchases (IAP) is rather lacking, with a selection of only four pieces of unique apparel to choose from.
With so much destructible property throughout the scenery, including bushes and grass, many players may be disappointed to find that nothing will ever come flying out of them (as one might be accustomed to after playing a series like The Legend of Zelda). Although, Rocketcat does award persistent players, offering several different achievements for continuing to slice apart daisies in hopes that a shiny reward will flit to the ground afterwards. While the irony isn’t lost and the achievements at least offer something, it can be said that any so-called intricacies MG has to offer are only skin-deep.
But, sentiments such as these more than likely grow from the perception that everything else in the game feels totally complete, and the fact that the player is holding a phone in their hands instead of a controller can certainly melt away rather often. However Mage Gauntlet does exactly what it ought to: it offers the immediacy and stop-and-go play that has attracted millions to mobile markets while also singing a fun-loving ode to the 16-bit games of decades past that inspire it – and still offering hours of addictive gameplay.
While the spirit of its inspirations shines through rather brightly, Mage Gauntlet does a fantastic job of standing proudly on its own. Rocketcat has delivered several successful App Store games before this one (like Hook Worlds and Super QuickHook), and a new MG spinoff title called Mage Dungeon is on the way. While those familiar with old classics like Illusion of Gaia or Secret of Evermore will find their time with Mage Gauntlet most comfortable, any who decide to pay the $1.99 for admission will have a world of fun with it as well. Do you have an iPhone? Then you should definitely be playing Mage Gauntlet.
+ Truly succeeds in capturing a genuine 16-bit action-RPG spirit
+ Using spells is a blast – the animations are gorgeous and the destruction wrought on your foes is very empowering
+ Three-starring every level and completing Master Mode gives gamers tons of hours of gameplay for a mobile title
-No currency or shop system takes away from the depth the game could potentially reach
-Some buyers may feel more at home with the mechanics than others
-IAP Store could benefit from much more content
4.5 out of 5 stars