Week in Mobile: Nimble Quest, Dungeon Hearts, and PAX East
Every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll feature a handful of new titles released for iOS/Android and update you on the biggest news we covered that week.
Previously, we interviewed Tapjoy about improving the advertising experience on mobile, and ex-Double Fine member Ron Gilbert revealed a few details about his upcoming match-three iOS game.
This week, we set out to prove a man innocent of murder, defeated bands of monsters with old-school tactics, and bested baddies in an intense puzzle showdown. We also have a couple previews for you from PAX East.
Runaway: A Twist of Fate – Part 1
Publisher Bulkypix and developer Pendulo Studios have released the third and final entry in the Runaway adventure-game trilogy on the App Store. With 12 hours of content spread across six chapters, A Twist of Fate was big enough to justify making it two parts as two separate apps, the first of which costs $4.99 on iOS.
I haven’t played the other Runaway games, so you don’t need prior knowledge to dive into this installment. It’s a typical adventure game, with beautiful illustrated backdrops set against 3D models and puzzles that defy normal logic. If anything, the quirky characters might hook you — especially the unwittingly funny Brian Basko, who’s presumed dead after escaping from a psychiatric ward, where he was being held on suspicion of murder and criminal insanity. In this episode, he’s seemingly sending text messages from beyond the grave. His stay in the mental hospital may have addled his brain a bit.
The pop culture jokes outdated themselves a while ago. A Twist of Fate originally released for PC and Nintendo DS a few years back, so unless gamers have been watching reruns of Heroes and Six Feet Under recently, they might escape the audience's sensibilities. Occasionally, weird glitches do crop up, but they're nothing major.
While not as dramatic, A Twist of Fate feels like a good match for players who are enjoying the ongoing Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. It even includes some paranormal activity. Unfortunately, the storyline and scenes in Runaway are not nearly as engaging.
The game features an excellent help system, one of the best I’ve seen in the genre. Click the icon, and a janitor at Pendulo Studios sits down and doles out clues, complete with visual hints on a computer monitor. These aren’t always the pointers you need, but most of the time, they’re exactly relevant. They’ll save you a lot of time, should you want them.
However, A Twist of Fate shows just how adventure games are struggling to evolve. A three-year-old title like this one plays and looks practically the same as a newer one, like Cognition, and even the better innovations (like this particular help feature) can cause problems. Traditionally, these types of games are very much defined by story and inventory-related puzzles, and A Twist of Fate fares better in the former category — but not by much. Players might find the puzzles more frustrating than they're worth.
The popular arcade game Snake has reappeared in a number of forms since the 1970s, but the latest variant is more creative than some. NimbleBit, the maker of mobile titles like Pocket Planes and Tiny Tower, came out with a new game called Nimble Quest (free for iOS) that crosses the classic gameplay with a fantasy role-playing adventure.
Players guide a single hero around a large walled-off area, like a courtyard or sewer setting, using simple swipes to change direction. The first concern is to steer the character, who continues to walk forward no matter which way he’s facing, away from walls and other obstacles — some of which move in erratic patterns, and some of which fire projectiles at you from afar.
You’ll want to get close enough for the hero to launch his own attack within his unique range without colliding with enemies, of course. They form their own single-file formations that travel around the screen, and killing each one drops gems, health, special power-ups, and heroes to add to your party. Avoiding crashing into foes (or having them hit you) becomes harder as more people — mages, skeletons, archers — fall in step behind you, increasing the overall damage you inflict by offering a variety of attack types, like swords, arrows, balls of fire, and more.
Fighting different monsters and unlocking new party members will drive most players to keep going, but collecting gems and coins is equally as fun (especially with the magnet power-up, which sucks in the colored jewels from all around the screen). In bulk, gems can be exchanged for upgrades, like a greater amount of health returned with potion use and better rewards in treasure chests. The controls are simple enough that anyone can pick up and play, and choosing a different character as the party’s leader can alter performance.
When you die, only the gold coins gained from enemies enable you to continue forward without starting over. The game does track death count, and the quality of each hero’s stats can be raised by spending coins. During play, though, each character has a health bar that slowly drains as he takes damage, but it doesn’t make much sense that smacking into a single foe could take out a whole party. Unfortunately, once the leader dies, so does everyone else.
I think I’m in love with Dungeon Hearts.
More specifically, I’m in love with its complexity. The match-three game from developer Cube Roots and Devolver Digital is one of the most intense out there (it launched this week both on iPad and Steam), and at $2.99, it’s worth the price of entry for serious puzzle enthusiasts. It's a harder sell for casual players.
Cube Roots cites Canabalt, Puzzle Quest, and classic role-playing games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest as influences, and the inspiration is obvious. Although rhythm has nothing to do with it, the flavor is heavily that of Final Fantasy Theatrhythm — from the colorful, plush look of the characters to the side-scrolling action frenzy that requires quick thinking.
Players control a party of four warriors, and each attacks by activating certain runes (circular colored pieces called Chargers) that are carried from right to left on the Fatestream, or the field of play. Lining up and tapping groups of three same-colored runes changes them into diamond-shaped Strikers, which hurt the enemy when activated. The amount of damage dealt depends on the level of who’s doing the attacking (red runes correlate to the Fighter, yellow to the Mage, blue to the Healer, and green to the Archer) and whether any similarly colored Chargers are in the same horizontal line as the deployed Striker. The more runes around to “boost” the Striker, the higher the pay-off will be.
Keeping the enemy at bay involves using Strikers to destroy enemy Strikers that are either directly adjacent or on the same horizontal or vertical axis before they reach the left-most edge of the Fatestream. Gameplay becomes complicated as more enemy Chargers and advanced runes (like hexes, which dish out nasty status effects) appear and give the opposing monster more chances to retaliate. Even manipulating the runes gets harder. The Fatestream is always moving, shuffling runes offscreen (maybe before you can use them) and bringing in new ones. That requires a faster advantageous arrangement of hero runes and quicker overall strategizing. Static runes, for instance, are square-shaped pieces that cannot be relocated, so players must drag Charger runes beside them to use them. Players can combine runes in vertical, horizontal, or L-shaped formations.
Players can also charge and employ special skills, like a health recover or slowdown. In between battles, you have a chance to level up the heroes by matching star-studded runes of their corresponding colors. This is tricky, though, as the game doesn’t allot much time to parse possible combinations. Since it's the only way heroes can gain more power, it's disappointing that the developers weren't more generous or flexible with this segment.
The biggest catch comes when the battle turns in the enemy’s favor and a hero weakens and falls. At that point, all of his runes become unusable although they can still be shifted to make room for other heroes’ pieces. This makes achieving victory an even steeper challenge, but it's a clever element.
Dungeon Hearts can be brutally tough, but it introduces great new depth in match-three gameplay. Unfortunately, it doesn't often focus on making that fun or rewarding. A story or sense of permanent progression would have helped immensely. What’s most discouraging about its sheer difficulty is that when you die, the game forces you to resume from the beginning — erasing all gained levels and only keeping a record of defeated monsters in a simple bestiary. Surviving takes a lot of work and gives little back.
These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.
Read about our hands-on experience with mobile game Telekinesis Kyle at PAX East.
We also previewed the Moga Pro controller at PAX East. It turns your Android device into a portable console.