Three very different turn-based tactical games in Pocket Takes this time, all Universal apps for iOS and two with the word “Hero” in their titles. I’d personally like to see some more villain-centric games, but maybe those don’t sell. Where’s that market research?
iTunes Store – $2.99, Universal
The thing I love most about Hero Mages is the way that it gleefully breaks the fourth wall. A board game converted to an iOS game is already an abstraction of an abstraction – you can go the immersive, atmospheric route as Elder Sign: Omens does, or you can be Hero Mages, where the units look up at the player expectantly when it’s their turn to move and address you directly during the tutorial. It’s very charming.
Hero Mages is designed (like Words with Friends or Hero Academy) to be played head-to-head online. There’s a campaign of sorts – but it’s just an extended tutorial. The real meat of the game is the multiplayer. It’s a pity, then, that Hero Mages doesn’t integrate with Game Center or OpenFeint or one of the larger matchmaking services – you have to sign up for developer D20’s own. This isn’t that much of a hassle in itself, but then you’ve got to faff around with getting your friends to do the same.
The art and music in Hero Mages are nothing extraordinary but the get the job done – and you’ll forget whatever you think about the art when you get into the battles, which combine card- and board-game mechanics into a pleasingly deep but easy-to-wrangle tactical system. With a more fleshed out single-player campaign or a less frictional matchmaking system, Hero Mages would be a top-notch game.
3 out of 5
iTunes Store – $4.99, Universal
Ravenmark is a game that I’m coming to quite late (it was released back in November) and I regret that because it is excellent. Ravenmark’s production values are top-notch and the gameplay is as deep as any casual wargame available on mobile devices. Its only rival is Battle Academy.
Ravenmark is set in a medieval fantasy realm that takes a lot of cultural cues from ancient Rome. There’s a story that’s told through Advance Wars-style talking head cutscenes – it’s not exactly Kurosawa but the game’s universe is detailed and richly realized. Ravenmark leans on tired fantasy tropes as little as possible and creates its own landscape, an admirable accomplishment. The music and the art are outstanding.
At the heart of Ravenmark’s 2D tactical gameplay is an emphasis on formations: similar units can be locked together into columns which are more fiddly to maneuver and vulnerable at their flanks, but multiply the strength of the units that compose them. Flanking and unit facings matter, and there’s a clearly defined paper-rock-scissors balance to the combat. It’s an innovative system that has been thoughtfully implemented. The interface has a nasty habit of getting in your way and obscuring your view of the units when they’ve bunched together, but aside from that the game controls beautifully.
Between the fact that you can’t choose your own units and the highly scripted battle sequences, Ravenmark sometimes feels like a tactical puzzle to be solved, rather than a proper wargame. This also isn’t a game to be picked up casually – the cutscenes are long and the battles will take 20 to 30 minutes to complete, but it’s an exciting 30 minutes. Ravenmark might not be a great subway commute game but it’s perfect for sitting on the couch with a glass of wine.
5 out of 5
iTunes Store – $2.99, Universal
You can’t deny how much work went into Time of Heroes. It’s a top-down tactical game on a square grid – it’s easy to imagine Time of Heroes in a simple two-dimensional engine, but Smuttlewerk Interactive chose to bring the game to life in 3D. There’s quite a lot of unit variety, and the maps in general are full of little visual details.
The titular Heroes are special units who give the regular units that make up the majority of your forces a passive buff just from being around. Your heroes tend to be your most capable combat units as well, which sets up a little risk/reward dilemma: send your hero charging into the fray and risk losing the benefits of his presence, or leave him to hang back in safety, where his powerful attack will have to idle? The different units also perform better in different terrain types and against different types of enemies, though that information is buried in a menu away from the game screen.
So there’s a certain amount of tactical depth in Time of Heroes, but I’m left wishing for a few more interesting decisions. Unit facings are irrelevant and the AI is quite keen on frontal assault – there’s also a massive number of individual units in each battle, and the game’s pacing is quite staid. Most battles devolve into a big rugby scrum in the middle of the map with units taking turns bashing at one another.
Time of Heroes isn’t exactly dynamic, but it’s competent, and things start to pick up when the loot drop and level up mechanics kicks in, giving you a chance to customize your heroes. I just wish that getting there wasn’t such a slog.