Review: Glorious Maximus

By Sean Clancy 15 May 2014 0
He cut my head off because we were wearing the same hat. *Embarassing.* He cut my head off because we were wearing the same hat. *Embarassing.*

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Now I'm Julius Caesar! I can hold two swords and, and, and they named a salad after me. S'true! Roman's honor it is. Now I'm going to be SPARTACUS. He's got a scawy mask. Wee-ooo wee-ooo wee-ooo. (That's the sound Spartacus makes.)

Despite the day-glo color scheme that wouldn't look out of place airbrushed on the side of an Econoline van in 1974, Glorious Maximus aims to capture the gritty one-on-one attrition of ancient Rome's gladiatorial bouts. The blood-stained weapons, glistening armor, and self-mythologizing combatants are all here, as are the relentless trading of blows, back-and-forth footwork, and eventual near-total dismemberment. Technically here, at least. Because in trying to approximate the deadly grind of the world's most loincloth-friendly bloodsport, Glorious Maximus risks confusing brutal simplicity with undercooked, one-note mechanics.

You're looking at eight total regions with four battles each, with the last (usually) being a historical figure engaged in some alt-history boss-mode ass-kicking—Xerxes, Leonidas, Hannibal, and Caesar, among others. Fights are this: shield icon to block, and sword to swing. Both take up stamina, with your total pool being determined by which champion you're playing as. Scoring a hit on a foe knocks them back some, while a successful block will fill your stamina while draining theirs. Force an opponent to the edge of the screen and their goddamn head falls clean off.

"Fights" in Glorious Maximus are more like sharp, poorly executed, protracted hugs. "Fights" in Glorious Maximus are more like sharp, poorly executed, protracted hugs.

The only elements confounding this simple scheme are the rocks and meat hocks spectators occasionally throw at you, and the seemingly random chance combatants have to stun each other or lop off each others' limbs (these latter bits are possibly related to which sort of weapon you're wielding, though if that is the case the system isn't communicated to the player well). Rocks will knock you back as if an opponent had hit you, unless you swipe them away first, while nasty crowd-protein will refill your stamina if you snag some. When it comes to loss of limb, you or your opponent can both continue fighting, Monty Python's Black Knight-style, if you receive a less-than-fatal flesh wound, but your attacks will cost more stamina. So you're likely Black Knight-style screwed, too.

To be frank, this setup is pretty shallow. Hold down block when it looks like a foe's about to strike, then counter-attack. If your enemy is low on stamina, well, keep attacking, and if you're wielding something fast—like daggers—you should probably just try to button-mash your way to glory regardless, tapping on your opponent whenever a “tap” circle appears to stun them. This is a toy or a minigame, at best. Glorious Maximus has shockingly little going for it in terms of combat, and combat's surely meant to be the main draw here, right? Yes, there's a thin management game smeared over this lackluster series of fights, but rather than adding to the game's depth this tacked-on bazaar of purchasable weaponry and player-characters only serves to show how shoddy the main item on sale actually is.

Oh cool it's the guy from the thing based on the other thing loosely based on history sort of. Oh cool it's the guy from the thing based on the other thing loosely based on history sort of.

Weapons are really just numbers which approximate how far an opponent will be pushed back on a solid strike, differentiated from one another by barely noticeable variations in attack speed and range. Characters are just the opposite, each coming with a percentage resistance to push-back, a certain stamina reserve, and a supposed affinity for certain types of weapons (I believe it but, again, good luck appreciating the difference). Having trouble toddler-shoving a foe to their doom? Buy a weapon one tier up with the gold from your past victories. Getting one-shotted by Hannibal? Buy... Hannibal, to face him. Hey, Carthaginians were shrewd merchants, after all.

Matches are either over in seconds or, if your kit is too close to that of your opponent's, a complete grind. You've got an arm off, your opponent (friggin' Leonidas, probably) has an arm off, neither one of you can really get the upper hand and even if you can, you'll likely be stuck at one edge of the screen, zoomed in (one of Glorious Maximus' more unwelcome visual effects) on a pair of silly looking Parthians and unable to see any rocks aimed at your noggin until it's too late, and you have to start the whole struggle over. You're meant—that is, explicitly told by the game's intertitles--to repeat past levels to get more coin for better weapons and characters, and while you surely wont have to do it that much, it's still a lazy way to milk some extra play out of a title.

Wouldn't false deceit... be truth? Or is their deceit just extra deceit-y? Wouldn't false deceit... be truth? Or is their deceit just extra deceit-y?

Now, the art style isn't strictly terrible (though it flirts with that cheap webcomic look that's a bit too common on iOS), and it's actually funny to see these cute little cartoon warriors getting all gored up FOR THE MAJESTY OF ROME. But, yeah, you can see where all this is going. Glorious Maximus is one of those curious titles which plays as though it could have been a free-to-play money grab, or at least was designed with that as a potential option. I was surprised to find the game so willing to give me gold after repeat victories, and so plum happy to hand over its top-tier characters and weapons after just a few hours of play. That's nice, the whole "not being manipulative" thing. Still, those champions and arms can make things easier or more difficult, but not different, not dynamic. All but the most kindly emperors would have little choice but to give the prostrate Glorious Maximus an ancient Roman thumbs-down.

Glorious Maximus was played on a 3rd-gen iPad for this review.

Review: Glorious Maximus

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