Review: Guards 3D06 Apr 2017 1
Review: Guards 3D
Released 13 Mar 2017
On mobile, less is often more. Touchscreens struggle with complex control schemes and small views encourage bite-size play. Many of the best mobile games are stripped down versions of genres from other platforms. And they're great, so long as the right things get stripped down.
Guards 3D is a pared-back strategy role-playing title. The mechanics are very simple. You control a party of four heroes, who must slaughter a certain number of monsters to beat a level. There are three lanes, with a hero in each and one at the back. All you do each turn is swap the position of two heroes. The three at the front all attack enemies within their range. The one at the back rests, regaining hit points. If you bought someone from the back into the front rank they get to use a special power. The Priestess, for example, heals all the other heroes.
Each hero has a varying amount range, health and attack damage. Some also have different attack patterns, like the Amazon who will attack two foes adjacent in her lane at once. And they've all got their special power, of course. With a selection of a heroes in the game and only four playable at once, you can mix and match to experiment with different tactics. It's the basics you need to make a game like this work, and work it does.
Key to the puzzle is the fact you can only swap two heroes in your turn. So you might want to bring the archer in from the back, so she'll do her special attack which is to hit all the monsters on the screen. But if you do that, you won't get to swap the Amazon into that temping lane where she can attack adjacent enemies. It's all about arranging things to maximise your damage output, and it's harder than it sounds.
You can help a fair amount by planning ahead. Although monsters spawn at random, their movement and attack patterns are predictable. Beetles, who attack at range and don't move, are a nightmare if they stack up in a lane against a melee hero. But if you see them piling up, you can start to plan for their demise at the hands of someone with a ranged attack. It's not the deepest layer of strategy in the world, but it's great for a light bite of tactical fun.
Progressing through levels earns you mithril, which you can spend on unlocking or improving heroes, or on items from the shop. These expand your tactical options by buffing heroes. You can also earn stars for extra perks like bonus gold or shrugging off the first attack. There's a quest system for extra goodies once you complete certain tasks. This sounds like free to play, but it isn't: you earn everything in game, and it's just a reward for graft and grind. It remains scarily addictive, though, with each play thought leaving you just short of whatever upgrade it is you want.
Having built a solid foundation, Guards 3D then fails to build anything of great interest atop it. There's a series of inexplicable decisions about the wider game. By far the worst is the fact that you have to start from the first level each time, with the challenge being to see how far you get. That's okay for the first couple of games. After you've got a few upgrades under your belt, though, it becomes a cakewalk, mindless screen mashing. Yet you have to sit through this pointless exercise each time you play.
Worse is that the game hosts a slew of frustrating bugs. Using some items will cause a level to break, forcing you to kill the process and restart. And then, often, repeat the process as the new game fails to launch. Sometimes levels will break with the same result for no apparent reason. When this happens you still get your mithril, but other quest counters don't increment. There's no manual save, and the game often fails to autosave if you stop mid-game. None of these are showstoppers, especially given that runs aren't time-consuming, but the annoyances pile up.
Guards 3D provided a few of hours of fun in spite of its flaws. Not all player are complaining of bugs so I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt in scoring, but the frustration factor got too much for me. It's a shame: this was a PC port, and PC gamers slammed it for being too mobile-like yet the mobile version is semi broken. Hopefully we'll get an update, as this could have been a cracking game with a bit of care. As it stands it's gamers, rather than developers, who need to take care.