Many people view iOS games as stop-gaps — small entertainment for when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office or have a few minutes to kill. These casual games are fun to be sure, but they don’t take advantage of the power offered by the iPhone.
Why is it, then, that I’ve played one game on my iPhone more than I’ve played any game on the PS3 for the last three months? The answer is simple: I found a game that is deep, challenging and capable of providing hours of entertainment. That game is Mage Gauntlet.
A World Under Attack … from Slime and Orcs
Despite being an immersive game, Mage Gauntlet doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the get-go we can see that the protagonist, Lexi, has a bit of an attitude about her. Despite growing up in a world filled with magic, Lexi can’t cast simple spells and actually destroys any magical object that she coems into contact with.
Still, she desires to learn magic and become an apprentice to a well-known wizard. Her journey leads her to the tower of Whitebeard, a powerful mage that imprisoned the evil Hurgoth in the Dark Realm. Despite her unorthodox entry into his home, Whitebeard gives Lexi the Mage Gauntlet, a tool that allows her to collect magic from the environment and cast spells at will. With the gauntlet and a sword, she is off on her mission.
Along the way she’ll encounter angry, fire-breathing bovines, undead warriors and the not-so-smart drudges and orcs. The humor lends the game a fun feel that is inviting, even as you get the sense that there’s a deeper evil at work in the land. Really, the story is a vehicle for the gameplay, the secret sauce that aids an already excellent dish, as it were.
Hacking and Slashing
By far the stand-out feature (or, one of the many stand-out features) of Mage Gauntlet would have to be the precise controls. While there are different options for controls, including the standby analog stick, the default controls are the best I’ve used on the iPhone.
Movement is controlled via the left side of the screen; placing your thumb anywhere on the screen will cause Lexi to move, and the game responds to even the slightest of touches. In this way, Mage Gauntlet shows that there is a strong future for games on the iPhone. Rolling your thumb is as precise as any physical analog stick, which is simply astounding.
Besides running around, Lexi can also attack enemies with her equipped weapon, dash to evade their physical attacks and spells, or cast spells of her own. The buttons for attacking and dashing are well-placed and responsive, offering enough options to make combat interesting and enjoyable without adding too many controls that would simply add complexity.
There’s enough variety with the enemies to keep you on your toes; some enemies are simply sprite-swaps of other enemies, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t many variations. The Ghost, for example, is unique in that it doesn’t attack directly; instead, as long as the Ghost is present on-screen, other zombies and skeletons will come out of the ground and the walls to attack Lexi. Horned Demons, on the other hand, attack directly, with powerful charges and hits.
The game has a fair difficulty curve, going from relatively easy to near-maddening difficulty gracefully and fairly.
Cue the Costume Change
An action-RPG isn’t complete without different equippable items. Mage Gauntlet doesn’t disappoint, offering enough variety for you to play your way without spending too much time customizing Lexi.
Weapons are self-explanatory; change them and Lexi will attack in different ways. There’s one sword that works better against humanoids that cast spells, an axe that punishes enemies about to use special abilities, and other varieties of weapons that change the way you play. I wouldn’t say that one weapon is necessarily better than all the others, a testament to the balancing act played with by this game.
Changing your robe will not only change the way that Lexi looks, but also apply bonuses to certain attacks or spells. Again, this is designed to let you play your way. I wish that the robe would also make those spells more common, as I’ll often equip one and not get the spell that it correlates with. There are little trinkets that can be equipped that will increase the likelihood of seeing certain spells, but I prefer to equip a trinket that offers an extra heart of health.
The most frivolous addition to the wardrobe would be the hats. Hats don’t affect the game in any way, simply changing Lexi’s appearance. Many of them are, in my opinion, a bit on the ugly side; I typically give Lexi a Fedora and call it a day, but I’m sure that others will appreciate the wide variety available.
It’s Time to Get Meta
These days, most games are judged not only by how well they perform in-game, but also how engrossing they are outside of the game. Without achievements, how are you supposed to tell your friends how awesome you are? Where are the extras?
Luckily, Mage Gauntlet doesn’t disappoint. There are achievements that can be unlocked, and they’re done with the typical Mage Gauntlet style; they’re funny, some are challenging, and they fly in the face of how seriously some people take their achievements.
There’s also in-app purchases for extra equipment. These are in no way necessary to enjoy the game, but they do help support the developer and unlock some cool things. I’d say that if you were to buy these you’re not only investing some more money in the developer (seriously, this type of game would be $40 anywhere else) but you’re also unlocking some cool goodies to boot.
Mage Gauntlet also has the now-popular New Game+ mode, (called Master Mode here) that allows you to start the game over again after you’ve played through once, with stronger and more numerous enemies. If you thought the end of the game got hard in the Story Mode, Master Mode will probably make you debate throwing your iPhone across the room.
That’s the only word that I can think of to describe Mage Gauntlet. I’d considered saying that it was fun, or excellent, but those don’t do the game justice. What we’re seeing with this game is proof that the iPhone (and iOS in general) is capable of having a powerful, enjoyable game that can compete with other dedicated gaming consoles.
Between this game and The Last Rocket, I believe that we’re finally seeing the real potential here. The controls for both games are spot-on, offering a complexity and accuracy that allows us to experience excellent, uncompromising games. Mage Gauntlet is an exemplary game, showing that with a bit of extra time your iOS game can gain an audience, and is worthy of your undivided attention.
This is a must-have. Even if you don’t enjoy this particular type of game, you’ll want to spend even a minute playing, just so you can feel what the future feels like.