Rocketcat Games are no strangers to the App Store, creating a series of games based on hooks and travelling throughout the world, often with some awesome hats. They recently branched out from this hook-swinging series with Mage Gauntlet, an action-RPG with retro stylings and enough pixel art to make anybody who’s used an SNES wax nostalgic.
While originally released only for the iPhone, an update has brought this game to the iPad (and, with it, a much improved app icon) and today I’m going to take a look at how well Rocketcat Games can take advantage of the larger screen size and see how well the game holds up a month later.
A World Run by Wizards
Mage Gauntlet follows Lexi, a girl with strange green markings all over her skin that can’t cast magical spells. In a world where everyone else appears to be a wizard, this has led Lexi to go to great lengths, breaking into the tower of Whitebeard, a hero that has managed to keep the evil Hurgoth banished to the Dark Realm. At first Whitebeard is (understandably) cross, and Lexi goes through much pleading in order to become his apprentice. Whitebeard gives Lexi the Mage Gauntlet, a, well, gauntlet that allows her to cast spells.
Getting stuck into Mage Gauntlet.
Lexi must battle her way through the evil forces that have begun to take over the land and find Whitebeard’s ragtag squad of wizards that are supposed to be keeping the monsters at bay. With a tongue-in-cheek take on the genre, Mage Gauntlet doesn’t take itself too seriously, lending a fun element to a tried and true formula.
While the story won’t win any awards, it is serviceable and doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out in frustration.
In my original review of the game I praised the controls, stating that they were the best I’ve experienced on the iPhone. That stays true with the iPad, giving you a variety of options while still maintaining exemplary responsiveness.
I’m a fan of the default controls, preferring the Pro Swipe setting to the Analog Stick or D-Pad options.
If you really want to go retro the D-Pad works well enough, but I’ve found that Pro Swipe gives me the most freedom and responsiveness.
The D-Pad (which is hard to see) lights up when pressed but is in a fixed position.
While you can’t move the buttons for Attack, Dash, and Options, I found them to be in an easy-to-reach spot, allowing me to move my thumb instead of my entire hand. The buttons reacted well to my touches, and I didn’t experience a single point where I thought that I had touched a button and I hadn’t. With a combination of good sizing and an attention to where the buttons are placed, Mage Gauntlet manages to control better than any other game I’ve played on the iPad, with the possible exception of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.
If you prefer to hold your iPad in a certain way there’s even an option to flip the screen; this didn’t affect which side of the iPad the buttons were placed on, but it could be useful if you want to use headphones while you’re playing.
On Sounds and Pixels
I’m a sucker for pixel-based games. They bring me back to a time when gaming was, to me, handing the controller off to my grandmother when I couldn’t get past a certain part of Sonic the Hedgehog, or games that I would play whenever I had a free moment and wanted to escape from family members. Mage Gauntlet takes the style and runs with it, remaining faithful to the SNES-era of games without looking dated.
Where Mage Gauntlet really shines is with the soundtrack. I didn’t touch on this too much with the iPhone version, but the music really is superb. I found that the melodies brought me back to older times without feeling ripped from classical games, and fit the style and feel of the game perfectly.
One thing that I did notice is that when Lexi is moving the screen looks very janky. It might be a product of not having quite as much of a pixel density as the iPhone version, but given the updated graphics and the fact that the same A5 chip is in the iPad 2 (which I’m using) as the iPhone 4S, I’m afraid that this is probably just from the iPad’s screen. I looked at League of Evil, a game with the same pixel-based style, and I noticed some of this odd blurriness but not at the same scale as Mage Gauntlet.
Does it Hold Up?
Sometimes reviewing games can be hard; what’s interesting for a week or so can quickly become tiresome the next week, as you get used to the way that the game works and bored of it. Some games manage to avoid this, and I’m happy to report that Mage Gauntlet is one of them.
I had just as much fun fighting golems and zombies on my second playthrough as I did with the first, and that was one of my biggest concerns coming into this review. While it’s not a very pricy game by any means, I’m happy to say that you can enjoy it more than once, offering dozens of hours of fun.
Mage Gauntlet is defining a genre on iOS. It’s a fun, quirky game that has stellar gameplay and is being updated by the developer at a steady pace. I’m sure that they’ll expand the game more in the future, but even as-is this game is a must-have for the iPad. RocketCat has something special here, and I believe that they know it.
Unfortunately, everything isn’t perfect. While I love most aspects of the game, the occasional blurriness that I feel turns me off just the slightest bit. It might be that I’m simply too sensitive to this sort of thing, and it doesn’t affect how much you can enjoy the game, but to some people it might be mildly distracting. Still, though, Mage Gauntlet is worth a purchase if you remember when polygons in video games were essentially nonexistent or if you’re simply looking for a good game for the iPad.