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iOS Review: Hero Mages

Brad Cummings
United States
Connecticut
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The Stats:
Compatibility: Universal
Current Price: $2.99
Developer/Publisher: D20Studios
Version: 1.7.0
Size: 26.5 MB
Multiplayer: Yes, online real time.
AI: Yes.
Itunes link: Hero Mages







Gameplay:
I have to be honest, with no negative intention towards this game, but initially Hero Mages did not pique my interest. It looked very similar on the surface to the myriad of fantasy themed tactical games released on the app store on a seemingly weekly basis. However, after a fervor was raised in the news post announcing the game's launch, I knew that I needed to take a closer look. I was surprised to find an interesting card driven squad battle game with specific goals.

Hero Mages is a tactical battle game original to iOS. Players control a team of three, one mage and two other characters in an attempt to knock out the opponent's characters. The maps are varied and generally feature walls which allow players to create defensive stances and cut off points to try and face the enemy. The battles can be one team on one team or feature multiple teams. Each character has special abilities and can move and attack. Each team only has one mage that can use spell cards, outside of their normal abilities. There is one spell card deck that is shared among all players, so you know what is coming and what may be used against you. You start with a hand of 7 cards and most cards have a mana cost to play. Each turn you draw three facedown cards that act as your mana, any you don’t spend that turn will be flipped up and placed in your hand. This is a neat mechanic and requires you to use some serious hand management skills, weighing your options. Apart from the basic attack and move abilities, most other character abilities require you to discard one or more face up cards. It becomes a game of carefully managing the resources available. You can blaze ahead with a flurry of abilities but then you will be left crippled on future turns. When characters attack they do so by rolling 20 sided dice and scoring a hit for each number over the defender's defense. The last player standing is the winner.

Implementation:
A lot of the anger directed at Hero Mages is in relation to an IAP system included in the Android version of the game. For this review I only experienced the iOS version, which currently does not have an IAP system. After so much rage online, I was expecting a game that would immediately try and take my lunch money, but that was not the case. What I found was an interesting game system encased with equally interesting features.

Admittedly, it was very late in the evening when I first started playing Hero Mages. I decided to start with the tutorial, which doubles as a sort of mini campaign. On one of the early levels you find your first mage character. Her image came up on the iPad screen with the description “a young women of barely 16.” I could not help but laugh as the art, as with a lot of high fantasy art, showed a full bodied adult woman. This is the norm for the rest of the art in the app, a sort of cartoony high fantasy style with the normal tropes that come with it. This is not a negative comment, but it is a polarizing feature that may immediately attract or detract interest. One interesting art choice in the game is the sprites. They are well done and have a sort of “big head” look to them. The interface being draped with this art is pretty straight forward if a little menu heavy. One difficult element is the spell cards. There are many of them with several different symbols, some symbols that are similar in look, and so in order to understand what each card does you must click them. If you do not wish to use that card you must click the cancel button. When first learning, this process can be very tedious and slows down the navigation of the app. The interface is slow and a little PC feeling (maybe not perfectly fit to a touch environment) but once you learn your way around it does not affect the experience greatly.

The single player experience of Hero Mages is great for learning and the tutorial is actually pretty well done. The little story that goes with the tutorial can also be humorous in parts. The quick battle and custom battle modes offer a further chance to learn as well as a solo experience. In my solo games I found that occasionally the computer can be very punishing, where at other times victory is easy. You have the options to play around with the units you use as well as the total number of players (I believe there are maps that even support eight).

As with most tactical battle games, the real fun comes from testing your mettle against human players. As a surprise Hero mages actual features a very strong online system. First of all, it is cross platform with iOS, Android and the Web. This being said, the player pool has not been huge when I have blogged on, but there does seem to be a game to join within a few minutes. The games are real time only, which may turn off some players, but it seems intentional. Each player turn has a two minute timer and if you have several moves to make you will find that this time constraint is fitting. The online system features many elements not often found in iOS games such as a general chat lobby, in game chat controls (you can talk to one player or all players), and the ability to observe games. If there is a game in progress you can jump in to see how it is going and speak with the players. If you enjoy the game, there appears to be small but active hardcore community. I was accused of dragging a game out against one of these players and his hardcore friends hopped on to observe, but turns out my draggin out strategy paid off as I was able to turn the game around. For a game that seemed so run of the mill to me on first observation it is surprising to find such a complex and full featured game underneath.


Conclusion:
Hero Mages may put some players off due to its art and somewhat cumbersome interface design, but if you are willing to look past these (or perhaps appreciate them), you will find a game with many variables for replay and a pretty impressive online system.

Rating: 3/4 A campy game with some real meat underneath its exterior.
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