For me, late 2011 was all about catching up on mobile gaming. With the demise of an elderly iPhone 3G it was time to reevaluate what was appropriate to look for in a mobile platform. The 3DS and Vita were off the table nearly as quickly as they got there, and I’ll explain why: as a gamer from the Pokémon Red and Blue era, pixels and simplicity have always been at the forefront of my portable playing interests. This is a realm that Apple and Google have capitalized on with their mobile platforms and downloadable apps, that Nintendo and Sony are still struggling to catch up to. I wound up lured once again by Apple’s App Store and its stellar lineup of classic re-released games and original content, and dove headfirst into the titles that aged hardware had deprived me of.
One stands out, and continues to occupy my thumbs where others have failed: Battleheart. Search it, and it won’t take you long to notice that Mika Mobile’s fresh little game has been awarded ‘game of the week’ and was a runner up for ‘best game of 2011′ in the App Store - and for good reason. Think of Battleheart as a slick combination of tactical roleplaying and touch based controls. As the game’s tutorial explains, players control up to four party members in real-time on a battlefield against waves of monsters. Characters are controlled by placing a finger on them and dragging, where selected heroes have a handful of abilities at their disposal, and will attack (or heal) whichever unit you draw a line to. It may sound simple, but factor in classes and magic, armor types, and bosses, and you have one very unique spin on the RPG genre at your fingertips.
Monsters will aim to make the character with the most armor miserable, turning the Knight (or the Paladin, thanks to a recent content update) into a natural pick for your lineup of merry men and women. Following up with a healing character like a Cleric or a Bard and filling the final two spots with some firepower - think Wizard, Witch, Barbarian, Hunter, or Thief - is typically a safe way to play, and the game encourages you to mix things up with a slew of cool abilities to see and toy with for each class. Whether you prefer to set enemies ablaze or slice them to bits is a decision you will be forced to make, but not one that you’ll have to live with for long, should your tastes in carnage change on the route to work. Cut a swathe through enough waves of enemies, and you’ll encounter a stronger creature with its own unique set of ways to keep your fingers dancing.
When you’re not poking at the field of combat, the home menu is where characters can be outfitted with new weapons and armor either earned through victory or purchased from the merchant, gear can be upgraded with a touch, and new recruits can be hired from the trusty ol’ tavern. The Academy is also housed here, where the two abilities learned by each hero every five levels (capping at level 30) can be swapped between. Will your Knight benefit from a passive 15% increase in armor, or a powerful shield bash? Does your Barbarian want to deal extra damage or steal life on each swing? These variables allow your party to evolve and accommodate one another, giving hope to future victories as the battles become tougher.
Fun as it may be, what makes Battleheart a tremendous success is the uniqueness of its formula. As much as most gamers love Final Fantasy, playing a turn-based RPG on the bus in five-minute spurts is not what mobile gaming should be looking to achieve. Battleheart grabs that concept by the collar and shakes it violently, and comes out as a triumph that addresses the cons of RPG gaming on mobile platforms, by giving short bursts of touch-controlled action (curse virtual d-pads to the deepest bowels of the Earth) that is engaging, satisfying, and rewards the player for taking five minutes out of their day, rather than demanding 30. The varying classes keep things fresh and fun to tinker with, and the gameplay is fast-paced and exciting once things toughen up a bit. Imagining a larger-scale multiplayer component and a few more hours of content gets me really excited, so I’ll count those absences as the only reasonable cons. Do yourself a favor and spend the few bucks - it’s well worth it.
Review based on version 1.5.1
Nine out of ten
- A great new spin on the portable RPG
- Great touch screen use
- Rewards player for minimal time commitment
- Flashy and engaging
- No multiplayer
- Begs for more content