Mobile Game of the Week: Spellsword (iOS)

Games Reviews Mobile Game
Mobile Game of the Week: Spellsword (iOS)

Platform: iOS
Developer: Everplay Interactive
Release Date: 04/26/12
Price: $0.99

Let’s be honest: It’s hard to talk about Spellsword without talking about Super Crate Box. But it’s not because Spellsword is some kind of a cheap clone of Super Crate Box — it’s definitely not. On the exterior, both games put the player in a very similar situation: you’re battling waves and waves of enemies while collecting randomly appearing new weapons and trying to stay alive. In Super Crate Box, there are machine guns and green alien monsters. In Spellsword, they are magic spell cards and an assortment of slime balls, giant eyeballs, and insects — which is, strangely enough, still more reasonable-sounding than the insanity that occurs in Super Crate Box.

There are more than just visual differences though. Spellsword embodies a very different gaming philosophy than Super Crate Box. In Super Crate Box you are faced with a random never-ending horde of enemies who stream down from the top of the level. These enemies aren’t really even hunting you down — the true enemy in the game is your own mental endurance and kinetic reflexes. But in Spellsword, it’s all about letting the game do the hard work for you. The spellcards that you pick up auto-cast, sometimes erupting across the arena and clearing your entire screen of enemies. Furthermore, as you play the game, you collect rupees that will allow you to purchase skill/ability upgrades — vanquishing enemies gets easier and easier as time goes on.

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It’s not that Spellsword is an easy game. It’s actually quite difficult. But the game rewards patience and time investment over refining your reflexes and making slight adjustments to hone your mastery of the game mechanics. In fact, for those with the patience for it, there is an incredible amount to do including nine arenas, a huge list of upgrades and items to buy, and a “mission” mode that eases you into the game at a more gradual pace. My gripes with Spellsword aren’t that there are a lack of things to do. It’s that these tacked-on RPG elements clash with the very nature of the arcade hack ‘n’ slash spirit that the game claims to chase.

This clash is a small embodiment of a much larger discussion going on in game development right now. We’ve seen modern games of just about every genre receive these kind of RPG-like qualities. Whether its first person shooters, dual stick iOS action games, or even simple browser puzzle games, a notable percentage of games nowadays depend on elements of stat-building and ability leveling to deepen their mechanics regardless of whether or not they actually fit well in the game. This might seem like a good idea for the corporate bottom line, but it isn’t exactly motivating designers to flesh out design ideas and produce highly-polished games.

This is exactly where I find myself with Spellsword. While it does the job as an efficient time-waster, I can’t help but feel like it is not as refined of a game as it could have been. Controls feel a little sloppy, the difficulty seems unbalanced, and the game’s fantasy setting is underwhelming. More than anything else, though, the attention to the details of game mechanics that is needed to make an arcade arena action game work smoothly just isn’t there. Spellsword is great for a mindless arena romp, but it’s not quite the iOS addiction it hopes to be.

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