Sometimes I really question the decision whether or not to apply the label of ‘mobile’ to a game. I mean, sure, technically any game that can be played on a smartphone or tablet is a ‘mobile’ game. For a lot of people, though, the term has some negative connotations to it. I really don’t think that negativity is earned in a lot of cases. There are certainly quite a few ports of games that used to be console games, such as a sizable chunk of the NES and SNES Final Fantasy games. There are also a fair number of match-three and physics-based-puzzle games as well, and in a lot of cases, these work better on mobile devices than they would in any other medium. There haven’t typically been a great number of action RPGs that are native to the platform though. Sure, there are a few, such as the Zenonia series, but one cannot say there is an abundance of them. This is the void that Reaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman is aiming to fill.
I’m already interested. What can you tell me about it?: Reaper is, as stated above, an action RPG made by Hexage for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices. It operates on what I would call the Diablo principle: you hack, you slash, you kill things, you get experience points and money, you buy better gear and choose what level up bonuses you get, and you do it all over again. Just because the formula is basic, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. It definitely caters to the obsessive collector, though.
So is there a plot?: Yes, there is. The game takes place in a region of jungle being invaded by the steampunkish Imperials. Opposing them are the several indigenous tribes that call the area their home. Your character is the legendary Pale Swordsman, awakened after years of slumber to act as an agent of death to both sides. In practice, it’s really just an excuse to kill a whole bunch of dudes with your huge sword, but the two sides give the quests a bit of flavor to them. Even though the quests themselves mostly consist of ‘go to a place, kill everything there, and come back’, you do eventually start to get some choices in regards to who you’re doing that killing for. You have the option to support one side or the other, or you can go the more mercenary route of working for whoever pays you the most.
Well, that’s already a bit more depth than a lot of other games, mobile or not. How does it play?: Better than you’d think, considering you only have a touchscreen. The left area of the screen has the left and right directional buttons, and the entire right side of the screen is available to use for various gesture-based inputs. If you tap that region, you jump. Two taps is a double jump, and three taps launches you into a spinning sword attack reminiscent of Samus Aran’s screw attack. Swiping horizontally produces a dash attack and swiping vertically gives you an uppercut or a downward slice, depending. Just being close to an enemy lets you do an auto-attack, so you don’t constantly have to be swiping or tapping at the screen.
There is also a mechanic that is very much like the ‘rage’ resource from World of Warcraft‘s warrior class. Auto-attacks produce rage, which is consumed to make your manual attacks pack more punch. I will say that while it’s probably the best implementation of touch controls for an action RPG that I’ve seen, Reaper makes a very strong case for getting a physical controller, and even probably justifies the existence of such a thing all by itself. There is support for bluetooth gamepads built into the game, though I haven’t tried that yet since I don’t actually own one.
Okay, so are there in-app purchases?: Well, you probably already know the answer is ‘yes’. However, they’re handled in what I would consider the Ouya model. You can play the game absolutely free with no restrictions or advertisements up until you hit level 10, at which point you’ll be prompted to purchase one of three versions of the game. There is the standard Adventure Edition, which grants you the full ‘wilderness’ campaign. There is the Destiny Edition, which, on top of that, gives you an arena mode, a new item set, and a fortune teller to purchase stat upgrades and reallocations from. And finally there is the Dark Legend edition, which adds another new item set, a new sidequest, and an enemy-rush mode called ‘dark harvest’. Really, it’s a lot like different enhanced or collector’s editions that PC and console games have nowadays, and it lets you pay for only the parts of the game that you want to play. The Dark Legend edition is only $4.99, too, and I’d say that’s more than worth it for the amount of content you get.
What parts were you impressed by?: The fact that there is both simplicity and depth to it. Each encounter takes place in it’s own little stage, much like Zelda II. In fact, exactly like Zelda II. There isn’t really exploration, but then, since most people will be playing the game on a touchscreen, it’s a good thing that getting from place to place is accomplished by tapping the place you want to go to. The gear mostly conforms to the ‘bigger numbers are better’ philosophy, but there sure is a lot of gear to get. The music also meshes fairly well with the environment, and ends up being some sort of techno-jungle-beat hybrid that mostly works.
And what weren’t you impressed by?: This isn’t really a fault of the game itself, but a touchscreen is terrible for playing an action RPG, or any other sidescrolling action game really. Your thumbs get in the way of your viewing area a lot, and even though this is probably better on a bigger device such as a Nexus 7 than it was on my Galaxy S4, the S4 screen is not small at all and it was still a problem sometimes. Also, when I tried to do a swipe-up to perform an uppercut, oftentimes it would just register as a jump. Also, the Pale Swordsman has absolutely no ranged projectile attacks at all. This is a problem, because nearly every enemy that you face does have a ranged projectile attack. And while those attacks don’t typically do a ton of damage, there are a fucking lot of them. It’s like a death of a thousand paper cuts, where the best you can hope for is that your ‘block’ ability kicks in enough to get you through the level. Also, the game could also benefit from having a ‘treasure magnet’ ability of some sort. For a game that relies so heavily on gold pieces to buy your equipment, it really makes those gold pieces hard to get hold of, as they just keep bouncing around everywhere.
So would you recommend it?: Absolutely. Again, I think the game really justifies the existence of bluetooth gamepads. It may not be a killer app on the level of Angry Birds, but for my money it’s definitely a much better game.