Reverse Midas Touch
Lexi has a problem. In a world where magic is commonplace, she can’t use it. Not only can’t she use it, but when she touches something magical, it breaks. Needless to say, this has not made her a very popular girl.
Hoping to find a solution to her strange condition and finally fit in, Lexi goes searching for the great wizard Whitebeard. After some persuasion, Whitebeard gives Lexi the fabled “Mage Gauntlet” — an item that stores magical energy from things she touches or breaks so that she can rechannel it.
Before long, Lexi must use her newfound power to combat a great threat to the realm at large, and thus you have the context for this extremely entertaining iOS game.
This Potion Tastes Like Win
Although this is a game that is really about killing lots of monsters and having a blast while doing it, the story is very amusing. Rocketcat makes their first foray into the action RPG genre extra entertaining with a story that skewers all kinds of familiar RPG tropes: fetch quests, all-powerful wizards, very dense orcs, etc. It’s all new to Lexi, who plays it straight the entire time to hilarious effect.
In addition to whimsical dialogue, there are a few things you can expect when you see a game from Rocketcat. The first: excellent pixel art that reminds you of your days on the Super NES (if like me, you’re old enough to qualify). The second: fast paced action. The third: simple controls. The fourth: lots of hats.
Mage Gauntlet does not deviate from this very successful and entertaining formula. The description in the App Store suggests that you’ll be reminded of games like Secret of Mana and Zelda, and although the art style does bring those games to mind, the pace is actually faster in Mage Gauntlet than those titles.
But let’s start at the first point — the pixel art. If you’ve played other Rocketcat games like Hook Champ, you’ll recognize the art style right away. Mage Gauntlet keeps things simple with an old school, retro feel that really works for this type of game. Everything is bright and easy to see, and with the number of foes that appear on the screen at times, you’ll be thankful for the contrast in colors between you and everything else. Mage Gauntlet might not be Infinity Blade when it comes to graphics, but this art gets the job done and fits the tone.
Second — the fast paced action. Mage Gauntlet doesn’t waste any time once Lexi acquires her gauntlet. Lots and lots of enemies are there for slaying, and each stage in the game has a different theme for the types of enemies you face. On one stage you’ll be battling orcs. On another, slimes. Each enemy has its own attack pattern, and where things get fun is when more than one type of enemy is on the screen at a time. You know that the green slime is going to leap at you and pause, but the blue slime is about to explode at any second and that purple one just keeps making more slimes… Do not for a second mistake “simple” for “easy”.
Third — simple controls. The debate rages on about how to do action RPG controls on a touch screen, but I think Mage Gauntlet gets it absolutely right. The default method for moving Lexi around is just to touch anywhere on the screen and push in the direction you want to go. This is called “Pro Stick” in the settings and is extremely sensitive to the slightest nudges with your thumb. It works absolutely wonderfully and at no point does trying to move Lexi around become an issue. If you don’t like the invisible “Pro Stick” mode, you can switch the controls to an on-screen D-pad or an analog stick. Frankly, the Pro Stick works so well that I can’t imagine playing it any other way.
To hit things, you press the big weapon button in the bottom right corner. On the left side of the button is an energy meter — if you hold down the attack button while that meter is full, you can walk around and then release the attack button to unleash a charge attack. The charge attack is basically a dash attack that has the added benefit of stunning most foes. Just above the attack button is a run button — this makes Lexi dash, but it draws from your energy meter.
At the top right corner of your screen is the really fun stuff: your spells, which you acquire by breaking certain glowing pots. The spells you get are largely random (although you can influence the frequency of certain spells appearing with your equipment), but all of them are useful. Most are attack spells that cover the staples like lightning, fire, ice, and earth. Some others provide you with a zone of silence around your character, and still others increase the frequency of your critical hits for a time (luck). At any given time, you can store up to four spells in your gauntlet, but you’ll find that there are enough spells in any given stage that you don’t have to be stingy with them.
This brings us at last to hats and other equipment. You can swap Lexi’s equipment as you find new items, but you are somewhat limited by the breadth of the selection. Lexi can equip a weapon, a piece of clothing, a trinket, and a hat. Like any Rocketcat game, the depth of selection when it comes to hats in particular is somewhere between staggering and preposterous. Many of them provide little more than cosmetic changes, but some provide a very small boost to one of your stats. Trinkets and clothing tend to increase the frequency of certain spells appearing or alter the amount of damage done by those spells.
Lastly, you are allowed a pet. Like other equipment, pets typically provide some kind of ability boost (at least the ones I discovered). If you have purchased a Rocketcat game in the past, you actually get a really useful pet cat that provides you an experience bonus — I barely used anything else.
This is also a good time to mention how character progression works in Mage Gauntlet. Slay enough foes, and you’ll see the “Level Up” message pop up over Lexi. Leveling up gives you a point to put in one of three categories: Magic, Vigor, and Luck. Magic increases the effects and crit rates of your spells. Vigor reduces ability costs and the increases the speed at which your energy meter refills. Luck increases crit rates for all attacks (including spells). That’s about as complex as it gets, but it is still nice to see the “Level Up” message pop up and toss a point into something, especially since the hordes of enemies get progressively tougher.
Keep Your iTunes Handy
It’s been all positive so far, but there is one thing I’d note as a small negative for Mage Gauntlet: the music. The music is not bad — in fact the tracks are actually quite good. The problem is that they are very short, and since they are on a continuous loop throughout the course of a stage, I found myself getting tired of them in a hurry.
It seems a shame to turn off the background music, because what’s there is perfectly decent. There just isn’t enough of it. Fortunately, you can simply turn off the music and rely on your own iTunes library while leaving the sound effects on, but it has to be mentioned that the music packaged with Mage Gauntlet will get old in a hurry.
Get Yourself a Gauntlet
Mage Gauntlet takes everything that was pure fun about the best 16-bit action RPGs of old and tosses it into a lighthearted, easy to play, and most importantly, FUN package. It isn’t about to revolutionize the industry, but for a couple of bucks, it will provide you a tremendous return on investment. I rate it a “buy.”