The GameBoy, offering content-heavy titles with only a D-Pad and two buttons became a staple to mobile gaming, before touchscreens became the next big thing. Combining both, however, is an effort many app makers seem to lean towards in making their games, usually resulting in a borderline-amazing game. SpellSword was developed for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (this review was based on the performance of a 2nd-Gen iPod Touch) by Fire Fruit Forge, the makers of another popular platformer, Terra Noctis. This game will have you hooked in a second with its retro, GameBoy-esque visual style and simple, addicting gameplay.
Before I touch on the gameplay, I must say, the graphics of this game are top notch, with a 32-bit style (though many people assume 8 or 16) and sharp pixelated sprites that have the same quality as games such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The backgrounds and environments are decent and well-drawn. The music is exciting, upbeat, and amazingly 32-bit, reminiscent of Megaman, or any GameBoy game for that matter. Long story short, this game is something you want the volume up for at least the first couple plays.
SpellSword is a sort of hack-and-slash arena style platformer with RPG elements and mission based gameplay. There are three worlds: Forest Trap (generic grassy starting level), Mine Shaft (generic blue-ish middle level), and Hot Spot (generic lava ending level), with 20 missions per level. There is a spot labeled “Coming soon”, suggesting more levels will be available later. Each level has its share of floating platforms, dangling platforms/hazards, and cliff-sides. The dangling features can become particularly glitchy in certain situations, but it is fairly insubstantial.
In SpellSword, you are sidescrolling in one set area, controlling unnamed-epic-hero-guy (I’ll call him Hero) through these story-less missions that seem to have no purpose other than messing around just because you have a magic sword. The reason it doesn’t get too repetitive is because the missions vary in style. They consist of killing enemies, collecting cards (which I will explain in depth later), surviving waves of enemies, and limited time version of all three. Each mission begins with a bit of dialog, and it is the most humorous thing in the game. Every dialog that the Hero gives is some combination of sarcasm, drug reference, pop-culture, and rarely, actual concern for the situation. They can range from a Rebecca Black Friday lyric to smoking shrooms.
The controls consist of four buttons: Left, right, jumping and attacking. The positioning of buttons is configurable in the options (I positioned it similarly to the GameBoy style). There is the ability to double jump, which can be amazingly floaty at times, and a wall jump, which is pretty crappy and I avoided using it. The attack button swings the sword, which is very short and quick, making attacks spammable. This button will be spammed. A lot. Especially against the mayhem of enemies attacks by jumping or flying.
The main concept of the gameplay is in the cards. There are eight cards (three at the start) to collect and use for sword upgrades. When collected, there is an initial effect that can destroy several enemies. The fire, ice, and light cards unleash projectiles all around, the ground card stuns enemies, the poison card does gradual damage to every enemy on screen, and the dark card creates a vortex that sucks enemies in. The wind card (my personal favorite) is different in the sense that it has no initial effect, but instead has an incredible ranged swipe attack that can be ultimately spammable. Hero can use these abilities to massacre the whole screen with these cards in succession. Some cards also have after-effects. The ice card slows nearby enemies, the ground card pulls up pillars of rock, the light card creates forcefields, and the dark card calls armies of slimes. They can be upgraded to have faster, longer, and more numerous attributes in the Item store, by purchasing them with the Rupees dropped from enemies. You “level up” every time you buy these upgrades. The store has three other sections that keep accessories that extend your skills and life force. Given the fact that the change in stats, most accessories are is more or less insubstantial, but I HIGHLY recommend the heart upgrades and the blocking helmets, because, as good as this game is, it is a real confusing cluster of crap.
SpellSword is has a harsh difficulty curve to start. Hero is incredibly weak, having only 3 hearts of default health, losing a full one heart per hit. Enemies have a very low chance to drop health, and when they do, it only cures half a heart. The enemies are more than plentiful, to the point where they are legitimately massacring the screen. This can cause some minor slowdown when this happens. However, when a card such as poison is used to affect every enemy, and they all die at once, that causes ridiculously frame freeze, to something like one frame every five seconds. Taking into account the fact that I played on a 2nd-Gen iPod Touch, I do have to factor in the processing power, though the slowdown is still prevalent in the more modernized generations.
To wrap it up, SpellSword is an amazing game, with several rewarding factors in the gameplay and progression. RPGs always give off the proud feeling of being an overpowered pretentious master when leveled up far enough. The sense of destruction you get from the combat feels satisfying, and the presentation is overall very good. When the missions are over, there is an “Endless” survival mode, which is also good for Rupee grinding. It could’ve lived with a bit more polish, but with a huge amount of content, at only $0.99, it’s definite download for me.
[review pros=”Rewarding combat, classic music and visuals, large amount of content, nostalgic” cons=”laggy at times, weak start” score=94/100]