Hudson Entertainment the company behind mega hit sensations like Bomberman and Diner Dash have released what one can only call a real time strategy action based role playing game for the iPad entitled “Knights of the Phantom Castle.” The goal was to create a deep and engaging title using three simply moves in Tap, Flick, and Charge. Were here today to find out if Hudson has succeeded and has another hit on their hands or if gamers should avoid this title at all cost?
The first thing I do when I prepare myself for a review is to look at a games screen shots and formulate my initial opinion based solely on the images provided. I than challenge the game to change my opinion based on actually gameplay. Having reviewed quite a number of titles it gets pretty easy to do this as there are very few differences in most of these games. Some have better graphics while others offer a slightly different take on controls but for the most part my initial impressions are usually pretty accurate.
Having said that Knights Of The Phantom Castle is one of those titles which confused the hell out of me using my method. It looks like a turn based type of game which it is not. It looks very shallow which surprising it isn’t. It gives off the vibe of a casual experience when in reality it’s one of the more challenging titles I have played on the iPhone or iPad. In fact I would say the game could be considered to difficult at times and had me constantly on the verge of muttering one or more of the seven forbidden words.
The game plays out over 12 stages and in each of these stages there are numerous quests to be completed. Overall there are around 50 quests to complete. The core game centers around the camp site. The camp is where you will get all your new missions, select party members, change equipment, get advise, and just about every other aspect of customization found throughout the game.
It should go noted that I feel Hudson has done a great job detailing ever aspect of the game in written and played tutorial’s sections so even rookie players can understand what is required on each and every section of the game. Something alot of developers tend to skip on.
As you complete missions you will find new items which can be equipped in the camp. These include random items like wood, stone and other natural elements as well as weapons, armor, and ring sets. There is even an item foundry where you can create advanced weapons with the items you find throughout the game giving you a tactical edge in most of the battles when deployed correctly.
The Camp section also includes an archives area which contains your journal, monster journal, reports, and battle history statistics. Each of these will give you detailed information on quest objectives, monster strengths and weakness as well as other notes of interest. Once you are ready to depart from the camp you will have to pick your party members before heading into battle. Like I said earlier each battle will have one forced leader depending on the mission and storyline while the remaining spots are open for customization. If your unsure or don’t care to take the time to build out a party you can simply selected the recommended party button and the computer will select what they feel is right for the mission.
In Knights Of The Phantom Castle classes are fixed. There are no stats to upgrade for the classes though weapons, armor, and rings can be changed out in between missions at the camp. Each class also has a pre-defined function for tap, flick, and charge which can not be reconfigured. For Example if you selected the healer class simply tapping on her would cast a Sacred Circle which would provide anyone or anything within that circle to be healed. A flick would cast a healing orb in the direction of the swipe and holding down on the healer will initiate a charge move (or powerup). In the case of the healer charging would initiate the resurrection spell which will revive any fallen members on the playing field with half the units health points.
Each move will have a timer that effects how often you can cast or perform said moves. It should be mentioned that all of these moves and special abilities can heal or hurt allies as well as enemies in the vicinity of the action. So you might want to make sure your characters are not in the direct line of a casted wall of fire. Or casting a healing spell when enemies are around.
The classes are balanced pretty well and each has their purpose. However I did find myself favoring a few selected classes but that might just be my playing style as I tend to go for it instead of making calculated moves with ranged characters. Luckily Hudson has made sure that you can complete every scenario with any of the classes but i strongly suggest you included a healer in almost every mission even if it’s not a recommended choice.
Selecting the proper character for your playing style is critical to your success. In most traditional games of this type users can level up and improve a character over time but Hudson decided to implement a system that removes all those features and simply allows you pick up to four party members from a total of 6 classes. Each Class has a unit cost associated with it. So if you decided to use a healer over a solider you may not have enough unit points to make a complete 4 man roster. You can choose to remove the classes and build a four party team or continue the mission with your current build out. The game will always put a forced leader into your party which is essential to completing the level and allows you to customize the three remaining slots.
When the game actually begins you will be given a victory and defeat conditions as well as a piece of advise. Your characters will walk into the scene and the game will begin. Graphically the game does nothing to take advantage of the resolution of the iPad the game looks like an your average Playstation One game which is a shame as the iPad can clearly do much better, and while it doesn’t hinder the game I just wish some higher resolution textures were applied to the game. Musically the game is solid with some nice music scores and sound effects that capture the mood of the game without becoming overtly annoying.
The control on the other hand are the games weakest link. Let me put it this way YOUR GOING TO DIE AND DIE A LOT. Partly do to the controls and partly due to the sheer number enemies you will face. Part of this can be adjusted as all the control settings are configurable to a degree through the menu and game options tabs. I would suggest you immediately change large targets to hidden and move while dragged to off.
To control you characters you simply click on the character and drag your finger on a path to where you would like them to go or would like him to attack. Collision detection is non-existent you will run into everything in your way this will lead to characters bumping into each other or running aimlessly on a corner of a fence post. With the default settings left on your character will start walking as you are drawing and placing your finger over a target will produce a huge window letting you know that you will be attacking this objective etc.. Its nice at first but once you get ten to fifteen characters on the screen at once it quickly distracts from the battle and becomes annoying as hell.
Once you select a target your character will perform it’s base routine attack or heal on the selected individual until death or completion of healing.Tapping on your
character will change out a weapon or build a bomb etc depending on the class chosen. in larger battles it becomes impossible to touch each character and move them quickly so Hudson added the ability to touch the characters menu on the bottom of the screen which will highlight the character on the game screen and allow you to move them easily. Tapping on the character menu again will turn off the Halo effect.
Flicking is by far the hardest thing to grasp and probably the most important control. I’m not sure if it’s just me but over 50 percent of my swipes failed to register as swipes resulting instead as a move command often putting my character directly into the fight where when clearly they should be outside the range of attackers. The other 50 percent of my swipes would fire projectiles in the wrong direction costing me precious time or low an behold actually performing the proper ability. Everything moves in real time, so any control issues really hurt your chances of survival and I hope this is tweaked in a future update as it’s my biggest gripe about the game. My best advise to you is to treed lightly as you advance and always have a healer on hand.
The last move you can perform is a charge move which is your characters power up or super move.. To activate these you press down on the character for a longer period of time until the gauge is full.
As you clear a section of the map you can move up which usually results in additional enemies appearing ahead, but beware enemies will attack from below as well leaving you surrounded quite often so always be thinking about ambushes. When you die and yes you will Hudson has been nice enough to allow you to start again from that specific section instead of forcing you to play the entire level again. However should you resign a mission you will have to play the complete instance from the beginning next time. There is not penalty for death and levels can be completed as long as the leader is not defeated so just because someone dies DON’T GIVE UP.
The game can become quite frustrating especially in the higher levels and will challenge users desire to press onward. Some serious dedication is going to be needed to complete the game. I’ve spent upwards of 2 hours trying to complete certain levels. Putting a time frame on this game is almost impossible because its based on a lot of different factors. Its suffice to say that for $4.99 the current asking price of the title that you will be getting plenty of game time for your investment.
The games not perfect it has some design flaws, a few typos, has a suspect storyline, some control issues, doesn’t take advantage of the iPad graphically prowess to the fullest, and presents some real challenging missions that are sure to frustrate casual gamers. So taking all those things into consideration it might come as a surprise to hear that I actually really enjoyed and recommend this game to fans of this style of gameplay or those looking for a game willing to bite you back
Frustrations aside the game kept me coming back. Maybe it’s my ego getting the best of me but I refuse to let some google of goblins best me more than once. I kept trying new strategies and swapping in and out different party members attempting to gain a better understand of each characters and enemies strengths and weaknesses which really helps as you progress.
Knights Of The Phantom Castle does offer a surprisingly deep strategical orientated real time role playing experience that doesn’t exist on the iPad and and offers an excellent amount of gameplay for the price.
Just be patient, move slowly, watch your back, and with my last piece of advise always keep a healer in your party!
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