Mage Gauntlet is the sort of game that should have Nintendo rethinking their policies on bringing their wonderful, vibrant catalog of games to mobile devices.
This 90s-flavored, action role-playing game isn't just a small snack, in the metaphor of filling entertainment, it is a full three-course meal. One can't help but be reminded of The Legend of Zelda when first dropping into this new pixelated world, but even those similarities are quickly forgotten as you began to appreciate the full depth of Mage Gauntlet, with its strong female hero, quirky sense of humor and varied leveling, weapons and pet systems. Oh, and there are hats too!
The game is built around an interesting premise: You're Lexi, a young woman afflicted with a sort of aggressive allergy to magic in a world saturated in it. Armed with a special magic-absorbing gauntlet by the world's legendary Whitebeard, a mage who saved the planet from an other-worldly evil, you go out on a quest to gather an army to fend off a second attack by demons. Thanks to the gauntlet, Lexi can use spells she discovers on her search for Whitebeard's mages. These spells are essentially one-time use power-up items. She also discovers new weapons to equip, items, clothes and hats. All of these things provide different sorts of bonuses when they are being used.
The game play is very reminiscent of the old action role-playing games that were less interesting in having you find things and bring them back to people, and more interested in getting you out there and to kick enemy ass. You control Lexi by moving your thumb around on the screen. She can move in 16 directions. Buttons on the right hand of the screen allow you to dash, swing your weapons, do a charged attack or cast a spell. The mix of spells, once activated, require you to do different things to get them to work. Sometimes you just need to point Lexi in a direction, other times you tap on your target. There are also spells that buff Lexi's health, armor, damage or speed.
The game includes 42 levels built around a number of different settings, a variety of loot, 19 pets that you can get to follow you, a simple leveling system and 110 hats. The save system is a throw-back to the 90s form of play, giving you a total of three lives. If you lose them all you have to restart the level complete. You can also replay the game in Master Mode which includes more enemies and new secrets.
While there are plenty of iPhone games I enjoy playing, this is probably the first that I've found so distracting that I've run late to meetings because of it. It's nice to see that developers Rocketcat, the folks behind the excellent Hook Champ and Hook Worlds, continue to evolve and improve their already remarkable ability to create games I love to play and watch in action.
Mage Gauntlet, which sells for $2.99, is the sort of game that anyone with an iPhone needs to go out and buy. It's also proof of how well 80s and 90s-era action role-playing games can work on Apple's portables. They work so well on this physical-controller-free platform because the basic requirements of older games don't call for the same glut of options that modern games do. A couple of places to tap and 16-direction movement is plenty.