Mobile action games have long needed heroes who possess wide skillsets. It shouldn’t be too much to ask, after all, seeing as yesteryear’s Street Fighters and Streets of Rages accomplished this decades ago — I’ve always felt devs just need to be a little more adventurous with these newfangled touch control schemes. INT SQUARE’s Combo Slash (Out Now, $1.99) is a most promising title in this regard thanks to its cool brawler/Action RPG mashup, and that’s why it’s frustrating to see it drop the ball in other ways.
Playing as Kelly, an adventuress who likes nothing more than kicking some Dark Lord butt, it’s your duty to rescue a bunch of hapless damsels from some dark conspiracy. At your disposal are a virtual D-pad and three action buttons; in many iOS games that would add up to exactly three actions, but here every interface element works with the others to let you produce impressive attack chains. Kelly’s moveset grows as you purchase skills from an overworld map shop, making the combat system age well. Once you’ve plucked a fair amount of change from the pockets of fallen enemies, you’ll really start to appreciate the Devil May Cry-esque “style meter” that records how well you’re making use of the system.
This being an Action RPG there must be spells, and the touchscreen comes into use for targeting these. In Kelly’s case magic takes the form of one-time use pickups; most of the magery falls to an AI-controlled princess who’s supposed to be backing her up. I say “supposed to” because she’ll be spending much of the game laying around unconscious; one of the player’s tasks is keeping the princess out of harm’s way by giving her touchscreen movement commands, but it’s easier said than done when the field is literally packed by hordes of orcs, slimes, and other fiends who drop in out of the blue. And they have to attack en masse unless enemy AI gets an overhaul in updates — the game would be a cakewalk otherwise. Still, the idea of an AI companion in the Secret of Mana sense is very cool and worth noting as one of the game’s positives.
Where Combo Slash takes a nose dive is the artificial way it stretches its content. Five missions is fair enough — give me a game that’s short and sweet and I’ll be happy enough while it lasts. Combo Slash instead corrals the player into each stage as many times as it takes to reach a certain experience level, randomly re-generating it with the same boss and enemy population each go around. The survival modes on offer already pad the content, so the only thing the level unlock requirement adds is a bar to progress.
Combo Slash’s sprites have a kind of fuzzed-out quality but there’s no arguing against how well-animated they are in motion, and the character portraits are a treat. The game’s music would be a treat too if only it looped properly. It seems to cut out when a track ends, leaving awkward silence for an achingly long minute or two before the track starts up again.
Great combo system and controls, poor approach to player progression. Beat ’em up and Action RPG fans alike would find lots to enjoy here if only you didn’t have to play each of its levels over and over again.