If you’re a long time RPG fan, you know the worst thing that can happen to a character is to be born without the gift of magic in a society where everyone else wields it. That’s precisely what happened to Lexi. Tired of being shunned, she beseeches the legendary wizard Whitebeard for a remedy and he bestows upon her the Mage Gauntlet (Out Now, $1.99 Sale), an artifact capable of absorbing spells for subsequent use. In return, Whitebeard employs Lexi as his gofer, tasked with seeking out apprentices who have failed in their duty to contain the minions of an ancient demonic being. Why have the land’s greatest mages done such poor jobs earning their keep lately? Is Whitebeard all that he seems, for that matter? Whatever the answers to such burning questions may be, you can count on lots of laughs in RocketCat’s lighthearted take on the iOS Action RPG!
Letting an RPG’s story ride on humor is nothing new for the genre on iOS, but while we’re still at a point when most offerings suffer from mediocre translation, Mage Gauntlet’s natural-sounding dialogue comes as a breath of fresh air. True, grammar tends to jump the shark when non-human characters are speaking, and a few imperfections did slip into the release script, but there’s no doubting that native English speakers will appreciate RocketCat’s handle on characterization and their understanding of this genre’s plight on iOS — something the developer loves to poke fun at.
Also one of the first things to strike the player will be Mage Gauntlet’s exquisite environment design! Secret passages abound and the rules for finding them feel consistent. If a path suddenly trails off near a wall, if foliage runs off screen, or if rocks can be seen in a stream, chances are a hidden chamber lies beyond. There’s a literal ton of underbrush and barrels to clear out of the way, too! If these facets of the game’s design have you salivating as much as I did, however, it’s important to tone down your expectations a bit before going in: Lexi travels with the lightest of inventories and benefits from health upgrades only under rare circumstances, leaving the player little to find other than extra enemies, items of temporary benefit, and lots of reading material.
Carefully exploring is definitely still worth it because it does turn up the odd treasure chest that holds useful equipment, but Lexi is treated far more frequently to diary entries that help flesh out Mage Gauntlet’s world. Backed up by Game Center and OpenFeint achievements for taking the scenic route, it becomes a daring way of motivating the player to explore. On the other hand, it feels less impactful than the health meter extensions and cool items that used to reward keen-eyed genre veterans long before iOS came around.
Environments grow absolutely huge once Lexi’s adventure kicks into high gear, so it’s a good thing the player gets three chances to guide her through each map — there’s just as much combat here as there is room to explore! Most of the time the player will rely on Lexi’s two-swipe regular attack and her charge attack. I made a mistake early on in not appreciating the importance of the dash button, which is a godsend for getting the heroine out of a jam once monsters crowd in, or when enemy spells are about to strike. Combat feels quick and clean, just how genre fans are sure to prefer it by now; I can’t be the only one who’s tired of whacking at the smallest bat ten times in the average KRPG. Either Lexi goes down quickly or her enemies do, large monsters and bosses being the exception. Maneuver is key, and enemies satisfyingly varied. Lexi’s primarily short-range nature makes for some interesting situations when she goes up against enemy mages, but the player can take advantage of enemy projectiles by leading other monsters into the spells directed at her.
Mage Gauntlet shockingly eschews the magic meter, ever a tried-and-true genre staple! Instead, the Mage Gauntlet allows magic from broken jars to be absorbed into a four-spell inventory for one-time use. If the player’s traveling with a full gauntlet, the game serves up support magic that’s automatically applied to Lexi for a limited time. Dipping into the inventory menu and tapping on a spell in storage brings up a targeting interface, which lets the player see the spell’s area of effect while dragging and dropping it as desired. Lexi’s spells run the expected RPG gamut, and are especially critical during boss battles — some bosses can’t even be targeted at short range, and these make for the game’s most interesting confrontations. To keep the Mage Gauntlet flush with spells during boss battles the player has to cut down minions that filter in, certain of which are guaranteed to drop spells.
While the consumable nature of Mage Gauntlet’s spells is sure to be a matter of debate among genre fans, I can say I delighted in the targeting aspect. The player also gains some control over which spells Lexi finds most often by equipping her with accessories that alter the spell drop probabilities. One thing I’d love to see in updates would be spell description popups that let the player know what a spell does exactly, prior to use. Experimentation will have to suffice for now.