Have you ever had one of those days where you wake up in a strange world and realize that you can’t remember anything about yourself at all? Then you find next to yourself a television walking on four legs that, taking a page from Michael Bay’s Transformers film, seems to only be able to communicate by splicing various television broadcast snippets together? Immediately after that you get attacked by monsters led by strange people who are demanding to know why you are trying to destroy them, despite the fact you’ve been fighting in self defense ever since you woke up? Yeah, I know, Mondays can be horrible. Still, what’s a guy to do? Obviously he’s got to pull up his yellow jacket hood and beat the ever loving tar out of anything and everything that so much as looks at him funny.
Oozoo Inc.’s Brandnew Boy: The Oriental Queen (out now, $3.99) – crafted upon the famous Unreal 3 engine – brings intense Beat’em Up action to iOS, all with a level of control elegance normally unheard of. Action games in 3D – although certainly not the bulk of the platform’s library – aren’t a new idea on iOS, but they normally come with imprecise control schemes that the gamer has to fight with in order to enjoy the game. However, Brandnew Boy has thought outside the box and managed to avoid all this by taking pages from both World of Warcraft and Super Mario RPG.
There are two control schemes in Brandnew Boy, one for walking around and one for when you’re engaged in combat. When you’re walking around tapping the screen both starts and stops your movement, with your character always walking in the direction the camera is currently pointing. Meanwhile, holding and dragging your finger around flawlessly controls the direction the camera itself is pointing. This, however, is not what you’ll be doing 99% of the time while playing the game.
While you’re walking around if you tap a monster, or if the monster begins actively approaching you, your control scheme will switch over to combat mode. In combat mode you will automatically charge towards your currently selected target, with the nearest target selected by default, when you tap the screen. Tapping any other monsters on screen, or the icons pointing to where they are off screen, will cause you to shift gears and focus upon that enemy instead. Alternatively, you can also shift focus by touching the face next to any of the current monster life bars at the bottom of the screen.
When you’re engaging a specific monster a gauge with a slider will appear, if you tap when the slider is in the yellow target zone you will do massive damage and render the victim of your onslaught incapable of returning fire as you ready your next attack with another well timed tap. This tapping gives a very satisfying visceral feel to the many varied attacks your yellow hoodie wearing hero will unleash upon the forces that get in his way. Finally, a quick double-tap will cause you to perform a kick attack that will break the guard of anyone attempting to avoid your onslaught by way of a defensive stance.
More advanced attacks can be done by tapping icons at the bottom of the screen, the order of the icons present being fully customizable by yourself. Assuming you aren’t already in the middle of a special attack, tapping one of these buttons will immediately launch the hero into a special attack that most enemies are incapable of breaking through. Like in most online RPGs, even though there is no concept of MP in Brandnew Boy, once a skill is used it becomes unavailable until after it clears a cool down period.
Finally, for times when you have to get out of bad situations quickly, you have the ability to flip in the 8 cardinal directions. This is controlled by performing a long swipe of your finger in the desired direction upon the screen. This works extremely reliably, your yellow hooded hero – except for when in the middle of a special attack – will always immediately drop everything and flip in the desired direction when you do this. Fortunately to aid you in knowing when danger is coming, the icon pointing to currently off screen enemies will begin flashing if they’re getting ready to attack.
As you bash your way through the endless hordes of strange foes that want to destroy your for reasons you can’t remember, you will rack up a supply of gold and experience. Experience points will cause your level to raise over time, making you an ever greater master of fisticuffs as the game goes on. The gold you accrue will enable you to purchase items and gear in the store that is available to you between levels, or to continue a stage without having to start that particular level over from scratch.
In the store itself you will find potions that boost stats for the entire stage they’re used in (you also get one free random potion every time you complete a level), weapons that increase your attack power, and different outfits that increase your life and rate of EXP acquisition. All of the outfits and weapons purchased actually do change the appearance of your character, and clicking on them will let you see how they appear before you purchase one. You can furthermore enhance the stats of any piece of gear you’ve bought by using enhancement stones that drop on rare occasion from defeated foes, with each successive enhancement to the same piece of gear costing increasingly more stones.
You can also pay to learn new skills, and upgrade their reach and damage, in the store as well. Not all the skills you purchase here will have to be activated manually in combat, some of them are passive and provide permanent boosts – such as increasing the amount of time an enemy is staggered after a perfectly timed hit – once you purchase them. Later in the game, when you’ve finally defeated some of the bosses that stand in your way to getting your memories back, the former villains will also show up in the store’s skill section as powerful summons that you can pay to power up as well (this also gives way to an amusing achievement for going back to a boss stage and dealing the final blow to a boss with the very same boss).
The game’s store will also offer to sell you gold as well through in app purchases. However – despite the fact there are in app purchases – there is no skill, potion, outfit, extra skill slot, or weapon in the store that can not be purchased with the gold that enemies drop on their own. During my play through of the game I successfully purchased 5 different weapons – 2 different outfits – as well as every single skill and skill upgrade, although it did require some grinding for money at points to do so. Therefore the purchase of in game money is absolutely not required to enjoy the game, although it would probably prove maddeningly nerve wracking to buy every single weapon and outfit – especially some of the most powerful weapons – unless you did so.
That said, in a most uncharacteristically classy move from a game that features in app purchases, the most ridiculously expensive weapon in the game is actually completely free – requiring gold neither purchased nor grinded for – to anyone who achieves a gold medal on every single level in the game. Each level will have two target goals, such as not being hit by anyone or finishing the level in under a certain time, and accomplishing either one of these will earn you special recognition when the level ends. Completing one of them will net you a silver medal for the level, while accomplishing both of them in the same run will put a gold medal next to that stage on the level map. Speaking of which, the game’s map screen – that has multiple planes of parallax scrolling – takes heavy inspiration from ukio-e paintings.
The chief reason this game isn’t for everyone is because it can be brutally difficult if you aren’t playing intelligently, and so for gamers who aren’t hardcore you’re just going to end up guzzling all the money you earn from enemies on continues. If you find yourself dying suddenly and quickly when you were at almost full health seconds earlier and don’t understand why it happened, odds are you will find yourself at the continue screen again a couple seconds later if you do choose to buy a continue. With proper strategy – though – any level of the game can easily be finished without the use of even a single purchased continue, especially if the player boosts themselves with a potion at the start of a level.
Strategy is everything in this game for – with the exception of boss summons and one of your normal special attacks – you are not a master of crowd control, and thusly your back is open to everyone else on the playing field whenever you are wailing away on someone. Determining who to attack first in a group is extremely vital, especially if enemies with projectile attacks are present. Furthermore, a player must always keep a watch out for enemies using damage reflection guarding as any normal attacks attempted upon them will only end up hurting the hero until the foe’s defense is broken (either via a double tap, or certain special moves).
However – when everything is performed correctly – the spectacle you will behold will be an absolute delight to watch, for this is a game where consecutive hit combos well over 100 is the norm when you’re playing the game successfully. Your hero will kick creatures up in the air – jump up after them and punch them back down into the ground – and then sit on them afterwards and begin wailing heavily upon them with both fists, executed by satisfying rapid fire tapping, all followed up with a final extra slam for good measure. You will then perform a break dance spin to remind everyone else that was trying to close in on you to back off, followed by you flipping out of their clustered circle as you drop a giant monstrous boss tiger summon in their midst to rip them all to shreds.
The translation of the text driven story scenes, detailing our hero’s journey to get his memories back and learn why everyone he meets is accusing him of being an invading army, are remarkably well handled for a game that originated from Korea. Outside of a few moments of odd phrasing choice, the plot present is completely followable and usually sounds like how someone might actually talk. All too often Asian iPod games feature translations that are completely incomprehensible, filled with stiff dialogue that feels like the person translating it lacked a proper grasp of how the English language actually works.
The ending of the game does seem to be the perfect setup for a sequel, with the credits themselves doing something unique the likes of which I have never before seen done, and the game’s website furthermore seems to be suggesting that more game play modes and scenarios will be made available in the future. While I didn’t drop any money to purchase extra gold so that I could sanely acquire the highest tiers of outfits and weapons, I will say that I would rush out to buy a second story episode in a heart beat whenever it gets made available. I definitely want to learn more about what was going on in this tale of worlds at war, as well as lead the yellow hooded hero to even more pugilistic victory against any that would dare to block his way.
In closing – though – there is one odd bit of awkwardness I should warn people about, and that is the game’s boot up process. Whenever I turned the game on I was first greeted to the Unreal 3 engine logo, then – after some awkward time spent staring at a blank screen – I got treated to the same Unreal 3 engine logo animation again. Only after all of that did the game’s initial boot up loading screen finally appear. Although I can not personally prove this, I have been told that the initial load up is much faster if the game is being run on an iPad. Furthermore, and this only happened to me twice in the many times I ran the game, there were a couple of times where it never got to the title screen from the boot up loading screen and I had to restart the game for it to work right (however, the iPod itself wasn’t actually crashed or locked up in the process).
This may well be the closest to an ideal 3D action beat’em up that we will ever get to see on a system purely controlled through a touch interface. The action is fast and furious, the controls are elegantly responsive without sacrificing depth of strategy, and the optional in app purchases do not unjustly punish the player if they are ignored. Unfortunately, the extremely unforgiving difficulty heavily prevents it from being appropriate for just anyone.