The name of Cat in a Box team’s latest AppStore entry is actually an acronym for Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG! It’s an excellent descriptor inasmuch as Fastar! plays like a super streamlined, action oriented, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the wider RPG genre. Donning the guise of a Spiky Haired Dude™ with a Big Sword™, the player essentially slashes (and casts the occasional spell) at palette-swapped enemies, wanders into town, buys stuff, and then heads out to do more battle. Cat in a Box knows this is exactly what RPG veterans have been doing for years and pokes some great fun at the genre while boiling it down to these rock bottom basics.
Don’t expect a story beyond the premise described above or any sort of deep character micromanagement here. Fastar! is all about getting your Spiky Haired Dude from town to town, which serve as safehavens from attacking squares and where offense and defense upgrades can be purchased. The game’s basic RPG coating belies the fact that it’s also a footrace, the goal being to reach a finish line in the fastest possible time. At that point a single playthrough ends and the player is invited to record his or her score and compare it to a global ranking of best times. A wonderful tutorial mode familiarizes the player with the game’s ins and outs.
What gives Fastar! some longevity despite its ultra sheer nature is the fact that it offers a few dozen different modes of play, each with particular challenges, goals and handicaps. For example, the player normally gets to choose one spell to help the Spiky Haired Dude bust through his block nemeses before setting out, but one game mode allows a second to be chosen at the cost of halving his health meter’s maximum value. Another challenges the player to collect as much currency as possible from vanquished geometry before a time limit expires, and a few throw out the finish line entirely in favor of recording how fast the player can clear a thick gauntlet of foes. Player times are recorded on a per-mode basis for comparison on the world ranking chart.
Cat in a Box did a fantastic job with overall game design, offering different control styles that run the gamut from tilt controls to a virtual D-pad, each very responsive and compatible with the game’s fast paced nature. Fighting giant squares might sound like a ludicrous idea of fun at first, but each color and size-coded enemy has its own unique attack and movement pattern – sometimes impressively complex – that the player must become familiar with lest his or her Spiky Haired Dude suffer an agonizing death at the villains’ hands. Or rather, pointy edges. While an average playthrough in Fastar! ranges from four to fifteen minutes depending on game mode, Cat in the Box courteously offers an auto-save feature so the player can quit the app and pick up right where he or she left off at any time.
The game offers separate control over background music and sound effects, but sadly I found that it cancels out external music tracks upon loading even when music volume has been set to zero. It would have been fascinating to replace the few in-game tracks with truly epic music suitable for the Spiky Haired Dude’s daring journey, but as it stands the in-game music on offer is agreeable enough. Fastar!’s options menu also allows the player to customize the Spiky Haired Dude’s coloration, which struck me as a hilarious nod toward sidescrolling games from the Super Nintendo era that offered precisely this. More practically, this option allows the player to add a bit of personal flair to his or her avatar as displayed on the game’s worldwide rankings for each mode.
Despite the wide variety of gameplay modes on offer Fastar! did wear thin on me quickly, as its premise states boldly from the get-go that it never intended to deliver much of the depth and complexity that drew me to the RPG genre long ago. On the other hand, its slick and intuitive design should appeal greatly to casual gamers who delight in simple sidescrollers, time attack challenges and high score comparisons. Even longtime veterans of the genre will find guilty pleasure in the fun Fastar! pokes at trends found in some of their favorite games.
iFanzine Verdict:While it’s not the grand adventure longtime RPG and Action RPG fans with iPhones might be keeping an eye out for, Fastar! does offer numerous rounds of simple and impeccably crisp sidescrolling action that happen to involve sword swinging, light spellcasting and numbers popping up onscreen. Here’s to hoping Cat in a Box will one day return with a deeper Action RPG now that they’ve amply displayed their wit and mastered an undeniably fun and intuitive interface perfectly suited to the iPhone. Definitely a standout in the ninety-nine cent crowd.