Ayopa Games’s recent Pocket Heroes (Out Now, $0.99) permits players to team up in groups of 2 to 4 heroes and quest forth together in this game that resembles an online multiplayer version of the old Gold Box games by SSI. I specifically said 2 to 4 as the game was never meant to be played solo, and it is from this fact that some of the game’s greatest strengths and weaknesses both come from. Together in this game you and your friends will either become a lean mean killing machine that will leave no enemies alive in your wake, or you will suddenly be left with a strong desire to violently throttle each other in real life.
When a new game of Pocket Heroes is started, you – and all of your friends – will begin by selecting from one of four available character classes: the Paladin, the Rogue, the Priestess, or the Dwarf in the Steam-Powered Mech (which looks a lot like Magitek Armor from Final Fantasy 6). Afterwards you will all embark on the tutorial where everyone is en route to meet up at a bar, each character taking a separate path to said building, when they all stumble across a group of bandits on the way. In a curious move I don’t entirely understand the logic of, the game’s online turn taking begins the second the tutorial starts up rather than letting each person learn the basics of the controls in a single session.
When playing Pocket Heroes you will be informed – via push messages – when it is your turn again in any game session you are a part of, at which point you will log into that group and control your character. Each turn your adventurer will be given a limited number of action points and magic points, and only the action points generally self recharge at the beginning of every new turn. Using your action points for a turn, as well as your character’s move limit, you will generally move up to a single enemy in a turn and attack it once or twice – or perhaps just move, depending on how far away the next group of enemies are – after which you end your turn and wait for everyone else to go in order.
On average, you will probably get somewhere around roughly a half minute of actual game play – or less – each and every time your character’s turn comes up in the pecking order. If you and all of your friends are passionately devoted to sallying forth through Pocket Heroes, then this will result in everyone taking a lot of bite sized turns during the course of a day and making decent progress over time. On the other hand, if anyone on the team is not regularly checking to see if it’s their turn – or perhaps not on an iPhone, and thus not always online – it could just as easily take everyone an entire week to merely finish the opening tutorial (I’ve seen this happen).
Once everyone gets past the tutorial it will be up to the players to work together for the greater good of the team, as everyone being in it solely for themselves is not a sustainable long term strategy. To aid the players in cooperating the game has a feature that I find highly commendable: a game session specific message board that maintains a deep history of past posts. Even if everyone in the game is not actively communicating outside of Pocket Heroes, they can easily coordinate all their moves towards great success if they all equally avail themselves of this intelligent inclusion.
Between each and every major segment of the team’s adventure they will have the chance to buy better gear from a shop that will show up, with the primary method of earning gold being accomplished by selling dropped gear you don’t need (preferably after first making sure your teammates don’t need it either). For those who want to gear up even faster than the normal rate of progress would permit, there is also an option to buy 500 pieces of gold as an IAP each and every time the group reaches one of these between level waypoints. However, assuming everyone is sharing with each other, this feature is thankfully not essential as the quality of gear dropped by defeated monsters will ramp up as the team pushes ever further into their adventure.
Now for those of you who don’t have any friends willing to buy Pocket Heroes and play it with you, there does – in theory – exist another way of getting a game started in this multiplayer only title. When starting a session a player can assign a slot to a person randomly selected from everyone who has already purchased the game, rather than merely only selecting from someone on their Game Center friends list. That said, I would be terrified of seriously doing this because it potentially means that all of your progress could become meaningless if that randomly selected player stopped caring at some point in the future. However, this is mostly a concern in theory as the reality of the matter is that not a single one of the large number of random sessions I invoked ever got around to me being able to take my first turn. Therefore, I can only pray that a future update to Pocket Heroes will include the ability for everyone else to vote kick a non-responsive player should he not log into the game after it’s been his turn for too long.
With the matters of how Pocket Heroes works now out of the way, I would finally like to take a moment to close this review by talking about the title’s 16-bit sprite-based presentation. The game is presented entirely in a top down perspective using extremely low pixel-count images representing all of the characters and terrain, furthering the Gold Box series feel that the title has. While the appearance of everything can sometimes be a little bland, I must definitely admit that the heroes and enemies do all manage to have rather fluid and detailed idle animations. The game also currently suffers from a disappointingly heavy amount of sameness in the attack animations for every kind of move a character has, but the developers have promised to address this by adding more animations in future updates (and have already released some updates to this effect).
iFanzine Verdict: Assuming that Pocket Heroes’ online take on the old Gold Box motif doesn’t conceptually turn you off, the biggest factor that will control how much fun you have with the game is the quality of players you bring with you. However, since a single player has the ability to completely destroy all progress merely by refusing to play anymore – which they could be motivated to do for a wide variety of reasons – I would personally be terrified to use the random player function unless the developers add a vote based kick option (which would also be helpful should real life friends have a falling out). Therefore, if the game interests you, be sure that you have people willing to buy the game alongside you before anyone puts down money on Pocket Heroes. All of that aside, the game actually can be a delightfully fun little romp if you can find the right people to play it with such that it progresses at a nice pace and everyone actually works together for the team’s common good.