All was going well in the land of Eldentir until the Dark Lord ahem, Demon King, Belfanor, decided to take over a princess’ castle and line its long driveway with giant boss monsters. Thankfully the princess has enough coinage to hire three do-gooders, and the player’s job is to command them as Raid Leader (Out Now, $0.99).
The gist of gameplay couldn’t be simpler here: swipe from one of your heroes to his or her target and then they’ll dutifully hack away at it, plug it with arrows, or heal repetitively unless ordered to move out of range. That alone sums up the first battle, which left me thinking, “Okay, tell me there’s more to this…”
Thankfully Raid Leader did not disappoint. The most important thing Red Zebra Games and Crescent Moon do is give the player plenty of reasons to keep shifting the heroes around. Each battle is a one-off confrontation with a giant boss, but after the first few battles these are mercifully accompanied by little minions that need to be squashed from time to time. Bosses have a range of special attacks that will knock out your characters in short order unless they’re deftly kept out of harm’s way, and since these big cretins have loads of hit points, it’s important to trick them into facing away from your archer so she can score bonus damage by plugging them in the back. It’s not always easy to figure out which character your healer should focus on with everyone taking damage at once, so suffice it to say Raid Leader keeps the player on his or her toes.
Between levels the player spends a healthy amount of time poring over skills that are bought and upgraded with reward cash. Sadly, rewards don’t appear to be tied to player performance, but optional arena levels serve up an all-you-can-kill buffet if you’re looking to pad your in-game wallet. These infinitely-played levels also provide excellent breaks from the game’s normal boss battle formula by focusing even more heavily on keeping the heroes in motion. It’s only too bad there are a mere two on tap for now!
Raid Leader’s easy swipe controls and generous targeting make for a reliable interface, but the Pause button could use some touch area expansion — the typical player will be reaching for it quite a bit to access the level restart function once a member of the squad goes down. Raid Leader is also the first title I’ve played that truly butts heads with iOS 5’s pull-down tab; it’s important to keep your team away from the top-center of the screen or else you’ll be viewing the weather instead of the game on all too many occasions. Devs are going to have to find better countermeasures against this until Apple gives us a much-needed option to disable the darn thing entirely.
Aside from that hiccup, Raid Leader essentially masters everything it sets out to do. Its faults lie in missed opportunities. The taste of boss-less, multi-enemy combat offered in the arenas left me with a strong impression that Raid Leader’s system would fare even better in traditional, properly scrolling levels packed with lesser enemies and a culminating boss; there’s something inherently mind-numbing about directing your attention at a single goon for five or ten minutes straight. Secondly: double and triple techs. Yes, this game totally needs to take a page straight from Chrono Trigger, because the foundation is absolutely there and the idea isn’t used nearly enough in any genre. When you activate a given hero’s special attack in Raid Leader there’s a delay of about a second, and that’s plenty of time to activate other characters’ specials — some hard-hitting combination attacks and spells could fill out that skill tree with another layer of complexity. Finally, the added depth offered by equipment and class change systems certainly wouldn’t hurt!
Raid Leader turned out just as beautiful as one would expect of a game with Crescent Moon’s backing by now. The game’s soundtrack, on the other hand, badly needs expansion. It’s a good track, but there’s only one and it loops for all the hours players are likely to squeeze out of this title thanks to its tough-as-nails battles. Raid Leader just screams for dedicated boss themes in updates. If these biguns are going to shoulder all the weight of holding the player’s attention, I say they deserve some pomp and circumstance. At least the game is very receptive to external music!
iFanzine Verdict: It’s an incredibly simple Real-Time Strategy game, but Raid Leader nevertheless earns its place in the genre for great enemy design that keeps the player on edge. This formula still has plenty of room to grow in updates or sequels, but at a buck the price is right for what depth it does carry.