Winter has lingered long past its welcome in an unnamed northern kingdom, so the lord of the realm sends his son Minos to find more fruitful land their people may call “home.” Here’s a funny thing about promised land: other peoples are usually sitting on it already, and they’ll put up a fight against outsiders. It’s a surprisingly down-to-earth premise for a TBS filled with magic, trolls, and elves. That in itself is satisfying, and one can tell Time of Heroes (Out Now, $2.99) benefits from the world-building already laid down in smuttlewerk’s iPad-only debut last year. However, the more impressive story is the one that underlies this project. It’s the story of an indie studio taking inspiration from a long-dead gameplay style, effectively translating it to 3D and to a new platform with their own personal touch.
If Langrisser or Warsong mean anything to you and you saw our interview with smuttlewerk last November, you’ve probably been waiting with bated breath to find out whether Time of Heroes does justice to that classic formula. I can’t answer with the aid of nostalgia glasses because I’m one of the unlucky masses who missed out on Langrisser. What I can say is that Time of Heroes serves up a thoroughly satisfying TBS experience, with the Langrisser-style command system lending it plenty of strategic depth and a unique flair that makes it stand out on iOS.
For those unfamiliar with the Langrisser formula, it goes something like this. You bring a certain number of heroes into battle, and accompanying each is a retinue of independent squads, usually ten soldiers apiece. If one of your heroes gets knocked out, all of his or her squads flop over as well; same goes for the enemy army. The main strategic question, then, is whether to strike at the heart of an enemy formation and risk losing exposed units, or cautiously peel away an enemy commander’s protection instead. Time of Heroes’ story does a great job of throwing one wrench after another into an ongoing battle, so the player’s approach has to be flexible. Heroes give morale bonuses to their associated units – stat boosts or partial healing, for example – provided they’re within a certain range. On the other hand, the presence of area effect spells gives the player a competing incentive to keep forces spread out.
Additional considerations abound. Time of Heroes lets the player reconnoiter the field before hostilities begin, but knowing where enemies are is only half the battle. Efficient preparation demands sound knowledge of the game’s unit class and race compatibility systems — think of this as a multilayered game of rock-paper-scissors. Each hero can bring a range of units into battle, so shrewd assignments will spell the difference between victory and defeat. While underlings don’t evolve, each hero has a personal skill tree with lots of tantalizing branches to explore with Level Up points. It’s safe to say that the TBS fan will enjoy wallowing through all the details, but more casual gamers are liable to throw in the towel by the time they encounter their first dark elves. Even genre veterans and rusty Langrisser fans will see their skills put to the test, because enemies are both powerful and intelligent. Quite a few players will hit their first Game Over in the second battle, so difficulty options were a great call on smuttlewerk’s part.
Even if you have a tough time keeping track of which units you should throw at enemies for greatest impact and which will end up as cannon fodder, Time of Heroes assists with match-ups that appear just before you give a unit the go-ahead to attack. If you find that your unit’s sure to get clobbered, you can back out and remove the squad to its starting location.
Indeed, the sheer number of menu confirmations needed to get a skirmish going will irk some genre fans. An effective tweak in updates might be an option to confirm by simply tapping targets again. I would also love to have a way of rotating the battlefield, as it can be difficult to pick out destination squares that are visually obscured by enemy units. One thing perfectionists will miss is the ability to go back and re-play completed maps — not that end-of-level ratings wind up on Game Center or OpenFeint leaderboards quite yet.