Like a game of telephone, Secret of Mana has passed from one platform to another and lost something along the way.
In relaying the superb gameplay of this action role-playing saga, Square Enix has wisely left the core mechanics intact - no changes to combat, character customisation, or story.
The reception is less than stellar when it comes to the virtual controls and the decision to cut multiplayer. Despite these shortfalls, the game is still enjoyable and still recommended, even if it hasn't been remastered in an ideal fashion.
The secret's out
The story of unlikely hero Randi is retold in heartwarming 16-bits, a well from which countless 2D role-playing games have drawn inspiration. It's surprisingly relevant given the scores of underwhelming role-playing games that have fumbled on iPhone and iPod touch with shallow stories, lame quests, and paper-thin characters.
Randi's naive possession of the mystical sword of Mana ushers in a dark age of conflict, prompting him to seek out and destroy the forces of an evil empire in order to restore peace. Joined by pals Primm and Popoi, Randi sets out to prevent the Empire's diabolical plan to activate the long dormant Mana Fortress said to usher the end of the world.
The control issue
It's no plodding adventure - you control Randi in real-time, hacking at enemies that appear on the exploration screen with taps of the 'attack' button. While the action can't be called visceral, it's satisfying to obliterate enemies as you explore the vast world, drawing from an arsenal of eight different weapons and various magic spells.
Special abilities and magic are accessed via a radial menu that has been nicely reworked for the touchscreen. Moving Randi and company is less enjoyable due to an imperfect virtual analogue stick. It's not horrible, but it's far from perfect.
Rather than adopting the contextual analogue stick as employed in Chaos Rings and numerous other titles, Square Enix has fixed the stick at a point slightly up from the lower-left corner.
This placement is less of an issue compared to the lack of precision. The analogue stick fares poorly when navigating tight spaces or parrying enemies in combat. You often have to swipe the stick for small, precise steps needed to target enemies and clear narrow passageways in place of holding your thumb to the screen.
Sadly, audio quirks degrade the quality of the original soundtrack. Tracks skip when looping, marring an otherwise great score.
Also disappointing is the lack of multiplayer - a feature that made the original release an innovator. Clearly not advisable on a single device, co-operative play most certainly could have been supported via Bluetooth. Game Center - also curiously absent here - makes online play possible, though Bluetooth is sufficient. Its omission isn't a game-killer, but it does highlight an area of improvement.
Secret of Mana can be enjoyed in spite of these shortcomings. The adventure is lively, features a memorable cast of characters, and packs variety and depth from the ability to upgrade each of Randi's eight weapons to unlocking spells through elemental spirits.
Strength of gameplay, however, doesn't excuse failings and improvements to the controls are first among a short list of fixes needed to do this classic justice.