Five minutes into Mage Gauntlet I had a sudden panic attack. “Where are the numbers!?”, I internally screamed. “I’m smashing everything, killing creatures, but no numbers are coming out!
“And there’s no gold hidden in the pots! What the hell?”.
It was precisely half a second later that I realised how stupid my complaints were. Why do I need arbitrary numbers to show how well I’m doing?
Accountants love numbers. The worker bees over at PocketGamer.biz love numbers. But a fun game doesn’t need them, no matter if it’s an RPG or an FPS.
Once you throw off the numerical shackles that chain your perceptions of how a 16-bit-looking action-RPG should play out, you’ll find another strong game from RocketCat waiting for you.
It was a time of darkness
The plot starts off selling the usual fantasy cliche about a Dark Evil Sealed Away For A Millenium, but by the time the first boss battle comes around - against a cat-creature that keeps calling your character a "jerk" - it’s already managed more spark in its dialogue than the majority of games out there.
The controls - drag to move, with 'attack' and 'dodge' buttons in the lower-right - work so naturally that it’s easy to forget that the genre was made when touchscreens and tablets only featured in slightly trippy Kubrick movies.
You can execute a special powered-up move by holding down the 'attack' button after a swing or two of your weapon, while spells - gained by smashing very specific pots or enemies - pause the game to allow you to line-up the perfect shot on your foes.
There’s no grinding involved at any point, either - a particular sticking point with this western RPG-raised reviewer.
The plot and progression may be linear, but the maps are expansive and have enough tucked-away secret areas that you may well find yourself returning to previous areas voluntarily, either in Normal mode or in the unlockable Master mode, to seek out extra treasure chests laden with goodies.
RocketCat’s trademark sprite-based graphical expertise (as seen in previous titles such as Super QuickHook) are as eye-catching as they ever were, but don’t be fooled - this isn’t a ‘retro’ game.
Alas, while a lot of the plot and gameplay spends its time ribbing on the giants of yesteryear (the faux fetch-quest mission and ironic levelling system particular highlights), there's a feeling that it could, and should, have borrowed a little more from the past than it has.
Without any Zelda-esque puzzle sections, gameplay quickly descends into a shallow selection of corridor fights. Very well made corridor fights, but not ideal for extended play. The boss fights, too, all effectively play out the same, and lack the imagination of the true greats of the genre.
Despite these problems, though, Mage Gauntlet serves up a slice of brainless but often hilarious slicing and dicing that fits the touchscreen controls like a well-kept magical metal glove.