Hands-On Preview: Danger Alliance

TOME Studios’ turn-based strategy debut has been in the works for over a year now, and it’s finally entering the home stretch. What took so long, you ask? We have a feeling it’s probably all the polish and design care the small team behind Danger Alliance: Battles has been lathering onto their product all this time. With several iPhone games and development experience on big hits like Bioshock under their collective belt already, the dynamic duo at the core of TOME Studios are interested in putting their best feet forward on this collaboration — and it really shows in the beta build iFanzine recently tore into!

So, what’s it like to have Danger Alliance at one’s fingertips? Imagine if you yanked all the cute super-deformed character models from the iOS port of Final Fantasy III, plopped them onto the grid-based battlefields you’ll see in the upcoming iOS port of Final Fantasy Tactics, removed the wicker hats and robes in favor of rough-and-tumble military fatigues, and shoved a flamethrower, oversize bazooka, or other piece of World War II-era hardware in all the characters’ hands. Now, that sounds like a fun time for TBS fans!

I’m compelled to mention Final Fantasy Tactics because I suspect I’ve been just one of many TBS fans quietly sitting on pins and needles awaiting the answer to the Big Question: will fully rotatable, isometric battlefields even work on iOS? Will the player be able to pick out destination squares accurately on something as small as an iPhone touchscreen, and will gameplay depth have to be sacrificed so the player can navigate menus reliably? As a long time fan of this particular species of turn-based strategy, I’m relieved that I can make the following prediction with confidence: either Danger Alliance will ride the wave of success Final Fantasy Tactics is about to usher in for the genre on iOS, or else Danger Alliance will give the genre a good shot at redemption. TOME Studios has totally, totally pulled it off!

Danger Alliance‘s user interface is definitely shaping up to be the game’s strong suit, and that’s one of the more auspicious strengths an iOS game can have. The player easily rotates and zooms Danger Alliance‘s battlefields by pinching. Regardless of zoom level, the game engine always understands which destination or target square the player intends to pick out — or whether the player’s just swiping to slide the whole thing around for a better view. The player may call upon a virtual button to transform the isometric camera angle into an overhead view of the field, and the game can be played this way entirely a la Hunters: Episode I. While this might be a few players’ aesthetic preference, it’s completely unnecessary as a gameplay aid thanks to how smoothly everything handles in Danger Alliance‘s isometric default.

Another thing I was very pleased to see while playing Danger Alliance is just how well its World War II-era atmosphere translates to this particular subgenre. If you jumped into a time machine and examined the PlayStation library around the turn of the century, you’d find that system had built up a literal ton of isometric TBSs, nearly all swords-and-sorcery fare: Final Fantasy Tactics; a port of the earlier Tactics Ogre; Saiyuki: Journey West; Vandal Hearts…the list could go on. No wonder I was left with the impression that only magic could yield multi-target attack options! TOME Studios has satisfyingly replicated the isometric TBS experience with Danger Alliance‘s hard-hitting bazookas, flamethrowers, and grenades. You can devastate your own little dudes and dudettes with area-wide artillery if you aren’t careful, something that’s sure to make old school TBS fans rejoice!

Danger Alliance‘s great liability is simply that genre fans might descend upon it expecting more content than TOME Studios will have prepared for release day. To head off that possibility, the developers are waging a concerted campaign on their website to let players know exactly what they should expect. The release plan calls for “Skirmish Mode,” a set of pitched battles with minimal plot context; a fully fleshed campaign lies further off in the future. We’d sure love to see what TOME comes up with there, because character descriptions and mission briefings penned by James Eagle already lend Skirmish Mode the kind of campy feel we love to see in these vaguely World War II-themed games.

We’ll have to wait until sometime in August to see how the paid version of Danger Alliance fares in the post-Final Fantasy Tactics iOS landscape. For now, our hands-on time with the game informs us that every strategy fan with an iDevice will owe it to him-or-herself to give the Lite a whirl at least! Let’s leave you with the latest video footage, as well as TOME’s Twitter feed and Facebook page, where you can find up-to-the-minute news.

Do note that the user interface and even the environments are much more advanced in the preview build than in this footage, so we’ll bring you any new footage in an iFriday Roundup if it becomes available during the interim. Check back with iFanzine for our verdict on Danger Alliance: Battles once it hits the App Store!