Does Sun Tzu’s advice apply in outer space? That’s what the crew of a crash-landed ship are about to find out! The set of warriors who pop out of it is up to you; from there, you’ll have to guide them in some LostStar Tactics (Out Now for $1.99; Lite) to ensure their survival on a curious planet where Turn Based Strategy is the main pastime. Like Tactical Warrior before it, LostStar isn’t much for story or flashy effects. It is, however, a defining title for genre fans interested mostly in great gameplay, character training, nonlinear adventure and lots of treasure hunting.
The hallmark of a James Pawliuk TBS is a feel of sheer speed. Battlefields may be filled with characters who could pass for cardboard cutouts, but they zip around and unleash flurries of attacks instantly; it takes all of five seconds to move a character and execute an action or two. Any time beyond that is purely your brain wallowing in strategic considerations.
LostStar’s stamina system affords just the flexibility a great TBS needs: you can push a character beyond his or her normal movement range at a steep cost or save up for a powerful attack on the next turn. That spirit of flexibility extends to LostStar’s Level Up system, which lets you develop a character’s active and passive skills as you see fit. LostStar also inherits the nonlinear structure of Tactical Warrior, letting you pick and choose your battles in a key collection spree aimed at unlocking new territory and shops on a vast overworld map. Each battlefield contains a list of matches and a reward category for each, so you can always bypass fights that don’t look appetizing — although the fact that you don’t know exactly what equipment or characters you might get in return presents a consistently tempting mystery.
Everything I’ve said so far is pretty much rehashing last year’s Tactical Warrior review, but LostStar does up the ante on the original formula. The new card system – described in our preview a few weeks back – is an excellent addition. It makes your lead character operate very differently from your regular units, but rather than feel out of place, it exposes the player to a wide assortment of skills from the get-go. The random way in which skills flow from the deck into the leader’s hand emphasizes the “do the best you can with the resources you have” theme. I’m also incredibly glad to see the automatic unit positioning Tactical Warrior had last year fall by the wayside; no worries about your sniper being shoved in front of your brawlers at the outset this time around.
Once I cleared the first battlefield I also noted a marked rise in intensity from Tactical Warrior; good thing the game offers three difficulty levels, because even longtime TBS fans are going to feel the heat in this one! With an adequate live tutorial and a snappy menu system that does an excellent job of presenting a ton of information comprehensibly, I’d have to say LostStar is about as welcoming as a TBS of this complexity can get. The one place where LostStar trips up in accessibility is the pre-battle screen where you can check out your opposition before jumping in. You can review everyone’s attack properties easily enough but you’ll have to memorize how armor ratings work for now — a reminder of which stat defends against which attack type on that particular screen would be great to see in updates.
LostStar is also more visually rich than its predecessor all around, with greater character and environment detail; it’s just a shame that the lack of animations still leave it prone to being overlooked. The game could also use more music. The single in-battle track is hearty and atmospheric enough, but no one track can hold its own over the number of hours players will spend with LostStar. Besides — chainsaw-wielding alligators totally deserve their own theme music!
iFanzine Verdict: LostStar Tactics inherits everything that was great about Tactical Warrior and manages to improve on it, making it one of the best TBSs on the App Store. If you’re a genre fan and don’t mind simple visuals or paper-thin story you’ll get a great return on your two bucks. It’s also a worthy option if you’re looking to get into the genre and want a title that’s deep without sacrificing accessibility. The free Lite is highly recommended if its static presentation is keeping you on the fence.