It’s very important to distinguish Mage Gauntlet from the KRPG model that’s practically become synonymous with Action RPGs on iOS. Aside from one comical scenario meant to poke fun at that sub-genre, there are no fetch quests here — only a long journey that’s well framed by the game’s story. That alone should be enough to bring back many genre fans who’ve grown weary of the offerings on iOS! On the other hand, there are certain things the KRPG genre has gotten right that Mage Gauntlet could still benefit from adopting. Area maps are two taps away here, which isn’t all that bad — but it’s still two taps more than my lazy self has grown accustomed to after the stream of Korean offerings. Also, Mage Gauntlet allows the player to switch equipment only between levels rather than on-the-fly. While the supplementary effects of equipment are well detailed, it’s difficult to figure out the relative strength of weapons and armor except through experimentation; there are no equipment ratings that guide the player, and yet it’s obvious that certain weapons take monsters down faster than others. The one thing Mage Gauntlet has in common with its genre cousins are Level Up points that the player can distribute among Lexi’s physical, magical, and luck stats.
Mage Gauntlet gets so much right in cleanly diverging from the KRPG model, but these inconveniences take some of the wind out of its sails. The game engine RocketCat has developed for their first Action RPG still has lots of room to grow, too — which is a good thing, because that means there’s plenty to look forward to if this eclectic developer tries its hand at the genre again, or if they have ambitious plans for Mage Gauntlet updates. I’d love to see more depth in the combat system, particularly in the form of differently behaved weaponry — another thing KRPGs have gotten down pat with their jack-of-all-trades heroes. Whether Lexi is equipped with a staff, a longsword, or a battle axe, her attack style is exactly the same. Certain weapons do inflict destructive magic effects during critical hits though.
There are yet more ways Mage Gauntlet could forge into new territory and totally leave its competition in the dust. Its exploration-heavy nature screams for bona fide environmental puzzles, and its pet system is under-developed; for now the little critters give Lexi a stat boost and dutifully follow at her heels without doing much else. Lexi’s charge attack can be sandwiched between or tacked onto the end of her normal swipes with ease, and this opens the door for context-sensitive special moves with only one button in play. Interaction between the dash and attack buttons could further round out Mage Gauntlet’s combat system. Of the 2D Action RPGs I’ve played so far on this platform, only Heroes Lore III has attempted multi-button combat. If a daring developer could just take that concept to its full potential, I’d certainly be in some kind of Action RPG heaven — and many players along with me, I suspect!
Speaking of user interfaces, you’ll notice that no UI elements for player character movement show up in any of the screenshots released for Mage Gauntlet. The game defaults to an invisible “Pro Stick,” which could easily become the genre standard going forward. Swiping and holding anywhere onscreen directs Lexi accordingly. It feels a little strange at first, but a few minutes in and I found it had become second nature. A virtual D-pad and a roving virtual joystick are also on offer as backup, should the player need either of those options.
Mage Gauntlet’s environments are noticeably tiled, but its pixel art is very attractive while still carrying a unique Western flair. Lexi’s in-game appearance can be customized every which way thanks to the hundred-something hats the developer packed in. Some of the game’s music tracks took a little while to grow on me, but they’re invariably the kind that become downright infectious with the repeated listening the player gets in environments this expansive. Mage Gauntlet’s story campaign contains 42 maps at present, which should last about ten hours on average — and 42 more areas await the seasoned challenge seeker once the game is cleared!
iFanzine Verdict: One of the most enjoyable Action RPGs on iOS right now, Mage Gauntlet is a clear must-have for any genre fan who’s grown tired of the worn-out fetch quest model! Mage Gauntlet feels fresh for how it unabashedly flaunts genre tradition, but it still has room for improvement in terms of depth and player convenience.
The release sale on Mage Gauntlet promises to be one of the shortest yet. Check out the sale and early adopter bonus details at the game’s site.