Spells Arena: The Signs of the Gods Review

Somewhere in a dimensional void — in an age before worlds existed — there were a bunch of bored gods sitting around in utter silence, and so they decided to invent for themselves a game to pass the time with. Thus goes the premise to 2 Think GamesSpells Arena: The Signs of the Gods (out now, $0.99), a physics based game wherein two gods square off against each other in an epic battle to see who can smash all of their opponent’s gems first. The catch is that each player’s spells must also be cast using these selfsame gems that they’re desperately trying to keep their opponent from blasting into a cloud of fine smithereens.

screen480x480People may freely move their personal gem about by dragging it around with their finger, which — if you’re fast enough — can be a handy way of avoiding incoming spell blasts. These spells are — in turn — cast by drawing a specific shape on the screen, with the spell then being fired off when you finally release the screen (this is very useful for aiming, since you can keep moving the gem around after the initial shape has been recognized). The available spells include things such as plasma bolts (which fly in a variety of patterns), a wide assortment of blast blocking barriers, and eventually even traps that can be strategically arranged.

Complicating matters is that players don’t get to carefully choose which four spells they’ll have available at any given moment, they instead get the spells attached to the gem they’re currently using. At the beginning of each match two sets of three gems are displayed, and each gem in a given set will have four wildly different spells — each with their own activation sign — attached to them. Blasting one of these out of the opposing God’s hands will force them to go to their next gem in line, which — depending on the spells contained — may or may not prove more advantageous.

Obviously the match’s winner is whomever can first destroy all three of the other God’s gems, which will then award that player control of the currently contested portal (and apparently he who owns all of the portals first will be the one to achieve enlightenment). While the game’s concept does seem interesting, I really am not in a position where I can properly gauge how fun it actually might be (since doing that would require Spells Arena to be in a playable state, which it currently isn’t). The chief problem with Spells Arena lines squarely in its control scheme, wherein all the spells are activated via drawing one of a variety of rather complex shapes (at least by the standards of gesture based gaming).

Here are examples of some shapes you’ll be asked to draw: (, ), <, >, ^, \, -, 3, O, ?, etc.

screen480x480Ask anyone who’s ever played many games using tons of gesture based inputs on either the Wii — DS — or various mobile units, and you’ll generally get the same thoughts on this matter: motions actions, beyond pure swipes in the four cardinal directions, rarely work. Suffice to say they don’t work reliably here either, leaving one to wonder why — with only four spells available at any given moment — these couldn’t have just been on screen buttons (or even just simple swipes in the four cardinal directions). I know the developers have claimed that people need to remember to draw their spells only on their side, a feature meant to enable single unit multiplayer, but this didn’t really help me much at all.

While players having trouble with spell casting would otherwise still lead to a balanced match during normal multiplayer (of which the game has both local and online options), it becomes the source of infinite frustration whenever you dare to go against the PC. Obviously the PC doesn’t have to ever worry about fighting with his controls not working for him (since the PC doesn’t have to touch the screen), but do you know what else the PC never has to worry about during a match? The entire concept of the game’s spells all having a preparation time, seeing as how as I have often — even on the easiest difficulty setting — been pinpoint blasted by the PC the exact moment that a round officially began.

The PC is also really good at compensating for the void’s ripples — which are dynamically created by each spell cast — meaning the PC’s chain-cast spells are usually dead on, where as your own often won’t go where the game claims they will. While the idea of a computer that can take actions faster than a player ever could — and aim better as well — is fairly common for most games, it’s an absolute nightmare when your inputs rarely work. The end result is that matches against genuine players are little more than a frustrating race to see who’s controls will deign to listen first, whereas matches against the almighty PC quickly delve straight into the utterly impossible.

While Spells Arena’s premise certainly seems interesting — at least in theory, since I can’t properly play it yet — the game itself unfortunately isn’t yet ready for the limelight, and thus I’d have to advise everyone to hold off on this app until the controls have been fixed.

iFanzine Verdict: 2 Think Games’ Spells Arena: The Signs of the Gods features playing dueling it out to see who can smash the other God’s gems first, all via casting spells that are invoked by dragging your power gem around to form various signs. Unfortunately these signs are all a bit complex, and — as a result — the touch screen rarely wants to properly register them; meanwhile, the PC doesn’t have this problem to worry about whenever you don’t have a second player on hand. The end result is that Spells Arena is currently not yet ready for the limelight, but may potentially prove quite interesting once 2 Think Games has properly fixed up their app’s faulty inputs.