By Tyler Lubben / September 15th, 2014
It isn’t totally often that I play mobile games. In my hierarchy of preferred gaming platforms, my phone tends to be on the lower end of the spectrum. However, there are still times when I find myself looking to it for entertainment, and, when that happens, I’m just as discerning about what I play as I am for my 3DS, PlayStation 4 or anything else. As such, I’m always looking for fun new titles to try, even if it’s for a mobile platform. I think I found a real winner this time.
I recently had the opportunity to try out an early build for Spirit Siege, a real-time strategy/card game for Android devices currently in development by Nova Heartbeat. The premise is simple. As a match begins, both you and your opponent have three Crystals placed around the 7×7 grid that makes up the map. The object of the game is to destroy your opponent’s Crystals while also trying to keep your own intact. To do this, you must draw character cards from your hand at the bottom of the screen and play them on the field. At this point, your card will transform into the unit it represents, and will begin to shoot at any enemy it sees in the four cardinal directions. Once either player’s three Crystals are destroyed, the match ends. Like I said, simple.
The real meat of Spirit Siege, however, comes from the different abilities of your characters, and knowing when and where it is best to play them. Different characters have different offensive, defensive and supportive abilities, so finding the best way to take advantage of the situation, and how to deal with sudden developments is key to victory. Each character card has a crystal cost to play, and, as long as you can pay this price, you can play as many cards as you want as often as you want. Your currency will steadily rise as time goes on, so it’s simply a waiting game before you can play more cards on the field. One helpful tool during gameplay is that, when a character can not yet be played, a shadow wheel slowing fills up around their picture indicating how much more time before you will have enough crystals to play it. Obviously, more powerful characters require more currency to activate, so a key part of gameplay is deciding whether you want to play a variety of cheap characters quickly to overwhelm your opponent, or wait a bit longer to play the strong characters, but give your opponent more time to prepare. It’s a fun dynamic that allows for a variety of different play styles.
Each character has abilities that will help in different situations. While almost every character has the same basic behavior of shooting any enemy in their line of sight, most of them also have special traits that can give them an advantage at different times. For instance, the Singing Siren will usually attack enemies normally, but she also periodically sends out a special attack that stuns enemies for five seconds. The Spunky Sneaker can only use the standard attack, but, when she is first placed on the field, she is invisible until an enemy unit is placed next to her. My favorite unit, however, is the Prudent Princess. On her own, this unit can do no damage to enemy units. However, after she has appeared on the field, soldiers will appear next to her on all four sides (when possible) and will attack for her. Additionally, the Princess herself will begin healing any friendly units in her line of sight with delicious cake! This can even be used to repair damaged Crystals. There’s a great variety of character abilities, and I’ve only mentioned a couple. Others can also shoot around allies, create shields and attack groups of units simultaneously. Your random units ensure that no two matches will be the same.
I enjoyed the art style of Spirit Siege. The hand-drawn character portraits were charming, and the animated effects of characters entering the field were nicely done. Additionally, instead of a standard health bar for your characters (which I feel could have made the screen cluttered), characters sit on layered bases while they fight. As they take damage, these bases get lower and lower until the unit sinks to the ground and they are defeated. This way, it is easy to tell at a glance the status of your units, as well as how the fight against your opponent is going. The combined health of each player’s three Crystals is also represented by health bars in the lower corners of the screen. While characters are not animated during play, I understand that this would likely create more chaos than necessary during fights, so it didn’t bother me too much. Outside of battle, there’s also a handy Gallery mode that not only allows you to enjoy the character art a little more closely (though a proper hi-def gallery would be much-appreciated), but also gives brief descriptions of each unit to help you learn all of their abilities.
The game’s sound, on the other hand, I feel could still use some work. At this point, there is only one music track for the game, which plays during a match. It’s a nice battle track that’s heavy on the percussion, which sets the mood wonderfully for a medieval battle. However, aside from this, I found the combat oddly quiet. While I can see how having each character make a noise when they shot a projectile would get hectic later in a game with lots of units fighting at once, it would be nice if special projectiles, at least, had some kind of special sound to help you keep track of who’s doing what. Additionally, outside of playing a match, the game is completely silent. This can be a bit jarring. When I first fired the game up, I thought my sound was muted. While it’s true that, at this point, there isn’t much to do aside from going straight into a match, it would still be nice to have a pleasant track to listen to while navigating around the Gallery.
I think Spirit Siege’s biggest strength is how easy it is to pick up and play. The game is incredibly easy to get into almost immediately. Even if you don’t want to take a few minutes to study the characters in the Gallery before playing, the gameplay is simple enough that you can easily figure out almost everything after playing only a few rounds. And rounds go by fast. Once a match starts, you are in the thick of it pretty much right away, as both you and your opponent scramble to start laying units to take out each other’s Crystals. It usually only takes a few minutes for a game to end, so it’s a great way to kill a little time here and there when you’re on the bus or taking a break at work. It may not offer any kind of deep, epic narrative, but if you’re looking for some pure, unadulterated fun, this is a great place to find it.
At the time of this writing, Spirit Siege is still in the midst of its Kickstarter campaign. With a week and a half to go, Nova Heartbeat is still about $20,000 away from their funding goal. It might seem like a lofty endeavor, but it’s certainly a title that deserves to succeed. If it seems like the kind of game you’d be interested in, definitely consider heading over to their page and kick a few bucks their way.
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