By Phil Schipper / April 7th, 2016
|Title||Trulon: The Shadow Engine|
|Release Date||March 1, 2016 (PC)|
|Platform||PC, Android, iOS|
I don’t know what it is about card battling games. I always want to play them, because I loved games like Baten Kaitos and Lost Kingdoms during that era. Yet part of me always suspects I’m not going to like them, because nothing else has quite captured that magic for me since. This was the sort of attitude I brought to Trulon: The Shadow Engine, and perhaps it colored how I felt as I played it.
The story begins with a young heroine leaving home for adventure. While she’s out investigating a monster disturbance, she discovers a tank of some chemical that seems to be causing a deadly disease. It’s mixed with a magical substance that can only be found in the neighboring, rival nation. Sure that something bigger is at play here, she starts to investigate and gets wrapped up in a secret war between two countries.
In the meantime, she and her slowly growing party will run into a lot of battles. On a character’s turn, they’ll have a hand of cards with different abilities, ranging from powerful attacks to healing and dodging and much more. The left part of your hand comes from that character’s deck, which can quickly get run down and become empty by the end of the battle. Luckily, the right side includes a normal attack card that stays, and a wild card which is replaced after it’s used. The wild card can be a copy of a card from anyone’s deck, and there’s often no reason not to use it if it’s a decent card. For each battle, 20% of your main deck cards will be selected as Assault cards, which activate special effects tied to your equipment–status effects, healing, extra damage, that sort of thing.
This core framework pretty much explains not only how battles work, but how you think about them. Really, the normal attack card should only be used if you don’t have any other decent options left; the rest of the time, you want to carefully select which cards to use. For example, at the beginning of the game you have a reckless attack that is more powerful than a normal one, but lowers your defense for a turn, and you also have another attack that isn’t boosted but puts you in a defensive stance. When to use each one, and on which target, is an important decision that will determine whether you win or lose the early battles. Even later on, when you have cards that let you play multiple other cards in your turn, stun all enemies and deal massive amounts of damage, the only way to play is to think hard about what you do.
That’s one of the main problems I have with Trulon: The Shadow Engine. The early game is already really hard, and I died often in the first area (although you do just get taken back to right before you entered the fight). The amount of experience points you can get in the game is pretty limited, and many of the best cards are hidden behind side quests. This would be fine, but the fact is that unless you pick up everything you can before it’s gone, set up your party members perfectly and strategize carefully during every single battle, the odds are always stacked way against you, and later stages of the game become basically impossible. Battles are a little long and a little slow, so it can be tempting to avoid them, but if you do you’ll be pretty screwed over later on.
This is on top of the frustration I felt just trying to figure out where to go. The dialogue in the game is so simplistic and the reasons given for going to a particular place–if there are any–are glossed over so quickly that it’s hard to remember it long enough to get there. (The standard “fetch quest in return for a favor you need to progress” formula is in full effect here, and quite often.) That’s assuming that you have any way of knowing in which direction a town or dungeon happens to be. And that in turn is assuming that the game gave you any indication of where to find a person or object at all. This isn’t to say I don’t like exploring and looking for things the old-fashioned way, but in an undeveloped world full of forgettable characters with shaky motivations, it becomes a chore. I’m willing to go on a hunt if my interest is piqued, but in the world of Trulon it just wasn’t.
The graphics are pretty nice. For a 2D game in this style, the lighting in each area is pretty nice. I’d probably have more to say about them if my mind wasn’t so occupied with the frustration of the game’s other aspects. The character portraits, for example, are really cool-looking, but they’re tied to so much lifeless dialogue that it doesn’t matter. The sound design is the same way: quite good on its own, but hard to even notice in the face of other things. If you don’t like the narration in the trailer (like many people), don’t fret–there’s no voice acting in the actual game.
The really simplistic nature of the story, the frustrating game balance, the short length (only around 7 or 8 hours) and even the occasional bug make a lot of sense when you realize that Trulon: The Shadow Engine is a port to Steam from a mobile game. Most of these issues are, sadly, par for the course on mobile; they’re simply unacceptable on PC. To add insult to injury, there’s a pretty big price difference, too. My advice is, if you’re still really interested in this game (many people do still like it), don’t spend $19.99 USD to get it on Steam. It’s available for only $4.99 USD on the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, you can have it on the go, and there’s no significant difference in the controls.
Review copy supplied by the publisher.
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