Take a trip back in time with Across Age, an old-school action role-playing game with a time-travelling twist, now available for the iPhone.
Across Age, co-produced by FDG Entertainment and Japanese developer Exe Create, tells the tale of the brave knight Ales, on a quest to rid the world of an evil overlord who's been using time-travel to erase those opposing his rule from the pages of history. Ales recruits a young mage girl named Ceska, whose time-travelling powers are the key to restoring the land to order once more.
Just because it has the look of a 16-bit role-playing game doesn't mean it necessarily plays like one. Does Across Age honour the classics, or did something go wrong with the gameplay during its trip from two decades in the past?
Old-School Charm:Across Age, like many of the role-playing offerings currently available on the iPhone, sets its graphical sights on the Super Nintendo era of RPG gaming, its colourful pixels showing up brilliantly on the platform's touchscreen. The story is a simple tale of good versus not-so-good, with a temporal twist that adds freshness to what otherwise could have been a rather stale experience. While I appreciate the retro visuals, I also enjoyed the decidedly non-retro soundtrack, a collection of lively tunes that complement the old-school gameplay quite nicely. It's something old and something new.
Time Twisting Puzzles: While the standard action-RPG gameplay in Across Age fails to impress, the title shines when Ceska and Ales come across puzzles requiring the team split up in order to achieve their goals. Normally joined at the hip, certain parts of the game require each act separately. For instance, during one dungeon crawling exhibition, the two characters found themselves in two different rooms, triggering switches that opened new paths for their companion to travel, until finally meeting at the end of the sequence. While Ales can pick up Ceska and toss her to reach high places, the mage's time-travelling abilities are even more impressive. Special tiles allow Ceska to cast her Across Age spell, sending her into the past, where the answers to some of the game's trickier puzzles can be found. Can't burn down a wall of petrified vines? Head into the past when the vines were fresh and take them out.
The time-twisting also comes into play with crafting special equipment. Stones found in treasure chests can be combined with equipment in a special fountain in the game's main village. If Ceska places them in the past, returning to the present results in an enhanced older version and vice versa. Some of the game's most powerful weapons can be found experimenting with this system. Developer Exe Create did a wonderful job of implementing the time-travel mechanic, nearly making up for the title's abysmal combat.
Slam Dancing Combat: Perhaps we've gone a bit too retro. Melee combat in Across Age is achieved by ramming Ales into the enemy repeatedly until the enemy dies. Hitting your opponent from a diagonal results in less damage being taken and a quicker kill, but you're still simply bashing yourself against your foe again and again. This is not entertaining. When you switch to Ceska, you get to push a virtual button to cast spells. Why can't we push that virtual button to swing Ales' sword?
Combat issues were also hindered by imprecise controls. Hitting an enemy on the diagonal results in less damage to you, and more to the enemy. The problem was that the original controls were so haphazard you could barely walk in a straight line, let alone position yourself diagonally to a monster. The game recently updated to version 1.1, noticeably tightening up the controls. Unfortunately the update didn't make the combat any more fun.
Would you enjoy Across Age? If you're a fan of old-school role-playing games with a focus on wit-challenging exploration, then perhaps you will, as long as you don't mind bashing your face into a couple hundred enemies in the process. For me, the retro charm and intriguing time-travel puzzles made the game enjoyable enough that I didn't mind having to beat my way there with nothing but my tiny armoured body.
Across Age was co-produced by developer Exe Create and FDG Entertainment. Released on the iPhone App store on February 12. Updated to version 1.1 on February 19. Retails for $8.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the game in its entirety.
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