The mobile collectible card genre has exploded over the past year, with players shelling out big bucks for virtual cards with statistics assigned to them. Players for teams of heroes, demons, pirates or robots and take them into battle, which is generally nothing more than a quick stats comparison. What if a game in the genre had actual arcade gameplay? Why, then it would be Battlestone.
Battlestone began life as Golden Arrow, a much cooler-looking action game, which drew the attention of the folks at Zynga. Zynga purchased the developer, adding the group that worked on The Force Unleashed to their talent pool and transforming their game into a cartoony shadow of its former self.
The end result is Battlestone, a free-to-play game that marries the action role-playing genre with collectible card game mechanics. Instead of summoning cards, you summon different varieties of 3D heroes, each with its own strengths and abilities. You can still sacrifice lesser heroes to strengthen more useful ones, upgrading their stats. You can still join a guild and participate in special events. The difference is that instead of watching numbers clash on the screen, you're controlling your characters' movements directly.
Now before you get to any of that, be prepared to see quite a bit of this.
I could barely play the game for a minute the first time I downloaded it without having to wait 10-15 minutes for files to download. Instead of bringing the game down in one huge chunk, Zynga decided to try out streaming files. Hopefully it doesn't do that again.
Once you can get anywhere without a loading screen, the combat in Battlestone is quite simply and satisfying. You tap to move across the playfield, swiping enemies up close or from afar to initiate attacks. Each character in your party has special attacks they can use at regular intervals, from arrow flares to earthquakes. It's about as casual an action role-playing game as they come.
I just wish there was a little more meat to the story mode. It's laid out across a series of maps, each with a selection of short mission types -- kill x number of creatures, find three keys to unlock a door -- none of which take more than a couple of minutes to complete. Once the player completes all of the smaller missions to 100 per cent (each much be performed multiple times, the difficulty increasing with each instance), a boss fight occurs. When that's done the day is saved, and the player gets a set of eponymous rocks to use to summon new warriors to their stable.
There's a multiplayer aspect to Battlestone, but it's very slim. Players are able to duel with AI representations of other players to win fame and more of them Battlestones. There's no direct interaction, and the battles are incredibly easy. I'm not really sure the feature is even necessary.
As with games in the collectible card game genre proper, the real joy in Battlestone is collecting characters and building the ultimate party. Using those characters in real combat, however simple it might be, is a truly welcome diversion.
Genre: collectible character action RPG Developer: November Software Platform: iOS Price: free Get Battlestone from the iTunes App Store.