REVIEW: Alchemic Jousts


Alchemic Jousts is a casual two-dimensional tower defence game in which you must use your burgeoning elemental magic abilities to destroy your opponents’ towers while protecting your own.

Status: Released

Developer: Lunatic Pixels

PublisherLunatic Pixels

Genre: 2D Action Strategy with Card Game elements

Release date: 16th of December, 2016

Type: Single Player, Both Online and Local Multi-player

Graphics

Graphics are bright and colourful and very reminiscent of a mobile game. Elemental character sprites have a cute feel to them and are animated simply, but well.

I found the interface to take some getting used to, but that’s more of a control issue than a graphical one. Interface buttons are big and mostly easy to work out, but most include tooltips in case you need them anyway. I find the main screen between levels very busy, but it’s functional.

There are more graphics options available than I’d expect in this sort of casual game. As well as the normal resolution and full screen / windowed selections, there’s also a graphic detail setting, anti-aliasing setting, and vsync. I saw no performance issues running with high detail and maximum AA in 1920×1080.

Sound

Sound effects are cute and suit the graphics and the rest of the game style. Music is suitably energetic and catchy, but it just seems to keep going, and going, and … . I was a bit embarrassed to find myself humming it while doing mundane chores after playing.

Gameplay

On the surface, Alchemic Jousts plays like many other 2D tower defence games on mobile platforms. Battle Cats comes to mind as one well known Android example. Where the others in the genre focus on damage numbers and hit points, and upgrading units as you progress to make them more powerful, Alchemic Jousts does away with much of that. Instead, the game adopts the traditional paper-scissors-rock approach with an elemental magic feel.

Each of the elements in the game has a hidden resource metre that continually fills as the game progresses. Its effects are visible in little gauges on each of your ability icons, which gradually rise until the icons are full, enabling you to use the ability. Initially you have four elementals you can create: air, earth, fire, and water. Air is separate from the others, and flying up above the ground, at least to begin with, doesn’t interact with anything other than enemy air elementals. The other three are ground based and interact in the traditional paper-scissors-rock way: water beats fire, fire beats earth, and earth beats water.

The objective of each level is to cause damage to your opponent’s tower, most often by having one of your elementals reach it. It all sounds simple enough, and to begin with, it is.

Once you’ve played a level and gained some special ‘reagents’ you can enter the lab, where you combine any two of your abilities to try to produce a new one. Given that you only have the four elementals to start with, everything stems from there, but by combining these base elementals with each other, and then with higher tier abilities, eventually you can create a plethora of abilities in six different categories (182, from what I can see).

Later levels introduce zones into the action, and different game modes, and your opponents gradually start to gain the same abilities as you can make in the lab. You’re able to pick which abilities you want to use before each level, and there’s a definite trade off between being well equipped and focusing on a small group of core abilities, as different abilities share resource counters and cooldown timers. Too many abilities of one element will see all of them taking longer to recharge, while having many abilities of the same type can result in you only being able to use one at a time, as they may share long cooldown timers.

You can also play online or local multiplayer, but I didn’t have an opportunity to try either.

Overall it has a good feel to it, and there’s some fun to be had in gaining the many new abilities available in the lab. It doesn’t come without its frustrations, though. First, you’re not given any useful hints on working combinations, so you may find yourself using up plenty of your scarce reagents on wasted combinations. You can go back and replay earlier levels to gain more, but only at a much reduced reward rate. That’s made worse by the game only giving you a way to see the four most recent combination attempts, so without reverting to paper or a text editor to keep track of your failures, you’ll quickly find yourself repeating past failed attempts, further wasting your resources.

I also first tried playing with a controller, since the store page boasts full controller support. I quickly abandoned this, though, as the tutorial hints are all for mouse interaction only, and at one point I couldn’t work out how to progress without reverting to the mouse (when the tutorial prompts to use a lab clue for the first time).

Pros:

+ A nice new take on tower defence with paper-scissors-rock strategy
+ Cute graphics and sound effects
+ Unlocking new abilities is addictive; you want to keep coming back for one more try
+ Supports local and online multiplayer
+ Steam achievements and trading cards

Cons:

– It’s frustrating to continually fail at lab combinations, and have no way of tracking your failed attempts in game.
– Gets repetitive, especially once you establish a group of ‘core skills’ that suit your play style
– High retail price

CONCLUSION

At its retail price it’s hard to recommend Alchemic Jousts, especially considering the many free alternatives in the genre on mobile devices. The big draw here is in the unlocking of 180 different abilities, but even that comes with some frustration. If you like this sort of game and you have an addictive personality then you’ll probably get many hours of enjoyment; just make sure you keep notes on your lab attempts!

For anyone else, maybe you’d be best off waiting for a deep discount.

RATING: 60/100

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