One of my goals when I was locking down meetings at PAX Prime this year was to focus on mobile games and accessories. I’m not the biggest fan of casual mobile games, but they appear to have a massive fanbase, and for good reason. They’re easy to play and don’t involve much time and effort. They are quick, easy fun.
However, I knew there had to be some mobile titles for core gamers. Smartphones and tablets are only getting more and more powerful, and many mobile games now have near console quality visuals. True, the actual touchscreen inputs leave a lot to be desired, but SOMETHING is out there for those who aren’t interested in slicing at virtual fruit and want something more, right?
The answer is yes, there is. At PAX, I met with Red Robot Labs to check out their upcoming game, Life is Magic. RRL came to fame with their location based game, Life is Crime. Boasting some impressive usage statistics, LIC gained popularity as one of the more popular mobile titles out there. Life is Magic aims to take the concept of location based gaming in a much different, fantasy RPG based direction.
I grew up on RPGs, both Japanese and Western, and along with racing games, it is my favorite video game genre. While there is no shortage of RPGs on mobile devices (Zenonia comes to mind), I feel that there is always room for more…especially more than don’t use a touch based controller/dpad overlay. How about a RPG made specifically with a touch interface in mind? Enter Life is Magic.
I love the concept of LIM, and the gameplay is extremely addictive. Taking your location into account, LIM recreates your town with a fantasy flair. You’ll see familiar places on the map, like your home or the local Starbucks. These all still maintain their real-life names but are redesigned to fit with the overall fantasy theme of the game. The local Vietnamese restaurant that I frequent regularly became a tavern in the game, while still being named Da Nang Vietnamese Cuisine.
By keeping all the locations the same, LIM succeeds in pulling you deep into its world, drawing players in by bombarding them with the familiar. You recognize all the locations on the map; you feel a bigger sense of attachment to these places. It’s one thing to have fictional locations that grow on you after playing through a game franchise, but it’s a whole other thing to have locations that you are intimately familiar with scattering the game world.
With all the different locations in the game world, you have a quite a few options with what you can do. Local businesses become in-game locations where you can interact with NPCs, buy and upgrade your weapons and armor, and purchase items like healing potions. It’s pretty cool to go over to my local Trader Joe’s and buy some new armor for my next dungeon crawling quest.
And yes, like any good classic RPG, there is quite a bit of dungeon crawling at work here; though it’s different from the typical grinding you may be used to. With many RPGs, you have a dungeon/region/enemy type that is way out of your league, and you need to grind through previous areas to level up slowly. Here the concept is similar, as there is a lot of dungeon crawling, but it’s actually a main part of the gameplay.
You see, in LIM, you can go wherever you want, whether it’s a tavern, shop, or dungeon…but you have to be able to afford to actually enter it. This is done by points that you earn persistently, and also that you can earn by participating in battles. This is where the interesting thing about LIM lies. You’ll eat through these points fairly quickly; for instance, you might have 20 points for the day, and it costs 5 to enter a dungeon. Or you may choose to go the non-combat route and go around town gaining Influence instead. All these things cost points, and basically the only way you can earn more to spend it by defeating enemies, or just waiting for time to pass to accrue more. This is actually one of the downsides to the game, as earning more points could take some time, and you can potentially be stuck twiddling your thumbs just waiting.
Once you’re in a dungeon, how’s the combat? Pretty simplistic and very addicting. Each dungeon has a number of floors. Each floor comes with enemies. As you complete each floor and eliminate all the enemies, you’re presented with some loot and the option to continue to the next floor, or to grab your loot and run. Do you take what you have and live to fight another day? Or do you continue deeper into the dungeon in hopes of snagging some better loot, but risk running into a foe that you may not be able to defeat?
During combat, you’re presented with a number of options that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a turn based RPG. You can select a variety of attacks, defend, or use items. Pretty basic, to be honest. The unique feature with LIM as far as combat goes is the inclusion of asynchronous mulitplayer. You can play with friends, but they don’t have to be logged on at the same time. You can jump into any dungeon and fight alongside your friends’ characters. You all benefit from the spoils of victory.
The remainder of the game involves scouring the map for treasure chests and gaining Influence in towns. Since the a large portion of the game involves gaining Influence and capturing towers (kind of like a home base), you’ll be doing a lot of milling about in towns. You can talk to NPCs, upgrade weapons and armor, collect spell cards, or simply just visit as many places as you want. Truth be told, as fun as the dungeon crawling element is, there is a ton of fun to be had exploring around town as well. Earn enough points, and you can travel to further locations as well. I am based out of Antioch, CA, approx. an hour outside of San Francisco. I eventually earned enough to go to SF and even New York. And believe me, the major cities completely DWARF small towns, and earning Influence becomes a much bigger task.
Graphically, the game looks fantastic. LIM is presented in a heavy cartoon style; dungeons, enemies, your character, and NPCs all look very sharp and pop with detail and color. The overworld looks great as well, though a little more pixelated than the characters themselves. This is easily forgotten as you see just how much detail is crammed into the whole world. While the layout of the cities do tend to look a bit geometric, especially in the larger cities, there’s plenty of detail, and something familiar about how each city looks.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that Life is Magic is a core game for mobile devices…but it does blur the line just a bit further. While the base gameplay mechanics are very simple and are great for those who just want to pick something up and play for a few minutes, the game offers that extra layer for those who want to sink their time into something more complex. There’s a lot to do in LIM, and the familiar RPG elements should please those that are fans of the genre.
The version I played was a beta, but I was told by Red Robot that the final version will be the same thing, with the bugs worked out…which there wasn’t too many of other than a few force closes. There will also be some slight tweaks to progressions and difficulty, but overall, not too much will be different; certainly not at a noticeable level. Keep an eye out for this one, folks!