Mage Gauntlet review
RocketCat initially seems like the wrong outfit to handle an action RPG. Its previous platforming games, such as Hook Worlds and Super QuickHook, may have boasted the same over-sized 16-bit art styles as The Secret Of Mana and A Link To The Past, but they also had an all-conquering sense of forward momentum. They didn't dawdle, as RPGs often need to, they created landscapes you wanted to race through rather than territories you'd like to explore.
Surprisingly, the team hasn't lost much of its sense of speed with Mage Gauntlet. The game's top-down environments seem intricate at first, but still offer a relatively linear path from A to B if you're looking to sidestep most of the story, and enemies – even the bosses – are there to be tackled with haste and efficiency above all else. Loot and levelling, meanwhile, provides only the slightest of distractions between stages as you compare the perks offered by different weapons and armour, select a pet to accompany you, and pour skill points into some rather unexciting attributes. You're not an adventurer repacking your kit for the next five days of exploration here, you're a marathon runner chugging back a quick bottle of water at a checkpoint.
The controls are as refined as RocketCat's previous games may have lead you to expect, with workable D-pad and analogue stick options laid out alongside a brilliant 'Pro Swipe' set-up that allows you to move your character by pushing your thumb around in large, surprisingly precise, arcs. Big, chunky buttons, meanwhile, handle melee combat, a quick dash move and all of your spell-casting options, offering you a good mixture of area effects and more targeted attacks.
Landscapes have a chunky prettiness to them and the game's script is often surprisingly sharp as its gaze flits from one RPG cliché to another. RocketCat's latest only falls short, in fact, if played in long bursts, when the race-tuned focus on combat becomes something of a grind, and its desire to move you along at speed erodes the game's already thin sheen of consequence.
Mage Gauntlet's an action RPG that's perfectly tailored for the pick-up-and-play crowd, in other words. It's a likeable confection that's as witty as it is insubstantial.