I’ve never been a big mobile game player, but I ended up working in a mobile games company (opinions are my own etc), so I’ve been trying to expose myself to more games in this market and attempt to gain an ever-better understanding of them. One of the ways I’ve been doing that is in trying out new games, seeing what they do wrong and right, and try to draw conclusions from them that I can use in the future to make our games better. One of the resources I’ve been using for this is columns listing the new iOS games of the week.
This resulted in me playing a lot more new games during my daily bus rides, but I also feel the need to discuss them somewhere and keep a log of my thoughts instead of just internalising them. So, Commuting Cognition. These will be brief, bus-ride-long thoughts on these games, and should be seen less as reviews and more as first-impression brain dumps. They also may not be daily, depending on how much i have to say and how full the bus is that day, but i may still post bite-sized thoughts on twitter.
Dash Quest Heroes is a charming streamlined hack-n-slash RPG, and it’s pretty fun.
Your character moves forward automatically and monsters rise up to attack you. You can defend yourself by tapping the right half of the screen to attack, or holding it to charge a stronger attack, and the left half of the screen to block. Some attacks require you to evade by moving to another of the three lanes you’re walking on, which is done by swiping left or right. As you progress you also attain abilities and ranged weapons that are activated by tapping their corresponding buttons. The goal is to make it to the end of the level, where you’ll fight a boss, and not die in the process.
Charging an attack to the second stage will release a ranged sonic wave, so you’ll be doing that whenever an enemy doesn’t immediately demand your attention. Blocking, on the other hand, didn’t feel terribly relevant until i faced the first boss; there blocking became almost mandatory, as the boss staggered after a successful block and allowed you to dish out a series of attacks.
This decision both keeps the regular encounters moving quickly, as befits their grindy nature and the flavour of continuous movement, and makes the boss encounters feel more strategic and epic. It’s likely blocking is also used in regular encounters down the line, say for ranged enemies and the like, but i expect that it is kept simple and sporadic so as to not harm the pace.
I found the first level a bit too long for an introduction to the gameplay. It got to a point that i started wondering if it was a never-ending level, but that made the loot drops confusing because i couldn’t see a way to equip them (only at the end of the level), so it started getting a little frustrating.
Shortly after the first level you gain an XP boost for 30 minutes, with the intent to keep you playing a little longer and get hooked, but this works best when the levels are short and quickly played through; in this case the extra 30 minutes felt like trying to stretch the session length a little too much.
Once the first level does end you gain access to a series of menus with a bunch more features, namely your inventory, shops, upgrades, and lootboxes (of course). Oddly enough you can swipe to change between all of these menus except the IAP shop; i’m not sure if that was a conscious decision, to force you to pay attention to it just that little bit longer, but it’s somewhat annoying.
These menus provide a large amount of money sinks, coupled with a gold cap that encourages you to spend and not hoard too much (though the cap can be increased).
The screen they first draw your attention to is the skills menu, where you spend skill points gained on level ups to upgrade your skills or unlock new ones. At the end of the first level you have three new skills at your disposal but they’re all passive stat upgrades, which i feel doesn’t showcase the system very well; providing a cheap active skill would’ve been a more noticeable increase in power.
On the topic of active skills: you start off with one, which makes all your attacks ranged for a short period of time. Now this isn’t explained until you see the skill in your inventory, so during the first level i found its usage pretty confusing: since the game got me used to charging attacks between waves of enemies the charged attack i released was already a ranged attack, and at close range the effect is less noticeable, so the skill seemed to have little effect. Even after you know what it does there’s still no mention anywhere of how long it lasts, making it hard to plan how best to use it.
In addition to these issues, at the end of the first level you also gain a boomerang, which is a ranged attack on a cooldown that doesn’t consume ability points. These two, plus the charged ranged attack, are all mechanically different, but they don’t a significant enough difference in kind to not make it feel like the game is already repeating itself — on the very first level.
At the end of the day (or the bus ride, as it were) i did enjoy my short run of the game and could see myself playing it further. It has plenty of stuff to keep you wanting to come back, namely the charming characters, many progression systems, unlockable classes, timed lootboxes, and a bestiary. If a game has a bestiary, you know it’s legit.