Sunday, March 04, 2007

Flash Mobile Game Review: Rune Mage

Rune Mage
Developed by Pixelthis Mobile
Released: February 2007
Availability: OTI (over the internet)
Requirements: Flash Lite 1.1 enabled device
(176x208, 176x220, 240x320 native resolutions are supported)

"If you’re like me, and you enjoy games like Sudoku, or Tetris, you’ll most likely eat this little ditty right up."

Review by Scott Janousek


So, I had a chance a few evenings ago to play a new Flash Lite puzzle based game released by Pixelthis Mobile; a New Zealand based Flash Mobile game company.

What can I say about Rune Mage? First off, it’s addictive (for me anyways). I’m always up for a good puzzle, and this game delivers. If you’re like me, and you enjoy games like Sudoku, or Tetris, you’ll most likely eat this little ditty right up! Fair warning though … it’s equivalent to cocaine for your run-of-the-mill puzzle junky out there. No joke, consider yourself forewarned!

The overall objective of the game is pretty simple. In the role of a “spell caster” you move around various ancient (magic) rune symbols set on a square grid until they complete a “magic spell” (they solve the puzzle for a particular stage). If you’re correct and runes match, then the spell starts to take shape (pieces start to glow in their respective places in the grid). Think of a traditional rainy day puzzle and you’ll get the picture here. Things fit or they don’t, until the puzzle is solved.

Unlike a traditional puzzle, however, moving the symbols involves selecting a position (or rune) in the grid with the select key and then using the up, down, left, and right keys to shift entire columns or rows of the overall puzzle. In a way it is very similar to some of the slider puzzles you see where you push around puzzle pieces until they complete a visual picture. Close, but this is much more satisfying …

But, herein lays one of the particular challenges of this game. In moving a particular row or column, you can sometimes unintentionally move pieces you’ve already placed, making it a requirement to think ahead. This kind of thought process is much in line with what you do when playing a game of chess, or sudoku. You need to give some thought about what your current move so you can complete the overall spell given. On lesser stages it’s not a requirement, but some of the later stages it’s imperative! Not to fret, as you move from being a “Neophyte” rune caster to being a “Master Rune Mage”, you’ll have to learn how to visualize the spell based on the level title hints. Fun!

To make everything even more challenging, each stage in the various levels (did we mention the game has 25 levels which contain multiple stages!?) has a predetermined time limit. If the time runs out, you lose the level and have to play it again. Luckily, there is your handy dandy “enter a code” feature to allow you to skip right to where you left off.

All in all, we found Rune Mage to a be a true classic in the Flash Lite puzzle genre category, worthy of very high praise due to both its addictive game play and unique theme. For a Flash Lite 1.1 game, this one rocks in my book.

The good:

Graphics – the game really shines here. The actual runes, stones, and overall game screens are laid out quite nicely. Other areas of the game, add a little pizzazz to the title. I think some might have been held back on because of overall file size, but some areas such as the splash screen could be a bit more engaging. After all, this is the first thing a user sees and is very important to captivate them there.

Sound - another bonus is the sound. I found the overall soundtrack to fit nicely with the game. There’s also a lovely option to toggle off sound. Although we wish we could do this throughout the game instead of at the very beginning, it’s still a valuable feature as you’ll end up playing this everywhere.

Game Play – I'll just came out and say it. The game play in this game is superb. The stage and level creation were given quite a bit of thought and it shows. The game is reminiscent of Tetris on a few levels. But the game play is unique enough to classify this title into its own genre. It's a shame we don't still do ratings here at Frame 27. This game is nearly perfect in terms of overall game play and experience, IMHO.

Multiplayer or a high score mechanism would be a nice have, but overall the title works best a standalone solo game. Overall, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the game. Frankly, it brought a tear to my eye, as the quaint memories of role playing games danced about in my head. If you like fantasy, or puzzles you’ll love this particular title!

The bad:

Minor User Interface Aesthetics: Level codes entries (sorry my battery just died so I don’t know the exact terminology used in the game) took some time to figure out based on the existing graphical assets. This could be easily fixed by swapping some graphical assets and changing the color coding to be more dramatic. The idea is there, we just found the existing method a bit unobvious at first try with what “grey” versus “brown” was. Although we are not colorblind, we might sympathize with someone who may suffer. Entering codes shouldn’t require any learning at all, and with some minor changes, this area of the game would be perfect! Adding a Flash Lite 1.1 save state style feature would be a bonus, but as is it works fine.

S.O.S. … Help Me: The help screen could be a bit more detailed (aka visual). If you’re into puzzle games, you’ll figure the game out on the 1st stage of the 1st level. It would be cool if this area could be spruced up a bit a graphic here and there, but the game is easy enough to pick up, so perhaps the overall file size isn’t warranted. No biggie!

Sadistic Level: “Carpet Snake” level was a particularly challenging and perhaps belongs with the later, more intricate levels. We found it very out of place on the very 1st level where some users may still be learning the game play. I see a lot of potential hair loss on this level … for your average casual gamer.

Performance: We wished there was an option to toggle on and off the motion effects when moving a puzzle piece. The “Rubix cube” effect is cool, but gets tiresome after a while. Plus it just tacks on more time when you’re trying to complete a particularly difficult stage where time is of the essence. Also, I did have one freak occurrence (1 time only instance) of the game freezing while seemingly idle, but otherwise the overall stability was quite good for the amount of game time we’ve put in this far.

Review by Scott Janousek