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The team at Jujubee S.A. recently released a game called Spellcrafter where you swipe gestures to cast spells. The idea sounds novel but does it add to the game or is it just a gimmick?

If you haven’t heard of Spellcrafter yet, that’s okay because the game was just released last week. Since its release, I have been digging into the game and trying to learn as much about it as possible. The idea is intriguing when you first think about it. It is a role-playing game, mixed into a strategy game with a layer of gesture support right on top of it. I loved the idea when I first read about it and had to get my hands on it to see how it actually played out.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, check it out now.

Story

This trailer does a great job of showing you what the game is all about. The intro that you see here is the same intro that you see in the game. A rhyming poem of sorts and it sets the stage for what is to come. You start off by controlling a knight named Cedrick and you are being awoken so that you can find and protect a mage.

This mage is said to be incredibly important and incredibly powerful. The enemy, which is called the Brotherhood, is also looking for this mage and if they get to him first then they will use his power for evil.

When you start the game you are taken directly to the main menu. Here we have some basic things to choose from just like most video games. These are very common and just as you would expect them so no surprises here. The options screen is simple as well. We have the ability to control both the sound and the music volumes with some slider bars. We also have a setting for the graphic quality. Now, the game seemed to stutter on my LG G3 on high quality, especially during the gesture controls for spells, but changing this to medium seemed to clear it up. There’s only two settings for the graphic quality, high and medium and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between them.

After you watch through the intro video, which has a voice over track just like in the trailer, you are shown the character that you will control. Cedrick the knight wakes up and here is where the game starts. This gives you an idea as to what the graphics look like too(this was on high graphic quality when I took the screenshot). The camera spins around Cedrick while he wakes up but then the camera goes up in the air for the rest of the game. You can control it though but it seems best played as an isometric style game.

Gameplay

The top screenshot here shows the camera zoomed out all the way as you walk through a very spread out village. There’s a peasant here that you can talk to and most of the time these NPCs, at least at the beginning, will offer to sell you soldiers for your army. Some will ask you to complete a task for them and in exchange they will give you money, or an item or something. The bottom screenshot shows how far in that you can zoom into the game. The camera stays above him though. At least, I wasn’t able to tilt the camera and make it go into 3rd-person view but I thought the zoomed out isometric view was best for this type of game.

There are a couple of ways that you can control your character. The first one you will probably discover on your own is a simple tap control scheme. This is the one that I used most and while I didn’t really care for it at first, it grew on me the more I played the game. Tapping on a blank area of the screen will instruct your character to move to that area. As you can see here, the trail of green dots shows you the path that your character will take to get there. The other way to control your character is to tap and hold on a spot of the screen. As the screen pans, there will be new dots laid out so your character will continue trying to move toward your finger.

Now, the first issue I had with this game was the movement here. It seems like the pathing system(or something) needs some polish because there would be times when I would tap on the screen, see a trail of dots, and then see my character only hit 1 or 2 of the dots before stopping. Another part of this movement system I didn’t like happens when you are trying to walk around something. Say you are at the bottom side of that rock right there, if you tap on the path above you. The character would try to walk to a green dot, hit the rock, and then stop. So you are sometimes required to guide your character around an object instead of the pathing system figuring that out for him. Using the control system where you keep your finger on the screen seemed to clear up that ‘jankyness’ when trying to get around an object but not always.

You can also be left guessing about which spots of the screen can be tapped to instruct your character to move. For instance, if you tap too close near a mountain, your guy simply will not move. So you end up randomly tapping closer to the real path of the village(or wherever you are at the moment) just trying to get your character to advance forward. This didn’t happen too often but it happened enough to make it noticeable. This can happen when trying to walk between things too. I remember walking behind a gate one time and was able to walk into the fenced area easily, but then I was forced to tap again and again and again to actually get my character out of the fenced area.

This is your character sheet for Spellcrafter. It shows you the HP, MP, Experience level, how many units are in your army and your skill advancement levels. This is where you will customize your character to how you want to play. If you want to emphasize your army, then put points into the Attack section so you can unlock the special abilities of your army units. If you want to learn all of the offensive spells, then put points into the Magic section. Lastly, if you want to protect your team the most, then you will want to put points into the Defense section. You’ll get one point for each level that you gain and you gain XP by defeating groups of enemies.

Here are a few skills and spells that you can unlock. Spikes does an area attack that will hit multiple enemies who are sitting right next to each other. If they are more than one square apart from each other, then the move will only hit one enemy. Hustle is the equivalent of a haste spell and it will cause one of your units to move faster. The top row is for the special unit skills. As you can see from this first skill in that section that I unlocked, it will give your peasants a war cry. You can only use this once per battle and you are only allowed to target one of your friendly units. Speaking of friendly, there is friendly fire so if you have a unit next to an enemy when you do the Spike spell, it will damage your unit as well.

Battle System

Here we have the meat of the game, the battle field. When you get into your first battle, you are instructed to tap on the spellbook at the top right. This opens it up and you see a list of spells that you can use. Naturally, you are given one spell at first and that is the fireball. Tapping on a spell within your spellbook will teach you(or give you a reminder) of the gesture required in order to cast that spell. For example, doing a basic fireball spell is just a straight line gesture from the left to the right. You have to pay attention though because this hint/reminder indicator is very faint and you can miss it if you aren’t paying attention.

Doing the gesture correctly will cause a symbol to appear which shows you the spell that you are about to cast. So, doing a fireball gesture from left to right will make the symbol you see in the first of these two images appear. Doing the caret symbol(or an upside down V) gesture will make the symbol you see in the second of these two images appear(which is called spike and is an AoE attack). Spells and gestures range from these to a circle(for a shield) to a zigzag(for a lightning spell) and more.

This is what drew me into this game but it seems to miss gestures from time to time. As I mentioned, having the game on high graphics caused enough lag that it was troublesome for me to cast the Spike spell and this is on my LG G3. I’m not sure if this is an issue with my phone(maybe it was too hot) or if its poor optimization within the game itself. It can be incredibly hard for a game developer to optimize their graphics for every type of hardware combination so I’m hoping things like this will get ironed out in time.

After you do the fireball spell for the first time, you are reminded that you don’t have to open up the spellbook to cast it each time. As long as you know the gesture of the spell, you can simply cast the spell when it is your character’s turn. Which now that I started thinking about the story to this game, seems out-of-place. Cedrick is supposed to be a Knight but he has a spellbook and casts spells? I don’t claim to be a medieval expert but I thought knights were fighters, not mages. I dunno, that’s just something that seemed off while I was playing it.

You’re also given a time bar at the top of your screen. This is the amount of time your character has to take their turn. Interestingly enough though, the faster you perform the gesture for your spells, the more damage they will do. I thought this was a nice touch as it adds a little bit of skill into the game, even if it’s just a tiny bit. It helps to keep you on your toes since you keep trying to cast your spell as fast as possible so you can do as much damage as possible. It doesn’t make an incredible difference, damage wise, at the beginning, but I could see this ramping up nicely toward the end game.

Since this is a strategy game, the battlefield is a grid and turn based area. When it’s your turn, you can move your character to any of the green spaces that you see above, or you can choose to attack. While it’s your turn, you can also tap and hold on one of the enemies and you’ll see red squares appear. This gives you an idea as to where they will be able to move after your turn is complete and it becomes the enemy’s turn. This battle system is very strategic and the wrong move can wipe our your entire army in a turn or two.

A few minutes into the game you are given the choice to buy two different army units, peasants and bowmen. Peasants attack with what looks like a sickle of sorts(something that they would use to cut down wheat) and the bowmen attack with a crossbow. The peasants need to be in an adjacent square to attack but the bowmen can shoot from all the way across the field. Now, you’re given some objects on the screen to fight around but there are only a few strategic squares that give a benefit compared to the rest.

You’ll get a battlefield cover bonus when you are on those certain squares of the field and they are generally only placed right up next to the object. Any other squares on the field act as if you can see directly to them. For instance, if you have a bolder in the middle of the battlefield, unless the enemy(or you) are placed right up against the side of them, then the bowman can shoot you just as if you were two squares in front of him. It seems strange at first, since you would think if something gets in the way of line-of-sight then you shouldn’t be able to shoot them. But the more I think about it the more I can see that they technically could shoot it in the air and make it arc down at you. It’s just one of those little things you have to get used to when you first to learn the rules of the game.

This is something else that seemed odd at first and it wasn’t until I learned more about the game that I started to understand it better. As you can see in the first image, my peasant was hit for zero but they still felt the need to tell me that 0 peasants died. I thought it was a bug at first. Even in the second screenshot here, one of my peasants get hit for 13 and they still felt the need to tell me that 0 peasants died. It wasn’t until I started to grasp the idea of the game that I understood the need to tell me how many of my troops died with each hit.

The game is more about your ‘army’ than controlling 2 or three units. While there are only a handful of physical units on the field for you team, you still see a number underneath them. As shown in this screenshot, my peasant has the number 2 under it. This means I have a stack of 2 peasants that are being controlled all at once. If you move one your peasant anywhere, the entire stack of peasants move at the same time. The same is also said with attacking too, if you have a stack of 7 bowmen and attack with them, that one attack will do as much damage as 7 bowmen attacks would do.

I am not a fan of how this is set up because it makes things so much harder. If an enemy does enough damage, they can wipe out half of your stack of bowmen or peasants in one attack. Not only can this turn the tide of the battle in an instant, but it is also a waste of money. Especially if you just got done buying a whole bunch of units. You can spread out your units in strategic places and instead you are forced to take the full wrath of the hit. However, I can see why things are done this way. Not being forced to control 5+ bowmen, 5+ peasants and your knight/mage hybrid in one turn is a definite time saver. This way also makes things more difficult and that could be something the developers were going for.

And believe me, Spellcrafter can be very, very difficult if you make the wrong move. This could be caused by poor balancing of the enemies, it could be caused by an incredibly steep difficulty curve or again, this could be exactly what the developers wanted. Not every developer wants to create a game that caters to casual gamers. Some developers want you to learn the intricacies of the game and actually improve things as you try them again and again and again. Mobile gamers generally aren’t that type of gamer though, so I hope this isn’t too hard that it makes people give up and uninstall it/request a refund.

As you can see from the images, I lost a lot of troops from those battles and something like that can make the rest of the level virtually impossible. If something like this happens, you can retry the fight right at the victory/death window so that you can try it again. The game also has a way for you to restart the level so that you can try to prepare yourself better before you get to that big evil group of enemies.

When you approach an enemy, you get a greeting like this that tells you what level the ‘hazard'(aka group of enemies) is rated. These names seem to be very vague and unless you have a written scale beside you, or just learn it through repetition, then it can be difficult to gauge just how hard this fight would be. I would like to see this changed to something different, maybe they could change the names of these tiers to something that is easier to distinguish(like easy/medium/hard) or they could go with a star system. One star would be easy while five stars would be the hardest(or however many tiers they have in the game right now).

Random Thoughts

After seeing the intro move with the voice over, I got a little excited when hoping that the entire game would be narrated like that. I was wrong. Most of the game is done in text dialog as you see here and that’s not bad, it’s just not what I was hoping for after seeing the intro video. The story is pretty good from what I have played of it so far. I’m a little stuck right now though so I can’t tell you how the story develops past the second level.

Speaking of second level, this is something that made me mad. So I’m playing through the game for a second time since I had to reset my phone and progress is not saved across devices. After realizing how difficult the game can be, and how effective the bowmen can be, I saved all of my money and bought a huge stack of bowmen to stomp through the level. This worked out very well for me and when I ended the first level I had 7 bowmen and 1 peasant. The image you see above is the beginning of the second level and after you go down the patch a little bit you come up to a group of enemies.

When I started my first battle here, I did not have the same number of units that I had when I ended level one. Instead of a 1-7 split between peasants and bowmen, I had a 2-3(or 3-2) split between those two units. This made me put the phone down and not pick it back up for a couple of hours. All of the work I put toward building my army to see the developers decide how they want my army to be composed for the second level did not seem fair. I picked it back up a little bit later and played through the second level until I reached some winged, sword wielding enemy. Got through him, after losing 7 bowmen(as you see in one of the above screenshots) only to come across another winged, sword wielding enemy pack.

This shows you how unforgiving the game can be. Granted, I might have been going down the wrong path, or maybe that was an extra path to get a chest that wasn’t really needed to complete the level. Maybe I played that first battle wrong and could have protected my bowmen so they wouldn’t have died. Either way, this game is hard and you should be prepared to die again and again until you figure out the perfect strategy.

Something else that I didn’t like was this part. It’s the end of level one and you are asked if you want to spread a good word. There’s two options here(even though you can only see one). One of them is “yes, sure” and the other is a way for you to decline. The first time I played through it I wasn’t sure what this meant and trying to be the good guy in the game I tapped on the yes option. As you can see from the second screenshot, this is what happened when I did. The game closed/minimized and a browser was opened up. I’m assuming this was a disguised way to get people to rate the game. To top it off, the game takes me to a 404 page where I can’t even rate the game anyway.

When I played through the game the second time around, I was smarter than to tap on the Yes option. Thinking ‘ahha, you’re not going to get me again’, so I tried to select the No option and I was unable to decline this part. Now, this could have been an issue with my game. It could have been an issue with my phone. Remember, I did have some issues with lag in the gesture part of the battles. Still, it’s not like my phone was freezing up or anything. I can’t understand why I wasn’t able to select the No option

Conclusion

Spellcrafter has some very compelling elements that make it a fun and engaging game. I genuinely enjoyed  how the story starts off as it pulls you into their world by giving you a reason to care about the characters and a reason to really want to find this mage before the Brotherhood gets to them. The battle system was confusing at first but then I actually started to get into it and thinking about the different ways to approach an enemy so that you get the optimal results.

On the other hand, I didn’t like how unpolished the game seemed. The graphics aren’t the best but I can give that a pass since it is a game where the camera is zoomed out so much. I am the type who gets immersed in the story more than I focus on the graphics of a game. However, when things like the jankyness that I mentioned from simply walking around in the game appears, it pulls me right out of the story and reminds me how much more work needs to be put into it. I shouldn’t have to struggle with maneuvering around a bolder just so I can get around it. I appreciate the work that these developers have put into the game engine and all, but it needs more polish.

The difficulty curve is something else I have an issue with. I’m not the type of gamer who will grind over and over on the same level/boss for days until I finally beat it so I might not be the target audience here. If the developers are going after a more hardcore gamer then they have a gem here. However, if they are wanting to reach a more mainstream audience, the type of audience that is more prevalent on mobile right now, then I feel like they will have to tone the difficulty down a bit. This could be as simple as focusing more on balancing the enemies or it could be more drastic and require a total change of the battle system.

I actually really started to enjoy the battle system so I would like to see some balancing tweaks happen. Although, and I want to stress this point, the parts that I had the most difficulty with might be there for a reason. The developers might want those winged enemies to be very hard because it is optional and there might be some really good treasure behind them. It’s just discouraging to see hundreds of gold worth of bowmen die in a single battle and not even 5 feet away see another group of the same enemies. I also want to remind you that I may have had difficulty with those enemies because of the strategy I brought to the game. If the developers are aiming at a difficulty curve that is meant to be steep then they hit the nail right on the head and I commend them for that.

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