When John Kooistra of Cat in a Box Games first contacted us about Fastar! and we ran our preview post, I really wasn't sure where they were going with the game. Reading the promotional materials and watching the trailer (embedded below) sounded promising, but I wasn't sure if the game was actually going to be fun to play, or just a satirical jab at the repetitiveness of action RPG's filled with generic enemies of different sizes and colors, vague fantasy worlds, and tons of button mashing. The emphasis on speed runs sounded interesting, but in order for speed runs to be appealing you need to have compelling gameplay, and I just wasn't sure whether or not Fastar! would be up to the task.
I'm happy to report that Fastar!, or Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG, is a ridiculous amount of fun. So much so, that working up the motivation to stop playing the game to actually write this review has been something I've spent the better part of this afternoon doing and once I'm done I'm going to go right back to working on completing a hard mode run through, despite the fact that the siren call of StarCraft II has been taunting me to actually play it since it came out this Tuesday.
The object of Fastar! is delightfully simple. Basically, all you do is run to the right, kill everything that moves, collect coins, spend those coins on upgrades, and make it to the finish as quickly as possible. What makes Fastar! so much fun is the insane amount of variety in the game. While all the enemies you will come across are squares of different sizes and colors, they all behave differently. Some are extremely aggressive and lunge right towards you as soon as they appear on screen, while others will do everything they can to avoid your attacks including jumping clear over your character's head. There are giant squares that move slow but do tons of damage, very fast moving small squares, and the different squares can even use the several magical spells included in the game. It's really strange how much personality these squares manage to have, and how you get to know them once you spend some time with the game. (Argh, damn you, green squares!)
On top of all the different enemies, there are 24 different game modes which all manage to feel different even though the gameplay itself is essentially the same. For instance, there are three standard game modes ranging from easy to hard that provide the "classic" Fastar! experience which pits you up against various enemies to complete the game as fast as possible. Alternatively, there is "profit" mode which emphasizes making money and puts the player to the task of collecting as much money as possible in five minutes, "showdown" mode where you fight 25 enemies as quickly as possible, "sudden death" mode where you only have 50 hit points and basically one hit will kill you, and many others. I'm preferring "arena" mode which is a survival mode of sorts with an endless supply of squares to kill with high scores measured by the number of rounds you're able to survive.
The RPG elements of Fastar! are fairly basic, but do the trick just fine. At points throughout the game, you'll be given the option to upgrade your character. For instance, in the standard game modes you come across towns, or in the "arena" mode a store pops up every 10 rounds. From there, you're able to spend the coins you've collected on boosting your offense or defense as well as healing yourself. This adds yet another layer of complexity on top of this seemingly simple game as you're forced to make decisions such as running back to the previous town to heal at the cost of lost time, or running forward hoping to run across one before dying, thus ruining your entire run.
At the start of each game mode you can choose one of nine magic spells to use on your quest (except in "battlemage" mode where you can choose two). These spells cover the standard array of RPG spells such as fire or lighting attacks to damage opponents, temporary defense boosts, healing, and there's even a spell to instantly warp you back to the previous village. Activating these spells is as easy as tapping a button in the top right corner of the screen, and each spell uses different amounts of power which is displayed in a gauge that slowly refills over time.
The best part about Fastar! is how far above and beyond Cat in the Box games went with polishing this game before its release. I know how incredibly cliche it is to describe a game as "polished" and I hate doing it, believe me, but I can't think of a more accurate way to describe all the little touches here and there that combine to make Fastar! even more awesome. Every part of your Fastar! character is customizable with different colors, and each game mode has its own online leaderboard where your little dude appears exactly how you tweaked him out along with showing which spell you chose for your adventure. There's even four different control modes to play with on-screen controls, swiping, tilting, or one handed.
Fastar! also behaves fantastically as an iPhone game, a pet peeve of mine that far too many games fall victim to. It loads quickly, resumes quickly, and saves your progress exactly where you left off when you quit the game to do something else. It even remembers the last game mode you chose to play and has a big button to mash to replay that mode on the main menu. The game over screen is even fun, as just like when the squares explode in to glorious showers of coins, your character does as well when he's finally slain, and the square that killed you hops on top of your corpse then back and forth collecting all your loot.
The thread in our forums is filled with people in love with the game, and I can't help but agree. Fastar! is a ton of fun, and has all the quick pick-up-and-play-ability of App Store classics like Doodle Jump with a level of depth and complexity that makes Fastar! a blast to play in both the quick game modes that barely last for a minute, and the long difficult game modes that can last for hours... And on top of that, it's launching for a buck.
Anyway, I've spent far too long reviewing this game and can't handle listening to the epic background music of Fastar! loop any more from my phone sitting here on my here desk without playing it. I've got to get back to getting far too involved in slaying squares, yelling at my phone as they drop coins, then eventually getting greedy and dying before reaching the goal. (Or at least that's how the majority of my day has gone so far.)
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