The sixteen bit era of gaming was filled with a ridiculous amount of action RPGs. Which of these games of this age is the "best" is a debate that has been raging since before it was even possible to argue about it on the internet, and likely will keep burning on the internet's Matrix-like future successor… Only that argument likely will be a little more interesting as we'll all know Kung Fu, how to fly helicopters, and other things like that. I've always been a Link to the Past man myself, but regardless of what your favorite was, I think we can all agree on one thing: It'd be fantastic to go back and experience those games as they were the first time we played them. Before we knew what was in store for us after exiting the Castle Hyrule sewers, or what was on the other side of the teleporter at the Millennial Fair.

This is where Mage Gauntlet [$1.99] comes in. I think the best way to describe the game is as a dusty old Super Nintendo cartridge you just discovered and didn't even know you had after your parents threatened you into coming back home and cleaning your old video game crap out of the attic before they "clean" it themselves. (And by "clean" of course they mean "throw away.") It's a lot like The Last Rocket [$2.99] in that they take the 16-bit inspiration to such deep levels that it could pass as a SNES game, instead of just utilizing pixel art and chip tunes because it's in style.

Mage Gauntlet focuses on a single-player story mode that puts you in charge of Lexi on a quest to initially prove yourself to a local wizard named Whitebeard. Without spoiling too much of how it all plays out, you're quickly equipped with a magical gauntlet that allows you to command various magical spells. Throughout your adventure you come across a cast of other characters, journals, and notes which progress the story while accomplishing your typical rid-the-world-of-evil quest which manages to strike a great balance between funny, delightfully cliche, and totally classical without ever being overwhelming or trying too hard.

The game is controlled as you'd expect it to be, with a series of buttons as well as an invisible virtual joystick for movement. They work great, and I really like how you can touch basically anywhere on the left side of the screen to move Lexi around. Lexi has a basic melee attack which swings whatever weapon you're equipped with, as well as a dashing attack that's activated by holding the attack button down. You can also momentarily sprint by tapping another button, and while both of these maneuvers feel fairly optional early in the game, as you encounter enemies, you'll need to do much more than mash attack.

The truly unique twist of Mage Gauntlet is the magic system. In the game world you'll come across both magical urns of sorts as well as some enemies which will spew magical energy when destroyed or defeated. You can hold up to four spells at once, and using them is as simple as tapping a button in the top right corner of the screen which pauses the action and brings up a magic sub-menu. You select your spell, target it (if applicable), and the game resumes. The spells you get are random, but can be made less random using equipment (more on that later).

This whole system works fabulously. I love how magic feels rare, which forces you to value having a spell on deck much more than similar games which allow you to just blast away with whatever your favorite or most effective spell is to your heart's content or your mana bar is empty. In addition, since spells are randomized, it's really cool how you're forced to come up with clever solutions to a battle, utilizing a spell that might not be optimal for the situation by any means but still works by mixing up your strategy. One such instance, for example, was when I was getting mobbed by orcs, with a few spell casters. A chain lightning spell would've really helped, but charging through, silencing the casters, and hacking all the orcs down with my sword worked too.

Loot is plentiful in the game, and aside from looking cool also offers various benefits. For example, you can equip trinkets to increase the likelihood of a particular spell (or set of spells) appearing, and if you're really decked out you might even have a complimentary suit of armor that does something like up the critical strike rate of that spell. Swords have all different kinds of effects from doing more damage, to potentially restoring health or even providing a magical spell randomly. Pets provide constant passive bonuses, and of course, it wouldn't be a Rocketcat game without a healthy array of hats to collect.

Taking all this into account, gameplay is what you'd expect out of a typical action RPG with a very basic stat-based level up system, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. A overworld map display serves as a level select screen of sorts, and you make your way through each area until finally fighting the local boss. Each area has several sub-sections that must be progressed through as well. How long it takes you to get through Mage Gauntlet will largely depend on what kind of gamer you are. If you square off against every monster, search for every secret, and leave no area of the map unturned, you can spend a significant amount of time in the game. Alternatively, if you're the kind of person who just powers through things from beginning to end, dashing past monsters, and ignoring secondary pathways, Mage Gauntlet can be completed in only a few hours.

After beating the game, you'll unlock master mode which mixes up the levels, adds some new secret areas, fresh loot, double the enemies, and other variants. Beating the master mode earns you a second ending, and after that you can go back and replay individual levels for a higher rating to unlock in-game pets. An arena mode is planned as well for the game's first update, although details on that are fairly vague currently. Also, since Mage Gauntlet is all pixel art, it scales beautifully on the iPad in 2x mode-- In addition, Rocketcat plans on making the game universal as well.

Rocketcat games has had a fantastic track record for releasing games on the App Store. Their previous three games, Hook Champ [99¢], Super QuickHook [$2.99], and Hook Worlds [99¢] all relied on a very similar hooking and swinging mechanic which made us wonder what else they were capable of. Well, it turns out that they can absolutely nail making an action RPG, and you wouldn't hear me complain at all if they similarly turned Mage Gauntlet into a vaguely derivative trilogy of games.

I feel like people who were around to enjoy the original 16-bit-era action RPGs likely will appreciate Mage Gauntlet the most, but there's plenty here to love even if that doesn't apply to you. Like other Rocketcat titles, Mage Gauntlet is launching at a special price, and early buyers also get a promotional pack of hats (and a pet). If you miss this release window, don't worry, you'll be able to buy those items through in-app purchase. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, there's other IAP items you can buy, but they genuinely feel so optional that there's basically no reason to buy them unless you just want to support Rocketcat further than just buying the game.

So seriously, go download Mage Gauntlet. The time you spent reading this review could've been much better spent playing this incredible game.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • http://twitter.com/back2this Sean Yuan

    Good read.

    Brilliant game. Cannot wait to play it tonight.

    @back2this:disqus 

    • Keith Burgun

       How is this game "brilliant"?  It's completely generic, and mind-numbingly easy.

      • randyest

        It doesn't crash?  You should try it.  But I guess bugfixing is less fun than trolling 9-month old comments about games that actually work and aren't made by crazy people.

      • Keith Burgun

        How on earth could my comment have been "trolling"? 

        Also, did you know that an application is not the same thing as a game?

  • Anonymous

    Cool, I will definitely be picking this up. I'm a bit confused though as to why a cliched story is considered "delightful" here, while it is criticized in many other instances.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Because you can see what they're doing here. It's all very deliberate, and feels like a perfectly crafted homage to the era.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffzhang Jeff Zhang

    Golden Age of 16 bit action rpgs.

    Besides Zelda (if those count) and secret of mana. What other action rpgs where there back then?

    • http://www.the-app-shack.com Matt F

      Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, Tales of Phantasia, Breath of Fire, a lot of Final Fantasy games, Star Ocean, Circle de Soilel...

      • Neil Self

        Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasies are definitely not Action RPGs, and Tales of Phantasia is really pushing it.

        You did forget Illusion of Gaia, though, and Seiken Densetsu 3 was great, although it never made it to the states until later via a rom/translation hack.

      • http://twitter.com/hunterkorvis Brendan Johl

        you mention a lot of rpgs that are not action rpgs, final fantasy, chrono trigger? turn based rpgs arent action rpgs.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Well, chrono trigger had that semi-real time control to it. It wasn't really turn based as you could die if you left go to go the bathroom or something.

        As well as some of the FF games. 

        But other then that I agree turn based rpgs aren't really action rpgs

      • Anonymous

        An action RPG is where you control the actions in realtime. I took a bit of umbrage with the statement that there were "a ridiculous amount of them". It seems the author wasn't clear on what the term meant either, or perhaps never played any of those games on SNES.

    • Anonymous

      Zelda is an action adventure game not RPG.

      • http://www.jshamblin.com J.Shamblin

        Zelda isn't considered an RPG, but it has RPG elements (sword upgrades, shield upgrade, more bombs, more arrows, boomerang upgrade, inventory system, etc.). So I think it's understandable why he would think that.

  • Anonymous

    I'm so bored of action RPGs. I miss the old turn based style...

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      I never got into turn-based RPGs personally, but both other members of the team grew up on them.  I'm seriously considering making one.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the reply, not that I have anything against action RPGs personally. I just like the slower pace inherit towards turn based RPGs. The old school active time battle systems, how I love thee. Then again I'm more of a story guy anyway, I can glance over many things if it leads to a great story. That's just the writer in me though.

      • Anonymous

        have you played avadon. sounds just what your looking for:) great game.

      • Neil Self

        A good recent one for the DS is Radiant Historia. Grid-based combat, very strong story for a JRPG.

      • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

        Yeah I checked out Radiant Historia the other day, has some pretty cool ideas.  It's like a JRPG/SRPG mix.

      • http://profiles.google.com/rekzkarz Ari Krawitz

        Darn it, I bought it.  Psyched on a good play.

        I am a fan of turn based, mostly b/c it's ... calmer.  'twitch'-based gaming is less fun for me than thinking things thru -- but I do like 'strategic'.

        My suggestion to the dev's would be, if they make a turn-based RPG, is this: *please* make a point-buy system to make custom characters/monsters with 1 custom jpg, assemble custom teams based on mutually agreed upon points, let players make the 'game boards' w/custom terrain tyles, let players rate monsters / characters AND boards, and then use the new iOS game center turn-based game to let players play 'head-to-head' miniatures style strategic combat!!!

        There's nothing like that -- yet.  (User created content, multi-player turn-based.)

        Recruit me for your game designer/producer -- I'll do it!

        rekzkarz.com

      • http://twitter.com/VerdeniKid Jesse Langman

        Rocketcat. PLEASE.

    • Anonymous

      I too prefer turn based to action, action RPG's always seem to boil down to the same gameplay as action games. But I'll go you one further, the real problem is that all these games are fantasy action games or JRPG's (not that anything is wrong with that), whereas there's virtually nothing from the space opera, cyberpunk, and post-apocalyptic genres RPG wise on the app store. 

  • http://cheapfighter.com Crawford

    I've been looking forward to this one for a while. Glad it lives up to hype.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    Sounds interesting, but i'll still wait till its 99cents.

    • Joshua Young

      Unlike many other giant developers who REAM their early adopters (glares at Shadow Gun), Rocketcat games only are on sale the first few days they are released. After the initial launch sale, they don't plan to ever lower the price.

      Besides, it's just one more dollar.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Rocketcat doesn't do sales, so you'll be waiting alright.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Yeah well, I have like 400 games in appshopper waiting to be a buck/free depending.

        I mean just cause they haven't doesn't mean they won't ever. I can wait a few years if need be. not like I'm in a hurry or anything :p

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        What a disappointing attitude to have regarding great, original, and expertly crafted video games.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Still its just a matter of opinion, which mine is still my own, and yours yours. If I had an endless amount of money and time I would probably buy all of the games on my wishlist. As I have many many games I haven't even played yet I don't really see the point though. And thats giving you the courtesy of explaining it to you :p

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002648582187 Lumi Tuira

        Wow. I can understand people waiting for 60 dollar games to drop that 20-30 dollars during Steam sales and such, but to see people who can't afford 2 dollar games? Just wow.

      • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

        I like your grit!  Your determination!

        Though yeah this is probably the last time we'll do a sale on iOS, period.  The release sale for Mage Gauntlet, specifically.  We're moving to a "no sales ever" policy soon, just so there's no confusion.

      • http://twitter.com/back2this Sean Yuan

        That's the shit.

        @back2this:twitter 

      • Anonymous

        Good move.  Rocketcat games has shown they make quality games.  They don't need to price things at 99 cents to convince me to take a gamble.  Based on my prior experiences and glowing reviews like this one I have absolutely no problem dropping a mere 2.99 to play your next game.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CN5B3ROVDFAFDYBQTPCMD3C3OI James Bond

        I wish Apple gave developers the choice to give in a "lock-in-price" feature or something so that the price never can change.

        I mean, it might be an inflexibility for the developers, but at the same time, it might accumulate more sales as it's something that says "don't bother waiting, it won't ever go on sale." But that's just my idea. 

        @UmbraVir:disqus 

      • Anonymous

        I like your current style of sales on release only.  If the games are good, this accelerates the word of mouth and quick reviews that spur the earnings later.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Well a business is a business. Still if you ever have a Christmas sale or company aniversary or something I can wait :)

      • Stuart Nicholson

        Well said. Yea gods used to buy ps3 games at AUS$119 now I can get quality games for a few dollars on my iPad 2. Talking of which any plans to make it universal or an HD version?

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        So thinking several years down the road, what are you planning to do with that dollar you saved?

      • Anonymous

        Purchase the DLC for the game without getting the actual game...seems quite logical actually.

      • Benjamin Rodriguez

        Well all of those dollars I've saved up so far tend to equal out to the hundreds. Its not only one game if you keep it in perspective

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

        It's truly unfortunate that you'd pass up on a great iOS title like this over $1. Most of the app store only hits bottom out pricing because the majority of it is quick splash shovelware.  They're okay with taking your dollar and moving on to the next thing because they didn't put much thought or effort into the game in the first place.  EA's buggy ports and Gameloft's "inspired by" titles come to mind here.  They take all the people they can for full price and then bottom out quickly to move to those waiting on the sale and flood the top 100, and then they move on and do it all over again, rarely expanding or supporting their previous games.

        It's up to you in the end, but you're missing out big time by choosing this game on which to hold the line.

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        By that rationale, you just shouldn't buy any games. YOU WOULD SAVE EVERY DOLLAR THINK ABOUT IT!!

  • Anonymous

    *Throws Wallet at Screen* Take my money, and make sequel now.

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      Planned as a 3 game series.  Partially because we couldn't cram all our ideas into one game, but also because we want to play with the series mechanics each game and respond to feedback.

      • Drew Carroll

        Shut up and take my money! *starts throwing my wallet at my monitor*

      • Anonymous

        You know, um a 4 game series, would be better, hell a 10 game series would probably suit you best. Ya. go with the 10 game series...and start right this very instant. DO NOT complain, do not pass go, do not drop your iPad in a deep fryer again...yeah I follow your twitter...Mr. iPad Expert.... O.o

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Ruddock/654075778 Ben Ruddock

    Game is epic. Buy it now. End of story.

  • Anonymous

    I'm sad, no iPad version or even better a universal app.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      If you read the review you might be in for a surprise!

      • Anonymous

        Just read the review, now I'm happy again. I was going to buy the game anyway so I didn't read the full review, I just skimmed over it. Can't wait :)

      • Anonymous

        Great, this will be an instant-buy when the iPad version is out.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      If you read the review you might be in for a surprise!

  • http://twitter.com/DotComCTO DotComCTO

    Looks fantastic. Not only do I remember those games well, I still have my SNES connected to a TV in a guest room...along with all my old games! :-)

    I loves me the RocketCat Games. This will be an instabuy as soon as it's available in 10 minutes!

    Great review...and thanks Rocketcat for making retro-style games like these!

  • Anonymous

    When exactly was the "Golden Age of 16-bit Action RPGs" and what games came out then?

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      For me it was mostly the Square action-RPGs.  Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia.  Terranigma and Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, too.  I'm sure I'm leaving some out...

  • Anonymous

    My, it doesnt get any more instabuy than this for me, been refreshing rocketcat page on itunes every 5 min till a screaming like a little girl when it finally showed up, I grew up mostly on the 16 bit era so this looks oh just so delicious for me!  thanks to Rocketcat for keep making this awesome games !

  • Anonymous

    If I buy this, will the app be universal automatically when it updates, or will I be forced to buy another "HD" version? What's RocketCat Games' M.O. regarding this? Thanks

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      We're adding universal support first update.  It didn't have it on release because I just recently bought an iPad, after we submitted the game.

      • Anonymous

        Excellent. Any thoughts on iCloud support? It would be nice to not have to start over and/or forever be stuck playing two games in parallel depending on what device I have with me.

        Plus, I don't feel as locked in to always keeping it on my phone lest I lose my saved game forever. It's really becoming a must-have feature.

      • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

        Looking into it, haven't had time to say for sure.

      • Anonymous

        Any plans to make your other games universal as well?

  • Kenneth Holst

    Thanks so much for this game! What a wonderful trip back in time it is.

  • Anonymous

    Been playing this and I'm really enjoying it!  Great job devs! I can't wait to play more!

  • http://twitter.com/jwldk Jeppe Larsen

    So how is this compared to e.g. Zenonia? I am mostly into turn based RPG, but tried Zenonia for a take on the action RPG, but found it pretty boring.

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      I openly call Zenonia "despicable", and a lot of Mage Gauntlet design is in strict opposition to KRPG design (which Zenonia is).  Worth giving my game a shot.

      • William Lee

        I bought both Zenonia and your game (which is great btw), but I do find it rude and somewhat inconsiderate for a game dev to call another game despicable. While I hesitate to call Zenonia an amazing game, it was still quite a lot of fun, even if it was a bit of a grind. You may not like KRPGs but its a got its own niche. If it's the IAP stuff you hate, well I don't like it much either, but considering how Zenonia 3 became free afterwards, I say it's fair.

      • Austin Riddle

        Nah, I agree, Zenonia to gamers is like 2 chord Pop to music lovers.  A KRPG is about as fun as cleaning my house, mainly because the quests and chores have so much in common.

      • Frank Hopewell-Smith

        I think someone is allowed opinion. I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs had an opinion on Microsoft after all... :)

        Just bought this game and haven't had a chance to play it. Stupid job getting in my way *shakes fist*

      • Felipe Echeverria Bennett

        I am with rocketcat here. I bought zenonia 3 a while ago, i didnt like the gameplay at all. And i think the developers of zenonia are despiciable becouse i paid for the game and 2 weeks later they anounce it for free. Also they are using the Free..lesque scheme to make money. I think the company is called devil something. I havnt and will not ever buy a product from them again. I think software developers must respect customers that paid for the software. IMHO.

  • http://herrkaleun.myopenid.com/ Herr Kaleun

    NICE WORK KEPA!

  • http://www.jshamblin.com J.Shamblin

    Awesome game! Feels like Secret of Mana, but plays a lot better. I think it's the best action rpg I've played from the app store. Great work, Rocketcat!

  • Anonymous

    Dumped an hour or two into this game this morning. It's worth every dollar, pick it up!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

      I agree, really amazing game so far.  I picked up all the DLC even though I like Lexi without a hat and I'm trying out different swords because this game is worth $6.  Here's hoping for that turn-based RPG after you're done with the action RPG trilogy.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZSSNMNO7YWVJVBTRMVPPU6A3YY Adam

    Bought it first thing this morning. Love it so far! Way better gameplay and dialog than the several action/KRPG's I have.

  • Alfred Reinold Baudisch

    iPad/Universal, please.

    • Anonymous

      You can start playing it right now, tried on iPad 2 and it looks perfectly fine in 2X.

  • Anonymous

    Buying tonight - will start playing it for very small clips at a time so I can get the full benefit of the Universal version coming out!

  • pre vert

    This is an excellent excellent little game. I always expect touch screen controllers to be difficult to use, it's not, and for RPG exposition to always outstay its welcome (*shakes fist at Zenonia*), it doesn't. I'm really enjoying this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Quickmix Frank Quickmix Hassas

    Great Game. :)

  • Anonymous

    Cool game so far, my only gripe is I go around breaking every possible item in the world, and find nothing.  Smash 100's of barrels...nothing.  Is there anything to find by breaking things around the world? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

      You get achievements for breaking X number of each environmental item, and that's it.

    • Yann de Mey

      I feel exactly the same! It was funny, though, to revceive an achievement "No rupees there", at that point I realised I should stop smashing the scenery :)
      Other downside to me is that the music can be quite repetitive, i.e. it is allways the same loop in one level.

  • Frank Hopewell-Smith

    Played it. It's great. Really really. The magic is awesome and you don't have to be too conservative with it. Equipment is awesome. I assume I missed the early buyer's deal if I bought it yesterday?

    My only one slight problem - and it is very minor. I think the way Lexi runs/walks is a bit odd. May just be me though.

    I'm recommending this to everyone!  A+

    • Anonymous

      You didn't miss out on the early buy deal, you have 8 hats and a pet.  You have to scroll way down in the 'Head' equip list of icons to find them.  And click on the pet box to 'equiip' a pet.  I hope more devs use this early purchase deal, it's a good idea.  I think the deal lasts a week...might be wrong tho...

  • Anonymous

    I've only played this through the first um...level? World? Anyway, this may not be a high priority for some but this game nails the virtual joystick like no game I've ever played before. I'm yet to move in a direction I didn't mean to which happens to me in pretty much every other game that uses a virtual joystick. The combat is very Secret of Mana-esque without the annoying wait time that made me hate Secret of Mana (seems like I'm the only one who couldn't stand that game). Very early into it and I was hesitant to buy it (I'll buy tons of games for $1 but hesitate when a game is more than $1 - flawed logic but I can't be alone) but I'm very glad I did. Awesome game.

  • Felipe Echeverria Bennett

    Hello, i have a dumb question. All hats provide something diferent to the game? I ask becouse in some, i cant notice. For example the curly tail hat or the Orc visor.

    Great game!
    Thanks.

    • http://twitter.com/rocketcatgames Rocketcat Games

      Hats are just for appearance.

      • Anonymous

        A few things that would be cool:
        Being able to acces inventory/equip while in game and not just between levels.
        Do a side by side comparison of equiped item vs item in inventory.
        Drop loot for breaking things in the world.
        Have a map button on main game screen.

  • Micah Flores

    master mode is awesome!

  • Anonymous

    Great game though!!

  • http://profiles.google.com/justaguitardude chris c

     just picked this one up. look forward to giving it a play.
    chris.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rickard-Olsson/685258932 Rickard Olsson

    This game was... actually kind of boring! Not much to do, almost no loot in comparison to other H&S games and extremely repetitive. The levels are too long as well.

    Nice gfx and controls, but that's about it.

    • Anonymous

      I agree, there is a lot that I wanted to like about this game, but find myself not liking too much, other then the art, the fx and how things break.  Even though you can break pretty much everything in a level, it does nothing, there's nothing to fiind and you can't even eat the ham or ribs from the boars to boost your health....sigh.. at least give us that much.  Good beginging of a game, but this can't be compared to the 16-bit Action RPG greats, nowhere near.

      I'll play some more see if anything changes, but for now, that's what's up.

  • http://flavors.me/kioshi kioshi

    Attention to detail and controls are unmatched in any other ARPG I've tried on the iPad.
    It plays just perfectly.

Mage Gauntlet Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 5