If there's anything that could completely wreck my plans and productivity, it would be a Super Crate Box [$1.99] RPG. I'd say a quick prayer of thanks to Vlambeer for not going forward with that idea, but it's too late. FireFruitForge and Everplay Interactive have something against letting me work in peace, I guess, because Spellsword [$0.99] is that perfect storm of quick, one-more-try gameplay and RPG mechanics I can completely lose myself in.

Spellsword isn't a clone of Super Crate Box (thankfully—Vlambeer really could use a break), but it has a similar starting point. It's an arena game that's designed around rapidly collecting weapon spawns to kill baddies. But where Super Crate Box focuses tightly on that mechanic to the exclusion of everything else, Spellsword takes a more expansive road. Along that road you're going to find levelling, loot, and a lot of new ways to play.

As a result, it's not quite as clean as Super Crate Box's more minimalistic approach allows. It has a few problems, and things get sloppy from time to time. I'm not saying you shouldn't play it, though. It's crazy-fun, and you really shouldn't miss out.

You start out as a quippy hero with a spellsword. It's not worth much on its own, but it can be enhanced with cards that litter the arena. Each one powers up the sword in some way—with fire, ice or poison damage, for starters—and each one also sets off some sort of effect. The ice card sends out wheels of ice, the fire card launches fireballs, and the poison card poisons every enemy on screen. And that's just the start.

So while you can certainly run around killing things with your sword, it's dangerous. Better to collect every card you can, and lean on those one-time effects to do the killing for you. This is where the game feels most like Super Crate Box, dodging enemies to get to the next card and never stopping to rest. Still, the differences are pretty huge.

For one thing, enemies drop rupees. In fact, the whole game is pretty much built around the rupee economy. Play well to earn more rupees, which you can use to level up your cards, your sword, and even your rupee drop rate. You can also use them to buy gear that adds to those same skills. And before you ask, no—there isn't any IAP.

Mission mode is another big difference. Each of the three current arenas come with 20 missions. These ask you to do a bunch of different things. You might need to survive some waves, kill some baddies or collect some cards. In exchange you're given big payouts of rupees, new cards and the occasional piece of gear.

Endless mode is more familiar, with nonstop waves of baddies until you burn through all your hearts. There are three difficulty tiers of endless mode for each arena. In them you'll grind rupees, and you'll also find the leaderboard competition.

When it comes to the little things, Spellsword goes the distance. The look is great, very much like Terra Noctis [$0.99], FireFruitForge's other big title. The sound is no slouch, but it doesn't really stand out. Love it or hate it, the real flavor rests in the hero's quips. There's one for every mission, and nearly ever single one is a reference to a show, game, or movie. They run the gamut from modern and obvious to old and seriously obscure. Me, I find 'em charming.

As I mentioned, there are also some problems. The controls aren't great, and on iPad they're worse. There's already a fix incoming for that—along with adding new control types, it will let you reposition the iPad controls. There's also some clumsiness in the arena design. It's easy to get caught on edges, or mess up platforms. There are also ways to abuse positioning and let enemies wander off to their own deaths. These things aren't remotely dealbreakers, but they can be irritating.

Overall, though, the game is outstanding. The RPG mechanics add a whole new layer of compulsion to an already inviting sort of game. It's not easy to call it quits, especially when there's one more level to earn, or one more piece of gear you can almost afford. Those things make it less of a pure skill game—you'll need to put in a bit of a grind to cap out— but they also add a bit of strategy. There is real value in carefully choosing your gear and putting your rupees to good use when leveling.

With some elbow grease and a good once over, Spellsword could easily earn a permanent spot on my iPhone. It's really that good. And Everplay Interactive seems dedicated to hitting those heights, if the developer's comments in our discussion thread are anything to go by. I don't see how you could possibly go wrong here. This a game that's fun, full-featured and ridiculously cheap, with a developer that's working hard to keep fixes and content coming. Looks like a winner from here.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://twitter.com/ktern Brady

    No IAP whatsoever!? Wow. Props for taking the high road and not letting people pay their way to victory. This game is now an instant purchase for me.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

      I do support 2 types of IAP, though. 1) Release all your software for free and add an IAP to purchase the product (unlock the rest of the features or time limit...whatever the "lite" restrictions are). 2) Anything cosmetic. You may (or may not be surprised) how much money is made of things that give you no gameplay advantage whatsoever. Plenty of games can survive on being completely free with only cosmetic IAP.

  • Jacko DD

    Awesome game, but the controls on ipad are a dealbreaker, I will put it aside for now so I dont get too aggravated with it and eagerly await the update that fixes the controls! This could easily be a 1.99+ game due to the lack of irritating IAP. I hope because its a dollar it will take over from god damned angry birds :)

  • Noah

    The left-right controls are the worst. I can't really play the game for any significant duration due to the controls. Hopefully the next patch fixes the issue!

  • http://twitter.com/Rirath Rirath

    It does apparently have iCade support - so that's pretty awesome.  I'm a fan of mission structure over pure endless arena too, though having both is nice.  Going to have to check this out.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TVPJZYSQCEIDYWCDQN7GHFXP2Q sdf

    We need an Apple external controller before certain genres (like platform-jumping) can be done with excellent control on an iPad. Until then, these kinds of games will always be marred to some extent by the player struggling with clumsy control.

    • http://twitter.com/Rirath Rirath

      Well, the dev just downloaded the SDK for joypad and is looking into that.  And there's alts coming up like 8-Bitty.  I think an Apple branded controller is a bit out there, but never say never.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5FLRQI2X2LU3IHMCG7HEAEFD5I Cat Astrophy

    This game is fantastic and honestly it's the best controls I've used since Pizza Boy. Nothing compared to a controller obviously but I've been able to beat all the missions with them. Better controls would simply be the difference between a better score/time.

    A tip for those who might be struggling a little: Perhaps this is a glitch, or an intended mechanic to compromise with touch controls, but you can jump an infinite amount of times as long as your body is pressing against any surface edge when you tap the jump button. Not sure if the area accepts the head for really close calls but i know the body and feet touching any surface edge gives me another jump.

  • http://twitter.com/ohprinceoh Prince of DUKELMBLOG

    My favourite game right now. Not expecting anything from it when I downloaded it last week  (thanks to your wednesday new apps list) but dear god this is just so good. The thought of it being updated in the near future gives me goosebumps. I would like to see them take the "pokemon type" cards, they already have ice, fire, poison, dark, light, earth etc... it would be awesome to see grass type, dragon, flying cards haha also new arenas.. and achievements please, totally worth my 1 dollar!

  • Michael Schneider

    Uh...why is no one else commenting on how awesome the music is?

    I normally hate these sorts of games, but Spellsword's combination of loot, grinding, and mission based play (in addition to endless mode) has me hooked.  I knew there was at least one game of its type out there for me, and Spellsword appears to be it.  I just watched the last hour and a half evaporate like it was ten minutes.

    The controls are a bit iffy, but they always are with iOS platformers - I didn't find Spellsword's any more problematic than Super Crate Box's, etc.

    I don't normally get very excited about iOS titles (honestly, I find most to be incredibly sub-par), but Spellsword is definitely a keeper.  It's also a game I could see myself buying multiple times were it to make its way to the Nintendo eShop or PlayStation Store.

  • Gemutlichkeit

    they REALLY need to work on the controls. 

    super crate box has perfect controls.

  • http://twitter.com/SquishedMitten Tyler Piderit

    This game looks great and plays nice on the iPhone. Excited to have the time to delve into it more (work is stealing my gaming life). More games like this with devs this active with their community is a good future for iOS :).

  • Austin Riddle

    I liked this game, but I"ve already unlocked everything and beat every level.  Not too much replay value on it, but definitely worth the buck

  • http://twitter.com/nicolinux nicolinux

    Wow, a 4.5 star rating from ta. Is this the highest rated game ever or what?

  • swarmster

    Nice, iCloud support coming in the update, so it actually is fairly "full-featured". Haven't had a chance to check Retina support yet.

  • jeffmd

    Getting tired of games who can't even manage SNES level graphics. What was once a unique retro look now seems more like an excuse at shorting your art department to make a  money making game. 

Spell Sword Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4.5