932156_largerGame of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy [$0.99 (HD)] takes only a few minutes to master, but Australian indie developer Clicker stretches that into hours by capitalizing on a retro style and offering minor incentives that encourage players to continue adventuring for as long as they want.

The concept is cool: Game of Watchcraft takes the MMO World of Warcraft and sizes it down to an itty-bitty LCD game like the ones you probably played as a kid -- you know, those cheap, plastic portable gaming systems that ran just one game and featured lots of black, moving sprites or character outlines on a static background? I owned a Lion King handheld, and it was tough figuring out what was even going on half the time. Each new action takes a second or two to manifest onscreen.

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Lions and hyenas are one thing; a massive online world is another. While Watchcraft retains many of the components of an MMORPG, it simplifies them dramatically. Quests are as easy as collecting a certain number of treasure chests, killing monsters, or defeating a boss. Your mount is a winged creature that transports you from the relatively peaceful land of BottomScreen (yes, that's what it's called) to the treacherous TopScreen. And that's pretty much all you do, over and over and over again.

Goblins are basic enemies that populate the bottom screen, and a water monster called a Naga bubbles at the surface of rivers and streams, hoping to catch players offguard. A single hit kills, so fast reflexes are important. You'll need to tap (or hold) the virtual D-pad quickly to evade or hone in on foes and then press the Action button on the right to attack. The hero -- a priest named Squishy -- can use a basic dagger attack on the bottom screen, but on the top, he's more versatile, able to shoot projectiles as well as execute close-range melee moves. Players will need that extra skill to conquer the giant demon, which lobs fireballs, summons minions, and flits up and down between three rows.

game-of-watchcraft-3Dying won't wipe your experience, thankfully, and the game lets you pick up and resume from whatever level you left off (unless you decide to restart from level one). The developer added in a fun feature where your character respawns at a graveyard and must make his way to his body to continue. This gives you a moment to recover at your own pace, but sometimes, especially if you died in the middle of a hot enemy zone, you can hop in your body only to lose the second that you do.

The top screen always involves a boss fight even if the quest goal is to slay minions instead. A healer waits in an upper corner, ready to restore mana bit by bit so you can fire off more projectiles at the boss. Linger too long, and a fire trap will catch you in its flames. A tank character will take some of the damage in the front lines so you can plan your attacks from afar, picking off minions as they spawn. It's interesting how Game of Watchcraft makes use of different MMO tropes, and if Clicker really is planning more games like this one (as mentioned in the forums), then I'd be happy to see the other "demakes" they come up with.

I was actually surprised by how the top-screen events adopt a rhythm of their own. The various bleeps and blips -- of shooting energy bolts, hitting the boss, and even regenerating mana -- all culminate in a catchy, unique melody of sound.

game-of-watchcraft-1What I didn't care for is the stickiness of the d-pad, which is reminiscent of classic games. Clicker seems intent on tweaking this to facilitate play, and it already feels better than it did days ago, so I wouldn't worry too much about the controls if you're thinking of picking this up. Players do have to read couple pages of instructions before diving in, which is an inconvenience, but it doesn't take long. A playable tutorial would be better.

Game of Watchcraft's visuals are faithful to old-school LCD games, too. Tilt your device to the side or hold a finger to the screen, and ghostly imprints of the different characters and items are visible, like the digital residue that fades when you shut off a Game Boy screen.

On the topic of items, the real rewards are the three pieces of equipment you can obtain from completing the TopScreen quests: boots that increase your speed, a cloak that boosts mana, and a staff that grants a double cast ability.

Die even once after receiving any of these, and you'll lose them. That's the brutality of Game of Watchcraft: to spend minutes carrying out a repetitive dance with a boss only to lose to a goblin that got in a lucky hit. It's not a challenge you'll mind terribly, though, considering it extends the life of the game and contributes to the function and culture of the Game Center leaderboards. You can keep track of how many chests you've unlocked or bosses you've fought, and there are achievements for earning so many boots, the first of the special items, or holding all three at once. That's how you know you've been playing awhile and that others have, too.

Boss fights and quests operate the same way: take one hit, and the boss's health fills all the way back up, and quest progress resets. It's frustrating, but hey, that's an LCD game for you. Every ounce of success comes half from skill and half from sheer luck.

The price seems fair for this game as it lacks any in-app purchases and is low on content. I'd love to see the developer flesh the idea out more so players get a little more value for their buck. After all, these kind of games phased out of popularity for a reason.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Scot D

    No sound for the trailer or is it just my ears turning off again? Interesting idea though.

    • ScotDamn

      I lied. It was my robot ears.

  • Gabriel.Voyager

    Only 3 star for a classic reinvented in a wonderful package and 5 star to star command and pvz2...
    So if a game didn't have hype or a big publisher only 3 star however a game that was an iap fest... But hey! Is EA and also the iap of EA are better...
    Wow TA, my compliment

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I assume you read the headline, flicked your mouse wheel to see the score, then set your cruise control to comment country?

      • Scot D

        It's all a conspiracy!

      • nini

        Isn't that what the reviewers now have to expect, a bitchfest in the comments because a rating wasn't right or the wrong developer got too high a score regardless of actual quality?

        Ratings are relative to what the groupthink says is good so five stars for any indie devs even if a game is average and one star if there's any IAP, zero if EA.

      • wigzisonfire

        I too thought the score was a little low as the review seemed really positive. Good review at that, I think I will purchase thanks to the review.

      • witedahlia

        My thoughts exactly. Good review. I realize the "number of stars" debate gets tiresome, but since games are often listed in regards to how many stars they're given (i.e. "hot new games") it does seem to matter. I already bought the game and as I said I think the review was really good, so I was a little confused by the star rating. Just saying

      • Karzay

        So, have you spoken with Jared about the definition of "rating" and explained to him you want it to mean "recommendation?" He seemed very confused last time we spoke and deleted the entire conversation.

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

        I didn't delete that conversation but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who found it completely pointless :)

      • Protoman

        Don't take it personally man. It happens to us all at times.

      • Dr. Woodenstein

        Shame far too many people do that. If the game interests you, read the whole review AND THEN comment. If it doesn't interest you, don't read the whole review AND DON'T COMMENT.

  • c.ihls

    iPad-only :-(

  • Scot D

    OK that was way better with sound.

  • EZ Ice

    Deserves better than 3 stars, its neat. Would like to see this made as an actual LCD game.

  • Fangbone

    Three stars is quite generous as what they are doing in this game was done 20-30 years ago and as they said died out for a reason.

  • Jerutix

    As many have said, I probably would have also given an additional star to the game, simply for the creativity and originality of the concept. That being said, the review was excellent and fair.

    I would recommend picking this one up, if for nothing more than to really see this work of impressive creativity and to support the dev's future efforts.

    • Jerutix

      That being said, it does feel like a tech demo because of how repetitive it is (despite being endless). Maybe 3 stars is a perfect score.

      • oooooomonkey

        This made me lol, what you call "tech demo" I call the only games there were while I was growing up.

      • Protoman

        Not disagreeing, but calling out repetitiveness in an age of endless endless runners seems like a moot point. lol

  • GamerGuy

    Seriously? More value for your buck? It's like you know nothing of what goes into developing a game...maybe they should have added another year of development for that dollar.
    I 'get' this game and it's great.

  • MonkeyChunks

    I knew it wasn't right when I saw the gameplay video. There is such thing as neo-retro or whatever its called, its when old quirky graphics are made look good or fun to play in some way, and there are elements which aren't retro-style but an imitation of insufficient technology at the time (in this case game n watch)
    A good example of Game-n-watch homage game would be 3DS game Johnny Kung-Fu which combines beaten up stages with intermission stages in GameNWatch style.

  • daniel schroeder

    Finally found a moment to read the review and watch the video. Now I just need to find another moment to grab my iPad and get this game.

  • Nutrilica

    Damn, doesn't fit on my iPhone....

Game of Watchcraft: Spawn of Squishy Reviewed by Stephanie Carmichael on . Rating: 3