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If there's one thing I really love about exploring the many treasures of the App Store, it's that you can find tons of proof for the idea that great games can come from simple, clean designs. It's something video gaming used to live by, back in simpler times, and while I enjoy a big, expensive, complex blockbuster like everyone else, I'm genuinely more impressed with games that excel on the back of a clever design, and that's just what Hoplite [$1.99] does. Part rogue-like, part turn-based strategy, Hoplite may not have the frills of some other games, even within the generally spartan genres it straddles, but the way it cuts to the heart of what makes those types of games enjoyable is beautiful.

In Hoplite, you play as a hoplite tasked to recover the Fleece of Yendor from the underworld. That's pretty much all the story you're going to get, but it's motivation enough. The game even tells you which floor the fleece can be found on, floor 16, so you know right from the start where your goal lies. Of course, if you're courageous enough, you can go deeper. Who knows what you might find? Probably death. That seems likely. Each floor is made up of a single-screen field broken into hexagons. The layouts are somewhat random, with each one containing things like lava, various enemies, and shrines. On each level your task is simply to reach the stairs. Killing enemies is fun but optional. It's a good idea to visit the shrines, however, because praying at one offers many potential benefits.

hopliteBasically, it's a rogue-like of the turn-based variety, but it doesn't quite have everything you usually see in that genre. For example, there is no random loot to be found. While praying at the shrines can augment your abilities and increase your hit points, your hoplite's abilities throughout the game are all there from the start. You can move onto any non-lava hex, attack certain adjacent enemies, use your sandals to jump over a square, throw your spear for a ranged attack, or shield bash one adjacent enemy or object. The sandals have limited uses, so you'll want to be careful about using them, and if you throw your spear, you're going to have to go and pick it up from where it lands before you can attack again. The shield bash has unlimited uses, but it has a cooldown, so you won't be doing that every turn either.

With those abilities, you need to fend off any enemies and hazards that come your way. Key to the strategy is that the hoplite can't always attack an enemy just because they occupy a neighboring hex. Simply moving beside an enemy doesn't always translate to an attack. There are a few ways to go about taking out enemies, but you either have to charge in straight-on, or get beside them and then move to another adjacent square. It's kind of weird at first, but you'll get the hang of it. With each move you make, the enemies will get a move as well, though you have the advantage of going first. If an enemy successfully attacks you, you'll lose a heart. You start the game with three, and if you run out, well, it's a rogue-like in that regard, too, so you'll be back to the start without any of your upgrades.

There's a wide assortment of enemies that will try to do you in, all with different ways to attack you. Touching an enemy shows its attack range, valuable information that you need to pay attention to when you're taking your turn. If you position yourself right, you can even use some enemy behaviors to your advantage, such as the demon bomber's habit of tossing bombs that blow up his allies just as well as you.

As you go deeper into the underworld, new enemies will appear, and things get pretty hectic in a hurry. Luckily, thanks to the turn-based nature, you've got all the time in the world to consider your strategy, and individual enemies have fairly predictable patterns. Still, when there are a lot of bad guys on the field, trying to find the safe way through can be very challenging at times. On those occasions when you can find a really smooth way through a pack of foes, it's an incredibly satisfying feeling.

As I mentioned before, praying at the shrines found in each level allows you to improve your abilities in various ways. Using a shrine will bring up a list you can choose only one from. Exactly what's on offer depends on the god the shrine is associated with, but you'll always have the choice of expanding your life bar or fully healing yourself. Other possible augments will improve your various abilities in some way, such as reducing cooldown or extending the range of attacks. Generally, these shrines are your only way of healing, so you're often choosing between becoming more powerful or giving yourself the ability to take more punishment. Both will help you survive, but it's a hard call sometimes as to which one will extend your life longer.

hoplite1Hoplite also includes a list of achievements, but unlike other games, these aren't just for show. Unlocking them will open up powerful new abilities you can choose at the shrines in subsequent playthroughs. Some of these achievements are very hard, but having a tangible reward connected to them makes the effort to reach them truly feel worthwhile.

The graphics are very simple but serve the purpose. Every enemy is visually distinct, and you can see the whole field at all times. Indicators showing where the enemy can attack are clear. The piece of music that plays during the game provides good atmosphere without being overbearing, which is vital when you only have one tune. The game provides an excellent tutorial that teaches you how everything works, and the user interface is simple and intuitive. Although the game includes achievements, there's no Game Center support, which is a shame, because at its core, this is a score-attack game, and those always shine with leaderboards.

There's not much more to say about Hoplite. That's perhaps one of its strengths. It's very simple to learn, but there's a huge amount of depth to the game. If you like rogue-likes, turn-based strategy games, chess, 868-HACK [$5.99], or shield-bashing bombs at demons, you'll definitely want to give this a go. It's been very well-received in our forums, and deservedly so. Hoplite is a fantastic example of the benefits of a concise, clever design, and it's one I expect to keep on my mobile device for some time to come.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • C. Stubb

    Name dropping "Yendor" is a sure-fire way to get me to try out a game. (Even as I'm typing this a have a game of NetHack up and running.)

    • nonen

      Are you cstaub on NAO? :)

    • mike

      What is Yendor?

  • JCho133

    Bronxsta is gonna be happy

  • Pete Osborne

    I love you Shaun Musgrave. Almost as much as I love Hoplite. Almost.

    • mike

      Is that the designer?

      • Pete Osborne

        No, though he is equally deserving of respect! He's the reviewer, but I really appreciate that he reviews the under the radar cult favourites :)

  • GiHubb

    I agree that this is quite a nifty little game but the lack of online leaderboards in a game which is in essence a high score chase is a glaring omission, one that in my point of view makes it not deserving a perfect score. Would be nice to challenge my friends on this one, maybe in an update.

  • doomsday3706

    How long is this game?

    • xx99

      Depending on how good you are at turn-based strategy games, I'd say about two hours until you beat the game for the first time. Of course, there's plenty of achievements to chase and you can go much deeper than the 16th floor, so there's still plenty to do after you beat it the first time.

      • doomsday3706

        Cheers man it really helped

  • gmattergames

    Spot-on review. Despite its menial appearance, this game is truly elegant. As I play it I keep wondering, how cool it would be to have multiple player controlled units, each with a distinctive ability, working in tandem, increasing the depth of this tactical puzzler. The again, that could break the what is already so well balanced.

  • rewind

    This review and his past ones have led me to wonder why Shaun isn't a full-time writer for TA yet?

    • MrSpud

      He's not? Should be. I enjoy his reviews, entertaining and informative, give this guy a raise!

      • vicsark

        Yep, I would love to hear Shaun participating in the TA podcast once in a while.
        Maybe a timezone thingy?

  • armilla

    The frequent comparisons to 868-HACK drew me in, and this game definitely deserves the score. I want more games of this sort!

  • McCREE

    Thanks for the review. Definitely picking this up, but the lack of leaderboards is a little disappointing. It may seem trivial, but leaderboards keep me going; even if I'm at the bottom of them. Anyway, great review. Thanks for the heads up.

  • ngajoe

    Absolutely well-deserved five stars.

  • Ax23000

    Seriously? This REQUIRES iOS 7?!? As an owner of older iOS devices I've become accustomed to not being able to play every new game. I get it, tech advances and new games inevitably come to require that extra memory and CPU power.

    But this is absurd. Anything I have SHOULD be able to run this. I get that we live in a disposable society and I get that this is just a 2$ app and I shouldn't get too bent out of shape, but it's just frustrating. Developers shouldn't be helping to fuel the constant upgrade and spend mentality that has completely taken control of the phone/tablet market unless they absolutely NEED the extra power the new devices offer.

    Sigh, maybe I'm just wrong and theres some technical reason this game can't run on anything too old for iOS7. Oh well. Maybe some day when I can afford a new device I'll remember this game...or maybe not...

    • MrKershaEsq

      Yeah I was surprised at this too but fortunately I had got a new iPad mini retina before Xmas otherwise I'd probably have passed this over.

    • mike

      Yea this game feels like i could run on anything. surprised its not working for you.

  • Frank Hopewell-Smith

    This was Free on android (Play Store) last night.... Seems good so far.

  • mike

    Best game I played on iOS. This is genius. Please make a sequel. I feel like Kirsten Dunst in Interview with Vampire right after she tries blood for the first time, "I want some more!"

  • akolade

    Really enjoying this game so far. Well done!

Hoplite Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5