Several comic book artists have thrown their hats into the video game ring throughout the history of the industry. Most of them have stuck to the art end of things, designing characters or producing cover art, but a few of them have tried their hand at a larger role. The results have been mixed, to be sure. After a handful of botched games based on the character, Spawn‘s creator Todd McFarlane was more closely involved in the development of Spawn: Armageddon, to similarly poor results. On the high end, Joe Mad was the creative director of the absolutely wonderful Darksiders from THQ. Well, we can add another to that group with the release of Oasis: Path to Redemption ($0.99) from artist Steve Uy, who has done work for Marvel and Image. It’s strong in areas you might expect and a few you might not, but some serious pacing issues hurt the game quite a bit.
Oasis is basically a side-scrolling runner. It has a lot of unique elements to it, but at the end of the day, this is a very competitive and crowded genre, so it’s a bit of a bold choice for a newcomer. Runners don’t usually bother with much of a story, but this one has a pretty cool one. You play as the last person on a post-apocalyptic world. You seem to be at the end of your rope, and with a lack of options, you make a desperate run in the direction of the legendary Oasis, in hopes of reviving your land. The game is stage-based, and at the end of each of the five stages, you’ll get a little bit more of the story via a cutscene.
As you would expect from a comic book artist, the visual story-telling in this game is excellent. The story rolls out nicely, and there’s enough drama and mystery in it to make it worth experiencing. In fact, the whole look of the game is great. The backgrounds are gorgeous, and the main character and enemies animate incredibly smoothly. The look of the stages tells a story alone as you get closer and closer to your goal. The UI is also well-designed, though some of the options on menus could be a little larger. The music is also really good, rising up to the challenge set forth by the art design. The presentation is just great all-around.
So, aside from it being stage-based and having an ending, the basic flow of Oasis is pretty different from other runners. You have no life bar, traditionally speaking, instead having a timer that shows how long you run. This timer counts down at different speeds depending on the state of your stamina bar. If your stamina bar is empty, the timer drops quickly, but if it’s full, it doesn’t drop at all. Your stamina bar will constantly replenish itself as you run, but will drain from using attacks or being hit by the bad guys. The key to success is knowing which enemies to fight and which to get around or over peacefully.
You’ll want to kill enemies who are in your way or constantly attacking you, obviously, but there’s another incentive to killing them. Each enemy you down will net you some experience points, which can be used to buy a variety of upgrades. You can get new attacks and evasion techniques, extra lives, or boost your various stats. There’s a lot of stuff to buy, and while I didn’t find all of it useful, I can certainly appreciate the very open approach to character customization. While the game touts this aspect as an RPG element, it reminds me more of Devil May Cry and its ilk. You can expand your arsenal in the ways that are useful to you, and what works for one player might be completely different from the next.
Your character starts off with the ability to swing his sword, and not much more. It takes a few runs before you’ll have enough experience points to buy anything, and quite a few more after that before your moveset really opens up substantially. To be honest, it felt like a bit of a slog in the early going. Buying the extra moves is enticing, and ultimately useful, but you’re not really going to get anywhere until you increase the length of the timer and your stamina bar, so you’re either resigning yourself to a serious grind in the early part of the game with interesting moves or steady progression with the same old boring swing of the sword. Later in the game, this becomes less of a problem, but while it lasts, this grind is dull, dull, dull.
The stages are pretty much the same thing every time, too, so the same enemies will appear at the same times and in the same groupings, which is great for learning your way through, but not so good for fighting off the repetitive feeling of the first hour or so. The enemies are basically the only obstacle, which also doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate there aren’t any silly one-hit-kills, but you’re just walking and slicing and walking and slicing, with the same combo every time. Open up a bunch of abilities and flick the difficulty over to hard, and it’s like a whole new game, which makes me think that it might have been better to grant the player a slightly larger moveset to begin with.
There are a few difficulty settings, and clearing the game on each will unlock a new goodie for you. One of the goodies, and the best-looking one of the lot, unfortunately has a coming soon sign hanging on it for the time being. It’s kind of a bummer, but the story mode should keep you busy for hours, so if you like how it plays, there’s definitely a solid amount of content in there for you. Other unlockables include the ability to view the story scenes, listen to the music, and view an extended ending. There’s no IAP whatsoever in this game, so you’ll have to earn all these extras yourself. That extended ending isn’t going to come easily.
Oasis is a beautiful game with an interesting story and some interesting ideas. I love that it takes a more complex combat approach to the side-scrolling runner. At the same time, there’s no doubt that a large portion of the time you’ll spend with this game will be grinding out experience points, and it’s not terribly fun to do so until you’ve unlocked a lot of stuff. It’s hard to know what to do with a game like this, where you aren’t going to be having much fun at all for a while, but the ultimate payoff is good. If you’re a patient gamer who likes runners, check this one out, because it is pretty neat. Unfortunately, there are so many amazing runners on iOS that I can’t really blame anyone if they want to side-step a game that takes so long to warm up in favor of some instant entertainment.