Review: Reaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman (PC)

reapercoverReaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman
Publisher: Hexage
Developer: Hexage
Genre: Action
Release Date: 02/07/2014

A rash of games have been making their way from mobile devices to other platforms. As young indie developers get started making simple games for phones, they naturally want to expand to bigger and better things. With viable PC platforms all over the place for this kind of thing, it’s no surprise that a game like Reaper would find its way onto PCs. However, the standard for quality is higher on PC than on mobile devices. Award winning games suddenly find themselves in much harsher competition. Such is the case with this game.

reaper1So the plot of Reaper starts with a history lesson. A war-mongering race of humans started a war with magic-using natives in a vast forest. The war ended in a stalemate, but the humans ended up being able to capture the lands they were after. These lands contained a resource that allowed them to power up their war machines. Unfortunately, that same resource was a good dampening agent for the magical energies that flow through the forest. With the quantities that the humans are taking, this has led to a vast increase in magical energy. Said increase has led to a number of things, including the appearance of a pale swordsman. Also, demons.

That’s kind of all the plot there is. You play as the swordsman, and you run about talking to people. There’s very little of an overall story here. There are various characters, but their plights are scattered and don’t connect all that well. It doesn’t help that the linear plot carries you seemingly at random from one place to another. Add in the simplified system that simply uses character models and text, and it’s quite easy to get bored.

Visually, the game is decent. It uses rich colors and 2D models to get the job done. While the animations are unsurprisingly stiff, the game does have a certain charm to it. The models are just the right amount of cartoonish. That enemy soldier might be trying to kill you, but he looks darn cute while doing it. The overworld is quite shabby though. You basically just watch the swordsman’s head slide from one little icon to the next.

reaper2There isn’t really much to say about the audio in this game. It doesn’t use voice acting at all, so you’re stuck with music and effects. The music is enjoyable enough as something that plays in the background, but it’s entirely forgettable. The effects are repetitive and simply not all that interesting. Although I will give props to the squeal that the boars make when they attack. There’s really not much of a benefit to playing this game with the sound on, though. You’ll be fine either way.

The caveat of creating a game for a touch screen-based system is that the control scheme needs to be simplified. For Reaper, the developers decided to automate certain aspects of the game. Basically, all you need to do is move near an enemy and watch the swordsman go to work. He’ll hack away automatically, whether you want him to or not… and trust me, sometimes you won’t.

Manual controls do exist in the form of rage attacks. You can perform an uppercut, slam attack, or whirlwind attack by tapping up, down, or jump three times quickly. These attacks do more damage, but consume rage, which must be earned by hacking away with the auto-attacks. They’re also slower, and will be ineffective if you attempt to use them without rage. So basically, the game punishes you for not letting it play itself.

Progression occurs at first by moving on the overworld. While there are many different locales to visit, you can’t actually interact with them in any way unless there is a quest marker there. At most, you’ll see two quest markers active at any time, and clearing one simply forces you to do the next afterward. There are some shops that you can visit, but that boils down to simple inventory management. The game pretends to let you make choices as you play. A guard may ask you to sub for him on duty, and you can tell him no. However, what happens is you go back to the overworld and can’t do anything until you go back and accept the quest.

reaper3Battles in Reaper take place on a 2D plain. You can move freely left or right, and there are going to be enemies and/or obstacles in both directions. The goal of each level is simply to kill all of the enemies, which you’ll know you’ve accomplished when a percentage meter fills up and a portal lets you leave the area. There is actually a halfway decent variety of enemies. Slimes will slowly crawl towards you, boars charge when you get close, bees shoot poison stingers at you from above, and mages shoot magic bullets in your direction. If there’s one problem, it’s that many of the enemies can simply be called bigger versions of others. The tank, for example, functions exactly like a boar. It’s just bigger.

As for obstacles, the game is rife with them. The expected pits are present, and they’re more than happy to take huge chunks out of your life if you manage to fall in them. Also present are, believe it or not, fence posts. That’s right. If you jump over an area with a fence post, you’ll land on it and take damage. You’ll also bounce off of it, which is odd to say the least. In fact, there are a number of bouncy, pointy objects like this. You can bounce off the spear of an enemy soldier or bounce off a prickly bush. You even take damage for standing next to a fire. These obstacles are nothing short of annoying. In some levels, there simply isn’t a safe place to land, and you’ll have to hope you can take out the enemies before the dreaded thorny bush takes you down.

Modern games all seem to have experience points and level gains, and Reaper is no exception. You gain experience by beating levels and completing quests. When you level up, you’ll have a choice between three random skill cards that boost your various stats or add some passive skill. The decision making is far from profound though. If you pass up on that health boost, you can be sure it will simply pop up later on. It doesn’t really feel like you’re building a character as much as making painfully slow progression.

reaper4There are two modes in the game. The story mode has you doing all of the back and forth in order to fight monsters, while a survival mode has you simply fighting things until you reach the end. Neither hold much interest, but at least the survival mode gets rid of the pretense.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m just not a fan of this game. I tried to like it. I’m even one of the people who voted to greenlight it on Steam. However, it is nothing short of a boring, repetitive mess. The good news is that, should you actually enjoy the combat, the game is only five bucks. It’s not going to break your bank by any means.

Short Attention Span Summary

Reaper falls into the trap of porting mobile games to more powerful devices. Cute tricks and touch screen controls don’t translate to a platform with a much higher quality threshold. Having a game essentially play itself is no fun, and the limited controls don’t make up for that one bit. A generic plot, repetitive mission structure, and lack of real options further prevent this game from being anything less than a pass. The swordsman does look cute though. So there’s that.

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