Review: Time of Heroes (iPhone)

Time of Heroes
Publisher: smuttlewerk Interactive
Developer: smuttlewerk Interactive
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: 01/19/2012

I have to admit, I pretty much hate gaming on my iPhone. Every game I’ve taken a look at has opted to emulate a controller on the screen instead of letting you just control your character by the touch screen. It ends up blocking the screen, making it cluttered, and when you’re done you have to spend ten minutes cleaning the areas where the “Ëœcontrol sticks’ were. It’s one of the reasons I actually played Pocket Frogs so much. You clicked on the screen to move your frogs around and it was fast and simple. So when we got Time of Heroes to review, I figured I’d give it a shot, figuring I’d have to fight with an imaginary control stick. Happily enough, the developer used the touch screen to full effect, letting you move and select units on the screen, as well as zoom in and out just like you would any other well designed app, and it played well too. But is it a good strategy RPG besides? Let’s take a look.

The story starts out with a young hero setting off to save his people, only the twist this time is that the old and sick were left behind in their former home to die. The King, your main Hero’s father, realized that their home could no longer sustain his people and that the old and the sick would only strain the resources of those left, especially in a new land. He sends his son and the young and strong off to look for a new home. The Prince plans on sending more help back once they’ve settled, and they stop in an island nation referred to as Altland. There’s an evil loose in Altland, as corrupted Elves and Dwarves are working with the Orcish forces there, led by Shoto Gar, and are laying waste to the non-corrupt Elves and Dragons in the area. As a result, Prince Minos and his people land right in the middle of it. The game is set 400 years before Smuttlewerk’s other iOS game, Champions, which I can’t say much about as I’ve not played it, but this is set in that same world for those who have.

After fending off an initial attack, the corrupted Elves return with more Orcish forces and burn the Human ships where they’re docked, cutting them off from home as well as any hope of helping their King and those they left behind, and effectively stranding them in Altland. The Humans, proving far more resilient than the Orcs had originally thought, end up allying with the Elves and Dragons and begin pushing the evil forces back. Overall it’s not a bad story line, but it’s pretty basic and serves as a nice framework for the battles you fight as you play through the game.

Visually the game looks great, if a bit dated. It reminds me of Warcraft III, which wasn’t terrible by any means, but is definitely showing its age. The animations are a little strange at points, but the character art looks good and it does the job. When you’re actually figuring out where to move and who you have selected, the character and where you can go highlights up perfectly so there’s no real question of whether or not you can go somewhere or if you can attack them when you get there. My only complaint would be that the game itself seems to eat up processor and battery power like crazy for this visual payoff, which isn’t very much. I played this on an iPhone 4 with the latest iOS for those wondering, though we’ll talk more about the battery drain later. There are a few graphics options, but this is an iOS game, so don’t expect them all to work on your phone. I had to turn a few things back off after testing them because the game slowed down too much for not much improvement. I’m assuming these work much better on say, the iPad, rather than the iPhone.

For as small a game as this, clocking in at around 7-10 hours, and being from an indie studio, usually the audio presentation is pretty lacking. I’m glad to say that the developers here put some effort through, and it really helps. The dialogue is not voiced over, but each unit says something when you select them, the battle sounds are pretty decent, and being so short a game, the effects are not as repetitive as you might think. There’s even a nice set of music to go with it, and depending on who’s turn it is in the game, this dictates which piece is playing. Would I miss it if I played it muted? No. But if you have the sound on it’s not going to make your ears bleed either.

The game actually uses the touchscreen to move around, zoom in and out, select and move units, and issue commands on the user interface when needed. For the most part it works well, but I have big fingers, and some iPhone apps aren’t very sensitive when I’m typing or moving things about, so I used my wife’s pointer and it worked fine. As such, most of my control issues were due to my fat fingers and my usual iPhone grief, not the game’s fault, but that’s something to keep in mind if you have trouble’s already. Gameplay is broken down by Heroes and Units, and is turn-based. Before each section, you select your Heroes and are allowed to select a variety of units for each one, depending on which units they can access. You have a limited number of Heroes you can select for each, and while this isn’t an issue at the start, you actually have to choose a bit more carefully later. There are 4 unit types: Heavy, Ranged, Flying, and Melee. Ranged people can take out standard melee and flying units easily, Melee can do a number on Heavy units, Heavy units trample Ranged units, and the Flying units can take out Melee and Heavy units. Heroes also have types and play off against other Heroes as far as their types, but the smaller units versus Hero units are generally a blood bath for the smaller units and only a point or two off the hit points of the Hero.

The Hero gets all the exp for their kills and their sortie unit kills. This levels up the Hero and gives you points to spend to customize them. You can either drop points in your Hero, or in your Command section that raises that Hero’s troop stats. I recommend spreading the wealth between them. You can get more units with more hit points that can move farther on top of your Hero getting stronger as well. One of the really nice touches when you level up is a die that you can ‘roll’ by shaking your phone to get your bonus for leveling. The reason for making your Hero even stronger, and not just your units, is that if your Hero goes down, you lose all the units that sortie with that Hero. Further, if you lose Minos, it’s game over. The same applies to attacking enemies, however, so if you take out the Undead Sorcerer, all the little undead units around him vanish. You do get more exp for taking out all the little guys first, but sometimes it’s just easier to wipe the big hero out and be done with it.

You do get graded on your levels, how many troops live, how many you took out, and how well it went, so playing through again to get a better score is always an option. Using different tactics or trying to save everyone is always fun, but the game, with the last patch, is tied into Apple’s GameCenter with leaderboards and achievements and all the baggage that comes with it. I say baggage because I’m not really the kind of gamer who is into those, since I rarely use my iPhone for gaming, but for those who are, you can climb the leaderboards with this game. They’ve also done a nice job of re-balancing units’ AI and combat a bit with the patch. Combat seemed almost random before the update as to how much damage you’d take, and you’d almost always end up with one lone straggler out there left hanging even though you matched up the units perfectly. That, and for $3, you’re getting a solid and stable 10 hour strategy RPG, which is pretty decent for the iOS. I’ve paid more for less off the app store, and I actually enjoyed this more than the others, including the version of Shining Force I have on my iPhone. I would honestly play this and recommend this over that port any day.

Speaking of other games in the genre, other than the art style, if you’ve played a classic Strategy RPG at any point in your life, the basics will apply here. It’s your basic turn-based RPG, and while the storyline is new, the events are familiar. Other than being on the iOS and using the actual touchscreen properly, it doesn’t add anything new to the genre that hasn’t already been there. It is, however, extremely addictive. I blew through it just huddled over my iPhone and took breaks just to change position. I love a good strategy RPG and will lose hours to one, so that speaks volumes right there for this game. It looks good, it plays well, and is stable and bug free. The price is right on for a release like this as well, and according to the press kit this is only the first part of the series, and there will be another release called The Prophet’s Revenge that we should be able to just continue with.

Now, I’ve taken a long time to talk about this, but I have to bring it up: this game sucks down the iPhone’s battery like you would not believe. I’ve got one other full blown 3D RPG on my iPhone and it uses less battery power than Time Of Heroes. This is fine if you’re playing the game on the bus ride to school or work (please don’t play this if you’re driving to work people), but if you’re playing it on a long trip, bring your car adapter with you, because you’re going to need it. For example, I played this in a two hour block to get a feel for it after the update to see what changes they had wrought, and in that two hours I went from 90% battery life to 20% battery life. My phone isn’t even a year old yet and that battery will last a full weekend on one charge through regular use normally spent plugging away at Twitter and Facebook, the occasional Google or Wikipedia search and a few phone calls. So in two hours Time of Heroes managed to do what I can’t normally do in a weekend. Ouch.

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Dreaful

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresizeIf you’re looking for a decent Strategy RPG to whittle away the hours on your iPhone, Time of Heroes is for you. Just be aware that by whittling away those hours, you’ll also be whittling away your battery, so be prepared for that. As far as story goes it’s pretty basic, but the classic Strategy RPG tactics are there along with some decent graphics that harken back to Warcraft III in visual style, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The price is right and the gameplay is pretty solid, just be prepared to plug in when you’re done playing or you might not be making or taking any calls from wherever you are. For the price the game is worth it, especially if you’re on a budget but want something that plays more like a big budget title.



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