Sunday, August 5, 2012

Battlecon for iOS - An App Review

Some time ago i made an article about Battlecon, the fighting card game from level 99, and promised i'll be back to discuss about the iOS implementation. So today we're back to fulfill that promise and discuss about this portable playing version that hit the apple devices some months ago.


I'm not going to extend much to talk about the game itself as i covered that in my previous article. Suffices to say that Battlecon is at the moment one of the card games in the market that best represents a 2D fighting video-game. Your objective is simple: Beat your opponent to KO by reducing his/her life or be the one with higher amount of hit points remaining after a 15 turn countdown. To do so, every turn you would combine 2 cards, one Base, and one Style, to create a unique attack to threat your opponent with.

The presentation of the game is very good and truthful to it's board counterpart, with characters moving around their 2d board centered on the screen while cards in your hand appear to both sides of the screen. Some of the visual decisions of the design actually help the game to be easier to play: For example the physical separation between bases and styles for easier management of your turn choices as well as the life bar accounting for the total life points of both contestants, that turns partially blue depending on the amount of HP the opponents are guarding against.  

The separation between bases and styles helps accelerate your decision-making.
Everything is automatically calculated after each player plays his cards and ante for their turn, stopping only to ask the players when they need to take a decision based on their cards rules. While this makes the gameplay faster than the board version, players who never played the board game have complaint about not knowing what exactly happened, as the played cards have little screen time before the auto-play begins, thus not allowing you to read the opponents attack. This will annoy players not familiar with every character, but for experienced players will offer increase game-speed, so it's kind of a two edged knife.

While the mechanics are all rightly translated to iOS screens, Battlecon suffers some very nasty bugs, from annoying rule-breaking situations to even more serious app-crashers. Some of them easily repeatable. While this is usually not a problem for most iOS developers due to constant updates Battlecon has had no updates since the initial release and if we are to judge from other products from them, lvl99games is not one of the fastest companies to pull updates, if they pull them at all, mostly to the small size and wide amount of projects the company tries to embrace. (I'm still waiting for the much commented RPG cartographer update that was to allow graphic importing).

Characters and AI

Battlecon's board game version shines from the amount and variety of his cast, offering a wide range of options to find a fighter that suits your style. The iOS version sadly only offers half of the 18 member original cast: The four characters from the board-game demo version are free to play, while 6 more can be unloqued at 1$ (0,79 euro each) or by winning battles online (good luck with that). Additionally it has two temporarily exclusive chars from the upcoming Battlecon expansion but both of them can only be bought at 2$ each.

The full cast totals 16 characters. And allows using their alternate art versions.
To add insult to injury only the four free characters are playable by the AI. The game has no arcade mode whatsoever so if you want to face against the other characters you bought you will only be able to do so in the local asynchronous multi-player  mode (if you plan to do that, i'd recommend you to buy the board-game instead) or try your luck on the on-line synchronous mode. I only managed to play on-line once, two days after the app release, for the rest of the time the lobbies remain deserted, which makes quite impossible to win the more than 500 matches you need to unlock all the cast without paying unless you have some friend in game-center who also diggs the game. 

What's even worse about the four included AIs is that they cannot think out of the box, only planning based on their character and never on the opponent's, which makes them perform always the same opening move every time. This is pretty serious issue for Cadenza as his opening move would crash the app against some other character´s Shot.

Buying 8 chars that you're not be able to play against is kind of annoying.

Music and Art

One of my favorite things about this apps is the wise selection of musical themes befitting each character. They really help get in the mood, and having one theme per character helps transmit that 2d fighter feeling. Some of the themes like Hepzibah's "Pound for Pound" or Magdelina's "Epic Evolution" will remain on playback mode in your mind for hours after playing if you are not careful.

On the art side, the game maintains the board-game visuals, but all bought characters have also their 2P alternate art version unlocked (only Print and Play for the board game), which will allow you to play with the version of the art you like the most. Sadly, the four free characters alternate costume must also be payed for 1$ wich is quite pricey just for an alternate image, and being some of them the worst offenders when it comes to under-leveled art, their alternate version for them feels like a must. 


As much as i love Battlecon as a board game and i like most of level99games iOS products i must admit that Battlecon for iOS while not being a bad app, fails to meet the Battlecon fan's expectations and probably will disappoint many other iOS board-game fans. The app charges too much money for the amount of content it offers (14$ if you want to unlock every content available) and at the moment seems like a rushed app that could have been way better just by delaying a bit it's release to playtest more, and given an AI for every character.

You'll like it:
If you want to test the mechanics before buying the boardgame.
If you have a bunch of other friends into Battlecon, that have iOS. 

You won't like it:
If you want it to play solo against an AI or an unknow rival on the internet.
You get annoyed by AI rage-quitting by forcefully crashing the app. 

Closing Comments: 
Level99games is already working in an update for the app, that includes 3 more characters and a full playable cast of AI chars with improved AI performance, that you will be able to battle in the new Arcade mode. I've been able to try  the unreleased update, courtesy of Brad Talton, lead designer of lvl99games, and i must say that the improvements seem like will bring the app to the place it deserves between other great iOS boardgame adaptations like Ascension or Neuroshima Hex. For the moment though we can only wait for the update, but we are still left with the feelings that this new version should have been the first released version. 

The first update has just been anounced. You should look forward to it.


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