For some, gaming revolves around visual appeal. Understandably, after spending hundreds of dollars on hardware, there’s an urge to justify your expense. And undoubtedly, one of the easiest ways to rationalize that new graphics card is with games that flaunt high high-definition output, elaborate texturing, and enough polygons to encroach on photorealism.
But thankfully there’s a constituency of players who can look past the need for bleeding-edge graphics, admiring a game for its mechanics. That’s certainly the case with these two games, which might exhibit low-fi visuals, but offer a level of engagement that can rivals a blockbuster developed by a powerhouse studio.
Gift of Parthax, Foldergeist Studios, $9.99
At first glance, Parthax’s arena-based gameplay is poised to provoke comparison with a number of twin-stick, action-driven games. And there’s some accuracy to that assumption, as you control Arif, an outlaw magician, who along with his friend Veleus, was captured, and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena. Best played with a controller, you’ll move around the Coliseum by using the left analog stick, occasionally dashing out a danger with a pull of the trigger. Meanwhile, your controller’s bumpers let you cycle through four different types of spells. Each allows you to whittle away at the hordes of encroaching enemies that fill the arena. Clearing out all the creatures initiates the next wave, unless you’re facing on of the game’s bosses.
At first, you can summon fireballs which are can overcome opponents in a few shots. Later, you’ll unlock the ability to summon a snake that slithers around, poisoning enemies, or use the right stick to target an area for a massive meteor that can devastating a group of foes. Inevitably, each spell is rather weak at first. But spend some of the dividends earned after each fight and you’ll be able to purchase 27 different runes. Up to four of these can be slotted into a spell, increasing its dominance or speeding up your projectiles.
And while description might make Gift of Parthax sound a simple test of reflexes, cool down timers ensure this isn’t an unsophisticated shoot ‘em up. Instead, you’ll be balancing a number of simultaneous tasks. Flying beasts fire sporadically projectiles that force you to remain alert, while rambling tree-people can release a cloud of perilous gas. To battle the masses, you’ll want to strategically lay down traps like thorns roots and streaks of fire as you’re on the move, luring enemies into your ensnarements.
Parthax isn’t perfect, as evidenced by the clumsiness of its spellbook interface. But when you’re in the Coliseum, trying out new runes to tweak your spells, combat is engaging. Perhaps the game’s greatest feature is how action and light tactics are seamless intertwined. While you might get past some waves with sharpened reflexes, the smartest technique is to maximize the efficient of your spell-set. Unsurprisingly, this is the core gameplay loot of Gift of Parthax and is involving enough to justify a full-price purchase.
Recommended for: players who appreciate action driven games that favor a bit of strategizing.
Circle Empires, Luminous, $7.99
Petroglyph used to create epic real-time strategy games like Star Wars: Empire at War, Universe at War, and Grey Goo. But more recently they distilled the RTS game down to basics, offering accessible, affordably-priced, experiences through its 8-Bit series (encompassing Armies, Hordes, and Invaders). Largely, Circle Empires takes a similar approach, streamlining the genre down to the essentials.
As the moniker implies, Circle Empires’ confrontations take place on round biodomes, which are populated with randomized resources, from flora that provides food and wood to banks which generate a steady supply gold. Pleasingly, these are the only three resources you need to keep track of, and once a unit in created, there’s no ongoing maintenance cost. Another agreeable aspect if the way leveling is handled. While you can use your resources to purchase tech increases, both characters and units evolves with usage.
Play involves conquering circles one at a time, and once any hostile forces are overcome, the biosphere becomes part of your domain. Largely, the game favors simplicity. There’s variety across archetypes like archers, knights, healers, wizards, and even dragons, and while each unit has obvious strengths and weaknesses, on the game’s easier difficulties, amassing a large army is an advantageous tactic.
Yet while Circle Empires favors simplicity, there are number of variables that ensure matches remain interesting. Scattered across each circle are small perks that when destroyed give advances like powerful unit types of heal your combatants. At the beginning of the game, you’re tasked with choosing a leader, each providing perks of their own, like Wolfam the Warlord who automatically receives two guard towers when he conquers a new circle. Or you can opt for a challenge with Harold the Hearty, who begins a game with no extra resources and carries no abilities into battle.
Longevity is rooted in the steady stream of unlockables. No only will play give you new leaders that require an adjustment in strategy, but you’ll also acquire new unit types. Finally, Circle Empires gives players a trio of play modes, from Monster Hunt where the goal is to kill a rival, Imperial Conflict where AI will be particularly aggression, or Full Conquest where you’ll have to control the entire world. Each highlights the game decision for modular design, sidestepping the requirement for reconnoitering and preserving a brisk pace.
Recommended for: Real-time strategy who want to thrill of conquest, but don’t have the time or energy for a protracted battle of attrition.