While there’s a healthy supply of solid turn-based strategy games for dedicated handhelds, Android and iOS users aren’t quite as lucky. A few titles like XCOM and Final Fantasy Tactics have attempted to make the jump to mobile phone and tablet, but there are dozens of games that publishers haven’t ported, pushing players toward the dubious world of emulation. While the release of X-Tactics onto iTunes and Google Play might not completely quell the longing to play Disgaea on the go, the free-to-play title is engaging enough to eat away dozens of lunch hours.
A brief tutorial hints at what’s in store, as players take command of the oddball team of Adam White and Goicci. Together the duo of a dual-rifle toting, ivory-haired agent and his cigar-comping, Italian-speaking Alien sidekick maneuver across a gridded arena. Strewn across the battlefield are environmental obstacles, incendiary objects, and well as a handful of spots where icons reveal an obvious statistical boost. Unsurprisingly, enemies are also present, spawning across the arena in waves.
Guided by a turn order meter displayed at the top of the screen, allies and enemies attempt to thin out their opponents’ numbers. Once a foe is selected, players have two opportunities to increase their base stats. The first involves a Fruit Ninja-like mini-game where players use fingers to draw a line through icons while avoiding floating dangers. Each touched symbol contributes a small bonus, with faultless swipes contributing enough extra power to knock out lesser enemies. Next up is a golf game-like gauge where accuracy is measured by precise timing. Jointly, both action driven sequences help to enliven X-Tactic’s battles, bringing a bit of energy to engagements.
When antagonists get their turn to attack, players are forced to defend against incoming strikes, using a mechanic that’s similar to the previously mentioned precision-measuring meter. While AI isn’t overly intelligent, foes make up for any cognitive deficiencies with their sheer numbers, and players should be careful to not let their party members become surrounded. As players persevere, they’ll see their characters gain experience and augment their ability set, but they’ll also learn to exploit the game’s nuances. Keeping your agents adjacent to each other yields boosts to attack, defense, health, and speed ratings, while keeping a character in one place allows them to focus, increasing their offensive abilities.
From the ability to carry items in battle, having eight different character classes, status effects, and tactical skills- to normal, survival, rush, and puzzle-based battles, there’s a surprising amount of depth here. Adeptly, X-Tactics never bombards players with an abundance of details, delivering a tutorial and gentle campaign that gradually adds new mechanics. Sure, every detail isn’t demonstrated or even explained within the in-game manual, but experimentation results in familiarity with advanced techniques. The downside of X-Tactics’ intricacy is that fights aren’t the typical five-minute mobile affairs, with conflicts that can endure for twenty minutes or more.
Additional variance is found the game’s GPS-driven modifiers, where weather conditions, time of day, and even moon phases can affect battle conditions. While each element doesn’t have a substantial effect on engagements, the correlation between real-life and in-game condition makes for a curious quirk. More interesting is the possibility to undertake assignments based on geographical coordinates. Additionally, Turf Wars offers asynchronous player vs. player conflict where you team takes on agents from managed by other gamers. Typical for these types of modes, you don’t actually engage in direct combat, with results handled through statistical comparison.
X-Tactics rises above its mobile-based peers in its script and character design. While agents aren’t given visual novel-like levels of exposition, they are pleasingly realized and deliver conversion that consistently amusing. Sure, the plotline riffs on Men in Black’s clandestine organization that seeks to hide the truth from the general populace while putting obstinate beings in check. But since few titles have explored the set-up, X-Tactics managed to feel fresh. Complementing the storytelling is a gorgeous art style that evokes Shigenori Soejima’s (Shin Megami Tensai: Persona 3 and 4) designs. The only real drawback is the shortage of animation in the game with most characters having only a few different frames. Likewise, things like chain reactions of exploding containers are slowly rendered, subduing the sense of spectacle.
As a free-to-play game, X-Tactics isn’t exceeding pushy with its IAPs, limiting the solicitation to unlocking premium characters and the purchase of in-game currency. That said, it appears that some of the game’s most intriguing characters (like Kuku the hug-damage Panda) are locked behind a paywall. But X-Tactics seems enjoyable enough that giving the developer a few bucks doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially when their effort really tries to push the playability of a mobile title.