On your way back to the blacksmith’s shop, pockets laden with fresh gold from your recent adventures in slaying a massive swarm of giant hornets, you’re stopped by a panicked pygmy named Gork. “I saw a carnivorous boar! It was huge and soaked in blood!” he exclaims. “Help me track the boar! Trust me, we’re gonna be rich…” Images of shiny new swords and armored gloves drift through your mind as the pygmy waits for your thoughtful response. Feeling around in your pockets a bit, you decide there’s more room to spare.
Who Needs A Fairy-Tale
Reaper is the succinct and abbreviated title of a new action/RPG from Hexage that stars yourself as a squat, ninja looking bobble-head wielding a ginormous sword. In this game, you will spend your days roaming the countryside in search of (or stumbling upon) quests that will inevitably lead you to more xp and better loot. While there seems to be some semblance of a story scattered amongst the vast majority of generic fetch and kill quests, the primary focus in Reaper is tricking yourself out. Typical quests involve collecting herbs from different locations on the map, helping someone kill a boar, delivering a message… you get the idea. While the apparent lack of any sort of “true” depth isn’t necessarily a bad thing in Reaper, it would’ve been nice to have felt a little more purpose.
The world map in Reaper is dotted with hub locations that you’ll travel between during your quests, and some of the longer jaunts will spawn random combat encounters along the way. Aside from moving between points on the map, any sort of actual character movement or action exists within the combat stages. Each encounter plops you in a 2D side perspective “stage” where you’ll square off against varied mobs as well as interact with (or avoid) background objects. The battlefields themselves are fairly limited in terms of size, and new enemies will continue to randomly spawn until you’ve cleared all the objectives for the given encounter (IE. killing everything). Enemy AI tends to be a tad on the dense side but you’ll take plenty of damage regardless, thus keeping the overall difficulty fairly high until you get a feel for how things work.
Light On Mass
Physics during the combat segments are a bit loose in terms of gravity, and your Reaper can be somewhat slow on the uptake. Jumping and double-jumping will send you drifting through the air where you can perform blade rolls, strikes, and lunges, and you tend to continue bouncing a few times after you land. To make things more complicated, background objects like plants and statues will also send you rebounding back into the air making for some frustrating attempts at ground-based combat. At times, it can seem like you’ll never regain control of the Reaper once he’s left the earth. Once back on the ground, special moves like upper-cuts and chops execute slowly leaving you vulnerable to attack. Luckily, the game features an auto-attack that triggers whenever you’re close enough to an enemy making it often simpler and more effective to take your time in combat. All-in-all, combat is a thing to master in Reaper and it requires a balance between a delicate touch and a thorough understanding of the game’s wonky physics. Once I decided to be more cautious and time my strikes, I found myself a much happier bobble-head.
Combat is really the meat-and-potatoes of Reaper, and it’s really a mixed bag in terms of mechanics. While the interface is somewhat ingenious in terms of how and the variety of moves you can trigger, reaction time just isn’t quite up to par. Combined with the floatie-physics, things can slide out of your control fairly quickly during a heated battle should you try to do too many things at once. Letting the auto-attack take over while you inch around the screen seems like the safest and most effective option, but it really does a disservice to all of the combos Hexage packed into the game. In light of the finicky controls, I suppose it’s a good thing that the mobs themselves are pretty dumbed-down and slow.
Combat moves and acrobatics aside, you should also be cognizant of the more “interactive” background objects that will likely catch you off-guard until you get used to spotting them. For example, sliding into or jumping on fire pits will cause damage, as will landing on anything with spikes. For the first few combat scenes, I had no idea why I was mysteriously losing health (while all alone, mind you) until I realized I was standing next to a fire pit. Silly me, assuming background objects were just for decoration. On the less-harmful side of the wonderful world of objects are treasure chests. You’ll find one of these chests sitting in the middle of the stage during certain quests and they be spring loaded with gold! Standing next to a chest will trigger your auto-attack; beat on the thing until it’s dead and a spray of loot will gush forth. Of course, gold also follows the game’s anti-gravity policy so you’ll need to make hasty work of jumping around and collecting all the pieces before they bounce off-screen.
The Tweaker In You
Complete enough quests and you’ll net a hefty sum of gold and xp, so let’s talk about shopping! Outside of combat and shuffling around the map, you’ll spend a bit of time in the shop interface – one which seems to have received the least design attention. A shop, including your own character’s inventory, is merely a collection of black boxes with items inside. The UI doesn’t do much in terms of providing additional detail on the various stats for items and it’s easy to mistake what seems like an extra item in your inventory with one that’s actually equipped. There isn’t a clear visible distinction between the cost of an item and the value of your own item, and it took me a while to figure out the general layout of the screen – what I could afford, how much it costs, and how to sell items. The shop/inventory interface, in my opinion, could use some work. The items themselves, however, are unique and varied. Every visit to a shop will shuffle the inventory around, and there’s always a few interesting items at a shop worthy of your attention, from giant swords to gloves to rings. Reaper’s lasting appeal will undoubtedly be hanging out outside the shop and showing off your latest gear to the newbs.
Once you’ve blown all your gold on shopping, it’s time to level up. Quests and combat nets you xp which levels your character and you get one skill point per-level to assign to a “Destiny Tarot” card. Each level, you’ll be presented with the choice of 1 of 3 skill cards that add some nice perks to your character. While you only get to pick one card, the bonuses are usually significant and will help focus your strengths and shore up your weaknesses. I found myself particularly fond of this way to spend skill points vs. the typical skill tree format of most games.
Hexage has a reputation of creating shiny, innovative, well designed games and Reaper certainly fits the mold. While the general concept is relatively simple – quest, combat, level, gear, repeat – it’s nice on the eyes and has enough item variety to hold your interest. For a little while, at least. The story, however, is lacking and I’m not entirely convinced that dialogue options (available when negotiating a quest) have any consequences whatsoever. With the limited scope of battlefields, the wonky “bounce-tastic” physics, and the shop interface that seems more like an afterthought than a critical part of the game… I do have to knock some points. It should be mentioned that the base game is free and there is zero – let me say that again, ZERO – freemium crap to get in the way of a fun time. Major Kudos to Hexage for realizing that we all hate the freemium paradigm here in mobile-world. If you want to level past 10, however, you’ll need to cough up $2.99 for the Adventure Edition (no level cap). For another buck or two, you can unlock even more premium versions to get some new item sets and game modes. The pricing model for Reaper is, in my mind, perfect. Keep it up, Hexage.