Developer: Brighter Games
Price: FREE
Version Reviewed: 2.7
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Playtime Rating: ★★½☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

It takes a lot for a game to stand out – especially when they rely on popular or common mechanics. Arcane Battles takes the match-3 formula and uses a fantasy theme to add interest and longevity to its well-worn core gameplay.

The artwork is great, with threads of story-line being delivered through narrative segments and battles intended to be reminiscent of turn-based RPGs. Players command an army of minions, sending them into battle against a plethora of fantasy stereotypes, with each battle costing stamina that regenerates in real-time. In theory the idea of matching 3 to attack, defend, and cast spells is a really good one that provides a great twist on a well-threaded formula.

IMG_0345IMG_0346Unfortunately, Arcane Battles fails to deliver on its potential. While the match-3 mechanic works fine, the other half of the equation (the fantasy battle elements) simply doesn’t satisfy. Minions attack when you match swords but you have no control over their target, which often meant that minions would attack a healthy foe instead of a nearly-dead one and then get killed by the counter-attack. There are hit points and there is armor, but your armor doesn’t stop your hit points from being depleted – and since all enemies attack after every match you make, turns spent collecting coins or mana potions inevitably leave your party devastated by attacks that they are helpless to deflect.

Minions level-up after every battle and have an evolution/merging/upgrade system often seen in ‘collect the critters’ games. Unfortunately, the tutorials on this section are vague at best. While it was clear that merging minions was good, I never got a full sense of what I was doing or how costly the investments that I was making actually were.

Also unfortunate is the looming specter of pay-to-win. Feeling underpowered, I merged several characters and an upgrade crystal into my main minion and immediately started winning. I soon felt overwhelmed once more but no longer had a wealth of resources to power up my team, which lead me to the in-app store where I was invited to purchase all the epic heroes and gems I could ever want. The drop rates for these resources seem incredibly low, which only reinforces the feeling of being herded into the store.

IMG_0357IMG_0352Still, Arcane Battles could be an acceptably fun, if shallow, way to spend a commute. The stamina system lets you get in a few battles, then enforces a break while it regenerates – perfect for a subway trip. But alas, for no reason I can discern, it requires an always-on internet connection to play – thereby nullifying even its limited appeal.

Arcane Battles is less than the sum of its parts. Fantasy theme, match-3 gameplay, evolving and leveling units – great tastes that should have tasted great together. Sadly, the economy of the game has flattened those elements. It’s certainly not the most egregious cash-grab I’ve seen, but it’s got nothing special to justify choosing it over other, better games that aren’t intent on nickel-and-dimming you to death.


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