App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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One (of many) thing an awful lot of people seem to be interested in is bringing the console or PC "experience" to iOS. It's a goal that's been met with varying degrees of success over the years. Older games tend to make the transition better, due to ever-changing and improving technology. What was once top-tier software 10+ years ago can now easily be tossed on to tiny storage devices and smartphones. We might still have a tough time porting more contemporary games, but older (and still relevant) titles can handle it just fine. In other words, being able to play an old-school 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) game like Ascendancy on-the-go is awesome.
Anyone unfamiliar with the 4X genre needs to know one thing before they dive in: it doesn't screw around. Ascendancy offers a number of gameplay tweaks and customizations to make entry a bit easier for the uninitiated but it's still every bit the intricate, micromanagement-heavy space opera as its forbears. Colonies can be founded in multiple star systems, alien races can be allied with or annihilated, and thousands of in-game days can be spent researching advanced technologies. And that's not even counting stuff like ship construction or base building.
It might sound a little daunting, but Ascendancy goes to great lengths to help out new players. I wouldn't call it "casual" by any stretch of the imagination, but a number of small adjustments can be made to ease the transition. The number of alien races, size of the galaxy, and diplomatic environment (peaceful, etc) can all be fiddled with when setting up a game scenario. Similarly, there's a wordy (but still useful) non-forced tutorial that covers most of the basics and a handy little help function can be turns on and off at any time to describe the use of various structures should the player ever forget. It also auto-saves fairly regularly, so any interruptions only set a game back a handful of days. Trust me, that's not very long at all.
Although as friendly as Ascendancy can be, it's still a 4X game and as such might take a few games before players really "get" it. And while I enjoy the ridiculous amount of playable alien races, I feel like a more direct at-a-glance explanation of their special abilities (i.e. the Chamachies' insta-research) while choosing would be helpful. There was also a crash bug I've encountered quite often that won't let me load pre-made ship schematics, but I can still set them up manually and the auto save prevents too much data loss.
It's not the over-simplified "casual" 4X strategy game that will pull iOS users away from their bird flinging in droves, but it's definitely a great introduction to the genre. It's also an incredibly worthwhile purchase for on-the-go strategy lovers.