Developer: Danielle Cassley and Jason Citron
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 3.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★☆☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Aurora Feint: The Beginning was one of the first “real” games in the App Store. Its simple, Bejeweled-style gameplay with level-ups and vaguely RPG components, coupled with its generous price tag (it was free!) made it instantly beloved by plenty of iPhone owners; in recent months, the franchise has evolved to include other versions. The lengthily-named Aurora Feint II: Arena Daemons, is a rechristened update to Aurora Feint II: The Arena. I never got a chance to play the original version of The Arena, so I can’t compare the stability or features of the two. But judged entirely on its own merits, Arena Daemons is definitely worth checking out, even if it is plagued with some stability issues.

img_00201 When you first boot up the game, you sit through about a minute’s worth of animations about a “little girl” can only survive our reality by living in her own fantasy. Then we enter the world of Aurora Feint. The introductory movie is only played on your first time; don’t worry about that. But other than that video clip, there’s no story to Aurora Feint; if you expect a “real” puzzle-RPG like Puzzle Quest, look elsewhere.

But that’s really not a problem, because where all of the Aurora Feint games shine is their gameplay, which is based off of the classic match-3-colors made popular by Bejeweled. The blocks in this game are called “resources,” and you make matches by swiping them. However, resources can only be moved horizontally. By flipping your iPhone, you can change the orientation of gravity, which allows you to net combos that you couldn’t otherwise grab and adds more strategies to the mix.

After some playing in the Mine (the site of the basic gameplay), you get the opportunity to level up either your weapons (in-game powerups) or resources (which lets you harvest them more efficiently). Either way, you’ll have to complete a task either at the Tower or the Smith.

img_00123What I’ve discussed so far takes place in the Town, but the key component of Arena Daemons is, unsurprisingly, the Arena system, where you can chat in the tavern, write on others’ profiles (Facebook-wall style), compile friend lists, and battle other players in the Battlegrounds. To win a duel, you must be the first player to fill your Gauge, which is accomplished by making matches, using your Weapons and the Mana Orb to help you out. When dueling, you don’t actually play another person; you’re playing their ghost (not a creepish phantom, but a computer AI that’s based off of their play style), which is a great innovation that removes a lot of lag opportunities. You summon your own ghost in the Summoning Circle, and it will battle in your stead.

As the name suggests, Daemons play a significant role in the Arena. Each Daemon grants you certain effects. The Frog daemon, for example, with light resources on fire when you change orientations, which grants a brief multiplier. You unlock Daemons by earning Honor Points in duels, and they can be leveled up in the same fashion.

img_00231While the basic gameplay of Arena Daemons is fun, it has a number of flaws. The graphics and audio are both excellent, but this is a double-edged sword; extreme lag is very common, and I’ve had the game crash on me a few times. By turning off some of the extras in the Settings app, you can save yourself both battery life (it’s a real drainer) and instability, but it still isn’t perfect. The story is absent, and character classes are irrelevant. There’s also the concern of longevity: I don’t particularly love interacting with other players via their walls or in the tavern, and how long can you play a match-3?

But that’s the thing about Aurora Feint: you can play this match-3 for an extended amount of time. The existence of the Battlegrounds divides the otherwise endless gameplay into adrenaline-filled battles, which makes it much more compelling. The evolution of your Daemon, the honing of techniques and strategies—all of these make Aurora Feint II: Arena Demons an excellent match-3 game, so long as you’re willing to put up with its stability issues and the fierce battery drain.

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