Developer: Fargoal, LLC
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

IMG_0629The App Store seems to be something of a haven for remakes of old-school games, and Sword of Fargoal is one of the best. A remake of the 1980s dungeon crawler, this one is old-school is almost every sense of the word, complete with randomly generated dungeons and punishing difficulty for those who want it. At the same time, Sword of Fargoal feels much more accessible than other games of its type, so if you want an introduction to the rogue sub-genre, here’s a good place to start. In short? Sword of Fargoal is a great dungeon crawler. You won’t find any problems with this port, unless you simply hate dungeon crawlers. (If that’s the case, shoo. This isn’t a review for you!)

If you’re unfamiliar with rogues or dungeon crawlers in general, the game supplies a great tutorial to get you started. Basically, in games like this, the story is really an afterthought compared to the simple gameplay. Your character must travel through the randomly generated dungeons, fighting off monsters and discovering treasure along the way. Dungeon crawlers are known for requiring lots of grinding and for their unforgiving nature…death is usually permanent.

Sword of Fargoal is really a great showcase of its genre. When you start the game, you’ll roll for stats, then select a gender and a name for your hero or heroine before choosing a difficulty and sending them off on a quest for the titular Sword of Fargoal. There are three difficulty levels included, to please veterans and newcomers alike; be warned that the harder levels are unforgiving. Once you get rolling, it’s a standard dungeon crawl. You have your randomly spawned monsters, dungeons, and treasures; the story is completely in the background.

IMG_0636That’s not to say that the “standard dungeon crawl” is at all boring, because it isn’t. Fog covers the majority of a level when you first start out, so exploring is a must. As you progress, you uncover hidden passageways, alternate routes, and all manner of goodies: gold stashes, barrels, and so on. In a neat twist, enemies in Sword of Fargoal aren’t simply stationary—if you don’t move, they’ll attack you. The aggressor automatically gains a small bonus in combat, so you’ll want to either strike proactively or flee. Additionally, the dungeons have some surprises of their own—watch out for environmental hazards and traps! Magical potions and other items also make appearances.

“Grinding”—or hunting monsters for the sake of experience points—is something of a must, depending on which level you chose. Don’t descend to a new dungeon floor before you’ve leveled up a bit, unless you’re ready to face the consequences. Unlike most games, death is permanent here. (Unless you chose the super-easy Squire setting, that is.)

The adventure as a whole is a lot of fun. Despite the seemingly repetitive gameplay, Sword of Fargoal is just easy to play. This is why I think it will appeal to newbies as well as old-school fans; there’s just so much to explore, combat is painless, and everything just fits together perfectly. It’s hard to name a single feature that stands out. Everything simply works together to create a cohesive, polished title.

Now onto the more technical notes. The controls work surprisingly well, though they’re a bit unconventional. Instead of dealing with a virtual D-pad, Sword of Fargoal utilizes a touch-and-drag control scheme for movement; you swipe at an enemy to initiate battle. In the spirit of simplicity, battles are handled by the game itself. The camera swoops in for a close-up, the clanking sounds of battle commence, and you can watch as your character trades blows with a sewer rat or other loathsome monster.

The interface is another element that shines. A mini-map, a menu, and a number of informative stat bars share screen space without intruding upon your playing. Everything is quick and responsive; this feels like a native title, not a sloppy port. You can pinch and zoom to get a full view of the dungeon map, too, allowing you to utilize the iPhone’s limited screen space as you wish.

As for the graphics…well, they’re retro, what do you expect? Actually, they’re pretty good. Though the images retain a distinct, intentional retro vibe, there’s actually a lot happening here. Subtle 3D effects make cave walls pop, the lighting effects more dramatic, and the perspective more realistic. It’s deliberately dated, but I like the effect. The sounds have also received an upgrade; again, the old-school feel is deliberate, but executed with much more detail and complexity.

Of course, details matter little compared with the overall experience. Thankfully, that experience is an excellent one. Something about Sword of Fargoal makes it addicting; the game hearkens back to a day when games had to be truly fun instead of relying on fancy graphics to be taken seriously. Running around the random dungeons is easy to do, and the game fits perfectly on the mobile platform. Yes, it’s hard—you’ve only got a single life!—and there’s no real story or significant objective besides simply completing the game. But for fans of simple roguelike games, Sword of Fargoal is a real treat. I suspect that newcomers to the genre will like it, too. Go ahead. Try it out. Sword of Fargoal takes a place with Yipe as one of my favorite old-school iPhone titles.

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