Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad Air
Graphics / Sound Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
Although many established genres have to make sacrifices when making the leap to iOS devices, RPGs are one of the few that can actually cross over fairly unscathed. But that didn’t stop Combo Quest from hacking conventions down to the bone, creating an experience that might be too lean for its own good.
In Combo Quest there is no world to explore, no items to craft (save for health potions), and no sweeping storyline about a kingdom in danger. Players are simply told to become the Combo King and fight enemy after enemy in order to make that happen. It rivals Half-Minute Hero for how much it shrinks down and fast-forwards through its own tropes. The charming but simple retro graphics reinforce this idea of non-specificity, and the driving, heroic battle music amplifies the rapid pace.
So ultimately, Combo Quest lives or dies by the strength of its battle system, since that’s basically the whole game. During a fight, blocks appear on a line at the bottom of the screen while a marker goes back and forth across them. Players tap the screen once the marker is on a block, and depending on its size and color they’ll attack, defend, or use a special ability. By clearing lots of blocks on a single pass players will charge and activate powerful combos, but tapping mindlessly on nothing or cautiously missing too many blocks gives enemies ample time to strike back.
It’s a pretty clever system in practice. Players will be astonished at how much better they become at the erratic timing, and theoretically a skilled enough player could take down the toughest opponent with even the wimpiest sword. But therein lies the problem: since every action is constantly performed in the same basic way, fighting enemies always feels the same. The only difference between a succession of grunts and the boss after them is the number of hit points to whittle away. One way to make each run feel unique is to experiment with upgrades. After each encounter players can increase a stat like health, minimum strength, or maximum damage. Choosing different bonuses at different times gives the game its real variety, but even that only goes so far.
If Combo Quest had used its battle system in an otherwise straightforward RPG, I would praise it for how dynamic and cool it is. But as the crux of an entire game, its head just can’t handle such a heavy crown.