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Rune Raiders is a great new game from Retro64, and it’s honestly very hard to classify in one sentence. It’s part RPG, part puzzle game, and part old-school tile-based strategy. You would think that these elements would weaken when mixed so much with others, but the end result is a surprisingly charming and addictive game, with nice art and music to boot. This is definitely one of the more innovative titles to get a review from me in a while.
So the basic set up is that this elfen archer character forms up a little mercenary band/guild/party/whatever, and roams about the land doing jobs. As you progress, more people are added to your roster, and eventually you guys fight for the fate of the kingdom and all that jazz. The gameplay here is rather unique. Each level involves moving up a six tile wide board with your maximum number of six party members, fighting off monsters and collecting items. It is entirely impossible to move backwards. For each move, you can either have them hold their position, move ahead as a group, or move any single member. There is a certain progression line that you can’t move past, but otherwise, you’re free to rearrange your formation as much as you need to. Unfortunately, if enemies are near, they will attack every time you do so, since it technically counts as your move. Really, the end goal is to do everything in as few, carefully calculated moves as possible.
You are rated on each mission based on how well you kept your party alive, and how many turns you took to move. Better ratings come with more monetary rewards, which can be used to bring stronger and more expensive troops into battle. You also use money to upgrade troops and revive them in battle, though there are special upgrade items that you find through gameplay as well. This reward system seems to be at odds with itself. Being thorough and killing every enemy and grabbing all the treasure will almost never result in a three star rating. What I don’t like about the money system is that it punishes experimentation and trial and error. You can’t really explore the combat and let your party die too much as you learn the ins and outs. I mean, you can, but it would be unwise to finish a level if you spend a lot of money on revives, because otherwise you might end up replaying old levels anyway to grind for money. I might be being somewhat nitpicky here, but this is the one thing that really bothered me.
Aside from all that, I love this game. The methodical addition of new characters and new enemies seems well paced and balanced. Bringing new classes into battle is exciting. This is especially true of the Ninja, who can only attack sideways and backwards, but is the only unit that can break past the progression line for super powerful back attacks. The party members often throw out funny quips, and who you bring on which mission will affect this. The magic tree character is sad when you fight corrupted evil magic trees, for example. On top of all this, there is a fun survival mode that simply asks you to last as long as possible in an endless corridor with absolutely no reviving allowed. The combat itself feels tactical and is quite engaging, and the infrequent upgrading really makes it feel like your choices matter, which is always good. Game Center achievements and leaderboards are supported, but for some reason you have to activate them manually, rather than turning on automatically, so don’t forget to do that. Rune Raiders is iOS Universal, and available for only one dollar at the time of this review. Definitely don’t skip this innovative genre blender, I really recommend it.