Hectic battling and light puzzle-solving feature in this addictive, strategic action game.
Think Pikmin with magic and you’re not far off Masters of Anima, from studio Passtech Games. There’s a lot of fun to be had here summoning an army of guardians to do your bidding against hordes of corrupt golems, mixing RTS and fast-paced action.
It doesn’t make the best first impression, however. The hackneyed story involves clumsy hero Otto, an apprentice of Anima with the ability to summon guardians, on a quest to save his fiancée who’s been split into four parts by an evil wizard named Zahr. It’s told through low-res stills, clichéd dialogue and awkward voice acting, throwing names and places and magic at you without careful consideration.
Still, this is the sort of game where story takes a backseat to gameplay. And consideration has been taken over the learning curve, though it’s still initially a little confusing. The tutorial teaches you the basic controls, which aren’t overly intuitive on console, but by the end of the first level they click into place. There’s a touch of the Lego games about Masters of Anima, roaming diorama-like worlds from a top-down perspective, collecting glowing orbs that power your abilities, and rebuilding broken ruins with some light puzzling.
Gradually you unlock five types of guardians, from the basic Protectors, to the archer Sentinels, the Keepers that generate your magic power, the powerful Commanders, and Summoners who can summon smaller guardians to assist. Level by level they’re introduced, ramping up the complexity of the puzzles. These are never particularly taxing, but there is some strategy involved in using the right guardian for the job.
Magic orbs are plentiful too, giving you plenty of freedom to experiment. It’s just a shame there’s no map for each of the colourful (if clichéd) worlds you explore – the labyrinthine ruins, deserts and forests border on repetitive.
Battles are hectic. Early on it’s easy enough to summon plentiful guardians with which to dispense the hulking, screen-filling golems, but by the end the screen overflows with minions and effects. Thankfully the graphics are clean and crisp enough to keep the action running smoothly, even if they’re not imaginatively detailed.
Understanding the abilities of each guardian is the key to success in battle, yet with so much going on a controller isn’t always the most efficient way of doling out commands – you’ll wish for a mouse at your disposal. Frantically summoning guardians is a sure-fire way of rinsing your magic power, but it’s easy to lose control under pressure. You’ll often find yourself out of magic with no way of replenishing it, leaving you stranded and unable to summon any defences. At this point the game infuriatingly throws damaging corruption portals at you, so the worse you do the harder it gets. Restarts are a frustratingly frequent occurrence.
One way to improve your chances is to level up. Completing battles and finding hidden secrets in the levels gives you experience points you can use to improve the abilities of both Otto and his guardians, while uncovering hidden collectibles allows you to increase health and magic. It’s possible to return to previous levels to explore further and gain more experience, and there’s certainly some satisfaction in completing these with ease using your beefed-up mini army. You’re also graded at the end of each battle, giving you an incentive to improve.
As a result, though, the game does settle into a repetitive rhythm and, despite the introduction of new guardians, it doesn’t bring enough freshness in the later levels to maintain pace. That said, whist it might not have the imagination or charm of Nintendo’s Pikmin games and it’s certainly more combat heavy, the simple gameplay and light-hearted feel ensure Masters of Anima remains addictive.