Review by Matt Dunn
The long anticipated sequel to the original Aurora Feint is here! It now comes with a price tag, but is it worth it? If you owned the original free game (which is still free btw,) then you probably need no convincing. But if you didn’t, then read on to hear all the reasons why the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
When the original Aurora Feint was released, it came with the lofty goal of becoming the “first iPhone MMO” game. This is a pretty huge claim, and left quite a few gamers puzzled (lol). However, things are starting to come into focus with AF2: The Arena, which features a revolutionary concept in mobile gaming: asynchronous multiplayer. Due to the original game being both free and very well known, I’m not going to go into detail about the standard gameplay, but rather what is new. For those that are new to the game, it offers very thorough instructions and tutorials when you visit the “Academy” in the game.
The idea behind asynchronous multiplayer is to provide a multiplayer experience for people who don’t have time to sit around connected to a wi-fi hotspot to play with others. The game servers will store a “ghost” of you playing a session a minute and a half, and other players can challenge your ghost from anywhere, at any time. During the “summoning” session, you are playing a standard game of Aurora Feint with a wonderful twist. An orb glows different colors at the top of the screen based on the matches you’re getting. When it glows bright enough, match 5 blocks of any color to remove all of those blocks from your opponents playing field when they play against you. This and other factors go into how “hostile” your ghost is, and you receive a final score based on this and your points from combos and matching blocks. When you’re done with summoning, you can compare your current ghost to the one you currently have posted, and either replace it or leave what you have. You can only have one active ghost at a time.
As other players challenge your ghost, you can view records of who won/lost to you, and read comments they left about the game. All of this and more is summed nicely in your own custom news feed, much as sites like Facebook and Myspace do it. It will flash red at the bottom if you have an announcement such as an accepted friend request, and will tell you about unread news feeds, like an inbox.
The thing I don’t quite understand is the lack of effect battling in the Arena has on your character… as in, no effect. Would have liked to see this effect your leveling up, or at least offer some sort of long-standing reward. There seems to be a lot of missed potential in the current player vs. player system from an RPG/MMO standpoint, but as it stands, it’s still good. It may also be mentioned that AF is an “AMMO” (asynchronous massively multiplayer online) game, not just an MMO. So for those wondering about that label, it’s qualified.
The on-the-go social aspect of AF is incredibly fun and exciting. On top of that, the game features a constant, unobtrusive chat line at the bottom of the screen, featuring players from all over. You can chat about the last game you played, talk to someone about their ghost, or ramble about the weather. Recently, someone was taking the time to quote Christmas songs. It was quite entertaining to see some of the chatter as I was playing the game, but very easy to ignore if you prefer not t read it. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes quite difficult to open the chat since the line at the bottom is so small, but you can get to chat alternatively by going to the Tavern on the world map.
The game continues the ability to add friends in the game, but makes it much easier this time. You can either click on a name in chat to add, or manually enter the character name of someone you want to invite. Once you have friends, their activity will show up in your news feed, such as them losing or winning to other player’s ghosts. You can also challenge your friend’s ghosts at any time to battle them, and even leave comments on their profile wall. The most important fact about all these social aspects of the game is that they run perfectly fine on both EDGE and 3G.
The rest of the game is, well, Aurora Feint! As you “mine” (play the main puzzle game) you gather resources to purchase weapons and upgrades that you achieve by leveling up. To gain score multipliers on blocks, you have to complete pre-set “spell” puzzles in the tower (some are quite difficult!) with limited moves. To gain new and upgraded weapons, you have to mine certain amounts of various blocks within a time limit in the smith. Weapons randomly spawn during mining, and perform actions likes blowing up bricks, or setting multipliers to certain blocks. You can also choose weapons to take with you into duels, and use them at any time by double tapping on blocks. This adds a ton to the strategy of the game, and you will hear people talking about different ways to use weapons in chat from time to time. If you fail any of these tasks, you lose the resources required for them, and must re-mine them attempt the challenge again.
The artwork in the game is absolutely beautiful, with awesome particle effects and animation. The glitchy effects of the original AF are a thing of the past here. You will run into occasional lagginess with certain effects, but it’s not enough to be annoying or really effect the gameplay. The performance itself has been tweaked well compared to the original game. I had the game quit only once, after about two hours of play (yes, it’s that addicting), which is pretty good for a game of this caliber. Luckily, the game saves exactly what you were doing, so if the game closes, you only lose a few seconds waiting for it to load back up. The same goes for incoming calls.
Possibly surpassing the visual quality of Aurora Feint II is the sound/music. I’ve literally been sitting here for the past 15 minutes or so listening to the games orchestral score as I write this review. The new music added for summoning and battling in the arena is perfect in everyway. The epic and mystical themes in the music play along perfectly with those themes in the game. The sound effects are also completely top notch, and really immerse you into something that feels much grander than a standard puzzle game.
There are very few issues with Aurora Feint II: The Arena. Mainly, these are low battery life, and the occasional performance issue that can arise. I mean, this game is simply too good! If you catch the interview we had with the developers, they mentioned how hard it is dealing with the small amount of RAM that Apple allows appls to use. This is unfortunate, but honestly is not a big issue with this game. If you play without background music, it improves performance quite a bit, and doesn’t take away too much from the experience. To make up for possible crash issues, AF2 saves EXACTLY what you were doing when the game is interrupted, so all you lose is a few seconds for the game to reload again. The same applies to incoming calls.
Finally, some people have reported issues with transferring their accounts from the original Aurora Feint to The Arena. I personally had this issue. Fortunately, the new game is so entertaining that I started a new character, and haven’t regretted it one bit. To me, The Arena is a brand new experience, and should be taken as a new game. I see it as a bonus to be able to pull characters from the old game, and I’m not going to mark it down if this function isn’t flawless. Also, there are several workarounds and fixes that can be found at AuroraFeint.com for this issue.
Presentation & Graphics
Beautiful. Mystical. Mysterious. Breathtaking. This is the best looking puzzle game for the iPhone, hands down. The menus are slick, and very easy to navigate. The world map makes sense. Very impressive stuff.
The soundtrack is just as good as the graphics, and goes perfectly with the theme of the game. The new songs matched with the already existing library of music for different parts of the game creates a very immersive experience. The sound effects are just as good as the music.
The game controls very well, and tilting the phone adds more strategy to gameplay. Weapons and upgrades add even more to the variety of the game. The social abilities are through the roof, with chat, friends, wall comments, and most importantly, ghost battling against anyone and everyone! Would have liked to see achievments/trophies for winning in the Arena though, and so far there’s no effect from battling on how fast you level up, or anything else. There are occasional quitting/minor lagging issues, that are made up for by an excellent save system. Some issues transferring accounts from the original AF.
Aside from standard mining, the tower, the smith, and the arena to add great breaks in standard gameplay. The ability to challenge anyone, and continuously post better ghosts to prove yourself is great. Overall, the social aspect makes AF a virtually endless game. Unfortunately, it still feels like The Arena is on the precipice of something greater, as it seems like quite a few real RPG/MMO elements were left out of the battling system, and thus, for experienced RPG players, things could get dry after a while.
Aurora Feint II: The Arena is worth every penny of it’s $7.99 pricetag. It will provide you with hours and hours of highly addictive gameplay, with the ability to challenge your friends and others by uploading your best ghost online. It provides excellent social gaming tools for tracking your progress in the world, and provides many means to connect you to people all over the real world in the game. The graphics and sound are nothing short of brilliant, and the gameplay itself is just as good. Still, AF2 just doesn’t quite feel like it’s finished. Leveling and experience was left out of the PvP battling system, as well as playing against NPC opponents. The game has tons of room for expansion, so I’m hoping things like quests and battle experience are added in the future. With all that said, Aurora Feint II: The Arena is, hands down, the finest puzzle game on the app store. Period.