Review: Knights of the Phantom Castle

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If you look back to the first year following the release of the Nintendo DS, most of the games released were little more than GameBoy Advance games re-purposed to use the second screen with perhaps some touch controls thrown in for good measure. Similarly, in my first six months with the Apple iPad I have witnessed many iPad games that are little more than up-scaled iPhone games. I would definitely put Knights of the Phantom Castle in that category (even if in this case the iPad version came out before the iPhone). That doesn’t make it a bad game, as you will see – it just tells you something about what to expect.

The core gameplay is RTS (real time strategy). There are six possible classes, with you having a main character and getting support from a variety of characters from other classes throughout. In terms of how it controls, everything is done with a tap or swipe of your finger on the screen. Before you say ‘but isn’t that how EVERYTHING works on the iPad?’, let me be clear that this is unique: you have to successfully execute specific actions to control each character and get them to do stuff like attack from melee and ranged positions, heal others, and execute support skills by working together.

There are a dozen stages in Knights of the Phantom Castle, each more complex and involved than the last – and as you progress the levels have waves or stages that you must pass before reaching the next level and gaining some new skills. Overall there are more than 50 quests to complete, some that took me less than a minute, others I struggled with for more than an hour.

The struggles I had were two-fold. Controlling with the swipe and tap actions often works great, but at other times is dreadfully frustrating. You might be trying to get an archer to launch a ranged assault but instead have him walk straight into a line of warriors (and therefore to his death). The other issue is that your main character really needs to be suited to how you play – and what controls work best. At the same time, not all quests are suited to any one character type, which goes back to why some quests took a minute and others took an hour!

This isn’t a large, story-based game, but rather a basic fantasy backdrop with loads of combat – and that is just fine. The main purpose is the RTS combat, and Knights of the Phantom Castle does a solid job with that. It was obvious from the start that it is just an up-scaled iPhone-style game, though it is an early example of a ‘universal’ game that doesn’t run in a 1x/2x mode. I give Hudson credit for that and for bringing an RTS to the iPad right out of the gate.

So should you get it? Knights of the Phantom Castle has a regular price of $4.99 on the app store, which is a price that ensures I’ll get good use out of it. However, it has gone on sale for $2-3 more than a couple of times, and at either of those prices it is an easy recommendation. In fact, between now and October 20th it is on sale for $1.99. Check it out before the price goes back up!

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Pros:
+ Solid RTS gameplay
+ Large game for iPad with loads of content
+ Classic JRPG visual style

Cons:
– Feels like an up-scaled iPhone game
– Difficulty all over the place
– No character progression
– Controls not always adequate
– Tutorials could be more helpful at times

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on iPad, also available for iPhone and iPod Touch
Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Developer: Hudson Entertainment
Release Date: iPad: 4/6/2010; iPhone/iPod Touch: 8/13/2010
Genre: RPG/RTS
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!