App of the Day: Rune Raiders

Blocksing clever.

I remember, as a lad, playing Ultima IV on the Master System. After a few weeks I was so totally one with the game that its visuals - the little sprites with maybe two animations - ceased to be. I didn't see fields and mountains, goblins and dragons; there were just good squares, bad squares, and my square. All 8-bit RPGs had this feel, like they were somehow built on top of graph paper.

Rune Raiders is a fresh idea, but you suspect its makers had that somewhere in mind. Each of its levels is six squares across, and scrolls vertically as you move a team of chunky little tiles up towards monsters. You can pick up to six adventurers each time, from a total of 12, and though everything's fantasy-styled there's more panache and wit in Rune Raiders than its name suggests.

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Some upgrades are simple attack or defence bonuses, but each character's has at least one that makes a big difference in how they play.

Every character's attack works in a different manner, a helpful template of which pops up when you press on them, and if it's possible to attack they'll do so at the end of each turn's moves. The same rules apply to the enemies. Initially it's a bit of a romp, as your tight little rectangle batters through orcs and sidesteps minotaurs, but soon enemies start to appear with devastating AOE attacks or moves that can mess up your formation.

The great pity with Rune Raiders is that just as it gets going, things stop - there are only 15 missions here, which you'll conquer relatively quickly. A Hard mode certainly toughens things up, and if you're a turn-based master that's recommended from the off, but its longevity largely rests on Survival mode. Quick note: when playing this, ensure Game Center is enabled at the game's main menu or it will crash at the end (a patch is incoming).

Survival presents an endless level to battle through, with one key difference from the campaign - you can't resurrect allies. Rune Raiders works through some extremely well-engineered rules, such as your party auto-healing by a small amount with every step forwards, and rearrangements of your tiles allowing the monsters a turn. It's in the later stages of Survival that these begin to create real knife-edge battles. By this time you'll have constructed a dream team that syncs perfectly together, and losing even one ally can be devastating to that balance.

Despite the short campaign, Survival means Rune Raiders is definitely worth a mere 69p. But it's hard not to wish it had a bigger price and more in terms of structure - cash carries over between campaign missions, and so do upgrades, but relatively soon everything's maxed out. What it really needs is some kind of challenge mode, or variants on Survival, that could keep pulling you back in.

While it lasts though, Rune Raiders is and original and smart take on turn-based battling - and if you're left wanting more after an iOS game, that's high praise rather than a reason not to buy.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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