Version tested: iPhone
At first glance, Spellsword might seem like a clone of Vlambeer's Super Crate Box. It's got that game's arena-based combat, endless waves of enemies, and a steady stream of power-ups you're encouraged to collect. But rather than settle for a "me-too" copy, developer Everplay has taken the structure and infused it with its own magical spin.
Each of Spellsword's missions tasks you with surviving throngs of monsters pouring out from the edges of a handful of single-screen stages. Your weedy attack combined with rudimentary virtual buttons might sound like an uninspired tap-and-slash, but a series of elemental power-ups bring a spark to this rusty template.
At any given time, an enchanted card appears somewhere on-screen. Snatch it and you'll release an area attack as well as infuse your blade with the appropriate magical properties for a short while. For example, grabbing a fire card launches homing fireballs at foes and sets your sword ablaze, while the poison card infects all enemies on-screen, causing them to explode after a few seconds.
In order for a new card to appear, you'll have to use up the one that's already there. This makes the game just as much about collecting as it is about fighting. Going toe to toe with enemies isn't advised, so you're better off dashing between cards and watching their area-attack spells tear through enemy hordes. Scampering around watching swarms of monsters burn, explode, and get sucked into black holes without ever swinging your sword is chaotically amusing.
The action only ramps up in intensity as you face more overwhelming numbers. Thankfully, your equipment and abilities can be upgraded by cashing in currency left by downed foes and rewarded for completing objectives. This gives Spellsword an RPG-lite feel and the game generously showers you with coins, so you'll seldom play long without being able to make your character at least a hair more badass. It's also worth pointing out that there are no in-app purchases, so you won't feel like you're grinding away at something other people (i.e. rich, stupid cheaters) are simply buying.
Further improving the pace is a welcome mix of objectives. While there is an endless "survive as long as you can" mode, the main campaign switches up your goals at an even clip. You'll be tasked with a range of things like surviving a set amount of waves, collecting a quota of cards, or defeating a certain number of foes. This variety alleviates feelings of ennui, without altering the core design that makes the game so enjoyable.
Spellsword isn't the freshest or most innovative game on the market, but it's a solid hybrid that combines the best parts of other games into a well-executed whole. Its fun systems mix magical mayhem with retro arcade action, while its RPG framework adds an extra addictive layer. Is it enough to dethrone Super Crate Box? That's a tough one, but for only 69p I reckon it's worth trying this robust riff off Vlambeer's casual king.
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