Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Masters of Anima (Nintendo Switch) Review

Masters of Anima is a third-person action adventure game where you control a small army of creatures to fight and solve puzzles.  Your character, Otto, is a newly minted Shaper when he is thrust into a battle to save his fiance.  Along the way, there will be puzzles to solve, collectibles to find, battles to fight, and new guardians to summon.

Otto can attack enemies on his own, and can even learn a few special moves.  Since the game is focused around the guardians, you won't be the primary means to damage enemies, but every little bit helps.  Otto also needs anima (energy shown in the lower right of the screen) to summon.  The controls to do the summoning and directing work well, but I still mix up the buttons at times.  While the level length makes sense for pick up and play, it's much better to play for longer periods.  When I did so, I didn't mess up the controls as often.

Half the time, guardians are used to solve quick puzzles and help you move forward.  They can push things in the way, hit corruption crystals, and activate various mechanisms.  For the most part it works fine, but sometimes the timing on these puzzles is too strict.  One type involves creating a purified area that Otto can take with him.  It will shrink as it wears off, which isn't a problem for Otto, but can be for his guardians.  If you don't run exactly to where you need to go, it will wear off as you near the destination, probably killing a chunk of your minions and wasting anima energy.  Later there are barriers that the commanders can lift to protect you from the wind.  Again, the timing has to be near exact, otherwise you are losing another chunk of your minions.  You might still lose them if you do it correctly, since they will likely stick out further than the walls.  If the timing was less strict, the puzzles would be fine.

Using the guardians in combat is a bit trickier.  The game teaches you effective ways to use each type of guardian, but in reality it isn't so easy.  The soldiers get in the enemy's face, but are easily hit and will eventually get wiped out while you are trying to set other groups up.  Archers can hide in the grass, but are still quickly targeted by enemy golems.  They deal very good damage though.  Basically, you need some of the (supposedly) sturdier guardians  in front of the enemies, while the others stay back and do their thing.  Trouble is, the enemies can easily target them, and will.  So to save them, you move the distance ones away.  This actually works when you fight one enemy, but three or more means you just can't pay attention to everything.

It's a bit of a downer, too.  The combat would work fine if ranged guardians were targeted much less frequently, or if the melee ones kept enemy focus while they hit it.  There's only so much room on the screen, you can't see everything, and will end up losing a lot of guardians while trying to set things up, or fix them.  Instead of setting up guardians to do what they do best, you end up having to move them around a lot.  I found it's better to stick with the basics and only use the more specialized ones for puzzles.  Combat just feels too frantic for what the game gives you.  I'd prefer more planning and less scrambling.

One of the harder fights was versus four enemies at the same time.  Given how hard it is to keep track of everything, it wasn't long before I was down to my last few archers, and no energy to summon anything else.  I found that using my character as a distraction while the archers destroyed the golem was effective at picking them off one by one.  It wasn't fast, though.  After a bit, lightning bolts started to hit the ground, but I was able to dodge them.  Then, as if incensed, the game covered the ground with them.  Left with no way to dodge them, I just died.  So, this childish display teaches you that the game REALLY wants you to use the guardians.  It would be nicer if you could employ effective strategies that aren't "just keep throwing guardians at them".

While going through all the missions will set you back several hours, there is some replay value.  Mostly you will want to replay missions to grab the collectibles you missed and get extra experience.  I know that not everybody would want to grab all the extra stuff, but most of them help increase your health or anima energy storage.  The extra experience also helps with the harder fights because you can have extra skills.  Several of the skills are very useful, too.  It's also easier to get a higher grade on the fights when you replay levels.  Though I'm still not fond of being graded after every encounter.

Overall, Masters of Anima can be a pretty fun game.  Ideally, if combat were tweaked a bit, making it less hectic, and puzzle timing less strict, it would be a really fun and easy to recommend game.  As it stands, if you liked games like Overlord, I'd recommend at least trying Masters of Anima.

The Good:
Bite sized levels are good for portable mode, and there are good reasons to replay them.

The Bad:
Fights against more than two enemies are a bit much to easily handle.

The SaHD:
Playing this reminds me that I need to go back and finish Overlord...and start the sequel.

(Review code for Masters of Anima was received from the publisher)

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