Temple of Arkadoom

How might the lovechild of a really light version of ’The Quest’ and the classic ‘Rogue’ turn out?  One possibility is Temple of Arkadoom from Vlad Stamate (ToA hereafter).  However, such a pedigree is rich indeed and as it stands there are several things keeping ToA from that title.  The story goes that you are Laren, respected citizen of a generic medieval village whose elders send you off to investigate undead monsters appearing near an ancient temple on the outskirts of town.  Carrying with you only some basic hunting gear and expecting to find nothing (always the skeptic!), you’re surprised to find something is indeed amiss in the Temple of Arkadoom…and so your adventure begins. 

There’s 2 ways to play ToA: adventure mode and random dungeon mode.  As expected, the former tells you a little story as you go while the latter dispenses with such formality for a quick-fix dungeon crawl in a…you guessed it…random dungeon.  The core gameplay applies to both modes so I’ll cover them simultaneously.  This game isn’t pretentious; it’s a simple dungeon crawl where you can charge in, hack up some baddies, grab some cool loot then put the game down until next time.  It’s this simplicity and barebones presentation of a classic dungeon crawl that wins the game praise in my book but more on that later as it’s not all rosy.  There’s no party here, nor NPC’s, merchants or any of the other RPG standby’s; it’s just Laren against the mysteries of the Temple.  The game does save on exit via the Home button so that’s a nice feature.
The presentation is 1st person with dungeons in textured 3D and enemies as 2D animated bitmaps (or equivalent).  The graphics are decent and plenty good enough for a game of this type.  Movement occurs in 1-step increments via onscreen d-pad so it’s just like exploring a graph paper dungeon in 3D.  To the left of that is your compass and 2 flasks representing health (green) and mana (blue).  Along the right side are 5 menu buttons: settings, map, backpack, character and (back to) viewport.  Settings lets you start a new game, load/save, set sound/music volume and view credits.  Map shows your progress as you explore and identifies doors and portals (to the next level).  Backpack takes you to a (sort of) paper doll interface where you can outfit Laren for battle.  Character brings up your stats including level, experience, attack, defense, health, mana and melee/magic skill.  A thoughtful feature here is a history button which tracks all steps taken, all enemies defeated and most powerful foe slain.
From here I’m just going to go straight into gripes and suggestions because quite honestly, by the time I get done listing them (there’s a lot) I’ll have covered everything else anyway.  Note, I’m only being this thorough about it because I like ToA and want it to succeed, not to condemn.  My hope is that the developer takes all of this to heart as constructive criticism in the most positive sense.  So here we go.
  • First and foremost is the movement controls.  We simply must have the ability to hold a key to continue moving in that direction.  Repeated tapping to move is very nearly a deal-breaker.  I’d also like to see a dbl-tap forward to run and a dbl-tap back for a 180.
  • The map needs major attention.  First, you are literally represented by an orange square on a red map, colors far too similar.  Why not make Laren a directional icon so you always know your facing and don’t have to constantly look at your compass?  Also, portals are represented by what appears to be a few pixels, needlessly difficult to see on the map.  Finally, you have to step on every freaking square to get an accurate mapping of each level.  This is ridiculous as the game should at least map out what’s in the immediate 1-square radius around you.
  • You fight by tapping the screen but first instinct is to tap the actual enemy.  However this just leads to inadvertently hitting the Ok button before you get to savor the victory screen which identifies wtf you just killed (because you’re not told any other way unless there’s a loot drop) and how much XP you got.
  • (Minor) Save appears as inactive (even though it is active) if you just installed the game and have never saved before.
  • You get to spend 1 point in either melee or magic skill per level but there’s no undo button in case you fat-finger.
  • There’s only 1 save slot; at least give us 2 and 3 is ideal.
  • The only use of magic skill in this game is wands of which there are precious few to be found and drain mana way too fast.  I found no way to recharge mana (or health for that matter) beyond just sitting and waiting for it to auto-recover and the net effect is going for a magic-based character is rather pointless; you always end up switching to a melee weapon anyway.
  • The UI buttons often don’t ‘take’ so I have to hit them 5, even 10 times to register sometimes.
  • Music/SFX prefs are not saved so you have to reset them every time you start the game.
  • You can’t drop items from your backpack but at least when it’s full you can select which item to swap with any time you want to pick up something new.  Also, in that scenario the item you just swapped is now gone forever.
  • Building on the above point, there are no items whatsoever depicted ingame beyond doors and the odd column.  There’s no representation of the weapon you’re holding, no items or debris (cobwebs, torches, chairs, beds in the cells, basic signs of life, etc) in the Temple and no corpses after you kill something.  That last one also means if you’re presented with a cool piece of loot after killing something and you inadvertently do anything that switches to another screen, the item is gone forever and you can’t reloot.
  • Each step in the dungeon has a sort of lighting routine that is not uniform as you go so each step is like replaying the last (hurts immersion).
  • Generic loot icons don’t adequately convey the power of the best items aka you don’t ‘feel’ like a powerful warrior when every axe looks the same.
  • Be useful to have the map button right above the viewport button as you use them the most frequently by far.
  • Seems to be only 4 main types of enemies with only subtle variations (normal skeleton, fire skeleton, etc) so need way more enemies to battle.  Also, there’s no strategy to any monster beyond bash and slash until dead.  Be nice if some had special abilities (sorcerers resitant to magic, castle guards actually making use of all that shiny armor).  Also where’s the ranged melee weapons?
  • The ‘paper doll’ icon seems unfinished (it just sits there naked!).  Be nice to see this updated as you go with the gear you have equipped/worn.
  • There’s no character portrait of Laren and every RPG, lite or not, needs character portraits.
  • You can’t go back to the main menu to start a random dungeon if you’re already in adventure mode.  You have to let yourself die or restart the app.
  • From the start new adventure option, the cancel button doesn’t work so you have to start a new game at that point.
  • Be great to see secret doors, traps and boss monsters guarding treasure rooms.
When I think about the potential of ToA, I get excited.  However, when I factor in that the 2 fantabulous games I mentioned up front are exactly 2x as much (for about 1000x more gameplay) and the same price (for about 500x more gameplay) respectively, the shortcomings of ToA become amplified.  To be fair, ToA does not pretend to be or compare itself to either game but instead goes straight for the core addictive qualities of explore, battle and loot.  Honestly that would be just fine with me but the problem is there’s just not enough of any of those 3 going on to hold my attention past the time I spent with it for this review.  That said, the framework is laid for Temple of Arkadoom to expand into a real gem; the underdog of the app store even!  It all depends on how much time and energy the developer is willing to expend to make that happen.  A hesitant recommendation at this point for a game that’s fairly fun now but a bit overpriced IMO and could (should?) be oh so much more.
Don’t believe me?  The dev was kind enough to send along a couple promo codes to see for yourself so head on over to the comments section!
version reviewed – 1.0
reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
iTunes music support – no

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