Impressions of BattleCon for iOS by @level99games
Edit (08/18/2015): It is worth noting that this is a review of the old iOS app version of the BattleCON, not a review of the new BattleCON Online version and, as such, should not be considered indicative of that app. Over time, my experience with the app was pretty uneven, but I’m still pretty excited about the new version, although I guess only time will tell on that.
BattleCon by Level 99 Games was released into the App Store recently, and I’ve had time to get several games in on the Training Mode and a few games online. BattleCon is based on a boardgame of the same name which has been at top of my wishlist for several months now. The iOS app comes with four playable characters for free so there is nothing stopping you from trying the game out yourself. If you like it, there are eight additional characters available as downloadable content. Six of the characters can be purchased for .99 each or unlocked by winning between 15 and 400 online duels, depending on the character. I appreciate that there is a way to get the chracters without paying for them, but I would like to see them change “winning” to “playing.” Finding the time to play (much less win) 400 games is pretty substantial, so I think that asking people to win 400 games to unlock the characters is a little much. But, hey, at least there is a way to unlock them without real money. The remaining two characters are only available for purchase at $1.99 each. Each of the four free characters also has an alternate costume available for .99, although these are purely cosmetic as far as I can tell (the DLC character include their alternate costumes). Without the alternate costumes, the total price of the game (if you don’t plan to play to unlock characters) is $9.92. It might have been nice to see a bundle, but the pricing isn’t unfair (even if it is a little high for the app) store, especially when you consider that the board game retails for $39.99.
BattleCon is a game that simulates the feel of a fighting video game (see: Guilty Gear or Street Fighter). Each player has a token representing their fighter on a board made up of seven spaces in a line, simulating the importance of spacing in fighting games. Each character has 12 cards (13 counting their character card): five Styles and seven Bases. On any given turn, each player has three Styles and five Bases available from which to choose one pair, which forms his attack. These attacks designate the Range, Power, and Priority of your attack a s well as other special information (like if the card stops you from being stunned or lets you absorb extra damage that turn). Each player then flips over their attack pair and the one with the higher Priority goes first. You then determine whether or not the character that was defending is stunned. If they are, they miss their turn. If they are not, then they get to perform their attack. Each player then moves the pair of cards they used to a discard pile, face up, shifts the last discarded pair over to a second space, and adds the cards discarded two turns ago back into his hand. In this way, players are prevented from playing the same cards over and over again and opponents are also given some information about what is in your hand (by eliminating what you presently have discarded), allowing them to formulate a strategy about what you might do this turn. While there are other, more advanced concepts, the game is basically played as described until one player runs out of health or 15 turns pass, in which case the player with the most health wins.
It really is a clever system that has a very good mix of chaos (in trying to predict your opponent’s choices) and control in knowing what your opponent is capable of and how they like to fight. Players with better knowledge of an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses will stand a much better chance of winning and, even with just four free characters, there are plenty of diverse strategies between the characters with some being faster and relying on stunning the opponent to not take damage and others trying to soak damage long enough to get close for the big hits. I definitely enjoy the game, although those that don’t care for the anime-inspired art or the guessing game nature of part of the game may not care for it as a whole. I think it does a good job of feeling like a fighting game and, since that is the design goal of the game, I’m not sure I can give it a much better compliment than that.
As much as I like the game, my experience with the app has been a little bit more of a mixed bag. I was playing the game on an iPhone 4 and the lag from making a menu selection until it took effect was pretty bad. I do not know if this problem would go away if I had a 4S, it was much improved when I tried the game on an iPad 2, so it likely would be better. I did try resetting my iPhone, but that did not noticeably improve the loading times I was dealing with. I often was not sure if the game had recognized that I had made a selection or not. I also had some trouble getting the game to recognize me pressing the “Back” button in a few instances. The game proper, however, is responsive.
It is a very nice looking App, with consistent art (which may not be to everyone’s taste, but I like it). It is Universal, which is nice as well and it definitely works better on the iPad, both as a hotseat app and for online. On an iPhone, the text is very small in many instances, making it a bit of pain to make it through the tutorials in some places. The tutorials themselves are good and teach you everything you need to know to play the game. The interface during games is good, with cards popping up larger once you click on them. The only way that I found to view an opponent’s character during play was to pause the game and, on an iPhone, the text was absolutely minuscule. As you you guess, this is not a problem on the iPad, but it is definitely a game that rewards knowing the cards. The music is fine, although I almost never play iPhone games with sound on, and don’t feel like I’m missing anything by muting this game, either. I have a hunch that it will grate over time but that doesn’t really hurt my estimation of the app.
The game supports two player local player (where you can pass an iPhone or iPad back and forth) or online play through Gamecenter. The online play works well, although you definitely need to be sure you know what your cards do before you head online since the timer is pretty ruthless and you need to be able to identify your cards (especially on the smaller iPhone screen) quickly and make your choice. The turn timer is merciless and I lost more than a few rounds because I took too long to analyze my cards. Four of the five games I have played so far have resulted in disconnection, but I am unsure if this is a result of the cellular network or the game. The wait for an opponent was also pretty substantial, but it is a new app and I imagine that will improve as more people pick it up. I also had at least one game that hung on a “waiting for opponent” prompt until I turned it off after several minutes, although this could be cell network related and not related to the game itself. The actual game, when it was playing, worked perfectly online and, even without a real person in the rooming playing with you (my preferred way), there is definitely a thrill to playing against a real person whose logic you can try to guess.
There is a training mode against an AI, which is great for learning the rules, but is not intended to play the game against a real person. I definitely think, even on a portable device, this is a game that benefits greatly from playing against another living person and – for that – I think the iPad offers a great option to the board game, especially in travel situations (I am a big fan of the tacticle nature of board games, which – sadly – an iPhone game cannot replicate).
I would gladly recommend BattleCon to those that already enjoy board games or are fans of fighting video games. I love the system and think -it is a great blend of skill, game knowledge, and enough chose to keep things interesting. I would have no problem springing for a couple extra characters in the future, as the four free characters show enough variety that – if you are a fan of the game – I would not doubt that they would add enough difference to keep you busy for a while. For whatever it is worth, I think I got a great feel for the game with just the four free characters and will likely buy more as I get more comfortable with the game.
Even at right around $10, compared to some other games (or the cost of the actual board game), BattleCon is certainly worthwhile, especially if you have an iPad, which makes the entire experience (particularly playing a local game against another person) much more pleasant. The base game, with four characters, is free, so you have nothing to lose by trying the game. You can also view a PDF of an overview of the rules online, which I would recommend before getting started with the app. With fast, intense gameplay, a varied character roster (even with just the four freebies), great replayability, and no upfront cost you really should go check it out if it sounds at all interesting. Go! Get it!