Masters Of Anima Hands-On: Crowd Control Gets Fun

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A sprawling hero's journey coupled with a pleasing aesthetic makes Masters of Anima easy to pick up and play. PASSTECH GAMES

At first glance, Masters of Anima may evoke feelings of “That’s Pikmin !” or “That’s Overlord !” and if you’re a fan of either you won’t need much convincing to give this game a chance. For the uninitiated, Masters of Anima is in the company of games where players control hordes of AI minions to battle and solve puzzles in a top-down world full of fantasy tropes. This time, your name is Otto and you’re living in a world called Spark where a magical force, Anima, is the source of power for summoning minions. Your fiancée is among the best in the land at this, and as a lowly apprentice you have a lot to prove. Especially after she gets kidnapped by an evil wizard.

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Your guardians (i.e. minions) have a wide variety of abilities and uses. Photo: Passtech Games

It's a serviceable narrative and it’s not why I wanted to play the game. It looked fun and simple. I soon learned it was really only one of those things. Master of Anima succeeds at one of the fundamental concepts required of a new IP: balance. The light, cartoonish style lulls you into thinking this is a simple kid’s game. But after just an hour of playtime, I found a game that went from “I got this” to “Wait, what?” along a smooth learning curve that proves challenging without excessive frustration.

It starts easily enough. After your fiancée is kidnapped, the wise old sage who was showing you the ropes of Anima mastery confronts the evil wizard, they fight, etc. Soon you’re summoning basic melee units. Otto can use a battlecry to unleash a special move for his guardians, for the melee troops it's a coordinated block. By the end of my demo, I also unlocked ranged units that used my battlecry to unleash a focused attack for extra damage. In addition to the two guardian types I encountered, players eventually gain access to support guardians that can heal, anima guardians that generate power you can harvest to summon more guardians, commander guardians that amplify your battlecries to affect more units as well as provide an AoE buff, and summoner guardians that create minions of their own.

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Colorful environments and smart level design keep simple systems from getting boring. Photo: Passtech Games

There are caps on the number of guardians you can summon at any one time, and balancing across the different types becomes a key part of the strategy. The max cap is 100 guardians on the field at once, so there’s plenty to keep track of. Fortunately, the controls aren’t too complex, although this game would be far easier using a mouse and keyboard than a controller.

My final battle against a pair of strong, towering Golems was not easy. It took several tries and required me to multitask efficiently with a mix of summoning new guardians to replace those destroyed, moving my ranged units out of harm's way, activating my battlecry as soon as it recharged and getting in the mix myself to deal damage with my staff. There were a handful of puzzles, too. Mostly I had minions shifting platforms around, but some involved coordinating ranged attacks to activate switches with countdown timers. It was a good first impression, demonstrating there might be more to the level design than pitched battles.

Masters of Anima proved to be a pleasant surprise, offering enough tactical depth, strategy and problem-solving to keep me engaged and leave me wanting more. I look forward to the full release this Spring when it launches for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

 

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