Crowntakers originally released almost two years ago for the iPad, so this review is a little (okay, a lot) late, and that’s just no good. I’m here to remedy this oversight for two reasons: first, Crowntakers is a seriously enjoyable game that deserves all the coverage it can get; second, it just became playable on the iPhone, and I want to share a few thoughts on how it holds up on the smaller device.
In this roguelike SRPG, you play as the heir of an imprisoned king. He reaches out to you in a dream to request your help, tells you good luck, and then leaves you to figure out a way to navigate the dangerous hazards that stand between the two of you. You’ll have to cross through eight different maps filled with randomly generated enemies and situations to find him, and it’s far from easy. It is pretty, however, and traversing Crowntakers’ environments is largely a joy.
Crowntakers features one-step-at-a-time movement on a grid that's quite similar to FTL. You have access to a map that shows the endpoint you need to reach but nothing in between, so you’ll have to figure out how to get there. You’re able to see fights ahead of time once you reveal that spot on the map, but other locations hold mystery events; some yield rewards, but not all. As you explore, you’ll run into special characters with quests to unlock new party members, which adds extra excitement to the earlier runs.
You’re also fighting the clock with each step: each day that passes by increases the strength of your enemies. This forces you to consider every single movement you make — is it worth exploring the side road in hopes of finding a blacksmith to upgrade your equipment, or should you rush straight to the next level? Crowntakers further expands on these decision-making aspects by frequently forcing you to choose between benefits like upgraded equipment, armour versus critical damage runes, and healing items.
The whole endeavour is quite daunting, but you won’t have to face it alone. Crowntakers wouldn’t be much of an SRPG without a party to control, so you’re able to recruit mercenary companions from the inn at the start of each level. At first you’ll only have access to two classes, but more open up as you progress through the game. There’s more than enough variety to allow you to use entirely different strategies on each run and each mercenary features unique strengths and weaknesses. And, as an added bonus, you’re able to unlock permanent alternate — and more powerful — versions of each one.
Your mercenaries aren’t just there for support, though. If your hero dies, it’s game over regardless of how many party members you have left standing, and that makes them a central part of the combat experience. Battles in Crowntakers play out in standard SRPG tile-based fashion, but on a much smaller scale. Each character can take two actions per turn, but it’s not as straightforward as just moving and attacking: there’s terrain to contend with, which can be especially troublesome on the small maps, and adjacent unit bonuses that allow for extra attacks and counterattacks. A wide variety of potions, plus a death blow mechanic that allows an extra turn after a kill, add even more strategy. So, while combat might seem too dumbed down at first, these micro-battles are brilliantly done and really open up as you progress into the later levels. After each battle, you’re rewarded with experience and items, and both your hero and your mercenaries level up as you go, with each level providing a new stat-increasing perk.
However, just because you rocked your last battle and everyone leveled up doesn’t mean you’ll make it much further. Death comes swiftly in Crowntakers and there’s little mercy on offer: in roguelike fashion, your progress is wiped and you’re thrown back to the start each time. Dying doesn’t feel too brutal, but repeating the slow and plodding early game eventually becomes tiresome. There’s also a rough difficulty spike to contend with; the battles shift from way too easy to curbstomp out of nowhere — the boss fights become particularly awful — and it just doesn’t feel as smooth as it could. On the plus side, if you absolutely can’t manage to get through the game as it is, there’s an easy mode that lets your hero and mercenaries retain their levels after each death.
As far as the transition to the iPhone’s smaller screen, I don’t have any complaints. It feels just as comfortable to play and it looks just as good. Unfortunately, there’s no support for cloud saving. I reached out to the developer for an update on this, and although they’re considering adding it, there’s no firm plan in place. I can easily see myself bouncing between tablet and phone, especially with the quick battles, so I’d love to see it added down the road.
If you can’t tell, I’m a pretty huge fan of Crowntakers. The slow early game and sudden difficulty spike might lead to some frustration, but the rest of the game works so well that you probably won’t be able to stay mad. If you’re looking for a challenging roguelike SRPG with rousing micro-battles and lots of choices to make, you’re going to be happy with this one.
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
With its quick but deep battles, varied decision-making demands, and rewarding party member unlock system, Crowntakers deserves a spot in your library.