Despite its promising scope thanks to modern processing technology, the minion-commander adventure genre has never really managed to take off. It was born with Pikmin
back on GameCube which saw a lone astronautical explorer on an alien planet lead an army of colored plants to overcome the game’s challenges. At the time, this gameplay concept was revolutionary, taking the command aspect from an RTS and incorporating it into a traditional Nintendo adventure full of puzzles and cutesy enemies. In the next generation, we saw Overlord
and Overlord 2
. These titles took the Pikmin
gameplay and refocused it on a more fantastical setting where you played an overlord looking to take over the world. Despite all of these games’ quality and a newfound processing power capable of handling many times more units on screen, we hadn’t had any new entries in the genre until now with Masters of Anima
The game sets the stage as a somewhat traditional fantasy world with a slightly cartoony artstyle. Our hero is Otto, a novice Shaper who’s working to become a Master of Anima so that he can marry his fiancee. A Shaper is one who has the ability to control Anima, the world’s magical resource, and use it to create minions that can be controlled. Obviously, things don’t go as planned and it’s time for Otto to set out to rescue his fiancee and, on the off chance it just happens anyway, save the world.
The story sounds like standard fare but it’s full of charm that sets it above a standard video game story. Otto himself is less heroic and feels more like a normal guy who just wants to save his fiancee from the villain. Along the way, he’ll meet various characters whose flamboyant natures will bring a smile to your face thanks to outstanding dialogue and voice acting. His fiancee herself is also full of character thanks to multiple personalities — to explain in depth would be a spoiler, but it’s safe to say that when she speaks from her heart, she absolutely steals the show as a memorable and lovable character. The writing in Masters of Anima
may not tell a timeless epic, but the characters that support it are more than enough to draw you into the world and come out happy you came to visit.
The world itself is colorful and interesting to explore at times. There are a few different environments Otto will visit during his journey across 10 levels. What’s there is cohesive with the story’s tone and what you might expect to see in the world, though it is lacking in variety. Many of the levels see you visiting similar areas with similar colors and the change in scenery of a new section of the game will feel more like a breath of fresh air than it should. However, that issue does not take away from the fact that the design is quite enjoyable to behold — after a bit of time away from the world, I long to go back for more.
Most levels have a simple goal: get to the end and defeat any enemies along the way. You can absolutely blast through the game if you want to and it would be an overall quick experience. There’s even an achievement for beating the game in four hours though a first playthrough would undoubtedly be closer to six or seven. But to do so would miss quite a lot of what the game’s levels have to offer. Each tasks you with a small side objective and some collectibles to find that you can use to power up Otto. The levels are linear, but the paths branch off just enough to make exploration feel very rewarding without ever feeling like you’re lost. That’s a balance rarely found in games and Masters of Anima
finds it consistently in every level.
The puzzles are simple but fun. Along his journey, Otto will learn how to summon six different units using his skills as a Shaper. Each of these has different abilities both in combat and in exploration. For puzzles, the right unit to use is generally pretty easy — archers shoot targets, defenders push blocks, summoners go in summoning circles, and so on — but as you progress, you’ll need to use different units in new combinations and the difficulty level ramps up fairly and in line with how quickly you’re learning. To be clear, as a puzzle game Masters of Anima
lacks a difficult edge that people who love them might desire, but for most the puzzles in the game should be just the right amount of challenge and satisfaction.
Combat makes use of everything the game has to offer. Each type of unit Otto can summon has its own purpose in combat just as it does outside of it and each feels entirely unique and useful. As you progress, you’ll start with only a few units and slowly grow into the master you were always meant to be, with new summons coming right when you’ve got the hang of what you just unlocked. The utility of each unit is perfect and as you learn new ones, you’ll wonder how you ever made it without them. The variety of the six allows you to manage a number of different possible strategies depending on your playstyle, each of them valid and effective in different ways against your foes. Those foes offer different strategies of their own, with bosses especially requiring you to maximize your skills to overcome those epic battles.
That strategic depth is complemented by the game’s challenges well. Even with a strategy in place, you’ll need to be quick on your feet to defeat the game’s later enemies. They’ll focus on your units at melee if you have any there but will also freely target your units at range with a number of different attacks each. When targeted, you’ll need to act quick to move any nearby units to safety while still maximizing your damage to maintain high ranks and avoid enrage timers of the enemies that trigger if you’re a bit too slow. The result is gameplay that revolves around setting up a strategy with many pieces and then constantly moving pieces of it while trying to ensure it doesn’t fall apart. It sounds chaotic and to some extent it is, but ultimately it’s just the right amount of challenge to ensure you’re always just outside of your comfort zone.
On a technical level, the game handles what it throws at you fairly well. The framerate feels consistent throughout most of the game, though I did encounter a few drops every so often. In a game that allows you to pump out a hundred different units at any given time at a maximum, the stable framerate is impressive and you’ll be grateful. On a mechanical level, the game was clearly designed to be used with a controller and enemies will choreograph their attacks with enough time for Otto to react if you’re quick. This means the game is fully functional with a controller, though at times I did find targeting specific units to be difficult in the middle of a fight.
The achievements will offer a nice challenge without a massive time commitment. A playthrough can be completed fairly quickly, unlocking a number of story achievements. Then you’ll have the opportunity to replay levels to gain more experience, complete the side objectives, find the collectibles and get higher ranks on missions. Each of these tasks is required for various achievements, and to master the game you’ll need to do them all. Luckily, levels are fairly short so it shouldn’t be too tough. You’ll also need to complete the game in 4 hours, which promises to be a small challenge well-suited to seasoned players.
SummaryMasters of Anima
is an excellent game that serves as conclusive proof that Pikmin
’s legacy is alive and relevant today as much as it ever was. The game’s foundation is its characters who are humorous and lovable throughout the adventure, with exceptional dialogue and voice acting to back them up. The world itself is lacking a bit in visual variety but it makes up for it in level design, which features linearity combined with a reward for off the beaten path exploration. The gameplay’s dual challenges in the form of puzzles and combat are both well-designed to take advantage of all six units’ different abilities so that you’re always confronted with scenarios that are interesting, fun and just the right amount of difficult. Ultimately, this is a game that came out of nowhere to take me on a surprise journey I never imagined I’d want to be on and I loved every second of it.
- Wonderful cast of characters supported by exceptional dialogue and voice acting
- Level design is excellent
- Clever combat design showcases each of the units, enemies and the variety of tactics they offer
- The difficulty of combat and puzzles is expertly tuned to always be just enough
- Micromanagement of units is not easy
- Environments occasionally feel slightly repetitious
The reviewer spent approximately 8 hours searching for Otto's fiance, solving puzzles using anima and defeating golems to finish the main story. Along the way he earned 17 of 30 achievements for 430 Gamerscore. A download code for the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. The reviewer played the game on an Xbox One X.