Not Litherning to reason
I've been looking forward to Edge of Twilight for years. Following the game from its early promises, through to its legal troubles with original publisher Southpeak, its worrisome postponement, and eventual return to the public eye, it's been a compelling story for a game that's boasted a ton of potential.
To whet our appetites while the main game continues production, developer Fuzzyeyes has released Edge of Twilight: Athyr Above, an iOS action game that gives us our first real taste of what's on offer.
I wish I could say it's a good omen, a fortuitous start that has me excited for the eventual console launch. Unfortunately, while there's a good game clearly trying to break free of Athyr Above's constraints, it's crippled by an ineffective user interface, sluggish controls, and utterly broken platform sections.
All I can really say now is I'm glad this wasn't the only thing all these years have led to.
Edge of Twilight: Athyr Above (iOS)
Quite what Athyr Above is supposed to be in relation to the rest of the planned series is unclear, as the lengthy opening cinematic feels like we've been introduced to a conversation halfway finished. We get a vague sense of a world split into day and night, and each half's distinctive races -- the Athern and Lithern -- are namechecked. Our hero is revealed to be a blend of both races, but beyond that, characters may as well be speaking a different language.
Either way, it doesn't matter, since the game abandons any attempted narrative as soon as the first level kicks into gear. Played as a simple hack n' slash RPG, each stage involves brief jaunts through linear stages, interrupted frequently by waves of enemies. Every now and then there'll be a switch, or some absolutely terrible platforming sections, but more on those later.
Athyr Above goes with a unique control scheme that, far from feeling suited to the touch interface, comes off more awkward than most comparable third-person iOS releases. Touching the screen prompts the hero to walk in the direction of impact, while tapping with another finger makes him jump. To attack enemies, a finger must be placed directly on opponents until a ring encircles them. The protagonist then moves toward and attacks the monster every time the finger is swiped.
Combat is, essentially, a case of touching monsters and rubbing them furiously until they're dead. While the game tries to make this more interesting by claiming attacks do more damage if the finger is lifted and replaced, the monsters move too frequently and the input is too laggy for this feature to ever be considered useful.
Every time the hero is hit, he'll fall to the ground and the circle will be broken. To attack again, you need to touch the monster and start rubbing once more, a problem made all the more troublesome by the fact that combat just isn't responsive and often fails to register one's commands. To avoid taking damage, players can double tap anywhere on the screen to roll -- which again only works occasionally, and is generally so slow it does a pitiful job of actually escaping an enemy blow.
Outside of this, combat in general is clunky and dull. Enemies barely attack to cover the player's lack of input options, and telegraph their moves loudly to make up for the combat roll's inadequacies. Athyr's few bosses are insufferable atrocities, with attack patterns that make no sense and are almost impossible to avoid. One boss in particular is able to perform an instant-kill move the second you get close enough to attack it. It is at this point, ten stages in, I personally threw in the towel.
That said, I came close to tossing my iPad away at many points before then, most notably thanks to horrifically broken platforming sections. The game is littered with deadly chasms that, once fallen into, end the game session unless players pay an excessive toll of 1,000 experience points. When one isn't fighting enemies, one is wrestling with an unintuitive two-finger control scheme to try and make jumps across large gaps while hoping against hope the skewed camera angles don't cause the "hero" to leap fifty yards wide of the destination. Even in combat, there are usually death-drops that can be fallen into simply by running or dodging in the wrong direction. As a small consolation, at least enemies are equally as likely to fall to their deaths, given their total lack of intelligence.
The camera's a mess, often switching angles when players are trying to climb up ladders, and causing the character to enter a seizure as he hops on and off the rungs. Levers have a tiny invisible hit detection box that requires an exact press of the finger before they'll work. Eventually, you'll have access to ranged weapons and special moves that suffer from the same sluggish performance as the rest of the controls, and are generally a deathtrap to use.
What really makes this crushingly disappointing is the fact that, under the rubble of failure, there's a genuinely promising game. The general hack n' slash combat would have been pretty decent if it could be controlled in a far less convoluted way, and the general idea of a protagonist that can switch between two forms in order to navigate the environment is a good one. I also really like the leveling system, in which players use "ether" to flip switches on a character sheet, turning various stats and upgrades on and off. These switches can be flipped at any leveling station, and managing ether levels allows a greater flexibility of customization. It's a really neat idea, and one I'd like to see in a better game.
One thing the game really has going for it is a nice design. While graphics aren't the most intensive, character and environment designs really nail that steampunk aesthetic, and some of the monsters on offer are delightfully gruesome. Of special note is the gorgeous soundtrack, providing a range of beautiful tunes that deserve to be in a game far more complementary to its quality than this.
All it would take to cut this game's failings in half would be a virtual movement stick and buttons, allowing for more direct input that would give combat a greater sense of dynamism and would likely lead to more responsive commands. The attempt to make a control scheme designed to work fluidly on an iPad has, in this case, absolutely failed. Sticking to a traditional method would have helped the game in spades, though it likely wouldn't have solved all the issues.
Athyr Above comes across predominantly as a game on the wrong system. With some design tweaks, it may have enjoyed a far better time on something like the PlayStation Vita, which can handle a game clearly more suited to physical buttons. I've got nothing against the touch interface, and enjoy quite a few iOS games, but Edge of Twilight clearly has no place using it, not if this is the best it can do.
I hate having to do this. I've been rooting for Edge of Twilight for years, and I want to see the real game come to fruition. More importantly, I want it to be good, and I was hoping Athyr Above would set my mind at ease. Sadly, this game seems just so woefully misguided, though I take comfort from the fact I can at least see a solid game attempting to happen. Athyr's heart is in the right place, but its body is a total shambles.
I'll keep rooting for better.
THE VERDICT - Edge of Twilight: Athyr Above
Reviewed by Jim Sterling