Videogames based on television shows can be pretty hit or miss, but usually they miss. The same can also be said for mobile games in general. This makes something like Attack the Light, a mobile game based on the popular cartoon series Steven Universe, a very tough sell.
Luckily for Steven Universe, the developers of Attack the Light did everything they could to keep it loyal to the show while creating a brand new adventure for the Crystal Gems. A big part of this surely had to do with Rebecca Sugar’s involvement in the game’s development. Sugar, the show’s creator, had a hand in writing the story of Attack the Light as well as helping with some of the design choices, and it really shows.
Attack the Light: Steven Universe (iOS, Android [reviewed])
Developer: Grumpyface Studios
Publisher: Cartoon Network Games
Released: April 2, 2015
Attack the Light‘s story could easily have been its own episode in the television show. The game takes the Crystal Gems on an adventure to bring down an army of light creatures, which Steven accidentally created by touching a prismatic gem artifact. Pretty standard for a Steven Universe episode, and it works really well as a videogame with each color of light being represented by a different world.
The game never strays from the established canon of the Steven Universe universe (heh). There’s plenty of references which only the fans of the show will understand, but the story itself is simple enough that players new to the franchise won’t be too confused. Many of the items, attacks, and locations are taken directly from the show, such as the Cookie Cat items for healing, Amethyst’s Purple Puma attack, and the strawberry field where an ancient gem battle took place. I loved how they even managed to naturally work in references for some of the more “videogame-y” aspects, like the loading screens which take place inside the warp streams.
Attack the Light is an RPG featuring turn-based combat and light puzzle-solving segments. It takes a lot of inspiration from games like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. Things like timed hits and badges should sound very familiar to people who have played the Mario RPGs, and these are the main mechanics which make the combat in Attack the Light so interesting.
Timed hits, or action commands, are crucial to winning a battle. While attacking or defending, a star will briefly appear around the enemy or character, indicating when the player should tap the screen. Tapping at the right moment will allow the Crystal Gems to follow up with an additional attack, or take significantly less damage from an enemy’s attack. There are also certain moves which require special actions to perform, like pulling back and aiming Pearl’s spear or tapping as many times as possible to charge up Amethyst’s rolling attack. Stuff like this should be all too familiar to Paper Mario fans, and it works particularly well for an RPG on mobile devices.
The actions taken during the player’s turn are determined by the amount of star points available. Each turn grants five star points, which can go towards Crystal Gem attacks or Steven actions. Players can distribute these points any way they want; for example, a turn can consist entirely of Garnet’s attacks, or be spread evenly between each of the Crystal Gems so that every character takes an action that turn. Players can also end their turns whenever they choose, and unused star points will be carried over into their next turn. Additional star points can also be obtained by using items or defeating enemies.
While Steven himself can’t actually attack, he still holds a very important role on the team as a healer-type character. He can give the Crystal Gems some words of encouragement to heal them, use his shield bubbles to block attacks, play songs on his ukulele to provide stat bonuses, and he also has access to a plethora of items hidden inside his hamburger backpack. He is the backbone of the team, so it’s wise to take advantage of his abilities often.
Leveling up grants the Crystal Gems new abilities and stronger stats. Each of the Crystal Gems starts at level 9000, except for Steven who starts at level 1 (this doesn’t actually mean anything in regards to gameplay, but I thought it was funny). The Gems can gain experience through fights and also through dialogue. At certain points, Steven will be given dialogue options, and each choice will give a certain Gem an experience boost, depending on who was the most pleased with Steven’s words. In addition to leveling up, badges can also be equipped to increase the Crystal Gems’ stats or give them other bonuses, like immunity to status effects or bonus defense against specific enemy types.
Overall, I felt the combat in Attack the Light was very well implemented. It provides just the right amount of challenge and variety. Skill with the action commands is necessary for success, different tactics will need to be employed for different enemy types, and each character has their own unique qualities to add to the team. Garnet is the powerhouse who breaks defenses and dishes out damage, Amethyst is great at dealing damage to multiple targets, Pearl is best at focused attacks usually aimed at single enemies, and of course, Steven provides the backup. The combat offers complexity without being confusing, and I feel any type of gamer, whether casual or hardcore, will be comfortable with it.
Outside of battle, the team will be navigating short maps. Players swipe left, right, up, or down to move to the next section of the map, where they might encounter enemies, find treasure chests, or run into a puzzle. The puzzles are all very simple; usually they involve finding a key to continue forward, or tapping a string of symbols in the correct order to open a door, with clues scattered around the map. Hidden rooms can also be discovered by swiping in the direction of special walls, which will shimmer slightly to alert players of a possible secret.
Map exploration is straightforward, so levels can be completed relatively quickly. Being on mobile devices, I think this works in the game’s favor. Players should be able to easily complete a level in a short period of time, making it perfect for quick play sessions while you’re riding the bus or waiting in the lobby, and it’s easy to pick back up again where you left off.
The problems I encountered were very few, and most may have been due to my phone. Certain touch screen movements were a little difficult to get right at times. In particular, the swipe motion for Pearl’s spear-throwing attack often took a while to register, and once it registered, it would sometimes be difficult to aim it correctly without moving my finger off of the phone itself. (I used this attack frequently, since I found it to be quite powerful, so this one stood out to me the most.) I also found it slightly annoying when all of the characters would clump together on the map, mostly because this made it difficult to select the right character to give healing items to without moving to a new section of the map, which could trigger an enemy attack. It would have been preferable if they automatically spread out. But aside from these few small issues, I didn’t notice anything major. For the most part, controls were very accurate and responsive.
Attack the Light‘s strongest quality is its personality. Part of this comes from the voice cast, featuring the same actors from the show, and part of it comes from the writing. The Crystal Gems behave in their usual ways, with Pearl being the voice of reason, Amethyst goofing off and getting pumped, and Garnet remaining mysterious yet reassuring. Steven, in particular, is great in this game. His unwavering optimism is truly infectious; hearing him encourage the Crystal Gems and express his excitement about their adventure brings a smile to my face. He’s just so nice and happy all the time!
There’s no doubt in my mind that fans of Steven Universe will be pleased with Attack the Light. It stays true to the show and gives players a chance to explore and fight alongside these great characters, all while offering a fun, if at times simple, gameplay experience. Even for non-fans, it’s still a solid mobile RPG. And if you’re not a fan of Steven Universe yet, then I bet you will be after playing Attack the Light.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]