Updated: Archon Review

Archon has received two quick updates, standing now at version 1.2. The developer’s made numerous fixes and improvements, notably to the enemy AI, which we felt was too weak the first time around.

The new “Insane” difficulty level is just that, especially when it comes to the combat portion of the game–the enemies with ranged attacks can now nail you all the way across the screen, for instance. Plus, the AI is much more canny in general, so it won’t be blundering into obvious traps as often.

We feel that these improvements definitely make Archon a more compelling single-player game, so we’re raising our score from a 2 to a 3. However, we’re still waiting to see how the developer’s promised multiplayer features shake out before we’ll call it a Must Have.

For a lot of gamers, the venerable game of chess is pure Dullsville. Dopey, worthless pawns; horses that move in an “L” shape; old guys playing in the park; games that take hours… who needs it?

We want to make up our own rules based on Saturday morning cartoons–we want action, excitement, spellcasting, and scantily clad women! You will find all that stuff in Archon, too, but with only weak CPU opponents to fight, it’ll go stale fast.

Genie vs. Genie!

Archon is an iPhone remake of the 1983 Atari classic, with updated graphics and controls. Two teams of legendary creatures and warriors vie over a checkered board. Victory is granted to the side that owns all five Power Squares at the end of a turn, or simply annihilates the enemy.

In chess, moving onto a square inhabited by an opponent’s piece captures it, but in Archon, it starts a fight–the two beings jump onto a battlefield and throw down. A virtual d-pad moves your character, while touching the screen attacks, provided that your attack light is green (this is to prevent button-mashing and force tactical play). The winner gets the space, and the loser dies.

The Light and Dark sides are made up of roughly equivalent pieces that each have a different movement and power profile. For instance, the pawn-like white Knights are matched by evil Goblins. Both are weak in health and attack with a melee weapon. Archers and Manticores shoot across the screen. The Phoenix and the Banshee have an aura that deals damage to the enemy over a short range.

In theory, even the lowliest Goblin can club the opponent’s valuable Unicorn to death, or damage it severely enough for another piece to finish it off. Further, if your piece enters combat on a square that matches its color, it gets a substantial health bonus.

Pay close attention to the color cycle.

The board’s squares gradually cycle from dark to light and back again. So, the winning strategy is usually to time your attacks correctly, sending waves of weaker pieces to kill off the other side’s big guns.

And then there’s the “King” pieces–the good Wizard and the evil Sorceror, respectively. In addition to being very powerful in combat, these guys have a list of magic spells that they can cast once each per game (provided they’re alive, of course). You can resurrect a piece, freeze an opponent’s piece for a turn, heal a damaged warrior, or force a color cycle. These can be game-changers if used at the right times.

Archon’s gameplay is solid enough, clearly, but there’s a lack of competition that limits the game’s lifespan. Even the toughest of the three difficulty levels doesn’t present much of a challenge after a few games. It’s too easy to outwit the enemy pieces during combat, while mounting a blitzkrieg on the Power Squares.

Archon is a cool game. We like the updated presentation–especially the killer rock soundtrack–and the gameplay holds up well. However, it really needs human opponents (over Bluetooth and the web) and online high scores to be a worthwhile buy, in our opinion.

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