Steampunk is one of those wonderfully odd genres that we just don’t see enough of. For those who aren’t aware, it basically takes modern-age technology and sticks it in an old-age context, operating in the form of steam powered machinery. The genre works especially nicely for games because, well, who doesn’t want to swing around a weapon like an Axegun? And with Edge of Twilight – Athyr Above, developer FuzzyEyes brings the genre to iOS and embarks upon a new series set to release on both mobile and console platforms over the coming months/years. Will it be the big boost Steampunk has been waiting for?
Edge of Twilight – Athyr Above opens with two beautifully rendered, console-quality cutscenes complete with full voice acting, which is actually quite well done. As they explain in-depth, the world has been divided into two realms: the world of day, and the world of night. Only Lex, a “half-breed” and the plot’s main character, is capable of moving between these two realms. Within the day world, Lex is approached with a ludicrous plan to reunite the two realms: kill Lukasin, the one who created the rift in the first place, and destroy the three Ether Cores, a vital source of energy for the land. If things go as planned, the two realms are rejoined. If not, it could mean the downfall of the day world. It’s certainly a decent story among mobile titles, and one that uses its steampunk environment nicely. But how does the game which tells the story compare?
Edge of Twilight – Athyr Above is an action game with RPG elements. It follows the age-old gaming formula of run around, fight some enemies, do some platforming, rinse and repeat, but also doesn’t fail to be different enough to keep this base formula interesting. Switching between day and night will change Lex between a heavy fighter and an agile runner/jumper, and expose different aspects of each level that often must work together in other to progress. For example, machines only function in the world of day, but you may have to be in the world of night to be capable of reaching the machine to activate it. It’s a good mechanic, and one which FuzzyEyes struck a balance with and implemented well. Neither mode is distinctly advantageous over the other and both are needed frequently in order to complete puzzles, which are not overly difficult, but still satisfying.
Fighting enemies earns Energy points, which can be spent at stations throughout the game. Leveling up your character, weapons, and abilities is decently extensive, but in keeping to the action-oriented nature of the game, upgrades are not as rigid as your average RPG. Spent points may be redistributed at any time as the need arises. And here’s a huge plus: there are absolutely no in-app purchases to expedite leveling! It’s basically just good old fashioned action gaming without the shallow frills that have plagued most mobile apps as of late. In each of its 5-10 minute stages EoT presents a decent amount of fun wrapped in an interesting story, definitely standing above the average pick of mobile games in the same genre.
I have no problem with difficult games, but nobody likes it when the game is difficult because of awkward controls. To some degree, Athyr Above suffers from this problem. Controls are quite different from the typical mobile action game, but they do work…for the most part. Virtual buttons seem like they would be more comfortable to use than touch gestures, but you quickly get used to the combinations of taps and swipes the game employs instead. Plus it’s worth mentioning that virtual buttons do come into play after certain upgrades and weapons are achieved, but the end result is still pretty minimalistic.
Lex is moved about not with a virtual analog stick, but just by holding a finger in the direction you want him to go. The camera keeps him centered well enough that usually this is not a problem, but occasionally this method of control can feel somewhat cramped in tighter areas of the game. Any sort of precision movement is a real challenge, but fortunately does not come as a frequent requirement. The exception to this comes in battles. To fight, the player must hold a finger on the enemy to call up a (very steampunk-looking) damage wheel. With subsequent swipes, Lex will engage in combat and fill the damage wheel up. Reach 100% and–you guessed it–the enemy is dead. Again, this works well enough, but when dealing with large groups of enemies it can become difficult to fight and effectively navigate at the same time. Executing a roll or jump with a double tap or two finger tap respectively usually ends up sending Lex in random directions rather than where you really wanted because you’re so frantically trying to do multiple gestures at once.
I applaud FuzzyEyes for attempting something different, and for keeping as much GUI off the main screen as possible, and don’t get me wrong, the controls aren’t that bad, but this is one area I would like to see improved in future mobile iterations of the Edge of Twilight series.
Graphics and Audio
Of course being a steampunk title means that EoT needs to look ‘n feel the part. In short: it does. Menus are loaded with wonderful 2D medieval machinery (and a glorious artwork section!), and the 3D elements of the game also bear a unique steampunk feel that quite effectively distinguishes Athyr Above from the competition. As far as pure visual quality goes, well, don’t expect the likes of Infinity Blade, but nothing is distractingly low-quality. Textures look nice by and large and scenes are adequately detailed for mobile gaming. There are some optimizations for newer devices like the iPhone 5, but at the same time you should be able to run the game on your third or fourth generation iPod Touch just fine, which is a plus. Overall it’s the style of the visuals that matters most here, and FuzzyEyes nailed it in that regard. Considering the game plays like action titles of yesteryear, I actually liked that the graphics matched the same.
The music, somewhat on the other hand, is quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard in other mobile games, and it’s wonderful. The predominant violins provide an ambiance that is simple and yet complex, both fitting and setting the steampunk tone perfectly. Choosing such music for a game definitely breaks from the norm, but it’s a choice I wholeheartedly stand behind.
Edge of Twilight – Athyr Above is not your typical–or your average–smartphone game, and that’s a good thing. It isn’t perfect, as evidenced by infrequently frustrating controls and several minor typos in the menus and tutorials, but as a series launch Athyr Above definitely succeeds. I doubt that this particular entry is going to become a mainstream classic, or single-handedly popularize the steampunk genre, but the game addresses a niche and addresses it very well. If you’re into steampunk, like action games in the style of last console generation, or just want a refreshing change of pace from the majority of recent mobile releases, I highly recommend Athyr Above. The series is set to expand to consoles and spawn further mobile releases, all of which I can safely say I’m very interested in trying out based on my experiences with this game. It could quite possibly end up being the most interesting thing to happen to iOS gaming this year.