Juggernaut: Revenge of Sovering (iPhone Game Review)

JuggernautJuggernaut: Revenge of Sovering is an attempt to translate the feel of a big-budget video game to handheld devices. They found a lot of interesting ways to make the combination work, but main effect was to make me think about how the line between hardcore and casual gaming is a lot finer than most people think.

Juggernaut has many of the hallmarks of a hardcore RPG, from the good (3D graphics largely unparalleled on the iPhone) to the bad (atrocious voice acting and a haphazard story). But the game initially feels like a casual time-waster: You move on rails from one enemy to the next, and attack by choosing one of three directions, avoiding the direction of your opponent’s “gaze”. It’s simple, and at the end of each battle you get a reward by choosing a chest, an extra interactive step that really isn’t different than the game randomly choosing for you.

But then, after you clear an area, you can keep returning to it (while the next enemy waits patiently) in order to tap around and collect “tribute” from the people there. Every now and then, wandering monsters appear there, and you take a break from the pre-planned battles to protect the village that’s giving you money. This made me wonder: Is the time-consuming click-fest to collect coins a remnant of casual games and their easy rewards, or is it really any different from the level-grinding of a classic RPG? The offhanded treatment of civilians as nothing more than a way to get resources could, honestly, fit in either gaming culture.

An example of less-than-stellar writing. ("We have reached the desert, my brave warrior. It is so hot here that you want to peel off layers of clothing!")

An example of less-than-stellar writing. (“We have reached the desert, my brave warrior. It is so hot here that you want to peel off layers of clothing!”)

New elements and mini-games keep appearing, from the tile-matching locks on buried treasure to the magical bits of “Mana” and “Fury” that you need to tap on during fights. But as those elements keep adding up, your battles become more complex. Eventually, you are husbanding that Mana and Fury to use for special moves, making your attacks in a prescribed order to execute combo blows, and trying to use three types of purchasable artifacts as efficiently as possible to win without wasting money. Each individual piece of that is a simple matter of tapping or swiping in response to some stimulus, but isn’t that true of any game? By introducing this system gradually, Juggernaut reveals that an intricate, strategic system can be built on top of game mechanics less interesting than Fruit Ninja.

When everything comes together, Juggernaut’s battle system is a lot of fun. There are a decent amount of things to keep track of, various areas of the screen to manage, and several little tricks that I eventually figured out to make the resources go farther or to save up powerful strikes for the right time. But not every battle is like that. The fun ones are on the main path, where it’s worthwhile to burn through expensive items to progress. Fighting the wandering monsters is only fun when you need to use the system in certain ways to unlock achievements (of course) that lead to special areas. Otherwise, those side monsters are dull: You can usually win without trouble, so you shouldn’t waste special items on them, and you’ll use them as an opportunity to build up Fury and Mana rather than to unleash it. The only thing worse than those those repetitive battles is when you have to aimlessly move around collecting money and waiting for one to appear, because you need to build up more resources before you can handle the next main fight. Grinding is a time-honored part of RPGs, but it feels especially mundane and reductive here.

You could advance faster by opening ads or roping in friends via the “Store”, in an annoying freemium section of the game. I can’t complain too much, though; I completed this without ever using that, and given the game’s technical and artistic aspects, I can’t imagine that this free download has turned a profit. (I assume Mail.ru, the publisher, justifies this as marketing for their MMORPG Juggernaut. Strangely, though, the app never mentions the game it’s based on.) I only finished it because it was an easy time-waster during late nights with a newborn baby, though. The full thing easily took over one hundred hours to complete, and the majority of them were boring level-grinding or frustrating attempts to advance when the only paths available to me were too much for my character. At its best, this was addictive, rewarding, and encouraged me to squeeze the most out of a deceptively simple system. It just wasn’t at its best very often.

Juggernaut Action

Overall, it just seems like Juggernaut: Revenge of Sovering was a good RPG with too many cut corners. The battle system is cool, but every enemy fights exactly the same, whether a dumb animal, a skilled warrior, or even a group attacking together. The balance is mainly good, but the material and number of missions aren’t planned well at all for the sheer length of it. And the little bits of story they bothered to include rarely seem to go anywhere, presumably because they were referencing elements of the main game. It’s easy to like this a little bit, as a free experience that looks like a $60 console game, but don’t plan on sticking with it like I did.

Grade: B-

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