Roleplaying games on console and PC are continuing to evolve into adrenaline-fuelled stabathons, which while a treat for our simulated violence-hungry eyes, has left the tactical thinking and even the requirement for imagination of the earliest computer RPGs far behind. Skyrim, amazing achievement though it may be in so many respects - is a very much an example of this. Not too much risk, peppered with elaborate kill animations, full of exposition upon exposition and enemies that scale to your level. It's a game that positively bends over backwards for you.
Gurk II, the paid-for sequel to a minor free hit on Android mobiles, is unashamedly throwback. It's vaguely comparable to early Final Fantasy games - wandering across a quasi-open surface world in real-ish time, interrupted by turn-based battles and occasional boss fights. Beyond-crude graphically and yet its simple scenes of lone-tree forests and static goblins conjure up all they need to - your brain does the rest, extrapolating simple, familiar outlines into a world full of adventure and threat.
Every single encounter, a turn-based battle between your trio of heroes and a random assortment of murderous monsters, is a hugely risky affair. A spot of streamlined chess-like thinking is necessary - get your warrior up front to soak up the worst of the damage, try to predict where the enemy is likely to move to to keep your archer out of harm, keep your wizard in close range of both in case emergency healing is required. Before too long you're conjuring orcs and trolls to even the odds and, well, it grows more elaborate from there. From very humble beginnings, your three characters eventually evolve into gods of turn-based war.
If you want to just rush into every and any fight, you won't last long or get along with Gurk II in the slightest. Take your time, stock up on potions regularly, be prepared for regular failure. And certainly don't charge ahead as if it's an open world, even if it has the appearance of it. Dungeons must be tackled in order or you'll be up against threats you just can't best.
Best played in short, careful bursts, it's impeccably well-suited to a phone, even if it could stand to have tap/gesture based movement instead of the fixed virtual buttons that unattractively take up so much of the screen (especially as you'll find yourself hitting the poorly-placed Save button every time you try to move up and left). Its difficulty perhaps puts it at odds with the casual phone-gaming audience its consciously retro aesthetic suggests it's aimed at, but to be honest that's the refreshing thing about it.
I went in expecting something entirely throwaway, but rapidly end up hunched furrowed-brow over my handset for hours, trying to work out if there was any possible combination of moves, spells and potions that could get me through what looked like an impossible fight. Once I'd begun to master the game's systems and vagaries, I pulled off some pretty astonishing victories, but any resultant complacency meant certain doom awaited in the next fight.
Alas, it's a fairly short-lived affair once you've got to grips with its challenge and given how much time is spent engaging in entirely interchangeable fights and watching the same animations, and there's little point in replaying as new skills are doled out when the game decides it, rather than by any choice of your own. Still, for a mere 60p that's an entirely churlish complaint.
Gurk II: Specs
- REQUIRES ANDROID: 1.6 and up
- REQUIRES ANDROID: 1.6 and up
A smart, cute and eminently challenging phone RPG that deftly proves mobile gaming doesn't have to mean throwaway casual gaming.