Summon the power of immortal warriors in this fast-paced dungeon adventure. Use skill and strategy to fight through hordes of monsters to discover secrets, collect treasure and buy powerful upgrades for your allies. Become the Soulcaster and restore peace to the land.

An hour and a half later, I had completed my run through Soulcaster, a sort of tower-defense-but-not-really game from MagicalTimeBean. Departing Avericia as I made my way through the Glade's exit, my only thoughts were of how I wished there was more to play because while the ending may not have satisfied me, the journey there more than made up for it. Ian Stocker has made a wonderful game which completely took me by surprise with how much fun I had playing it.

Soulcaster has a simple plot that whizzes by its Tolkien setting in which a visiting wizard has incidentally brought about the undead. Three spirits, trapped in stone statues placed throughout the land, offer assistance to the wizard. From then on out, the wizard can summon the spirit of a warrior he has met with to defend himself from the undead onslaught. Each of the three available spirits are mapped to the individual controller face buttons and offering his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Pressing the A button will summon Shaedu, an elven archer whose range and rapid firing makes her the ideal choice for dishing out damage from afar or over chasms and water. The X button will bring about Aeox, a powerful warrior whose shield can block half of the damage of any enemy it faces but is just as vulnerable as any other spirit when surrounded. Finally, pressing the B button will call Bloodfire to the field, a spirit useful for throwing bombs over walls and his companions but will also explode when defeated and damage everything, foe or ally, in the explosion's path. A bit over half of my seven deaths were due to standing too close to Bloodfire when the enemy cut through his protection and sliced through him like butter, so it helps to heed that last effect.

Being mindful of positioning is the name of the game, or it would be if it weren't already named Soulcaster, because those three allies are the primary means of attacking and defending throughout the adventure. Although potions are available to restore health and scrolls to damage nearby threats, reliance on Shaedu, Aoex, and Bloodfire is key to completing the game. The undead are summoned via portals on the field, and the wizard cannot proceed until all of the undead are defeated. Enemies don't enter the field of play through obvious and often bottle-necked paths as typical of the tower-defense genre but can flow forth from any appearing portal, requiring the player to always be on guard and ready to summon the spirits as needed. Each spirit bequeaths to the player one Soul Ball to call forth a spirit -- any spirit -- and two more may be purchased from the Merchant if one saves up enough gold. Accessible in most dungeons in throughout the game, the Merchant will ofter the game's three items (potion, scroll, and soul) along with three upgrades to each of the spirits to bolster their strength, stamina, range, and/or attack speed. Each character trait can be upgraded a maximum of four times, and players will have to plan accordingly since there is simply not enough gold in the game to max out everyone.

The beauty of Soulcaster is how simple yet compelling its gameplay is, offering a number of strategies within its three spirit limit. One player may favor a powered-up hail of arrows by assembling a Shaedu army while others might rely more on Aoex's strength and toughness to establish impenetrable barriers between the enemies and the wizard. It's a surprisingly well balanced game, and I love how easily it is for the wizard to dispatch and recall his "towers." The pace of the gameplay and the way the enemies present themselves on the field give Soulcaster a feeling all of its own, and dismissing the game as a tower-defense title despite certain shared elements of the genre would be an insult to what MagicTimeBean has created with its first Xbox Indie game. The NES-era graphics in no way diminishes the appeal of Soulcaster, a wonderful take on strategy games and among the most fun I've played in some time.

Soulcaster is brilliant and will leave any player clamoring more, always the mark of excellent entertainment. A selectable hard difficulty setting just isn't enough to satisfy, and hopefully Stocker will find the time to work on a follow-up to his game. Even being limited to a single save and using passwords isn't enough to hurt it as Soulcaster is not to be missed. Although the ending sequences come and go without any pomp and awe, Soulcaster's terrific gameplay and pacing make it a worthy purchase as even the somewhat short length will be most assuredly negated by repeated playthroughs and tactical experimentation. Soulcaster deserves its current seat among the best rated Xbox Indies, a game so enchanting and well designed that it could have the makings of a potential system seller if its quest were longer and graphics more appealing to the masses.

July 27, 2010
March 1, 2010 | 240 points
Developer | Video | Download

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