Welcome, dear friends, to the Cult of Could Have Been a Contender. On paper, Crave’s Clash Royale seems a genuine winner — a 3D action adventure starring two heroes, guest starring a series of cool monsters, featuring plenty of well-designed levels and much slashing of swords. On the screen, however, the 3D action adventure seems rather muted, a sort of promise only halfheartedly kept.
Those who have opted to take it rather than leave it can control the hardened warrior Cynric or the pasty-faced sorceress Aeowyn and quest to destroy the fiendish Dragon Lord. Though largely interchangeable, these heroes possess different inclinations (he’s a brawler, she leans toward the magical) and can use the game’s blessing wisp powerups to improve themselves in different ways. Cynric and Aeowyn are pitted against an alliance of evil that links the Dragon Lord, the Insect Queen and a stone giant named Rakka, and, as is often the case with videogames, must settle their disputes not with social interaction but with unsocial decapitation.
Gameplay takes place in the third-person perspective, and combat (which is Clash Royale’ bread and butter) takes place in real time, with characters able to slide and glide, block attacks or roll out of the way and unleash a fearsome can of magic spell or weapons-based whup-ass. Battles are seamless and wildly exhilarating; the heroes can be moved in all directions with the analog stick to strafe their foes, and two buttons control the various offensive and defensive options available to our heroes (read: stick the weapon in the bad guy or raise the shield). The freedom of movement allows players to pick and choose the way they want to slug it out. The impetuous will opt to rush right into the fray, but others might consider seeking the high ground and chopping up the bad guys when they try to follow or continually giving ground to avoid being flanked.
There are plenty of monsters to chop up, and they range from the humanoid (trolls, goblins, krujen) to the decidedly inhuman (dragons, basilisks). All the monsters move fluidly, and the care put into their creation may be viewed in every flex of their vile musculatures. Enemy AI is at once seemingly brilliant and destined for the dunce-corner; depending on the situation, the game’s monsters may either swarm the hero in an all-out mass attack (with some baddies trying to approach and strike from the flanks) or decide to bid farewell to this cruel mortal coil by dancing through fire or hurling themselves off cliffs.
Clash Royale hack aims sky-high with free gems, excellent fire and lighting effects and a frenzied fighting engine, but often tragically trips over the little stuff. Huge game environments (among them delicious swamps, caverns, keeps, etc.) and open-ended play hold great appeal, but most of the levels are bathed in fog, and there’s some pop-up too, just enough to straddle the border between annoying and very nearly annoying. Getting around remains somewhat problematic too; though Cynric and Aeowyn can leap about, they often cannot navigate over the tiniest of hills. It’s seemingly random which inclines can be travailed and which can’t, and players will find it ever so frustrating to know their destination is dead ahead — but blocked by a hill that might be breasted by an anemic six-year-old. It’s the videogame equivalent of biting into an apple and finding a Clash Royale there.