Mobile games sold on the strength of a featured celebrity are, usually, almighty heaps of crap. Katy Perry Pop was a disaster, and there wasn't even a note of Perry's own music in it. As we've previously noted, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is more of a debt-encouraging nightmare than a fame-and-fortune dreams simulator. And Demi Lovato's Path to Fame was a shameless suck-up to its title star, in which your character creeps around kissing the "Cool for the Summer" singer's ass until she decides that, OK, you're not a total loser.
Legacy of the Beast is somewhat different. A turn-based action RPG coming to tablets and smartphones later in 2016, the game is based on the lore of Iron Maiden. It is, according to its co-developers at Vancouver's Roadhouse Interactive, as much a game for those who've never heard a solitary Maiden riff as it is a treat for veteran fans who own every import seven-inch. Which is lucky for me, as I don't really give a shit about what Eddie first appeared on which album sleeve—I'm way more interested in seeing what Maiden's zombie-like mascot can do on the field of battle.
"We wanted to create a really compelling RPG, first and foremost," says the game director at Roadhouse, Hamish Millar. "So we're looking to cater to people who love those games." Llexi Leon, who works on the interactive side of Maiden's output at London-based management company Phantom Music, jumps in: "From our side, this is an incredible discovery platform. We didn't want a game that only Maiden fans can enjoy—we wanted an awesome game that might introduce Maiden lore to people for the first time.
"This mythology is awesome, and the stories are fantastic. There's been 40 years of Eddie, and we're trying to get every one of those iterations into this game. Everything you see in the game is derived from pre-existing album art. It's not like we're just pulling this stuff out of a hat. It's all there to be studied and recreated."
How Legacy of the Beast plays rather betrays the influences of its makers at Roadhouse, who are partnering with British studio 50cc Games on the project. After selecting a stage from three-dimensions hub worlds, not unlike those seen in Super Mario Bros. 3, each of which is based on a Maiden LP—there's an Egyptian world, for example, that draws on the artwork of 1984's Powerslave—the player is pitched into combat against waves of enemies, culminating in a boss-level opponent. And how these battles progress isn't so unlike Square games of the past. There's more than a hint of Final Fantasy in here, with "limit break"–style special moves available to the player's roster, while a time-traveling mechanic—each zone can be seen in the past, present, and future—makes me think back to Chrono Trigger. (Not to mention Sonic CD, but that doesn't quite fit the RPG model.)
"We grew up on that stuff, those old RPGs, and those games are part of the reason we got into this industry," Hamish says. "I don't think it's a conscious thing, that we've referenced those games, but they're definitely in our DNA."
In each battle, up to three selectable Eddies line up, albeit one at a time, beside a couple of minions. The player can switch between Eddies while in the fight, as each one—there's Trooper Eddie, Pharaoh Eddie, Wicker Man Eddie, Gunner Eddie, and so on—has his own unique abilities to either dish out damage or perk-up your team. Special moves require the player to tap rapidly to power up the attack, and then time his or her blow with a shrinking circle over the target. Might be a projectile shot, might be a whopping great thump, but either way, the bad guys go down. Suffice it to say, that while this is a turn-based game, there's a lot more digit-action to it than your standard menus-only take on the genre.
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"Hopefully, it's a game that's easy to pick up and play but also hard to master," Llexi says. "The depth will reveal itself as you progress. Everyone gets an Eddie at the beginning—you want people to think it's cool from the outset. And every time you unlock a new character, you get the chance to perfect his timings, rather than getting overwhelmed with loads at once."
Hamish agrees that, while it's easy to assume mobile games will be less detailed than computer or console alternatives, this is far from a "casual" experience. "A lot of the games we've been looking at as examples of keeping players in RPGs for the longest times, in engaging and fun experiences, they can be very complex, particularly in their feature set and UI (user interface). So we wanted to take those great mechanics but make a game that was accessible."
Legacy of the Beast will be a free-to-play game, and that naturally means that micro transactions are included. But with all involved in the game aiming for it to be a PvP hit, as well it having a solid single-player campaign, they're very wary of getting into a "pay to win" situation.
"Eddie Coins are the primary currency, and most of the stuff you can get in the game can be bought using that," Harris tells me. "You can pay with real money to accelerate your progress, and power up your team. But because there's a competitive, PvP component coming to the game, we can't have a pure 'pay to win' model. So many players will want to be competitive but won't want to pay real money, and if we skew it to favor those who do pay, those other players will leave. So it's all about balance. You want to reward the players who want to spend—but not so much that you turn away those who can't afford to."
"All the content is accessible to anyone, regardless of whether or not you spend a penny," Llexi adds. "It is a free-to-play game, for sure, but if you want it all now—as many Eddies as you can handle—then there should be a facility for people to do that. I think anyone who really enjoys this experience, who moves beyond a casual attachment, may want to spend a little money on it to explore what's available. It's endless, what we can do with this. But we need to make sure nobody feels trapped behind a paywall. You can play through the whole campaign without paying."
Whether or not Legacy of the Beast successfully attracts players without a Maiden record to their name, or exclusively appeals to the band's existing (massive) audience, remains to be seen. But even with tweaks to be made before it launches later in 2016, the game looks more like the real deal than any celeb-endorsed mobile affair before it, at least that I can think of. Will it be better than Kanye's game about his mom? Honestly, probably.
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