Mobile gaming has come a long way since you first played Snake on your Nokia 8210, but the latest release from Pocket Planes developer Nimblebit is taking the platform back to its roots. Nimble Quest plays a lot like that classic, but adds traditional role playing game elements like magic and combat. It's a simplified, casual take on the dungeon-crawling RPG, but it's no less addictive — in fact, it might put an even bigger strain on your battery and free time.
A casual take on the dungeon-crawling RPG
Most of the action in Nimble Quest happens automatically. Your little adventurer will walk on their own, and when they get close enough to an enemy they'll attack. The strategy comes in guiding them around. This is done by swiping your finger left, right, up, or down; a simple but intuitive control scheme that feels good even if you aren't a Snake veteran. In the beginning things are rather simple because you control just one lone hero, but as you kill enemies, more will join you, following the lead character like a conga line. The longer you last, the longer and more unwieldy the line becomes, forcing you to think a bit in advance when it comes to your movements. Walking into enemies or a wall will kill your adventurers, and when the hero at the front dies it's game over.
There's more to contend with than just avoiding obstacles, though. Each member of your party has a different set of skills, which can influence your strategy. Mages and archers will attack enemies from afar, for instance, while knights and warrior skeletons need to get up close before they start swinging their swords. Enemies get progressively stronger as well — it's one thing taking out a few rats in the sewer, but when you have to contend with fellow wizards and soldiers it's much tougher. Thankfully there are useful, randomly dropped power-ups that can provide a temporary advantage, doing everything from freezing all enemies on screen to refilling your health.
"We decided to boil everything down as much as we could."
Nimble Quest was actually inspired by Call of Snakes, an iOS game that combined Snake-style gameplay with a 2D shooter. "We thought the core mechanic was brilliant but nearly everything else about the game left a lot to be desired," says Nimblebit's Ian Marsh. "Once we started imagining the type of game you could grow around that core mechanic we were hooked on the idea." The game originally included even more RPG-like elements, including equippable weapons and much larger levels to explore, but eventually simplicity won out. "Ultimately we decided to boil everything down as much as we could to a casual high-score type of game," says Marsh, "which I think is a much better fit for mobile."
While the core of Nimble Quest is relatively simple, it still manages to create plenty of exciting moments — narrowly avoiding a collision, for instance, or using the magnet power-up to gather a screen full of diamonds. And the game lets you easily share these moments with a video replay feature. It's a great way for new players to watch some different strategies while getting an early glimpse at late-game content, but it's also just a lot of fun to see some of the more intense moments other players go through — since item drops and character pick-ups are random, players can have vastly different experiences even in the same level. "We tried to engineer the possibility for exciting gameplay moments into the game," says Marsh, "and when we saw a way to facilitate sharing those moments with others we thought we'd give it a try."
"I think people expect more from us now."
One of the biggest drawbacks of past Nimblebit games like Tiny Tower has been the waiting periods created by the free-to-play model: in that game, for example, you'd have the option to wait for a new floor to be constructed in your building, or pay a bit of money to speed things up. Nimble Quest, on the other hand, is structured more like an arcade game. You start out with an allotment of tokens that can be used to continue when you die, otherwise you'll be forced to start over from scratch. You'll pick up tokens every so often when you play, and you can also buy more with real money. The tokens aren't strictly necessary (you can also use them to buy stat-increasing buffs), but they do make things easier.
Nimble Quest is out now on both iOS and Mac, with an Android version slated for sometime next month. It's very different from the studio's more recent releases, but it's just as fun and addictive. It might even be Nimblebit's strongest game to date — a bar that seems to rise with each new release. "I think people expect more from us now for sure," says Marsh, "but I think we expect more from ourselves with each new game as well so it all works out."