Casino Royale… playing game?

People in the know tend to describe the average slots player as a chain-smoking woman in her mid-50s. The demographic that enjoys RPGs tends be viewed as young, with more… shall we say, testosterone. And yet, Game Stew Studio has managed to blend those two elements seamlessly to make Tower of Fortune; an iPhone app where gambling is really an adventure.

The “Tower” in the game’s title is refers to a keep where an unknown evil has hidden away your adventurer’s daughter, as evil types are wont to do. Getting her back means taking sword in hand and hacking your way through multiple levels of monsters. Typical, right? Wrong! Doing that means spending a lot of time with a three-reel, one-line slot machine.

Spinning the reels in combat quickly determines the outcome of each attack. The symbol in the first reel is the key: a sword means you hit the enemy, and a skull means the enemy hits you. Lining up additional sword or skulls in the other reels makes the attack hit harder on both sides.

Other symbols on the combat slot machine include a book, which earns you instant experience points, and a coin, granting you gold – used in Tower of Fortune for unlocking new levels, buying items and pretty much anything of importance. Combos are also possible if you can hit the same symbol in the first reel on consecutive spins.

Defeating the enemy in front of you is always the primary objective, but the game also throws quests at you that offer extra XP for specific goals like slaying your foe in one turn or earning 90 gold during the fight. Successful battles get you a visit to another slot machine to spin for more gold. There’s also an amusing bonus game where a bandit steals your weapons and armor, spurrong on a new machine that forces you to duke it out with him in a bare-knuckled brawl to get your gear back.

Tower of Fortune Tower of Fortune

Recovering from damage means visiting the Tavern, where 10 gold gets you – yep, you guessed it – a spin on yet another slot machine. This one features chicken legs to increase your maximum hit points, frosty brews to restore those HP; all with a slight chance of losing some in a bar fight.Despite the simplicity to all of this, there is some depth and strategy involved. Increasing amounts of gold is needed as you advance through the game, forcing you to consider decisions on which zones to play, how often to spin in the Tavern and what items to buy. You can also gamble on any spin for 100 gold, doubling the benefits or consequences of the result.

Tower of Fortune also packs some impressive RPG features into its play, like different abilities for the various enemies and a variety of different gear to equip. Leveling up your swordsman gives you three options for increasing attributes or buffing your attacks, but in keeping with the spirit of the game, you can pay gold to re-roll for new rewards if you don’t like what’s originally offered.Though I should mention that if you die, you lose everything (though there is a Potion of Life that essentially gives you an extra chance) and have to start over from scratch. Hardcore mode in a 99-cent game? Diablo III, kindly eat your heart out.

The game’s pleasantly retro presentation should make players of RPGs from decades past get some warm, fuzzy feelings. It also helps when blowing the game up on an iPad – since the graphics are pixelated by design, they don’t look much worse at twice the size. Everything is tied together with a flare rooted in the genre’s tropes that seems new again due to the game’s approach.

Tower of Fortune Tower of Fortune

Amidst all that is good here, there are just a few things to quibble about. The lack of a tutorial means you’ll be discovering everything by trial and error, which can be an annoyance even in a game this simple. And reaching the later levels requires more grinding than Pharrell Williams ever sang about, making buying more gold for real money creep ever so close to feeling like a necessity instead of a luxury.

Maybe the slot machines are supposed to be a metaphor for all of the dice rolls, seen and unseen, that affect every fantasy RPG from Dungeons & Dragons to World of Warcraft. It’s also possible that’s a massive over-thinking, and the guys from Game Stew Studio just really like to hit the casinos on their days off. Regardless, Tower of Fortune is one to bet on for a pretty great time.