It may be pretty to look at, but Ark of Sinners Advance is sorely lacking in the gameplay department.
Spanish developer Anima Game Studio’s Castlevania-ish side-scroller, Anima: Ark of Sinners, was previously released as a WiiWare game in 2011 to moderate reviews, and now iOS publisher BulkyPix is giving the game the iDevice treatment in the form of Anima: Ark of Sinner Advance. You are Celia, a mega-babe of a sword master who finds herself lost in the mysterious Ark City. You awake here with zero memories beyond having been separated from your comrade. You must explore the many districts and locales in hopes of finding your buddy while also attempting to regain your memory and find out how the hell you wound up here.
At first glance, Anima: Ark of Sinners Advance seems a solidly executed platformer/brawler. Graphics and textures are fairly detailed, and the many secrets of Ark City lay hidden around every corner. Indeed, for most of the opening hours you’ll find that this is one of the better-looking iOS titles in recent memory and Celia’s story—though somewhat underdeveloped—will capture your attention instantly. So far so good! Add an array of unlockable combos and upgrades that will delight and entertain fans of just about any genre and Ark of Sinners seems like a no-brainer.
But then the reality sets in, and we are left to endure a classic case of good looks with a lack of substance. Metroid junkies will revel in the back and forth exploration and verticality of Ark City, while those who came in hopes of an iOS game that offers a deep experience will soon discover the sad truth: a semi-interesting story simply cannot make up for bland level design, poor enemy AI and subpar controls.
The story suggests that Celia has unwittingly happened upon the greatest civilization of all time, but Ark City was clearly abandoned years ago and has fallen into disrepair. Various environments in differing stages of disrepair create rumbling ruins, tricky platforms and new means for exploration. Your only clues as to what’s going on come from hidden collectible monoliths that recount the rise and fall of the city and sporadic appearances from what can best be described as a robot clown are the only non-enemy interactions you’ll have. Waves of undead, skeleton ghosts (because a skeleton is way scarier if it’s also a ghost) and zombie dogs are everywhere, but it gets old fast, particularly in later hours that provide no real directions as to where you must go next. Back-tracking becomes an absolute chore thanks to respawning enemy waves—even in areas you cleared moments ago—and an absolute lack of balance between Celia’s abilities and the monsters who wish to destroy you speeds past frustration into gut-wrenching tedium.
Sword attacks are mapped to two artificial buttons in the oft-used light attack/heavy attack formation. A jump button adds some strategy to the proceedings (particularly when you unlock the flying kick attack), but the main issue is that these controls just aren’t responsive enough. Too often you’ll slice in the wrong direction or hit a button you weren’t aiming for. Even worse is the inexplicable lack of frequency with which Celia executes aerial combos. Sometimes you’ll get multiple satisfying hits in, but more often a practically useless stomp-like attack seems to be chosen for you. You will rarely hit an enemy with this attack, which is sad because it’s pretty brutal when it lands.
Traversal is no better and finds Celia over-jumping her trajectory almost always. You’ll fall into plenty of pits, especially since the camera can sometimes take a moment to display your entire surroundings and certain platforms are just far away enough that there is zero room for error. These problems coupled with the aforementioned enemy respawns means you’ll play the same areas repeatedly and probably wish you had just held onto that $2.99.
Music exists in Anima: Ark of Sinners Advance, but as of this writing I am hard-pressed to remember it. The argument can absolutely be made that music in games is a mood-setter and not meant to be memorable per se, but a quick jump back into the game to double-check confirms my fears: it is boring. There’s a gothic, church-like feel that certainly compliments the subject matter well, just don’t expect to be humming along anytime soon.
And yet, despite glaring balance issues, a lack of creativity in regards to platforming and outrageously difficult enemies, you will be oddly compelled to keep going. When you do manage to land attacks and combos and/or get used to the iffy, inexact controls, you’ll find that Anima: Ark of Sinners Advance has somehow wormed its way into your brain. Even if it’s familiar, the story is just interesting enough to make you want the hell out of those answers and in reality, there are plenty of other iOS games that pale in comparison to this title. With console releases like Dark Souls reminding gamers that a stiff challenge can sometimes be immensely rewarding, is it fair to completely write a game off due to difficulty? Perhaps in the case of Anima: Ark of Sinners Advance it is. Again, the main issue is that it isn’t so much challenging as it is poorly balanced. iOS gaming seems to grow more refined with each new release (yeah, we know this one is actually an older title) and if you are willing to take a deep breath before asking yourself what you can really expect from a port of a download-only Wii title then you might find something to like. For most of us, however, there are much cooler games around that aren’t nearly as frustrating. Yes, this game is pretty, but pretty ain’t everything…especially when we’re talking about slaying legions of the undead.