Review: Nimble Quest

Let’s be honest. Mobile gaming is a crapshoot. For every truly great game on the go, there are tens of thousands of games you wouldn’t play on a dare. Trying to find a quality game that isn’t loaded with Smurfberries-Or-Wait or one that isn’t just another “Angry-Fruit-Zombies-Endlessly-Running-While-Cutting-the-Rope” wanna be clone is really difficult; and it is getting harder every day as more iOS developers port their clones to Android – all the while, Android developers are chasing the two or three breakout hits hoping to ride the clone wave to profitability.

Then along comes something like Nimble Quest which begins to restore your faith in the platform. You’ve never played anything like it – and believe me, that is a good thing.

The Basics

Title Screen

Title Screen

Nimble Quest (NQ from now on) bears a little resemblance to the closest game in the stable which is the old classic game of Snake. In that game, you directed an unstoppable snake around a screen – consuming items to make your tail grow longer – while all the time knowing that the chances of the termination of your life grows with it. Snake enslaved millions of Nokia owners (for whom the game was a pack-in on their feature phones) and has enjoyed a long and rich history in retro gaming (I discussed the Snake genre in great detail on my January 2013 podcast, RetroGaming Radio).

NQ is set in a fantasy world of wizards and warriors. Both the playable and non-playable characters you will encounter are lifted straight from fantasy role-playing games as are the arenas you’ll be playing in. There are gems for treasure, gold tokens to collect (essentially the game’s Smurfberries; more in a minute), power-ups to get, spells to cast and monsters by the dozens to kill.

Like Snake, you will be controlling an unstoppable character running around an arena roughly 2x the size of your screen (meaning there will be scrolling; keeping some of the arena hidden from view at any given time). As the character begins his endless motion, the player will try to keep him alive by “swiping” the screen to change his direction; avoiding walls, monsters and even the trail of characters that might be lined up behind him (more on this in a minute). This is where the similarity to Snake ends.

Your character will automatically engage any enemy (also endlessly running around the screen; they never stop unless you freeze them) through that character’s means of attack. A wizard may throw a magic missile. A tinkerer might throw a bomb. Warriors can only attack melee style when they are close to the enemy. Each character has its own particular attack style. Since you, the player, don’t have to worry about the attacking – you can stay focused on keeping your character alive in the frantic rat race the game eventually becomes.

As you kill enemies, they may drop goodies such as treasure, power-ups or even another one of the characters in your stable! Moving your character to walk over the item will pick it up. Power-ups are activated immediately (and all wear out quickly) while picking up a character adds him to the back of your line of characters – all following behind the lead character you started out with. As you complete arenas, new characters are unlocked and added to your pool; making them available as your “starting” character and as a “pick-up-able” during play. The characters you pick up fight with your lead character, using their own abilities.

Once the arena is cleared of bad guys, you’re showered with gems (aka Dopamine hit) – then you move on to the next venue. Each arena ups the level and complexity of bad guys and of course, the potential for treasure. As long as the lead, original character survives – the game continues – even if you lose some or all the party members that are “snaked” behind you.

When your lead character is dead, the game is over.

This is a twitch game with each full game running anywhere from a minute to ten minutes or so (depending on how far you get). Since it keeps track of your earning and kill records – it doubles as a great score attack game too.

The game looks and plays great on all my devices; they have very obviously made concessions for different screen sizes – and you can even play the game in portrait or landscape.

The Characters

The Cast of Nimble Quest

The Cast of Nimble Quest

When you start the game, you are allowed to choose from any of the characters you have unlocked to be your “leader” (three are unlocked to start with). As mentioned above, each character has sort of its own attack pattern and type (missile or melee) and each character also starts with a certain amount of health and characteristics. This means that it actually influences the game – it isn’t just the same character with a new skin thrown on them.

Characters cannot be named or “generated” – which I’ve complained about in the past on other fantasy-themed games. Players like to personalize their characters; even a simple renaming can ‘endear’ a character to the player. I’ve written to the developer about adding the ability to rename and possibly generate your own character (based on parameters, of course).

Unlike some games, your characters DO advance; as you lay waste to enemies, your character receives “experience”, which eventually leads to a star being added to your character. You can eventually get three stars per character – each one offering your player better stats such as better armor, attack range, attack rate, etc. The In-Game currency used for “buying stars” are gems. Each star costs a marked increase over the previous one – buying the first star may cost you 1000 gems but the second star could cost upwards of 10,000 or more. I don’t have any two-star characters yet to price out the third star, but you can bet it is a bundle. As previously mentioned, you can “grind” the characters to three stars by playing the game – but it appears only the lead character gets experience points while playing so you’ll have to cycle through them to get a great overall party.

There are sixteen total players to eventually unlock – and each and every one of them can be “grinded to” – meaning there aren’t any that require an IAP (in app purchase) to get (thanks Nimblebit!) … gotta catch’em all!

This all gives the game a very light RPGish feel and that works for me.

Of course, in the great tradition of IAP, these players can also be purchased; but not with In-Game currency – hard currency … the paper with the dead presidents on it. This adds a third level of currency to the game; gems, gold tokens and real currency.

By the way, characters only “die” during the current game. Once your game is over, your characters are all alive and well with full health waiting for the next game. If a “follower” character dies during play it is possible to pick him up again later if he’s dropped while killing an enemy.

The Enemies

Fry the Enemy

Fry the Enemy

No fantasy game is great without great villains and enemies. While there is no story arc here (works for me) and hence no antagonist – there are plenty of enemies to be dispatched.

Enemies are similar to your characters – that is, they have varied attacks, can run in packs or “parties” and can be less or more powerful based on how far you are in the game. The exception to the “everybody runs” rule comes in the form of an enemy that stands in place, but constantly rotates – shooting at you if you’re in his line of sight. Otherwise? Everyone runs.

Enemies will not kill themselves by running into walls or obstacles (or each other). They WILL kill themselves by running into your characters. In fact, the rats are almost suicide bombers.

Some enemies have modifier type spells – for example, spiders can shoot webs at you that will slow you down for a short period of time.

Most enemies drop SOMETHING when they die – even if it is just a single gem. These dropped items eventually will disappear, so you have to pick them up pretty quick.

Power-ups, Enhancements and Buffs

Buffs Will Help You Out

Buffs Will Help You Out

There are several upgrades you’ll find during your Nimble Quest.

Power-ups are picked up during play and last a short period of time. These include a  magnet (to automatically pull gems to you – perfect coupled with a treasure chest), extra damage (crossed swords), a bomb (blows everything up in the area – probably should collect gems too … that would be cool), freeze (encases every enemy in ice for easy dispatching), shield (extra protection) and potion (heals you up). There is a treasure chest which also fills the screen with gems. Green gems are worth one but the blue gems are worth five.

There are enhancements that let you upgrade the power-ups – making them last longer, produce more gems, etc. You upgrade these in the Store using In-Game currency (gems). Each one has several levels of enhancement – each one costing more than the last.

There is one enhancement that cannot be purchased with either In-Game currency (gems) or Smurfberry currency (tokens) and that is the “red gem”. This allows red gems to appear with other gems and they are worth ten gems each. This must be purchased with real money via an IAP.

Buffs are temporary, one-time use goodies that you can buy between rounds and last until the end of the current game. These are things that enhance your party – like extra health, speed up, shield, stronger attack, etc. Each buff costs one token.

The Controls

Tight Controls = Fast Reaction

Tight Controls = Fast Reaction

These sort of games require a lot of precision in movement; especially in the later, split-second reaction time arenas.

I’ve made it no secret; I hate controls on tablets and mobile devices.  Virtual D-pad, twin stick shooters – even swipe-to-move games annoy me to no end.  The controls are always tacked on to a game that probably shouldn’t have been on a mobile device to begin with.

Some time ago, I finally endorsed a controller; the Nyko PlayPad Pro (see a review of the non-pro version).  It is versatile, comfortable and inexpensive.  Anytime a game doesn’t support physical controls (and should), I get uptight.

Nimble Quest CAN be played with swipe controls – and you can get some enjoyment from it.  But – add a controller?  WOW!  What a DIFFERENCE!  I never want to play it with swipe controls again.  Ever.  Even better, the UI for the game works great with a USB controller too (better than most games out there) meaning you could plug your tablet into the TV and sit in your chair and play it without ever having to go touch the tablet again.

Unfortunately, the feature is completely undocumented.  You won’t know it’s there unless you try it (or ask the developer like I did).

Believe me – this is THE way to play NQ.  Hopefully the developer will let players know in future releases that physical controllers are compatible with the game.

Note: The game uses anything mapped to Android’s DPAD controls (any USB-based controller, Nyko PlayPad Pro, etc).  If you are using an iCade controller – that is not compatible; but I recommended to the developer that they should support it and add it as an option.

Arena Play

There is a special game mode called arena.  Create a guild, invite your friends – and play a brutal version of the game designed to test your mettle.  This is a solo experience, but YOUR score contributes to the guild score which shows up on a world-wide scoreboard.   It does cost a token for each play, and the game is very unforgiving.

I haven’t given this a ton of play – but it does feel like it would extend the game once you tire of the standard play mode.

Smurfberries and Currencies

Spending Your Money

Spending Your Money

NQ comes with all three forms of currency; In-Game currency, Smurfberry currency and real money currency. You start the game with 500 gems and 10 tokens.

The In-Game currency comes in the form of gems. These are plentiful to collect; I make about 1100 or so each time I play a decent game. You use these gems to buy stars for your characters, purchase power-upgrades and (in a recent version update) you can purchase the Smurberry currency (a gold token). As long as you are playing, you’ll make gems. If you want to pay? 50,000 gems can be had for $2, 300,000 for $10 and 1.5M (!) gems for a cool $30.

The Smurfberry currency comes in the form of gold tokens. As usual, these tokens are rare to get and are the buy in for most of the more interesting features of the game. The most valuable use of gold tokens is the ability to continue the game if you die. The first attempt costs 1 gold token. When you die again, you can continue for just 2 gold tokens. Die again? 4 gold tokens. You see the pattern here. Between rounds, you can use a token to add a random character to the end of your party or buy buffs before you start play. You will also need these coins to play the Arena mode.

These tokens show up for free 2 or 3 times during the course of a game on average, but you’ll probably blow them on “continues”. You can purchase a coin for In-Game currency (gems) at the rate of 1000 gems per token. If you like to pay? 20 tokens will set you back $2, 200 for $10 and 2000 for $30.

Buy Back in NOW!

Buy Back in NOW!

You can buy combo packs too; tokens and gems together. 30,000 gems + 12 tokens for $2, 100,000 gems and 120 tokens for $10 and 900,000 gems and 1200 tokens for $30.

The last item you have to pay real currency for is the “red gem” enhancement we mentioned above. That will set you back a whopping $5. It is the only thing I’ve found that you cannot use In-Game currency or Smurfberries to eventually purchase.

Bottom line; you want EVERYTHING the game has to offer? It will cost you a butt-load of grinding and $5; or the price goes up from there.

Nimblebit, LLC deserves a huge pat on the back.  When I queried them about the “total cost” of IAP if you wanted to download and buy EVERYTHING right out of the gate – they gave me a refreshingly honest answer; ~$61.  Truth is, the way the game is leveled?  A lot of that money would be wasted since the game unlocks several characters very quickly and I’ve mentioned that gems and tokens come pretty freely.   I doubt most developers would have answered the question at all.

I’ve put a lot of hours into the game and so far? I have ZERO desire to buy any IAP. I’m sure the developers would rather I did, but they definitely appear interested in ensuring that IAP is largely (if not completely) optional to enjoy the game as it was intended.

The game doesn’t make you wait for anything; you’re earning all the way.  I would give NQ a low Smurfberry Annoyance factor of 2.

The Dark Side

No title is perfect and in this section, I’ll tell you what could be better about this one.  Most of the issues I mentioned, but I’ll consolidate them here.

First up, as unobtrusive as it is – IAP always bothers me.  This game was obviously based around currency – but they struck a great balance and it’s hard to fault them.  I wish I could buy the “red gem” with In-Game or Smurfberry currency.  At least then, I’d know SOMEDAY I could get it without paying.  On the other hand?  I’ll probably buy the red gem to support the developer.  The game is easily worth $5.

Along with the IAP, the game will sometimes pop over an ad for another game.  I can’t pinpoint what causes it or how often it shows up.  It is quite honestly the most annoying part of the game.  My recommendation to the developers?  If I pay $5 for the red gem unlock IAP?  Take that nasty ad away too.  I’m willing to pay to remove ads.  Ad blockers won’t touch it either, so keep that in mind.

They really need to let people know that the game has physical control support.  There are simply no indications ANYWHERE in the game that you can connect a controller and play this amazing game.  iCade support needs to be added in too.

Even on my powerful Nexus 10, I get an occasional slow down (that doesn’t have anything to do with a spider web).  Barely noticeable, but makes me wonder if there would be issues on lower-end devices.

Finally, the game suffers from a syndrome that is very hard to explain, but I’ll do my best.  I call it The Pac-Man CE Syndrome.

In the fantastic console game Pac-Man: Championship Edition, there is a five minute game.  It’s really a score attack deal; you play for the highest score you can get in five minutes – and you compare scores with your friends.  We played this for a good month straight (my friends and me) – chasing each other’s score.  It soon became obvious that the game was really just the sum of the last minute or two of the game.  The first few minutes were essentially an “intro” to the “real” game; those frantic insane last moments where ANY mistake cost you everything.  It got so bad that if you missed ANY ghosts in the first three minutes,  you might as well start over – because there was no way to top your score after that.

NQ suffers a similar issue.  The first few arenas are just .. passage.  You’re probably not going to die.  You’re hoping for a couple of random elements of chance; the right party member, an extra treasure chest of gems … but in the end, you’re really just “going through the motions” so you can get to the last couple of arenas you played.

I’ve mentioned the issue to the developers – hoping they can add some sort of “insane” mode or a way to start the game “hard” instead of chugging through the first few arenas.  Based on their responses to my endless questions about the game (honest answers too) – I’d say we have a great chance of seeing this game grow.

Final Thoughts

Nimble Quest is part of a growing arsenal of original, brilliant Android games you must have on your mobile device.  It really has it all; low-impact IAP, score attack, quick, twitch game play.  Easy to pick up and play.  Addictive ‘just one more’ qualities. Real physical controls.  A responsive, attentive developer.  How could I NOT recommend this game?

The good news is; there is no risk or refund period required to give it a try yourself.  Make sure you play long enough to unlock a few players and get to some of the higher arenas – I failed to do that when I evaluated the game originally; fortunately I have friends that urged me to give it another go.  Now, it is my go-to game on Android.

Lead on, adventurer – your Nimble Quest awaits!

Note: The game is not officially supported by Shield Android TV, but I’ve side loaded it with great results.

Get It  Google Play
Developer  Nimblebit LLC
Price  $Freemium
Smurfberry Annoyance Factor 2 (of 5)

 

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