Developed by Grumpy Face Studios to tie into the animated show ‘Steven Universe’ aired on Cartoon Network, Attack the Light somehow manages to expand beyond being a simple tie-in app and finds itself taking on the role of fully-fledged RPG.
I personally have no experience with the Steven Universe cartoon. I live in England and only watch the standard digital channels, which means that when I say this game is enjoyable it’s not through a hazy ‘fan of the show’ viewpoint and objectively from a man who has sunk some serious time into completing this game. Grumpy Face Studios have made something of a name for themselves of late producing Cartoon Network related games and appear to be partnered with Adult Swim as well. Studios that do this instead exclusively instead of producing their own IPs usually suffer from a lack of creativity, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Visually the game is rendered in hand-drawn 2D graphics that emulate the style of the show it is paying homage to. Character designs are simple but distinct and the whole affair has a very American Saturday morning cartoon look to it which is exactly what it’s supposed to do. Each of the four main characters is unique unto themselves in that they are different body types, shapes and colours and have their own unique series of animations for many occasions. There aren’t any additional characters past the four the game opens with, so focusing in on them in this manner allows for an much greater sense of who they are. The world itself is fantasy-light with a cell-shaded visual style and location to explore such as an ancient battleground now a field for wild strawberries and a vast desert oasis where chunks of high-tech ruin can still be seen. It’s distinct and stands up well without needing to be explained to the player in depth. Character portraits and an excellent introduction FMV upon opening the game set the tone perfectly and use a slightly more complex visual style than other graphics, with a higher level of detail.
Musically the game uses the theme from the show and a number of background tracks that don’t stand out too well and aren’t memorable in the way other titles music can be. However they fit the tone of each location well enough and serve to keep things moving along nicely. Sound effects are cropped from the show along with voice samples from the shows actors and these help give the game a lot of personality it might otherwise be missing. Cries of ‘awesomesauce!’ and other such comments when you score a critical hit help to sell the games tone. In combat some of the enemies sounds seem a little bit floaty, but there’s weight behind attacks that the SFX manage to relate to you very well.
The story of Steven Universe: Attack the Light begins when three magical women known as ‘Gems’ who hang out with the otherwise short and overweight Steven return from a mission to retrieve a magical prism. These three are magical-girls in the traditional sense in that they appear to be fighting some kind of war and the prism is a powerful relic that shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. Steven immediately wants to touch it and they allow it because . . . well Steven’s harmless enough. Unfortunately his touch causes a monster to escape the prism and the ensuing battle shatters it, leading to the colours of the spectrum being divided between multiple areas, each now infested with monsters of that colour. It’s up to the Gems, with Steven tagging along, to collect up the pieces and put the light back into the prism where it’s safely contained. The adventure is set up very quickly and aside from some in-dungeon dialogue that’s all we get for a while. Luckily it’s a simple enough premise to understand with some underpinning concepts that interest the player. Steven Universe the show fills out who the Gems are and how they met Steven, etc. But going by the game alone it does an excellent job of quickly making the player feel at home with Steven as the bumbling everyman and the three girls as specific characters in their own right. It’s not an epic tale, rather a scavenger hunt, but it does take the time out to become a clever deconstruction of the RPG genre with Steven pointing out conventions and rummaging through things for loot. Many games try and fail to capture the idea of a satirical RPG but Attack the Light manages it very well.
Gameplay is very cleverly thought out and the strong point of this title. Exploration involves flicking screen to screen with a simple finger motion and the party run onto the next frame accordingly. Tabbing anything of interest has Steven investigate it, whilst buttons at the top of the screen pause the game and bring up the menu. Steven starts at level 1, whilst the girls start at level 9000, making a point immediately about the format this game is going to take. Upon levelling each of the characters is presented with three options to boost stats and occasionally a new or improved special move. Attack, Defence and Luck are the base stats here, with HP thrown in for good measure and a range of moves for every character. Steven plays the support role, able to store items and buff from the rear of the group while the girls are split into a weaker attack-all, a slow heavy and a light speedy attacker. Combat is very much in the spirit of the Paper Mario series, with timed button presses and limited points per turn to split between your team how you see fit before passing the round to your opponents. Steven can only use one item per round, but some of them doll out extra points to expand your turn or heal for varying amounts. Moves on the part of the characters are touch sensitive and each a mini game in its own right, and defending also involves times screen tapping to lower or dodge damage. This means that you have to pay attention to this game rather than multi-task and with health being carried between battles and regen points few and far between it pays to be focused. Exploration feels rich and dialogue options where your asked to choose usually split three ways, with Steven agreeing with one of the Gems and that Gem receiving an exp bonus. The aim of each area is to find the gate to progress but there is plenty of scope for back-tracking using the handy world-map to access previously unavailable sealed areas or challenge areas post-boss encounter where your items are limited. Gems can equip badges to give them passive abilities and there are a few status effects to take stock of, but the whole thing manages to run seamlessly and feels like a pleasure to play.
Overall Attack the Light is a bargain and doesn’t require in-app purchases after your initial buy, meaning that you get the whole experience unfiltered. It’s a little short, but completionists will love it and the challenge ramps up as the game progresses. It remains to be seen if additional content will be updated into this title but honestly it doesn’t feel like the game needs it at this point, it’s a fun deconstruction and satire on the whole JRPG scene which happens to also feature the characters from a popular kids TV show.