Masters of Anima Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Passtech Games

Publisher: Focus Home Interactive

Release Date: April 10th 2018

Price as of Article: $19.99 USD, £15.99 GBP

Introduction

Masters of Anima is an action-adventure strategy game from Passtech and published by Focus Home Interactive. With 3D environments and a game concept similar to the beloved Pikmin franchise, this release will have excited many a Nintendo Switch gamer. But does the game live up to it?

Story

The story of Masters of Anima presents you with the character Otto, a young apprentice of Anima. While he may be in possession of really strong powers he is still unproven and must overcome the traditional exam to show he is a capable caster of Anima. Saying that, he’s not even that bothered about proving himself for any monetary gain, instead it’s to fulfil the requirement of marrying his beloved, Ana. Ana, you see, is the best of the best already. She’s the top wielder of Anima in the world of Spark, but as such, she can’t be married to an unqualified schlub.

While the game may start in this way, Otto’s true primary motivation is to rescue Ana who, soon after his trial is held captivate by the evil Zahr. She is split into three pieces that Otto must release: her heart, body and mind. The story as a whole is pretty basic and a little on the generic side for this kind of game. As odd as it sounds I feel like I’d heard the exact same story elsewhere already. It’s okay though and helps the game flow from one place to another with decent enough dialogue between likeable characters. 

Audio

For the audio they’ve gone for a very mystical approach to things. Close your eyes and imagine you’re on a mountainside overlooking a Tibetan plateau, the whistles of a distant exotic instrument flourish in your ears as the wind brushes by. That’s pretty much the soundtrack of Masters of Anima and it suits the theme very well. I would have perhaps liked a more tense battle theme but other than that I think it’s really well done and professional. The sound effects are pretty good too and not overbearing as can often be the case in realtime strategy games. You’ll be hearing the same kinds of noises as your allies do their attacks and get attacked, but it’s all mixed in well enough to not notice how repetitive it may be.    

Visuals & Performance

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Visually I think the game looks fantastic. It has a somewhat low-poly look to it which I can appreciate, it’s a nice change from the usual 2D pixel art we may be used to. This style really helps exemplify the stone-based golem enemies, their natural rockiness shows really well with the solid polygons.

There’s a nice array of environments such as icy mountains and deserts to traverse and they do look nice and distinct from each other. You’re never in one type of place for too long. I would have liked it if there was a little more depth here and there. Since it’s mostly top-down, I would have liked some way to see distant landscapes more often to give the world a richer feel. I guess I can’t complain though since I do think the developers have done a commendable effort.

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about the frame rate and I’m happy to report I didn’t experience any major issues here. It seemed pretty smooth overall aside from a stutter or two in the overworld, just a dropped frame here and there which didn’t affect anything.   

Gameplay

The gameplay is a fun mix of a top down action adventure game with strategy elements. The closest comparison I can come up with is a Pikmin game but with a higher focus on action. And if that doesn’t get your mouth watering then nothing will.

Otto’s affinity for Anima gives him power to summon a legion of Guardians to help defeat his foes. Just like Pikmin there are a handful of varied Guardians that you will acquire over the course of the game. At the beginning you’ll just have the Protectors who are the grunts of your force, charging into battle. But later you’ll get more tactical units such as Keepers who will absorb Anima from your foes.

The Anima is what you will need in order to summon these Guardians and these can be collected from all over the place, usually more numerous than you actually need. Summoning your Guardians is very easy, holding the ZR button and pressing A will summon a few Guardians at a time. You can cycle between which flavour you want with the standard shoulder buttons. Directing them is easy too. You can either tap the A button to send an individual unit or you can hold A to send them all to the point you said. You can recall and disband them if needed too, so you do have a lot of control. 

Guardians have a variety abilities outside of their standard combat efforts. For example outside of battle Protectors will happily move statues around to solve the many simple environmental puzzles you’ll come across in the overworld. Inside of battle they also have a different ability if you use Otto’s Battlecry technique. This will use up Anima points but can be used to stun enemies when they are charging up an attack or, if a unit is in the vicinity, will grant them their extra power. For example the Keepers will produce healing orbs for you, or Sentinals (the archers) will charge up an explosive shot instead of their normal ones.

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A slightly awkward point is that there is no analogue controls for the pointer that’s used to send units places. You’d think the right analogue stick would be really useful for this, but sadly it’s not the case. The pointer is decided by where your character is facing which does have its problems at times but is overall not a bad implementation of the controls. 

It’s all about managing your different units effectively, having the right mix of them to balance out the fight. Some units are more useful in certain situations and your job is to manage that as best as possible. You have to protect your units too. Enemy golems will target specific groups of units at times and you’ll need to quickly act and lead themto safety. Thankfully most of these devastating group attacks have a long charge up, giving you time and notification as to when they will strike.

Using all of your units and controlling them wisely isn’t the easiest of tasks, and can be slightly overwhelming despite the controls being well mapped out. It’s easy to loose track of stuff and making them all safe in the later parts of the game a tough one. It’s rewarding though, and it’s really fun to take down the devious golems by sheer numbers alone.

It’s so far so good. But I think Masters of Anima has uneven difficulty spikes, especially if you don’t have a solid strategy for a boss. It’s not the kind of game where you can just wing it. I really struggled at a certain point to get through a boss, I genuinely thought was impossible, and tried about 5 times with different tactics only to eventually get through after a tough fight. Further more, even standard battles can present some walls of failure if you happen to receive one unlucky blow that wipes out a solid portion of your units, making recovery an uphill battle. While there are units that can provide Anima for you to use, it’s very easy to completely run out and be doomed. Sure, Otto has a melee attack but its use is very limited and you will certainly perish if attacking solo.

Other problems arise too, mainly with some units being unresponsive at times. For example, you may order all of your archers to take up position in an area, yet not all of them will obey. Maybe 4 will straggle, standing doing nothing where the rest of the group used to be. This happened few and far between, but it was highly noticeable when it did and often scuppered my chances in such a mistake punishing game. Another thing was that the battlecry didn’t always stun the enemy at times like it should have when they were charging attacks. I’d often run into the danger zone to produce a stun attack before my Guardians were wiped out but nothing would happen and I would take the blow, devastating my health and my forces.

So it’s not perfect, but it is really good. I wish the difficulty was toned down a little in some areas or at least make things less punishing just for one small mistake. Of course, you can go back into old levels to pick up secret items that can increase your health and amount of Anima usable, or even increase your level to add abilities to Otto or his Guardians in the light RPG elements the game possess. But I never felt like replaying a level over again as this is not the kind of game designed for that.

Value

At £15.99 or $19.99 Masters of Anima presents one of the more premium prices for the eShop, although I wouldn’t say it’s much of an outlier since many a publisher are asking for similar prices. As a brand new game, not a port, released for the same price just about everywhere I think Masters of Anima is of decent value. You can’t get it anywhere else for cheaper, so you don’t feel like you’re getting fobbed off with a late Switch port or anything. It has a decent length to it, I didn’t count due to sporadic play but I would say about 8-10 hours is a reasonable estimate.

Pros

P

Cool Gameplay

P

Nice presentation

P

Surprisingly decent controls

Cons

P

Difficulty spikes

P

A little unresponsive at times

P

Potentially repetative