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Daily iPhone App: Hero Academy

Honestly, I'm not very good at Hero Academy. It's a deep game, slow to develop (asychronous multiplayer mode dictates the pace) and tough to learn. Still, I've enjoyed it. It's the first iOS title from Robot Entertainment, the company behind the Steam and console hit Orcs Must Die! (In fact, most of Robot's developers came from the old Ensemble Studios camp that made Halo Wars and Age of Empires).

The game's both casual and tactical. You are given a certain number of characters or power-ups to play with per turn, and you can use your limited action points to do things like deploy soldiers on the grid-based battlefield, power them up with more attack or defense, move them around, and of course attack the enemy soldiers. Both teams have gems on the battlefield in different places, and the goal is to destroy the enemy's gems while defending your own.

The game's depth comes from the various classes. Warriors, mages, archers, priests, and rogues offer several different characters to play with, each with unique abilities and specs. Archers move fast and strike quickly, but go down easily. A priest can hang back and heal others, keeping them in the game. Unfortunately, the game doesn't exactly explain all of this very well, but Robot's working on telling players how it all works, including with a tips video like this.

My biggest complaining with Hero Academy is the game's ads. Robot uses a freemium model, which is fine, as you can spend money on in-app purchases for more teams to play with, extra custom colors, or completely optional "taunts" you can send at opponents. Some players have had issue with the in-app purchases, claiming that they're unbalanced, but that's actually not true. Robot's made sure that spending money all goes towards optional customization, not anything that affects gameplay. The ads, however, are a problem for sure. If you don't buy the second team, you're left with very distracting ads in the game menus. Plus, you're forced to watch ads on every turn you play. If, like me, you're playing about 15 or 20 games at a time, that's a lot of really annoying ads to watch.

I ended up buying the second team just to get rid of them, which was actually the wrong thing to do. I probably shouldn't have rewarded Robot for annoying me so much. I also wish the title had used Game Center for its login instead of Robot's own clunky system. But despite all of that frustration and the confusion over how the game itself plays, I will say that there is a really nice, well-made game here once you get it. The turn-based battles offer up an excellent mix of deep strategy in very casual and easy-to-control bites, and the game's balanced enough that you can turn the tide of a close battle with some clever moves.

Hopefully Robot will work out all of the issues with the game, and balance out those in-app purchases and ads to a point where they support the title instead of overwhelming it. The bonus, of course, is that Hero Academy is a free download, available right now.

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