We can't take it anymore. We're done getting repeatedly bludgeoned by gigantic Golems and being forced to see our little minions smashed to bits in what seems like an unwinnable struggle. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. What if we supercharge our archers, instead of our tank units? It's working! The battle is about to be won, but no... not so fast. Another Golem, this one with a different skillset appears, and we need to switch up our strategy. The battle drags out, and it's simply not fun anymore. We're well aware that soon we'll get destroyed by evil red lava eruptions, a feature put in place to punish players who take their time. It seems impossible and we throw the controller on the floor. It feels like the game takes pleasure in punishing us, but we know we'll soon be back for more of the same.
The scene above is a perfect illustration of the frustration we felt taking on Masters of Anima, and it's the same every time we pick up the game. And while Passtech Games has created a game with lots of interesting ideas in this Pikmin-inspired adventure, the frustration it offers is a major issue for us. But let's take a look at what it offers first, and then figure out whether it's worth enduring the frustration.
Masters of Anima is a somewhat obscure mix of an action-RPG and a lightweight RTS, much like Pikmin and Overlord, basically, you control a bunch of minions. This is explained in the fiction with the fact that you're a so-called Shaper called Otto, and with his wand he can conjure Guardians by spending Anima - an equivalent to Mana. Your beloved Ana has been kidnapped by a rogue Shaper named Zahr, who also seems intent on causing the end of the world. It's not a straightforward hero's journey as Otto really doesn't want to be a Shaper, and it's actually Ana who is the talented one of two. However, in spite of his objections, Otto sets out to use his new powers to take on Golems, the primary enemy of the game.
It should also be noted that Masters of Anima doesn't attempt to present an epic or prize-winning story. It doesn't take itself too seriously and you're treated to a fairly humourous and lighthearted affair that works well together with well-crafted visuals.
With the threat of the apocalypse resting on our shoulders, you'll need to journey through the world of Spark - from deserts to snow-covered mountains, to save your loved one and Spark itself. To aid your adventure there are Guardians in all shapes and sizes that you unlock as you progress through the game. You can summon up to 100 Guardians to use for melee combat, archery, and to steal Anima from Golems, just to mention a few of their uses.
Primarily you'll be killing Golems or getting killed by them. Between these typically fairly intense battles, there are small puzzles to solve in the levels where you'll need to use your Guardians to move objects around, among other things. These are welcome breaks from the intense battles, but we could have used even more variation as the Golem encounters are so draining.
This brings us to the main attraction, and the main problem with the game: combat. These revolve around managing yourself and your Guardians in real-time. You have to make sure that the Golem attacks don't wipe out your damage-dealing archers en masse. You'll also need to replenish your ranks as needed. This costs Anima, which is dropped by certain Guardians but that's also hidden in places across the levels. This Anima can also be used to trigger the special attacks of your Guardians, a unique ability for each unit type. These can grant Otto health, send a deadly volley of arrows towards the enemy, and so on and so forth.