Who could have guessed that Pikmin and Diablo would get along so well?
Now and then someone stumbles upon a combination of gameplay mechanics that works so wonderfully, you wonder why it isn’t more common. Masters of Anima from developer Passtech draws easy comparisons to both Diablo and Pikmin. What results is a combat-focused blend of strategy and management.
Our unlikely hero Otto is a shaper, meaning he has the ability to summon nature-based elemental warriors from the world around him. When his fiancee, who just so happens to be the Prime Shaper, is captured by the evil Zahr, Otto sets out on a quest to save her. The story is fully voiced, and the character performances are all enjoyable. While the writing for individual characters is all perfectly adequate, the story never really elevates itself beyond generic fantasy. That’s not to say the plot is throw-away, but I did occasionally find myself zoning out during cutscenes. The presentation is generally solid, with great art and a pleasantly diverse world. The resolution does seem a bit low when playing portably, but the chunky character design means this doesn’t adversely affect the actual game. It also means that the game is able to hold a very steady level of performance in either handheld or docked configuration.
The actual gameplay is where Masters of Anima shines. At the start of the game, Otto has the ability to summon a basic melee unit. Summoning a unit eats up anima, which can be found in the environment, and earned from downing enemies. At first, you’re limited to a few units at once, but this can be increased both through progression and leveling up that specific attribute. In fact as you progress and earn additional unit types, you’ll find that each one has its own skill tree, along with Otto himself. The abilities of the different units are more varied and inventive than I was expecting, and reminded me more of units from a full on real-time strategy game than something more straightforward like Pikmin. For example, while early units are as simple as melee or ranged types, later units have abilities like leeching anima or health off of enemy units, or increasing the range of special attack buffs you can give to your units.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that battles are overly complex, but they do move very quickly. This means that the complexity that does exist is somewhat amplified. Moving different unit types around, gathering loose anima, deploying special attacks, and replenishing units often left me absentmindedly forgetting that I myself could also attack the enemy. In the vein of a more traditional dungeon crawler, Otto himself can attack and has his own health bar. It’s a cool addition, and is quite useful when you’re in a bind. Though if you’re like me you’ll likely forgo direct combat in favor of more actively commanding your troops. The frantic strategic combat is very well implemented with plenty of options.
The one sticking point is the camera distance. As I progressed and encounters grew more complex, I found it impossible to keep all, or even most, of my units on screen at one time. This makes keeping track of them needlessly difficult, especially as you gain access to more and more unit types. A simple camera distance option would be greatly appreciated.
Masters of Anima feels like a fun new take on several more traditional ideas. These concepts combine beautifully, and gameplay is held back only by the limitations of the camera. The story, though somewhat predictable, is still fun and well executed. It's an attractive game with a solid hook, that plays well regardless of your Switch playstyle preferences. It's an easy recommendation for anyone who loves dungeon crawlers, or fast-paced strategic combat.