Archero is a lovely smartphone game with a pleasant, slightly anonymous art style and a brilliant control system. And the control system, knowingly or unknowingly, harkens back to one of the great oddities of video games.
This is another one of those games based around proceeding through scrambled rooms of enemies, taking everyone down while you level up and gather coins. There are obstacles like spikes and lakes and bits of cover, and every now and then you get a boss. The hook is that you can move or shoot but not both at the same time. There's a virtual thumbstick for moving around and the second you let go of it: whammo, you're firing arrows. Then you move again and the arrows stop. Then you stop again and the arrows start again.
On top of this Archero pours upgrade systems and different environment types and all sorts of unlockables. But the joy of this game for me is that it reminds me of PN03, my favourite of the legendary Capcom Five (only four ever actually made it) and one of the weirdest games that Shinji Mikami ever directed.
The pleasure of PN03 – and stop me if you've heard this – is that you could move or shoot but not both at the same time. You were a sort of intergalactic super-agent character, and while you could dance in and out of enemy fire, you could only fire back once you were standing still. Not entirely still, of course, because you still had to tap your foot to the beat, but still enough.
PN03 always reminded me of playing a game entirely built around the knight from chess. This funny little piece is so much better at looping around people it's hard to understand, at first, how to get him to actually connect. But once he does connect he changes the way you play chess forever. Just as PN03 changed my expectations from action games forever. Its restrictions were so exciting.
What's thrilling about Archero, I think, is that it arrived at the PN03 idea pretty much independently. That's my guess anyway. Control in smartphone games is still a bit of a pain, and while virtual thumbsticks are fine, virtual buttons can still lack the necessary oomph to make them satisfying. In working around this problem, Archero has landed on a design that really works – and which has a lovely, odd lineage. It makes me wish for – whisper it – another PN03 to play on the commute.