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Made by a Spanish team of just five developers called Team ISO, IsoChronous is that rarest of gems in Indie gaming: a truly original local multiplayer concept, well executed. It’s also very difficult to put into words… The official website describes it as “a strategy action game with a mechanic based on time layering”. But that’s hardly very revealing.
Okay, let’s give this a shot. IsoChronous is Fat Princess mixed with Tower Defence, and a dash of Braid or The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. You play against a friend, who will soon be your enemy, in a local multiplayer game that shows the level for both players on a single screen. Each player has their castle with its king at opposite ends, and just like in chess, it’s the vital ‘piece’ that mustn’t be ‘killed’.
"Rarely have we seen such a simple concept that sublimely combines both frantic button-mashing action and deep strategic thinking into a tremendously fun versus experience."
Each game comprises four rounds, with only the fourth round deciding the victor. In each round you can choose from between six units to spawn from your castle. There are the Warrior and Hammer Master, who are melee fighters, and the Archer and Firemage, who are ranged. Support units come in the forms of the Healer and Trapper, the first of whom you can use to – surprise – heal your units, while the second can lay (bear)traps for your opponents to stumble into.
These characters look and control much like the ones in Fat Princess or, if you’ve never played that game, a basic action RPG. Controls couldn’t be simpler: there is move, aim and shoot/action, and that’s it.
What truly sets IsoChronous apart and gives it its considerable strategic depth is that, at the next round, the actions from the first round are repeated. So if, in the first round, you select a Warrior and run him towards the enemy’s castle to smash it to smithereens, that’s what he’ll do in the second. It’s a rerun, like the ‘ghost’ car in TrackMania Nations.
Meanwhile, you’re controlling only the second unit you’ve chosen for this second round. You can, for example, try to protect that warrior by choosing a healer and following the same route as the warrior did (and still does) in round one – and therefore every subsequent round. Your opponent can try to neutralise the threat by placing traps with his Trapper on the path which he knows the warrior will follow.
In round three, you can try to protect your Warrior and Healer – if they survived their rounds - by sending a Firemage along for extra support, or you can put your archer in front of your castle shooting arrows at the empty space in front of it, in the hope or knowledge that your enemy will send a melee unit through this arrow rain in the future (or has already done so).
Do you see how complex this can get? Rarely have we seen such a simple concept that sublimely combines both frantic button-mashing action and deep strategic thinking into a tremendously fun versus experience.
No two games are ever likely to play out exactly the same, either, with multiple routes to your opponent’s castle and destructible obstacles. Throw in the cute, colourful graphics and matching soundtrack, and Team ISO look to have a real winner on their hands.
IsoChronous should be coming to PC and Xbox Live Arcade soon, with possible PSN and Ouya releases down the line.