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Secret of Mana iOS Review

by William Schwartz

There is one force in the universe that keeps good and evil in perfect balance. It is called the tree of Mana. But a magic sword has tricked a young warrior into upsetting the balance, spreading evil throughout the land. Thus, the warrior must undertake a dangerous journey to find the seeds of the Mara tree which have been hidden for centuries. Only then can perfect harmony be restored. In this incredible adventure, things are not as they seem. Magic swords release evil as well as fight it. Treasure chests hold booby traps. Monsters are friends and friends are enemies. Dragons fly, weapons change. It’s a world turned upside down that you must help the warrior make right. And the only way to succeed is to solve the Secret of Mana  [

Secret of Mana is a newly re-released iPhone title that was originally released in 1993.  At that time, the Secret of Mana was a game changer for the Super Nintendo.  It was a very stylish game, that also featured a great story, and interesting characters  The action based gameplay was a change of pace from the direction that Square had been going with the Final Fantasy turn based RPG’s.  This action oriented RPG was one of the first of this breed back then, alongside Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES  and games like Crystalis and the original Zelda for the NES.  It also paved the way for games like Chrono Trigger and many others.  Secret of Mana was arguably one of the best looking titles on the SNES and this recently released version of the classic stands the test of time as far as it’s story and overall presentation are concerned.

The music is surprisingly still great, and the world has plenty of environmental activity to immerse you in the game.  Considering what games look and play like at this time, Secret of Mana was probably the equivalent to today’s Mass Effect or another game of that caliber.  Breaking ground in 1993, Secret of Mana was one of the first true cooperative experiences in video games.  Utilizing the multi-tap, up to three players could play simultaneously, which was nearly space age technology at that time in the gaming world.  Sadly, Secret of Mana iPhone doesn’t have this functionality.

The game functions surprisingly well in some areas on the touch screen device.  Things like menu navigation and character selection work very well, and in a stark contrast to the emulator version which I have played on the iPhone as well, some things are much more conveniently displayed as touch options in the iPhone version of the game.

With so many classic games getting upgrades to the graphics and getting the re-release treatment, it was sad to see that Secret of Mana didn’t get much of an upgrade in that department.    It truly does seem that many of the upgrades for the iPhone version of the title were simply added menu functionalities to simplify some of the controls.  There were some included graphics that are not seen in the emulator, or original versions of the game.  But overall, it’s a near perfect port of the 1993 game with very little if any upgrades to the game itself.

The real unfortunate part of Secret of Mana for the iPhone are the controls.  In a game like this that is action oriented, pinpoint controls are necessary to alleviate much of the frustrations that you will encounter from input error on the iPhone device.  The controls are so glaringly flawed that a first time player of the game will notice this immediately and may never get over the fact that the touch screen controls make it frustrating to perform even the most menial tasks.  It’s not that the Secret of Mana is a fast paced action game, but when general navigation of your character is a task, it takes a lot of the fun out of the game.  This stands out even more in combat.  Combat has a timing based system where you must strike when power is charged.  The sketchy touch screen controls can have you aiming the wrong direction half of the time and as you can imagine, fighting more than one enemy can be a downright horrible experience.  Boss battles especially show this flaw, causing death after death due to input error.    Savvy gamers also know that this game is available on a SNES emulator and it’s admittedly best played either there or on a Super Nintendo System.  Frankly, I find many of the games on the iPhone to have this type of problem.  But I suppose it goes hand in hand with not having buttons.

What makes these flaws stand out even more, Secret of Mana is a full priced iPhone title.  Which makes you wonder why significant improvements weren’t made to justify it’s large price tag of $8.99 (for an iPhone game).

Even after the experience of playing through Secret of Mana on the iPhone I still love the game.  Though it’s not for anything new that iPhone version brought to the table.  If you’ve never played, I certainly recommend the game in some shape form or fashion.  There is a fair amount of content, and in short bursts can be quite satisfying.  Bad controls and fact that I’ve already played the game multiple times in better conditions made this the least notable experience of the bunch.

- This article was updated on:May 16th, 2017

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Secret of Mana

  • Available On: iOS, Android, SNES
  • Published By: Square Enix
  • Developed By: Square
  • Genre: Action-RPG
  • US Release Date: December 21, 2010
  • Reviewed On: iOS
  • Quote: "Bad touch controls and fact that I've already played the game multiple times in better conditions made this the least notable experience of the bunch."
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