Misc Mobile Reviews

Mobile games are like the Law&Order TV shows. Mostly churned-out derivatives of derivatives, but interesting because they are somehow popular. At least Law&Order has Richard Belzer (the guy’s stand-up was funny, and his over-the-top pimp in Night Shift cracks me up) and Liz Lemon’s pager-king boyfriend as the dopey “they were asking for it” foil. Mobile games must have something.

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Collectable Hero Team genre

You may have seen a certain style of Ad for a cell-phone RPG and felt like you weren’t quite getting the point. They show you a gallery of character portraits, and possibly one screenshot of gameplay. You may have even waited for the surprisingly large download, then for the additional download after opening, and played the mandatory “tap here, now here” tutorial. After about 15 minutes of that, you weren’t sure if the tutorial was done, or if you cancelled it by mistake. And you didn’t feel any closer to figuring out the game.

Technically this is a review of the free game Magic Rush, but it’s really of that whole collectable hero team genre.

 

Here’s the way these games work:

  • You collect characters from a pre-made set. Mostly damage dealers, some tanks and healers. You pick a team of 5 for battles.
  • The characters have no customization. They get new abilities as they level, but only preset ones. You can’t switch skills or decide where to spend points.
  • You have very little control during battles, often none. The characters auto-attack, auto-move and auto-use auto-targetted skills.
  • There’s no backstory or plot, not even a theme: vampires, talking cats, ninjas and robots fight in spooky forests and deserts.
  • After a while, most of the game is book-keeping – tapping autocomplete on the various daily quests.

There are usually about 30 premade characters. The game gradually gives everyone the same 5 starting ones, then you’ll slowly get more at random. Sometimes the characters come in tiers. Once you start getting tier 2 characters you can throw away the old tier 1’s, then again for tier 3’s (which will take months.)

The basic game is a fixed camera with your 5 guys facing various enemies: a bunch of small monsters, or a boss with some underlings, or another 5 character bad guy team. Often there are 2 or 3 stages. Your guys sometimes run around, or stay in place final-fantasy style. Win or Lose, everyone is fully healed afterwards. If they all die, just keep trying.

You have one button per character to fire its special ability. Usually it lights up about every 10 seconds and you want to press it right away. But in some fights you do nothing: either it’s set to auto-fight, or the button charges so slowly you never get to fire it. Some games let you also aim it (you drag it over the target,) others have it auto-target (nearest, furthest or a random enemy.)

 

Once you beat an area, you’re allowed to Sweep it, which means you can press a button to skip right to the victory rewards. It either costs energy points, or there’s a daily limit. Quickly enough you’ll be stuck with unbeatable levels. You have to just log in every day and do all your Sweeps until your guys level enough.

These games also have a concept of “your” level. It puts a hard limit on all of your characters’ levels, and unlocks new areas. Everything you do adds a few points to it, so one of the things you do is just Sweeping everything you can to raise that.

 

Even though you don’t have any choices, there are a lot of upgrade paths. You can work on them all at once, giving you a lot to do. Typical character upgrades:

  • Character level. This seems obvious, but the new part is you get almost all of your experience from items (experience potions or books.) First you go everywhere to gather potions, then you decide which characters to level.
  • Skills. All of your skills also have a level, easily increased by spending gold. But just to make it annoying, you can only buy a dozen every few hours (it shows “Skill points available: 12” which refill up to a maximum.)
  • Stars. You get a hero by finding 10 unique cards for it. Then you collect 30 more to gain a Star, then 50 more .. . They give big stat increases and often unlock a new skill (which you can’t control in any way.) You’ll want to always Sweep the old areas which give cards for heroes you use or want.
  • Equipment, Runes. These are just fixed paths, with no options, but they’re done in a cute way. It lets you fill 3 slots such as: Wool Gloves, Hat and Vest. You get a small bonus as you apply each, then a bigger bonus and sometimes a Special when you complete a set. Then they vanish, but you keep the bonuses and a new set of three unlock.

    They even list them as uncommon/rare/epic, but it’s just decoration. For example there’s one Silk gloves item, and one character upgrade that requires them. But they’re described as Rare just to make them seem cooler.

  • Color. Your heroes start with a Grey border, and upgrade to Green, Green+1, Green+2, Blue .. and up to Purple and sometimes Orange. It’s just a ten-step upgrade path, but they again use the World of Warcraft colors to make it feel special. These give bigger stat increases and sometimes unlock skills or new upgrade paths (like only Blue+ heroes can use equipment.)
  • Evolution/Ascension. Usually upgrades that open up pretty late, or the last thing you do, with only a few steps and large stat increases. And incredibly hard-to-get items needed to do it.

I mentioned skills and abilities unlocking. Heroes eventually get 4 skills. But the new ones are always on auto pilot. Maybe one casts poison on the nearest opponent every 12 seconds, the next casts a 2-second stun every 15 seconds on someone at random. Pretty cool, but they happen out of your control. All you ever do is press the one button for the first skill.

 

The missions are lots and lots of variations of the basic battle. They unlock as “you” level up, and usually give items for different upgrade paths. For example, in Magic Rush Runes are found in several areas, but only one area gives Equipment tokens.

Common areas are:

  • The Campaign. Chapter one has a series of basic battles in a row. A screen draws a winding path through battles labelled 1-1, 1-2 up to 1-12. The same way as Candy Crush. The enemies are oddball funny monsters, like goblins, bull knights and self-powered catapults. Sometimes the story is all of “I think they came this way.” Battles mix it up with mini-bosses and different numbers of stages.

    The first few are easy, and you’ll level up with experience from the battles. Then they get harder until you realize you have to drink all the experience potions you’ve won, level skills and apply all of those runes you’ve been winning.

    When you beat them all, you unlock Chapter 2 (if your personal level is high enough,) and Hard mode for Chapter 1. They’re about as difficult, but give different level-up items.

  • Free Stuff. A big chunk of your leveling is from daily tap-to-collects: login reward, sign-in reward, easily completed quests, rewards based on ranking (you get something even for being in last place,) emptying manna fountains, daily free spin, whatever special event is running this week.

    At first they shower you with gifts. You’ll get two good heroes just for playing every day for a week, then a month. A Welcome chest will give you all the gold and level up items you need for the first week (you’ll level up as normal. But when you unlock a new slot you’ll have all the Wool Gloves, gold and Enchant Stones to immediately max them out.) The welcome gifts slow to a trickle, but by then you’ll have unlocked more areas with quests and daily taps.

    The quests are nothing like an MMORPG player is used to. Common quests are doing things you were going to do anyway. There’s a “fight X battles in area Y” quest for every area, and Sweeps count. Others are bonuses for progresion: level heroes 10 times, evolve a hero. There are meta quests “complete 5 quests,” and one to spend 60 energy which rewards you with 30 more energy (which is 100% the same as just giving you 90 energy, except you have to push the extra button.) Then usually a monetization one like “buy gems today.”

  • Arena. This is a single battle against another off-line player. It’s really the same as any other mini-boss battle. You get 5 Arena battles a day, with a quest to do them all.

    At first, you’ll be against 1-hero teams from people who just played a little and quit. You’ll get bunches of chests and rewards for ranking up. But then you quickly hit a wall. From then on you’ll lose the 5 impossible battles to satisfy the quest and for the small loser’s reward. Arena is set to Auto-battle (to make it fair, since the other player’s team has to.) If you switch to x2 speed it takes about 10 minutes. Magic Rush puts a 5-minute delay between Arena fights, forcing you to interspace them between other stuff (unless you already log in 5 times a day.)

  • Gauntlet. These are kind of fun, at first. A 10-battle series where you keep your status from the previous battle, with 5 back-up heroes to replace any who die. A fun trick is to save charged-up specials for the start of the next battle. Hopefully they charge up again as you mop-up stragglers.

    But then pretty quickly you’re able to auto-battle past 6 stages, then always die on stage 7. Many games have a Sweep for this – skip straight to the stage where you always die, getting all the loot along the way. Magic Rush does not. But the prizes are so good that you sort of have to spend the 15 minutes sleep-fighting through this.

  • Special dungeons. Dungeon is another word borrowed from MMORPGs and stripped of meaning. They’re just regular battles with a stone corridor background. They’re usually the only place to get certain things. In Magic Rush the Equipment Dungeon is the only place to reliably get those. You get a free daily Sweep of all the areas you’ve beaten (it has a cool graphic, showing your team’s progress. But it’s still just a 10-second wait for guaranteed loot.)
  • Boss fights. Attack a giant monster to see how much damage you can do before you die. Often all players attack the same monster, so you can see the damage percent very slowly increasing every day. Sometimes the rewards come when it finally dies, or daily based on how your damage stacks up against everyone else’s.
  • Mini-games. Magic Rush has a cute tower defense game where the towers are your heroes, firing their main spell at passing monsters (it’s cuter than that – the specials also power up, your tough-guy heroes are placed in the path as fighting walls, and some have movable platforms for one hero to guard two paths.)

    In Final Fantasy, the mini-games were one-time things. Even for Blitzball, you really just needed to pass that one milestone, then could play it for fun and minor rewards. But in team fighters the mini-games are one more thing you’re suppose to do every day. If you don’t, you’ll be low on whatever items they give. Plus you’ll be out of daily attempts at everything else, so may as well.

  • Stores. Instead of dropping materials, many areas just drop a unique currency, for example, Arena coins. Every day you can spend some time checking the various stores’ rotating inventory (the most common item you’re looking for are specific hero cards.) Sometimes you’ll find an item you can pay for with just gold. A big part of these games is figuring out things like “save all your Hero Trial coins for Orange Powder, since it’s hard to get anywhere else.”

    A common varient is a pop-up store. It might randomly appear after you do something, on a 1-hour timer. It’s an incentive to open the game several times a day.

  • Global enchants. Buffs for the entire team, like 1% more health. Magic Rush has two really odd ones. You can enchant items, like Silk Gloves+1, and everyone needing them gets a small bonus (even heroes who have equiped better gloves over them.) This costs materials found in another special Dungeon.

    The second is borrowed from the PvP “Game of War”-style games. The screen has 11 upgradable buildings. One is the Town Hall, which limits the level of the rest and does nothing else. Five are resource producers, and the last five upgrade one stat for all heroes. All but the Town Hall are so cheap that you may as well upgrade them all together.

    They are all on long timers (several hours or more,) but in a crazy reverse energy system. The upgrade happens immediately and a timer shows 2:00:00. Upgrading something else increases the timer to 3:59:52. After a few more the timer shows 10 hours and says you can’t upgrade any more until it’s below 8. They call it a build queue, which it would be if the upgrades weren’t instant.

    At first, your own resource production plus free stuff is plenty. Then you have to fight with other players for it. It’s an exact copy of GoW. The world map shows your castle, other players’ castles and resource producers. You send out a hero team to spend several hours harvesting from one. Another player can send their team to knock yours off. You can steal directly from their castle, or if you get mad enough, destroy it and teleport them into an area with low resources. Obviously, the top clan dominates the area with the best resources.

Some of my favorite miscellaneous features are Comments and Where-To-Find. Heroes and battles have sections where anyone can write comments – usually how useful they are or who to team them with; or strategies to beat them. Where-to-Find happens when you need upgrade materals you don’t have. Tapping a slot might show Rune of the Bull 3/5, meaning you need 2 more to upgrade your hero. Tapping again shows you make one from 5 Runes of Strength, but you only have 3. Tapping some more shows Runes of Strength can be found in Normal area 2-4 and then takes you there. You can then press Sweep until you have enough or run out of energy points. But there’s more: closing menus walks you back to the screen where you merge them to make the Bull Runes, then back to the original screen where you apply them for the stat increase.

It’s like a guided tour of what’s wrong with the game.

 

To be fair, the parts that can be designed are done well. They mix up the battles nicely – sometimes stage 1 is pretty hard and the challenge is getting your half-dead heroes through stages 2 and 3. The backgrounds are beautiful. The abilities are every skill type looted from older games, and would probably be really fun if you could choose them even a little.

The best thing is how much a counter-example these games are to the sum is greater than the parts. They could have had you focus on learning the enemies’ patterns, setting up AI for your auto-skills – playing the game. Instead all the routine chores emphasize how the fighting isn’t important – raising your numerical power score is the exciting goal (the game shows an overall power number for your team, which is a pretty good predictor of who they can beat.)

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What is Goddess Kiss?

When I saw the seller’s description of Goddess Kiss in the Ap store, I sensed I was looking at a true piece of kink sub-culture. The splash sreeens are exculsively top-heavy tarted-up anime schoolgirls; but that describes every casino game. Then you look at the text and realize this game was someone’s vision.

Some of the text that stuck out for me: “Touch your beautiful angels and experience various responses and motions,” “Only your kiss can free the beautiful angels,” “Costume is not just clothing. It’s an affection.” And finally: “Each commander engages in a battle riding inside a mechanical unit. Each unit has unique skills and attack pattern.” So it’s apparently a game where you fight stuff, but the rest seems way too specific to be a simple use-sex-to-sell.

 

So we’ll take a look. The standard screen where it takes an hour to download the rest let me know I was on the right track: swaying 2D art with long animated flowing hair, and short pleated skirts using a detailed, lovingly tweaked cloth simulation. Even so, at “10% loaded” I was about to quit. Then the skirt of the Sophomore looking away lifts to show a flash of derriere. #1: What!?, #2: someone drew and colored that cheek, and kept at the simulation parameters until it lifted just that amount. Now I have to see how much they’re devoted to this.

An hour later, I’m hearing JPop while reading the insane backstory: evil-doers have made Obediance drug. Shockingly, and I looked this up, there does not exist a real-life perfume by that name. The first screen shows two rows of those full-body test tubes holding the captured characters. But Obediance (always a proper noun, in blue text,) doesn’t affect some people, and they formed the resistance, Goddess Kiss, who defeat the bad guys. Wait, what? Its over? So will this game be a city-building sim? It goes on: but the good guys became overconfident, lost the last battle (it walks you through a battle,) and are scattered and forgetten. You have been appointed their new leader.

That’s quality nonsense written by a true believer. Its clearly important that later sub-villians sneer when they hear our name, and suggest we should have stayed dead. And also that we’re apparently a sub-group of something with the harmless-sounding acronym R.E.A.P.

 

Now it’s on to the game, where we go to the warehouse/item area, manned by a men’s magazine cover sexy mechanic using the latest in jigglemation. In case you don’t see the sweat drawn on her chest, one of the voice-bubbles (written in English, voiced in Korean) says how hot it is in here. As per the Ad copy, tapping the character (not even the rectagular portrait area – only the actual character) pops up more voice bubbles. Ask me Korean for “I like it more and more.” Then it’s on to the daily chests area, presided over by an anime woman in a full-on playboy bunny outfit. When you get a good treasure her face pops up with hearts flying out of it, pulls back to a bust, then you finally get the chest opening animation. So as not to keep you in suspense: will there be another sexy mechanic, and an unzipped to the navel nurse wearing a cannabis pin? Yes and yes.

But this mismatched cheesecake is just window dressing. It doesn’t take long to beat the first boss, who you’re reminded is just an Obediance-controlled young woman. Your two female pilots tell her the cure is in your body. I hope not my spleen. The screen move to a close-up of her face, her eyes close and lips purse. Ah, the cure was spliced into a strain of Mononucleosis. You have to hold your finger down to complete the kiss animation. The sparkles now flying out of her eyes let you know it’s working. And it wouldn’t be complete without the old characters joking they didn’t get to kiss you yet.

So that’s the central tenant: this is Charlie’s Angles fan fiction. In the next mission, the new character talks about how she hopes the next place you attack will have a shower. But wait: another asks you to feed her. Not just that she’s hungry – she specifically wants to be fed by you. So the shower isn’t about hot suds and dropped towels, it’s part of making sure your adopted nieces are cleaned and fed.

And clothed. The costumes come much, much later. Like many other games, the starting costume does nothing special, and expensive bonus ones give different stat increases. This is the only way to customize characters’ stats. Beside the swimsuits and pajamas with teddy bears they even have a non-sexualized option. The battlesuit is a full body skin-tight vinyl .. ah, nevermind. They are all highly sexualized. But the teddy bears are Amanda Beard jokes, I hope.

 

Giving gifts is also an old mechanic. After a day, you unlock some new power-ups for the character, and an area where you get the special runes to level them up. They just happen to be poetry books, flowers, steak dinners, rings and cocktails, with voice bubbles like “you really shouldn’t, but I like it.” When you unlock a bonus and tap to collect, it flips over to tell you the character’s age, which is 16, 18 or 25. But mostly 16. The next level gives a pretty good attack bonus and reveals the day they were born. What possible reason .. ah, once again I just got it. They’re telling you her birthday. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t know Street Fighter Zangief’s birthday until looking it up just now: June 1st.

The last thing to unlock are the personal mini-quests. From way back, Final Fantasy had these – just a fun easter egg. This game shows you that they exist right away. I just wish they would have realized the farm girl pilots a giant robot, and you don’t, before giving her a mini-quest named “Machines are so difficult to handle.”

 

If you’re out of energy points, you can tap a heart icon to go into a side room. You have to pick one character to come with you. The background is an opulent cruise ship dining room and a caption reads “Currently Dating.” That character gains a few affection points (the same ones you usually gain from giving gifts.) I think they missed an opportunity, not making this the page where you ply them with flowers and liquor. But this inter-office dating and misappropriation of funds partly solves the mystery of how the first Goddess Kiss organization fell apart.

Beyond all that, the game is a straight-forward mobile team fighter. The characters pilot robots, but they’re locked to their own, so you’re still just upgrading and selecting the character. In theory, it’s possible to play it and just ignore the ever-present harem of underage lingerie models, pin-ups and suggestive comments. While you’re reading Playboy for the articles.

My favorite feature is how every click freezes the game for a few seconds whlle it talks to the server. Even clicks that really shouldn’t need to. To somewhat compensate, you can hold down a button and have it not freeze until you let go. Say you want to give someone 12 steak dinners to level them up. Instead of spending 45 seconds tapping and waiting, you can hold the button for a second and let go. It goes so fast you’ll probably give them 15 or more, or maybe only 10 and you have to hold to try to get just 2 more when it unfreezes, but it’s still better than 12 slow taps.

 

So what is this? Like the genre it’s based on, it turns out to be nothing – merely a bunch of incoherent parts jammed together. Military-themed lingerie with beach balls sewn into the cups is just a style of Anime. Kissing and gifts are from dating sims. Having only datable female team members – that’s just a weird decision. It’s a cookie-sprinkled pancake-wrapped double ice cream scoop mash of a game; that’s constantly pointing out how the scoops look like boobs.

 

It took me writing all this to realize Goddess Kiss might be a reskin of another game. There’s one 6 months older, sometimes on the Popular list, named “Girls X Battle.” The crazy thing is, both games are pretty much the same idea, but aren’t even close to being reskins.

GXB is still a standard team battler. For example, it uses the common system where everyone needs different stuff and you craft better equipment tokens from old ones – a purse is made from an empty purse, a cell phone and underwear. Goddess Kiss had everyone share CPU’s and metal plates for Mech upgrades.

GXB is also a hodge podge, like GK, but different. The backstory is child-friendly: the school has teams that fight for fun, and women prefer being on all-female teams. The mooks you fight are girls with soccer and rugby balls, female crossing guards swinging signs, broad-shouldered lady mechanics with wrenches, a spike-haired girl with a keytar.. . All very age appropriate and empowering. The plot is friendy battles and sibling rivalry (and gay jokes that stopped being acceptable in the 80’s.)

But the rest is more explicitly sexual than GK. Least favorite idle quote: “it’s not illegal if we’re not caught.” The Sexy Apron’s flavor text says to wear nothing under it (not even the underwear you keep giving them?) They all call you master.

The relationship section is hidden behind a heart icon that you’d never guess is a button. You don’t get free gifts for them like in GK (but you get enough free daily diamonds to buy about the same amount.) But there are many more types and it says some heroes prefer different gifts. There’s no kissing, but once a day you get free “intimacy” points (yes, they found a worse name than Affection points) for “gently caressing” – there’s a meter that increases as you hold your finger on a hero’s head, then she tells you how much she liked it.

The things the two games have in common are the inappropriate “can’t play this in polite company” school-girl art style and a dating-sim tacked onto a team battler. The only question left to ask is: where is the version with manly bare-chested hunks calling you mistress? That’s got to be a larger market, right?

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Game of Browser of Clans

A while ago I started noticing how the most common TV Ads for cell-phone games feature movie quality epic panoramic battles. I remember the old Ad with Kate Upton giving orders from her hot-tub, during the Superbowl, to some men in chainmail. But that was a Cleopatra riff, so fine. But now we have Arnold Schwarzenegger walking through a realistic battleground; or an epic tale, with human actors, of a tank being killed by a bazooka, by a sniper then by a bomber. Two guys at a coffee shop with a realistic holograph on their table, destroyed by a missile launched by two flirtatious girls. The most recent is a young woman in a glued-on chiton watching a Lord-of-the-Rings quality battle, including a dragon, ready with her cell-phone.

The great thing about these isn’t just that they’re for copies of the same game, which they are. The great thing it’s an old text-based browser game. A slow-play take-over-the-world guild-vs-guild game where no one is safe. The even greater thing is the original version, “Game of War: Fire Age” is such a mess, and yet made so much money, that every other game is nearly an exact copy: Mobile Strike, Final Fantasy: A new Empire, Vikings: War of Clans. A dozens more with either no ads, or glorious cinematic trailers shown through Google Ads.

 

It takes a few weeks of playing to see what the game is about. At first you’ll see your castle, garishly covered with ugly pop-ups for in-game spends. Game of War did that first, it somehow worked, so everyone else copies that hideous style. A very long tutorial makes you tap to get free gold, tap to upgrade a 2D building, wait ten seconds for it to finish, and repeat. The waiting turns into minutes, then an hour or two, there are lots and lots of buildings, and that’s your first week. No game yet.

Finally you go to the map. It’s a roughly drawn grid uniformly strewn with plains, a hill or two and rivers that go nowhere. It’s a huge area, dense with other players’ castles the same as yours. The game wants you to tap a grayish blob it claims is an iron mine. That sends your army. A dot crawls along the arrow for several minutes, you get a notice they arrived without event, and 30 minutes later they crawl back with 5.3K iron. Repeat to pay for more upgrades. That’s your second week, and still not a game.

Somewhere in there you’ll be told you went from VIP-1 to VIP-2. Everyone in this game is a VIP. Except a bit after that you’ll be told your VIP status is inactive. Lots of little things you took for granted now get slightly worse. But never fear – spending any cash on any of the many deals will reactivate it for a few days. The maximum VIP level is limited by how long the game has been in existence. Some go to 50. If you see “VIP3”, you know it’s one of these games.

Finally you approach the real game. You’ll get a report that your army at the iron mine has been killed by another player. You get no iron. Luckily most (but not all) are in the hospital and can be healed by tonight. The rest will take an hour and more gold to remake. Your first fight of the game. You can’t tell who attacked you or how well you fought before losing, but still, Yay!

A little after that your castle will be looted by the much larger one next door. It says your walls will take 5 days to repair. Someone has also killed your army from the mine, but you’re used to that by now. Welcome to the real game.

 

The actual game is a long push: join a group, grow as fast as possible, kill all of the nearby competition, and eventually take over the world. Combat is about everyone maximizing growth and troop production, while coordinating your guild to gang up on one enemy castle at a time.

More than likely, your guild will be the one killed. That dooms you to permanent second-class status – it will take weeks to recover and most guildmates will quit. In fact, your better, more big-spending mates will be invited to join the victors, and they will.

But each world is so massive there’s a second more common way to play. Your guild will be out in the sticks, where the top players don’t even care. You can sit quietly and grow, fighting your way into more resource rich areas at your own pace. The insurmountable gap between you and the top players is getting wider, but it’s fun to be playing in the same world.

A little checking shows how this shakes out. Each game has lots of old servers, where one guild has killed everyone, or the three top guilds have a cease-fire. Most are still playing on and off, getting ever more powerful to fight no-one (or for the rumored server-merge.)

 

Sometimes these are compared to Clash of Clans, but they’re the opposite. Clan-likes are about a single battle with someone the game decides is a fair match. Your castle is supposed to get blown up a few times a week. Ha, you got me! Clan wars are on a sign-up, last 2 days, and the winner gets a better prize than the loser. It’s all about getting as good as you can at that 3-minute fight. Clash-likes have no diplomacy, urgency or consequences. Game of War games are only about those things.

 

The nonsense rules for armies are the best. Troop types are paper, rock, scissors (like infantry, cavalry, archers.) But the bonuses are so minor they’re really all the same. They also have levels, and level 2 rocks beat level 1 paper. And costs vary – you can buy 1.1K rocks for the same price as 1K paper. There are also Tiers – think of them as elite status – and higher Tier troops dominate lower Tier, regardless of levels. Whew.

Army size is determined by each leader’s command ability. High tier troops don’t count more for size, but there’s an overall limit on how many you can own. There’s also a practical limit. In these games you gather rare resources and slowly build a high-tier army over months. Plus a garbage low-tier army, since why not. Odder, there’s really only a maximum for the worst troops. This seems silly, since it’s huge and they’re useless. But your high-tier limit is a fraction of that number. You just have to know that.

For no reason, some troops take more space – maybe they count as 5 slots, with 5 times the damage and health. In a tactical game that might matter – but here it’s just leftover cruft. The only purpose of troop stats is to distract new players from realizing your army is just an attack power number.

The really cool thing is how all the dozens of GoW copies use this crazy system. The main thing about a slow-play world conquest game is giving players a way to cooperate; things to fight over; and making destroying someone satisfying enough for the winner, while giving the loser some chance to get back eventually. No one cares about the exact rules beyond that.

My theory is that with a normal game, anyone can see places to improve or revamp. But Game of War is so ugly, and has so many useless, broken, annoying rules that no one can figure out what people like about it. It’s not safe to change anything. The result, you’ll see some sort of Minecraft mobile game, but the ads don’t show gameplay – good lord, it’s another 95% copy of Game of War!

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Art of Conquest

Art of Conquest might be from the first group to decide Game of War take-over-the world games are popular despite being so terrible. It’s the same game, mostly but they went ahead and improved it in obvious ways. Shockingly, it worked! Some things they did:

  • Used an actual map, and made it look good. In this case, a Japan-like island. Those have always been popular. To compare, GoW:FE and ilk use a ghastly square grid – probably a hold-over from when it was played in ASCII.
  • Overall, 5 factions are fighting for the island, and you’re in one. Within each faction you have the usual guilds. But everyone in your faction is on the same team. Player vs. Player oriented MMO’s have been doing that for years.
  • Clan cities are in a honeycomb sub-menu. A clan occupies a city on the world map. Tapping that brings up a hex city map with each clan-member. Clash-likes have been using this for clan war displays for years. It looks pretty and makes it easier to find everyone.
  • Races. Everyone can pick from one of 3 “races” which determine which troops they can recruit. Oddly, Game of War games don’t do this, while every other game does. Art of Conquest does a nice job making them different, but not too specialized.
  • Zones and zone control. The whole island is like a Risk board. If a clan from your faction occupies the city in a zone, it flips to your faction and you all get small bonuses there.
  • Playable battles. It matters how you arrange the troops (you can save 3 presets) and when and where you cast the spells. These are fun, and it’s a big deal. But you lose a vital part of cooperation. You can’t gang up on someone. Old Game of War games let you declare a “raid attack” where everyone on both sides has 4 hours to send attack/defense troops, then they all fight. You can’t do that with live battles, and a better army will just kill you with very few losses.
  • Less useless troops. Part of the fun of the older games is figuring out which troops you should never use. It’s like an initiation ritual. Art of Conquest tries to make every troop type useful for something, occasionally buffing the weaker ones, like a normal game.
  • Slow attackable supply caravans. Instead of sending troops to mine, you release a loot cart. It takes a few minutes to arrive and you can guard it if you want. You can also look for enemy loot carts. It’s more fun than bumping people off of iron mines.
  • A friendlier experience for new players. Players who haven’t moved into a captured mega-city count as being in the unattackable faction capitol. They can’t attack anyone else either, and they progress more slowly (which the game explains,) but they never wake up to 3 days of work wiped out.

    Battles against the computer can be refought, at will. You can mess around, try spells; if something looks tough you can fight it, lose badly, and completely cancel that it ever happened. It makes them fun, and you still have to be good enough to win, eventually. The game is clear to explain how battles against players won’t let you do that.

  • Assignable ranks. This is another old game idea. When a guild moves into a city, some locations give small bonuses. There are positions in the faction (King, Duke, ..) that give decent bonuses.
  • Instead of scrolling around the map, looking for opportunies, “you” ride around. When you find something to attack, you don’t click back home and send an army to march there – you’re already there and you just attack it. There’s a little more risk riding around in zones controlled by another faction.

But it’s clearly based on the world conquering Game of War genre. To play for real you need to buy the starting spends, know how to race through the solo part and join a good guild that can claim good territory quickly.

Other things that are the same:

  • You still need leaders to use troops, who require slowly regenerating energy points.
  • Attacking another city is lots of people grinding down defenses. It will require many Seige-type units over many attacks to break down the walls. You still play out the attack, but it’s 2 minutes of watching catapults fire.
  • Walls still consist of an enormous wall number, and a huge number of possible defending troops, stuck there, that will take days, then weeks to create, then days to heal.
  • The same bizzare system of troops, tiers, limits and rare resources. The same “most but not all go to the Hospital.”

It’s not the same as those older games, but it’s complicated in the same way, and recognizable as roughly the same system. Your skills will transfer.

Monetization: Game of War and it’s clones famously spray poorly explained Buy Now’s across the screen. They’re not ashamed of being called Pay to Win. In contrast, Art of Conquest has a single button for the Store and tries hard to seem fair.

A monthly subscription for small buffs, the only kind you can buy, is $1 for a month. Inside the store a dozen rotating items are for sale. Buy one and it’s gone until the next restock. And you pay more for bulk: a 30 minute speed up costs 50 gems, a 2 hour one is 480 (Mr. Big Spender, who we hate, is getting a much worse deal than us. Ha!)

It feels like big-spenders can’t get that much of an advantage. They can — being able to buy out the store twice a day is a big boost — but it feels more fair.

I like how they play with the subscription. It goes to $5/month after the first month, but that’s really about normal, so fine. But it’s also per server – play on 3 servers, that’s $15. But that rules lets new players keep on for $1/month, since they’ll normally want to restart after a month, now that they have an idea what to do.

But there’s more. They later added a $2 “all server” subscription. It’s worse than the $1 one, but it’s for all servers! And $2 isn’t that much. Plus once you have it, you’d be a fool not to play on another server!

 

Heroes are where lots of games screw up, and Art of Conquest almost doesn’t mess it up. But then it does. The game gives you heroes at a decent rate. You can realistically use at most five in a battle, and a free player gets that quickly enough. Abilities are good but not great and they rebalanced a few that were too good (when players swear they will never play your stupid game again, you know you nerfed it just enough.)

But then one hero snuck in. It’s a funny, but also long and boring story. But the end result is the same as every other game: it’s so much better than everything else that you need to spend $10 to buy it. It completely ruins the game. But it’s $10 per player per server. They just threw in the towel. it’s still a fun game to play for a few weeks strictly solo.

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A Team Battler with IP

“ArcheAge Begins” is interesting for the really odd use of IP. I’m fine with Star Wars Monopoly, or a Marvel heroes connect-three game, but ArcheAge Begins struck me as the worst possible theme for what it is.

The game is a standard Team Battler. Those are about simplicity. You collect characters and choose 4 for each battle. You don’t pick their equipment, or skill trees, and barely control them during play. Nice and simple. Most borrow character types from everywhere – Amazons, Pirates, Roman soldiers, space men. But if you want to license something, Stars Wars and Marvel have a big, recognizable set of characters and a sprawling setting for fight backgrounds.

I’ve played ArcheAge, what it’s licensed from. That’s an anything-goes MMORPG, like Eve Online. The goal is having player vs. player piracy. The best fishing is in zones that allow player killing, and your fish can be stolen. The best missions are walking cargo through free PK zones. It had an anything goes theme. You could use bugs to block roads and charge a toll, steal ships from under someone, or swindle through trickery with the trade window. Like all these games, there’s lot a complex crafting, giving everyone a different way to be part of the in-game economy, and steal in creative ways.

In something like World of Warcraft, most players remember the Undercity, the way the Barrens looks, the dungeon with all those damn dwarf patrols. They can recognize a dozen boss’s. In a PvE game, the E is usually pretty interesting. In ArcheAge no one cared. I looked up the races again and drew a blank. They characters from AA:B? Never seen them. I remember the ISIS flags (you could make and display your own banners on your farms and ships), the auction house tricks, the chat warnings about how a certain player was a scammer, the bragging about how a certain pirate faction controlled pirate island. None of that is usable in different game.

What’s even funnier is ArcheAge, the MMO, was extremely customizable. Anyone could wear any armour type. “Tank”-type warriors often wore cloth armour in player-wars, since it resisted spells better. You didn’t have a class. You picked 2 skill trees out of 10 (which gave 50-ish combinations.) Then you spent limited skill points among both, unlocking various abilities. You could switch easily.

To sum up, someone decided to take a game with no memorable characters or world, and use it for a game about lots of characters and fun backgrounds. To repurpose a game about complexity into one of the simplest game types out there. Take a game who’s main claim to fame was complete abuse of other players and use it for basically a solo game.

These deals work several ways. Buffy the Vampire Slayer can hire someone to make a card game. Maybe they have a relationship with someone who made the Buffy version of Angry Birds, and they rehire them. Maybe it’s before a movie and it’s fine if the game is only fun for two weeks and loses money. Or they can offer the rights for a cut, then have nothing to do with how or what gets made. The E.T. game must have been like this, right? Or game-makers can come to them with pitches.

For ArcheAge: Begins, beats me. Maker GAMEvil is South Korean, and so was the ArcheAge MMORPG. I don’t think they’re the same through mergers, but South Korea isn’t that big. Still, I can’t figure out who asked who or why they thought it was a good match. Team battlers are a crowded field. Is there an ArcheAge movie coming out?

Some of my favorites little bits from ArcheAge Begins:

o It has piracy, but it’s the “caravan quest” system all these games already have. The one where you always get “raided” for 1/5th of the gold, so it’s ore like a tax on your quest.

o In the MMORPG, you could raise and slaughter animals. The animation showed you dispatching them with a cleaver. Team battlers are for kids, so no killing helpless animals. You often click to plant corn and click to harvest after an hour, but that’s it. ArcheAge : Begins has an insane cow mini-game. A roided-up cow with a giant jug strapped to its back wanders between 3 troughs. You have to toss food to the one it picks. It sometimes stands on two legs and chugs from its jug. If you win, it gives you milk. It’s so crazy you assume it must have been copied from the original game, but no.

o AA:B has a tree you can tap every 8 hours to get a log, or a “thunderstruck log”. That brings back memories. In ArcheAge you needed those to build ships and carts. They were rare and the cost shot way up. Players planted and patrolled vast “illegal” forests in the hopes of getting them. They endlessly discussed the chances of various tree types getting struck by lightning, and when you could cut them down and try again.

Seeing it in this way is like Darth Vader being the guide for a tutorial. On the one hand, that’s a complete misuse. But on the other: cool, Darth Vader. So, “cool, thunderstruck logs!”

o ArcheAge had horribly over-sexualized female characters. Even in plate mail you wore high heels, lace, and showed lots of cleavage. The funny thing is, that’s not nearly so out-of-place in mobile games. It’s still offensive, but no more so than 1/2 of all the other mobile games.

o Lastly, TRION ran the global version of MMORPG ArcheAge, and did a decent job monetizing. Back then a “real” game couldn’t sell an advantage. ArcheAge had a monthly subscription that unlocked the good trading features (free players could still be well-paid bodyguards.) You could buy a few cosmetic things with real cash. But no respectable MMORP back then would ever let someone just buy an advantage.

In contrast, ArcheAge Begins has the best new buy-it-now. When you tap the button to see your magic runes, a window pops up offering to sell a starter Rune pack. Brilliant. Yes, sure, we’ve all seen the menu with “you don’t have enough energy to attack. But a refill with gems?” But this is better. Almost as good, each time you open the game you see not one, but two pages of special offers. There’s a button “don’t show again today.” That button does nothing. You will see again today.

If you like Team Battlers, this game is so-so. Nicely done, there’s a fun 4-player dungeon mode where you actually control one guy. But the characters are boring and the environments are weird. I think they assume people remembered and enjoyed, whatever those are, from the original. If you want what people really remember, it’s crudely drawn penises.

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King’s road has the best paywall

King’s Road is a pretty standard 3rd-person hacker. You control one guy running through a mostly linear level killing monsters then a boss. Since we’ve all played freemium games, we’re automatically looking for the squeeze. There’s a special area limited through its own daily energy, and another which costs tokens. The game starts you with a handful of them but we know the cost goes up and tokens become scarce. But the main area has no restrictions.

Without limit you can run areas, gain levels and unlock the next. If you can’t beat one you can freely rerun to gear and level up. Still for free you can switch between the 3 classes and level them by replaying any areas. When you complete all 24 areas, which are somewhat interesting, it’s free to replay them on hard, then expert.

That seems like far too much free, unlimited gameplay. Along the way you unlock a minor pet. They call it a dragon, but it’s the size of a large hawk and about as dangerous. An overly complicated upgradable village has you upgrade them.

Leveled, you notice your upgraded pets aren’t such slouches anymore. You need one to clear the new levels. You have 3 pets each on a 3-hour cooldown, which is plenty for now, but we’ve seen this before. For free you can earn a few more, but those are uncommons with an 8-hour cooldown. Then your old pets start dying off in levels and you need to upgrade them to uncommon, with the increased cooldowns. Yes, we’ve found the paywall and we know it well.

There’s nothing special about the pet dragon system, but the way there’s not even a hint of it at first, then you don’t suspect anything when you first see it, then “ah-ha, there’s the freemium squeeze” – that’s special.

I think I’m well-inclined towards this game because of how they adapted the MMO bag system. In any computer MMO a big part is growing your little 6-space pack into a a half-dozen massive 32-space bags. There are always more components which you might need, for something, which fill those bags. King’s Road has 1 pack and an at-home bank, but it works the same way. You save gems to buy 8 new slots and that solves all of your space problems until the game gives you more stuff to collect.

Oh, My gameplay review: if you like MMOs you’ll hate upgrading buildings for the required dragons. Maybe the “Find a group” feature works, depending. The classes feel different – the level 18 warrior takes hits about as well as the level 41 wizard. I refuse to try the Archer. Abilities can be “powered up” various ways but there seem to be winners and losers. My single-target fast fireblast has a power-up making it do massive area-affect damage. It’s much, much better than the slow 0-range area-of-affect spell, even when that spell gets a superior power-up. Maybe weeding out the duds is part of the fun, if you can grow your bags enough to hold all the parts.

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