Card Wars – Adventure Time Review: Floop the Pig

Platform: iOS                     Developer: Kung Fu Factory                     Release Date: 02/16/2014 (V.1.0.1)

I’ve always seen Adventure Time as a very genuine series. It’s a bizarre show that sells itself on interesting characters, a unique perspective and, above all, the fact that it’s actually very funny. It joins a fairly size-able list of shows for kids that are nevertheless good viewing fair for adults. Like some of these shows, however, it’s had some teething problems when translated into other media; releases tend to go the way of the infamous Last Airbender or Dragonball Evolution. For example, Adventure Time’s last outing into the world of videogames, Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know!, left a sour taste. The game felt bare and pedestrian, and thus failed to reflect what the creative and colourful show. With Card Wars, however, there’s no real issue with the game- it’s what was added after that spoils it.

The mechanics of the game itself show promise. Many of the basic mechanisms have been lifted straight from the Adventure Time episode of the same name. Surprisingly, and with little deviation from the game laid out in the show, it makes for a solid experience. The player must summon creatures in one of four lanes, which are set out with different landscapes at the start of play. The creatures you summon can only be placed on the appropriate type of lane- marsh creatures on marsh, corn creatures on corn, and so on. On each turn, you have a base amount of 5 mana, which can be increased through various means, to summon creatures, cast spells, place boost-endowing buildings or ‘floop’ your monsters, which activates their special ability. At the end of the turn, you attack using any creatures in play, using them to knock out opposing creatures or to damage your opponent. Likewise, when your opponent attacks you, you can defend against them by setting up monsters opposite his incoming attacks. Despite a strong start however, there are random components to the gameplay that compromise its integrity somewhat. As with any TCG, there’s an element of luck involved- you can easily wait an entire match for the one card you need to appear, only to get knocked out before you can draw it. Whilst this is to be expected, the inclusion of a random spinner on every attack further removes control of the outcome of play from your hands. Even if you get lucky on the draw and manage to set up perfect card combos, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually hit anything at all. Card Wars is more about staving off misfortune rather than experimenting with strategies, or exploiting the various abilities of the cards. Nevertheless, whilst the game is playable, it is enjoyable. It doesn’t come close to matching the standard of other games out there- the elegant simplicity of Hearthstone, for example- but it is, after all, designed for children. It’s a good choice for a novice to the genre, or else someone who isn’t looking for anything too taxing. Or it would be, if it wasn’t ruined with micro transactions.card1

Sadly, Card Wars is an example of something that’s seen frequently in the mobile market – a good game that’s spoiled by greed. It’s on sale in the App Store for $3.99, with in-app purchases of gems ranging from $1 to $50. These gems can be used for various tasks such as expanding your deck, purchases lives and, importantly, buying cards. Whilst these are rarely available from destroying enemies, the drops tend to be common, repeat often, and of little use. Only by spending gems (i.e. actual money) can you get hold of the rarer and useful cards, which cost $3 each. This trait is fairly common in TCGs, except with one subtle (but meaningful) difference. In games such as Hearthstone, you have the option to buy booster packs; but you play against actual players. It’s a way of purchasing new equipment so you can implement better strategies to be used competitively against other human beings. In Card Wars, you purchase new cards as a way to slightly weigh the odds in your favor- there is no strategy to speak of- and you do so to beat a computer. It comes across as a pointless expense, blatantly implemented as a way to get children to beg their parents for more cash. However, the system of acquiring cards is just acceptable- albeit barely- compared to the next bugbear. Although purchasing new cards is ridiculously over-priced, the game isn’t rendered unplayable if you don’t wish to empty your wallet. Not on that score. That honor is left entirely to the life-system.

Several “free-to-play” games, mostly those found in the mobile or social gaming market, employ a time-regulated play system. In order to play a level, you must spend a number of points which regenerate over large periods of time, which tempts users to opt into purchasing a full membership. In a free-to-play game, this makes a certain amount of sense- you limit access to those who haven’t contributed to the game, but open it up to those who have. In a game that has already been paid for, it is unacceptable. When I have purchased a game, it should be mine to play. I shouldn’t have to wait 25 minutes between levels. I shouldn’t have to spend money so that I can do something I already spent money to do. Imagine the outrage that would be caused if a game launched with 25 minute loading times (save for MGS4, of course)- because that’s exactly what the system is. A 25 minute load time that you can pay for the privilege of being shortened. The game Cartoon Network has sold is incomplete and rendered literally unplayable, all out of a desire to hoover up cash from their player-base. And when you look at the App Store page and see no warning that the product they’re selling does not offer full access to the game, then there can be no excuse for it. They’re trying to rip off their consumers. Who are, I’ll remind you again, children. This is a system implemented to take money from children

I’m getting a feeling of deja-vu writing this article. The evils of badly implemented micro-transactions seems to be a subject I’m compelled to re-visit. A lot. As such I feel like a bit like a broken record. The mobile market is full of companies trying to rip off their consumers. We get it. It’s not new. And neither is the fact that companies will try to exploit children for their parent’s money. That’s even older. But that doesn’t make it good, and it certainly bears repeating. In the case of Card Wars, I’m most disappointed by how much the practice destroys everything that could have been good. Remove the life-system and maybe make card-drops a little more common place, and I’d happily play. I’d even be willing to pay more for it up front. It’s a fun experience and worth a play now and then- something good to relax with. You just need to be aware that most of the time the game isn’t yours to play.

A good game + bad monetizing = a bad game. It’s mathematical.