This week, Konami released Star Wars: Force Collection for the iOS and Android operating systems. It allows you to battle your collection of characters, represented by cards, against online opponents. You can quest through planets like Tatooine and Endor to gain new cards and vehicle blueprints, collecting crystals and credits along the way.
Sounds great, right? Well, perhaps from a certain point of view. Personally, I believe Konami has fallen to the Dark Side. Here's why...
I've spent several hours in the game so far. I've played on at least two planets, built two different types of vehicles, collected tons of cards, and even bought crystals via "in-app purchases" (IAP) to unlock more cards.
I did this so you won't have to.
It pains me to see a Star Wars product like this, and it pains me even more to have to warn people away from it. I've written four drafts of this review so far, ranging from balanced to scathing to ridiculing. Then I decided to forgo the review entirely. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all, right?
But I feel like something needs to be said about this so-called "game." I'll try to be as objective and fair as possible, and I'll try to keep the sarcasm to a minimum. Bear with me.
About the recent trend of "card collecting" games...
I've seen people using the term "CCG" (collectible card game) to refer to this sort of app. Traditionally, CCG's refer to actual games with actual cards. A player has an actual collection, builds a deck, and plays an actual game against other players. That player normally trades cards to further his or her collection.
This app is neither a true collection of anything, nor is it truly a game. But I'll come back to that in a moment.
Smartphone developers discovered that they could make more money by releasing a free game and charging "micro-transactions" within the game via "in-app purchases" (IAP) than they could by charging a price for the game itself. This has led to an explosion of "freemium" games, in which the player is able to progress through the game for free but may purchase premium content to get ahead. In some cases, players hit a "pay wall," where they effectively can't progress without buying in-game content.
Recently, someone came up with the idea to take popular franchises and release battle games in which players can pay to unlock more powerful characters.
But what's better than paying to unlock new characters? Paying for a chance to unlock new characters. By using cards to represent the characters, developers can now charge players for a pack of cards, which may or may not contain cards the player already has. The effect ends up being similar to gambling, and it seems to be just as addicting.
With franchises like Transformers, G.I. Joe, Marvel Comics, D.C. Comics, these developers start out with a built-in audience. Combine that with a proven money-making format, and games like these are gold mines.
And now Star Wars enters the fray.
Starting the Star Wars: Force Collection game...
You start the game in a brief tutorial. Princess Leia appears and spouts some badly-worded dialogue about needing your help defeating stormtroopers. Thus, the introduction to the game's quest mode begins.
You see things from your character's point of view. You're holding a lightsaber, and stormtroopers appear in front of you.
You tap them. They die.
That's it. That's the game's "quest" mode. All you do is tap bad guys. They die instantly, and you never take any damage. Your job is to mercilessly slaughter seemingly pacifistic stormtroopers.
And please, take your time. There's no reason to rush. There's no timer. No hand-eye-coordination is involved. They will just stand there forever until you kill them.
Tap. Dead trooper. Got it? Good. You just mastered 95% of the "game."
A few times per planet, you'll get to a boss fight. On Tatooine, the first planet, this will always be between Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett. You get to choose which character you want to help, which indicates whether you're supporting the Light Side or Dark Side of the Force.
This is the only aspect where there's a bit of a challenge. When you tap to attack, there's a meter that repeatedly fills up. The fuller the meter, the more damage you do. If the meter is in the red, you do critical damage. If it's not in the red, that's fine too -- your opponent will die after a few strikes regardless.
Now that you're an expert at playing the quests, you'll notice that you've "unlocked" (randomly collected) some low-level cards. You may also have received some blueprint pieces for your first vehicle, the T-16 Skyhopper.
You may also have noticed an "EP" meter. These are your energy points. When they run out, you have to take a break from questing. At first, you spend one point per hit. By the time you hit Endor (the second planet), you're spending three per hit.
They replenish at one point per minute, or you can use crystals to replenish them immediately.
How do you get crystals? "Slowly" is my answer. I'm sure Konami's answer would be by purchasing them via their IAP store. But you can earn crystals by playing the game. After several hours and countless battles, I've earned 25 so far. Considering a single random card is 300 crystals, I'm not thrilled.
Building a formation...
This is where the app gets slightly more interesting.
The cards you've collected so far can be put into a "formation," which you can use to battle other players. Each card has attack and defense values, hit points, and weapon ranges (short for lightsabers, medium or long for blasters). Some cards have special abilities, such as Jabba's ability to reduce the defense on neutral cards (both yours and your opponent's, it appears).
Cards have a ranking from one to five stars. This indicates the card's rarity, and the rarity determines the overall power of the card. Three-star cards are easy to come by. Four-star and five-star cards are the most powerful.
You can spend credits you've earned to "enhance" a card. This increases the card's level (up to 30), which in turn increases the character's stats.
You can also "evolve" a card. If you have two copies of the same card (with the same rarity level), you can combine them into a slightly more powerful card. Of course, this brings the card back to level one, causing you to lose any credits you've already spent enhancing it. So in many cases, it's more like "devolving" a card.
Each card also has a cost. Your CAP rating (I'm still not sure whether that means "point cap" or whether it's an acronym) determines how much you can spend on your formation. Dathcha won't cost as much as Aurra Sing, but he won't be as powerful either.
Once you've collected six pieces of a vehicle blueprint, you can start building a vehicle. It seems you get one vehicle per planet (e.g. Tatooine gives you the T-16 Skyhopper). Vehicles are much more powerful than characters, but the damage they take is permanent, so you'll have to replace them frequently.
You can arrange your formation on your own, or you can have the app do it for you based on your weapon types and overall power. I've found that letting the app do it for you is just as useful as doing it yourself.
Battling other players...
Battling other players involves going to the "Battle" screen and choosing your type of battle. Each battle costs "BP" (battle points), and it appears you get 10 at a time. Of course, you can buy crystals to replenish your BP when you run out.
Battling someone to steal a piece of a blueprint costs 4 BP. This is probably the most productive form of battle, as not all vehicle blueprints can be found by questing. If you want vehicles, you will have to battle.
Choosing to "take revenge" against someone who just attacked you will also cost you 4 BP. But remember, if you lost the first time, you're going to lose this time too.
You can also choose to battle someone close to your ranking or close to your player level, either of which will cost 2 BP.
After selecting an opponent and editing your formation (should you wish), you tap the "Start Battle" button.
Then you sit and watch the battle play out.
That's it. There's nothing to do in the battle. Either your numbers are better than your opponent's, or they're not. If you were able to see your opponent's entire formation and numbers in advance, you could solidly predict each and every battle.
By the way, if your opponent is using a "sheild" item, you lose automatically. Not just the battle, but the BP you spent to attack him. And of course, there's no way of knowing in advance wheter they have a shield item or not.
I almost forgot to mention the social element of the game! You can have allies!
Of course, you can't choose your allies. I can't pick my friends to join me. Instead, you send requests to random players who can choose to either accept or deny you. Likewise, you'll receive requests from other players you don't know.
As of right now, it seems you start out with about 14 ally slots. I'm now up to 15, but it's not really clear how you get more. Perhaps with the "alliance gauge"?
Speaking of which, by sending
strangers your allies messages, you increase your alliance gauge. By default, these messages say "May the Force be with you." And since you don't actually know these people, you're probably going to just leave the message there and spam strangers your allies to get the alliance gauge moving.
Want to clean all your "MTFBWY" spam from your inbox? No problem. Just navigate to your inbox (did I mention navigation is a mess?) and delete them. One by one.
Is there a benefit to allies? Yes. Two, in fact. During battles, you can "ask" them to "assist." Though you're not really asking them anything. You're having their lead character card join you in one battle that day.
The other benefit is the collection of AP (ally points), because you obviously need yet another type of points to deal with. Sorry... The sarcasm is starting to seep in. AP will allow you to buy random cards. While you technically have a chance for a rare card, the chances are so negligible that you should count on a one-start or two-star card each time you do this.
I feel like I should have included screenshots or something. But this "game" is so bad that it'd be a waste of time to bother.
So instead, I'll take that extra time to point out that the interface is horrible. Screens take an eternity to load. Navigating the menu is a horrible experience, whether you're on a phone or tablet (and yes, they use different navigation for each).
For example, when you complete a "goal" (which you won't care much about, trust me), you go into the "goals" screen to see what you've earned. But you have to tap another button there to get the list of things you've earned. Then you tap "Receive All." Except that just moves it to your inbox. So then you have to tap your Inbox. Then you get a list of the things you just received. Then you have to tap another button to... well, actually receive them.
There's no cloud sync across devices. Instead, you get a nine-digit player ID that you can type into a different device to transfer your data to that device. If you want to resume playing on the old device, you have to transfer it back. You're basically importing your data each time you use a different device.
The only good thing I can say about this app is that it has a large selection of characters. I've got Bravo Two (from the Battle of Naboo). I've got pod racers. I've got Nizuc Bek, Sy Snootles' bodyguard. I've even got youngling Jedi (whom it's apparently okay to send into battle). I'm pretty happy with the selection of characters in the game.
Unfortunately, that does little to offset the plethora of issues with this app.
So in summary...