Dr. Mario World

I pre-registered for Dr. Mario World on Google Play a while back, and just a few days ago I was pinged with a reminder that the game had gone live. I downloaded it that evening but didn’t play it until a couple of days later. A few things spring to mind when considering this mobile version of the famous Nintendo puzzle game. Firstly, I was surprised to find Nintendo entering the mobile market considering their success with console titles and a monopoly on first party intellectual properties. However, their success with portable game devices would easily lend itself to the mobile sphere, as they wouldn’t need to create hardware for these games, as everyone already has a cell phone in their pocket capable of playing console quality games. For whatever reason though, Nintendo’s prior releases haven’t been all that great (depending on who you ask). Arguably one of the more popular mobile games of all time, Pokemon Go had its time in the sun but doesn’t seem to be the phenomenon it once was. I do have it installed currently because my family plays and I have to participate to some degree but it is definitely not the type of game I would normally see myself playing. Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes both seemed pretty good, just not really worthy of the Nintendo name. Don’t take me the wrong way, I’m not a huge Nintendo fan as it is, but I was for the first few generations of hardware and have dipped my toes in their offerings ever since, but I don’t really buy their consoles often. As such, mobile versions of their games work for me as well, because I don’t really want to spend the $300 on a Nintendo Switch just to play some Mario (I might pull the trigger on the new Switch Lite that’s coming, but I’m still on the fence). Either way, those games are gone as well, only spending a limited amount of time on my device. I’d still prefer a traditional version of one of these games but I guess the only way you’ll get that is with their flagship console. Anyway, let’s take a look at the newest offering, Dr. Mario World.

I enjoyed Dr. Mario on the NES, and played other versions as well. It was a solid puzzle game in a genre dominated by Tetris. Let’s get this out of the way — Dr. Mario World really doesn’t feel like Dr. Mario at all. That’s not to say it’s bad though, just to say that it is different enough that I can’t really compare the two outside of the very core thematics. Nintendo as a company has changed drastically since the 1980’s and 1990’s, so I wouldn’t expect a game released today to feel just like a game from thirty years ago, but it’s almost not familiar enough. There’s a loose storyline that translates to viruses poisoning the land and Dr. Mario and friends being tasked with eliminating all of the disease.

You’ll start with a world map that has a trail for you to follow with levels at each stop. The first twenty levels serve as the game’s tutorial, so you won’t find much in the way of things to do until you complete them. You’ll have infinite hearts with which to do so, and losing does nothing outside of forcing you to try the level again. The game’s mechanics will be explained, and it definitely feels different here in particular. Instead of dropping capsules from the ceiling as has been the norm in puzzle games for decades, instead you’ll rotate and put your capsules onto the playing field from the bottom of the screen, and things float upward. There is a vague sense of these things being thrown into liquid and floating towards the surface, but it’s not really explained why the change in aesthetics was necessary. The rules are otherwise the same in that you must match three or more of the same color capsules/viruses to eliminate them. Other special items, power-ups and hindrances have been introduced, such as turtle shells that clear a whole row when matched or viruses frozen in ice that need to be effectively cleared twice. It does add some variety to an otherwise solved format, and honestly it feels like its in a pretty good place, it’s just so much different that it’s almost off-putting at first. Still, I managed to finish the game’s tutorial in one sitting and then some additional options arise.

At one point during the tutorial you are able to choose different doctors besides Mario. Koopa and Peach are options, and I’m sure there will be additionals added to the game at some point. Beyond the doctor selection, you’ll also get access to two assistants who are basically passive effects — the initial Goomba assistant provides a 1% bonus to your score after clearing a level, this helps with gaining stars on each level. Daily quests will earn you gold, and gold can be used to buy some of the power ups, but also other characters that can be used to play the versus mode. There’s a ladder and the game works basically the same as versus modes in other puzzlers. You’ll have to move quicker than your opponent to drop in extra viruses and things to mess them up, but they’ll be trying to do the same to you. I lose my initial matchup but I’m not exactly pro at the game yet either. A friend system allows you to send extra hearts to each other, as that is the time-gating mechanic for this mobile title. You can only hold so many though, so you’ll want to use up those hearts so friends can send you more.

Overall it seems like a promising title. I enjoy puzzle games but they tend to get stale after a while. The campaign seems to be long enough to keep you engaged, and I’m sure there will be other updates to take advantage of free-to-play monetization. I’d check it out if you enjoy puzzle games, but not if you are expecting a port of the original NES titles.

State of the Game: Filler

I remember when I first started this column and it was initially created as a way for me to cram a bunch of small details into a larger post and get something published. At the time I wasn’t blogging as regularly as I would have liked, and part of that was due to playing many games at once and not feeling like I had enough to say about each on individually. As such, this became a weekly series that would be devoted to those Playstation Plus freebies and other games that I was playing that didn’t have much lasting appeal but I still wanted to throw down some thoughts. Or, I’d discuss progress from larger games I was playing, or throw in news about games I regularly played that had new patches or things of that nature. In the following years this turned into less of a weekly post and just a catch all for when I didn’t have much else to say. Lately it’s been even more sporadic, to the point where sometimes I think there’s no point in keeping it going, but I still need a catch all post format and this has worked so I’m going to continue to use it. It’s been about three months since the last SotG post, and this edition I have updates on games I’ve been playing in recent weeks that I’ve touched on in the past.

Apex Legends:

I wrote some fond thoughts about Apex Legends when it released, but you’ll probably note that I haven’t talked about it since. Part of this was due to the fact that I was getting a case of Battle Royale fatigue — since the genre started to take off in popularity, everyone was throwing their hat into the ring and I tried many iterations of the concept. Some I enjoyed more than others, and Apex Legends is definitely one of the better versions of this style. The other reason I haven’t talked about it is because I stopped playing for a while. A few of my friends play along with my son and I primarily played with them but the slow pace of content updates made the game stale after a while. Even the introduction of seasons and a battle pass system wasn’t exciting to me, and my stats prove that I didn’t play a single game during that first season. We did see the release of a couple of guns and the new character Octane during that time, but earning the in-game currency to unlock new champions is painfully slow, and they run you about $10 to unlock individually. I’d gladly plop down $30-40 if you’d give me all of the characters unlocked along with all future releases but I don’t really want to spend the money otherwise.

Nonetheless, season two launched recently and another new character, Wattson, was introduced. The arena was also changed up, with the large creatures that were off in the distance are now on the island, and some structures have been destroyed. Otherwise not much has changed, and yet I’ve been having fun playing it. One motivator is the battle pass, despite the fact that I haven’t paid for it. Everyone can participate for free, and new daily and weekly quests give you points towards your battle pass level. You’ll get free rewards just for playing, and though they aren’t amazing it’s better than nothing (or just the apex packs like before). If you want to drop the cash, the battle pass will get you a ton of extra value in the form or cosmetics ranging from character skins to different music and loading screens. We’ve seen all of this sort of monetization before, but it actually seems worth it in some ways. Unfortunately just unlocking the battle pass doesn’t do a whole lot for you, unless you’ve leveled up enough to get a large chunk of the rewards. I don’t see myself maxing out to get all of the super cool loot, so I’m still on the fence about spending the money. We’ll see where I am towards the end of the season to see if it’s justifiable. I can’t speak to other platforms, but the game still seems very much alive and well on the Playstation.

Clash Royale:

Clash Royale is still my go-to mobile game and I don’t see that changing. It’s been over two years, and I can’t say I’ve been playing anything that long anymore. I maxed out my ladder deck a while ago, and most of the cards have at least one star level as well. The new battle pass system, Pass Royale is going strong, and I’ve unlocked 10 levels, but you can essentially grind them out as you play. I like the fact that they streamlined quests as well, where you are not limited to a particular game mode to complete them. For instance, before there were quests that said “play 30 buildings in 1v1 battles” and you would only get updates while playing the ladder — not in 2v2, challenges or clan wars. Now that same quest reads “play 30 buildings” without the limitation, and it’s a nice way to clear quests faster. I’ve been working on leveling up my cards that weren’t a part of my ladder deck, and so far each deck I play has almost all of its cards at level 12 or maximum. I have a queue of cards that are ready to upgrade, a couple of them to maximum level but gold income is slow going. I should have a 2nd max level deck within a couple of months. I’ve been as high as Master 2 since the rework to matchmaking, and have been at that sort of level for the past couple of seasons. The guild has been floating at high gold/low legendary, but we can’t seem to keep afloat in the higher tier. Our core group was promoted to Elder recently and we seem to be the ones gaining ground, but some of the stragglers have kept us from staying in the top league. I’m sure that will continue to be the norm for a while but as the core gets stronger we just might be able to keep it going.

SEGA Heroes:

My 2nd favorite mobile game and one I’ve been playing for nearly a year, this game has a ton of progression that is slow going as well. Currently my account is level 63 (I have no idea what the maximum is), and my main team of heroes are all level 60, with Sonic being level 63 (they are capped at your account level). They are also all at 2 blue stars, which means I put a shit ton of cards into their progression. My focus as of late is farming skill upgrades (they all have their three skills at level 8) and trying to upgrade them further. The reagents needed to upgrade their levels are getting ridiculous, hence why Sonic is the only one above level 60. They also introduced some guild related progression, in that we have events that happen regularly where your individual progress helps the guild as well, so at the end of the event you’ll get your own solo rewards along with guild rewards. There are also boss battles that anyone in the guild can initiate, but they are timed events so you might not get to participate if you don’t notice or aren’t online when it happens. We have yet to down a boss, but you still get rewards if you participate. It seems okay but I can think of a few improvements to the system.

Void Bastards and Amid Evil:

I wrote about Void Bastards and Amid Evil recently after I picked them up during the Steam Sale. Since, I’ve put a few hours into each title and I’m still very pleased with the purchases. I’ve cleared the first world in Amid Evil and made some progress in the second. There really isn’t much to report there, it’s a straight forward game but it’s still a cool retro styled game that I highly recommend. I’ve got even more positive things to say about Void Bastards, it’s quickly become one of my favorite Rogue-lites of all time. The game play loop is similar each time but there is just enough variety for it to not get boring. I have opened up a bunch of different items and equipment that have made runs last much longer, and I’ve learned the general strategy of getting through the nebulas quickly. You don’t have to dock at every port, you can skip things and only loot ships when you need food or fuel (or a key item you’ve been looking for). You do need some of the upgrades to items and things before you can really get to this point though. Once here, you can get to the next story related items you need quite fast, and from there it’s on to the next thing. Currently trying to get together the pieces for the HR Computer, this coming after completing the ID Badge. It’s been a blast on both accounts.

Horizon Chase Turbo:

The other free game this month besides the one I already wrote about, Horizon Chase Turbo is a strange game that melds retro with modern aesthetics. I can’t quite place what game it reminds me most of… probably something on the NES or Sega Genesis, but whatever the case it feels like games I’ve played in the past, but boy does it run a hell of a lot faster than those games did. It’s 2D sprite graphics but they run fast and it’s hard to keep up with the twisting tracks coming ahead — particularly when there are hills and valleys. It is however quite a bit of fun! I’ve enjoyed clearing the first few areas of the game and testing out the other game modes. I’d recommend trying it if you need a game to jump in and play for a few minutes here and there, the races don’t last too long and they are enjoyable.

Crash Team Racing:

Speaking of racing games, I’ve also been putting my way through the CTR Remake. I’ve cleared the first couple of worlds along with some of the side events and have also toyed with playing online a bit. Like many games of this era, CTR has added a big content patch that brings a battle pass like system to the game. There are daily and weekly tasks that are earned just by playing the game in any of its modes, but playing online seems to get you more points faster. Leveling up your pass level brings rewards like skins and whatnot, but again there is no RMT here — everything that was added can be earned just by playing the game, and it doesn’t appear that they are planning on any further monetization. They even added several new tracks, something that didn’t happen with the original and something that gives me hope that this game will be playable for much longer than the original. New tracks keep things fresh and tasks keep you feeling like there’s always something to do. This is the model I like to see and wish more companies went this route instead of bleeding their customers.

That’s all I have for this round-up… Hope everyone else is having as much fun as I am!

Pass Royale

Another new and rather large update has been implemented in Clash Royale, and it brought with it some interesting changes. The first and most obvious portion of the update is called Pass Royale, and it essentially breaks down to being a new subscription option. You can look at it as sort of the battle pass idea we’ve seen in many free to play titles in recent years too. I’m comparing it to a subscription because it is attached to a season number, and that season will obviously reset at some point, and I’d assume you’ll have to pay again. The fee is only $5, so it’s reasonable compared to some of the battle passes out there, and it seems to be more reasonable to complete as well. Battle passes in other games usually require playing a shit ton of games more than you usually would to get the full value, but this pass has tiers that are unlocked at the same rate as crown chests, which is something I try to keep up on daily anyway. For normal players, you just get the crown chest, but pass holders will get additional rewards, including new emotes and skins. These are supposed to be exclusive to the pass, so you won’t be able to buy them indirectly like you’ve been able to do with emotes in the past.

A new legendary card was added, this time we get the Fisherman who is reminiscent of a combination of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat and Nautilus from League of Legends. The Fisherman carries with him a big anchor, and when he gets into range of enemies, he pulls them to him with it. Conversely, if he gets within range of a building first, he’ll use the same anchor to pull himself to it. He’s weak to air cards, but he’s looking pretty strong otherwise. My favorite interaction so far is pulling a golem to you into the other lane so my opponent’s split push didn’t work out so well.  The new emotes available have to do with the Fisherman, and the tower skin is sort of related. The Legendary arena has been reimagined as a boat as well.

Beyond getting access to these new emotes and skins, the pass gives you a gold tinted name in clan chat, allows you to queue chests for opening, and unlimited free retries for challenges. You’ll also be able to use a strike on crown chests through all of the tiers, so perhaps you’ll get better value out of the normal chests, but it’s still all random. I’m getting to a point where many times I open up cards I already have maxed out and end up with star points + gold instead, which is probably better to be honest.

Overall I think the pass is good value for the price. It’s not giving us things that are overpowered or pay to win, so I’m on board. I don’t really care about the emotes and skins, but the other perks are nice and extra rewards help max out cards faster so I’m all for that. Here’s a video version of the update if you’re too lazy to read the above linked patch notes.

P.S. Happy Independence Day if you’re in the States! MURICA!

Warriors of Waterdeep

As I mentioned in my recent ramble post, I haven’t been gaming as much lately and was in a bit of a funk. Thankfully, blogging about things can be therapeutic, and since then I’ve made more time for gaming and have found some new things that have held my attention, but more on that later. During the time I wasn’t playing much on my PC or my Playstation, I was still spending at least a couple of hours a day on mobile titles. It’s unlikely that I spend more than 30 or so minutes at a time playing any one game, but I have a pretty good roster of games that I’ve settled into a routine with, and I play each for chunks at a time throughout my day. Generally I play a little bit before work, on my lunch break, before I nap in the afternoon and again in the evening before sleeping until work comes back around. With four titles that each have their own things going on it seems like it would get overwhelming, but I have found a balance between titles that share some similarities but still play out in different ways — different enough to keep me engaged. The newest game added to the roster is none other than Warriors of Waterdeep, which is a Dungeons & Dragons licensed title.

What originally caught my attention about this mobile title (besides being a D&D inspired game) was the turn based combat on a small grid. Similar to other games like Stormbound, which I wrote about before, but set in a more familiar universe and done differently enough that I’ve found this to be more enjoyable. You’ll start with a short tutorial that explains the game’s simple yet intuitive mechanics. Each character falls under a particular archetype, and those archetypes work better or worse against the others, in sort of a power wheel. The different classes are traditional D&D flavor, and those classes will determine the character’s abilities, but you can further customize them by changing out equipment to affect the outcome. What is constant among all characters is that each will have an ability that can trigger from movement, has two activated abilities, and then has another ability that will trigger on attack. Let’s take Halbenet, our Cleric, for example:

 

As you can see, Halbenet looks like a Cleric. He’s got a blunt weapon, he’s wearing cleric garb, and he has a healing ability. His movement ability (these trigger randomly) will heal a random ally. He can activate a heal (and later, different kinds of buffs in the third slot), and when he attacks, a random trigger can lower the enemy’s armor class. Of course, each of these abilities will change as you find and upgrade new gear. Some of the abilities are better or worse depending on your playstyle, but you can usually find a balance with the rest of your team to allow for interesting interactions. The combat is simple but satisfying. Upgrading looks to be a pain in the ass as time goes on as you don’t get much experience from actually playing the game, but rather from upgrading your gear. This means spending gold on upgrading items you aren’t even using just so that you can get your character to the next level. This is the only way to upgrade your abilities as well, and the pieces needed to perform said upgrades come in at a fairly rapid clip.

 

To begin with, you’ll only have access to the campaign, which is played out on a 3-D map that is a nice homage to table-top setups. You’ll play through short levels that consist of a few rooms until you reach a boss, at which point you’ll move to a new section of the map. Bosses can be huge, and will take a lot of effort to dispatch compared to the normal monsters, but they aren’t so difficult as to halt progress for very long. Each level will have branching choices where you can choose to fight against various enemy types (some will be easier to deal with for your party than others), find secret areas, and also find doors that require a certain hero of a certain level to access, but give chests for that hero containing a good amount of loot. Other game modes include challenges, where you’ll crawl through an endless dungeon and survive as long as you can — this gives fair rewards as well. Finally, there is a PvP battle mode that appears to be you actually playing against real people (rather than the AI controlled PvP battles I’m seeing in most games). This has a similar ladder system to Clash Royale, in that you gain/lose trophies for wins/losses and ascend arena levels for greater rewards.

I’m unsure about how long the campaign will last, but I have enjoyed all of the modes and intend to see what other hidden gems this game has to offer. I guess I have to be thankful for mobile gaming, as it has been the only form of gaming that is always readily available when life says you don’t have time. I think I’ve come out of my funk though, so I should have something to share about more substantial games soon.

Thoughts on AFK Arena

It’s been a while since I tried out a new mobile game, and this one happened to pop up in an ad while using another app — it managed to catch my attention. I’m not sure if it was the art direction or what that first caught my eye, but I decided to follow the ad to the store page for AFK Arena and ended up liking what I saw enough to go ahead and download it. I’ve been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I’m happy to report that it’s a nice time waster if you don’t mind “games” that don’t require a ton of input from you. Sure, there are quests and activities that require some clicks and/or setting up, but for the most part the game is pretty automated, and yet still remains interesting.

The majority of the time you’ll be looking at this screen, or similar ones in the sub-menus. The campaign map is a long winding adventure and really the only portion of the game where you really need to do things. Once beginning a campaign level, your characters will appear on the left side of the screen, and enemies on the right. Combat is AI controlled, so all you’ll really do is watch the combat unfold, and RNG + character stats will determine the rest. You’ll get gear and new skills for your characters as you level them up, but they will still use these abilities on cooldown and you don’t have input otherwise. The only part you’ll take in battles is using your character’s ultimate abilities, which charge up over the course of a fight and are clickable once that meter is full. Each character has a unique ability, and sometimes it’s best to hold off on using one that is available only because mistimed abilities can whiff. However, you can still set these abilities to automatic, and in that case you really don’t do anything but watch your minions do battle for you.

Combat isn’t necessarily bad to watch either, as I’ve fought my way through to the campaign’s third chapter and it hasn’t gotten too stale yet. You do open up new characters quite often, so you can choose to switch things up as you go along. Characters also come in a variety of rarities as well, so you may end up with a better version of the same hero and want to use it instead. You will have to level up the characters you want to have on your team though, and each has an alignment that affects combat but doesn’t seem to matter in these early stages. As such, you’ll spend your exp and gold on these upgrades, and as you battle through the game you’ll get gear upgrades that help as well.

The world map appears to be rather large, so there is plenty of campaign to work through. Other activities include the King’s Tower and the Labyrinth, both of which are survival modes on increasingly difficult levels done in different ways. The Tower presents you with enemies, and you do your best to clear them to go the next level — pretty straight forward. The Labyrinth is a little different (pictured above) in that you can choose from two paths each stage, and there are special tiles where you can recruit powerful mercenaries, heal your squad, or revive fallen comrades. Neither are overly difficult, but it should be noted that the Labyrinth resets each day so your progress will be lost each time. There are guilds, and with that come guild hunts, where you fight an enemy continuously, but it slowly levels up and eventually you die. Points are recorded and the guild is rewarded after a set period. There’s also a store of course, and you can buy various heroes and things but I don’t see the point. You get gems at a rapid clip, so I don’t see the need to spend real coin. You’re also rewarded with summoning scrolls that sometimes give you some decent heroes, so I’d just play this for free were I you.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my time with it, and this is such a low maintenance title that it doesn’t feel overwhelming along with the other mobile games I’m still playing. I’ll have more updates on my progress in those games soon enough. Until then.