Thoughts on MTG: ManaStrike

Being a connoisseur of all things Magic: The Gathering, it should be no surprise that I’ll try out just about anything relating to the IP. Though I didn’t care for other mobile titles like the Duals games or the match-3 title that I can’t recall the name of, this one seemed like it would appeal to me mainly because it didn’t rely on MTG to determine it’s path. Instead, it seems like a copy of other games I’ve played in the past with an MTG skin tacked on (which is what I expect when we get that new ARPG in development — Diablo with an MTG skin). In some ways, an appealing base concept then layered with a design that I enjoy (the art/world of MTG is amazing) should equal a good game, right?

Magic: ManaStrike came out of left field. For whatever reason Google Play decided to ping me that the game had released today. Being my day off, I had been lazing around in bed and looking at my phone, so I thought I’d download it and give it a whirl. It turns out, it is a pretty decent game, though I went into it filled with doubt. There is a tutorial that gets you familiar with the controls and systems, but after that it’s straight into PvP matches, just like the games it took inspiration from. If you can’t tell what games I’m referencing by looking at these screenshots, you must not have been paying attention to one of the biggest mobile titles around.

I’m sure you’ve got it by now, but I’ve written about one of these games extensively, but also made comparisons to a PC title that I enjoyed, and Magic: ManaStrike seems to be a meld of the two. Yes, this title plays just like Clash Royale in that you have two lanes and place cards on the field in real time, but then the creatures you create will automatically battle based on a set of rules. However, the game looks much more like Minion Masters in that the field is horizontal and instead of towers there are creatures that act as such. A new feature that neither of those games had is the ability to call down a Planeswalker, and depending on which one you choose, they have various abilities when entering the battlefield, while also having different active abilities. It’s like Clash Royale if you had a hero card you could use periodically through the game (a good thought too, I’d like to see that in CR). A leaderboard exists where you’ll rank up and move on to fight opponents more in line with your abilities. I played several matches in a row and managed to hit rank 2, and afterwards started playing against people who actually put up a good fight whereas I started off steamrolling everyone in my way.

Monetization seems to follow the norm. There is a battle pass called the “Magic Pass” which allows you to earn extra rewards on top of what you would earn by playing for free. There are two currencies, gold and gems, which allow you to buy new Planeswalkers, buy copies of cards and of course you can spend real money to get more of these currencies for use in game. It seems fine, I don’t see the need to spend money either, but I suppose if I play it long enough that could happen. Upgrading your cards keeps you more viable in battles, and you’ll earn packs of cards at a pretty rapid clip. After acquiring a set amount of copies of a card, you can then level it up, much like you do in Clash Royale. It seems to have taken the best aspects of multiple similar games and layered it with real magic cards to keep the lore straight for the fans. I like the concept and I enjoy this style of game so perhaps this one will find a long term home on my phone. Time will tell, I suppose.

Thoughts on StarCraft Remastered

With all of this talk about the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Battle For Azeroth, happening in the blogosphere it got me to thinking about Blizzard titles I’m actually interested in. Despite playing WoW here and there over the years its never really held my interest like some of the company’s other offerings. I remembered the other day that I had picked up the Necromancer pack for Diablo III and never really played it all that much, and yes I also picked up a copy of StarCraft Remastered because it’s quite simply one of my favorite PC games of all time. I hadn’t played the original in over a decade at least, so my memory of it was fuzzy before I fired up the game. After a few missions I remembered plenty, though I don’t remember many details. Memories come in flashes, but it’s still clearly the same game with some slight differences.

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Graphically it’s still running on the same sort of engine. They haven’t made any sort of major changes to the UI, story or maps. This is still the game you would have played in the late 1990’s down to the sound effects and gameplay. What has changed is that it runs in a higher resolution (1920×1080) and though everything looks sharper from that alone they also changed out character models. The buildings look a little better. The units look a little better. The characters whom you talk to look better. Outside of that it’s the same game and I’m good with this. It would have been nice I suppose to have the game redone completely in the StarCraft 2 engine just so that it really stood out, but I guess holding onto some of the nostalgic bits is still desirable. I absolutely loved this game when I was in high school and I played it for a good few years. After Brood War came out I played it even more. I came back around to it at least once in my adult life, and now I’m a handful of missions into the Terran campaign and would love to finish it again. I still never beat all of StarCraft 2 either, so I suppose this could lead into that as well.

Bottom line, is purchasing StarCraft Remastered worth it? I think that’s subjective. You can currently play the original game for free through the Battle Net launcher, so you don’t necessarily have to play the remastered version at all if you just want you retro gaming fix. Otherwise, it’s $15 for the remaster and that’s not too pricey either. I think it was worth it to see a slightly more polished version of the game you loved. If you weren’t into the original, this probably won’t change your mind about it. If you have only played the sequel, the step back in graphics quality might be a turn off for you. For me, I enjoy going back and playing old games and I also enjoy new games that choose to use pixel art so I might be the target audience for this. And I’m good with that.

Thoughts on Tooth & Tail

Tooth and Tail is a game that I first saw advertised on Steam. I was a huge RTS fan as a youth, and although I’d say my interest in the genre has waned, I still enjoy the concept. I ended up buying my copy at some point during a sale on the Playstation store, and despite usually thinking RTS style games would be best played with mouse and keyboard, this one is simplified enough to work well on a controller. Graphically it’s pixel art, but elegant enough in its simplicity. The action is pretty fast yet feels easier to keep up on than most RTS games I’ve played — there’s less micromanagement. The story goes that sentient animals are tired of eating grain and want to eat meat, so they kill other factions to then eat them. I guess it’s cannibalism, but they’re rolling with it. There are four factions according to the lore, but thus far I have only played as one and met a second. I’m not sure what part the others play but that will be revealed.

After a short tutorial that directs you on how to use your general to rally troops, tell them to back off, or give individual orders to specific unit types, you’ll then learn how to claim and build buildings. You use your commander to do all the things, but this keeps you from having to jump all over the map to control individual groups.

During the campaign, new levels of depth are added as you progress. Generally, on most maps you’ll plant farms to feed your soldiers, build spawning buildings that make the different units, and then attack the enemy faction’s bases to capture them and eventually control the map.

In between battles you be able to explore this tavern that has various bits and bobs to read and NPCs to chat up. You’ll get your next mission from new characters each time.

On some levels you’ll recruit mercenaries that will help defend you as you build up your base. Each level has a win condition and then a “heroic” goal that will gain you an additional star rating. I assume this is some sort of gating or perhaps just a goal for trophies. I’ll figure that much out sooner or later.

Overall it’s a game like many others, but it has a certain charm that appeals to me. Outside of the campaign there appears to be a multiplayer skirmish mode which is probably where the real fun lies. If I’m not mistaken this multiplayer is both local and online. I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a jump-in, jump-out strategy game. It’s fun in short bursts, and it’s definitely worth the price if you can get it on sale.

King + Blizzard: A Perfect Match

The news is pretty fresh, so you may not have heard: Activision just bought King, the company responsible for that whole Candy Crush thing. Admittedly I haven’t played any of King’s offerings, much like I ignored Zynga before them. Facebook/browser games are mostly throwaway experiences. From the variety of games I’ve experienced on mobile devices, the same can be said. Timewasters, and nothing more aside from a few rare gems.

I have however, spent plenty of time with Blizzard (and Activision) games. Call of Duty aside though, this is a post focusing on Blizzard and King, and how they are a perfect match for each other.

Unable to claim the title of “the first person to say that,” it’s pretty clear that Blizzard titles are basically accessible and polished experiences you’ve already had elsewhere. Their newest games released in the past few years are easily comparable to other titles in the genre who already had a foothold in the market. As a matter of fact, all of their titles are accessible and polished versions of established genres, but let’s start from the newest offerings:

Overwatch – FPS Arena Shooter, similar to Team Fortress 2.
Heroes of the Storm – MOBA, similar to League of Legends/DOTA2
Hearthstone – CCG, similar to Magic: The Gathering

Those titles alone are painting a picture that goes back to Blizzard’s humble beginnings. I’m sure you can see the correlation between Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Even The Lost Vikings is similar to other platformers of the era. The big gorilla in the room though, World of Warcraft, is similar enough in its approach to prior MMOs, but added that blizzard level of polish and accessibility.

That isn’t to say that Blizzard doesn’t make good games. I absolutely adored Diablo and still do. It still does it better than most Action-RPGs out there, and it established the “formula” despite taking elements from various action and adventure games that preceded it. We also can’t say that it isn’t innovative to build on what came before, because that’s been the formula for our entire existence. But in this era of all-you-can-eat gaming, standing apart from the pack means doing something different, and copying what is already successful and getting the perfect storm effect once doesn’t mean it will happen regularly or ever again. I think Blizzard needs to start thinking outside of the box, and this purchase could be part of that.

As I said earlier, I haven’t touched any of King’s titles, but I’ve played enough Bejeweled to know what Candy Crush Saga is all about. In doing some reading and formulating this post, I came across this article that sparked my train of thought in the first place. Go ahead and read it. If nothing else, scroll down and look at the pictures. I’ll wait.

Back? So you’ll have seen how King has been taking the Blizzard method of polishing an existing idea to a whole other level. They don’t make a genre more accessible, they straight copy games, change a few assets and call it their own. Then they monetize the shit out of it and call it a day. Their existing catalog of games are all copies of another game, or sequels to that copy. How they haven’t been sued more I don’t know. It’s as bad as the rest of the mobile games market though, in that anything that becomes popular sees a billion straight copies on the market within days. But I digress.

Does anyone else see the correlation I’m getting at thought? It seems these two companies made their fortunes off of copying others’ ideas and putting their own spin on it. It’s only fitting that they are basically the same company now.

I’m just curious to see if this makes the mobile marketplace better, or if the Kingly influence makes Blizzard a worse company in the long run.

Some further commentary from round the blogosphere:

Keen and Graev
The Ancient Gaming Noob
Syncaine