HOOKED! Battle Cats

Tower defence games are about as old as the Internet itself; in fact I remember many lost hours spent defending my castle during what passed for IT lessons in the UK about 10 years ago. I could have been forgiven for assuming that little more could be added to this particular genre and never really wanting to play another. Then a friend recommended Battle Cats to me a couple of weeks ago… HOOKED is definitely the word!

Developed by Ponos, Battle Cats has a ridiculous sense of humour and an utterly unique self-aware quality that seems to toe the line between genius and insanity. The game begins with a hideously translated story in purest Engrish and continuously breaks the 4th wall:

“In 2012, USA launched a secret proejct. To wake up Japanese people from being too peaceful, their new weapon was sent into Japan. Code name “Battle Cats” Japanese people are too kind and nice to use cruelty weapons to the Battle Cats… By the way, I Saw the developer of the Battle Cats was interviewed on TV… I know, it’s insane.”

The game itself is a relatively straightforward tower defence game: your tower sits at the right hand side of the screen, with an enemy tower on the left. The enemy tower spits out a stream of enemies to which you can counter with your collection of cat warriors. Currency to deploy cats rises every second and also comes in chunks when you defeat an enemy in the field. In standard tower defence mechanics, how you balance your expenditure is up to you and different levels will require different tactics (although many will involve just unleashing as many of the feline WMDs as quickly as you possibly can).

The art style of Battle Cats is minimalistic but very effective. The sprites are drawn almost exclusively in black and white but every cat and enemy has a personality that shines through in the animation. The enemy towers are also each meticulously drawn, the whole package looks like it could be hand painted and hung on a wall.

Completing a level gains experience which can be used to purchase new types of cats, upgrade the ones in your roster (with special forms when fully upgraded), and increase support such as how fast currency is obtained, the total amount that can be held, power and range of your cat cannon (on top of the tower) and how much HP the tower has. 

The enemy gallery is an example of the off the wall humour and this may not be to everyone’s taste (the image to the left is a sample..) however the whole thing is clearly meant to be taken with a pinch of salt and is designed to be poking fun at itself; one enemy that apparently speaks terrible English is reported to have taught the designers the language.

Microtransactions appear in Battle Cats however they are only presented as an option to progress through the game faster should you wish; I think the balance is just about right here with the energy required to attempt missions regenerating relatively quickly and prompting you to jump in for say 15-20 minutes at a time, perfect for mobile gaming.

Pros

Utterly ridiculous comedy value

Difficulty curve and procedural progress is very well designed

Cats. Lots of cats.

Cons

Level completion treasures are random drops

Later levels require lots of energy to attempt

Replaying old levels for experience can become repetitive

Verdict

Battle Cats is a slice of uniqueness in a mobile gaming space that is increasingly filled with clones and short term fads. It may not be the newest game but the charm and simplicity will keep you coming back for more

8/10

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p>Available on Android (2.2 and up) and iOS

HOOKED! Blood Brothers

Welcome to HOOKED!, a new instalment on the Clove blog that will hopefully become a regular over the coming weeks. Adding a weekly post for you to chew on, I will be looking at gaming apps available for Android (usually with an iOS option as well). As a pretty dedicated console gamer throughout much of my childhood, teens and right up to now, my tastes are pretty broad and so will the criteria for me talking about a game. The only real caveat is that I’ve got it installed on my Nexus 4 and have been playing it for at least a week in my spare time. These might be games at the top of the Google Play charts, hidden gems I found after looking through the store for too long one night, old games from last year that have slipped a bit, recommendations from friends or readers and won’t be limited to free apps either – if something is worth paying for, I’ll let you know!

For this first issue I bring you Blood Brothers from  DeNa Co., creators of the Mobage social game network. I’m not quite sure where or why I first found Blood Brothers but something about the artwork and advertising wherever it was caught my eye. Blood Brothers is free to download and play and follows the ‘freemium’ model of many mobile games at the moment – with no content blocked or inaccessible for free players, but made much easier to obtain and progress with in-app purchases.

Blood Brothers (RPG)

The game itself is a very simple RPG; starting off by picking one of a number of ‘Warlords’ to be your main character each with the usual specialisation within the range of magical / attack / heal RPG rock-paper-scissors style characteristics. The gameplay is very basic, with your character traversing through linear environments to a goal at the end of a map, sometimes choosing a pathway at crossroads – some paths leading to extra treasure, different enemies and occasional boss fights. Set experience is provided and your character levels up and becomes stronger with experience as one would expect. Defeated enemies can be captured and trained as your own ‘familiars’ to bolster your party. Familiars can in turn be evolved if you capture identical doubles to unlock rarer, more powerful creatures.

Combat is extremely simplified – each character has a single attack and magical power for either attacking or healing the party. Battles are largely pre-determined based on character statistics, effectively an advanced version of Top Trumps. The charm lies in the cute ‘medieval-comic’ art style and the collection aspect of gaining new familiars, evolving them and gradually gaining strength. As a gamer brought up on Pokemon and Final Fantasy, who now doesn’t have the time to invest in lengthy single player console games, mobile apps like Blood Brothers hit a nostalgic sweet spot for the half an hour or so I drop into each day.

Time is the big issue with Blood Brothers though, and extended play time will lead you into the dark money making world of in-app purchases. Moving one space through the world costs 1 energy, of which a full compliment is 30. This is replenished when you level up, which is frequent at first, but as any RPG player knows, takes longer as you progress. Energy replenishes at 1 per 5 minutes, so leaving the game alone for 2 and a half hours will refill.

Intermittent PvP fights against other Blood Brothers players worldwide pop up time and again, with bonus rewards for single and chained victories (PvP battles appearing in sets of 3 at a time). A single PvP battle costs 1 ‘Morale’ of which a full compliment is 3 (a super powered attack almost guaranteeing victory costs all 3), each taking 15 minutes or a rare in game item to refill.

Instant replenishment of either energy or morale comes at the price of real world payment, a model adopted by the vast majority of freemium games. Real money buys you “Mobacoins”, stored in a digital wallet and shared across all DeNa games logged into from your account. There’s nothing wrong with this business model for a game and it is very successful, fast becoming the norm for monetising mobile games. The issue I have here though, is the deeper into the game one gets, the more the in-app purchases become a necessity to feel any sense of real progress. Some games have a balance where putting in the time will eventually reap the final reward. Blood Brothers however always seems to dangle the best items and characters behind a screen of real world payments. Eventually the game feels like it has been solely designed for you to spend real money (which it probably has, and brilliantly well done at that), but at that point the fun disappears if one (rightly) doesn’t fork out.

Blood Brothers is a fun distraction, and one that I have found myself putting a fair bit of time into since I installed it, probably more so than other recent games. Fans of ‘proper’ RPGs will likely get little enjoyment from the extremely watered down game mechanics and there is little in the way of story, but for a casual bit of fantasy gaming, Blood Brothers does well. If you like a little bit of number crunching and level grinding then becoming strong enough to power through the weekly PvP events may hold some longevity, but be prepared to be harassed to pay for rare items and characters once you get HOOKED!

Pros

Highly polished, funky, fantasy art style

Well balanced RPG mechanics

Hundreds of characters to collect and evolve

PvP events create longevity and feeling of success

Cons

Combat is too simplistic with little user control

Energy/playtime ratio badly skewed to force in app payments

High level items & characters seem almost inaccessible without payment

Verdict

6/10 An interesting diversion, Blood Brothers fills the spot for some basic turn based RPG gaming. Hardened RPG fans won’t find anything to challenge here and the push for in-app purchases gets quite heavy, but a decent overall casual experience while it lasts.

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