Mobile Collectible Genre

Posted by davidludwig
Apr 21 2014

[Mobile Mondays were previously My Phone Mondays, but I expanded the term now that most of my mobile gaming is on my iPad tablet]

There are a few prominent genres that currently dominate the landscape of mobile gaming, so with my breadth of experimentation I have some familiarity with several of them. Today I’d like to look at what I call the Mobile Collectible Genre, I’ve also seen it referred to as the Card Battle Genre but given a few use more like figurines than cards and most have terrible battle mechanics I think my label is more informative. Eventually I’ll segue into Square-Enix’s Deadman’s Cross and Guardian Cross games more specifically.

From my perspective the genre sort of started with Rage of Bahamut, previously reviewed on this site, which was for a long time the high point of the genre–which REALLY isn’t saying much. Eventually I swore off the mobile collectible genre entirely because I’d spent enough time in the “good” ones to establish the entire genre was total garbage–though of course that can benefit from the “one man’s trash” principle, and as all free games the overall risk involved in trying them out and forming your own opinion is appropriately low.

Pretty much all of these games boil down to;

  • Spend energy to advance in a single player mode. This energy replenishes over time, but effectively limits the amount of time that can be spent in the game at once. Generally possible to pay real money for immediate energy restoration.
  • Collect cards/figurines/warriors to assemble into a deck/battle-group to use against other players and sometimes the computer. Biggest number wins, and the rarest collectibles have the biggest numbers. The collectibles that aren’t at least rare are virtually worthless, and that’s what you’ll get the most of. Generally possible to pay real money for better odds at getting better cards–which in some cases means the chance to get them at all.

The good apps in the genre (and even those don’t deserve to be called games, because the user basically just watches the app, there isn’t much ‘play’ to speak of) offer amazing artwork that can make them worth the free price of admission if the experience of suffering through the app isn’t too off-putting. And the biggest problem with all of them is that they aren’t games. Collecting is great, lots of people–myself included–love collecting things and the generally high art quality makes the collection fun to enjoy. But it ends up being hollow and without value if there’s nothing to do with that collection–and I personally believe it’ll be easier to get people to continue to invest money if your app has value. As the physical Collectible Card Game, Magic the Gathering, showed and continues to show, a really solid game to play with the collectibles is perfect for ensuring consumer engagement–promoting them from collectors to players.

Eventually I came to the realization that my odds of collecting the art I wanted from these apps were too low to justify the time invested when they so quickly become boring to just sit there and watch–or worse, frustrating to sit and watch when the game decides that you lose instead of win. I swore I’d never play another one again.

My vow of abstinence held up through Square-Enix‘s entry to the field with Guardian Cross–as interested as I was in what such a legendary company might have done with the genre, that interest was not enough to break my vow of ‘never again’. But then came Square-Enix’s second entry in the field, Deadman’s Cross, which caught my attention just enough that I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give the genre another shot–though my expectations remained low.

The very first thing that happens in most of these collectible games is the game asks for the Invite Code of the player who invited you to the game–and whether you were invited or not it’s worth finding and entering a code to get the associated bonus, plus it really helps the person whose code you used. My code for Deadman’s Cross is UFV2RGC should anyone decide to give Deadman’s Cross a try–use it and get to level 5 in the game and you get a limited edition Rare card, and help me toward more limited edition cards of my own, which I really want.

Now, what sets Guardian Cross and Deadman’s Cross apart from the other Mobile Collectible apps is their Hunts. Both allow you to “hunt” for new cards using a sniper scope and rifle, introducing an element of skill to new card acquisition that adds considerable interest to the game and rewards players who develop their skill in that regard.

 

In the case of Guardian Cross the scope pans much more slowly than the player’s own finger movements and monsters easily outrun the blasts from the rifle making it obnoxiously difficult to hit anything–this does set Guardian Cross apart from other mobile collectible games, but unfortunately it sets it far below the rest of the field.
I know I said I didn’t fall for Guardian Cross, but after enjoying Deadman’s Cross I went back and tried Guardian Cross as well. Both are free, so nothing really lost there except for some respect for Square-Enix.

Deadman’s Cross really polished the hunt system though–and in its case the hunt mechanics set it apart and above the rest of the field. The speed you move your finger at is now the speed your scope moves at, and the zombies are not faster than the bullets–though they are generally still faster than your trigger finger. There’s a real sense of reward for skill, and I’ve been very happy overall with the number of cards I’ve been able to get per hunt in Deadman’s Cross.
The only things I’d say need fixing is bullets should consistently come out of the gun when the player taps the Shoot button and the gun’s loaded–because right now the bullets currently come out when you take your finger off of the Shoot button, most of the time. Also, any time the bullet visually passes through a zombie that should count as a hit–even if to balance things out the times the bullet doesn’t visually pass through the zombie never counted as hits.

Now, my initial impression of Deadman’s Cross as the height of the genre and actually worth playing turned out to be a little too rosy. See, I got some very good cards very early in my play experience–and I thought, “Hey, Square-Enix is such an experienced developer, they probably realized purely random drops were bad game design and have a complex algorithm going on here to guarantee the ability of all players to reasonably compete in the game.” The reason I thought that is because most in Mobile Collectible apps what you get from card packs–or however you get new collectibles–is more purely random, and randomness is not my friend. If there’s an element of luck involved in anything I do, I can pretty consistently count on not having any luck myself. Don’t know why, I just have bad luck when luck is given too much weight in the equation.

So, having a couple weeks of good luck in Deadman’s Cross–over two accounts no less–led me to believe it wasn’t really luck and rather clever game design on Square-Enix’s part. The 1 in 100 chance of getting a Legendary card must have been implemented so that after 100 attempts every player would have a Legendary and the random element was which one in the hundred it was–or whatever, the numbers are just to illustrate the concept. Turns out, I actually was having good luck–as improbable as that seems–and Square-Enix had similarly banked on lucking into a decent game rather than putting in the design work to ensure one.
Was very disappointing when my luck returned to zero, and I read the online accounts of others with no luck in Deadman’s Cross. I’d thought Square-Enix could deliver better than that, but even that hefty blow only dropped them even with the rest of the field–which coupled with their hunt mechanic remained a net advantage for Deadman’s Cross.

Now, I’ve got plenty of ideas how the hunt system in Deadman’s Cross could be improved–but given their console record I’m pretty confident that if Square-Enix had wanted to make a game out of Deadman’s Cross they would have done so. A few things like the 60 second time limit seem arbitrary, and the whole thing could use a little more polish–even improved as it is from Guardian Cross. But ultimately the Hunt for new cards is one thing in favor of Deadman’s Cross that I think does put it ahead of the rest of the field–which isn’t saying much, but is worth mentioning.

It doesn’t take long to get to the point in the game where if you’re using anything less than Epic cards (the progression being Common->Uncommon->Rare->Epic->Legendary) then you cannot win against other players–and anything less than Rare will leave you losing to the computer as well. This isn’t any different from other apps in the genre, but is unfortunate because new Commons, Uncommons and Rares continue to become available well after there is no reason (other than their artwork) to want them. Some rarity limited brackets would help players find matches they could compete in according to the cards they actually possessed–and make a lot more sense than the current level limited brackets that have far less bearing on the actual strength of the hordes the player can field, not to mention it would provide an application for getting and developing the lower rarity cards instead of just raging about not being able to find any of the highest rarity cards.

Now, one thing that Square-Enix has continued to do well on the mobile market that I always respected them for on the consoles is write. The writing in Deadman’s Cross is far beyond anything else in the collectible genre, and pretty well positioned for mobile games in general. I really enjoy the story and the characters, and wish I could get the whole thing–unfortunately it seems unlikely Square-Enix will wrap up the major plot-line any time soon, since they still want to milk the in-app purchases for years if they can.
Aside from the interactions with townspeople, Guardian Cross also featured similarly strong writing–though in that case most of the townspeople were painfully badly written, which I can’t explain. Nor can I explain why every single towns-person in Guardian Cross had a stable of Guardians they wanted to pit against the player’s. Deadman’s Cross takes a much more reasonable approach of a lot of people having deadman–aka zombie–hordes, but a lot of people don’t have them too.

Still, both Guardian Cross and Deadman’s Cross offer just a little more in the card to card contests that define the player-versus-player element as well as much of the player-versus-computer experience. The standard for the genre is “Which number is bigger?” Which as you may be able to guess, doesn’t amount to much of a game and doesn’t leave the player with anything to do but watch the computer figure out whether 500 is bigger than 900 or not. Once you’ve got the biggest number (which also happens to be the most rare) card you can, there’s not much else for you to do.
Square-Enix added on to the biggest number contest–though I wish they’d replaced it–so that when the numbers are close there’s actually more the player can do to swing things in their own favor. It falls short of being a matter of skill, the player does still just watch during the actual battles, but adds a few granules more strategy to the deck construction preparation part of the app. But I highly respect Square-Enix’s decision not to include evolutions based on multiple copies of the same card, as that quickly became the most tedious part of the rest of the field–especially as the rarity of the card in question increased. There’s no reason not to strengthen a card you want to strengthen as soon as you are able to do so and while some methods are more efficient than others all can get to the same end point, and that is much more user friendly.

Furthermore, the deadman cards have 3 ability slots that fill as they gain levels–but each deadman has more than 3 abilities they can learn. Choosing which ability to keep and which to lose allows players to customize how their deadmen play and adds a little more strategy to the game. Ultimately it’s still the biggest number comparison, but the accents put on top of that provide some consolation and that’s not nothing.

I really wish I could recommend Deadman’s Cross, because it is in my experience the best Mobile Collectible game on the market, because it’s Square-Enix, and because it would really help me to have 6 more devices use my Invite Code of UFV2RGC and then get to level 5. Unfortunately, my actual recommendation is to stay away from Deadman’s Cross. I’m probably giving up on the game myself if I don’t get those 6 more Invites by April 30–the cutoff for getting the Cleopatra card I would very much like in my collection.

Now, if I could go back and reevaluate the other Mobile Collectible games I’ve rated on this site I’d probably give them much lower marks now that I’ve seen the full ugliness of the genre, but I feel it would be unfair to punish them too severely for my distaste for the genre without giving them more play time for the reevaluation–which I have no intention of doing. So keep that in mind when I say my final rating for Deadman’s Cross is 3 out of 5 stars and it is the best mobile collectible game I’m aware of.

A lot of apps get higher marks from me for being free, because I’m not going to hold a free handout to the same standard as an expensive purchase. That said, be wary of the in-app purchases offered by most free apps and intended to be the developer’s source of profit. I’m in favor of making in-app purchases from free apps that prove themselves, because I want to see good developers succeed, but I’m not nearly as interested in supporting developers’ attempts to bleed their consumers without offering any kind of reasonable return for that capital–not even developers with long histories including good titles like EA Games or Square-Enix.
If you choose to purchase from Deadman’s Cross it’s worth noting that the $13.99 Coin Pack offers the best in-game return for real-world investment–otherwise your best bet is investing in increments of $0.99. But do note that as satisfied as I was with my $13.99 investment at the time, I am coming to regret it as I see the app rapidly dead-ending with my art collection still woefully far from completion.

If you’re willing to help me out, or if a free Square-Enix game with zombies sounds worth checking out even if it isn’t their best work then do try Deadman’s Cross with my invite code of UFV2RGC and get to level 5 to give the app a good go. But I advise stinginess when it comes to spending money on the game, and maybe wait until level 10 to have a better grasp of what the game really offers.

Or if you’re just looking to learn a little more–or find the artwork posted online–there’s always the Deadman’s Cross Wiki as a pretty good repository of the cards from the game with their pictures, statistics and even some more general game information. If you’re already in the game or just looking to go deeper then the Deadman’s Cross Forum seems to be a good place to go for more in depth information and to arrange trades, since the in-game trading feature is very nearly unusable.

 

Finally, I was thinking of mentioning Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft in this review–but I think it’s gone on long enough as is, so I’ll save that for another post.

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One Response

  1. davidludwig says:

    Well, the deadline for getting Cleopatra has passed–I’m still grinding out the last of the currently available story missions because of the quality of writing, but it looks like it’s time for me and Deadman’s Cross to part ways–and me to think twice before ever sending money Square-Enix’s way again.

    They’ve made some good advances since the initial writing of this review. Little common sense things like keeping catalog entries from the same hunting ground together even if they were added later, that in spite of being tiny changes just give a more polished and professional feel that I wish more developers cared enough to at least try for.

    Also, I don’t think my initial review adequately addressed the matter of the ‘fast forward’ button during combat. Square-Enix displayed good awareness with the inclusion of that button that they’d devised a combat system that was painfully boring to sit through–but what they should have done was include a ‘skip’ button instead of a ‘fast forward’, because after 5 or 6 battles there is no reason to sit through any more even on fast forward unless you change your line-up and need to see the difference that made.

    I still contend that Deadman’s Cross is the best Mobile Collectible game available for iOS by just enough of a margin to preclude debate–though it is admittedly a long story why I cannot consider Blizzard’s recent Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft in the running. Unfortunately as I knew when I stopped playing Rage of Bahamut, best Mobile Collectible game still translates quite directly to “not worth playing”.

    Just like the rest of the field, Square-Enix has decided to cultivate a play environment devoid of hope–where the best players continue to get better by winning all of the good cards since they’re the only ones with good enough cards to do so in the first place, and everyone else is just there to be trampled.

    In fact, the coming four weeks of “Special Boneyards” are testament to that, because Square-Enix has actually advertised their intention to for 4 weeks further screw the average player out of any hope of attaining the spoils of victory, by removing all limitations from the players who are already winning every time anyway.
    The “Special Boneyards” should have had more stringent limitations, so that past wins didn’t guarantee current victory, rather than take things even further in the opposite direction.
    Actually, on a related note when a game includes player-versus-player offerings there shouldn’t be any way to guarantee victory in the first place. There should always be a chance for any contestant to win.

    Throw on things like their poorly handled clan system that arbitrarily divided players into further “have” and “have not” categories with no real ability to influence their classification themselves, and then the retiring of the first line of invitation rewards is all disgusting to observe from a human perspective. The invitation cards cannot be traded, so that means anyone who didn’t get them on the first go round can NEVER EVER under any circumstances get their own copies. At least with physical games like Magic the Gathering players who missed out on cards they really wanted can still look forward to things like the internet and garage sales to potentially get their desired card if at an inflated price. No such after market exists for mobile apps.

    The fact that Deadman’s Cross is an annoying assemblage of things you cannot do doesn’t make them worse or for that matter different than their competitors–but is something I think Square-Enix should be very ashamed of. A company with their visibility should be more careful what they allow their name to be attached to.

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