Another day, another Square Enix iOS release
Everyone loves Bob Barker, just like everyone loves the Price is Right. One thing that stood out about Bob’s long career on the show was his closing line, “Have your pet spayed or neutered.” At the end of each show, Bob would spout out his cause whether or not it fell upon deaf ears. I’m beginning to feel like the Bob Barker of Touchgen, with the closing line, “Pay for content, not time.”
Hero Academy is a fantastic example of how to provide players with a taste of a game for free, while keeping additional quality content behind a pay gate. However; the mechanic that has been dominating my reviews as of late is that of charging players for the opportunity to fill an in-game progress bar, or gamble on the chance to obtain an in game item or character. If you have read my most recent reviews of Monster Life or Drakerider, you will know how I feel about freemium time sinks, and how they prey on players susceptible to the thrill of gambling or artificial progress. It is a business model entirely geared towards generating freemium “whales,” or players who become so addicted that they provide a major source of funds to the publisher. This allows for a higher income ceiling than if the game were to just be sold at a flat rate to all customers.
Guardian Cross is a less offensive, and more generous freemium game. I am able to play for a decent amount of time before hitting a pay wall, and when I do it doesn’t take too long to recharge my ability to do battle. So while Guardian Cross does contain potential monetary sinkholes around every corner, it isn’t as pushy. Would I have appreciated if I were to just be able to pay $5 for the whole experience and have the pay walls removed? Of course. Ultimately, you are paying to decrease the amount of time you must devote to the game, and the amount of time you must wait between play sessions.
The object of Guardian Cross is to collect a team of monster cards, with the ultimate goal of saving the world. The plot isn’t anything to lie awake dreaming about, but the atmosphere reminded me of the Final Fantasy Ivalice games in a good way. These cards are captured in hunting grounds, in which the player tracks down and shoots monsters from a top down perspective. The player can always pay for the opportunity to hunt more, or to hunt in special grounds that give an increased rate of special monsters appearing.
These monster cards are then used in battle. The battles themselves are not what I would call engaging. Your cards are drawn in the order you have arranged, and will automatically attack the enemy’s cards one at a time, until one of the combatants runs out of cards. The battles even include a fast forward button. I would have preferred something more tactical, but the developers wanted to be able to charge money for the ability to fight more battles in a single sitting, so a longer play session wouldn’t have fit into their monetary plans for the player. I found myself starting to run out of battle points after only a minute of play (with fast forward on) – which means you can almost equate a minute of playtime with $1 of coins. Things like leveling up can extend this, though, and I was largely happy shifting gears to another portion of the game while I waited.
Players are able to power up monster cards outside of battle by sacrificing surplus cards or enhancing them with special stones. None of the upgrades do much outside of increasing the monsters’ statistics, because there is no avenue to add tactical depth to the battle system. The monsters have different elemental traits, but because they cannot be reorganized during battle your ability to take advantage of elemental weaknesses is reduced to mostly luck and guesswork.
I have played for quite some time and have yet to lose a battle in Guardian Cross. I am not sure if this is because I am diligent about upgrading my monster (I just have one that I pay attention to, and it ends up wiping out entire teams), or if the game just isn’t challenging overall.
While the game has RPG elements, the choices made feel inconsequential. Because team order cannot be dynamically altered, and because the player is not choosing between sets of abilities on the fly, there isn’t a high degree of player choice to make use of any out of battle enhancements.
Guardian Cross is polished. The entire experience has been geared towards being visually satisfying and even visceral. There is a constant sense of progress, and there are a wide variety of cards to collect and throw in to battle.
I can see how Guardian Cross could easily be someone’s favorite card or freemium game on the App Store, but it just isn’t mine. I don’t find myself making interesting decisions that are then borne out in gameplay. Even semi-automated systems such as the Dragon Warrior Monster games allow the player to pour tons of customization into their automated monsters, and that element wasn’t present in Guardian Cross. The game is not challenging in terms of skill or the requirement of tactical thought. At some point, I realized I didn’t even feel as if I was playing a game. I was quite literally watching battles fly by with cards I had no attachment to.
You may love it for how good it is at being freemium, but that just isn’t a selling point for me. Remember: pay for content, not time.
Guardian Cross is available as a free universal download