Look, Ma, This One’s Not Burned!
In 2009, Korean developer Devsisters released OvenBreak, an endless runner game. Two sequels and two spinoffs called Cookie Run and Cookie Run: OvenBreak soon followed. The franchise has since achieved international success, resulting in the release of a strategy game and a match-3 puzzle title as well. It’s not surprising, then, that Devsisters decided to branch out further and release the first RPG of the series in January 2021. Cookie Run: Kingdom, in my estimation, has already earned a place as one of the better gacha RPGs available on Android.
If you’ve played any of the previous Cookie Run titles, you’ll be tickled to see some of your favorite characters and enemies make an appearance in Cookie Run: Kingdom. The perk is that GingerBrave, Strawberry Cookie and all the others can be leveled up, customized with Toppings and led triumphantly into battle.
When the game begins, a cutscene reveals how an evil Cookie defeated the five Guardian Cookies who kept peace in the land. Ages have passed. Cookies have since scattered to the four winds with neither a kingdom nor knowledge of their history. It’s up to you to fix that.
Fresh Out of the Oven
Cookie Run: Kingdom has two distinct areas of gameplay: base building and battles via story mode or PvP. I found myself most drawn to base building and easily spent hours contentedly adding flowers and other decorations to my steadily growing Cookie Kingdom. You start small, with a Lumberjack’s Lodge and a Smithy. You use these to erect additional buildings and clear overgrown land. From there, you’ll gain the ability to construct Sugar Quarries, Cookie Houses and other structures to produce necessary items.
Each building’s output is intertwined with the successful operation of the others. For example, you need the Jellybeans grown on the Jellybean Farm to create Sweet Jelly Jam. This in turn is used to make Cream at the Dairy Factory. For this reason, you will constantly run short of one item or another. You’ll diligently construct new buildings to meet the increased demand for goods. It’s busy work, no doubt about it, and ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things. But it’s fun somehow. I dutifully logged in multiple times a day to make sure my little assembly line was constantly productive.
As you craft and gather, gather and craft, the Cookies assigned to each building gain experience points. In this way, even the characters you don’t actively use can still level up. You will also earn Kingdom EXP, which specifically goes toward leveling up your Castle. This central building is like an entity unto itself. Upgrading it results in overall gains for every aspect of your Kingdom. As the Castle increases in level, you’ll be able to accrue more Stamina, clear additional plots of land, upgrade your buildings and so on.
The battle sections of Cookie Run: Kingdom, while entertaining, are the weaker point of the game. Basically, combat quickly gets repetitive and a little dull. Each Cookie only has one skill. So in battle, you just wait for the ability’s cooldown and then mindlessly tap the button again. Sure, you might delay for a few seconds to get the timing just right and hit more enemies, but that’s it.
The game has an auto mode. While I usually dislike automation in RPGs, I very quickly turned it on in Cookie Run: Kingdom. Battles played out almost identically to if I tapped the screen myself. The only minor issue I had was that my healer would occasionally use his ability when it wasn’t necessary. This sometimes made healing unavailable when it was actually needed. It cost me a few battles, but not often enough that I found it necessary to handle things myself.
Currently, there are 38 different Cookies to collect, each with semi-unique abilities. The limited roster is mostly a strength because it keeps you from being overwhelmed by choices. In other gacha RPGs, you get inundated with characters, many of whom are fairly identical. You wind up wasting precious consumables constantly leveling up new characters because you don’t know who will be useful. In Cookie Run: Kingdom, it’s fairly easy to pick your favorites, gauge who is most powerful and then stick with those few.
On the other hand, this small lineup hobbles you somewhat. Unless a game is perfectly balanced, there will always be characters who are clearly better than the others. You will end up using them throughout most of the game and likewise encounter them over and over in PvP matches.
Holding on to My Dough
The strength of Cookie Run: Kingdom is that each part feeds the other. Uncovering the map by winning battles and progressing the story earns you Medals of Victory, Coins and Experience. You use these to level up your characters, produce goods and upgrade various parts of the Kingdom.
The weakness of the game, if there is one, are the microtransactions. It’s not necessary to buy anything in this game but, if you were tempted, the prices will likely throw you off. For $0.99, you can buy a measly number of Crystals, which are used to purchase gacha pulls and other things. This offer is honestly kind of a rip-off. The prices go all the way up to $99.99 and, again, what you get just doesn’t seem to make it worthwhile.
Another example is the outrageous cost to purchase additional Sugar Gnome Huts. The Sugar Gnomes are your builders, and each Hut gives you one Gnome. They clear the land, construct buildings, upgrade the Castle and basically do all the grunt work. You have three Gnomes at the start of the game. As shops and factories take increasingly long to build, this number quickly becomes insufficient. However, to gain one single additional Sugar Gnome Hut costs $19.99. Needless to say, I went without. Frankly, I find the prices and the wide, confusing array of available packages to be a distasteful display of greed. It’s my one major gripe about Cookie Run: Kingdom.
Just Roll With It
The mobile game market is inundated with gacha role-playing games. Many of them are so similar as to be indistinguishable from one another. I’ve played more than my share and have at times gotten confused about which game I even had installed. Cookie Run: Kingdom follows all of the established trends in gacha RPGs. Somehow it manages to make them feel fresh, innovative and enjoyable rather than tedious. Maybe it’s just because you’re playing with anthropomorphized Cookies and other desserts. Whatever the magic recipe is, I plan to continue playing even after finishing this review. That speaks volumes.
Is It Hardcore?
Devsisters’ Cookie Run: Kingdom is one of the better gacha RPGs I’ve played on mobile. Maybe it’s just the inherent joy found in playing with my food. Whatever it is, it works.