All Together Now
Ads in mobile games always cycle through specific trends on the free-to-play market. Whether it’s a Candy Crush or Angry Birds rip-off, developers are constantly catering titles to these trends for quick cash. Lately, I find myself overwhelmed by the number of “merge games.” Usually, these consist of puzzles that require merging similar units to make stronger ones, leading players to victory. The latest in this trend is Merge Kingdoms- Tower Defense by FunCraft. Despite the usual hang-ups always present in games with egregious microtransactions, the core gameplay is just addictive enough—most of the time.
Merge Your Defenses
Gameplay in Merge Kingdoms- Tower Defense consists of merging similarly numbered tiles to deploy various armaments. Players equip and distribute these towers strategically, fighting off waves of fairly generic-designed zombies. The more you merge, the higher the tower’s power, and so on. At the end of every handful of waves, a more powerful boss will arrive to make it through the specific level’s landscape.
The game’s strongest element is the addictive nature of merging. Progressing from one ordnance strength to the next mows down enemies faster to increasing satisfaction. The variety of turret designs and abilities contrast the somewhat dull design of the zombies. Each provides alternative benefits based on their location relative to marching hordes (i.e., slowing them down, poisoning, etc.). However, how players accrue these tokens to build towers is the title’s greatest weakness.
Every tower at your disposal merges with one of the same power levels for a price. Bases cost coins, which fall from defeated enemies. This is an easy enough goal in early levels but becomes increasingly headache-inducing throughout progression. After some play, you have to defeat more enemies to reveal more merge-tokens.
This isn’t inherently a bad way to force some grinding. However, in later levels, some hordes become too challenging to take down with token levels you have access to. Players must either pay for currency through microtransaction or wait for coins accruing while the game is idle. Even when setting the game down for some hours, players can only build for a short time before waiting or paying again. This gameplay-locking setup disillusions players, discouraging them from coming back day after day.
Merge Kingdoms- Tower Defense’s currency system issues aren’t even the most frustrating choice present. Advertisements for both in-game unlockables and cross-promoted titles plague every few moments of fun. If you tap on some items dropped by enemies, you get an ad prompt. Want to double your firepower while playing a soft-locked level? Better watch an ad, only to unlock that powerup for a limited time. Oh, you just completed a wave? Time to show an ad, I guess. Sometimes I would just tap the screen and an ad would appear out of nowhere. Understandably, games need money to run. However, these unsolicited gameplay interruptions repulse those already on board with the game’s premise.
Having all the trappings of a game bogged down by microtransactions and ad revenue, Merge Kingdoms- Tower Defense feels more unwelcoming than engaging. FunCraft claims to focus on “casual forever” games, titles that make players want to make a daily routine out of play. At this point, that kind of product needs reworked mechanics to focus more on the addictive nature of merging tiles. Even with the commercial element downplayed, the strategy itself feels thin as long as you wait or pay to beef up your units enough. If you want something to only pour a few minutes a day into, look no further. Otherwise, you’re better off looking elsewhere for a casual strategy game.
Is it Hardcore?
While Merge Kingdoms’ underlying gameplay is satisfying for a time, the trappings of hyper-capitalized mobile gaming have turned this title into something more frustrating than fun. Equally frustrating is the amount of potential squandered for the sake of a few dollars more.