Double Fine’s Android debut, Dropchord, was the last thing anyone expected, but Middle Manager of Justice is exactly what you’d imagine a Double Fine phone game might look like. Originally released on iOS last year, it’s a free-to-play sim game, not unlike so many others out there, but with Double Fine’s trademark focus on humor and personality. Double Fine sometimes gets the reputation of putting personality and style over gameplay, but that could be just what this genre needs.
Middle Manager of Justice places you in the role of a white collar manager, newly hired at a local branch of Justice Corp, a larger corporate entity that employs the world’s superheroes, and tasks them with keeping the peace and dispensing of evildoers. This means hiring and firing recruits, working them out, and dispatching them to thwart various crimes.
In practice, this plays out a lot like Kairosoft’s Dungeon Village, or many other semi-casual sims on the platform. Crimes pop up in various districts, and you have to keep them happy by responding in time, all while keeping your super-powered employees happy and adequately prepared. This means putting them through training exercises, resting them, and giving them motivational pep-talks. In turn, a happy district will reward you with more money to hire new heroes (up to four), and expand your facilities.
Once you dispatch your team of heroes to deal with a crime, the game switches to a turn-based battle system that feels a lot like a classic J-RPG. You won’t control the action directly, but you’ll be able to order your team to use special moves (at the expense of Focus points), offer support items, and employ special managerial techniques to help motivate your team. Much of the game comes from building up your team, which fits with the simulation genre, but also compliments the J-RPG feel of the battle system.
What really sets Middle Manager of Justice apart is the fact that it actually has a story, characters, and a sense of progress often missing from other sim games. Before each fight, you’ll banter with opponents, and as you tackle more in each district, you’ll gradually reveal a larger criminal plot, culminating in a boss fight. After defeating each boss, you’ll wrap up the sub-plot, and unlock the next district, offering new enemies and a new storyline.
Unlike some of Double Fine’s previous efforts, Middle Manager of Justice is seldom laugh-out-loud funny, but it manages to be consistently fun and charming. The visuals emulate classic cartoons of the 1960s, and the score is full of the perfect mix of pompous fanfare and mundane office background music. The idea of turning super-heroism into Office Space is not as hilarious as one might hope, but it’s certainly likeable.
All of this is offered completely free, backed by in-app purchases, but this seldom seems to be a real drag on the design. The principal currency of these purchases is Superium, which is used to skip past training times, but these waits are more akin to the standard waits found in paid apps like those offered by Kairosoft than the punitive time-outs of other games. Early on, it can be difficult to gain traction, but this is typical of the genre. Likewise, later on the wait times to level up can get tedious, but you were wise and saved your Superium, you’ll have enough to skip the worst of it. I was able to comfortably play to the end of the story without ever having to open my wallet.
There may not be a true end to the game, but unlike many sims, Middle Manager of Justice really has little of interest once you’ve worked your way through the map and the story that accompanies it. By the time you reach the end, you will have likely brought your team up to the maximum level, leaving little of interest to continue past that point. The whole affair will take about five hours, but not much more, making large investments in purchases a questionable affair.
Double Fine’s sim manages to be a good deal more interesting than the masses of Farmville clones on the Android store, and its fair use of in-app purchases make it easier to swallow than many of its competitors. It’s a charming, and likeable game, but it never manages to achieve true greatness. Like many of the Double Fine’s earlier efforts, it’s more style than substance, but unlike those games helmed by Tim Schafer, that doesn’t translate into truly big laughs.