Game review: Raspberry Mash on Google Play Pass

I found Raspberry Mash on Google’s subscription service, and it’s everything I could hope for in a mobile game. A rogue-like set in a dark fantasy world, it offers simple controls, satisfying gameplay that constantly stokes that “one more try” vibe, and simple but effective graphics that bring to mind The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon.

It is also a sad reminder of how the FtP model is ruining games by injecting ads into even the best ideas. Why watch multiple ads just to get started on a run when you can grab your free gear and go? If you reach a shop slightly short of gold, why not log in with the Free Gold TV instead of watching another ad? Oh, did you die fighting the boss? Here’s one free continue. Or you get the “free” version of the game and have whole minutes of your life sucked away by ads, most of which are bold-face lies about how the real games play. (Fuck those fake ads.)

I cannot overstate that this game is so good that I would happily pay to play it on my phone, and yet I’m constantly shown how the brilliant design was corrupted to accommodate the modern “free” experience. Stripping away all of the mandatory ads creates a wonderful game where every run can grow from “interesting” to “amazing.” But just enough of the FtP experience lingers to show the hell that non-paying gamers have to suffer in.

Let’s dispense with my FtP gripes and get into the game. A young woman is banished into a pocket dimension, and soon thereafter befriended by a pile of goo who offers to replace her busted arm. In exchange, the goo wants revenge on the mad god ruling over the pocket dimension. Standard video game story, really, but it’s just enough to get running with a little under two minutes of screen text. I highly approve, since one mobile game I didn’t finish was because twenty minutes into the game, I hadn’t actually played anything so much as watched a really dull visual novel.

I digress, the gameplay is quite simple because the character won’t use their weapon until you stop moving using the direction circle on the left side of the screen. For every run in the game, the character has one ranged weapon and one melee weapon, and those can be swapped with a button on the right. For a console game, this level of simplicity might be considered a bad thing, but on a phone screen it’s perfect. By which I mean I found this game more fun than the vast majority of free Idle RPGs on the Play Store because I get to play the game instead of pressing a button to watch the game play itself.

During the first run, there’s a dodge roll button, but it doesn’t work until you find the artifact in game that unlocks the ability. Then in the area between levels, you need to invest harvested souls to unlock the ability for all runs. Oddly enough, while there are other powers to unlock, none of them require a secondary unlock in this manner. Maybe the dodge roll unlock was a leftover from before the game launched? I dunno.

In any case, the dodge is much like the type used in Enter the Gungeon, so while it can be effective against the bullet hell bosses, it does sometime send the character flying in the wrong direction. This is because the direction input is kinda small and finicky. If I could request anything in a future update, it would be an option in the setting to increase the size of the circle. (This is what’s preventing Raspberry Mash from getting the full 5 star score.) Because of that finicky control circle, sometimes pressing dodge sends the character rolling to catch the bullets you wanted to avoid.

On each run, the layout of the levels is mixed up to make it feel like proper exploration, while the enemy types and bosses remain static. Right before this pattern risks becoming tedious, reaching the third level will unlock a new transport method using electric plugs, which leads to a harder version of the same boss in the first level. From there the next two levels are new, as are the enemies and bosses. (I particularly liked the killer clown minions.) Taking this alternate route eventually leads to the first final boss, but the cut-scene at the end reveals this is not the real mad god, and he has yet to be hunted down. So back down you go in search of the real final boss. (Who looks really cool, by the way.)

Oh, also, there’s a map in the upper right corner that can be expanded, and unlike a lot of games, the map is extremely useful to see where you’ve been, which paths are still unexplored, and where you’ve left gear (shown as gold crosses) or items (blue dots) like extra ammo or food to heal. A lot of backtracking can be avoided because several rooms have teleporters called summoning circles, and these are also shown on the map. If I seem to be making a big deal out of this, it’s because way too many games in recent memory have had terrible maps. To find one that does exactly what I want to keep me from getting lost deserves that extra bit of praise.

Whether you die or win, the character always returns to the starting room with treasure chests to gather starting gear for a run (a lot of which is insanely fun to use and may last until the end of the run) and visit the souls merchant to unlock stuff like more health, higher damage, extra artifact slots in the inventory, and new rare weapons. It’s the same idea as Dead Cells, really. In fact, the whole game is a blend of concepts and mechanics from other successful indie games. I know that sounds derivative, but the resulting blend is so fun that I’ve played until my phone’s battery was low. I played in the bathroom long after I was done with my “business” and my butt had fallen asleep on the seat. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

BUT, I can only recommend the curated ad-free version, and that’s also the version of Raspberry Mash that I’m giving 4 stars to. I can’t even believe I’m suggesting this, but games like this on the Play Pass can almost justify its existence. At the same time, I look at the popups in this game that all say (Free) and I know that’s where another thirty second ad was meant to go. In those moments, I think how much better this and other games would be if only the developers would just let us buy them and never had to force more ads our way in exchange for pennies.

Which is why I’m so sad to offer this endorsement to get the Play Pass version. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but both Google and Apple have shaped their walled gardens to be full of ad-filled trash, and they both charge a premium fee just to cure the problem that they built into the market themselves. Ain’t that some shit?

Anywho, see you next time.