I’m going to talk about mobile games now

When I first got my Kindle tablet, and later my first Android phone, I imagined that I would have a new and near endless source of review material. In theory it’s a pool of free games so I can have a new review every week to fill in the gaps made by my lowered PC and PS4 game budget. (And by my frankly abysmal recent track record with reading books for review.)

It sounded good, in theory, but in reality I ended up deleting a lot of games within hours of starting them. Some were puzzle games that insisted on showing me what gems/candy/critters to match if I even hesitated for one second and gave no option to turn “idiot mode” off. Others built their platforms around watching ads for other games. (Some games have asked me to watch no less than ten ads per day just to pick up daily reward items that other games gave just for signing in.) If I delete something that fast, I can’t really review it, can I? No, that simply won’t do.

There are games that I didn’t delete, and I kept thinking to review them, except I didn’t want to recommend any of them. I’m playing them regularly, most certainly am getting something out of playing them, and don’t see a reason to quit. And yet, I hesitate to offer them out and say, “You should play these, too.”

I think it comes down to two reasons, which I will name and then illustrate with examples from each of the games that are still holding my attention even as they frustrate me with free mobile mechanics. For now, the reasons I hesitate to endorse these better examples of the free market are their shockingly high prices for cheap digital tat and their built-in methods of hindering progress just to drag out the whole experience.

Let’s start with the high prices. As of this writing, Summoners War has a pack of 3,000 crystals for 109.99 euros. This may sound like a lot of a premium currency, but it’s around what I can make in two weeks with daily play, and it can be spent in less than an hour just by summoning a few extra monsters, most of whom will be garbage duplicates.

Another pack is offering 3 Devilmons and 2 five star Rainbowmons along with 1,000 crystals and 50,000 mana stones (the base currency for the game) for 54.99. This one is a bit more devious because of those special monsters. Devilmons are extremely rare and are needed to upgrade the spell abilities of monsters. (They’re supposed to be saved up for super rare monsters, but I’ve seen new players mistakenly use them on common monsters, thus wasting what is in essence another form of in-game premium currency.)

Just to fully skill-up all of one monster’s spells requires ten to twelve of these Devilmons, so it’s an obvious ploy to extort funds from people desperate for progress. The same goes for five star Rainbowmons, who take forever to grind in monster upgrades, or through purchases from the in-game shops. You need five of them for each monster raised to the final tier of six star monsters. If you have three five star monsters and need two more to make the upgrade, this package creates the temptation to fork over the price of a premium game…for a purchase that will be used two minutes later.

But if you think that’s bad, head on over to Centuria War, the card fighting cousin of Summoners War. As you play, you unlock legendary monsters, and that in turn unlocks a temporary chance to to buy ONE CARD, 3,500 crystals, and 5,000 mana stones. This package is 53.99, and gives one level to the monster you just unlocked. But maybe you are hesitant to pay that much for something that will last three seconds. Well there’s a timer informing you that you only have 6 days to buy it before you lose the chance. So that’s a shitty product offered at a ludicrous price attached to a FOMO (fear of missing out) timer to prod you into making a bad decision. You can hopefully begin to see why I’m reluctant to endorse any of this. I have a strong enough willpower to ignore these kinds of offers, but I don’t know you people well enough to think you have the same level of self-control and willpower.

Over in Grand Summoners, which sounds related to the first two examples but is no relation, there is a pack of five separate currencies, which individually will buy maybe one item in game through their respective shops or be used to upgrade one character one time. This pack is 89.99, close to the asking price for a new console game. (Which is fodder for a whole other rant, but I digress.)

In some cases I want to give money to the game makers to pay them back for the time spent playing their creations, but at these prices, and considering how little is being given for such exorbitant rates, I’d rather keep playing for free forever, no matter how punishing that feels at times.

On that note, let’s move on to the grind for the sake of grind. Almost all of these games require you to level up monsters/heroes/characters by using up more of the same summons. In this regard, Summoners War is perhaps the most forgiving initially because you can level up monsters by feeding them just about anything. Low-level monsters of the same types can also offer a skill level-up for spells. It’s possible to raise the level of, say a Water Fairy, with other fairies from fire, water, wind, light, or dark. But once a monster gets to the four star range, growing to the final 6 star cap of level 40 takes a nightmarish amount of grind time and resources. I’ve been playing for two years and just now have ten 6 star monsters. Yes, if I paid for packs I might get there sooner, but playing for free means enduring endless aggravating grinds.

This isn’t even taking into account higher level monsters who have rare summoning rates. I can either wait eons to get resources to skill-up one monster, or use the aforementioned super-rare Devilmons to shorten that grind to a few months instead. MONTHS, y’all, and that’s the “convenient” path for playing the game for free.

All the other games I play require getting summons of the exact same type. In Dragonball Dokkan Battle, if I want to upgrade my “Tournament of Power Android 18,” I need 5 copies of the same card plus an enormous buttload of resource currencies. I can’t use another Android 18 card, even from the same element type. It has to be that exact same card, which has a 2% chance of dropping.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL FOLKS! You see, this hero card has a “Dokkan Awakened” form that requires making another awakened character of the same type. So to get to that level, I need to get six more cards of the same type (The base card plus five for skill unlocks) and use up even more resources. (Which, btw, one of those resources is a medal that I can only get by playing side content missions. I need ten medals, but to get them, I have to play the same level over and over, in this case close to forty times to get those ten medals. That wasn’t fun, it was tedious.)

If Android 18’s card was always available, this might still seem doable even with the shitty drop rates, but Dokkan Battle has so many cards in their roster that they archive character cards to keep the summon rates of any one card above .01%. So I have to not only grind summons over and over while the card is active. Every time I log in, I have to check the available pool of cards to see if I even have a chance of upgrading. I love Dragonball Dokkan Battle, but this level of bullshit has me walking away for months at a time because I can’t progress through any of the side content without first grinding up a whole team of heroes for fucking ages.

But if I thought that was tedious, Lost Centuria goes for the “hold my beer” approach with respect to how its monsters level up. The first level up requires another card, and the next requires two. After that it goes five, ten, twenty, and so on. So, for a low level monster, it’s more likely that you can get to level ten within a reasonable time frame. But for a rare or legendary monster? Fugedaboutit. Every summon, I’m begging for just the monsters I already have, and of course I get something new. So instead of waiting to grind one new monster, now I have a whole stack of monsters too low level to use for now, and with no way to level them up other than suffer the slow grind.

Lost Centuria is a game centered primarily around real-time PVP, where each round costs 40 points of one currency to play, and each day starts with 200. While there are ways to buy more with base currencies or win it through various awards, once I use up that pool of currency, it recovers at the rate of one point every 4 minutes. So just when I’m really having fun, the game goes, “Nope, you’ll have to stop and grind away time before you can have more fun.” Of course there’s a package offering 200 more PVP points for a mere 10.99 along with some other goodies. That almost sounds reasonable until you realize you’re spending 11 bucks just to buy 15 more minutes of game time.

But let’s move on to the greatest source of irritation for me, the tie-in event summons. Grand Summoners had a Yu Yu Hakusho tie-in. This is one of my all-time favorite anime series, and I had just watched it over again on Netflix with my hubby. So yes, obviously I wanted to get in and summon some of my favorite characters, but I ended up walking away from it once I started doing the math. Even if I bought a summoning pack for extra chances, the “special summon” portal that teased chances of getting Yusuke, Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei also dropped common trash characters from the main game. I still gave it my best shot and used up all the summons I’d been saving up for a special occasion, and I didn’t get a single one of the tie-in characters, nor did I even get any good summons from the game’s main cast.

Along a similar vein, Summoners War held a crossover event with Street Fighter, and oh how I wanted to add a Chun Li to my roster. I didn’t even care that I’d have to buy up twelve more Devilmons to make her playable in end game content. I just wanted her. She was my main for three generations of Street Fighter, so I wanted her like no other digital tat toy. At the time, I had 300 mystical scrolls saved up, and the summoning circle had an added option claiming to have higher odds of summoning Chun Li, Ryu, Ken, Dhalsim, or Bison. I used up all my scrolls, and then all of my crystals, and I never got Chun Li, or any of the fighters, for that matter. I ended up rage quitting for two months, and every time I fight in the arena against other players and see any of the Street Fighter crew, it brings back bitter memories.

Before I close this out, I want to stress that these are games I play actively, some of them every day or even multiple times per day. In Summoners War, I’ve logged hundreds of hours over the course of two years. I’m just getting into Lost Centuria, but I’ve logged in every day to do the PVP and complete enough daily missions to get more of the premium currency for free. It can fairly be said that my time in the games does not feel wasted.

Still at the end of the day, I think all of these games would be better if they just charged a flat rate fee and got rid of all these grinding mechanics and absurdly priced transactions. (Because you can’t call packages selling for between 30 and 100 euros microtransactions, at least not with a straight face.) More to the point, these are games aimed at kids and teens, who have poor impulse control when it comes to buying stuff. I can’t recommend this kind of game to them, or to people who have addictive personalities.

That might still leave the door open to suggesting these game to other people, but I can’t do it. I play them and enjoy them. But would I recommend them to you? No. I think the mobile market is in a sad state when so many games are modeled on exploitation of the player base, and when Apple gets praised for launching a subscription service of curated games that drop all these toxic practices even though they were the same corporate monster that created this environment inside their precious walled garden in the first place.

Folks, I’m a gamer. I love everything from 3D fighters to puzzle games to 2D platformers and RPGs. I love that I can whip out my phone whenever I’m bored and pull up something to play. I just wish most of the market wasn’t slathering over my wallet like starving vultures over a nearly dead horse.