Fighting the Addiction
I quit Flash games a while ago. Downloaded “the patch,” so to speak.
A long time ago, Flash games used to be it. They were the reason we bypassed our middle school’s crappy security system. We proxied and anonymized our way into sites like Newgrounds, FreeAddictingGames (it’s addictive, you fools!), or more recently sites like Kongregate or Armor Games. Flash took the world by storm because it meant quick, internet-based gaming that required no installation, at the handy-dandy price of free!
But it’s been usurped. Mobile gaming is just as free, and more… well… mobile. Now you can play games on the train where there’s no internet. You can play them in church. You can play them on the toilet. They’ve also been usurped by the indie game movement, which provides a much bigger bang for only a little more buck. Getting a Final Fantasy knockoff that’s excellently written and beautifully constructed for only 99 cents is something that made me Alt-F4 out of the Flash game world. (By the way, that game is Cthulhu Saves the World. Buy it.)
Okay, so why am I even rambling on if the nails are in the coffin, and Flash has been dead and gone for longer than most Flappy-Bird-playing tweens can remember? Because there’s a game that threw me back to square one, fighting the addiction.
What’s worse, the game’s a sequel.
Okay, so things aren’t looking promising. If you’re an old fan of Another Gamer’s Blog, I wrote an awfully critical post about “MMOs” of this nature a while back. They exist to suck your money out of you, and they don’t put much effort into trying to make that happen.
I didn’t play Swords and Potions (the original money-grubber) because of that aspect, and when S&P 2 came out, it got a gigantic “meh” as my reaction.
But I started playing it. I don’t know why… perhaps it was ultimate boredom. Perhaps this stock art was attractively drawn enough to make me consider slogging through what was sure to be an awful experience for the sake of beauty. Perhaps I was looking for some fodder to pan in a negative review (they are more fun to write, after all).
Long story short, it’s one of the most addictive flash games I’ve played in the last 5 years. It’s so addictive, that I’m giving it my full attention in my review even though Glean 2 (a sequel to a much better game) chased its heels, being released a week later.
“But why?!?” You ask. “It’s one of those crappy MMO games you talked about! Have you grown to fancy the masochism of your everlasting soul? Have you given up all pride in the gaming industry? Have you *gasp* found a game… WORSE than Farmville?”
No, gentle reader. I’ve had a change of heart. Swords and Potions is a game that does the freemium world justice. It gives and gives, and by the time it quietly suggests that you start giving it your real money back, you’ve already enjoyed it so much that you might actually be willing to, just for the sake of supporting it. I live and write for games like this.
Before you lose all faith in me, let me get into why this is:
1. It plays like an indie game
S&P 2 has all the hallmarks of a decent indie flash game. It has effective (but not flashy) graphics, it has a well-thought-out system of upgrades, and it builds on a lot of good games in the resource management genre, from the Sims to the Papa’s Pizzeria series, from My Pet Protector and the Arkandian series to Recettear: an Item Shop’s Tale. These are all great indie games (okay, the Sims is not indie and Papa’s Pizzeria is not great). The devs were obviously inspired by the stuff that’s out there, and they were inspired by the right kind of stuff. Instead of looking at Zynga, the hellhole that it is, and saying, “Wow, look how much money I can make,” they turned 180 degrees and started with a good game.
And, for a Flash game, it has a remarkable degree of freedom and flexibility. The economy appears simple on the surface, but there are many sources of inflow and outflow of wealth that aren’t readily apparent and can yield benefits if taken advantage of. It’s complex and allows for many different playstyles and personal preferences. It wasn’t made with a “right way to play” in mind. That alone sets it apart from pretty much any other flash-based MMO out there.
2. It’s not limited by how much you can play
This may seem shocking for those of you who spend your time waiting for more Candy Crush lives, Farmville energy points or whatever else you waste your time with, but it’s the truth. There are resources that regenerate over a certain period of time. However, the variety and regeneration rates of these resources don’t hinder your ability to play, but rather simply make you vary your style. For example, there’s a blacksmith who (predictably) uses the IRON resource. Now, if you employ him as a worker for the current game day he might use up all your metal. Depending on your recharge rate and storage, it might take *swoon* 10 minutes to fully recharge. So you fire him and hire a woodcarver for your next day who might use up all of your wood. By the time she does, however, your smith is back in action and ready to make some more things to kill people with! Presto, you haven’t even slowed down, but you’ve managed your resources in this resource management game. Whoa.
As an aside: there are upgrades and quests that do take significant time, but they don’t in any way affect your playstyle while they’re being upgraded. Just being frank with you.
3. It’s ACTUALLY an MMO (sort of)
If you read my older post about MMOs, my biggest gripe is that their idea of “Massively Multiplayer” is picking a list of players from a text list and attacking them to steal their money while they’re offline (thereby removing the O of MMO). Well, S&P 2 circumvents this nicely. Not only was PVP not the first multiplayer aspect developed, there’s also a significant cooperative element to the gameplay that makes life just a bit better. You are a shopkeeper in a community of 10 shops owned by other players. You invest gold and items into the surrounding buildings which unlock new customers, items, and improve pretty much everything from prices to resource regeneration rates. You receive a rank based on how much of your total income you’ve donated to improvement, and better towns won’t accept you as a new tenant if your rank is too low.
Might be a bit much to take in all at once if you’ve never played, but you’ll immediately see the benefits of the investment if you start a shop of your own. There’s also an added benefit of a citywide marketplace, but I won’t get into that. Let’s just say that the game is built to allow more advanced players to support newer players, and as a new player, that’s just fine by me.
4. It’s doesn’t make you hate-play it
Candy Crush users know the feeling of playing a game even though you couldn’t loathe it (and yourself) more. The freemium slaps you in the face and proceeds to curb-stomp your wallet with extreme prejudice. With S&P 2, I would almost say that the freemium is poorly implemented. What do I mean? Well, it’s as if the developer is saying, “Hey… I mean, it’s obvious you like our game… right? So… this part is off-limits until you give us money. I mean, if you want to. Well, okay, actually just wait 10 minutes and then it’ll be free… But this next thing! It’s going to cost y– nah, that’s free too. We’re sorry.” It feels like they had produced a good game, and then at the final corporate board meeting, someone suggested that it might be nice if they made it easier for the players to give them money if they so desired.
And you know what? I might just do that. They made a good game, and they put a lot of effort into making it fun. In the end, it’s a good business model, too.
– – –
Okay, so I’m done gushing. No game is perfect. There are occasionally some pretty gruesome server issues. The game’s complexity gives it a mean learning curve later on. There are some REALLY annoying customers you get in-game. It is freemium, and if that’s enough of a turn-off for you, the constant suggestions to buy premium items might irk you to death. And, last-but-not-least, there is a lot of mediocre anime art in it. That said, each piece of mediocre art is supplemented by an in-game animated sprite that matches it in style and attitude, so… maybe it’s not so mediocre after all.
I get if you’re still feeling lackluster about the game, folks. Heaven knows I’d be if I’d just read a long review like this. But hey, give it a whirl. And, if by any chance, you do decide to play it, as always: hit me up and I’ll get you some free stuff to make life a little easier!
Flash isn’t dead, and games like this are some of the only ones who go the extra mile to prove it. See you next week!
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