Christopher Jarvis / Sun 26th Nov 2017
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It was a few years ago now that I downloaded Spider-Man Unlimited, an endless runner from Ubisoft subsidiary Gameloft. It was pretty simple in concept - earn vials and gems from completing levels, use vials to level up your Spider-Men, and use gems to get more Spider-Men. But after reinstalling it recently on a much newer phone, I was assaulted with features, currencies, menus upon menus, and the original levelling system was plagued with complexity.
Mobile games have never been particularly kind to any action-adventure story, especially superhero games. But in the last few years, there's been an unsettlingly large spike in complexity, and it's become increasingly difficult to just play a game as your favourite superhero.
Since 2012's The Avengers, Marvel mobile games have skyrocketed in number and popularity. Games like Contest Of Champions, Avengers Academy, the aforementioned Spider-Man Unlimited, and even Marvel Puzzle Quest continue to grow in population and in size. These games continue to add more special events, currencies, microtransactions, features, upgrades, and menus to the point where they're all but unplayable. Avengers Academy is probably the most playable of them, but to get any rewards from the recent Halloween event required a multi-step, multi-hour process that was impossible for any casual or F2P user to keep up with.
Marvel Future Fight is by far the worst offender. Once one of the coolest games for collecting superheroes, there are now something like 20 different menus one tap away from the home screen, and even more under the surface. The actual gameplay has some innovative ideas about how mobile action games should be controlled, but with well over 5 currencies and increasingly confusing features such as ISO-8, it's hardly worth even trying.
DC, of course, have their own selection of bloated games including endless runners and a Future Fight clone. But they also have Batman: Arkham Origins Mobile, Arkham Underworld, Suicide Squad: Special Ops, and Injustice 2. Not perfect and bloat-free, by any means, but better. The only problem is that most people don't want to engage with full-fledged action adventures on their phones. It takes up battery power and storage space on a device that isn't primarily a console for 99% of people. But developers of these games aren't making it for the 99%, and developers of bloated games aren't noticing who they're developing for.
Obviously this isn't a problem limited to superhero games. Final Fantasy XV: A New Empire, Lords Mobile, and any other war-based strategy game with a celebrity in the image is equally as bloated. But superheroes are attractive to people because it's fun to watch someone with unique abilities tackle situations and other people with unique abilities. There's no target audience for Future Fight - superhero fans just want to play the game. Collectors don't want to have to spend time levelling heroes and selecting which ISO-8 enhancements go to who. Even people who love having so much to manage will probably just go play a Tycoon game.
The balance comes in the form of games like Super Mario Run, which has optional extras such as kingdom building or different gameplay modes, but is focussed on the elegant and addictive gameplay. The kingdom building clearly came out of the gameplay as a reason to use the coins, and it feeds directly back into the gameplay by granting characters or special tokens to play the other gameplay modes. So developers, for the love of all things super, just focus on the gameplay, and let everything else just happen.