Not all that glitters is gold
Mobile games have a bit of a reputation problem. You know how it is: excitement blooms within you whenever you hear an old franchise is getting rebooted--only to wither at the words 'mobile game'. Your nostalgic fantasies are washed away by a torrent of in-app purchases. Sometimes were surprised by a solid, complete game... but most of the time our worst fears prove insufficient.
This list is about those games. Yes, those games. The games that make all other mobile games look bad. If you want to see the greediest, the most outrageously monetized mobile apps, youre in the right place. Its not for the faint of heart, but if you can stand up to long timers, broken gameplay, and long hours of grinding, you might just make it out alive.
Star Trek: Trexels
Trexels is one of those games that gets a lot right. Its got adorable pixel graphics. It nails the look and feel of a Star Trek datapad (even if it retcons The Next Generations LCARS system into The Original Series). It even has narration from George Freakin Takai! With all that going for it, surely its a great game, right?
Well... not exactly. For one thing, Trexels lacks almost any form of meaningful gameplay. The vast majority of your time is spent waiting for timers to expire, and even when you do eventually find the core gameplay its just plain boring. All of the missions are the same thing! Press the fight button during combat missions. Press the Negotiate button during ambassadorial envoys. Thats it. That basic mini-game is your prize for spending your way through hours of overlapping timers and countdowns.
Youre probably not surprised to see EAs recent reboot of the classic Dungeon Keeper franchise on this list. Nor should you be--Dungeon Keeper is one of the most aggressively monetized apps to come out in the past few months. Critics and fans blasted EA when it launched, decrying the excessive time required to carve out new areas of the dungeon map. With individual squares requiring up to 24 hours to excavate, you could be looking at more than a weeks wait if you want to clear a 3x3 room.
To EAs credit, Dungeon Keeper does attempt to live up to that name with a decent sense of humour. And to be honest, Dungeon Keeper isnt the worst Clash of Clans imitator on the App Store today--but the Dungeon Keeper franchise deserves better than the grinding slog that free-to-play forces on it.
Candy Crush Saga
Another game that was bound to make this list. Candy Crush is almost a byword for exploitation by now, but a big part its success is the quality of the game itself. King developer arent lazy--on the contrary, every aspect of Candy Crush is exquisitely crafted to take advantage of you.
It all starts off nice, but right around level 30 a pattern starts to emerge. Every ten levels or so youll hit a wall--a challenging level that will almost certainly require multiple tries. These levels are intended to get you to purchase boosters or extra moves, sold in the cash shop. Of course, the boosters dont ensure your success, and if you dont pass the level before the booster expires, youve just wasted cash. If that isnt enough, Candy Crush puts up a paygate around level 35. To keep moving forward youll have to play special levels, bug your Facebook buddies, or pay up. Given how many Bejeweled clones there are on mobile, maybe youre better off moving to something else, instead.
Angry Birds GO!
Rovios Angry Birds was one of the games that showed just how powerful the mobile market could be. When it hit the app store back in 2009, it quickly reached the top slots in the US and UK app stores. With that amount of fame behind it, its no wonder Rovio decided to franchise the characters into a downhill kart racer called Angry Birds Go!
As a kart racer, Angry Birds Go! isnt actually half bad. With responsive controls and a cute, colourful aesthetic, Angry Birds Go! makes a solid first impression. Its not until you start looking into the cash shop that you begin to realise how slowly youre progressing. Angry Birds Go! requires a ton of grinding to even get basic progress through the game. Worse? You can only play 5 races at a time before you have to wait to play again. Even if you wanted to pay to unlock your favourite character, unlocks in the cash shop run up to $40! Even worse, Rovio hides the cost from you until the very last second. For that price, you may as well go buy and old N64 and play Mario Kart.
Final Fantasy: All the Bravest
Final Fantasy has always occupied a strange place on the mobile store. While the numbered titles in the series are available on the App Store or Google Play marketplaces, theyve always seemed to hover around the $15.00 (10.99) mark--a bit too expensive for mobile apps. When we heard Square was bringing together all our favourite Final Fantasy characters to duke it out against huge monsters, we thought we were in for a treat.
How wrong we were. Final Fantasy: All the Bravest turned out to be one of the most reviled apps to ever appear on the market. Though it nails the Final Fantasy aesthetic with great pixel art and the series traditionally excellent music, All the Bravest fails where it matters most: gameplay. All the Bravest is little better than a fireworks display, with players smearing their fingers over the screen to attack (and little else) by way of strategy. Want to hire help from Yuna, Cloud, Fran, or your favourite character from Final Fantasy lore? Too bad. The best you can do is pay cash to enter a lottery for a random new character. This would all be bad enough for any free-to-play game, but heres the kicker: when All the Bravest launched, it wasnt free. You had to pay just to download the app in the first place! Id say youre better off and saving up for the classic Final Fantasy cannon.
Tales of Phantasia
Tales of Phantasia is one of the classic JRPGs on the SNES, and its not hard to see why. Between the unique side-scrolling active battle system and the truly marvelous pixel art, Tales of Phantasia looks like a great fit for the App Store, next to Squares classic Final Fantasy series. At least, that was what we thought, until we learned that Tales was coming as a free-to-play game.
Now, theres nothing inherently wrong with free-to-play. What makes Tales of Phantasias deployment so bad is the way Namco Bandai changed a classic game to put the squeeze on the player. First, they cranked the difficulty to 11, making it all but impossible to survive boss battles without excessive grinding or purchasing power-up items. As if thats not bad enough, Namco deactivated--but didnt actually remove--save points just before those same boss battles. Not only are the bosses insanely hard, losing also means youre going to be set back an hour or more when you lose. Its a shame that such a decent game had to get such poor treatment.
Super Monster Bros
Super Monster Bros is no longer available on the App Store, but for a while, it was the Grand Vizir of evil mobile games. It starts right in the title: Super Monster Bros by Adventure Time Pocket Free Game. It looks like a mouthful but do you notice just how eminently searchable it is? Its got references to Super Mario Bros, Pokemon (Pocket Monsters), and Adventure Time, all of which are popular with kids. Its even got the words free game in there, just to make sure it catches some poor children searching the term.
It only gets worse when you actually open the app. No sooner does the app load than it pings you to ask if you want to buy an expansion pack for over $100. Assuming you manage to navigate the menus without spending your life savings, the core game shows just how little effort was put into the project. As a platformer, it's completely broken. Your character only gets 5 attacks before you have to purchase more attacks. Character sprites look like Pokemon knock-offs, and audio is clearly, uhinspired by Super Mario World. Its hard to take Super Monster Bros as anything more that a very cynical attempt to scam money out of kids, luring them in with the child-friendly name, before emptying their piggybanks via in-app purchases.
Hide your credit cards!
This has been a journey--weve taken you far into the depths of the mobile market to see the worst it has to offer. The good news? If this didnt have you retching, you should be all but immune to the App Stores worst excesses. If you think we missed a game that deserves a spot in this hall of fame, let us know in the comments below!