Since owning my iPhone 7 (begrudgingly), I have yet to find a game that hooks me and has me thinking about it outside of the usual suspects of Angry Birds and such. I have had brief stints of entertainment when I’m a casual gamer, but nothing that really screams, “This is the reason why you own an iOS device!” Color me surprised when I actually starting digging the simple complexity of Gumballs & Dungeons from QC Play. A microtransaction-driven RPG that will make you think about your actions before taking them.
Let’s get right into it.
The gameplay of Gumballs & Dungeons is quite simple. You play a Gumball that is trying his/her (don’t know the gender) best to make his way through life. Somewhere along the way you are chased into hiding, but end up making the best of a bad situation by producing a self-sustaining culture underground, while trying to find new places to set up camp. It’s an easy story with a dash of tragedy, but also a pinch of resilience.
Beyond this story drama, the gameplay starts out with a simple concept of creation. You can create items with alchemy, that help you along on your adventure (such as Holy Water) or you can send Gumballs out in the world to explore via a CPU run timed event and search for new items not yet created. This is how the first part of the game begins. The more items you get, the more things you can improve and do and the first item you create actually helps to create coins that upgrade Gumballs and surroundings. This allows for more creation and crafting that helps expand the gameplay experience a bit. Picture Koei Tecmo’s Atelier game, though a bit more automatic in the crafting and creation, and you get the idea of what you’re doing at the beginning of the Gumballs & Dungeons.
That is merely the scratch of the surface for title, and also the most unexciting part, unless you’re into those sort of things. The amount of Atelier games on the market says that there are quite a few people who love that sort of stuff. Me personally? I’m not a huge fan of crafting, unless it’s something based in an RTS. With that said, if the gameplay had ended there, then the amount of excitement and enjoyment in this title would have certainly stopped short of ‘excellent’. Thankfully, the gameplay goes further.
The real crux of this game, the thing that’s going to create an addiction of sorts to the gameplay is the dungeon exploring. You play through dungeons in the game, which are multi-tiered, while discovering objects, fighting enemies and trying to make it to the end. When you go into a dungeon, you’re given a set amount of square stones to press that uncover items, shops or enemies. If it’s the first two, then you can build up your Gumball into a mighty warrior, through objects or upgrades, that is made up of three categories, which are health/attack/magic. When you go up against an enemy, you merely tap multiple times to deal a set amount of damage (the amount is associated with the attack number), which either disposes of the enemy quickly without much damage back or turns into a brutal brawl. How much you get hit is determined by the attack number assigned to the enemy you’re fighting. The attack number on your Gumball can increase as you defeat more and more enemies, gaining XP along the way, which ultimately equals out to leveling up attributes of the Gumball. So, the more you fight and defeat enemies, then the more you progress. In true RTS fashion, once the dungeon is completed all of the upgraded attributes reset. You’ll have to do this sort of thing over and over again, which isn’t bad at all.
Other ways to upgrade attacks, or magic for that matter, is through items obtained from the breaking of the stones in the dungeon. Once in a while you’ll find an item, spell, potion or magic potion that will increase your Gumball in attack/magic. The game gives you all the chances in the world to battle it out with minimum damage, but the player must strategize how this is going to be played out. That’s really the joy of the game, which is having to think about your next move without going gungho and destroying everything in your path sans attention to damage and such. If you try to do the latter, then you’re going to find your pocket book taking a hit with microtransactions along the way. It’s easy to press and press and press on enemies, but making the best of the situation, and sometimes avoiding fights, is the best route to go.
Now you might be asking, how do you avoid fights in the game? Each dungeon level has one enemy with a key. If you kill that enemy, pick up the key to unlock the dungeon door, you will circumvent needing to fight anymore enemies, thus moving onto the next level of the dungeon. If you go this route, then you also bypass the opportunity to pick up bonus points for wiping out an entire level. Those points can help with upgrading attributes of the Gumball faster, so that is quite the decision to make. I know for me, later levels that had bigger/badder enemies weren’t worth the effort of trying to wipe out a dungeon level perfectly. Progressing and unlocking the door were the main goals, but early levels at least give you a taste of what you can do by being perfect in the dungeon. That decision-making is a moment of the game where you have to really decide on whether you can chance it for the rewards or possibly lay down some dough via microtransactions to progress. That’s the strategy in the game, though it sounds simple, it certainly is not simple.
Outside of defeating and progressing through the dungeons, you also get a nice RPG aspect with equipment you find here and there as you explore. Along the way through dungeons you run into items, such as helmets, gloves, swords and guns, that help make your character stronger. They’re good motivation to keep exploring and taking chances, as the payoff generally is solid. You also find shops underneath some of the stones that offer up items that will save you the headache of breaking more stones or give you the confidence to break more stones (it’s a catch 22 sometimes). The game does enough to allow you to make your character stronger with these types of items, plus it allows for some zany gameplay. What’s zany about this? You will find deceased bodies throughout the game, some which look strangely familiar, especially of the Disney variety (Finding a dead Pinocchio is alarming). Those bodies will contain strange items sometimes, such as a gun, which don’t necessarily fit the constructed narrative of the title. Such items add some flavor to the gameplay, and sometimes laughs to Gumballs & Dungeons.
The only downer of this game, and it’s not too prevalent, is the microtransactions.
I have never been a huge fan of microtransactions because at times such a word is basically a wall when it comes to progressing in free-to-play games. While I won’t say it’s a big issue, as Gumballs & Dungeons certainly offers you enough ways out of having to do that, the game does have a few impossible scenarios in the later stages that will demand more of you without giving back. This means that the game will hit a wall of difficulty that simple cannot be overcome easily without the help of microtransactions. For example, I’m currently stuck in a dungeon that has held me hostage for the last two days. I’ve used up all my gems given by QC Play (they give reviewers a large amount to see the entire game) and have reached a point where leveling up my Gumball isn’t on the same playing field as the enemies I’m fighting. Specifically, I’ve reached a point where I’m fighting enemies that have 79+ points of health. The attacks, regardless of what I have bought in the shop, aren’t even close to easily defeating such an enemy. Going to shops to help acquire items to help me defeat those beasts will cost me ‘perfect’ bonus points, which I can’t acquire because the enemies are too strong. So, what am I left to do? If I die and get revived, the thing (a little Gumball devil) that revives me will give me an ungodly amount of health, which will help me progress, but to get revived (without starting over in the dungeon) requires gems and those gems cost real money. I’m a bit trapped, but I know there is a way through, but I haven’t figured out the best method. I’m sure it’s there, but this type of moment, later in the game, is a bit of a wall.
Anyway, I do realize that developers can’t just give a game away for free and that money is required to keep making games. While I don’t love microtransactions, I do understand why they exist. That doesn’t mean I have to love the idea, though.