Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 8.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Reviewing sequels to games you enjoy tend to be a typical thing when you are a reviewer.  It’s easy to sit there and write out how everything in the sequel is the same, but better in so many ways, and even pull from your previous review for inspiration.  In this case, Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire is the sequel to a previously reviewed title, Slots – Pharaoh’s Way; it essentially boils down to this: it is a slots game that is a sequel to a slots game and it is still… a slots game.

In my previous review I went through the ethics and personal feelings I had with the business model this slots game (now series) presents itself with.  The structure is very much the same in Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire as it was in Slots – Pharaoh’s Way, and really all that you’ll initially see (if you are moving from the previous game to this) is that you are resetting back to zero.  Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is an endlessly-updated grind to the next slot, and Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire is not much different.  There’s no point, really, in talking about what is the same, but it’s an opportunity to talk about what IS different.

It is an interesting observation that many of the improvements I had suggested in my previous review seems to actually have come to pass — namely in more significant time-based rewards and an interesting meta game which rewards you as you play.

Free bonus credits are earned by increment of four hours as Slots – Pharaoh’s Way had done and still seem to scale higher as you progress — you also get a “special bonus” on every fourth redemption, which is a unique bonus game.  The “Money Rain” bonuses (credits you earn as a bonus to leveling up) that occur also scale higher along with your level.  Another vital, new, free bonus happens now in the form of a Return Bonus independent of your hourly bonus — if you visit every day your rewards slightly increase as each day goes on.

A meta game has been introduced in this title that revolves around collecting relic pieces, signified by a moving piece that represents your progress through leveling.  As you complete the relics you gain a large payout of credits.  Whereas before you would attain this payout at a certain increment of levels, the progression is “broken up” and given a visual representation to tell you that you are almost at the next milestone.  This is a welcome change as it gives the feeling of an adventure and collecting relic pieces to add to your overall collection — of which there are many relics to collect.  Your piece moves every 1/3 increment of a level and you gain a relic piece at every two levels.

Included with the meta game is also a bonus chance to earn credits within that meta game progression.  A chest moves every five turns (slot plays) within your progression path, and if it appears on top of your moving piece, you get into one of the bonus games unique to this chest.  One is a spinning wheel that lands on a number and the other I encountered was a “Risk to Double” game – you roll a number and risk it (to double it) by choosing heads/tails.  If you lose in the Risk to Double game, you get a consolation prize regardless, but it is usually going to be a paltry amount.  It is pretty much the same idea as the bonus card game that you get access to on regular slot wins.  The bonus card game is still essentially useless, and the same rules apply as in the previous game.  Because they are essentially the same game, I am lead to think that the Risk to Double just isn’t worth the risk.

There is more diversity in the initial few slots, and it is seemingly less reliant on the “Pharaoh’s” theme, unlike the first game.  The second slot level you are all of a sudden in the African safari with elephants and shit.  What happened to the God damn pyramids and whipping slaves?!  I want some more Anubis and King Tut shit before I start traveling all over the world.  Every 10 levels unlocks a new slot and this time around there are no numbers showing how many diamonds you earned so it’s not as easy to tell what your progress is other than a visual bar.  I assume that they’ve reigned in the required amount of diamonds to make it more linear rather than it’s exponential growth that occurred in the last game, but it isn’t easy to tell.

Buying credits still seems like something predatory, but there can be plenty in-game to at least make you feel like you are earning credits with the extra bonuses and the new meta game portion.  Where the ethics get involved here, is that the game has to feel rewarding to keep you hooked, but they can’t be too rewarding since they want to sell credits. It’s a very fine balancing act that appears to sometimes rig the bonus games to not be very rewarding all of the time. For example, a risk/reward game that stops between a large number and a small number will seemingly skew towards the small number more often than not. Even the “meta chest” game is privy to this, despite being essentially an added system for overall bonuses.  There are lots of added bonus games involved with the title, but none are overly rewarding, which takes a little bit of the excitement out of hitting one of them.

As someone who grinded quite a few million diamonds in the previous iteration, it feels a bit daunting to get into and start yet another slots game (with essentially the same progression system) from scratch.  Personally, it feels like there should either have been some sort of credit sharing between the two games, or Slots – Pharaoh’s Way upgraded with the additions they made for Slots – Pharaoh’s Fire.  Business-wise, I completely understand why you would want your players to experience a full reset — the grind is necessarily subject to becoming hooked as you gain levels with more regularity at the lower levels and hitting level 243 might not mean anything anymore.

There are some graphical enhancements (addition of more 3D graphics/animations is the biggest difference) and some sound “additions” that are a bit corny as some deep-voiced European-sounding dude (read: not Egyptian) is one(?) of the performers.  As always, I turned my sound off within ten minutes of booting up the game, so it didn’t matter to me.

Is the game good?  Sure.  It’s not any better or worse than the previous game, really.  A lot of the additions I proposed were actually included and its made the game a better package, however the intent of the game is to make money at the end of the day and they can’t go too crazy with the fun.  For the benefit of the series, it would be interesting to see a different progression system than grinding diamonds and levels to unlock more slots.  For a more in-depth look at all of the basic functions of the game, please check out my previous review as almost all of it is relevant for this game.

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Crazy Rings (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 8.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Want to go on a Match-Three Safari full of deformed animals that are caged in some weird contraption called a “crazy ring?” Well, if that specific craving has arisen, Crazy Rings is for you. 101 stages full of fun and oddly not-very-funny humor. For some reason the game is listed in the store as “the funniest game ever” or something, but I have yet to even see a real joke or something funny. Maybe that’s the joke.

I guess it doesn’t matter. What there IS to like is probably what should be paid attention to, anyway. Through the “Campaign” mode, in which you presumably play through all 101 of the stages, you are trying to get as many points as possible and clear the Crazy Rings with as much efficiency and/or combo-making as possible. Once you complete a level, you gain up to three stars (you can earn zero, too) depending on how well you do in the level and progress to the next one.

The concept is not hard to grasp, nor is it really that difficult, at least until the point I’m at, which is Stage 25. The game can get a bit hectic, depending on the little things they throw in to make it harder/easier to play. There isn’t a whole lot of variety up until this point, but I’m not complaining since the art is nice to look at, and the game isn’t really that frustrating to play – it is also a stable application that doesn’t crash or have frequent bugs that I have encountered.

The essential control mechanic is to tap where you want to send one of your spherical animals, and in doing so, try to match them up with the others and try to make combos, like many other Match-Three games. What makes this game a little bit unique is that the crazy rings will rotate, expand, or travel around in a circle, so you will have to pay attention to those elements in order to not misplace any of your spherical lions, frogs, snakes, pigs, or other animals. You can also have multiple crazy rings which will also rely on the speed of each ring’s rotation if you want to match any animals with the outer rings, as they can all be rotating and expanding at the same time.

At a certain point, the game will begin to give you helpful one-time-use power-ups. One of them is a pork-chop-shaped meat thing that you can launch at the ring of animals, and they will all go chasing after it off-screen. This can be useful if you have two rings at the same time or if you just have a lot of random animals. Another power-up is a tranquilizer needle, which can slow down the ring that you shoot at, limiting its rotational speed or elastic rate. Later on, there is a Rhino that you can use to break through any obstacles, including rocks. I’m sure that they throw in different power-ups and obstacles every now-and-then to break up the monotony.  Obstacles, like the rocks, which act as a wall within a crazy ring can change your strategy in completing a level.

You aren’t able to save these particular power-ups, and you have to use them within about 10 seconds of their appearance, or lose the opportunity to use them. The only power-ups that you actually keep are Rocket Rings. Rocket Rings are basically things you can use to “cheat” and clear a level if you somehow get frustrated enough to use it. I am not entirely sure if Rocket Rings are acquirable in-game, but you are able to buy them. Doing so will also unlock all of the levels in the game without having to progress one-by-one — it is a package deal and I’m not sure if you are able to just keep buying Rocket Rings after your first purchase.

Considering the Rocket Rings aren’t very enticing to use, and you can unlock all of the levels by yourself anyway, I don’t know why you would WANT to buy this “package,” even if it is a very low price to do so (at the moment, $0.99). The game isn’t particularly annoying in trying to get you to buy anything or share anything with your friends, so that is a welcomed aspect. There are also no naggy notifications or stupid social/faux-multiplayer bloat features. What I enjoy about the game is that you are actually playing a game and not trying to show your friends how cool it is to not play a game.

The game itself is quite meaty, considering there are 101 levels, and once you get through all of those, you can re-play them and try to get three-stars or play what seems like an endless-play mode called “Zen Mode.” The rings probably get crazier and crazier (and difficult) as it goes along. The sound effects/ambient noises aren’t annoying, so they’re nice to play with if you require something to listen to, but you’re not missing much if your phone is on silent.

The game is not a bad bargain for “free.” If you like puzzle games, you will enjoy Crazy Rings, and while it may not be the most unique concept you’ve ever seen, it is still worth playing. It can get pretty hectic at times, but I have yet to encounter a level that I couldn’t pass on the first go. I’m sure that in the later levels it may become difficult enough where it may require a couple of tries, but in general, there isn’t much retrying.

 

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 9.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Slots are one of your basic casino stereotypes.  Old ladies clutching their purses, chasing the 20 dollars they get from their nickel bet…  It’s not that exciting to think about.  In fact, it’s probably a bit comical.

Video slots are much different, though, and appeal to a new generation that is very technologically and entertainment-focused.  Video slots open up a whole new realm of possibilities such as bonus games, screwing the gambler through incorrect math programming, and enchanting the player with even more lights and sounds than mechanical slots typically offered.  Themes also work a lot better with video slots.  Star Trek slots, anyone?  Who wouldn’t want Shatner’s soothing frequencies spurted every time you lost a spin?

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is basically going to be the best video slots fix you’re going to get for free or otherwise.  I personally downloaded this on iOS 6 with an iPhone 5 and have become enamored with the fake gambling experience it provides.  If the title of the game wasn’t obvious enough, it is an Ancient Egypt-themed slots game.

The game contains all of the things that make actual video slots fun and exciting to play.  Fast plays, smooth animation, high quality art that fits in with the theme, and lots of annoying noises.  The first thing I did was turn off the audio, of course.

It should be obvious that if you don’t like the concept of video slots, this game is probably not for you.  I would say that slots in general do not appeal to me, at least until I played video slots a couple of years ago.  Video slots, to me, provide more “gameplay” opportunities when it comes to bonus games – and boy are they (usually) exciting.  Slots – Pharaoh’s Way replicates the exciting feeling of normal video slots by providing unique bonus games (depending on the slot game you are playing) and free spins.

If you break down the goal of the game to its very basic element, you are doing one thing: Earning Diamonds.  These Diamonds are used in grinding levels to unlock more slots to play.  Diamonds are earned through normal slot play and each progressive level has a substantial percentage more to get to the next level, which promotes playing more/upping your bet to get further along.  Playing straight through, the feeling you are grinding out levels doesn’t settle in until about level 13 or so, and depending on how many Credits (the game’s currency) you have, it is fairly influencing to up your bet and earn Diamonds at a faster, even reckless, pace.

Your most reliable source of Diamonds comes from your initial bet at a rate of x2 what your bet is.  If you’re betting 10 Credits per slot play, you gain 20 Diamonds, if you bet 100, you get 200, etc.  More often than not, at least one of the spaces on your slot board will be bonus Diamonds which also increase at a rate of x20 what you are betting.  In this case, you gain 1000 bonus Diamonds for a 50 Credit bet, and so on.  That’s only if you hit bonus Diamonds in a space, and that can sometimes prevent you from winning more Credits depending on its placement.

When your next level is about 150,000 diamonds away (at level 21) you’re almost going to be hoping for the bonus Diamonds more than anything else you could get.  Essentially, when you are using Credits to win more Credits, what you are actually doing is using Credits to get more Diamonds, and being as efficient as possible in earning Diamonds becomes the real intent.  Earning Credits only allows you to have a chance of earning more Diamonds.  There are also various rewards and bet amounts unlocked for each progressive level, which can supplement your Credit gain/usage.

What I began to realize is that earning Credits is paltry compared to getting Diamonds, and in the end Credits almost mean nothing as the game forces you to keep parity with your growing Credit pool and level by upping your bet to earn more Diamonds at a higher rate.  No matter how many Credits you have, you will practically always have the “same” amount of spins you started out with as the winnings all scale linearly.  The only thing that increases exponentially is the barrier to level up.

Sure, you could play for 1 credit each bet while you have 3,000 sitting in your pool, but what the hell is the point when there’s absolutely NOTHING else to do with said Credits other than to earn Diamonds with them?  In a sense, it combats the inflation that the developers no doubt predicted would happen with Credits, and unless you want to be stuck at the level 20 range for the rest of your life and never unlock another slot, you’re going to be upping your bet.

My personal strategy for betting with Credits has been to always have “100” spins available to me before I go bankrupt.  If I fall below the 1,000 Credit mark, I would lower my bet to 10 Credits so that I could work my way back up to a comfortable level for my currently-comfortable bet of 50 Credits.  However, when I get up to 5,000 Credits I’m sure I’ll at least up it to 100 or 250 Credits.

Design-wise, all of this makes sense.  When you actually play it, however, you begin to beg for variety.  Playing the slots game proper is good enough, and every time you win a bet, you get the option to play a simple card game where you can guess the color or suit of the card and gain twice or four times what you won in the slot game.  This bonus game is fun for a while, but ends up being less enticing as the stakes get higher, since it really is not in your favor, and doesn’t even net you any Diamonds directly.  You’ll probably not want to waste time playing it at all after a while, regardless of the fact that the card game has better odds than the actual slots game at the end of the day.

New slots open every 10 levels with new artwork, a different bonus game, different payouts, and slightly different rules/spaces.  For example, the second slot is only 3 reels, but every consecutive 3-way match is counted.  On the 5 reel slots, which are the first and third slots, you have 25 to 50 lines in many different random combinations that are harder to predict when you win.  The idea is that the more progressed slot has the best payouts, but you might visit the previous ones to get a change of scenery every now and then.

Each slot has its own bonus game which throws in a little variety every now and then, but they are barely rewarding.  One of the bonus games named River of Luck relies on your… “luck” to guess whether or not the next number in a sequence of numbers will be higher or lower.  If you know anything about statistics, it might be an easy decision process, but it certainly does take a long time to get through the game, not to mention the payouts are almost laughable for the amount of time you spend on it until you guess about 8 times in a row correctly (which almost never happens).  The bonus games don’t typically hit often either, which adds to the disappointment.  The monotony of constantly pressing the “spin” button can be subsided with the AutoPlay option, but then it REALLY feels like you’re doing nothing, so I use it sparingly — only when I’m jerking it.  Other bonus games are pretty simple, like “finding a match” and clicking cat idols until you click two of the wrong ones.  Meh.

I think there is a missed opportunity here with the way the game is made as far as bonuses go.  If they made some mechanic for spending a certain amount of Credits and being able to play a bonus game that awarded Credits, Diamonds, or even both outside of the random chance of the Slot games, it would be a lot more fun to play for long sessions.  Even if they were rehashed bonus games that you already unlocked for the slots you are playing, it would be a step in the right direction.  As it is, you simply plug away and hope that you get to the next level range before the turn (pun!) of the century.  But I suppose that’s where buying Credits might alleviate this frustrating aspect of the grind.

Every 4 hours you are able to collect free bonus Credits.  When the four hours are up your phone will light up and notify you that you are able to collect bonus Credits, thus allowing for the timer to restart.  Your bonus will increase the more levels you gain, but in the end you’ll probably burn through it all in about a couple of spins regardless of how much you actually get, since your normal bet will keep increasing along with the bonus.  If you are really enthralled with the experience, you can always buy more Credits.  The option to buy Credits isn’t terrible, but you come to think about the philosophy behind a game like this.  By no means is Slots – Pharaoh’s Way a major offender of the “Free2Play” format as you can get by just fine without ever paying one red cent to get ahead.  At some point, though, you’ll need to up your bets considerably to match the teetering-on-the-insane Diamond grind.

Taking a long, hard look at business practices for one throwaway game might be a waste of energy, but this isn’t the only game with this model.  “Free2Play” games create unique products that may not have otherwise been available, and I know that I wouldn’t be playing this game at all if I had to pay anything to play it.  With so many options for games nowadays, getting someone to even spend time with your game is particularly valuable when you can make more money than you ever could per player by creating the capability to spend absurd amounts on it on the back end.

At the end of the day, Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is what it is, regardless of the philosophy involved.  Having a four page review on what is “simply” a slots game is probably overdoing it but as soon as I started playing I knew I had a lot to say about it.  The game sets out to do what it does with almost perfect execution, and the only glaring flaw is that the game lacks variety and more of a meta-game.  I don’t only want to progress, but I want to be able to play a random cool game every hundred spins so I can be excited to do another hundred spins to play that quick, fun mini-game without taking too much focus off the slots game itself.  It would be a detriment to the point of the game to have a whole suite of mini-games that are always accessible – but there is a happy medium that should be attained.  Otherwise, all you’re “doing” is grinding the Diamond counter, and not playing a game.  It is “drop-in-a-bucket” gameplay at an extreme.

From what I gather, this game is actually updated every couple of weeks to add more slots and adjust payout balance or math errors.  I’m not sure how engaging this is for people who just start out the game, since it appears you have to grind at least 50 levels before you even get to a “new world” which may or may not be available at this point.  To know the game is supported is nice, however.  But it would do wonders for the game if it had some sort of “news” in the game to keep people up to date with what’s going on.

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