Smash Land: Another Hit or a Spooky Pop Repeat?
By: Martin Mittner
Supercell is perhaps best known for their chart-topping strategy tycoon game Clash of Clans (perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercials). They also have two other wildly popular games. One is Boom Beach, another strategy tycoon (or asynchronous RTS) game. The other is Hay Day, a farming simulation game; you know, for a little portfolio diversity. No one would argue that Supercell isn’t a company at the top of its game (no that’s not a pun). That isn’t to say they haven’t had their setbacks. Gunshine.net never really performed that well, I have no idea what happened to Battle Buddies, Pets vs Orcs got pulled after being live for a month, and their latest attempt to expand their portfolio Spooky Pop was soft launched and then pulled three months later. This just says to me that they are really about maintaining their quality bar. If Supercell doesn’t believe they can be “the best” (or at least arguably the best) in the market when they make a game, then they will pull it and try something new.
“Martin, we know all about Supercell, enough with the history lesson already! What’s Smash Land all about?!” I’m glad you asked! Smash Land is a slingshot physics game with RPG elements, the main mechanic here is pull and release. Smashland is in the same vein as Monster Strike and Slide Fight. You control a small group of adventurers who are traveling by boat to different islands, themed as forests, deserts, etc. To clear the island, the first time, you must pass through a number of levels where you Smash into things, as the game name implies! The art is art is very Supercelly and is just as compelling as in previous games (more so than Hay Day in my humble opinion).
To me, these types of games feel like toys, which isn’t a bad thing. Monster Strike, has performed very well in Japan, however, it has yet to gain much traction in Western markets. How will Supercell’s newest title perform? Who knows! I’m not a mystical fortune teller, nor do I have a time machine–yet!
You see those numbers over the adventurer’s heads? Yeah, that is their bounce thresholds (as I like to think of it) every time your adventurer bounces off an enemy, destructible object, or another adventurer this number goes down. Once this number hits zero that circle changes into a special ability icon. The next time you pull and release this character they will use that special ability, so you have to be careful to time it right since you have no choice here, there’s no choosing not to use the ability.
Unlike their strategy tycoon games there is no base to build (though there is a boat you can customize later in the game), and you pick up more adventurers by progressing through the campaign rather than upgrading a building to unlock them. Once you battle an adventurer on their little island you can purchase them in the shop.
There is the familiar upgrading system for adventurers. Small aesthetic changes and minor improvements happen with each upgrade until eventually the adventurer looks so different from the original model that it is easy to see the differences at a glance. The costs in time a soft currency (gold) are very low at early levels so a player can experience a plethora of different mechanics pretty quickly. Not only that but Supercell is pretty generous with the initial hard currency (diamonds) they provide and the trickle that comes in (for when you start feeling friction).
In this game your level actually matters. Everything is pegged against your level. You unlock islands in the campaigns by progressing in level and multiplayer is unlocked by hitting level 6.
Multiplayer is a lot of fun (though I do have some gripes which I will get to later). They use their tried and true trophy system for matchmaking. Players face each other with three adventurers each, and you try to eliminate the other person’s adventurers before they eliminate yours. They also have a taunts system very much like the Hearthstone system, only it has two things I’ve wanted for some time out of Hearthstone. You can say “you’re welcome” and you can add to the list of taunts (they call them “chats”):
I don’t know exactly what I would use “flame grilled” for, but I’m going to buy it!
If you’re not super into PvP, well there is a lot of replayability (yeah I said it, we’re making it a word) in the campaign. They give you random reward chests for going back and replaying levels. But, that is quite the grind to progress and it is obvious they want you PvPing.
The Good, The Bad, and The Pretty
Let’s break it down into the good and the bad.
What’s good? Well, the game is surprisingly compelling, the art style is consistent and awesome. You don’t feel like there is a hand in your pocket right away, and they let you get a real feel for the game before friction becomes a problem. Almost everything can be purchased in soft currency except time and stamina (there are no builders to worry about, but they learned that lesson before they put out Boom Beach). At the end of the day, it is fun and dangerously addictive so maybe it will do well.
What’s bad (or at least annoying)? PvP turn times are too short. In the end this is a skill based game and I’m not 12. My dexterity level is not what it was at 20 either. The timer is like 10 seconds! I understand the desire to keep session times short but that is just ridiculous. If I make a mistake and start by pulling in the wrong direction it’s hard to recover. Even worse, if I fail to release in that last crucial moment, nothing happens, I feel like if I’m pulling back it should auto release. In fact, my other main gripe is related to PvP, but it is really situational. Matchmaking is a problem right now. You get paired with people way above your level really quickly when you start winning. I think this is just because the player pool is still small since it is in soft launch and there aren’t that many people close to my trophy level and my player level. Still I win one game and I’m suddenly playing people that are at least two levels ahead of me and 100 flags or more too. The matchmaking system could use some fine tuning.
Finally, there are a few things that confuse me given what Supercell has done in the past. For one, they have you enter your name pretty late in the FTUE (first-time user experience). This seemly innocuous act helps players feel invested in the game and with Boom Beach they moved that right up front. The other thing is: why did they chose to make you pay to expand your stamina but then make the stamina requirements scale up as the game progresses? It seems like you should get a moderate scaling up of your stamina base with your level and a slightly larger increase in base stamina if you pay for it.
Like I said in the beginning this game is a fun toy. I wonder how many people will feel invested in it as they play. I’m not sure I will ever monetize Smash Land, but the people over at Supercell are Supersmart and soft launch is for figuring out what is right and what needs work. Time will tell. Perhaps one day soon Smash Land will be coming to an app store near you.