Platforms: iOS, Android
Developer: DeNA Studios Canada
Release Date: July 3, 2013
One good card battle game deserves another. And another. At least that seems to be the formula for Mobage, which has certainly been mining the genre successfully with games like “Transformers Legends” and “Marvel: War of Heroes.” Another beloved pop culture property joins the fray in “G.I. Joe Battleground,” a game that improves upon its predecessors in some ways but surprisingly falls short in others.
Like its card battling siblings, “G.I. Joe Battleground” operates with a very well-defined gameplay loop. The goal is to take your G.I. Joe and Cobra squads through missions, winning tokens that will allow you to add more virtual cards to your collection. Adding more powerful characters and powering up existing ones makes it easier to take on tougher missions, which in turn gives you a better shot at more powerful cards, and so on.
Picking the leaders for both factions is the most rewarding part of being a beginner, as your choices consist of very recognizable characters on both sides: Duke, Scarlett, Snake Eyes and Flint for the Joes, and Cobra Commander, Destro, Baroness and Storm Shadow for the bad guys. Leaders are automatically your best cards early on, able to level up their base stats much higher and call upon powerful vehicle skills.
Other cards come in common, uncommon, rare and special episode varieties. All cards level up their base attacks, defenses and several other stats with experience points won in battle, while skills can be boosted by sacrificing unwanted cards and paying some soft currency in the strange but familiar mechanic found in many card battle games. Some characters can also be promoted by merging two of their cards together, which doesn’t seem to serve much purpose except to get some of the same combining aspect found in “Transformers Legends” into this game.
Within the missions, your leader appears as a playing piece of sorts used to move around the board game-like layout of each zone. You use energy with each move forward, and almost every step ends with a battle or random reward of some type. At certain points you have a choice of paths to take, which is nice, but since you can’t see more than a step or two ahead, the feeling of choice you get is a bit of an illusion.
The battles themselves are passive affairs mostly decided by the stats of your cards compared to the cards you are facing. Formations add a little bit of strategy to the mix – you might put a fragile character in the back row, for instance, where he will deal less damage but also take less in return – but otherwise you simply watch and wait for the result. Skills activate randomly and can really turn the tide of any given battle.
“G.I. Joe Battleground” gives you slightly more to do between battles than in other Mobage games, with consumables to heal or revive injured characters and the option to use stun grenades to capture opposing cards. Knowing when the characters are worth a grenade is half the battle (sorry, couldn’t resist!). There’s also dialogue in text form to make the missions feel like actual stories, but you’ll be wishing for even more than you get.
While it’s lots of fun to see all of the Joe universe come to life, including multiple cards for some of the most well-known personalities, the artwork is surprisingly dull. Mobage addressed this a bit in an early patch, but it’s still a bit of a shock after seeing the detailed work done on the robots of “Transformers Legends.”
There’s also a very real pay-to-win feel to improving your squad, since the packs with the best chance of yielding powerful new team members can only be purchased using hard currency. One assumes events will be rolled out to give players at least some chance at the good stuff, but if the company’s previous games are any indication, even those will provide very little shot at premium cards without shelling out some dough.
Still, the game is free to download, so whether you travel down the road of in-app purchases is entirely up to you. “G.I. Joe Battleground” is a real treat as a pure nostalgia exercise and not too shabby as a representative of its genre, and any fans of the cartoons, comics or ties should be able to find some room for it on their iPads, iPhones or Android devices.
+ Includes bunches of recognizable characters and vehicles from the G.I. Joe Universe
+ Gives players more options than in most card battle games
- Surprisingly flat art style
- Almost impossible to get the best cards without paying