Platform: iOS, Android
Release Date: September 4, 2013
The temptation to lead off or end a “Star Wars” video game review with some kind of force pun is a strong one indeed. “Star Wars: Force Collection” makes it even tougher to avoid, seeing as the free-to-play mobile card battling game puts the word “force” up front and center. Nevertheless, I’m going to try taking the high road to explain that while “Force Collection” breaks very little new ground in its genre, it’s probably going to prove irresistible to fans of George Lucas’ most famous and profitable brainchild.
“Force Collection” wastes no time immersing you in its “Star Wars” authenticity, hitting you with the title crawl and John Williams’ timeless theme as soon as you log in for the first time. The tutorial features Princess Leia asking you for help, and her dialogue includes both direct quotes and paraphrased bits from the movies. You’ll recognize all of the still photos and brief animations as well, unless you are one of those people who’ve never seen either trilogy just to be contrary.
The main gameplay loop sticks unimaginatively close to the well-established card battling norm. Your main goal is to build up the most formidable deck of cards possible, featuring all kinds of characters from all six “Star Wars” films. That deck is used to fight boss battles at the end of quests, as well as to attack and defend during PvP (player versus player) skirmishes.
Quests serve an end in and of themselves, allowing you to stock up on credits that can level up your cards, along with yielding you stack cards. Those can be thought of as the cannon fodder of the “Force Collection” universe: the Ewoks, Stormtroopers and so on that are weak on their own but can be effective in numbers. They fight in stacks of 10 or less during battles, so the name makes sense. You can also find vehicle blueprint pieces while questing, which we’ll circle back to momentarily.
Yet the quests will probably seem mind numbingly repetitive to anyone who isn’t an experienced card battler, because all they have you do is slash random bad guys with a tap and swing of your lightsaber. Every grunt disposed of gain you credits and experience points at the cost of energy, and while you can increase your energy capacity as you level up, it’s possible to run out very quickly once you’ve begun playing regularly. Load times are also an issue, as the game seems to go to mid-quest loading screens at times even when nothing new is happening—and they’re not always short.
Things get a little better when the actual card battles take place. The cards fight autonomously according to their various ratings, but there is some strategic planning involved in deploying them. Each card has a specific cost, and you can choose to field as many cards as possible whose total cost adds up to no more than your current max. Since the battles take place on rectangular grids, cards also have ranges (short, medium and long), and you’ll quickly learn that fielding some long range units in your back row can soften up enemies before they even get too close. The final consideration is special abilities, as some cards can buff or debuff others.
Once you hit the “Engage” button the fate of your cards is sealed, but “Force Collection” gives you a few reasons not to skip to the results screen as a matter of habit. The animations are amusing in their appropriateness, with Jedi cards swinging mini lightsabers and ranged troops unleashing blaster bolts. It gets even better if there are characters on opposite sides who have had memorable interactions in the flicks, as they’ll relive them before the fighting starts. For instance, I have a Greedo card, and many players start with a Han Solo, so I’ve seen them go through various quips from the Cantina scene from “A New Hope.” And no worries purists, because sometimes the Solo card does shoot first.
PvP battles are fun to try for missing vehicle pieces and just to pass time when your energy runs out, but they too are constrained by a resource called Battle Points, so don’t expect to play more than two or three per play session. There’s more to consider before attacking another player as well, because defeat means any stack cards you lose are gone for good and vehicles can be damaged or destroyed.
Speaking of vehicles, they tend to be pretty powerful, and represent the one main way of beefing up your deck without spending real money or tons of grinding. Vehicle blueprints have six pieces, four of which can be found in quests and two that must be won in PvP duels. Once you complete a blueprint, it just takes time and plenty of credits to build the specified vehicle, which is good because you’ll be replacing destroyed ones regularly.
Like most card battle games, “Force Collection” offers you several ways to obtain new cards, which come in blind packs so you don’t know what you’ve got until you open it. Achieving goals and adding other players as allies helps, but the best way to get the rarest and most powerful cards is with premium currency, known here as crystals. To Konami’s credit, crystals do get handed out as in-game rewards, but they’re mostly meant to be purchased with real money. That’s also a pretty standard feature of this type of game, giving players the choice of spending time or cash to advance.
It would have been nice to see Konami branch out a little more from the norm with such a prime IP, because it’s bound to attract people who would never otherwise touch a mobile card battling title. Despite that, “Force Collection” works as a solid representative of its genre and a great walk down memory lane for anyone who doesn’t pull a Jar Jar Bink card (he’s in the game, because I’ve seen him). Even if the gameplay doesn’t sound like your cup of membrosia, you can still have some free fun soaking in the sights and sounds of the “Star Wars” universe.
And may the… nope, I promised, remember?
+ Fantastic “Star Wars” flavor in visuals, dialogue, music, and sound effects
+ Vehicles and stack cards add a few strategic twists
- Core gameplay mechanics almost identical to the well-worn genre norms
- Loading screens are pervasive