Who would have guessed that the South Park IP would become a new hit RPG franchise. After the surprising success of The Stick of Truth, we got the Fractured But Whole and Phone Destroyer this year. Despite a perfect use of the IP, South Park Phone Destroyer fails to avoid the monetization traps that have plagued mobile games before it, and for me sinks what would be an otherwise great concept.
Fun and Games:
South Park Phone Destroyer picks up at what I assume is after the Fractured But Whole. All the kids of South Park are trying to find a new game to play until Cartman suggests Cowboys and Indians. What starts out as a simple game turns into a genre spanning battleground for South Park; with Cowboys, Indians, Aliens, Pirates, Cyborgs, and more all fighting for dominance. You play as the silent protagonist of the New Kid who gets roped into the game by Cartman.
From an IP standpoint, Phone Destroyer fits perfectly within the crazy universe of South Park. Everybody gets in on the craziness of dressing up and fighting (more on that in a minute). For those who’ve played freemium games like Clash Royale, Phone Destroyer doesn’t stray too far it.
Each level requires you to summon various characters as your army while you move through the streets of South Park. At the end of each level you’ll fight a named character from the series. Complete each level in a chapter to move onto the next.
Besides the singleplayer campaign, the game features live PvP with 1 v 1 battles of your army vs. someone else. This plays a major (and polarizing) part of the experience which we’ll get back to. Phone Destroyer’s collection and team building system show off the best parts of the design.
Building and upgrading your army is going to be your prime focus in Phone Destroyer. Cards are broken down into currently five themes; such as adventure, fantasy and so on. After that, there are four classes: Range, Assassin, Tank and Fighter, and different rarities of cards.
Each theme has the members of South Park dressed up in a variety of costumes. Similar to the RPG games, the aesthetic holds up well with all manner of hand-made costumes used for devastating attacks. You can only have two themes (plus neutral) cards in a deck of 10. The potential combinations and deck styles are easily the best part of South Park Phone Destroyer.
Not only do the styles fit the world, but there is enough differentiation between them to offer different strategies. As an example, Cartman plays a tank in different themes, adventure Cartman is a cowboy who has an AOE attack, while Mystical Cartman doesn’t attack, but draws all enemies to attacking him.
Unfortunately, this is all ruined thanks to one of the most exploitative monetization schemes I’ve seen yet.
Player vs. Purchase:
South Park Phone Destroyer starts off innocently enough, but it won’t take long before the game forces you into a wall. Before we talk about that, it’s important to bring up how progression works in the game.
Completing campaign missions will give you three picks from a set of lockers that determines your reward. The game tells you of the three highest possible loot drops which supposedly should be randomly placed, although I find that highly suspect.
If you don’t get the high quality loot, you can spend premium currency for additional chances. Repeating missions raises the difficulty which simply ups the enemy levels and changes the quality loot.
To upgrade cards, each theme has specific upgrade materials (three of escalating rarity) that must be found, and copies of said card sacrificed to upgrade. Leveling up a card gives it a big health and damage boost. If you can’t upgrade your cards, you’ll find yourself falling behind in the PvP and PvE space.
Throughout the game, there are gates that require you to win at PvP a select number of times to keep going. Combining PvP and PvE progression into one in a game like this is a major offense.
The game’s ranking system doesn’t come into play until the teens; just far enough to force you into fighting people with put together decks. The PvP booster pack reward also just so happens to require the same number of wins as it takes to go up the ranking; further guaranteeing that players are going to climb the ladder and keep fighting higher ranked opponents no matter what.
The matchmaking seems to be tuned towards playing against people with higher quality cards regardless of your progress. To make things worse, losing in a PvP match does not grant you any currency or a chance at rewards. This perpetuates a game space that only those with the best cards (or the most money) have any shot at seeing the good stuff.
Due to how the campaign PvP locks work, if you’re trying to build a deck or upgrade cards that you haven’t reached the specific campaign yet, good luck trying to get the materials. Since everyone is thrown into PvP at the start, you will see the same cards used again and again until you reach (or are forced to reach) the higher ranks.
Forcing someone to play PvP in an environment like this is just wrong, and makes South Park Phone Destroyer one of the most exploitative games I’ve seen yet.
Even if you get lucky with card drops to build your deck, it doesn’t mean anything if the person is using higher level cards than yours. The PvP requirement also gets higher the further you get into the campaign.
If they wanted to push PvP like this, then they should have waited until the player has played through all four themes first, and if there was no way around it, then introduce the PvP walls. This would give them a chance to try out the various styles and get more diversity in the ladder.
Another option would be to leave the PvP out of the campaign and use it as its own mode with special rewards similar to a game like Marvel Puzzle Quest. Having packs unlocked for playing the campaign would also help to give people a fighting chance if they want to tackle the PvP.
As a quick point, the current highest value booster pack in the store costs 2,500 premium currency which comes out to $25. It has the greatest chance of dropping rare and epic cards (legendary rank seems to be exclusive to in-game packs for now). Just like other games of this style, epic cards by default have higher stats compared to other cards of the same class. Limited time events on unique bundles come up from time to time and require real money to buy.
No matter how good you are at Phone Destroyer, you will hit that wall of not having cards strong enough to continue progressing in either PvP or PvE. When that happens, unless you were lucky enough to get the materials needed, you will have to spend money on opening up packs.
The monetization ruins what could be a great game concept and brilliant use of IP.
A Roshambo Move:
South Park Phone Destroyer is the perfect example of what’s wrong with this pursuit of monetization. We have a great foundation of a game completely eclipsed by a system designed to make your experience as annoying as possible.
Not only that, but this could prove a game killer if the community’s bottom drops out. If the only way to progress is through PvP, and there comes a point when there aren’t enough people at the lower ranks to play against, this will create a scenario that prevents any new players from getting into the game. And before anyone comments on that not happening, I ran into that trying to play a F2P game earlier this year.
If South Park Phone Destroyer truly copies from the “best” in the mobile space, then maybe “Freemium isn’t Free” was more telling than we originally thought.