When it comes to the games business, I'm not sure if there's any task that offers quite the same challenges as trying to convert a series from premium to free-to-play. Generally speaking, the upfront price tag ends up being the main advantage a free-to-play game can tout, with its paid predecessors usually offering a better longterm value for more frequent players. Some types of games have it easier than others, since certain genres almost demand improved visuals and major content updates as time goes by. In the case of a puzzle game, however, it's often hard to get people to buy into a sequel even without changing the deal much. Did anyone really go in for Tetris 2? People are often happy with good puzzle games as they are. Of course, one approach a publisher can take is to pull the previous games in the series, artificially shunting people to whichever version you want them to go to, but outside of that, it can be a minefield, as the creators of Dungelot [$1.99] found earlier this year with the initial blowback from Dungelot 2 [Free].
Swords And Poker Adventures [Free] is the latest installment in the Sword And Poker [$2.99] series and the first developed under new owners Konami. The original game, created in what would be the twilight years of Shin Megami Tensei [$7.99] creator Cozy Okada's start-up developer Gaia, proved to be a major hit in Japan, with decent success worldwide. It was enough to ensure that Gaia would release Sword And Poker 2 [$3.99], but apparently not enough to save the company, as they went dark soon after. If it weren't hard enough to take over development on a beloved grassroots hit series, Konami perhaps saw the way the wind was blowing and opted to make their first Sword And Poker game free-to-play in the vein of major hits like Candy Crush Saga [Free]. They also seem to be okay with the previous two games still being available on the App Store, since both are purchasable at present.
The end result is a complicated situation that I imagine few will be happy with. Swords And Poker Adventures is a good game, and as free-to-play puzzle games go, a very generous one. The core gameplay remains intact, the difficulty curve isn't quite as steep as you would usually find in this type of pay model, and you can even permanently buy your way out of the obligatory stamina meter for the very reasonable price of $4.99. The production values have been buffed up to the level you would expect from a major publisher like Konami, representing a major step up from the somewhat mundane presentation of the earlier installments. In a vacuum, this is an excellent game that I would certainly recommend to any puzzle or card game fan.
Unfortunately, this game doesn't exist in a vacuum. It has a couple of very direct competitors in its own ancestors, which remain quite playable to this day and lack any sort of monetization at all beyond the initial purchase price. If you're not interested in paying a cent for this game's concept, Swords And Poker Adventures will serve you just fine, albeit with the usual free-to-play conceits. There is a stamina meter which depletes every time you attempt a battle that refills over time or can be topped off by paying. Every so often, you'll reach gates that offer you three ways to pass. You can get your Facebook friends to send you keys, you can spend a whole lot of the game's premium currency, or you can pay a massive amount of gold that will keep you grinding for a good, long while. That premium currency also gets put to use to buy equipment and use consumable magic spells. You'll earn a fair bit of it by playing through the game, and you can certainly get by without it, but plenty of content and magic fun will be closed off to you.
You might find yourself tempted to shell out for that unlimited stamina IAP, and I wouldn't blame you. It's quite a good deal, better than we usually get in games that use this mechanic. Before you do, however, you might want to consider that the price of that IAP will buy you either of the previous games, both of which offer the same essential gameplay experience with fewer hassles. Even if you buy unlimited stamina, you're still going to hit those literal paywalls, you're still going to miss out on tons of equipment, and you'll still have to be very stingy with your magic. With good alternative options, it's hard to make a case here unless you've completely exhausted the other games in the series.
As in the previous games, Swords And Poker Adventures has you going through levels made up of a number of battles that you have to try to survive without running out of chips. Battles are one-on-one affairs, with nine trump cards placed in the center of the play area. You and your opponent are dealt four cards, and you place the cards around those original nine to make poker hands, which will damage your opponent. Each hit takes away chips, and when either you or your opponent run out of chips, the battle is over. After defeating the enemy, you'll be deposited back out into the level map without having your chips restored. You can restore your health completely once per level, but anything more than that requires you to spend some gems.
You can use the gold and gems you gather to upgrade your health or buy new equipment. As you would expect, the equipment you need to use gems for far outclasses the gear you can buy with gold, but since you can proceed through the game fairly well without the gem equipment, it's not a showstopper. The new magic system that treats spells as consumables, while a lot less fun than the system found in the earlier games, is also not a showstopper, since the weapons you come across often allow you to use magic by playing certain hands. The gates, on the other hand, are a big problem. If you scrimp and save, you might have enough gems to get past one or maybe even two, but after that, you're either off to Facebook to try to drag a few people away from Farmville for a minute or you're settling in for a long, very dull grind, and one that will span days if you haven't bought unlimited stamina.
Those gates are the main reason why although Swords And Poker Adventures is a fine game taken on its own, I can't recommend it to anyone but those who have no interest in spending a few dollars on one of the other versions. I like how shined up everything is, and it's nice to have some new encounters and stages to play through, but as a sequel, it adds very little and restricts too much. It ends up feeling less like a follow-up and more like a reboot, but fails to bring any fun new tricks for veterans of the series. For Sword And Poker fans who have been waiting years for a new installment, this is something of a bitter start to the Konami era of management.
Watch Button Watch App