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 [$0.99] 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.

Photo 2014-07-22, 16 39 05The 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.

Photo 2014-07-22, 16 39 00As 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.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Zenfar

    Excellent complete review as always. Fun game but only after you finish the originals.

  • jesse_dylan

    It runs slowly, resumes slowly, and crashes a lot for me. I don't get why it requires an iphone 5 yet won't even run well on a current gen ipad. So much for pick up and play on the go.

  • RiptoR

    Played it a bit on my 4s, and was thinking of getting the unlimited energy iap. But then I ran into the first paygate and saw that the unlimited energy would be needed just to be able to grind for the insane amount of ingame money needed to progress. Uninstalled immediately.

  • Bryan Skursha

    Can anyone confirm if the old Sword and Poker games were updated at all for retina or widescreen (iphone 5 or newer)? Thanks.

    • Jake7905

      Nope, they're still in their original form. But they're still worth a purchase; though they won't knock you out with their looks, they have one hell of a personality. Simply put: IOS classics.

      • Bryan Skursha

        Thanks! I will do that. I feel the same way about Dungeon Raid. IOS classic that deserves an update, but still holds up.

  • Swallowtail

    Not cards but bills can break the paywalls lol.

  • FastShoes

    I too loved the first two games and tried hard to get into this one, but the one-time use spells, the insane cost of weapons and the energy meter make this a complete pay-to-win type game.

    To me, it's a disappointing, sad shell of the original two games.

  • ocv28

    Timers are defeated by changing the date on your phone one day ahead, then changing back.

  • Tomate Diseño

    "its paid predecessors usually offering a better longterm value for more frequent players." I never see this as a "value" issue - it's purely a gameplay issue. Gameplay is hampered by the devices created to induce payment, in this case an unfathomable amount of grinding, I'm not even sure if it's going to be possible to access some of the cards / equipment without a purchase. I'd like to see the actual figures on that - count of gems it's possible to earn through gameplay vs items for sale.

    • ktern

      I just finished Zone 26 and there's a sword that costs 845 gems in the store.

      It's possible to get 325 gems for free (260 through gameplay, 60 for Facebook bonus, 5 for push notifications bonus), so it's basically cash only.

  • colbertj

    Usually your reviews are spot on and I look nowhere else on the web for iOS game recommendations. However, you really seem to be so jaunted by anything that is free to play that it affects the quality if your reviews. I agree 100% that this type of model is ruining the App Store, but save it for an editorial. About 75% of your review is about politics and you merely describe the basic mechanics of the game. Anything about boss battles? Specific magic? RPG progression? You seriously need to set aside your disgust and be objective about the actual games. To top it off, three stars? I hope readers are making the one-star adjustment for free to play. Get with it guys, tell us about the games, not the business!

    • ktern

      Actually, the F2P aspects are getting in the way of the gameplay, so it's a fair point to make. A lot of the magic is pay-to-use, too, and most of it's the same stuff that's been present in S&P 1 and 2.

      The boss battles are the way they've always been, where you have a stronger monster (more HP/shield/damage), generally with a special ability and a spell or two. There are more bosses than in previous entries (most zones have one), which is laudable because it makes for a bit more variety.

      • colbertj

        I agree with you, but most of the review is not about how the IAPs affect the gameplay. Perhaps there's an article planned about strategy to avoid spending money, but can you honestly say this is a review of the game vs. a public rant?

      • colbertj

        Okay, I concede, but just a little bit!!! Just reached the first gate and boom, straight out of Candy Crush comes the required three FB invites! Can't even express my disappointment!! Still, the review should include more about the gameplay mechanics!!

  • GamerGuy

    The original was great....this...not so great. Should have kept the original model even the art style and added a little something new. It really only needed a new world, characters and gear instead of mashing in over-used pay to win mechanics like every other game does...Sigh.

  • Richard Poole

    After loving the last two games I bought the infinite energy IAP and made grindy but okay progress, despite repeated crashes, until I beat level 26 which left me needing 200 gems to proceed (I had just 60 despite only spending any other gems on the first gate). To rub salt into the wound they also add a heap of gem-only items to the shop with a nice weapon costing over 800 gems. I reported a problem with Apple due to the frequent crashes and was told I could get a refund so I did just that and suggest anyone else who bought IAPs does the same.

Swords & Poker Adventures Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3