As a kid, I was a claw machine master. I came home with more stuffed animals than I knew what to do with, and I used to love impressing my elementary school friends by making it rain with ill-conceived toys like bootleg Space Jam plushes. So when the opportunity to review Fugazo’s new game, Rocket Claw [99¢], came up, I jumped at the chance. Finally, a chance to impress my friends with my claw abilities once more!
OK, so it’s not a true claw machine game. Rather, you’re a little smiley-faced robot named C.L.A.W.D. (Clamping Long-Arm Winch Device, if you must know) out in space with, you guessed it, a rocket claw. This claw can grab, destroy, and deflect objects. The catch is, you can only do one thing at a time; once you deploy the claw to, say, deflect a comet, you can’t send out the claw again until it comes back. So while you attempt to save wayward astronauts and their space dogs, you’re going to be thwarted at every opportunity by asteroids, aliens, comets, giant hunks of debris, and black holes.
Like most good games, it seems pretty simple at first. You tap items to retrieve, destroy or deflect them. The more you play you start to understand what types of shots will maximize your score—destroying two asteroids in one shot, for example, or deflecting a comet into the path of oncoming enemies—and that’s when the game starts becoming fun and challenging. There are also powerups that float into claw range that give you various advantages. Some, such as score multipliers, are cumulative and last for the duration of the game, enabling you to score some serious points. Others are temporary and range from completely awesome to totally useless, such as Repulsor (which deflects all nearby objects away from you, except every time I grab it I’ve already taken out all the enemies!) and Crystalizer, which turns all nearby objects into shiny purple crystals which work as in-game currency.
Wait, what’s that? In-game currency? Yep, it’s true. You cumulatively collect purple crystals over the course of your games, which are used to buy powerups pre-game such as extra lives, a faster or more powerful claw, or a defense drone that helps take out enemies. These cost between 10 and 30 crystals a piece, and you have to buy them before every game. So if you wanted a Defense Drone, well, you’d better be prepared to spend 30 crystals before every game. Considering my games averaged around three minutes, you’d better be sure you’re getting your crystal’s worth in that time. The problem is that you just don’t get a good return on your investment. While buying powerups might make the game easier, it doesn’t really help you earn more crystals. After playing for about half an hour, I’d racked up a mere 66 crystals, which got used up pretty quickly as I tried out the various powerups.
I know what you’re thinking. Hey girl, maybe you should just suck it up. Powerups are optional. No one cares about your lack of crystals. Oh, but you see, crystals are not only used for powerups. No, they are required currency for unlocking basic game modes. So when you pay your 99¢ for the app, you’re essentially paying for one game mode (Unlimited) and the other two (Survival and Time Attack) are unlockable by paying 250 crystals each. 250! With as long as it takes to earn even a few crystals in Rocket Claw, only hardcore players are going to make the amount required in any kind of reasonable timeframe. But don’t worry, because Fugazo’s got you covered. You can simply buy your 250 crystals for another 99¢, or by enabling ads for their other games (which is irreversible, as far as I can tell, and only works once—once your 250 crystals are spent, you’re stuck with ads forever with no additional benefits).
If you don’t mind the blatant push for in-app purchases, you might be able to enjoy this game for what it is; a well-made tapping game. For me, though, paying for an app and then being limited by what I can do in that app is unacceptable. When one of the selling points of the game in the App Store is “3 fun modes,” I expect to have three fun modes available to me. If I had bought all of the content I expected to come with my app purchase, I would have spent almost five bucks. And maybe I am a bit of a drama queen, but the constant push for purchases more or less ruined the experience for me. When a game tries to force me to choose between grinding for hours or spending money in-game, I am going to choose “find a new app” every time.