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Review: South Park: Phone Destroyer

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My phone is still well intact

Since downloading the app on launch day, South Park: Phone Destroyer has received a few updates that have made it easier to play. It’s no longer a janky experience. The loading times are brisker, assets tend to pop-in less and I have fewer connection problems even when my 4G service sucks.

Now we just need an update that’ll make the game more fun to play.

South Park: Phone Destroyer (iOS, Android [reviewed on an LG K20 Plus]) 
Developer: Ubisoft 
Publisher: Ubisoft 
Released: November 9, 2017 
MSRP: Free-to-Play w/ In-App Purchases

South Park: Phone Destroyer should be better. It has all the ingredients to be another addictive free-to-play mobile game. And yet, when it tries to differentiate itself from the competition, it shows just how shallow an experience it can be. Half of this game is mindless fun. The other half simply drives me out of my mind.

The campaign is, in its simplicity, pretty entertaining. Stretching several episodes composed of a few stages each, the campaign brings the South Park style and humor to my phone with a storyline that sees me as the new kid in town who is a whiz with his phone. Each stage is a short, auto-scrolling beat-’em-up that has me using my character cards to summon South Park residents onto the field of battle to take on the generic enemies that come my way. Everything starts out with a Cowboys and Indians motif, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. The script here is genuinely funny and has great references to recent and classic South Park jokes. Anytime Skankhunt42 shows up in the group chat is a gift.

Each stage has 15 levels of difficulty to play, and with no energy meter, I can go as long as possible. Hitting that progression wall in the single-player only takes a few hours. In fact, I hit it about an hour after I finished my review-in-progress earlier this month. During the religious chapters, I come up against NinJew Kyle who wipes the floor with me. To beat him, I need stronger cards. Without spending any money, improving my army will be a serious time commitment.

A bigger issue with the single-player, perhaps, is how it ties progress to PvP. Before I can challenge any of the story bosses, I have to win a certain number of PvP matches. This can either be easy or tough depending on my competition. In the early days of the app, it was more difficult. But now, with more inexperienced players to take advantage of, I rack up Ws with more consistency.

In PvP, I have a deck of 12 cards, each with an associated energy cost that drains the refilling energy meter when I put it into play. Character avatars act as the home base and there are three stages of energy I have to whittle down to defeat my opponent. As each character has a different attack and attribute associated with it, there should be some strategy to how I go into each match. Unfortunately, it never really goes that way.

The size of the characters, as well as the perspective of the arena, tends to water down any significant strategies. While I know which cards in my deck will go straight for the kill against my opponent’s avatar, it can be hard to gauge if that character’s path will trigger defense from an opposing character. There are also wildly overpowered cards that can wipe the floor with a good chunk of my team, though there clearly have been some balance patches since launch. Dogpoo is no longer the unstoppable killing machine he once was. Most battles I win don’t seem to involve a strategy beyond letting my opponent play their cards first and hoping those immediately available for play in my deck can wipe them out.

The economy of Phone Destroyer is just awful. Choosing not to follow the example set by competing games, it opts out of giving players multiple loot boxes/card parks to unlock overtime with PvP wins. Instead, beating stages or winning PvP matches gives me random prizes from South Park Elementary lockers. I can choose three lockers out of eight and spend in-game cash to open more. Each locker will contain some type of reward, either coins, PvP tickets, item cards needed to upgrade my characters or a character card. Something about this system feels less fair than similar games and I believe it has to do with how I upgrade cards.

Take my Officer Barbrady card for instance, and may I add it is a delight to watch Barbrady beat down on first-graders with his police baton. Right now he is a level one card. In order to make him a level two card, I have to spend coins and certain item cards to upgrade him to the max of level one, then collect enough of the same Barbrady card to combine and make him a level two.


The difference in strength, health and attack speed between a max level one card and a basic level two card can be quite significant. With so many characters needing the same items to upgrade, doing so becomes a tug-of-war deciding which cards need upgrades the most. Oh, I should mention there is no consolatory prize for losing in neither the campaign nor PvP.

I get the idea behind this. Without paying actual cash, I am going to have to grind if I want to be able to compete. I expect that, but it’s more of a grind than it should be. Character cards aren’t exactly easy to come by and item cards go fast. As I replay stages from the campaign to increase my supply, those stages quickly become absolute grinds where I can’t complete any of the higher difficulties because my opponents are just too strong. It's as though Ubisoft looked at similar games and asked themselves, "How can we make this more tedious?"

There is probably a really fun South Park card game buried in Phone Destroyer somewhere. If the economy was fairer and the PvP was more strategic, it might be worthy of my time. As it stands right now, I’ve hit the point where I have pretty much no choice but to open my wallet if I want to compete and the game just isn’t fun enough to convince me to do that.

[This review is based on a retail version of the game downloaded for free from Google Play]


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South Park Phone Destroyer reviewed by CJ Andriessen

6

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
How we score:  The destructoid reviews guide

 
 
 

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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs, yet another white guy writing about video games. Full Disclosure: I backed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. more + disclosures


 



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