iOS Game Review: Star Wars Commander

Eliot HochbergVideo Games1 Comment

Do Carrie and Harrison get a couple bucks from this?

Do Carrie and Harrison get a couple bucks from this?

Star Wars Commander is a new take on games like Clash of Clans. Basically, it’s Clans with a Star Wars skin, although that’s not entirely fair.

If you like the genre of casual game apps, you’ve certainly come across titles like Farmville, Dungeon Keeper, and Clash of Clans. All of these have one core mechanic in common: build up resources over time to get enough to make other things on screen. I’ve argued that Farmville (and near clones that allow you to run a restaurant, etc.) aren’t really games at all. The number of things you can actually choose to do is limited, and in truth, any simulation they provide is minimal. They are really just ways to get you to mindlessly tap, with the hope that a fancy new graphic or animation that takes a lot of time and resources to obtain will cause users to do more than click, and instead pay cash for resources instead. History proves that, in fact, people will spend actual money just to get those digital trinkets. Whole empires in the real world have been built on this idea.

There is also the genre of games called tower defense. Basically, you know a bunch of baddies will be coming, usually along a certain path. You must solve the puzzle of using limited resources of towers that shoot or bomb or freeze to prevent increasing numbers of baddies from getting through to whatever you’re defending. This is more of a real game, because you have many choices to get to the solution. However, these games normally don’t have the built in revenue stream, so you usually have to pay for the good ones.

Games like Clash of Clans or Dungeon Keeper try to blend these two genres. Both lean more towards Farmville than Tower Defense, with Clans being a slightly more successful game. I’ve personally found enjoyment in each, since I apparently have more patience for a 12 hour lead time than the average gamer.

Now, there’s Star Wars: Commander from Disney Interactive. The game most closely resembles Clash of Clans, although its two sides against each other loading screen is a bit more like the current Dungeon Keeper screen. Like Clans, Commander has you building resource miners and storage, warriors of various types, ways to play in groups, ways to research upgrades, and hero characters. Oh, and of course you have a central base. I guess in a way, these games owe a lot to Starcraft multiplayer, which pitted you against others in a similar scenario.

Other similarities with Clans are the way placed buildings prevent enemies from placing forces when they attack; the limited play field; warriors walking from where they are “trained” to where they are stored; and resources stored in your base.

Towers, storage, mining... I've got a bad feeling about this...

Towers, storage, mining… I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

The most obvious difference here is, of course, that you are in the Star Wars universe. The game takes place between Episodes IV and V. The authors did a pretty good job of incorporating that fact into many parts of the flavor text.

One interesting gameplay difference is that rather than there being pure clans or PvP free-for-all gameplay, players get the chance to choose to be Imperial or Rebels. This is actually a small, neat alteration that does add to story. One presumes that the missions you go on in single player mode are different depending on which side you choose. Having not finished the game, I can’t be sure, but there are also hints that maybe you will be offered a choice to change sides along the way as well.

Don't know if those shields will hold up.

Don’t know if those shields will hold up.

As for the graphics, they don’t disappoint. Your little troopers (I chose the Imperial side) are very detailed, as are the buildings. The design leans heavily on what I would call the “buffed out modern action figure” style, as opposed to a realistic style or the animation style from the Clone Wars series. There are plenty of sound effects and music cues as well. The design aspects are very satisfying.

Aren't you a little buff for a stormtrooper?

Aren’t you a little buff for a stormtrooper?

What’s problematic, as of this writing, is mostly the game’s performance. On an iPad 2 running iOS 7, the game frequently crashes, or asks for a reload (which often leads to a crash). It also gets very slow, despite being very peppy when first installed. Perhaps an update will solve some of these issues. This is most annoying when trying to place troopers; on more than one occasion, troopers ended up being placed when instead panning of the play field was desired.

Another beef is that the AI for the troops is inconsistent. There’s nothing more frustrating than placing troops hoping they will attack a tower, and they instead go after some useless building, getting shot to death. Worse is when a particularly common, and surprisingly powerful, rebel shooter picks off troops one by one, even though they should choose to shoot at the closest thing to them. I guess there’s a reason the Empire had so much trouble with the Rebels.

We haven't had time to finish.  You have failed me for the last time...

We haven’t had time to finish, Lord Vader.
You have failed me for the last time…

One presumes that Disney will make its money off those unwilling to wait for resources to be gained; of the similar games out there, resources in this game seem to take a particularly long time to mine.

Gripes aside, the game delivers on its promise. It is a Star Wars version of a resource tower defense game, and it manages to have some nice features that only a Star Wars game could pull off.

6 out of 10 lightsabers

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Eliot HochbergiOS Game Review: Star Wars Commander