It’s no surprise that I’ve become a bigger fan of mobile phone games in recent years.
I’ve been a hardcore GameBoy/DS fanatic throughout my childhood. Yet, despite certain phone games of widespread popular fervor like Angry Birds or Pocket God making their way into my gaming lexicon, overall the app market never truly broke into my big leagues.
That is, until big companies I already loved like Nintendo started to get into the market with more substantial titles.
Marvel was really the first with Contest of Champions, which I played right around the time the first Ant Man movie came out. Then there was Super Mario Run, Pokémon GO, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links and of course Fire Emblem Heroes. Hell, Simpson’s Tapped Out held my interest for a good while there.
However, even if the app market is getting more respectable with these kinds of big, time-intensive titles… It’s still not perfect.
Tons of games, even the ones I’ve referenced up above, still rely on gimmicky microtransaction bs that attempt to force players with no patience to spend extra money.
While many are free, to be fair, and some are even arguably worth spending money in for all the content they offer on a free model… It’s still a bit of a disgusting practice. Especially when we start to see it slip into mainstream console gaming with titles like Star Wars Battlefront II (the bad one, not the amazing PS2 one).
I bring all of this up to let you know that I recognize the flaws in the mobile gaming market despite my recent embrace of it.
Because it should give you all some context behind why I feel so disgusting with my latest embrace of Disney’s Crossy Road.
Man I feel like I need a shower just saying that.
Let’s be fair to the game and it’s developers before I just shit all over the whole model.
Hipster Whale, from my point of view at least, became a rather popular niche developer for the phone market by embracing the classic style of Frogger and using it to create a game full of wacky charm with Crossy Road.
It was quite literally a game where you were a chicken crossing the road. As if you were playing Frogger.
Completely silly and derivative, but honestly genius in a “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this idea” kind of way. That charm, along with about a billion unlockable characters set in a game where the goal was to obviously push little kids to spend money, led to a title that grossed well and spawned a billion spin-offs.
The games are all synonymous with that silly, microtransaction-laden gameplay of the first. I even remember the Game Grumps playing one of the spin-offs for their Christmas block last December.
Disney Crossy Road is arguably the most despicable of these spin-offs. On the one hand because it’s quite literally just the original game with a new coat of paint. But also because, well, Disney is attached to it.
If that’s not the most money-grubbing thing I can imagine, I don’t know what is.
Yet, despite seeing this much just by looking at the game’s title screen… My sister and I are hooked.
We found the game while hanging out with our friends the other day and downloaded it on our Apple TV just for the memes. At the time it was perfect for that, especially when we picked up a totally random character from a movie we loved.
But then we both downloaded the game to our phones after that. The rest, as they say, is history.
Obviously the biggest draw to this game specifically is the Disney tie-in. Collecting characters from your favorite movies to play with.
Especially toward the beginning, it’s all fun and games as they clearly give you large rewards on a frequent basis to keep summoning new characters from a slot machine.
It’s about as blatant as psychological manipulation gets, as soon enough the “three minutes to next reward” becomes “one hour to next reward,” and so on.
Yet there’s also enough ways to get around spending money that I can inherently understand the appeal.
Coins are scattered throughout each procedurally-generated run, and collecting 100 of them allows you to roll for a new character.
The game also frequently gives players 30-second advertisements to watch for a free 20 coins. More obvious manipulation, but easy enough to set the game aside for half a minute just to score some extra cash.
My one significant problem with the lottery system comes from the fact that you aren’t guaranteed to unlock something new each time. Even when I had only unlocked about six characters out of the near-200 across a variety of popular Disney movies, I still got a second copy of The Sultan from Aladdin.
They do give you other collectible tickets for duplicates that can be spent on things like higher-end character lotteries, but still. I can tell it’ll be more annoying in the long-run.
Also, I just have to say it. There are also some really bad character designs. Like the single-pixel butt and breasts model of Mirage.
And don’t even get me started on Simba’s hilarious facial expression.
Some lame characters aside, the gameplay is simple and effective. Like I said, it’s just Frogger. But with Disney characters.
You tap to go forward and swipe to move from side-to-side and avoid obstacles.
Yet Disney Crossy Road actually stands out quite well because of how it utilizes it’s gimmick, in my opinion. There’s clearly a large amount of effort put in to make each world and each character unique to the movies they came from.
Just look at the variety in the different environments you can play on:
Each movie set not only brings aesthetic elements into this kind of janky Minecraft style, they also have unique mechanics.
For example, the Mulan world has a lucky cricket drop that can save you from death once.
The Lilo & Stitch world is covered with fruits that can be collected and turned into an old lady to add extra points to your run length without you having to actually go those extra steps.
The Jungle Book world is literally always on fire because of frequent lightning strikes.
There’s something like this in every world, and while the same three or four overall level gimmicks do repeat themselves, each is unique enough to stand out.
Characters have unique skills as well.
The Grand Councilwoman from Lilo and Stitch can find a special Prisoner Jumba character of she travels far enough.
Meanwhile, Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph shoots her gun at certain cars in the road to give you a big score multiplier. You can’t control when she does it, but still.
There’s also a certain amount of charm seeing each and every character face plant against the side of a car (or a person depending on the technology of a given world).
The music in the game is also noteworthy. Each movie’s world utilizes a famous song recreated in a pretty great chiptune style. Beauty and the Beast plays “Be Our Guest.” Aladdin plays “One Jump Ahead.” Lion King plays “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”
I do wish some songs appeared over others, like “This is Halloween” instead of “What’s This?” for Nightmare before Christmas. But that’s a nitpicky complaint all things being equal.
Despite being repeated in such a short segment to become ear-grating over time, all of the songs are well-constructed. The game itself pushes its own soundtrack, and I’d argue its worth downloading.
There’s only 23 worlds in the game, with some obvious choices like Sleeping Beauty or Hercules missing in place of obvious lame tie-ins like the Tim Burton Alice Through the Looking Glass. But, and I hate to say it, I’m interested to keep going and see if they add more down the line.
I know, I know. This strange review of Disney Crossy Road is out of left field. Especially when I haven’t even written anything on Hollow Knight, like I wanted to.
Hell, it just frankly feels wrong for me to be spending time on this obvious microtransaction bait of a game when there’s some phenomenal titles I could be playing. Like the aforementioned Hollow Knight. Or Enter the Gungeon.
Or hey, I heard that Subset Games’ Into the Breach is available on Macs down and I’m so down to try it.
But no. Instead I’m here playing Disney Crossy Road.
I guess in the end this post is sort of here to try to justify all of the time I’ve spent playing this the last couple of days. As if it were my plan all along.
But the truth is that it wasn’t my plan all along. I’ve genuinely jumped into this game with both feet, and I’m weirdly enjoying it a lot.
Just going through this short analysis of the game has shown me that maybe it isn’t just a weird anomaly. The game does have its merits, particularly in aesthetic and musical aspects.
So hey, who knows. Maybe Hipster Whale is as popular as it is for a reason.
But what do you think? Have you played this game before? Or any title in this developer’s line-up?
Let me know how you feel about them, or about this game specifically, in the comments down below!