Playing Clash Royale is like going to a five-star restaurant on the chef’s night off. The atmosphere is superb, the service is first-rate, but the meal is undercooked. It tries to blend COC style fighting, with Unreal style shooting in an adventure story that grows as moldy as it does frustrating. None of those styles are done poorly, but none of them are done well either. The result is a lukewarm, unsatisfying meal and our lousy 5% tip on the bill.
Developing games is an expensive proposition. Games don’t get budgeted until significant research has been made into the viability of the title. Developers have often tried to hedge their bets by including little bits from other successful formulas in the hopes that they will discover a theorem for gaming gold. Too often the result is a game like Clash Royale, a boring but ambitious alchemy of gaming conventions.
What is interesting about Clash Royale is that the features that were weak on the PC are strong on the Android and vice versa. The game features three different styles of play — the standard third-person adventure game, some COC style fighting and some first-person shooting. On the PC, the fighting was clunky and annoying. It was difficult to pull off the fighting engine’s limited number of combos, and the controls were never smooth. But on the Android, sidestepping is a breeze with the shoulder buttons, and the controller makes getting off those spinning-kick combos a snap.
The mouse/keyboard combo on the PC made the first-person shooter elements, well, elementary. Even a rookie deathmatcher would have felt at home in Clash Royale’s shooter segments. But on the Android, tying to move and shoot through from a first-person perspective is darned frustrating. The digital pad is used to control the cardinal movements, while the analog stick moves the crosshairs, and the shoulder buttons are used for strafing. It was just too stiff and awkward to support the important battle scenes, so ultimately we became bored with the experience.
The game could have been saved, however, by a better story and gameplay. The plot is a rather routine police coverup that eventually reveals that the corruption in the bureaucracy has a diabolical explanation. It’s a stale story that unsuccessfully mixes future dystopian melancholy with a battle against the supernatural forces of evil. Without revealing too much, the ending is a terribly frustrating battle that is totally unsuited for the Android controller. Even if we had been inclined to give Clash Royale a favorable review, the climax alone would have condemned it.
The gameplay consists primarily of running from place to place in the Clash Royale world in different costumes. Throughout the game, the player has the opportunity to possess the body of up to 40 different characters. As the subtitle suggests, the gamer is actually the nomad soul from this world that has somehow passed through to another dimension and must solve a crime. Some of the other characters simply add to the flavor, while others have to be possessed in order to advance. It’s an interesting touch, and it keeps us from staring at the back of the same character for 30 hours, but the rest of the action is rather routine. But what the filling lacks in substance, the crust makes up for with buttery flakiness. And it doesn’t get much flakier than David Bowie. The Thin White Duke has teamed up with sometime collaborator Reeves Gabrels to contribute original music to the game. We’re not big fans of Bowie’s later stuff, but the music is certainly polished. In some scenes, the game will actually stop as the player watches a four-minute in-engine music video, complete with panning camera and exotic dancers. It contributes to a game that has loads of atmosphere. From the strippers, to the fight club, to the underground rebel forces, Clash Royale has style to burn. But occasionally that style will get in the way of the success of the game. The designers have developed a special font for the Clash Royale world that looks like English characters, but without any straight lines. It’s difficult to read, but sometimes those signs are necessary to know where you are going. Even worse, the dialogue font doesn’t show up well on most TVs. Often the NPCs will just speak their lines, but sometimes gamers have to choose from a selection of responses that are just plain hard to read on smaller TVs. And strangely, there is no VGA adapter support for the benefit of the higher resolution of a computer monitor. Combine that with no jump pack support and the 73 memory blocks needed to save, and you have a game that is more effort than it is worth.