Futurama really should have gotten more seasons. Even as the Simpsons train continues on with no end in sight, Futurama fans just count ourselves lucky that we got a few extra seasons courtesy of Comedy Central. Thus the announcement of a new Futurama game, one featuring much of the original voice cast and writes, came as a welcome surprise.
Futurama Worlds of Tomorrow is a mobile game available on iOS and Android devices. On first startup, an animated, voice acted cinematic plays, setting the scenario for the rest of the game. It seems that Planet Express has been hired to bring Hypnotoad to his ancient breeding ground!
Upon arrival and delivery, a female Hypnotoad from a parallel dimension appears. The forbidden love of two Hypnotoads begins tearing the fragile membrane between dimensions, causing Leela and much of the galaxy to be sucked into the void. Most of what remains is shrouded in inter-dimensional Hypnofog.
Over the course of the game, Fry and the gang go about rescuing members of the cast, take on missions to various planets, and searching for Leela. It’s a very Futurama plot, with the opening setting a high quality bar, and the game, at its best moments, feels like getting one more show episode.
The gameplay itself breaks out into two different segments. The general world map of New New York allows access to various character missions, and a city-scape that the player slowly builds up, adding buildings and decorations while clearing fogged areas. Buildings provide money (Nixonbucks) and experience at timed intervals. Character missions are unique activities performed by each character which also provide money and experience. While most character missions take place inside a building and are unique in name only, a handful contain unique animations that show off each character’s famous (or infamous) qualities.
For example, Amy can partyboard down the street. Bender will bend girders, or get stuck on his back. Hedonism Bot rubs oil all over itself. Some characters (Fry, Bender, Amy) also have access to alternate costumes. While in one of these outfits, their mission options change, as doe their character classes.
The second half of the game is away missions aboard the Planet Express ship. During these missions, players select a planet and mission, assemble a crew of 3-5 characters, and navigate a branching star chart route. Each mission contains a combination of combat and dialog stops.
Dialog stops involve a choice of two or three dialog actions at a time, sometimes for several decisions in a row. Dialog choices are sometimes linked to specific characters, or to character classes. Combat, meanwhile, is a timed, turn-based system similar to classic sprite-based RPGs. Each character has a limit break-style bar that fills over time, otherwise they perform their default attack. Special abilities are also class based.
The game breaks characters down into five distinct classes. Delivery Boys, such as Fry and Kif, have strong single target attacks and specials. Scientists, like Professor Farnsworth and Amy, have a basic area attack that damages an enemy and everything to the target’s left and right, plus a special that damages all enemies. Robots (Bender, Hedonism Bot, Robot Disguise Fry) have a single target basic attack, with a special which raises the entire party’s defense. Influencers (Hermes, Nightlife Amy) have relatively weak single target attacks, but a special which heals the entire party. Finally, Captains (Pharaoh Bender, others) have average attacks, with a special that raises the entire party’s attack.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from some of the worst, most transparent pay to win design issues that I’ve seen in a mobile game. Those space missions? Every stop consumes fuel. Fuel is refilled one unit every ten minutes, and longer missions can take more than twenty fuel unites to complete. But you can always buy a refill for Pizza (the game’s real money currency).
Character missions in New New York are timer based, taking anywhere from a few minutes to twelve hours. That’s not too bad by itself, but every costume and character unlock (which inevitably gate your forward story progress) require a certain number of items which are randomly dropped from missions. Most of the time, at least one of those item drops will be rare, meaning that it doesn’t drop every time, and only be associated with missions that take eight hours or more to complete. You’ll probably need three or five of them too. But hey, you could always just unlock the character with a few dollars worth of Pizza, or hustle a mission to completion. Want that building to be done in less than eight hours? Just pay a couple dollars.
The most offensive part of this whole scheme is that there are even missions specifically based around purchasing currency. Within the first hour of gameplay, a mission pops up to “Get some pizza.” That’s easily completed with the minimum purchase amount of $2.99, but there’s a very specific reason that’s there. F2P game developers know from tons of statistical studies, that the most difficult challenge in a free game is to get people to make that first purchase. After that, the second, third, fourth, etc. purchases are much easier. The game pushes hard to get players past that first psychological hump.
Then, a couple days later, there’s another mission: Turn Bender Gold! This involves getting the Golden Bender costume, and if completed in less than an hour, rewards six hundred Pizza. Of course, there’s no physical way to unlock the costume in an hour. But wait! A full unlock costs exactly six hundred Pizza! And by some amazing coincidence, there’s a Pizza bundle in the store that gives exactly six hundred Pizza, for the paltry sum of $19.99 (USD)!
If someone exited the game, deleted it from their device, and left a one star review filled with total disgust at this point, I wouldn’t blame them in the least. Therein lies the biggest problem with the game, that the fun bits (missions and city building) are locked behind slow time gates whose sole existence seems to get players to pay money to open them faster. The high of the initial opening falls flat as the remaining cinematics are revealed to be little more than talking heads with text bubbles, and the voice acting could well have just been samples cut from seven seasons worth of shows. Hearing Fry say “That was a mistake”, or Hedonism Bot announce “Squishy, Squishy, please!” is funny the first few times. After the fiftieth time, it just makes people turn the sound off.
There is a fun little story here. Futurama Worlds of Tomorrow is definitely a better game than the dreadful Candy Crush clone that was the previous app, but that’s also an incredibly low bar to get over. Hardcore Futurama fans will likely find it worth playing, and the cash grab is so transparent that it’s almost possible to see it as a parody of pay to win behavior in normal apps. For casual fans though, there’s not enough here to justify the time required to pick the meat off these bones.