Note: The following article was written in regards to version 1.0.1 of Poly Crack.
Simple games that hit it big are all over the mobile marketplace. Whether it’s Angry Birds or Ballz or 2048, it’s easy to see that the market isn’t meant for traditional gaming experiences. Instead, the best mobile games end up being more like toys that you can easily pick up and mess with during a ride on the train or a trip to the bathroom. That said, it would be easy to assume that building these games is just as simple. That assumption is a critical mistake. In a marketplace where any moderately popular game will have numerous copycats, the quality of each entry becomes much more important.
With that in mind, we come to Poly Crack, a simple game about putting polygons together. Here, we see a game that does a wonderful job of choosing a core mechanic and sticking with it. I played the game for a few hours, in the end reaching level 58 in a game that seems to have infinite levels. In that time, I found that while the core mechanic of the game is solid and the rest of the game serves it well, there was always a bit of an anemic feeling surrounding the game play. Poly Crack wasn’t a good enough game to really wow me, it showed so much promise that I was inspired to analyze where it went wrong and how it could be fixed. With that in mind, I found the issues begin as early as the first menu screen.
Poly Crack’s game play is very solid, but the long transition times hold it back. If you open the settings screen, you’re greeted with a bizarre bounce effect that hides most of the buttons until it’s over. When you get a game over, you have to watch a slowdown effect that takes a second or two. In any game, it’s important that your transitions be fast rather than pretty. Remember that the core of your games is the game play itself. You don’t want your players to be in your menus. You don’t want your players to be in your game over screen. Your players should be spending the most time possible in the meat of your game. It feels as if Poly Crack has forgotten this.
If you look at any successful precision based game where you’re expected to die a lot (think Super Meat Boy), you’ll notice that the game wastes no time on game over and throws you back into the game as quickly as possible. If you do the math on this, it makes plenty of sense as to why things are done this way. In Poly Crack, the average level takes 30 to 60 seconds to complete. As the game gets more difficult, it’s not that unreasonable to expect your player to die 5 to 10 times before they clear it. If the game over screen makes you wait 1 second before you can start playing again, your players will spend around 10-15% of their time not playing your game. If someone is going to quit playing your game and go do something else, it’s going to be during that 10%.
My first piece of advice for Eternal Studio, the guys behind Poly Crack, is simple. Speed up your transitions. Make that 10% of time as small as possible. Let your players play your game.
Playing the Game
Before I get into my problems with the game play itself, I should mention that Poly Crack does some things very well. The core mechanic is taught through the menu screens and the loading screens rather than through in game tutorials. The core mechanic of putting the polygon sections in the right place works really well. The game is fun. To an extent.
Numerous confusing little problems hamper Poly Cracks game play and make it harder to enjoy. The first of these is the combo counter. As you put together polygons without missing, a little counter goes up in the center of the screen. In text, this sounds perfectly fine, but in practice, the counter is so faded out that I didn’t notice it until I had played the game for some time. I had honestly thought it was just a second level counter. A game’s UI needs to be immediately clear and understandable. With a few simple tweaks, I think the combo counter and its purpose would be immediately understandable to anyone.
The Combo Counter
My first change would be raising the visibility on the combo counter. Right now it completely fails to stand out. Someone playing the game and focusing on the outer rings won’t immediately see the combo counter like they should. A higher alpha value would solve this fairly easily.
The second change is to highlight the connection between the game play and the counter. The obvious solution would be to make the size of the counter pulse when it increases. Of course, Eternal Studio already did that, but you may not actually notice if you’re playing the game. The problem is pretty straightforward, the screen flashes with a bright color every time you get a hit, whether you’ve got a combo going or not. This screen flash actually blocks out most of the pulsing effect on the number. I would fix this effect by making sure the combo counter is completely visible over the flash. A higher alpha value on the counter would likely help with this problem as well.
Rules Through Visuals
Poly Crack iterates on its core concept in a few different ways. Sometimes your polygon segment moves around, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the circles move at a constant rate, and sometimes they jerk around. This becomes a problem when you learn that there is no visual distinction between one type of movement and another. The only way you can learn how a level works is by waiting and watching. Your players should never be waiting around in a fast paced game like this. Ideally, the player would be able to tell which rules a circle follows by looking at the circle. At present, each circle is colored at random, which is not only an under-utilization, but also a problem in some levels where visibility is hindered. More clear visual representations of the rules also helps to make the game more relatable and real to the player.
Like any free mobile game, Poly Crack monetizes its players through a little in-game store, as well as ads that can be turned off for a one-time fee. Personally, I think the developers of Poly Crack do an excellent job of keeping the meat of the game there for free players. They only offer cosmetic rewards such as themes or background colors. In most regards, it’s a fairly standard store. That said, there are some little tricks done with the store that I think are a great benefit and should be stolen by any other devs out there.
My favorite trick in Poly Crack is the decision to hand out themes at random stages for players to use. On a few occasions, the game just presents you with a free theme. This is an excellent trick to help engage any players that are motivated by collecting these skins and things. That said, I think there are also some ways Poly Crack’s system could be improved. Firstly, I think it would be beneficial to make it clear when players get free stuff. Like a little counter between levels saying “4 more levels until a new unlock” or something similar. Of course, giving the player things at random feels a little bit like a surprise Christmas gift, so there are benefits to that too. But I think giving players something to look forwards to is important in an infinite game like this one. If I was forced to choose between surprise gifts and scheduled gifts, I would go with scheduled. That said, I think any developer could get away with doing both, and the players would be much happier for it.
While on the topic of transparent rewards, Poly Crack has a practice that struck me as a little scummy when I first saw it. The free themes you’re given are actually trials. After about 10 levels, the theme is taken away and you’re told to buy it if you want to keep using it. I think this practice is acceptable only as long as the game makes clear to the player that the gift is only temporary. In Poly Crack’s case, I didn’t know the theme was going to be taken away until it was. It felt like being cheated or lied to. If I wasn’t playing the game for research, I may have put it down and uninstalled it right then.
On the topic of the store, I think I should highlight this as one of Poly Crack’s greatest problems (from a developer perspective.) The store is devoid of interesting things to purchase. The majority of the colors and textures you can purchase are so underwhelming that they fail to entice the players to actually buy them. Even the premium skins are fairly dull. Any free game needs a marketplace full of nifty little doodads that entice the player to waste their hard earned currency, but Poly Crack completely fails at this task. I actually ended up sitting there and saving all of my currency for the most expensive item in the store just because it was the only item that sort of interested me.
Poly Crack’s decision to not lock any of their content behind a paywall is an admirable one, but if your only method of monetization is skins, you need players to really want those skins. Poly Crack’s store is deluged with dull gradient background options that fail to inspire any avarice in the player. I’m willing to guess that this wasn’t a core focus of the game developers and that they don’t really care about the marketplace, but if they did, this is a poor showing. I can think of two directions that they could take in solving this problem.
The first is simple: add higher quality backgrounds. I don’t know what they’d look like, but in a game as abstract as this, they can be more interesting than simple gradients. That said, I should warn Eternal Studio that their current themes have some problems in some levels with the visibility of the game elements. A screenshot above shows a ring that’s almost invisible on the starry sky background.
Another way to inspire interest in your store is through adding character to your game. There’s a common joke in games ranging from Dota 2 to Dark Souls where players admit that they spend almost as much time dressing their characters as they do playing the game. The reason so much time can be spent customizing your character in games like these is attachment to the characters. In Poly Crack, there’s no reason to care about the polygons. They are purely mechanical constructs. Now, I acknowledge that adding character to a game like this would be quite a herculean task, but if Eternal Studio achieved this task, I’d suspect they’d gain a much more invested player base.
Finally, we come to my largest issue with Poly Crack: the game play. I wholeheartedly believe that this game has potential to be fun. I think the developers had an excellent idea. However, I don’t think enough time was spent nurturing that idea. Poly Crack’s greatest problem is that it feels like you’re playing a prototype or proof of concept rather than a full game.
I understand that it’s a simple mobile game with one mechanic that you’re meant to play in short bursts, but that’s not an excuse. If you want your game to stand out and be more than just a fiddly time waster that players will download and delete the same day, you need to give people a reason to keep playing. In my experience playing this game, there’s no difference between level 16 and level 52. There’s no difficulty curve or new mechanics. There’s no high score to try to beat. It just continues into infinity without changing.
The problem here is that Poly Crack’s mechanics are interesting for about 15 levels at most. After that, there’s nothing that makes the player curious or engaged. There are no interesting things in the store or new mechanics to unlock or competition to be had. It’s just a drudge. If that’s all Poly Crack is meant to be, then it’s fine. It would be a wonderful entry for a practice project or a game jam or something. But it’s never going to be a respectable game in its own right unless it’s given some longevity somehow.
It’s possible that someday, a game with the exact same mechanics could be the hot thing on the mobile stores, but in its current state, that game will never be Poly Crack. That doesn’t mean it can’t be Poly Crack. As I’ve said repeatedly, this game has promise. Eternal Studio seems to know what it’s doing. With love and time and effort, Poly Crack can be excellent. But who knows if it ever will be.