App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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I think most iOS users are familiar with the free-to-play multiplayer style game made popular by Zynga and their original homage to all things organized crime. It's a solid formula: expend energy (of a sort) on various tasks, earning money and experience with each completion. Then use cash to buy new gear (a.k.a make attack or defense values go up) and increase energy, defense or attack with each level gained. Complete jobs (i.e. ones that use more energy) to unlock tougher ones with better rewards, buy more gear, level up, etc. And let's not forget taking pot-shots at random players for potential monetary gains in the interim.
There have been some changes to the concept that make Mafia Wars Shakedown more than a mere re-skinning. Although one of them is, in fact, a re-skinning. The game has been given new cartoon-ified visuals, with colorful characters sporting exaggerated features in profile portraits and mission screens. It's not a game-changer, but it's distinct. Then there's the inclusion of Collections that players can amass. These items can be earned randomly through jobs or flat-out stolen from other players. Combat is pretty much the same as it was in the original, only now players can "bet" a number of offensive goons (a.k.a attack power, not goons who are jerks) against an opponent to boost their odds. Likewise, defenders can do the same with their protective goons (a.k.a defense power, not goons who don't give people room to breathe). To the winner goes the spoils, and it's up to them to protect their earnings by planting bombs (which are a limited resource).
The oddball cartoon style is actually fairly pleasing. There's just something about seeing super-cute criminals performing PG-rated acts of near-violence that tickles me. I also like the inclusion of collections as it adds some variety to a genre that's starting to feel redundant. Similarly, the way attack power is gambled in PvP fights is a clever idea as it balances out what was previously just a game of "Attack. Attack. Attack. Wait a few hours to recharge. Attack." To an extent, anyway.
The downside to all this is that it's essentially Mafia Wars: The Expansion. Anyone who's spent a good deal of time with the original, or the myriad of other games that use similar mechanics, will no doubt feel like it's more of the same. Another unfortunate necessity is the required-at-all-times network connection. No subway play for us commuters. *tear*
Ultimately it's up to the individual to decide if Mafia Wars Shakedown is for them. Someone who's played the original (or something like it) for a long time probably won't find this one all that interesting. However, that's not to say that anyone who's been away for a while (or never played at all) won't suddenly find themselves up at 3am checking on their criminal empire.