App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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It seems like every licensed game these days is re-creating the same formula on mobile. It goes a little something like this: take popular franchise, jam it into a popular free-to-play mold, and try to squeeze money out of anyone who takes a bite. South Park: Phone Destroyer is the latest of these attempts and—although it does put a few new twists on Clash Royale-style gameplay—ultimately feels like yet another a cash grab that fails to capture anything great about South Park.
South Park: Phone Destroyer pits characters from South Park against each other in pretend fights between all sorts of classic fiction tropes (i.e. cowboys vs. indians, astronauts vs. aliens, etc.). This conceit is the setup to make Phone Destroyer a collectible card game featuring characters from the show dressed up as different kinds of units for you to build an army with.
With your set of 12 cards, you then face off in against opponents in Phone Destroyer’s singleplayer or multiplayer modes, both of which operate more or less like Clash Royale matches. In every game, you play cards from your hand of five by using energy, which is a resource that automatically replenishes over time. The object of the game is to play units that counter your opponent’s so that you can reach the enemy player and deal enough direct damage to them to defeat them before they can defeat you. It's a formula that definitely works, but it all feels very familiar.
Phone Destroyer’s gameplay only really deviates from Clash Royale’s in two noticeable ways. The first is that this game’s singleplayer component feels more like a real-time strategy game than a match between a single opponent, and the second is that there are some units that have additional abilities you can activate by tapping on them.
South Park pretenders
As a South Park game, Phone Destroyer does a pretty good job of matching the aesthetics of the show, but it doesn’t feel like it channels much of the spirit of it at all. Jokes in the game are few and far between, and most of them are pretty timid jabs at how much people use their phones these days.
Also, in the singleplayer mode, most characters communicate via text, and--more often than not--the lines are simply flat tooltips instead of anything funny or in character. When characters do get to speak, it’s mostly in the form of one-liners when a particular unit gets summoned, and even these can hardly bother to be referential in any way. I’m not looking for a ton of fan service here, but when a card called "Sherriff Cartman" gets played and all he mutters is, “I wear the badge,” instead of one of a half dozen references I can think of to Cartman being an authority figure, something is wrong.
Freemium isn’t free
If this weren’t bad enough, Phone Destroyer also turns out to be pretty rotten with free-to-play hooks. The same kind of card upgrade treadmill employed by Clash Royale is present here, but the amount of currencies you have to use to upgrade and buy new cards is taken to another level, making for a pretty confusing and slow-going progression system (unless you pay, of course).
The idea of being able to upgrade cards to make them better than lower leveled versions of the same card upsets the balance of Phone Destroyer on the multiplayer front. Any match can put you up against someone who simply has higher level cards than you, which virtually guarantees you a loss. Experiencing this a few times might push you to switch to Phone Destroyer’s singleplayer content, but this would also result in you quickly running up against a wall of higher level cards with few options for progression (again, unless you want to shell out some cash).
The bottom line
It’s very difficult for me to figure out who South Park: Phone Destroyer is for. It’s not a particularly great twist on Clash Royale, it has dubious monetization schemes in it, and it doesn’t really do much to feel like a South Park game. Even though the core of the game is built on a relatively solid gameplay foundation, everything surrounding Phone Destroyer feels pretty soulless.