Developer: Goodbeans
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.5
Device Reviewed On: iPhone 4S

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Playtime Rating: ★★★☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

There’s no getting around this: Zuko Monsters is a freemium copy of Pokémon. It’s easy to see why a developer would seek to ape such a successful franchise. After all, just look at how often Nintendo keeps trotting it out. However, while Zuko Monsters is a well-crafted imitation, the blatant-seeming copying combined with the typical freemium annoyances make the whole thing feel a little shady to me.

The set-up will be instantly familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Pikachu and the gang. Players take control of a young man on a quest to explore the world while capturing and training Zuko Monsters in hopes of becoming a master. Zuko Monsters are cute, super-powered animals with pun-filled names like Elaphly and Werewood. By battling each other they level up, learn new skills and evolve into higher forms. Strategy comes from knowing type effectiveness, like how fire is weak against water, and knowing when an enemy monster is weak enough to capture. Aside from some awkward touch-based attacks, the gameplay is no less addictive here than it was on the Game Boy 15 years ago. That includes its competitive multiplayer mode.

While the lack of originality seems like it would be Zuko Monsters’ biggest issue, the developers actually pull it off fairly well. There are only around 30 monsters but they each have unique, clever designs and the world itself has a cheery, faux-anime art style that really pops. Even the music gives battles a surprising amount of tension.

What ultimately brings down Zuko Monsters isn’t its Pokémon elements but rather its freemium mechanics. Far too often progression involves sending some monster to do some lengthy task that players can speed up with real money. Real money is also needed to revive fallen monsters once the initial cash players are given is spent. Players can even just pay for the best monsters outright which kind of defeats the purpose of a monster catching game.

Zuko Monsters is a mostly innocuous knock-off that’s still too exploitative to be considered great. However, it’s not bad and for any iOS owners looking for a Pokémon fix there really aren’t too many legal alternatives.

Posted in: Games, iPad Apps and Games, iPhone Apps and Games, Reviews

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