Middle Manager of Justice
While Double Fine has released several downloadable titles, Middle Manager of Justice marks its debut on the iOS platform. The game was available on the App Store on the morning of September 5th but has since been pulled. A staff member from Double Fine posted on the game's official forum stressing that this version has bugs and needs "tuning" but that the official release will be in a couple of weeks. After spending several hours with this "preview" version, we wanted to let readers know what to expect when the free-to-play game is available again.
Playing the role of a character known only as "Middle Manager", your job is to recruit and train superheroes as you expand your base of operations. The superheroes are all quirky, original characters like "Masked Mummy" and "@Man", a hero obsessed with both social media and laser beams. You start the game by recruiting one of three characters and purchase more as you advance, unlocking alternate costumes along the way. Characters vary in power, health, and intelligence, stats which increase through training each time they level up or (in the case of intelligence) by direct intervention from the middle manager. By sending your team on missions that vary from battles to feats of strength, you earn one of the game's two forms of currency: coins and Superium. Coins are easier to acquire and can purchase new items, equipment, or additions for your base. Superium is used to speed up timed tasks and recruit additional heroes.
The majority of the missions in the game are battles with criminals and henchmen. Players can bring four of their superheroes into combat at a time, controlling the use of purchased items (such as healing and temporary stat increases) and the deployment of special moves that refill over time. These special moves can be purchased and leveled up at the base, each hero is allowed to bring one into battle. Characters can purchase and equip items that improve their performance in battle, like "Titanium Oven Mitts" to improve their power and bubble-wrap to improve their defense. Each fight gets you one step closer to facing off against an evil villain. Defeating them earns you a large amount of Superium and you move on to the next villain. Combat is simple in the first couple of hours and doesn't require strategy outside of tapping on your special abilities whenever they are available while your heroes auto-attack, but mixing and matching the special abilities of a full team might lead to more strategic battles further on.
The highlight of the game is the presentation. The art style is reminiscent of old Looney Tunes cartoons and creates a cohesive world for these bizarre and varied superheroes. Playing underneath the ambient office sounds is a subtle musical score that flirts with classic Superman themes while perfectly complimenting the cartoon aesthetic. The light-hearted nature of the world is conveyed through a surprising amount of text dialogue and character descriptions. Each battle begins and ends with a joke-filled exchange between the forces of good and evil, which help define the personalities of your superheroes but can be a hassle to tap through when forced to replay a particularly tough fight.
Middle Manager of Justice is also Double Fine's first free-to-play title, an inviting genre that is often as much a curse as it is a blessing. The good news is that (at least in the early hours) the game's micro-transactions are relatively tucked away and won't annoy players with frequent pay-walls. While you are welcome to use real money to purchase Superium to convert into coins or to speed up the recruitment of advanced superheroes, the game offers a wealth of content with no strings attached. The linear progression of the missions from district to district on a map and the inability to grind past missions for coins opens up the opportunity for future missions to cost real money, but the only hint of this on the map is a few off-limit areas labeled "coming soon". All of the actions in the early portions of the game (such as having the middle manager increase the morale of characters, or letting your heroes regain their health by sleeping) take under a minute to complete, so the option to speed things up using precious Superium is rarely tempting. Unlike other simulation games like Tiny Tower that are best played by briefly checking in several times a day, Middle Manager of Justice's addictive trickle of progression can be played for long stretches of time.
It remains to be seen how much the game will change in the coming weeks, but (unless Double Fine radically shifts the balance) the charm and accessibility make this an easy to recommend free-to-play title. While I'm only a few hours in, the game is an adorable management simulator and I'm excited to see where the addictive gameplay loop brings players willing to invest more time. Keep your eyes peeled on the App Store in the coming weeks for the official release of Middle Manager of Justice on iPhone and iPad.