I would like to start off by saying that Urban Rivals, a multiplayer collectible card game, is not an MMO. While I always try to play MMOs for this column, occasionally my "grab a random MMO, one that was recommended by a reader a while ago, and write about it" method needs some tweaking. I don't always get a chance to vet a game mainly because I want to go through the very first stages of play while streaming live on Mondays, so sometimes less-than-Massive games squeeze through. File this under Not So Massively.
Other than that, I found some neat design in the game. I didn't find anything that would just blow us away as gamers, but it has some cool ideas and artwork all the same. There's also the mobile version of the game to consider -- a universal app for the iPhone or iPad that allows for gaming anywhere.
Essentially, Urban Rivals plays like most any collectible card game you might have played before. I have to admit that my excitement for collectible card games peaked with Magic: The Gathering in the '90s (yes, I have some that old) and was piqued with digital versions like Legends of Norrath and the Star Wars Pocketmodel decks, but all that eventually flickered out after I was owned at a recent Friday night Magic tournament. My lack of intense love for the world of decks has not affected its popularity. Collectible card games, digital or real-world versions, are as popular as ever. Almost anything popular from the world of geekery and gaming tends to fire off copy after copy, sometimes for years and years. It could be argued, however, that "collectible card gaming," as something that was made as popular as it was by Magic, was really a brand-new genre in the larger world of gaming. Like Westerns, sci-fi, or fan-fic, it cannot be blamed for being copied, and those copies should really be judged on their subtle differences and original concepts instead of being labeled "clones."
Urban Rivals isn't a Magic clone. It's a really neat game in some ways, one that basically only borrows the drums and bass from the larger Magic band; the guitar and vocals are added by Urban Rivals. The result is some pretty decent music.
What's it like at higher levels? It's hard to say. Since I have been receiving a fresh new crop of curious comments over the last few months, I need to remind everyone that Rise and Shiny has always been the pursuit of the newbie experience in the games I find, not a weekly, detailed write-up of an exact experience of the highest levels. I simply do not have that kind of time, and I need to tell you about as many games as possible. So no, I don't know how grindy or unoriginal it gets to be at higher levels.
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In the several hours I spent playing, I found the leveling mechanic of each card to be quite nice. Sure, one of my intensely nerdy readers (the best kind!) might know of a collectible card game in which individual cards level up and have its art morph to reflect those changes, but I cannot think of one. It's a nice touch. If I use a certain card more it will gain experience and level up, eventually gaining a nice power to use in combat. Sweet! The art on the card becomes more elaborate, and the characters eventually look more powerful.
The card deck is more limited than what you might find in many collectible card games. You have a loadout of eight character in your hand or deck, and they grow to represent the team you prefer to battle with. I got pretty excited looking through all of the different styles and types of cards and dreamed of assembling a powerful, themed team of superheros. No robots. No ninjas. Crap. Surprisingly enough, a tiny hand of eight cards can lead to those same feelings I got when I used to make decks in Magic. It's an intense feeling that is half the fun of the genre. Those who have played collectible card games before know what I am talking about. It was nice to come across a digital version of that feeling.
Of course my weathered old-player's eyes wouldn't allow me to get away with having a good time for long. As I mentioned earlier, this was not an MMO. This is a multiplayer game, and that's not why I love working at Massively. I want worlds, even if they are worlds of different types or ones that reside in a browser or smartphone window. After a while, the card games became less fun and a bit more grindy, even while my cards were leveling and changing.
The good news is that the cash shop that sells cards or decks for real-life money is affordable. It's also possible to buy the cards with money that is earned in-game during fights. Sure, paying cash for the cards is faster and more convenient, but so is buying decks and individual cards for Magic. It's a bit ironic that in many MMO fans' eyes, the Magic model of "buying power" is OK, as long as it does not effect their MMOs. As I said, the prices are decent, and it's easy enough to buy a new card or two without spending a dime, even early on in the game.
The art style of the game is pretty and usually consistent, but there are several cards that feel different and very much hand-drawn. I have a feeling that players are able to submit artwork for use in the game, so that's a cool thing. Some of the art was just a bit too silly, though. I like the sounds and how simple the effects and few animations are. That means we could play this game on a netbook or smartphone, and that's a very cool thing.
In the end, I enjoyed my time with Urban Rivals but wish it had more persistence and MMO qualities. Beggars can't be choosers, I guess, and thanks to this week's poor choice, I have learned to vet the games I am looking at more.
Next week I am finally taking a look at PlaneShift, the game that has been in development for 196 years. I look forward to returning to it -- I played it briefly before -- and really look forward to the enforced roleplay community. You can find me in game under the name Beauh Hinderman.
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!