MMObility: Battle Command is similar in a good way

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MMObility: Battle Command is similar in a good way
Battle Command screenshot
Spacetime Studi.. er I mean Spacetime Games has been branching out lately. This time, they are working on a new way to kill hours with your mobile device. Instead of controlling a literal avatar by pressing on-screen buttons, the company's newer titles will have you building defenses and raising mighty armies to smash your enemies. To keep with tradition, they have found a working formula in the form of Battle Dragons. I enjoyed the game before but now that I see Battle Command, essentially a re-skin of the dragon-based former title, I wonder if a switch of graphics will make a difference?

It sort of does. I liked the "tower-defense-in-reverse" mechanic of Battle Dragons but it is pretty cutesy. Battle Command puts you in command on miniature, futuristic armies instead and I have to admit to getting into it a bit more because of the switch.

It's still the same game as Battle Dragons, though. Is that a bad thing?

Battle Command screenshot
Well, yes and no. In many ways Spacetime Games has shown that the mobile market does not require state-of-the-art gameplay as much as it needs polished and working gameplay. Gameloft has proven this point before as well; make a game look good and play well and you can sell more than a few digital copies or move tons of cash-shop goodies. First Spacetime had Pocket Legends, then Star Legends and Dark Legends. The last game that they produced in the Legends line -- Arcane Legends -- is definitely the best in many ways. It looks better and is a much smoother experience than its earlier Legends incarnations. While Dark Legends stood out from the line the most with its more social- and action-based gameplay, it still felt like a Spacetime title. Does that mean that we might see three or four different versions of the same Battle game? Possibly, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as the original formula works.

You'll start off in Battle Command in a basic tutorial. You'll find out how to build and upgrade your tiny base (that will later become a massive base) and how to train units. Those units are your bread and butter and you need to train the right kind in order to be effective. They each have a set of preferences that could be better explained in the tutorial. A grenadier, for example, loves to attack resources and causes splash damage to both ground and air units. The game lists his range and speed, as well. Frankly, the game can be frustrating if you do not plan out your attacking team that well. Even if you do, you have to decide to attack a target, get an idea about the makeup of the victim's base and then hope your team is adequate. A lot of the time you'll have issues planning anything near perfectly because pressing "PvP" simply throws you into battle with someone.

I'm not sure how the math works behind the scenes of the matchmaking system. Those PvP battles are such a crap-shoot that you will often find yourself fighting a player who has spent quite a bit more time (and possibly money) in the game. Every time I tried a PvP match I could tell from the beginning that nothing I could do would help me win. I usually gave up and cancelled the fight because fighting takes away precious fighters.

The PvP matches give you a limited time to plan, as well. You'll have 30 seconds to decide which troops to deploy and where. To deploy them you're supposed to be able to touch the screen and drag a finger to deploy bunches at a time. Typically, however, the screen just drags as though you are checking out the map. I usually had to tap the screen to deploy units one at a time, which meant that as I deployed them they were often promptly destroyed.

It took a while to get used to the mechanic and once I did, I started to conquer all sorts of bases. But it's surprising to see such a rough mechanic coming from a developer who usually polishes the heck out of their titles. Things do become smoother as your hands become accustomed to the amount of pressure you need to apply, and after you become better at predicting the loadouts you need to perform well. But it takes a while. To get to that point you'll need a lot of time because the game requires very large amounts of time to upgrade buildings or to refresh your army. You can always spend money and speed everything up, of course. I'm OK with casual games that sort of force you to put the game down after a while unless you want to spend money, but Battle Command just needs to be tweaked. As it is right now, I was only able to take part in a few battles before I needed to spend cash.

Battle Command screenshot
Be sure to keep up with your defenses, as well. Building your base is not just a matter of using the right types of buildings. It's also a matter of arrangement. Putting walls or other obstacles in the way of your enemy's oncoming army might buy your cannons enough time to destroy them. Building up your town is possibly more fun than attacking players, but it takes quite a bit of time or money as well.

The Command series is fun so far, but I'd like to see a "pause and think" mechanic that lets players place units and then hit "attack." It would give Battle Command more strategy and would make base-builders think more about where they place their buildings. Deploying units is a bit of a bother, too. The drag-and-drop feels different on different devices and needs to be ditched for something else.

You can check out Battle Command for free in the Google Play marketplace or the App store.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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