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    Daily iPhone App: Rivals at War is fun but way too freemium


    Hothead Games is a studio that's been all over the place -- it's a Canadian developer that started out making some interesting PC titles, but lately has transitioned over to iOS, making freemium games that recently have been more freemium than games. The company found a sizable hit with its Big Win series, combining a collectible card game with a virtual sports simulator.

    But now Hothead has made yet another right turn, spinning the Big Win formula into a combat game. Rivals at War is the company's latest title, and it uses Big Win's collect, upgrade and then watch mechanics to simulate combat rather than a sports game. The formula is interesting: You open up different types of soldiers that you can upgrade via the freemium currency, and then you can assemble them into teams and pit them up against opposing teams in a battle. Unlike a lot of other combat games though, this one's all about assembling that team in the right way, because once the battle starts, your soldiers just fight for themselves. It's up to you to make sure you have the right troops in the fight instead of controlling them directly.

    Because of that similarity to the Big Win series, Rivals at War has essentially the same pros and cons. It's definitely a well-polished game: Hothead knows how to make these by now (after making five Big Win titles), and the move to a more gritty combat setting is a welcome change for the often cartoony Big Win series. The battles are very well-portrayed. But because the series is so heavily targeted on collecting cards and spending boosts and abilities, there's way too much freemium here, and just not enough game. Watching a battle makes you want to jump in and play it rather than just sit back while your virtual soldiers fight.

    Hothead is a solid game developer -- they clearly know their craft, and they've got a lot of good ideas to put into action. But whether because of financial pressure or other reasons, both the Big Win series and this Rivals at War game just spin too much towards making money rather than focusing on fun, engaging gameplay. Rivals at War is worth a try if you want to see how it all works (the game is free, of course), but hopefully Hothead will make another swing back towards focusing on the fun rather than building in innovative ways to sell more in-app purchases.

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