Pocket Galaxy, a new sci-fi mobile MMO, is relatively impressive at first. It's a nice looking game that feels like a cross between Dark Orbit, Asteroids, and EVE Online and seems to be pretty casual and cheap to play. These things make me happy. I've adopted a casual playstyle because of my need to be the guy who plays every single game he sees, and that has had the side effect of making casual gaming perfect for me.
For example, a Pocket Galaxy player who wants to craft more ammo for one of her guns needs to create the items by waiting a certain amount of real time that can be shortened by using cash. Many players might see this as some sort of money-grab. I see it as a casual game with the option to speed up build times, but then again... I'm patient.
Let's go over how that player might get the raw ingredients to build ammo or weapons. It's through mining, of course. I love the mining system in Pocket Galaxy. A player activates the mining tool by clicking on it in the interface. It slides up and turns green to indicate its active status, a neat little trick that works well on the smaller screen. The player's left thumb steers the ship around while the right thumb points a laser toward space. When that laser comes across an asteroid, the rock starts to crumble and the bits are sucked up by the ship. It's adorable and nicely executed.
My gripe with the system is pretty much the same gripe that I have with the rest of the game, and that's a problem with seeing the same tropes of sci-fi gaming in an otherwise nicely developed title. MIning, warp-gates, space stations, and crafting missile launchers? Been there, done that. Let's also mention the same old sci-fi fonts and dark music... it's all so trite at this point. Just for once I wish a sci-fi designer would actually lose herself in her imagination when the game is on the drawing board. Do all of these designers really think the future will be so bland and devoid of anything that is at least as attractive as modern-day technology? My kingdom for a sci-fi game that actually looks as if it came from the future, not 1986!
If we take away my problems with the cliche graphics, Pocket Galaxy is well made. Combat is kept lively by that two-stick control system that I mentioned earlier. If you grew up in the arcades of the 1980s, then you'll be very familiar with the style. My Nexus 7 tablet is the perfect size for such a mechanic, but the larger tablets tend to become very heavy after playing a two-sticker for a while.
The rest of the UI runs smoothly and is perfectly suited for a tablet touchscreen. Buttons are large and easy to read, and every system is simple and works well. You'll be mining a lot in Pocket Galaxy and using that raw material to craft better weapons, ammo, and other parts for your ship. After you gather and refine the basic materials, you'll have to wait for some time to craft certain items, but as I mentioned earlier, that time can be shortened by spending "Solar," in-game cash purchased with real money. I've sure many players will have a problem with using real dollars to speed construction. The good news is that they do not have to. Those same players would probably be fine with waiting for a build in a game like EVE Online, so there should be no controversy in a game like Pocket Galaxy. But this is mobile gaming, and I know MMO players often treat it differently despite the fact that mobile is becoming more popular by the month.
In order to explore different sectors of space, players will use the ever-familiar "jump-gates." Each sector is rated to show how dangerous it is, and a skull will indicate if the zone is PvP-active. Some sectors even feature a conquerable section, but I was not able to make it that far into the game. There are just too few players in this closed beta to really see much action, and venturing into any sector above level 2 showed me just how weak my little ship is. The travel screen is easy to follow, and it seems as if a player can jump great distances in one turn. Once again, the game is great because it works well and is polished, but I found myself wishing the designers could at least come up with some unique names for in-game activities.
Combat is fun but can quickly become challenging. I also like the fact that I can easily switch between my weapons by just clicking on hotbuttons on the side of the screen, and as in the case of the mining tool, the active weapon slides out and glows green. So many mobile games make systems much too complicated, especially considering how simple they could be and still remain effective. Minus the unoriginal design elements, Pocket Galaxy is the poster child for keeping things simple. Travelling is easy, gathering materials and crafting new items is fun, and combat is to the point. I can only imagine more players coming into the game after this closed beta. The larger playerbase will not only open the game to trade and PvP but help balance some of the tougher zones.
Is Pocket Galaxy perfect? Not at all. It's not an original setting. Science-fiction is just as open to imaginative design as fantasy, but sci-fi designers repeat designs just as commonly as their fantasy counterparts. It's a bit sad to have fun in a game like Pocket Galaxy while at the same time realizing that it does nothing to improve on the genre. Still, Pocket Galaxy is a nicely polished and solid experience, and that polish goes a long, long way. The game is instanced in the same way that EVE Online is, but I have a feeling that the developers could add on as many zones as they needed to, opening the pocket universe even more.
I'm impressed with this closed beta, but I want to see a lot more. I'd also like to see some different designs and unique lore in the game. For now, I'll have to settle for polish in place of originality.
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.