It's not often a brand new genre of game comes around. And while battle royale-style titles like PUBG and Fortnite have gotten a ton of attention and countless clones in recent years, there's another new type of game — especially for fans of strategy and tactics games — that deserves your attention: auto battlers.
Now before anyone gets hysterical about auto battlers already having been around for some time, let's get one thing clear. While the genre can trace its lineage back to Warcraft 3 mods like Pokemon Defense, the category as a whole didn't really get mainstream attention until 2019 thanks to titles like Dota Autochess (which is now just Autochess), Teamfight Tactics, Hearthstone's Battlegrounds and Dota Underlords.
However, since those games have characters and abilities based on existing titles (e.g. Dota and League of Legends), their counterpart auto battlers are kind of intimidating for new players to pick up. I know because, despite it becoming one of her favorite games as of late, I played Teamfight Tactics for almost a year on my own before successfully convincing my wife to give it a shot. And on PC, both Teamfight Tactics and Battlegrounds are only available within the launcher for their parent games. That makes them seem more like expansions rather than a brand new game type, which is admittedly somewhat confusing. But that's where Super Auto Pets comes in.
By taking the basic auto battler formula and then adding a roster of cute, cuddly animals, Super Auto Pets has become the perfect intro to the genre, while still being surprisingly deep. The game's general mechanics are simple. Every turn you start with 10 gold. You then use the gold to buy pets or food for three gold each (or one gold in the case of the pill), while trying to assemble the strongest five pet squad you can muster. If you combine three of the same pet, it'll turn into a stronger level 2 version. And if you combine a total of six of the same creature, you'll get a top-tier level 3 animal.
Alternatively, if you see a pet you like but can't afford at the moment, you can freeze it to save it for later. After that comes the battling. It's just you versus someone else's squad, with each getting a silly auto-generated team name. If you win you get a trophy. If you don't, you lose some hearts (up to three depending on the number of rounds). Your ultimate goal is to eke out 10 victories before all your hearts are gone. And the rounds keep coming until you win or die trying.
Now I know I'm glossing over some of the game's finer mechanics. But they're not hard to pick up and will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played a trading card game like Magic: the Gathering or Hearthstone. And with over 80 pets already in the game (and more on the way), there are a lot of nifty interactions that are a blast to learn.
Take the parrot, who copies the ability of the pet in front of it. Or the skunk, who reduces the health of the enemy team's tankiest pet. And then there's the lovable turtle (who looks like a dead ringer for the old blob-style Android emoji) that gives fellow pets armor after it faints. Each pet's ability is a callback to the creature's personality, adding both flavor and strategy to the game. And I haven't even mentioned the deer's ability, which is downright hilarious. But you're going to have to check it out for yourself because I'm not spoiling it here.
But my absolute favorite thing about Super Auto Pets is how easy it is to pick up and put down whenever I want. I had my first kid six months ago, so it probably won't surprise you when I say I don't have quite the same amount of time for games as I used to — let alone titles like Teamfight Tactics which typically last 20 to 30 minutes or more per match. In contrast, not only is Super Auto Pets available on pretty much anything with an internet connection (Android, Steam, web browsers, and most recently iOS thanks to a recent patch), I can quit at a moment's notice in the middle of a run with zero consequences.
That means I can throw my phone down with haste if I need to change the kid or give him a bottle. Then later, when he goes down for a nap, I can hop back in where I left off. And thanks to cross-platform support, it doesn't even have to be on the same device. It's almost the perfect mobile game, that is, aside from needing an internet connection, which means I can't really play it on the subway.
And because the game is free-to-play, there's essentially no barrier to entry. The game's 59 core pets are available from the start, while another 22 pets are available for $5 as part of an expansion pack. That's more than reasonable, especially since the expansion animals don't really feel like an upgrade in power. It's more like different flavors than a slimy pay-to-win cash grab. All other in-app purchases are completely cosmetic, and most of them can be bought with points that are easily acquired just by playing the game. There's even a 64-player versus mode, though for obvious kiddo-related reasons I haven't really tried it out.
For me, Super Auto Pets is the rare game that's just as engaging on desktop as it is on mobile, due to its adorable art style and simple, but deep mechanics. It doesn't prey on my wallet (I've spent a grand total of $5 dollars over countless hours of gameplay), and it fits into my schedule without infringing on my more pressing real-life responsibilities.
So even though there's no shortage of new titles I'd love to drown myself in like Elden Ring, Triangle Strategy, and others, Super Auto Pets is one of the select few games I actually have the time to play. I appreciate that it lets me keep in touch with a hobby that's been largely pushed aside, and it's a great way to try out a fun twist on more traditional strategy games. And even though I achieved the incandescent high of getting my first win long ago, I can already tell this is going to be a game I'll keep in my pocket for a long time coming.