To accompany the new movie The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Diner Dash developer Playfirst has released a tie-in game that lets you play as a Shadowhunter, tasked with guarding the “mundane” citizens of New York against vampires and demons. While the movie has lots of exciting combat and puzzle-like mysteries, this tie-in app is a poorly-planned action game that requires incessant tapping and not much thinking.
City of Bones is a free download, but other free games like Plants vs Zombies 2 prove that just because they’re giving it away doesn’t mean you should bother with an bad game. For starters, at launch City of Bones seems incomplete. Facebook login and other social features aren’t implemented yet, so you’ll have to content yourself with building up a character in the single-player mode.
You start the game by creating a Shadowhunter, a member of a secret society of protectors with famed fighting skills. Once you begin targeting monsters in locations around New York City, you’ll find that these fighting skills don’t translate well to the game. In each encounter, you’ll have to tap on the ground where a vampire, witch, demon, or other nasty supernatural creature is waiting. When you’re standing nearby, you’ll cause a bit of damage with each tap, but standing close to a monster means they can start to pick away at your health at the same time.
The result is a bland, unsatisfying race to see which character can attack faster. In the early encounters, enemies are slow and stupid, but at higher levels, they’ll swarm around you and cut off your ability to move to another part of the screen. This makes battles feel frustrating instead of fun, and if you’re not fast enough, you’ll have to start over with a temporary penalty to your stats.
It’s no surprise that you can cheat your way through the game using in-app purchases, but there’s no good reason to do so. The gameplay isn’t balanced at all– some sections nearly require you to spend real money in order to survive a mess of enemies. Your special abilities evolve very slowly over time without paying, but they never grow beyond tapping continually.
While Playfirst’s last movie tie-in game Hotel Transylvania Dash Deluxe was a clever spin on their famous time-management series, the developers seem out of place in this attempt at an action game. The battles in City of Bones are hardly strategic, and your character moves like the waitress Flo trying to get a customer some coffee, not a deadly vampire killer in the middle of combat. Simple cutscenes featuring original dialogue from the movie’s characters are your reward for advancing through the game, but the gameplay itself is just tedious.
We wish we could recommend this game for people who enjoyed the film or books, but unfortunately, it’s just a waste of time. Playfirst should dramatically improve the gameplay, perhaps by incorporating rune-drawing, exploration, or puzzle-solving. If you’re already bored of pointless games where you click (or pay) to win, take a pass on the City of Bones app.