Making a free-to-play game with microtransaction hooks isn’t new, but paying a buck or two for in-game currency is most commonly done in service of growing your virtual farm or aquarium faster. Either that, or you’re paying for cosmetic upgrades to your avatar. These practices can be a little silly and aren’t necessarily accompanied by deep gameplay, but at least they’re fairly transparent.
There are certainly games that aren’t so transparent, though, and Spice Bandits (formerly Spice Invaders) is one of them. Mechanically speaking, there’s nothing about this game that doesn’t feel artificially inflated. From its merely serviceable single-player levels to its underwhelming multiplayer modes, everything feels like it’s cruelly locked behind a paywall, even if there is a way to play this game completely for free. If you don’t dump any cash into Spice Bandits, you have hours of gameplay for nothing (which its own merit), but it’s a terribly grindy experience.
Like other entries in the tower defense genre, the game’s progression is most meaningfully marked on various upgrade paths, from better missile towers to skills like damage buffs and reduced building costs. While upgrading your skills and equipment in games is typically an empowering endeavor, Spice Bandits feels as though it’s implicitly taunting you about how weak you are, bullying you into an in-app purchase.
Your success in the game is mostly dependent on how much you’ve fleshed out your tech tree and upgraded your skills. Actual strategy is secondary at best, and– as the enemies come at you faster and stronger as you progress through the game’s pretty flat story arc– the new challenges the game throws your way mainly feel like reminders that you don’t have enough in-game currency to win yet. The in-game currency isn’t only spent on tech upgrades. You can also use various powers while you’re actually playing, but it’s hard not to read those buttons as simple ‘drain your in-game currency and buy more from us later!’ buttons.
Strategy on the field.
Fortunately, you level up even when you’re losing, so at least you can keep banging your head against the most difficult content you’ve unlocked rather than laboring in lower levels, which would be far less engaging. With each level-up, you’re given more upgrade points for your skills and money to spend on tech. Sadly, in our experience, you also have around a 25% chance of the game crashing.
Spice Bandits also has video advertisements, which can be gotten rid of if you pay $2.99 or more. Come to think of it, that’s a nice way to encapsulate our feelings about Spice Bandits. The game has annoyances, which can be gotten rid of if you reward the game’s developers for annoying you.