After game developer American McGee corrupted Alice in Wonderland with a gothic-horror makeover, we couldn’t wait to see what twisted designs his mobile studio Spicy Horse would come up with on iOS. Discussing an upcoming collaboration with DeNA, McGee offered us a hands-on preview of The Gate, described as “Pokemon in Hell” with several familiar free-to-play elements.
“At the heart of it is card collecting,” McGee told us during the demo. We’re using the iPad’s touchscreen to control four tiny 3D creatures, dragging each one to an enemy to begin an automated attack. As you defeat enemies in single-screen arenas, they’ll join your deck as playable cards. “That’s the metagame, all the things you expect from a CCG.”
We can’t help notice that the action gameplay is similar to Battleheart, another fantasy game where your task is to draw a line from characters to their targets. McGee agrees that the styles are similar, telling us “we’re not trying to break the mold”, but emphasizes that The Gate’s artwork and storyline will stand out as unique. McGee wants his game to line up with customer expectations, while offering new features as well.
Some of these more interesting features include online arenas and weekly PVP tournaments. Since it’s a free game to download, there is the added incentive of in-app purchases for more powerful units and upgrades, which could also potentially lead to players paying to win. McGee is trying to strike a balance between these two groups– heavily-invested users who are willing to pay to get ahead, and legions of spendthrift gamers who try to compete without paying any money. “For all companies engaging in free to play, it’s an education process,” McGee told us when asked about how they’ll approach this balance.
From our hands-on time with the game, we had trouble identifying a common theme in the artwork, which seems similar to fantasy card games such as Rage of Bahamut or Magic 2014. McGee told us that The Gate draws on several borrowed branches of demonology and mythology, but we would have to spend more time with the game to grasp the underlying fiction.
One good way to appreciate the card artwork is in a memory minigame called Captus, where you turn over pairs of cards within a limited time period in order to collect them. This minigame will cost some in-game currency, but it’s more entertaining than tearing open a virtual foil pack.
Without a standout style, it’s unclear whether The Gate will succeed in an App Store already crowded with free-to-play card games. Big developers such as Blizzard are planning their own mobile CCG games, but The Gate does have an action element that Hearthstone seems to be lacking. American McGee’s reputation is for creating inspiring original content, so we hope that The Gate can do more to exceed players’ expectations, and not just meet them. The Gate doesn’t have an official launch window, but we’re told it will be available soon.