The International House of Mojo on August 21, 2013.
There have been countless stories told of superheroes fighting villains. The story that has never been told is the story of the person who sets training schedules, budgets income earned on various necessities, and determines which crimes particular heroes should tackle. Kee Chi and Double Fine have rectified that with Middle Manager of Justice.
Middle Manager of Justice began as one of the amnesia fortnight prototypes, which was then was extended into a full game for iOS and Android thanks to Double Fine's angel investor, Dracogen. It's a departure from Double Fine's usual fare, as this is their first foray into the free to play market. But, fret not true believers. Middle Manager of Justice is one of the few games to do freemium right.
You begin with one hero, and can purchase more heroes as you progress. Your task as middle manager is to train each hero to increase their stats. They have four, strength, health, armor, and intelligence. Strength and health can be increased in the gym and intelligence can be increased in a meeting with the middle manager. Armor can be increased by purchasing items from the store. Each hero has a set level of training time, but this can be increased when the hero levels up. The heroes also have a set of power moves, which can be increased by training in a different gym in the office.
Only four heroes can be active at one time, and from one to four can fight battles at once. Battles are fought through the map in the office (although the map sometimes contains other heroic duties, such as stopping a school bus or saving people from burning buildings). The middle manager can choose to have the fights play out automatically, or to watch the fights, which will allow you to control the fights directly in RPG style battles. The more training and armor your heroes have, the better your chances of winning (the map will tell you a rough percentage of winning before you play, although it's possible to win even with a low percentage).
The writing shines in the battles, with a lot of Double Fine's trademark humor coming through.
In battle, you can deploy your hero's usual attacks, use their super attacks (each super attack can only be used a set number of times, with a gauge telling you how many attacks are left for each hero), or even have your middle manager help out with his management powers. He can push the heroes to work harder, giving them more health and power (however, there's a time limit), reverse the team's health bars so that they can have near full health when before they were near exhaustion, give them pep talks to double the team's chance of making critical attacks, or make them work twice as hard (at the expense of some morale). Health and morale allow the heroes to keep fighting at their peak. Health can be replenished by sleeping at the office, morale can be replenished by watching TV.
There are also jokes in the office as well, found in the office's bulletin board. It's these little touches that make Double Fine's games stand out, and they can be found here in spades. The game's art style and animations also have a lot of charm, and the animations for the character's activities contain some subtle humor as well.
The game does use the standard freemium model of having two models of in-game currency. The standard currency, coins, are used to purchase things such as supplies and upgrades on training equipment. The game's premium currency, Superium, is used to purchase things such as new heroes and additional coins. However, even with the standard freemium model of currency, it's possible to enjoy Middle Manager of Justice completely, without ever having to use real-world money.
Coins are plentiful. You collect them from city districts, which pay based on how free of crime you keep them. You can also set tasks for your middle manager or your heroes to earn coins while in the office. You can earn more coins by upgrading the computers in your office, which like all of the office's equipment, are upgradable with coins.
Luckily, even the game's premium currency is earned at a steady rate. It's possible to earn 1 Superium randomly after a battle (along with other in-game items). However, the best way to win Superium is after boss fights. Each district has a boss fight, which will allow you to defend a new district once you have won.
Of course, since the game is freemium, it is possible to purchase currency with real-world money. You can purchase Superium in quantities ranging from 15 for $1 to 450 for $20. However, the best deals are the currency copier (which gives you two coins for each coin earned) and the Superium plant (which gives you one Superium every 15 minutes. These items are only $2 each, and if you do opt to send some money Double Fine's way, give you the most bang for your buck.
As is often the case with free to play games, the game has been extended since it has been released. There are now more districts than before, meaning more boss fights and more chances at winning Superium. There are also more heroes to buy than before, allowing you to use your earned Superium wisely. Additionally, the game has added a list of most wanted thugs. These thugs will pop up on the map randomly, adding 10 high-experience winning fights to the game. It is also now possible to collect meteorite shards, which can be combined by the middle manager in his office to create meteors which give the heroes more abilities (orange meteorites increase fire damage from attacks, dark blue reduces enemy power, yellow increases coins earned from fights, green causes enemies to take damage when they attack, and light blue increases experience earned from fights).
The game also has the ability for quests to be added for holidays. So far, the game has had a Valentine's Day quest this February, which added Valentine's themed boss fights and ended with the middle manager going out on a date. It's unknown if there will be more, but Double Fine has stated that more content will be added to the game soon, since they were previously investing time porting the game to additional platforms.
A huge part of a game is its music, and Double Fine never disappoints in that department. The game's theme song is a fitting tune that is inspired by super hero movies. The game's office tune has an uplifting melody with a catchy horn section. And, the battle theme is suitably upbeat, followed a nice superhero-inspired medley when you win the battle (or recieve a promotion). The sound effects are also done well, with attack sounds fitting well to each move, from lighting cracking to the usual amplified fist chop sounds. And, as with all unvoiced Double Fine games, the characters are mute except for a few noises, but what's there is fun. All of these elements fit the game well, and really add to the experience.
Double Fine's first foray into the free to play market truly excels as one of the best games of its kind. It's one of the few freemium games that doesn't feel like it is nickel and diming you in order to get the most out of the game. You can fully enjoy this game without ever paying a cent, but if you do choose to pay, there are options available that cost little and allow your money to go a long way. The dialog contains a lot of the trademark Double Fine humor, the art style and animations are wonderful and contain a lot of charm, and the music is catchy and fits the game well. If you own an iOS or Android device, download this game immediately. You won't regret it.
4 out of 5