Nintendo Badge Arcade Review
I have a love/hate relationship with free to play games. On one hand, I like the benefits that a pricing model can bring the consumer… but I also hate the execution a lot of companies have chosen that makes them feel like money sucking machines. So far I feel Nintendo’s handful of “free to start” titles have erred on the light side of the free to play market (check out Fullblox as an example), however I fear they may have taken their first step towards the darkness.
Last year, Japanese 3DS owners were treated to a nice surprise when Nintendo Badge Arcade launched on the Nintendo eShop, and now Western 3DS owners are able to get in on the fun! The game stars a cute little rabbit that works at an arcade full of crane games (which already rings some alarm bells) where players try to grab cool little badges, featuring designs of famous Nintendo franchises, which can be used to decorate your 3DS home screen.
On the surface the game does a lot right. The crane games themselves are quite well designed. They are clearly inspired by the slightly more skill based Japanese machines, as opposed to our western machines that have elements of chance programmed in to them, which is a good thing. The badges are a cool idea that fans of 3DS themes will enjoy, allowing further customisation of their 3DS home screen. In classic Nintendo fashion the game is overflowing with charm thanks to some expertly written dialogue. One standout character is the rabbit, who really makes you feel like the badge arcade is a real place. His personality as a Nintendo loving, over-excited guy who got his dream job working at an arcade really helps to flesh out an NPC that could have potentially been quite boring (I almost want to see this guy in Smash Bros). However, his enthusiasm can sometimes make the place feel too real.
When you first enter the game, the rabbit runs you through an explanation of how things work and gives you five free plays on a tutorial machine, which you are basically guaranteed to win at least one badge from to start your collection. So far, so good. Then, as expected, comes the part where the game asks me for some cold hard cash to keep playing. Now to the games credit, it does a fantastic job of explaining in a clear and humorous manner, that you are going to be spending a real AU$1.30 for every five plays on the machines, however I feel that’s where the clarity starts to fade.
Seeing some badges I wanted and just being a sucker for Nintendo products, I popped in my first $1.30, played my five tries, got some badges, however I missed out on a couple I really wanted, so I put in another bit of change in order to grab them. After this the rabbit popped up and made me an offer to help me “play for longer” by now allowing me to purchase ten plays for $2.60 – which initially I thought was cool, as the process for paying for these plays is rather slow and cumbersome thanks to Nintendo’s poor eShop infrastructure. So I put in my $2.60 and kept playing, winning quite a few badges. Afterwards the rabbit pops up again, compliments me on my skills (from memory he called me an “expert” or something along those lines) and then follows it up with another offer, to now pay $3.90 for fifteen plays (for the record, this caps at $5.20 for twenty plays) and that is where I started to become uncomfortable.
I mean, it should have been obvious from the start, but just like a real arcade or casino, the rabbit just wants me to keep pumping more money in to his machines to win more of these virtual badges and as I explore the arcade more, I realise it isn’t just the rabbit. First off, the badges are often referred to as “exclusive” to make them seem desirable, along with the fact that the machines will have stickers on them saying things like “ENDING SOON”, “2 DAYS TO GO” & “FINAL DAY” meaning they are also limited. Then, the game also preys on those with a collector or completionist mentality, with a special album that tracks what badges you have, by breaking down the percentage of each set you have, encouraging you to strive for 100%, not to mention the album is also in the arms of a statue of the rabbit that is upgraded with the more badges you collect. There are also special 3DS themes to match some of the badges you can get from a special theme shop and while none have appeared in the Western version of the game yet, the bunny explains that you obtain them by “buying a certain number of plays during special offers”. This effectively combines elements of some of the dodgier free to play mobile games, with the addictive nature of crane games, which is as frightening as it sounds.
Now can you play this for free? Yes… but barely. After your initial free plays there are two ways to receive more. One way is the rabbit will give you a free play from time to time, when a new set of badges is released. Again, this feels like more of a tactic to get you started on collecting that set so you feel the need to complete it, than it does genuine generosity. Then there is also a practice catcher that can be used once a day (with five plays per use), which will let you practice one of the machines currently available (note that you can’t choose which machine) and catch “dummy badges” which may, or may not contain a free play attached to them. If you do very well and get a lot of dummy badges, the rabbit may give you a free play as a reward, though it must be used on the machine you practiced for. This means, if you are trying to collect a full set of badges for free, it is seemingly impossible to do so.
So overall, while I really like the badges and the gameplay itself, I can’t help but feel a bit uneasy playing this game. I mean, I am an adult who, at the very least, knows how much money I am wasting when I play this game, but I can’t help but worry for those that can’t see through some of the tricks this games throws at players to extract cash from their wallets. I honestly feel that most people are better off avoiding this game entirely, to avoid becoming addicted to badge collecting. If you are a massive Nintendo fan and feel you just have to get some badges, then go ahead. Just make sure you are going in fully aware of the attempts the game makes to get you to spend more money, and try to focus on just going for badges you actually wish to use to decorate your 3DS, rather than trying to complete the sets for the sake of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go mortgage my house to pay Nintendo all the money I owe them.