Since finally making the upgrade to the smartphone generation this spring, I’ve spent a lot of time playing downloadable app games including big names like The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds. All fairly decent games but not ideal and certainly focussed on micro-transactions, the life blood of this new era of gaming. So it’s with joy that I say the recently launched Doctor Who: Legacy is a genuine treat in all respects.
Released shortly after the big 50th anniversary on 23rd November, the plot of Doctor Who: Legacy sees familiar foes the Sontarans finally achieve their long sought after goal of time travel technology. They use this to meddle in the greatest battles history has ever seen, in order to turn the universe into their paradise of a single gigantic war. Of course when you’re talking greatest battles of history the Doctor has been a player in a vast majority of them, so the plan directly threatens his personal timeline. Venturing through it and allying himself with incarnations and companions past, the Doctor must assemble a team from these impressive ranks to relive his greatest adventures and heal time.
Like a lot of popular app games the basic gameplay of Legacy owes a lot to the likes of Tetris, requiring players to make colour bead combos of three or more to clear the screen and advance. Lest you think this is just a generic puzzle game in a Doctor Who shell, there’s actually more at play here. The colours sync up to members of your team, consisting of up to 6 members including a Doctor as standard. Linking colours enables each party member to perform an attack or action, with the eventual result being a specialist charged ability. For the most part characters are split between being fighters or medics, and a balance of the two classes is needed as as in each level you have a health bar that will deplete as your enemies fight back against you. With the initial campaign focused on the recent ‘Season 7’ a fair few of these foes are iconic baddies such as the Cybermen, Weeping Angels and of course the Daleks.
The game’s progress and learning curve really help it stand out as something more than simply a licensed game. The initial levels ease a player in without having the abrupt shift of more money-hungry app games that are available. You quickly learn about the way enemies can mess with your beads as opposed to simply draining your health and stunning your characters, with the education being done in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re being spoon-fed. Obviously most fans will probably be interested to play so they can use a handpicked team of favourite characters, but you’ll find that unlike some other games picking the right characters as opposed to simply favourites determines how far you’ll go. You start the game off with the Eleventh Doctor, Vastra and her wife Jenny. Unlocking other characters is achieved by two means. The most common is drops, wherein select levels give you the chance to receive a new character upon completion. This isn’t guaranteed, however, and actually helps address one of the big issues – grinding. As you play your characters will gain experience and become better and stronger, but sometimes your current best selection still won’t be ready. To fix this you’ll need to replay earlier levels to raise experience, which things less of a chore. It’s much easier to revisit earlier levels when you know you still have new characters to grab from them. Granted, sometimes desperately replaying a level over and over hoping for a drop can be annoying, but this is really the best way I can think to address a common gameplay criticism. The drops also offer new character costumes, such as Eleven’s soothsayer look and Clara’s Oswin incarnation.
The other, and slightly more limited way, is to purchase select characters using Time Crystals. Time Crystals are the in-game currency which you are slowly rewarded with as you progress. Other than purchasing certain characters, they can also be used to continue your game should you die deep into a level. With this costing one Crystal a time and single characters costing six, this is where micro-transactions enter the game in allowing you to purchase more in bulk with real currency.
Now much as with the rest of the game, good design means this isn’t essential. You certainly get some perks for buying them (including a bonus Fan Area which only unlocks if you plonk down the cash for at least five Crystals), but this isn’t like Tapped Out where all the really cool stuff is hidden behind Donut purchases. Characters will eventually drop in levels and the need to use crystals to continue lowers as you get better at managing your team. A lack of Time Crystals does not mean you’re locked out of continuing to enjoy the game, you just need to try a little harder next turn.
Time Crystals can also be used to upgrade your characters if you’re having difficulty tracking down the varied Time Fragments necessary. Every 10 experience levels of growth gives you the chance to unlock the next avenue of growth for a character using Fragments of six varieties which are won at the end of each level. The abilities of playable characters are of course based on their portrayals in the show. Canon nurses Rory and Strax, for instance, are best used as healers with their health restoring focus whilst Vastra focuses on her sword skills to go on the attack. Firearm-using characters such as K-9 prove useful as their special attacks allow you to stun a specific enemy for a few moves, which is ideal for dealing with those who are either too strong or heal themselves after your normal attacks.
A partial problem is that as you unlock new characters they start out at level 1. As you can imagine, this isn’t ideal when the rest of your team is verging on the twenties and you’re facing enemies who can destroy you in two hits. Surely you’ll need to keep swapping out your team with rookies and replay earlier levels, right? Not exactly. The game allows you to store up to five different team rosters, making it easy to alternate characters to use. I’ve certainly found it simple to keep my current all-stars together as I plough through the story mode whilst levelling up my rookies as I go back to earlier levels attempting to drop characters.
Pretty much everything I’ve discussed also adds up to the fact the people making this game are clearly huge fans themselves. When it comes to licensed games, fans will always have certain expectations and it’s easy to tell when that passion is shared by the development team. The line-up of characters and the order in which they become available, the abilities they use, a storyline that facilitates the gameplay whilst feeling a natural addition to the fifty years of fiction the show has produced all adds up to something produced BY fans, FOR fans. There’s been no shortage of Doctor Who games and certainly not in the wake of the show’s revival. But despite best intentions, none of them have cracked the transition in the way Legacy has. The attention to detail in making this feel Doctor Who cannot be understated (including the great art design which renders familiar faces and monsters in an appealing semi-comic book style) but the overall gameplay design is so strong I fully believe you could hand it to a non-fan and they’d be able to enjoy it on just those merits. It’s not hiding behind the license but using it to do something innovative across a broad spectrum, much like the show itself has always tried to do for its medium of television. The team behind it have even proven incredibly receptive to feedback, actively seeking it out and carrying out a series of well judged tweaks in the less-than-a-month current existence of the game.
Doctor Who: Legacy is a fun and well-designed game that I heartily recommend. The game is balanced enough that it works should you want just a quick hit or to dedicate more time to it, while unlike most app games it isn’t actively trying to trip you up so you have no choice but to part with cash or annoy friends to continue playing. The downloadable-updates also mean fans can look forward to even more history being explored, with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors on the horizon at the time of this writing. This is a welcome treat to receive during the 50th anniversary celebrations and if you start playing in the run up to Christmas, you’ll receive various in-game goodies for free!
Doctor Who: Legacy is available to download free for iOS and Android devices.