Review: Caravanserail15 Oct 2016 0
Released 04 Oct 2016
I swear the majority of mobile games are always at extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to fanfare and preamble. You’re either subjected to a five minute exposition intro cinematic a la <insert F2PMMO here> or you get games like Caravanserail that just throw you in at the deep end from the get go with little to no context.
From what I managed to gather the premise is simple. You run a Caravanserail which, besides being hard to spell and read, is a type of inn where merchant caravans stop. As the caravans roll in you buy goods and then sell them off at a higher price netting yourself a profit in the process.
Caravanserail is presented in an arcade style manor where goods scroll by the bottom of the screen and you tap to buy them. They then move to your selling area where you can adjust the price at which you want to sell them. You then tap the sell icon on the item and if another caravan is willing to pay the set price it’ll disappear. Time is generally a good indicator as to whether you’ve done a good job setting prices. If the item sells instantly then you can probably put it up whilst conversely if no one’s bitten for a while then you probably need to drop it. Item value can fluctuate and a pop-up on the left will inform you of any rises or drops but mainly it’s a game of remembering item value and buying low so you can sell high. Annoyingly the arrows you use to adjust selling prices tend to glitch out. I had to restart a couple levels because tapping the down arrow was increasing prices.
On some levels you can “transform” cheaper items into more expensive ones. You can only do three at a time and it takes thirty second to complete but despite those restrictions it kind of breaks Caravanserail’s already rather lax difficulty scale. Oddly enough Caravanserail also has a faction mechanic that allows you to gain influence with certain factions by purchasing certain items. As far as I’m aware this mechanic is utterly superfluous aside from giving you a mission objective that isn’t just gain X amount of money.
Raiders will attack occasionally, a timer appears at the top right and you have to either complete the mission or upgrade your fortifications before it hits zero. It’s really not much of a worry though as upgrading fortifications costs less than a fair amount of the items you’re buying effectively robbing Caravanserail of any remaining challenge. One of Caravanserail’s biggest problems is that it’s laughably easy to the point where the game’s meager ten level can be cleared in under two hours. Those two things and a lack of extra modes make it hard to justify the asking price.
Ironically the one obstacle Caravanserail does have up its sleeve is so devious that the game claims it’s actually meant to help me: my arch nemesis the automatic trader. He does what it says on the tin really, select an item you want him to trade then assign him a max buying price and the price you want him to resell it at. So far so good. But here, dear reader, is where the problem lies. I’ve already gone over how iffy the pricing arrows are and how long it can take making big price adjustments. The game defaults the buy and sell prices of the automatic trader to a piddly eleven gold. So you then have to divert a lot of time and attention to bumping it up from that into the hundreds if you want him to trade in the more expensive goods. What’s more is that he sells items in that category that you bought as well. Not only does that royally screw with quests for factions but it also means that I have forgotten to assign him something other than cloth and I buy some gold for oh let’s say six-fifty he will then sell that for the default eleven, losing a ton of money. Lastly just to add insult to injury, you can’t turn him off. If you start a level with him in it he’ll be a spanner in your works for the entire duration whether you like it or not.
Caravanserail’s UI is honestly baffling. I’m aware that Jérôme Bodin (the dev) is french and as someone who’s played their fair share of translated or foreign made games I’m willing to accept that there are differing views on interface design. But there’s a stark contrast between different and wrong and Caravanserail definitely falls into the later. For starters the selling area is unreasonably small leaving a ton of unused space on the screen. The arrows used for price adjust (which you may remember are already kind of broken) overlap causing all kinds of problems involving underselling and overpricing. In fact almost all of the UI elements are far smaller than they need to be and there’s no way to remedy that. There is also no way to reverse putting an item up for sale. You can of course adjust the price while it’s up for sale but if you want to say dramatically increase the price chances are it’ll be bought midway through you frantically clicking.
With games like this where you’re dealing with nothing but abstract numbers the entire time small details such as background sound effects and flavour text go a long way in helping with immersion and making the game feel more alive. Throughout my short stay will Caravanserail my only company was a handful of tracks that were nice enough to listen to at first until they faded into the background after looping a few times. They game never even informed me about any of the items I’m purchasing and selling on reducing them to just meaningless pictures with number attached to them. The experience would’ve been the same had all the item pictures been replaced with letters instead.
After Head of State I kinda feel like a broken record saying this but Caravanserail is yet another case where a solid idea is derailed by a lack of sufficient time put into it. Were it a demo I’d be impressed despite its flaws as obvious talent and love has gone into its making. But as a paid product it’s a disappointment that simply doesn’t feel finished.