Review: Middle Manager of Justice

By Mike Nowak 28 Jan 2013 0
Another life of crime because of in-app purchases.

What could be more delightful than a satirical take on freemium games built by Double Fine, the inheritors of the Lucasarts comedy game tradition?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Management games in the post-Zynga era have typically been about one thing: time. There's always a lot to do but every action takes a while to complete or requires a resource that takes even longer to farm or a combination of both. The more you accomplish the longer it takes to accomplish more. This "energy" mechanic is much maligned amongst less casual players though not exclusively for the commitment it requires, or the road blocks it provides, as much as for the shortcuts that games of that ilk always seem to conveniently include. Time is money and in-app purchases buy time. They have a lot of in-app purchases.

Middle Manager of Justice is Double Fine's first iOS release. Despite that company's extraordinary PC & console game pedigree, their inexperience with mobile shows here. MMoJ tends to crash often on a first generation iPad and it prohibits you from playing your own music, among other foibles.

Sitting in the office doing nothing but watching timers.

At the meta level it doesn't deviate from the established freemium management formula: everything takes time and you can buy yourself 'Sperium' that speeds up actions. Where the game differs is where the reputations of these two companies, Zynga and DoubleFine, differ. The latter has a long history with video games and a staff with even longer resumes in the business. That experience and admiration for what they do and their casual games show a good amount of respect for their players. The former is Zynga.

In Middle Manager you are charged with operating a franchise shop of a crime fighting outfit, which turns out to be not unlike any other business. With better performing staff and steady revenue a good company can grow and bring in more employees and expand its offices. Repeat as necessary. Repeat many times over.

We deal with that repetition in our daily work lives but in a game, something you play in your off time, it becomes annoying fast. That repetition is a staple of the genre and despite Double Fine's charms they can't escape it. This is especially not surprising for a game where you're technically managing the manager of a Justice Co. operation. It isn't the most glamorous of jobs. You're always in the office. When you send Galaxy Girl and Crimebot out to take out a bunch of thugs robbing a civilian for money for in-app purchases, you stay behind. You can delegate the battle, letting your employees deal with it on their own. That frees you to focus on more important things like watching a timer count down for "desk work" while you wait for the battle to finish. Or you can stick your head into your employee's business and micro-manage over a camera link. Those battles are automatic, the heroes and enemies fight on their own, but as you level up you can trigger different abilities and items to give your team an advantage. It's super-basic RPG combat with all the tactics stripped out.

Not even as exciting as it looks.

Once your heroes reach a high enough level and you accumulate items and skills, the battles become trivially easy. A fight where your odds of victory are listed as 35% becomes a cakewalk with a couple of interventions to heal. There isn't much AI to speak of. That alone wouldn't be a problem if the combat was more involved but you literally are just calling out orders from a remote office. How much you'd enjoy that depends on what kind of employee you are: a manager or a creator?

Without much excitement to be found in the combat all you have left is to expand your office - but even that feels grindy and uninspired. Only obsessive completionists will find this late game appealing. The one saving grace is that the coins become very abundant in short time so that end game is attainable.

Double Fine brings a lot of charm to the genre with their art style and humourous writing. It motivates early on as you want to play more to see what jokes will come next, but very much like the game itself it doesn't matter how fancy and well decorated the rec room is if you constantly send your employees to do tedious desk work. Their morale will drop. And when your morale is low and the job unsatisfying, no amount of workplace perks can make you satisfied. In this sense, Middle Manager of Justice is an amazingly accurate work place simulator.

While your superhero employees might soldier on, no matter their morale, stuck in this middle managed virtual prison of a job, most office bound humans have a choice. Left unchallenged and bored, some of us will move on. I've enjoyed my short time here and I'll miss the camaraderie with some of my employees, but I've decided to pursue exciting new opportunities. Please notify HR, this is my resignation letter. I just don't have the time for this.

Review: Middle Manager of Justice

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