Cute, Evil & Strange is the inaugural title from developer Mars on a Stick. Essentially “rock, paper, scissors” with bells and whistles, players battle AI or other players to earn rewards and climb the leaderboards.
Upon starting the app, the first thing you’ll notice is the presentation. The cartoon style and quirky music suit the title perfectly, creating a light, fun atmosphere. Coupled with background details such as clouds moving in the sky, leaves falling from trees, or waves moving on battle sets, the attention to detail that went into the design is clear.
Unfortunately, this diligence isn’t evident across all aspects of the game, with ambiguous menus, heavy advertising, and the gameplay itself feeling a little limited. Before covering that though, I’d best explain what the game is about. You begin by selecting a pet monster from a choice of three, each representing one of the three battle types: cute, evil, and strange. The class of the monster makes no difference to gameplay, so your choice is based on looks alone.
Once you’ve chosen your monster, it’s time to play. The game is played in three acts, with the overall victor being the player who wins the most (i.e., “best two of three”). At the start of each game, you select your moves for all three acts from either cute, evil, or strange. Cute beats evil, evil beats strange, and strange beats cute… simple right? When playing the AI, matches start immediately, and when playing an online opponent, your moves are sent to that player via a challenge.
There are two ways to find online opponents, the first of which is to link your Facebook account. This allows you to see a list of your friends who have the game installed and issue challenges. It also enables a sharing option where you can publish your victories or losses to your Facebook feed to earn additional “apples”. What are apples for? To be honest I’m not sure. They seem to be used whenever you play a game or issue a challenge; however, when you reach zero, you’re not prevented from playing, so I assume they have some other purpose. If you’re not keen on linking to Facebook, that’s no problem as you’re able to browse lists of players or select an online opponent at random.
The only problem I found with online matches was that there’s no differentiation between players who have the app installed and those who don’t. You’re only able to view the result (and collect rewards) when a player accepts and responds to your challenge. This means that if someone has uninstalled the app, they’ll never receive your match notification and never respond. At the time of this review Cute, Evil & Strange had only just been released, so I received responses to most challenges. As time goes on and the player base grows, I can see the lack of challenge response proving detrimental.
Another, more technical, problem was that my experience was rife with connection dropouts. If my phone went into power save mode, or I watched an in-game ad, or I just didn’t tap the screen for 30 seconds, I’d get thrown back to the title screen. The animations, whilst pretty, are slow and when coupled with constant unskippable advertisements and connection dropouts, made for a fairly frustrating and non-interactive experience.
Winning battles earns coins, which are spent customising your monster. Customisations are limited to changing your monster’s colour or giving it a hat, glasses, and/or accessory. Whilst the options are few, the modifications are styled well and can have some amusing outcomes. I liked that this gave players the ability to customise their monster; however, I feel some sort of levelling system or the ability to purchase additional monsters is required to better personalise the experience.
Aside from earning coins, Cute, Evil & Strange hosts its own leaderboard and rival systems. The ability to compare performance against others is nice, but feels a bit strange in a game that’s almost entirely based on luck. This is where I feel Cute, Evil & Strange fails. It’s well presented with all the side “bells and whistles,” but the core gameplay is bland. Your only real interaction is selecting your hand at the beginning of a round and the rest is just navigating menus and watching animations. With no framing progression device, such as a map or campaign, there aren’t any real long term goals to provide incentive to keep playing.
In conclusion, Cute, Evil & Strange is a very well presented, polished title with a few technical issues and somewhat limited, bland gameplay. It feels like the team knew how to apply “best concepts” for mobile games to a title, but lacked the core engaging experience on which to build. All that said, it’s free, so it won’t hurt to try it out.