Dystopian future meets Connect Four

Social games based on popular existing properties can be tricky. You can imagine the furor if you were to mess up a Twilight game, for example, forcing you to never show your face in Hot Topic again. Be that as it may, Wicked Sweet Games is hoping to entice readers of Marie Lu’s novel Legend to flock to Cities of Legend; a Facebook game featuring a very different way for 22nd Century teenagers to battle.

That wasn’t a typo, as Cities of Legend is set in the dystopian future (ironically, the most popular kind) of 2130. The Republic of America runs what used to be the USA in a decidedly more totalitarian style, using its soldiers to keep revolt at bay thanks to their superior equipment and training. A group of Rebels actively opposes them with stealth and guile. Your first job is to pick a side, with the game suggesting that you join the one currently in need of more help.

While the star-crossed romantic pairing of Republic soldier June and notorious Rebel Day are the focus of the book, the game puts you in control of some of the secondary characters. For either faction, the goal is to win several battles in 20 different locations in this familiar yet transformed world, putting them under your side’s control.

And in the future, all fights are settled with a rousing game of Connect Four. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but the battle screen and game mechanics do bear more than a little resemblance to the classic kids game. You and your computer opponent take turns dropping colored discs into the grid, attempting to line up three or more horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Every match helps fill your combat meter, with lines of four or more discs giving you a proportionally bigger boost.

You can choose to skip a turn at any time to attack, and your character will unleash a not-very-fluidly animated series of punches and kicks. The damage depends on how much of the meter is full at the time. You can claim victory by either scoring a knockout or simply being ahead when time expires, leading to some interesting strategic decisions when the clock is running down. Gameplay is spiced up a bit by bonus symbols in various spots on the grid, and by power-ups you can equip to do things like give yourself consecutive turns or use the Plague to confuse the AI.

Cities of Legend

Wins pay off with coins and experience points. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to spend the coins on except for different kinds of power-ups. Leveling up gives you the option to recruit new characters or upgrade the ones you already own. Ultimately though, the only differences between the fighters are the innate power-ups they bring into each battle.

Lu reportedly consulted with Wicked Sweet Games to get the look and feel of each character just right. That’s a plus, but precious little of her well-received story comes through in any other way. Even the mission alerts that pop up from time to time only lead to a quick fight in another location. Once the novelty of the battle game runs its course, there’s a noticeable lack of anything else to do. On top of that, the ever popular Energy mechanic rears its head here too, constraining even the number of fights you can play in one session.

Cities of Legend promises more social features, customizable housing and other updates down the road, and it’s going to have to deliver on all of them to get people who aren’t already fans of the source material to take notice. Until then, if there’s a Team June and Team Day out there, they’re going to be the ones keeping this game going.