To be the very best camper

Social games get a bad rap, but in condemning them, critics often miss the creativity and fun to be had from such games. New match-three RPG Battle Camp has to plead guilty to everything the genre is vilified for—repetitiveness, microtransactions, and invasive social media mechanics—but it also contains a goodly amount of light-hearted entertainment as well.

Despite having a good portion of fun to offer, Battle Camp makes a poor first impression by immediately slapping you with multiple registration prompts. These aren’t necessary, but they look as if they are, and their sheer number could be enough to prevent some gamers from playing. Also oddly off-putting is the utter lack of intro. The game just starts with a tutorial, providing no sort of “how do you do?” and nothing to contextualize what you’re doing. If you manage to get past this obstacle-strewn, awkward start, however, there’s some interesting stuff in store.

After creating a character from a handful of male/female presets, you find yourself at camp learning the game’s basic mechanics from a cute little penguin. In your possession are a handful of cute little elemental monsters, and the idea is to wander around challenging other people’s cute little monsters to fight. Each battle you engage in costs one energy (yes, Battle Camp uses the insidious energy system), and in a turn-based setup, each side attacks by matching three or more elemental icons on a 6×5 board.

The twist here is that instead of matching adjacent icons, you can move them and match them anywhere. This allows you to create crazy chain combos by moving a single icon around, causing whole series’ of icons to swap all at once. (Once you get good at this, you can create some great multi-monster-mashing mega-attacks.)Your monsters are lined up at the top of the board, and they’re charged by matching three or more icons that match their specific elements. An on-screen health bar lets you know how your monsters are holding up, and you can heal them by matching three or more heart icons.

Winning battles earns you common monsters, XP, energy, rare monster parts, and tokens that can be spent on fusing your monsters.

The game’s Fusing mechanic is reminiscent of Pokemon‘s monster upgrade concept. If you’ve got monsters in your inventory and enough tokens, you can fuse your common monsters to the monsters on your team, in order to make them more powerful. Rare monsters can also be (what was that about Pokemon?) evolved, thus upping your chances of winning future battles.

Battle Camp

In addition to marching around camp challenging people, you can visit other evocatively-named locales like Teepee Hollow, Spring Clearing, and Celestial Towers. You can also take on other, real-live players in the game’s PvP Fort. The most interesting things however, are the game’s timed events. Periodically you’ll get notice that an event’s going on and the opportunity to join it. (I participated in one called “Rockalypse,” which set players against Ferrosmith, the God of Metal.) These events give players the chance to beat big bosses, and in the Event Grab, win both large numbers of tokens, and special monsters like the musically inclined Boaconductor.

The “Grab” system is a fun little mini-game that works like a slot machine; every day you’re given a free spin that grants you monsters from Common to Epic, and you can pay real world money if you want additional spins. The game’s currency consists of gold coins which can be bought for $2.99 for 30 coins (least) to $99.99 for 1,250 (most). This microtransaction setup gets under many gamers’ skins, but hey, it’s entirely optional. Battle Camp does a better job than most at allowing you a decent amount of gameplay without making you spend a dime.

Despite having the earmarks of a much-maligned genre, Battle Camp is a cute little game. Its match-three is unusual enough to provide most casual gamers with something they’ve never seen, and its RPG and PvP aspects add a layer of depth to the proceedings. Yes, the game starts a little rough with the irritating social prompts, and sometimes seems to beg you to buy things. Still, that’s not too much of a problem so long as you’re satisfied with fun in relatively short doses, and remember that you’re the one who controls your wallet.