Outernauts was brilliant. We said as much when it launched back in 2012, and I stand by every single word of praise we’ve heaped upon it. It’s arguably the best Facebook game I’ve played (though Marvel: Avengers Alliance could probably argue just as strongly for that title), and unlike many of you reading this, I’ve played a lot.
Outernauts was Insomniac Games’ first foray into casual gaming, and it proved not only to be a great free-to-play Pokemon clone, but the first Pokemon clone that I found myself enjoying on par with the real thing. And don’t just take my word for it – YouTube’s leading Pokemaniac TheJWittz wrote the Gamezebo review of Outernauts and gave it a perfect score.
They shut the web-based game down earlier this year to focus on a mobile-only relaunch. As a fan of the original, I was more than a little excited.
That excitement was misplaced.
The mobile version of Outernauts has soft launched in Canada, and despite the name, this isn’t Outernauts. It’s not even close. While Outernauts was a great F2P spin on Pokemon (and considering the hundreds of games that have tried to do this and failed miserably, that’s a HUGE accomplishment), the mobile version retains the same art style as the original but ends up feeling like DragonVale with an idiot-proof combat system.
How idiot-proof? It even comes with an “auto-battle” option.
Instead of having great strategic turn-based battles, the new Outernauts tasks players with drawing a line from their monster to an opponent’s monster once they power up. There’s a rock/paper/scissors component to which monster types are stronger than others, but an ever-present spot on the HUD will never let you forget which is which.
On the one hand, it’s easy to see why Insomniac Games might have been tempted to try something different. The original game – while loved by Gamezebo – didn’t manage to get that FarmVille level of Facebook stickiness.
Old school Outernauts, you are missed
But there are a few reasons why that might be, and in my mind, gameplay isn’t one of those reasons. For one thing, Facebook gaming’s sharp decline started right around the same time Outernauts launched. For another, it’s not the sort of game that has an immediate appeal to the average Facebook gamer.
With these factors in mind, taking Outernauts and moving it to mobile – with no changes – seems like it would have been a slam dunk. Mobile gamers would kill for a proper Pokemon-alike on iOS. Much to my surprise, that’s not what’s happened.
It’s a funny little world, when you think about it. It was only last month that I was rallying behind the changes to Dungeon Keeper, arguing that EA and Mythic had released a game smartly suited for the mobile audience (while the rest of the internet raged about changes to something they love). Now the shoe is on the other foot, and yes – I can’t help but rage too.
I’ll understand if you’d like to grab your torch and pitchfork and shout “HYPOCRITE!”
The difference, though, is that unlike Dungeon Keeper, the free-to-play Outernauts was already a perfect fit for mobile. They tried putting a square peg (Outernauts) into a round hole (Facebook). Now that they have a square hole, they’ve widdled their peg into a triangle.
Oh video games. Sometimes you really break my heart.