As long as stretches of the Samsung Galaxy Apps store map go unrecorded by the GamesBeat Federation, I shall pilot into that dark space in search of mobile games of merit.

I am a one-man crew on these away missions, just a Samsung-provided array of phones (Galaxy S6, S6 Edge Plus) and a tablet (Galaxy Tab S2) for company. In this episode, I am inconvenienced multiple times by a robed occultist, level up an army of fantasy archetypes, and gamble more times in the space of a week than most have in their entire lives.

But don’t mistake me as a mobile storefront greenhorn. I have traveled through these app store nebulae eleven times before. I catalogued the particulars of all these prior mobile adventures in the GamesBeat codex (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11) for your perusal.

Slots Journey of Magic is barely a journey, let alone magic

Beyond it's visual presentation, Slots Journey of Magic has little to recommend.

Above: Beyond its visual presentation, Slots Journey of Magic has little to offer.

Image Credit: Huuuge Games

Slots Journey of Magic spreads a good idea so thin it becomes transparent.

Mobile designers have charted world maps for players to inch their way along since the advert of app stores Dropping a virtual slot machine experience into such a level-based progression structure seems like a solid, common sense concept. With each spin of a machine, Journey of Magic players gain experience (in the form of rubies) toward their next level, unlocking new machines at certain level intervals. A selection of boosts are available (on both a limited free use per day and microtransaction basis) to increase experience earned with each spin. Each unique machine also boasts bonuses games where players can earn in-game currency for use in higher bets (with consequently higher experience gains).

But Journey to Magic has just used the progressive unlocking of levels as an excuse to break up its stable of slot machine screens across a dozen or so level caps. The designers are arbitrarily gating players off from the same amount of content that most casino games — including ones from the same publisher — have been providing immediately. Without any narrative framing, ability to return to previous machines, or even any animations to highlight map progression, the game leaves players adrift in a tedious level grind. And by locking each screen behind a level cap, Journey of Magic removes the critical variety that makes virtual slot games occasionally bearable.

Best played on: a game show testing the limits of its contestant’s patience.

Demon Hunter

You'll be hunting more pixels than demons in Demon Hunter: Chronicles from Beyond.

Above: You’ll be hunting more pixels than demons in Demon Hunter: Chronicles from Beyond.

Image Credit: Artifex Mundi

Demon Hunter has the most mundane, muddy vision of the occult I’ve come across for a while.

Not that I’ve met many denizens of hell in my time with the hidden-object game (which only sometimes bares the subtitle “Chronicles from Beyond”). In fact, in the hour-plus I spent in Demon Hunter, there were only a few things one could consider out of the ordinary. First, a glowing portal two men activated in the game’s prologue. Second, someone in a red cloak who would show up in cutscenes and delay my progress by messing with objects in the environment. Third, and most prominently, a thick layer of kitsch coating almost everything not animated into a background.

That last one is more of a blessing than a curse. Demon Hunter is a campy enough production that the warping faces of character models, glittery sign-posting of searchable areas in each screen, and ludicrous puzzle logic almost seem charming. Combine that with some interesting twists to the hidden-object gameplay formula — like items disguised as other objects until the player hovers over them, or ones that require some multi-step processes within the object screen, like an apple needing to be painted gold by a nearby brush — and Chronicles from Beyond makes a comparatively solid first impression.

Best played on: Samsung Galaxy S6.

Very little is grand in Grand Video Poker

Grand Video Poker is about as static a poker experience as you can get.

Above: Grand Video Poker is about as static a poker experience as you can get.

A limited feature set does not get more impressive the farther you spread it out.

From the moment Grand Video Poker first loads up its home screen, it’s obvious something’s off. The game of poker has fewer approachable variants than this virtual casino has tiles to tap on. In order to meet whatever icons-on-screen quota this game was under, Grand has spread out actual poker variables (like deuces wild) across tables with vanilla poker, but isolated bonus amounts. What could have been a full-featured hand of poker is now fragmented and broken up piecemeal across multiple screens, separated by multiple load times.

Not that Grand actually manages an engaging hand of poker in the first place. Each table is an avatar-less, 1-on-1¬†bout with the house and sports a bland presentation across the board. Players gain nothing by winning other than a rising number in the corner of the screen. The only thing that breaks up the monotony is the game’s frequent requests for the player to rate it in the app store.

Best played on: a drunken bender, to immediately sober you back up.

Cats and Dogs Casino

Cats and Dogs Casino offers little in the way of worthwhile mobile gambling.

Above: Cats and Dogs Casino offers little in the way of worthwhile mobile gambling.

I guess Only-Four-Slot-Machines-Currently-Available Casino was already taken.

Cats and Dogs Casino, so named for the first half of its available slot machines, is both one of the most limited and most elaborate gambling games I have played yet. On on the one hand, there are the handful of available slot machines. Each machine’s garish effects and bonus games make for temporary amusements, but don’t cover up the central fact that they lack any rewards for the currency earned by the player. Money won is simply funneled into more bets to earn more money to place more bets. Players can’t use their winnings to unlock new machines or even purchase boosts, they get to watch a number on a screen rise and fall.

On the other hand, there are the quasi mini-games dumped on the side of the slot machines to flesh out the gameplay variety. Here, unlike Grand Video Poker (which hearkens from the same publisher as this title), the poker and black jack options are all self-contained and enjoyable for at least a few rounds. They also lack any tangible sense of reward or progression, but when combined with the slot machine icons, the main menu at least gives off a temporary — if sad — approximation of being on a section of a casino floor.

Best played on: an endless loop, in front of children and adults easily entranced by flashing colors and pictures of animals.

Blood Brothers 2

You can spend hours organizing and upgrading your troops in Blood Brothers 2.

Above: You can spend hours organizing and upgrading your troops in Blood Brothers 2.

Image Credit: DeNA

Unlike most games covered in this feature series, this was not my first time seeing Blood Brothers 2.

I covered the tactical role-playing game¬†once before, during a visit to the game publisher’s office early last year. But most of my conversation with senior producer Hidde Tonegawa was in regards to the game’s place in the mobile franchise, rather than how it plays. Turns out, the aplomb with which Tonegawa showed off Blood Brothers 2 wasn’t entirely unfounded.

In a dark fantasy world already beset with unrest, players assemble an ever-increasing army of lavishly drawn fighters to battle back enemy hordes with equally intricate character portraits. You gain new fighters by capturing them from the battlefield and purchasing them through “pacts” via various in-game currencies (earned or bought). Once the player obtains a new fighter, they can level them up, evolve them into stronger forms, and/or equip them with various armor, weapons, and souls of fellow fighters. Building an army with this feature set is deeply engrossing, to the point where an entire evening can evaporate as you are drip-fed just enough new baubles and coin for another stat increase.

Each round of combat plays out on a map grid, where players can use battle tactics like preemptive strikes or squad healing before moving into contact with an enemy force. Once engaged, a fight plays out against a static battlefield screen through a rock-paper-scissors clash of unit type (ranged troops beat offensive tropes but are especially hurt by defensive ones, etc.) and character special attacks. It’s a solid single-mechanic system, but one that does not have the legs to last even a fraction of the time it would take to complete the main story quest before becoming tedious. And while multiplayer — and other single-player — bout types are available, the core strategy never changes.

But even though your army doesn’t fight as interestingly as it trains, collecting characters was the most fun I had on my phone all week.

Best played on: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.

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