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The siren song of the Samsung app store has again called me to its shore.

I have equipped my trusty arsenal: a Samsung-provided Galaxy Tab S2, and both the S6 and S6 Edge Plus mobile phones. So now I again plunge to the depths of the mobile storefront in search of adventure, entertainment, and just one slot machine game that isn’t the free-to-play download equivalent of sadness. I find two of these things.

This marks the ninth leg of our shared app store journey. Be sure to catch up on the previous installments (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) before joining me on this episode!

Train your kids on cheap monetization tactics with My Talking Tom

My Talking Tom has a lot of humanoid habits. Talking isn't one of them.

Above: My Talking Tom has a lot of humanoid habits. Talking isn’t one of them.

Image Credit: Outfit 7

The tamagachi that’s been stuck in the corner of your junk drawer since Y2K has more functionality and charm than My Talking Tom. The titular tomcat is a virtual pet of sorts, one players can level up by feeding, petting, and turning out his night-light so he can sleep. Depleting meters for hunger, tiredness, and bladder — similar to many games in the Sims franchise – govern each activity, the player needing to keep them at a high percentage to progress to new levels and unlock fur and clothing sets.

My Talking Tom obviously had young children in mind when it came to aesthetic and core functions, which makes its run-of-the-mill free-to-play monetization scheme rather confusing. Ads and timer bars present an almost immediate roadblock, giving new players approximately two minutes of content before dumping a wait period more than three times that length. The designers have appropriately filed multiplayer (in the form of visiting other cats on the user’s friends list) and the storefront off to the side, but pop-up ad placement is in just the right place for aimless little fingers to click on them.

The core audience for My Talking Tom can only experience the game for several minutes at a time, seeing the full extent of its feature set if their parents are helicopter-gaming over their shoulder.

And to top it all off, the cat doesn’t even talk.

Best played on: a cellphone given to your enemy’s child, in order to rack up their charges as part of a petty vendetta.

People let me tell ya ’bout my Best Fiends

Match puzzle icons and max your stats in order to conquer a slug army in Best Fiends.

Above: Match puzzle icons and max your stats in order to conquer a slug army in Best Fiends.

Image Credit: Seriously

A meteor lands on a mountain, releasing an army of evil slugs into a world that adorable insect life dominate. We’ve all saved at least one digital world with less information than that.

I have taken issue with mobile puzzlers in the past, particularly the match-3 set, for an overall lack of variety. And while Best Fiends never truly moves beyond its need for players to connect at least three icons to complete certain micro-objectives, it boasts a solid enough feature set to keep me playing far longer than I usually do with these games. I attribute a lot of that to the leveling system, which has your roster of color-coordinated bugs growing in strength and — eventually — appearance as you receive and spend the collectibles granted after each level. Each group grows to include multiple playable characters, with attacks and special moves corresponding to an match-able icon within each puzzle level.

The system is about as bare-bones as it could be while still being functional, but the quick sessions and the consistently rotating sets of micro-objectives help maintain interest for far longer than most games of Best Fiends’ ilk. It’s basic, in a perfect-for-on-the-toilet-quick-play kind of way.

Best played on: Samsung Galaxy S6

Mirrors of Albion is wonderfully framed, but it has little to reflect on

Mirrors of Albion is empty eye candy calories.

Above: Mirrors of Albion is empty eye candy calories.

Image Credit: Game Insight

I have never seen a hidden object game suffer from as much feature creep as Mirrors of Albion.

The world of this Alice in the Wonderland-inspired title is awash in both visual detail and available activities, neither of which have been effectively executed. Albion’s world map is so packed with (admittedly impressive) background clutter that it looks like a gaudy blob on any screen smaller than a tablet. Searching for the same group of objects hidden in the single-screen environments quickly gets old, and the combo multiplier given when a player finds multiple objects quickly is surprisingly unforgiving in terms of missed taps and overall timing.

The variety of minigames available are impressive in number but undercooked in execution, requiring little of the player beyond rote memorization and trial-and-error. Little variation in the objectives across the board force players into a slog very quickly, routinely performing the same activities in the same ornately decorated locations until another burst of particle effects lets them know they gained a level.

Mirrors of Albion has a much depth as a looking glass, but at least it sits in a pretty frame.

Best played on: a visit to the doctor, to determine whether or not you have glaucoma.

The Slots Reel Frontier is as lifeless as a salt flat

Slots Reel Frontier tries to compensate for a lack of soul with gaudy glare.

Above: Slots Reel Frontier tries to compensate for a lack of soul with gaudy glare.

Playing Slots Reel Frontier is a cry for help.

Its collection of stock sound effects, Spencer’s Gift poster-style machine headboards, and complete divorce from cause-and-effect adds up to a chore of a playtime at best. Locking in your bets sets the familiar turn of rotating lanes in motion on the screen, which results in one of three-thousand variables that either let you win somehow (Congratulations, you got three icons of this Marilyn Monroe caricature somewhere on this board of 54 tiles, have $10,000 Useless Bucks!) or deplete your resources an insignificant amount. The laughable “bonus games” are even more insulting, dumping a bunch of selectable images in a pile with a cash multiplier under each, without a single loss condition onscreen.

I try to lose as quickly as possible with slot games, just to see if there is any thrill of risk and/or need to invest in additional in-game currency, but I couldn’t manage a single failure state in the almost two hours I experimented with Slots Reel Frontier across all platforms. In the absence of potential loss, Slots Reel Frontier fades into a slow march of unlocking new machines by leveling up, ascending to a new collection of cheap visual fluff, of reused machine clinks and victory chirps.

Nothing in this world is quite as useless as a gambling simulation without the risk of failure.

Best played on: a particularly sad dare at a bar after too many drinks.

Tap your kingdom through the ages with Forge of Empires

In Forge of Empires, use your godly index fingers to guide your tiny people through the ages.

Above: In Forge of Empires, use your godly index fingers to guide your tiny people through the ages.

Image Credit: InnoGames

Forge of Empires’ greatest strength is its ability to quickly shut up.

Almost every town builder covered in this feature series has crowded the player’s first 15 minutes of playtime with constant text boxes and tutorial prompts guiding and responding to every action made onscreen. Forge isn’t bereft of expository explanations, but it takes a refreshingly short of amount of time to eliminate every explanatory pop-up window and start moving around buildings and armies of your own volition, all of which feels precise and satisfying. The game operates a more traditional timetable when it comes to drip-feeding new features and mechanics to the player, widening the gap between learning and testing new actions on your road to conquering all of known civilization.

While managing airports and farms in previous installments of Diving into the Samsung app store, I always felt like a condensing professor was lecturing down to me; getting basic motion function explained in great detail before I was rewarded for the simplest actions. Forge of Empires — by comparison — feels like a slimmed-down strategy game ripped from PC design philosophy onto a more convenient screen. There is a point in all town-building games where the designers have explained all features and release the player into the game proper, Forge of Empires just knows how to pace itself better leading up to that point.

Best played on: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

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