UPDATE: An unfinished version of Middle Manager of Justice was accidentally released early on the App Store and has since been pulled — this review was based on this early version. Double Fine claims in a forum thread that this version was “not indicative of what it should be yet” and that the upcoming official release will “iron out” all the bugs as well as apply a significant amount of “tuning.” A specific release date has not yet been listed. We will revisit the game when it is officially available in its finished state.
Double Fine Productions is a well-respected developer thanks in no small part to the involvement of industry veteran Tim Schafer, the creative mind behind classic titles such as Grim Fandango, Monkey Island 2 and Day of the Tentacle. The studio’s recent games have all combined the studio’s trademark wit with solid gameplay, so all eyes were on the team as they prepared to release their first mobile game: Middle Manager of Justice.
Middle Manager of Justice casts players in the role of the titular middle manager, who is responsible for rebuilding the local superhero presence and helping to clean up the streets of criminal filth. The player’s time will be split roughly equally between the “management” aspect of the game and following the game’s various original superheros out on missions as they attempt to dispense justice.
During the management phase of the game, players are presented with an isometric-perspective view of the office, similar to many other mobile and social games. Players are able to spend the game’s two currencies — coins and “Superium” on constructing and upgrading new rooms, hiring new heroes and purchasing various consumable or equipment items. The heroes wander aimlessly around the base until the player gives them a task to do — usually training or resting at the outset of the game — at which point they head off to complete it. Tasks take a period of real time to accomplish, though may be “rushed” by expending Superium. Players must also keep an eye on the heroes’ morale and use their manager character to give pep talks as appropriate, as heroes’ performance will suffer with low morale. As the game progresses and the player earns (or purchases) additional currency, more gameplay possibilities open up — though most simply involve assigning an employee to a room and waiting for them to complete a task.
Every so often, a “crime” will appear on the in-game map, and the player is able to dispatch their heroes to deal with the miscreants. At this point, the game switches to a simple, mostly hands-off battle screen, where the heroes and villains take it in turns to hit each other. Each hero has at least one superpower to bring to bear as well as their standard physical attacks, though it takes time to recharge between uses. Consumable items may also be used to restore health or provide temporary attack boosts during combat.
Upon successfully completing a combat, the heroes involved gain “work experience.” If their experience bar is filled, it becomes possible to promote them, at which point they gain access to additional training sessions to increase their power, maximum health or intelligence. If sufficient combats in a locale have been completed, a “boss” villain appears who is significantly tougher to defeat, and successfully beating this character advances the game’s story.
Middle Manager of Justice certainly carries Double Fine’s trademark wit and sense of humor — the game’s parody of bureaucracy is consistently amusing — but the gameplay feels soulless. At heart, it’s yet another freemium mobile game where players tap on things and wait for numbers to increase or spend real money to make things go faster, and there’s very little sense of satisfaction to be had for fans of Double Fine’s more “core-focused” work on computers and consoles. The management aspect is lightweight and rather dull, and the combat system is much too hands-off to provide any real excitement. That only really leaves the endearing, well-animated visuals and the game’s witty writing as things that are worthy of note, and neither of those are enough to carry a satisfying game experience by themselves. While existing mobile gamers who enjoy this style of play will likely find something to enjoy here, Double Fine’s longtime fans from the core gamer demographic will likely walk away very disappointed with this offering.
As a new release, Middle Manager of Justice is not yet listed on our tracking service AppData at the time of writing. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store charts.