Stirring up chaos with EA’s Trouble Makers

Trouble Makers is a new iOS social game from EA Playfish. The game casts players in the role of an evil overlord and tasks them with causing as much chaos as possible using their army of minions — the titular Trouble Makers.

The game is a building and “pet care” game of sorts. Players must smash rocks in their lab to find soft currency, experience points and genes. These genes may then be used to create specific monsters. Each monster requires a specific combination of genes to incubate, and the collection of these creatures is the main motivation to continue playing, though progression is also led through a series of quests and gradual land expansion.

The Trouble Makers may be assigned to various “contraptions” around the lab, and while a Trouble Maker is working on one of these devices, the “trouble meter” in the corner of the screen rises, which in turn causes the player’s energy to restore more quickly. This encourages players to collect as many Trouble Makers as possible and keep them active in order to be able to play for longer.

The game’s energy system is inherently flawed, however, in that it is far too easy to accidentally tap on the wrong thing and spend energy points without warning — particularly on the small screen of the iPhone. For example, while attempting to tap on a Trouble Maker to give them an order, it’s very easy to inadvertently tap on the rocks and other structures surrounding it. This immediately smashes them and uses up a point of the player’s energy without asking for confirmation, which can lead to frustration if the the player does not have much energy left in the first place. A better — though slower-paced — system would be to use that seen in many other similar iOS titles: tap once to select something, then tap again to choose an action. This system is already in place when tapping on the Trouble Makers and contraptions, so it’s a little inconsistent for it to not be applied across the whole interface.

Trouble Makers includes some limited social features, allowing players to visit friends and “help” at their respective laboratories. A single “fake friend” is given to players to begin with, but further friends must be recruited through EA’s proprietary network Origin. As usual for EA games, there is no support for Game Center or to visit random non-friended players, meaning that if the player is unable to convince friends to sign up for Origin, they will have no-one to play alongside. This is a relatively small loss, however, since there is seemingly little benefit in visiting other players besides small experience and soft currency rewards. There does not, at this time, appear to be the facility to send gifts or messages to one another.

The game monetizes through in-app purchase of its hard currency, which may be used to purchase premium monsters and structures, accelerate time-consuming activities and restore energy. The premium buildings do not seem to provide any particular benefit over those which may be purchased using soft currency — they are simply vanity items that will be more “exclusive.”

The main issue with Trouble Makers is that it doesn’t make it clear exactly what the player is supposed to be doing. There doesn’t appear to be a story thread to follow in the quests, and for the most part the player seems to be performing actions simply for the sake of performing them. Why are they creating Trouble? Why should they collect the monsters? Are some monsters better than others? Can they be used for anything other than creating Trouble? None of this is explained.

One could argue that this is the case in many examples of this type of game, but here the fact that there seems to be very little point to what the player is doing appears especially pronounced. Coupled with the limited social features, dependence on Origin rather than more well-established social networks such as Facebook or Game Center and the apparent uselessness of premium items, everything about Trouble Makers conspires to make it a title which is hard to recommend.

Trouble Makers is available now in the Canadian, European and Australian App Stores. It will be available shortly in the U.S.