Back in November, I reviewed a strategy iPhone game called World War. World War wasn’t an amazing iPhone game by any stretch, but one thing that it had going for it was an uncanny ability to get you to keep playing, to keep clicking on the “war” buttons to engage in e-skirmishes with whoever else was playing the game at the time.
The Original Gangstaz iPhone game (free) uses almost an identical battle formula, but improves upon the player’s ability to customize and upgrade their gaming experience. While I found World War’s premise frustrating because it was a multi-player game that felt like a single-player experience, Original Gangstaz comes off slightly better because the customization and upgrades make even an experience that feels like a single-player campaign worthwhile.
You can begin this customization almost as soon as you start playing. After you choose which side of the gang you’re on, you don’t need to have endless battle after endless battle to make money. You also have the option of becoming a “slum lord,” purchasing buildings so that the rent you’re paid can function as your in game currency. It seems like a small thing, but just the ability to have different paths to achieving your gang-dominating end goals is refreshing.
What is not refreshing is how blurry the line is between purchasing items using your “gangsta” money and those that require your real money. In-game weapon upgrades can be purchased using the fake currency you earn by playing Original Gangstaz. There is a page in the iPhone game, however, that is basically like a cheat code screen. It allows you to buy points that you can use to skip steps, earning upgrades faster than usual. It took me a few minutes to realize that the $19.99 for a purchase of these points was referring to a very real $20 and not an in-game superfluous $20. There really ought to be a clearer distinction made.
The design of Original Gangstaz is its biggest problem. It is so committed to its style, a sort of ultra-exaggerated imagining of early 90s gangsta rap, that it sacrifices ease of use to maintain this style. It’s difficult to understand what you need to know without poking around all over the iPhone game and finding out your next step using trial and error. That’s a shame, because Original Gangstaz does have an interesting strategy game at its heart. If it can chop off some of the excess, a lot more people will see it eventually, too.