Tower of Fortune
Developer: Game Stew Studios
The challenge with slot machines is how to keep people playing. There’s not much to your basic one-armed bandit, after all: just plunk in your quarter and hope for the best. The trick is maintaining the illusion that the next spin could be a winner.
Casino slots have all kinds of tricks to this end: themed machines, multi-line play, progressive jackpots. With Tower of Fortune, Game Stew Studio puts a different spin on the stale three-reel mechanic by combining it with a rudimentary roguelike RPG structure. It’s wrapped in a retro art style that resembles nothing so much as early Gameboy graphics.
At first, the game’s conceit seems like a clever idea. Instead of an invisible dice roll in the background, Tower of Fortune has you spinning the reels to attack monsters, earn gold and experience, and even heal wounds. The ultimate goal is to reach the top of the tower, replaying a series of battle arenas to gain gold and experience. In a typical gameplay sequence, you’ll battle a monster by playing one slot machine, gather treasure by playing another, and heal wounds with a third in the tavern. You may even get to play a fourth minigame to gain extra gold from bandits. In all cases, whatever icon pops up on the first reel dictates what happens; additional matches boost the effect.
A few of the slots are multipurpose, which adds needed variety. You can earn XP and gold in addition to attacking and defending. In the tavern, drinking beer regains HP, while eating meat raises your max HP and kissing the lady increases your luck stat. If you want to press your luck, hitting the Bet button can double your winnings at the risk of extra gold. All the while, a series of mini-quests scrolls by below the slots, approximating the objective system from games like Jetpack Joyride.
But this is where the cleverness of Tower of Fortune starts to wear off. The illusion of progression the game tries to create is countered by the inescapable randomness of each slot pull. What’s the point of an objective when the player can’t do anything to directly influence its outcome? On that note, why implement permadeath in a game that relies much more on luck than skill?
The bigger problem is that the game isn’t nearly balanced enough to sustain its illusion of progression. Unlocking new areas requires an escalating amount of gold, meaning that you’ll spend far more time grinding for cash than should be necessary. The endgame is particularly brutal in this regard, possibly to encourage in-app purchases of gold. The gains you make in XP and loot for defeating monsters do not compensate for the many hours of tedium you’ll have to endure to earn them. Unlike Jetpack Joyride, there is a defined end state you’re aiming for in Tower of Fortune, which makes the lack of control over your progress even more frustrating. Had the bonuses you earn been made less incremental, or had the designers added new twists to the slot mechanic as you progress, some of this frustration could have been avoided. But as is, playing Tower of Fortune often feels like playing real slot machines. The only meaningful choice you have to make is when to stop.