With the proliferation of smartphones, apps and mobile gaming have become a new frontier for the gaming industry wherein both indie developers and world-famous companies can reach a nearly limitless audience by offering cheap and portable games. If almost everyone has a smartphone, then almost everyone can be drawn into mobile games, a fact that has spurred the development of thousands of new games. Unfortunately, this explosion of mobile games has lead to a multitude of half-formed duds, many with smart and unique gameplay and story ideas that just aren’t implemented well enough to rise above the veritable sea of mediocre smartphone apps.
Who Lurks, a new local party game available for both iOS and Android, is one such game. Developer Hybrid Humans clearly based their app on a number of popular party (non-virtual) games such as Mafia and Resistance; the game centers on a spaceship crew who has been infiltrated by an enemy alien who wishes to destroy humanity for an unspecified reason. 3-6 players are each randomly assigned a position on board the ship (such as captain, engineer, etc.) and status as either a human or an alien. The humans’ job is to keep their ship running by completing short puzzle games each round, while the aliens seek to sabotage the ship by failing at the games (and thus causing the ship to take damage) without getting caught. At the end of each round, players are told how much damage their ship took and asked to vote on who they think the resident alien is. The game goes on for 5-15 rounds, and ends either when the crew uncovers the alien(s), the ship reaches its destination at the end of the specified amount of rounds, or the alien(s) destroy the ship.
The biggest problem with this game is that it is simply easier and less of a hassle to play it non-digitally. The game forces players to pass the phone back-and-forth amongst their group of friends, which quickly proves tiresome. A timer also keeps the game going steadily forward, greatly curbing the witty banter and friendly teasing between rounds commonly found in the average group game of Mafia. Finally, unless one buys the full version for a hefty $4.99, the player is limited to a mere three consecutive games before either the app must be closed down and “refueled” for an hour, or an ad must be watched to refuel faster. Why would someone spend their hang-out time shoving a small screen in their friends’ faces to play a tiresome mini-game when instead he or she could quickly design and play a similar game without the limits of a screen, time limit, annoying puzzles, and the need to “refuel?”
The minigames quickly prove more timesome than fun
The game’s limitations could be solved, however, with the simple introduction of an online multiplayer option. There are plenty of times when I get the hunkering to play a game like Mafia yet, lo and behold, my many friends and acquaintances are busy with their own lives and I have no one to hang out with. In such circumstances, an online app that lets me play with strangers would be the perfect solution. Alas, no such mobile game exists yet, and unless Hybrid Humans has any future plans to introduce this element, I fear their game will soon find itself forgotten in the depths of the few thousand phones who have downloaded it.
Everything else in the game– the music, artwork, etc.– is fully functional and professional, and certainly adds to the experience. Hybrid Humans is clearly not another half-baked indie app company with limited resources. Unfortunately, its game is simply unnecessary in a world where one still doesn’t have to use a phone in order to have a good time, and mobile games and apps must provide a unique experience or necessary service in order to convince customers.