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‘Futurama: Game of Drones’ is a Licensed Mobile Game that Doesn’t Suck

‘Futurama: Game of Drones’ is a Licensed Mobile Game that Doesn’t Suck:

So, here’s a shortened version of the conversation that started this unlikely obsession:

“Hey”, says another games writer friend (Let’s call him Chris). “Have you played this Futurama game yet?”

“The matching game on my phone?” says I. “I just downloaded it. Hopes are not high. It’s just some match-3 thing, right?”

“Match-4,” Chris corrects me, emphatically, because he is anal about these things. “It’s terrific. Check it out.”

After a brief pause, he adds, “Not like that crappy Star Trek one.” We both shudder in unwanted recollection.

And so it began. If you’re a “die-hard” gamer like us, mobile games get a certain sort of contention. It’s not necessary fair, but mostly, there are a lot of awful games crowding the mobile app stores. So, a general negative opinion about the entire platform, while unfortunate, is not necessarily unfounded.

This goes double for licensed games in general and licensed mobile games in particular. Take the afore-mentioned Trek game, which is a perfect example of taking a license skin (complete with appropriate characters, sound effects, and themes) and just smushing it on a mediocre, uninspired match-3 game (think Candy Crush or Bejeweled). Whenever any company needs a quick and easy mobile game to throw out there purely as a promotional gimmick, it’s inevitably crap.

So, to discover that the Futurama-themed Game of Drones is not just good, or decent, or tolerable, but actually great is a shocking, nearly unbelievable revelation. To put that into context, I actually play a lot of these types of “match” games. Usually you must match at least three of such objects and matching more earns more points or whatever currency the game uses to goad you on.

Ever since Puzzle Quest on the Nintendo DS, I’ve had a casual obsession with these games, but few manage to actually grab me. Triple Town is a perfect example of how creative you can get with matching things. It’s a game where you build a town by grouping like objects, which is a pretty impressive twist of ingenuity. Candy Crush is OK and the obsession of millions, but, let’s be honest, matching candy isn’t that appealing to a lot of us hardcore types.

Matching stuff in a Futurama setting, however, is, much like matching dilithium crystals and such from Star Trek should have been. In this case, however, the developer has gone so far above and beyond the norm to create something that really shows affection for its license that I almost feel compelled to spend money on microtransactions-based power-ups I’ll never use. And that pretty much never happens.

So Futurama Game of Drones is a perfect case study in how to take something that’s been beaten into the ground and make it seem fresh again. As a game squarely aimed at the mobile free-to-play market and directly tied to a cult TV show, Game of Drones does two things very right. The first is the easiest: it gets the look, sound, and overall feel of Futurama right.

Screenshot 2016-06-21-13-03-33

This isn’t a terribly difficult accomplishment. Use the show’s sound effects, music, and other bits to create the right ambiance. Throw in the comic-book pop of the visuals and you’re mostly there. Game of Drones looks and sounds perfectly Futurama. Even the minor bits of dialogue to push the absurdly amusing plot along are fun. There’s even a fake Twitter-like service called Twitcher, which will send you character tweets (or twitches, I suppose) throughout the day if you want.

More importantly, the game takes the now-trite concept of matching lines of objects into consistently new directions. There are around 300 levels in Game of Drones—and good luck to anyone hoping to complete them all—and what could easily be a monotonous, unchanging slog is instead a veritable rainbow of new challenges. There are regular additions to the seemingly simple concept. New elements appear in the game—shields, tiles, and shipping boxes that require multiple matches to break, brain slugs that reproduce if you don’t dispatch them each turn, strategic power-ups that can change the board dynamics with massive destruction, pizza deliveries and explosives. Even the boards themselves are constantly changing in shape and complexity.

Just when you get comfortable with one addition to the game play, Futurama adds something new to complicate things. It’s impressive and addictive. Better yet, this is one of the few games of its type where I actually found myself trying to think strategically. Since you only have a certain number of moves to complete a level, there’s a distinct economy of risk and reward. Frequently tasked with destroying a certain number of specific drones (like 38 blue ones and 42 yellow, for instance), you’ll need to weigh the benefits of matching a five- or six-long string of other drones to earn a power-up that can wipe out a whole line of drones.

The level design frequently tries to fool you into destroying objects extraneous to the actual goal and as things progress, some of the puzzles are brutally hard. Such levels rely on equal parts skill and luck to win. That said, I have yet to encounter a level where I felt anything close to the compulsion to buy some kind of cheat item to get past it. Game of Drones skirts the fine line between being challenging and outright cheating to get players to spend money.

There’s no shortage of mediocre offerings on app stores—thousands of new games constantly add to the collective every month. So when something comes around that takes something familiar and runs with it in the right direction, it’s worth noting. Futurama Game of Drones is first and foremost a fine homage to a great series, but more than that, it’s just an ideal example of how free-to-play doesn’t have to mean greedy, bottom of the barrel crap.


Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.

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