Price: Freemium, IAPs $1.99-$49.99
King of Thieves is undeniably an addicting, fun and content-rich platformer with a bunch of great ideas. The sentence has a ‘but’ tail, though. Somehow, the more I play the more I get an impression the developers first came up with an awesome game concept, made the core of it, which is fun, and then jam-packed the gameplay with poorly implemented freemium elements that sometimes throw in a great deal of frustration to an otherwise excellent game. It’s almost like the developers wanted to make tons of money, or something.
Despite King of Thieves being a reflex-based platformer, it offers a fun little story to go with it. It’s not much, but the kids love it. As you log in for the first time, the game asks you to enter a name for your character – an Om Nom-like black blob, who once was a King of Thieves, but a treacherous thief put him to jail. A blob-like ghost frees you, for whatever reason, and guides you back to your underground world of kleptomaniacs.
You might have imagined the life of crime as something romantic and noble, but there is no such thing in stealing, and King of Thieves does a good job of adding a bit of harsh reality to the game. Thieves live in dungeons, you see, and their daily routines are nothing but stealing, fortifying their treasures and waiting. Waiting for many things – timers, other thieves, luck.
A small black rat is your unlikely companion. That is it. There are occasional comments from the ghost, whoever it is, and the villains who put you in the prison in the first place.
The game starts off with a tutorial, and if you are not a big fan of those, bear with it, because there is no way to skip it. We divided the gameplay overview into single player, multiplayer and the overview of the things you can do in your dungeon.
So, you get yourself a dungeon, where you have three important spots. One is the gold mine, where step by step you produce the valuable coins. Two is a magic totem, where you insert a gem or two to complete a magic ritual and forge stronger and more expensive gems. Three is a chest, where you can buy coins, gems, and many other things, with fancy outfits being some of the funky ones.
Another important element is the defense of your dungeon, which immediately adds a tower defense and tower offense element to the gameplay. You are given three traps you can place wherever you like. The traps come in a variety of forms – saws, fire cannons, monsters and the like. Each trap is unique and upgradeable.
Each change to your defenses needs to be saved, otherwise it will not come into effect. Saving an edit to your traps requires you yourself overcome your own traps two times in a row. Succeed once and fail the second time, and the first success is erased – you have to make two successes in a row.
All that tower defense hassle is either fun, or annoying, depending on how you view the TD genre as such. The fun part is you get to build your own levels and play them to make your defenses come into effect. Since sometimes your totems would break, you would be able to move to a different dungeon, where you will build new defenses, unlock new traps, but the total number of traps is always three.
Everything in your dungeon from the totem ritual to the gem and gold mining, crafting outfits and applying changes to your defenses takes time. The first few edits are anything from one to five minutes, but before long you will be looking at at least one hour timers.
The gameplay consists of two modes – single and multiplayer. The single player mode is pretty straightforward – you move along a map of some 80 levels, each being a unique dungeon with the traps. All over the place, there are some perks scattered – green leaves, red dots, etc. These, when accumulated, may be used to unlock perks like the suits. To open each level, you need to break the lock.
Here comes a nasty surprise – your thief, who once was a King of Thieves, and is currently on a kleptomaniac spree to steal the world’s worth of gems and gold, does not have a single clue about how to break old fashioned locks.
It’s as if Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character in her Entrapment movie knew how to dodge laser beams and sneak past traps Lara Croft-style, but was a lampoon in unlocking simple locks with a hair pin.
Hence, you need to spend the keys to try and unlock a dungeon. Each dungeon has at least three locks, and more. Only one is a true lock while others are fake designed to make you spend your keys to access a level.
Sometimes, you begin a game with a full stock of keys, and two short levels leave you high and dry, with the next keys regenerating over time, of course.
Hence, the moment you get the flavor of the gameplay, the game leaves you waiting. You can have a session every hour, but that session is quite short. Or else, you can watch an ad to get a pair of keys. If those are not enough, you can always cash out some dollars to buy a bundle.
Every now and then, there will be a gem mine you can use to increase your stock of gems. They may also be upgraded, and that process, too, has timers.
The mechanics are simple, yet challenging. Your black jelly blob, or thief, moves automatically while your taps make it jump. Once it reaches a wall, it demonstrates Parkour skills any French parkourist will envy. Once it clings to a wall, your taps will make it jump to the opposite wall, which lets him move in fast-paced zig zags.
On an even surface, it moves one way until reaches a trap and dies, or reaches a wall and stops. Tap and it will jump and move in the opposite direction.
The controls are smooth, and the gameplay is super-fun – fast and smart, requiring perfectly timed actions and good tactics on your part. Honestly, if King of Thieves were just that – a free single player with ads, it would have been perfect.
The second large part of gameplay is the global multiplayer, which brings in a lot of fun and diversity, but is in many cases, a reason to hate the game.
Here is how it goes. You tap the “Attack” button next to the map, and the AI automatically finds a match for you – a player somewhere in the world, whose skill level is a match to yours. You get to his/her dungeon, and unlocking it is the first challenge – players like to upgrade their locks, adding a handful of fake locks. So, you will be doing lock-picking quite a lot.
What annoys me is how those locks fail to seem random, which they should be. When your key pot is full (and its capacity can be upgraded), the system uncannily keeps saying that every lock you pick is false, leaving the real one to be the last. Hence, you run out of keys pretty fast and that is when the system generously unlocks the next dungeon with the first lock you pick. Next one will require you watch an ad, or pay.
Now comes the other side of the coin. If you thought you’d be raiding other people’s dungeons and go unnoticed, you were wrong.
First of all, other users will raid you with a frequency a Forex broker checks currency rates, so the money and effort you invest in forging gems and upgrading your dungeon will be systematically flushed down the sink hole. Frustrating.
The point is the system eliminates one of your traps if a perpetrator fails to overcome them a few times in a row. Yes, some users say it is a tricky strategy to work out a defense line of three traps, where each works on its own. Since you don’t know which one would be eliminated, you need to place every trap to make penetrating your totem a hard job. Even though you take advantage of that feature, which eliminates a trap when you fail way too often in a single dungeon, it hurts when other players use it against you. The game would have been better off without it.
The next frustrating part is the spinning wheel, which determines whether you get a gem from the totem you just reached, or not. Hence, all the thinking and replaying you invested to reach someone else’s gem dwindles down to how the spinning wheel turns. Provided I have my doubts about how ‘genuinely random’ the lock-picking is, I don’t enjoy the spinning wheel, either.
Next woe is the possibility to avenge those who have stolen from you. Sometimes, you would succeed, but on many occasions, the system would not let you avenge the moment you are willing to – wait because the player appears to be online, or wait because someone else is raiding this player, or the player is under a shield, and so on. Even if you get in and get to the totem, you still have to spin the darn wheel if you don’t get the gem right away.
You start in an entry-level wooden guild, where you compete against 24 entrants like yourself. Once you beat them all and reach the first place, you enter the next guild, and can create a guild of your own. Even though this feature appeals to the competitive folks, don’t think too much of it.
First of all, creating or joining a guild is all there is to it. No guild versus guild competitions, no restricting a guild to your friends only.
Next comes another ‘vice’ of the game. It beta launched about a year ago, and the testers who have been playing it for this long could transfer all their progress to the game when it was released worldwide. Hence, they are currently so upgraded and gem-packed, they occupy the pantheon, being able to raid the rest.
Of course, if you choose to pay and get every upgrade and ritual faster, stronger, better, you will be able to bully the non-paying members, and there is no way a non-paying member can compete against the paying members in global leaderboards. That is, unless you are ready to invest a good deal of real cash into the game, you are doomed to stay at the bottom.
If you have read this far, you should realize by now that King of Thieves resides on the worst end of the freemium spectrum. Yes, watching the ads in exchange for a pair of free keys is nice, and if it were just that – would have been just fine. However, every action, and there is a lot of action besides dodging traps, has cool down timers, or prices. Forging stronger gems to ascend in the leaderboards, crafting a suit, editing your dungeon defense, unlocking new levels or accessing someone else’s dungeon – all is tied into IAPs.
It all feels like an ugly bullet-proof vest put on top of a tuxedo – the party is no longer fun.
King of Thieves is beautiful in a typical Zeptolab style found in Cut the Rope series. Bright, vibrant colors, cute characters, non-explicit death scenes. By the way, your thief has a life bar, and you can die several times before it gets empty.
Humorous comments from other characters spice up the gameplay while the music is average – not overly catchy, as was the case with Cut the Rope (I still suffer from catching it every time I hear it), but not annoying, either. It’s ok.
- Fun, very addicting gameplay
- Quick sessions perfect for playing on the go
- Beautiful design
- Single and multiplayer modes, plenty of levels
- High replay value
- Multiplayer, with guilds and leaderboards
- Loads of fun content – totems, gems, suits, upgradeable traps, shields, gold, green leaves, red dots, and more
- A rough take on the freemium model
- One trap gets disabled when a thief can’t access the totem for several times in a row, which nulls and voids all your efforts in crafting a good dungeon
- The guilds system feels a bit raw
- Paying members and long-time members who were a part of beta testing don’t leave non-paying entrants a chance to ascend in the global leaderboards
- You have to be literally monitoring the game 24/7 to collect the gold from your mines on time, and watch over those super-upgraded gems. Or else, someone steals them from you
- Once you agree to receive notifications (like your ritual is done, or someone raided your dungeon) there doesn’t seem to be a way to disable them
- No premium version, where one would be able to play all they want paying only once
- If you spend a slew of keys on lock-picking, enter a dungeon and get a call, the system withdraws your keys, but you will need to lock-pick again to enter that dungeon
King of Thieves is a wonderful game that gets you hooked the moment you customize your first dungeon and raid your first victim. In other words, it is a pure drug for the addictive personalities. Nonetheless, its overly restricting freemium model, and a slew of features that stem from it, add a hefty deal of frustration.
The bottom line is – those of you who steer clear of freemium games, move on because King of Thieves has got what you hate. Those of you who are not addictive personalities, have nerves of steel and don’t mind waiting, paying or losing your progress to some lucky jello, get it – it’s fun! As cool and refreshing as it is, the overall impression is just good.