Wizkids and Marvel's HeroClix TabApp spoils its chance to innovate
A few weeks ago, I posted about the HeroClix TabApp that was recently released on the App Store, an iPad app that has the ability to interact with a special set of figurines designed to be used with Marvel's very popular HeroClix collectible game. Wizkids kindly got in touch with me after that post and agreed to send along some figures to test out, and I was able to give both the figures and the app a go this week on my iPad 2.
Unfortunately, while there is about one second of magic with this setup (which I'll talk about in just a bit), the strangely named "TabApp" wastes most of its potential. It's a free app, so it's basically just designed as a promotional tool (and you can still play through the tutorial and a short demo even if you don't have any of the figures to unlock content with), so if you're a huge fan of HeroClix, there's really no reason to not try it. But the fact is that the game included in the app is more or less a real-time tap-fest than anything else: Any hope of the deeper strategy game behind the little figurines has gone right out the window.
The one bit of fun to be had with the app and the figurines is in getting to unlock each set of content by pressing the figure down on the screen. Each little figure has three pads on its base, and these pads are all set up in different places and patterns, so that when you actually press down the figure on the iPad app, it really will recognize which figure you pressed. Putting down Iceman, for example, will open up different levels than pressing down Captain America or Wolverine. That part is really fun -- it's awesome to see the iPad just "know" which figure you placed on it right away.
The three levels of gameplay you unlock, however, are not really worth the price. The included game seems only barely similar to HeroClix -- various enemies slide around the screen (with terrible animations), and you just need to tap on them to attack them. There is a little bit of gameplay in terms of using certain powerups and abilities at the right times, but there's no turn-based strategy at all -- it's an arcade game that just not designed well.
That's really too bad because it would be awesome to have an iPad app that really does simulate the core HeroClix game, where you could use multiple figures on the iPad's screen to coordinate a full HeroClix battle. Yes, these are meant for kids, so maybe Wizkids thought that a more arcade-style game would be more popular. But let's be honest, the kids playing with these figures and the game behind them clearly want something a little deeper than just smashing fingers on the screen. And especially since these special TabApp figures are completely separate from the main HeroClix line (standard figures don't have the capacitive pads on them, of course), you wouldn't be cannibalizing the core game at all. It would be great to use the power of the iPad to back up what's clearly a strong core strategy game already.
But that's not what Wizkids did here, so they'll likely disappoint HeroClix fans and those looking to pick up the figures and play a deeper game. If the idea interests you as is, you can definitely download the TabApp for yourself and see what you think, but I can't really recommend shelling out for the figurines, only to be disappointed with the low-quality gameplay on the app itself.
I think there is a lot of power in an app that crosses over between the two worlds of physical and digital gameplay, and we've seen a few other companies working on bridging that gap, including Nukotoys, and the upcoming mobile version of Activision's Skylanders toys. HeroClix had a real opportunity here to tie in the very established physical game with a strong digital version, but I'm sorry to say that most of that opportunity was wasted.