Magic: ManaStrike Review: Clash Royale With Planeswalkers

Developer Netmarble has released its newest game, Magic: ManaStrike, for both Android and iOS devices. Although the game leverages Wizards of the Coast’s licence for Magic: The Gathering, fans of the trading card game will find little resemblance to the trading card game. Instead, Magic: ManaStrike bears a striking resemblance to the core gameplay of Clash Royale and builds upon the mechanics in ways that add layers of strategy to each game, and distinct deckbuilding opportunities.

To say that there are similarities between Magic: ManaStrike and Clash Royale would be an understatement. In terms of gameplay, the two are nearly identical at first glance, but there are some notable points to consider that add a layer of depth and strategy to the game that is not apparent when first playing.

The action in Magic: ManaStrike is always presented in the same way, with the player’s base and units situated on the left, advancing onward to an opponent on the right, whereas Clash Royale features a vertical battlefield with players advancing their troops upwards towards an opponent. Both battlefields are identical, with the main structure to protect guarded by two defensive towers, and a bridge on either side of the map where players must place units to cross over for the attack.

To destroy the opposing structures, players in both games have access to ground units, air units, and spells paid for with Mana, or Elixir in Clash Royale, that regenerates at a steady rate. Matches in both games last three minutes, with the final minute providing an increase to resource regeneration. These units are collected over time as random rewards, or can be purchased from the store, and are then upgraded with gold.

Planeswalkers And Color Restrictions Are A Major Difference

Gameplay differs between the two games with how Magic: ManaStrike implements its iconic Planeswalkers that can be placed on the battlefield, each with their own abilities that allow for different strategies to be used. These Planeswalkers can be played at any time for free, up to a certain number of times per game.

This is the major difference between games. Whereas other Tower Defense games and Clash Royale have players construct decks for combat, there is little to distinguish one player from another since all cards can be used. In Magic: ManaStrike, the selection of one Planeswalker over another is strategic, and there is sure to be a tier list developing in terms of which are best suited for different types of play.

Unique decks are further encouraged in that a Planeswalker dictates the color domain that each player will have access to. As they correspond to in Magic: The Gathering, Jace can only be used for Blue decks, Chandra for Red, and so on. Multi-color decks are available as well through the unlocking of additional Planeswalkers, though all combinations are currently available. The result is that players can have vastly different play styles through their selection of Planeswalker.

Another Game, Another Battle Pass

Magic: ManaStrike features a Battle Pass that is sure to ruffle some feathers, at least if things don’t change in the future. This is because the Premium Track, which can be bought with Premium Currency, is currently the only way to unlock the Planeswalker Ob Nixilis, the tyrant that turns into a demon.

Ideally, all content should be available for purchase with Gold if the game wants to avoid being labeled as pay-to-win, allowing everyone to compete without the need to spend money. Ob Nixilis is not overly powerful, but the problem of future Planeswalkers being locked behind a paywall is discouraging.

Pay-To-Progress, But Not Pay-To-Win

While there is potential for diverse deck building and strategy, the individual power level of two identical decks will be dictated by the level of each card. In this regard, the game is exactly like Clash Royale, and while skill plays a role in the outcome of a match, two equally skilled players will see their match determined by who has the higher level cards, or rather, who has spent more to purchase additional cards and to pay for upgrade costs.

Since Gold can be purchased directly with Gems, the premium currency of the game, there is a clear connection between spending real money and gaining a power advantage over an opponent until they can catch up through their free-play rewards, which come in the form of daily log-in awards, winning matches, and through the Free Track of the Battle Pass system.

Since the game consists only of PvP battles with real people, spending money is no guarantee of a victory, but it helps by granting a more powerful deck. Those who spend no money will still be able to advance in their ranking, but eventually, they will hit a point where their free-to-play decks simply cannot handle players who consistently spend money.

An Innovative Take On The Tower Defense Formula, But Will It Be Enough?

Following the success of Fortnite, every developer seemed keen to throw their hat into the genre of Battle Royale game, but few have had success in trying to copy Epic Games. The same caveat applies to Magic: ManaStrike in determining how successful it will be. The game certainly builds upon what Clash Royale does so well, but does it do enough to lure players over from one game to another? It is hard to tell this soon after the launch of the game, but the cost issues mentioned above may be enough to keep players away in the long term.

Still, the gameplay is solid within the genre, the free-to-play rewards seem reasonable to start building a collection, and the addition of Planeswalkers with the division of cards by color type all combine to make Magic: ManaStrike a great mobile game to check out.

100,000 Gold and 1000 Gems were provided to TheGamer for this review. Magic: ManaStrike is available now for Android and iOS and is free to download and play.

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