Released on: January 21 2021
Available Platforms: iOS, Android
Price: Free (Has microtransactions, loot boxes and a Battle Pass)
Over the recent year, I’ve seen a couple of mobile games get talked about on Twitter. Two of the most prominent ones I keep hearing about are Genshin Impact (which I reviewed) and Cookie Run Kingdom. For whatever reason, a lot of people online like to draw the cookie characters. While I did find the art style cute, I was hesitant to give this game attention. After all, it is a mobile game, one where I expect microtransactions and a gacha (loot box) system for acquiring more cookies or something.
Nevertheless, the fan art kept popping up in my timeline, and I kept seeing more interesting characters. I was in the mood to check out the Google Play Store to see if I could find another gem like Shadowverse. On the front page, there was Cookie Run Kingdom; thus, I finally decided to download the game and give it a shot. Is Cookie Run Kingdom worthy of being served with a tall glass of milk?
Cookie Run: Kingdom tells the tale of cookies brought to life by a sinister witch. In particular, a group of five extraordinary gingerbread men and women form an alliance to escape the witch and forge a new empire. They finally found a place to call home until the dastardly Enchantress Cookie takes the kingdom for herself and infests the land with a horde of evil cake monsters.
We then cut to a brave young gingerbread lad (appropriately named GingerBrave) and his friends, Wizard Cookie and Strawberry Cookie. They make their way through a forest to find the exact spot where the Cookie Kingdom resided. Our group of heroes soon hear that the Enchantress Cookie is sending her evil pastry underlings to take over the land. Can our intrepid heroes reconstruct their kingdom while also fending off the enchantress’ nasty horde?
To my surprise, Cookie Run is a series of reasonably popular mobile games, and Cookie Run: Kingdom is the latest in the series. While I believe the Cookie Run: Kingdom is the newest entry in the story chronology, I don’t think I missed much by not playing the other games in the series. While I think the intro is cute, the rest of the story unfolds like its contemporaries. GingerBrave and friends get to a new area. Oh no! Something is blocking us! We beat it, hooray! Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. It wasn’t long that I decided to skip the story cutscenes and focus on the game.
The presentation might be my favorite part of Cookie Run: Kingdom. The pastry-like visuals are charming and adorable, and it is cute to see the cookies taking themselves so seriously when they are… well… cookies. The voice acting of the cookies is top-notch, and witnessing each cookie’s theming is neat.
Cookie Run Kingdom has two main gameplay modes: kingdom building and battling. Battles in Cookie Run: Kingdom play out precisely as they do in Princess Connect: ReDive. Players form a team of five cookies, each with their own toppings and skills to level up. Once prepared, the player progresses through the level largely automatically. The player’s role in the battles is to activate the cookie’s special attacks once they are ready (though that too can be set to automatic).
The kingdom building is more unique but still similar to other mobile games. When building up their kingdom, the player micromanages supply production, decor placement, and reward collecting. Kingdom building is my favorite mode in Cookie Run: Kingdom as it’s more involved than the battles. While it is true that I could turn off automatic mode when it comes to casting spells, it still only makes me feel like I’m only half involved with what’s going on. At least when I’m building my kingdom, I get to decide what goes in it.
Despite my gripes with the actual game portion of Cookie Run: Kingdom, I find myself going back to it. It might be because the cookies are so charming that I want to build a particular team of cookies based on their theme, or I find my kingdom flourishing to be a satisfying experience. Here’s the thing, though: I return to Cookie Run: Kingdom, but I honestly don’t know why…
Like most mobile games, Cookie Run: Kingdom showers players with rewards when they first start their game. This is usually followed by those rewards slowing down when the player needs them the most. Cookie Run: Kingdom is nowhere near the worst offender of this, but there is a part where resources get harder to make, and money becomes more scarce. I haven’t hit the proverbial wall yet, but I always have a feeling that it looms over me as I frolic around the kingdom with my cookies.
Usually, when I review free-to-play games, I make a coy remark on how I always point out the microtransactions and that the reader can see this coming a mile away. I feel like this time, I need to be more serious when talking about Cookie Run: Kingdom’s microtransactions because it is rampant.
As discussed in my monetization in games article, I’m usually okay with one form of monetization in a free-to-play game when it is not obtrusive. Cookie Run: Kingdom is an example of this practice going way too far. The game has the typical two forms of currency, gold, and crystals. Gold is the currency used to produce resources and to upgrade buildings. Crystals are what the player uses to buy the more impactful and fun stuff. Crystals grant the player a chance to play the game’s gacha (loot box mechanic).
Of course, the player can use real money to buy crystals, which the player can then use to purchase gold, gacha, and other things, but then the game also has a Battle Pass equivalent, which, if the player wants to get the premium tier, they have to buy it with real money. Speaking of using real money to buy things in Cookie Run: Kingdom, it has a dizzying amount of bundles, packs, boosters, and other forms of “sales” that the game likes shoving into the player’s face every chance it gets. Usually, with games with a gacha mechanic, I like showing off what it looks like, but this time, I would instead point out how insistent the game is when trying to get the player to spend real money.
The last point I want to bring up is that Cookie Run Kingdom’s gacha is dreadful. In most games with loot boxes or gacha, when a player gets a character, card, or accessory, they get that character wholesale. Some games (like Shadowverse) also reward players for drawing the super rare card or character by giving them their related cosmetics. Cookie Run: Kingdom has the worst kind of gacha. Most of the pulls the player will get will be with things called “Soulstones.” Soulstones are essentially pieces of a character, not the character themselves. Of course, sometimes the player will get a complete character, but that doesn’t happen often enough. I despise this kind of gacha. It’s bad enough I don’t get to unlock a character simply by playing the game, but now I don’t even get the character when I pull them from the gacha? Lame!
If the player is lucky enough to pull the epic rare cookie, they get treated to a limited-time sale relating to that cookie! That’s right, drawing a super rare cookie makes a limited-time sale pop-up when they leave the gacha screen. There are a dozen of these advertisements all over the game! Now they pop up when the player gets the good pulls? What the hell?
Cookie Run: Kingdom baffles me. As a game, it isn’t anything special. The cookies are charming, and the amount of effort put into the presentation is admirable. The shallow gameplay and the awful monetization, however, are what make me question my coming back to this game after weeks of playing. There are more substantial games on the App Store or Google Play, making it challenging to recommend Cookie Run: Kingdom. Those who want to try the game anyway, please be careful; the game is ruthless with its monetization.