Crash: On The Run is everything wrong with mobile games today. King Games’ Crash-themed endless runner uses every dirty trick in the book to aggressively nickel and dime players into oblivion. It’s actually astounding how textbook On The Run is with manipulative, predatory tactics while simultaneously offering so little in the way of meaningful content. It’s a skinner box if there ever was one, and it reinforces a reputation that mobile games have for being low-effort cash grabs. I have no doubt that these practices are effective and that King Games will make a ton of money from On The Run, but it certainly is a shame to see a beloved character like Crash being used this way.
Every snakey, underhanded thing that has ever existed in a mobile game has been packed into Crash: On The Run. Every time you open the game, you’re presented with a pop-up ad asking you to buy a costume pack or a bucket of purple crystals. X out of that pop-up and you’ll immediately be hit with another, and sometimes another one after that. Every time you finish a level, prepare to close out another pop-up ad. Occasionally On The Run even shows ads for other games in between levels. This isn’t uncommon for mobile games, but it feels particularly out of place for Crash Bandicoot.
There are a series of ads permanently affixed to the left side of the screen in the overworld so that even when you click out of the pop-ups, you never forget there are things to buy. These “special offers” have timers on them, which is a common tactic that evokes FOMO in players and makes them feel like if they don’t spend money soon, they’re going to be missing out.
The amount of crap you can buy in this game is astounding. Of course, you can buy purple crystals, the main form of currency in On The Run that can be used to buy skins and speed up crafting (more on that later). You can buy a monthly battle pass to earn additional rewards through a game mode called survival runs. Of course, you’ll also need to buy survival run tickets with purple gems. Then you can buy yourself a 7, 14, or 30-day subscription, which rewards you a number of purple gems over time in a greater amount than you can just buy outright. Beyond that, there are limited-time bundles for skins and purple gems that pop up in the shop daily.
There are a lot more shady systems at play here, but now would be a good time to explain what On The Run actually is. It’s an endless runner. If you’ve ever played any endless runner before, that’s all it is. Every level is the same, every boss is the same, and if you’ve played the tutorial you’ve seen everything the game has to offer.
You’re probably wondering, when do I have time to spend money on things while I’m endlessly running? To make progression in On The Run, you have to craft weapons that you’ll throw at the boss at the end of each level. After you spend some time running through the endless level to collect resources, you then have to load them into your machine and wait some amount of time. Early on it only takes a minute to make the weapon, but as you progress past the first couple of bosses that timer increases exponentially. Of course, if you don’t want to wait to play the game, you can spend some money to speed it up.
Everything else you would expect a game like this to do, it does. There’s a banner ad for Candy Crush at the bottom of the screen, it sends you push notifications if you haven’t played for a while, and when you run out of crafting materials, it immediately opens the store and shows you how easy it would just be to buy some more. You can watch ads to earn some free crystals or double your rewards at the end of a run. In fact, watching ads is a more efficient way to earn purple crystals than playing the game. Timesavers and rewards for watching ads are not features of a game, they’re features of a torture device designed to extract as much money from you as possible by feeding the most basic reward centers in your brain. Crash: On The Run isn’t a game, it’s a trap.
None of these tactics are original or unique to On The Run. These are proven systems that thousands of mobile games have used over the years. Nothing about this game, from the monetization to the actual gameplay, is original at all. I don’t hold On The Run responsible for predatory practices in mobile games, but it’s 2021 and I’m sick and tired of this shit.
Check out Riot’s offering of mobile games. Team Fight Tactics, Wild Rift, and Legends of Runeterra are games with plenty of microtransactions for cards, champions, and cosmetics, but they’re also great games that are fun to play even if you never spend a dime. It’s fun to support the games I love by buying season passes and skins for my favorite characters, but Crash: On The Run does nothing at all to earn loyalty or compassion from its players beyond slapping Crash and Coco on the front. Without the IP, this game wouldn’t be worth a single penny. I know it is already successful and it even has a decent rating on the app store, but we should expect more than this, shouldn’t we?
Next: Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time Cracked One Day After Release Despite Always-Online DRM
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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