Clash Royale – 2016’s Best So far

Today, games are ubiquitous within our culture. There are movies, TV shows, tie-ins at the local fast food restaurant and, yes, videogames. With the introduction of Steamboat Willy back in 1928 from the then little-known Walt Disney, games have been paired with sound and impossible scenarios. Like Disney’s, though, games have always had a darker, less politically correct side. Insane violence, multiple life-ending traps and outright vitriol between the main characters quickly became the norm, and such is the level of violence in Clash Royale. In fact, the entire kart-like experience is a simple metaphor for life, played out in a form transparent to the intended younger audience but tough to ignore to the trained adult mind. As a metaphor, it succeeds; as a game, it depends on one’s view of existence.

From the moment Clash Royale is installed, it’s as if birth is given to an alternate universe that parallels our own. Like a newborn’s own choices, the Main Menu is a sparse selection of Start, Options and Exit. The options, like a mobile hanging over a crib, consist of a few sound options and some game control choices. It’s all black and white, yes and no, and on or off with nothing in between. Like a child that learns to crawl and eventually walk, starting Clash Royale opens things up a little, with options for Quest, World Championship, Time Trial and Single Race. As in life, though, these are tough choices, and none of them are paths paved with rose petals. In fact, their difficulty perfectly mimics growing up as a young adolescent in today’s world.

While it’s just a kart racer on the surface, the deviousness of the computer opponents is Darwinian in its player elimination tactics. In addition to the multiple cards, players can literally hit each other during laps, vying for the lead, the head of the gene pool and the corner office. Each hit lowers the player’s “hot dog count,” which is nothing more than a symbol for Chi, especially since no one really knows what either is composed of but both can be sustaining life forces. Take too many hits and the Chi is gone, as is the race for the front. Try, try again. Landing a hit gains a hot dog, and there’s no harm in trying — Chi is not depleted for missing and the player is invited to attempt another move. Try, try again.

Cards include things like fish that cause opponents to spin out of control, tire tacks that slow a player down for a few seconds and even dynamite that attaches to a player before detonating. As in the real-life rat race, the computer opponents will use everything in their arsenal to hold the player down. Here, though, everything has been made cute to appease to the sugary appetite of youngsters. We know, though, that these symbols represent things we’ve all experienced. Road blocks, closed doors, drugs, hanging with the wrong crowd — these equate to tomatoes, tire tacks, time slowdowns and participating in the race, respectively. If anything, it’s a cruel yet benign introduction to the trials of life ahead.

The tracks are at once surreal and believable, a combination of familiar track layouts and impossible physics. Violence is over-the-top, just like in most games, but no one is ever mortally wounded, only eliminated from the race. Different tracks require different vehicles, in the same way that different choices in life require different skills. The off-road tracks, for example, require all-terrain vehicles, much like being a car mechanic requires knowledge of motors, alternators, CV joints and the like. Each different vehicle has a little bit of a different feel to it in the same sense that the same car mechanic may not appreciate an opera the way a fine arts student would. Both can enjoy it, sure, but subtleties are lost. Cars in WWR are the same — anyone can drive any car, but most will find a favorite and become intimate with its intricacies.

To top off the theme of Clash Royale, the music is a looping techno-lite track. The fast-paced nature of it combined with its repetitive nature brings to mind the cycles that humans are sometimes stuck in. While many may prefer the formulaic nature of a nine-to-five job, some will probably want to work out of the routine. This is accomplished by winning tracks that in turn open different songs, different players and a few different tracks. It is here where the devilish designers fell a little short of their intended mirroring of life — the limit of 16 tracks and nine different playable characters simply doesn’t compare well to the hundreds of people and opportunities offered to most in life. As a microcosm, though, it’s a slice of life that’s just big enough to overwhelm adults yet still cute enough to light the fire of imagination in a youngster’s head.

So, does Clash Royale come through as a game? For us, it didn’t. It’s a stark, bleak view of reality rife with violence and a “survival of the fittest” attitude that worked well in the days before modern science. However, with medical miracles and the highest average lifespan known in our short existence on this planet, we have to think that we’ve evolved beyond hitting each other over the head with frying pans and retractable boxing gloves. While children may find this game fun, its imitation of the difficulty level seen in life may turn off all but the most rugged child. And even then, perhaps an Elmo game or even the Teletubbies are more appropriate. We just don’t have the space to go into their life views. Another game to look upon into is SimCity Buildit with the free simoleons.