I really want to like Disney Mirrorverse. When I heard about its dark fantasy reimagining of Disney characters in a shared universe, my Kingdom Heart was all a flutter. In the Mirrorvese, Belle is a sorceress with a magic staff, Sully wears a mech suit, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a demon arm. Need I say more? Between that and the surprisingly engaging combat, Mirrorverse is a game I could see myself sinking some serious time into. Unfortunately, Mirrorverse is a fairly standard, microtransaction-filled mobile game, so time isn’t the kind of investment it’s looking for.
If you’ve played Kabam’s other free-to-play games like Marvel Contest of Champions of Shop Titans, you already have a pretty good idea of what Mirrorverse is like. It uses a lot of underhanded tactics to encourage incremental spending and obscure the actual price of things. At its core, Mirrorverse is a character collector like Fire Emblem Heroes or Genshin Impact, but obtaining and upgrading those characters is incredibly difficult unless you’re willing to spend.
Characters come from loot boxes called Crystals. Some Crystals can be earned through daily log-ins, completing objectives, and through completing limited game modes like Events and Dungeons. These are supplemental ways of earning Crystals that are fairly limited. The main way to acquire Crystals is to buy them with Orbs. A Crystal costs 280 Orbs, but of course, you can’t buy 280 Orbs. You can buy 350 Orbs for $10, which leaves you with 70 leftover. You can buy two packs of 350 and a pack of 175 for $5 to get three Crystals with 35 Orbs leftover, or you can just get the pack of 1,055 Orbs for $30, of course then you’ll still be 65 Orbs short of four Crystals. The math never really works out in your favor, and that’s by design.
Opening a Crystal will give you a character from a pool of 35-40 with a random rarity from two to five stars. Every Crystal has a featured character that has a slightly higher chance of dropping than the rest, but generally speaking your chance of getting a particular character is about 2.5 percent. Rarity rating compounds the odds even further. There’s about a 95 percent chance your character will be three stars or lower. The chances of pulling any particular character with a five star rating is about 0.003 percent. Mirrorverse is a Disney slot machine disguised as a video game.
The Crystal economy is just the tip of Mirrorverse’s exploitative design. Orbs are just one of many items you can buy – though it doesn’t tell you that at first. As you progress through the story you’ll unlock the ability to buy limited-time bundles filled with Crystals, upgrade materials, Orbs, and other currencies. Bundles start out cheap and get more expensive the more you spend. The first round of bundles only cost $3, but soon you’ll have the opportunity to spend $7, $10, or even $30 on these bundles. Sometimes when you buy one it will get replaced with one that offers an even better value than the one you just bought so that you feel like your first investment is a waste if you don’t invest in the second one. By the end of the second chapter I had 11 different bundles available along with messages from the Game Team in my inbox reminding me that time was running out. The game gives you a mailbox and fills it with spam.
Of all the schemes at play in Mirrorverse, the one that frustrates me the most are the Cards. These are paid daily log-in bonuses that seem like a good deal upfront, but force you to log in every day in order to get the maximum value. I can buy the Beginner’s Crystal Card for $3 and earn a Stellar Crystal every day for a week, which sounds like a good value. Since I’m logging in anyway, I might as well buy the Beginner's Orb Cards too and collect 200 Orbs every day. Now I’m $7 in and already committed to logging in every day, the $25 Card filled with two weeks of three star Crystals sounds like a pretty good idea too. Of course, if you lose out on all the items you paid for on any day you forget to log-in.
There’s so much more to hate about the way Mirrorverse is monetized. Anytime you earn a Crystal, you have to slide all the way through the store, past all the paid options, to get to the one you already have. There are nine types of currencies and upgrade items, including Energy, which you need to spend in order to actually play the game. There isn’t a straightforward way to earn any of these currencies. There’s a tab in the shop called the Bazaar that offers eight random items for Orbs or Gold, the more common earned currency, but you have to check it constantly if there’s a specific resource you’re after, or you can spend Orbs to refresh the shop. There’s another tab that offers specific three and four star characters for sale. Like the Bazaar, there are always eight and they rotate daily. They cost a different currency (called Stardust) that is incredibly rare. The best way to get Stardust is actually to buy Crystals, because every character you pull comes with a small bounty of Stardust that matches their class type.
It’s a shame that all of this has to weigh Mirrorverse down, but underneath it all is a pretty solid game. The story is basically Disney Secret Wars – an incursion event that is causing the multiverse to implode and evil crystal copies of the Disney heroes and villains to invade through a mysterious shattered mirror. The events are little sub-plots within that story that build out the world. In one, you help Tron and Buzz Lightyear reset time to stop Zurg from taking over the Mirrorverse amidst all the chaos. It’s a wonderful comic book world that deserves to be explored more. It also has great combat that is both simple to learn and infinitely complex once you start factoring in all the abilities and passive bonuses of your team. There’s a lot of depth to team building and a decent amount of skill in the gameplay, but it’s all in service to the flashing neon signs that constantly remind you to spend more money.
There’s a lot of disdain for mobile games right now, and Mirrorverse is guilty of using a lot of the same tactics that Diablo Immortal leverages to separate players from their money, but I don’t think we should just accept that this is the way mobile games are. While they’re not perfect, neither Wild Rift nor Pokemon Unite are casinos masquerading as video games, and popular games like PUBG, Fortnite, and Apex Legends Mobile are more or less the same experience you get on PC and console. There’s no reason, other than greed, that mobile games need to stoop to this level, especially one with Disney’s characters. I’m still trying to figure out how to explain to my nephew that he can't play as Stitch until he pulls the lever on this slot machine a hundred times. His allowance is only $20 a week, so it might take awhile.
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