Middle Manager Of Justice: Free to play, but with gags

iGamer blog: Developer Double Fine excels at hiding its virtual busywork under a cute cartoon veneer

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Double Fine's free-to-play management game follows the same patterns that Kairosoft and Zynga games have laid down before - it's all tap-tap-tap, regular rewards and incremental upgrades.

The difference, as with free-to-play townbuilder The Simpsons Tapped Out, is that the gags are funny, the writing is pithy and the characters are likeable.

You are the titular middle manager, building for a better tomorrow by running a rent-a-superhero agency. You begin by begin by recruiting no-hopers like the ageing, world-weary Captain Premium or the blundering Masked Mummy. Plucked from the bargain bin at the start of the game, they become your start-up superhero squad.

Then the feedback loops and tiny upgrades begin. Send a gang of them out to stop a bank robbery and they'll (usually) return victorious. This rewards your superhero agency with extra cash and your heroes with more XP.

Upon their return, you can allow them to rest and recover. Then you can either send them out again or train them at your base, nudging ability bars ever upwards. You can expand and add feature rooms to your base, buy comfier beds so that your heroes recuperate quicker and invest in better gym equipment to get a little strength boost.

Around and around and around you go. You tap on the map screen to collect coins from happy, crime-free neighbourhoods, send your heroes out on tasks, rest them after battle, train them and send them out into the fray once more.

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It is surprising how quickly these feedback loops and compulsive little cycles get under your skin. Tap, tap, tap. Another promotion. Another extra room. Gaze down upon the little isometric empire you've built, and you can take away a little pride in your work.

Knowing wisecracks from heroes and villains alike do well to hide the fact that you're just doing a bunch of virtual chores. After several hours' of strangely moreish entertainment, you might feel inclined to pay for currency to recruit nattier superheroes and build your empire more quickly, but you are never asked to do so.
It'll take a long time to see and do everything in Middle Manager Of Justice if you don't pay for anything, so many will lose interest after a few hours. But that's fine; this should be considered an App Store aside - a fun little experiment with an existing genre filtered through Double Fine's trademark knowing humour. You are never asked for any money.

Get sucked into its addictive little loops of play, seduced by its gags and heartened by its rewards and Middle Manager Of Justice is a curiously enjoyable, diverting download.

Middle Manager Of Justice is free on the App Store and is best played on iPad. Download it here.