Not Winning Isn't Losing in 'Tower of Fortune 2'

Tower of Fortune a slot machine in which we don’t lose anything as a result of our failure. We just don’t win anything.

Tower of Fortune 2

Publisher: Game Stew
Price: $2.99
Developer: Game Stew
Platform: iOS

I wrote about Tower of Fortune, awhile ago, and I enjoyed it immensely for what it was -- a simple game that could be played for seconds at a time. I was impressed by how it condensed and simplified RPG tropes like combat and "fun times at the tavern" into an entertaining slot machine mechanic. The key word there being "entertaining". The game struck an impressive balance between the randomness of the slots and a consistent progress up the tower. It's the kind of balance that's easy to take for granted because when it works it is not noticeable. We simply play the game and enjoy it, not questioning or realizing why it's so enjoyable. The sequel is even more impressive for how it maintains this balance while also significantly expanding the scope of the mechanics and world.

At first it seems like the world has grown so much that it threatens to grow beyond the limits of a slot machine. Instead of fighting one enemy at a time on each floor of the tower, you now have to explore each floor. There are now characters that you can encounter, supplies that you can collect, food you can cook, equipment you can forge, and a camp you can upgrade, not to mention all the mini-games available in the tavern, like arm wrestling, speed eating, feeding rats, confronting thieves, or beating back zombies from the basement.

If the first game was an attempt to strip an RPG down to its bare essentials, this sequel is an attempt to build on those essentials while still maintaining a foundation of simple minimalism, like an upside-down pyramid.

The developer, Game Stew, makes it work by keeping the slot machine as your sole means of interacting with the world. That means that no matter what you're doing, whether it be fighting, drinking, exploring, camping, forging, or more, you're still always spinning slots. Success or failure is always a spin away, and all we're really doing is tapping that Spin button. That’s how the game keeps itself simple. What’s gotten more complex is the number of slot machines that we play.

In the first game there were two machines: one for combat and one for tavern fun. Now, there’s a different machine for every system: one for combat, one for tavern fun, one for exploring, forging, cooking, and every mini-game. It’s a natural expansion of the idea. Instead of trying to condense an entire RPG into a single slot machine, Tower of Fortune 2 just creates more slot machines to incorporate more systems.

Even with all these added systems, Tower of Fortune 2 remains fun and friendly because it remembers to keep the odds in the player’s favor. This is not an actual slot machine. It is not designed to suck your money away and maybe give you some back. It’s designed to tell a story, not an authored story, but an emergent one. Every player will have their own stories of near death success and tragic failures, stories of surprise when they hitch a ride with a wannabe Doctor Who and he then dumps them on some other floor of the dungeon.

The game facilitates these stories by insuring that the odds are always in our favor, overall. On every slot machine, there’s only one symbol that’s truly bad: the skull. It is telling that this skull is the only symbol consistent across (almost) every machine. It represents failure, a total absence of progress or positivity. In combat, it results in an enemy attack. During exploration, it results in setting off a trap. During forging or cooking or any mini-game, it results in a loss. The only machine without a skull is the tavern, which makes sense as the tavern is supposed to be place of recovery.

And yet, for all the negativity associated with the skull, it doesn’t really hurt us all that much. Getting attacked is inevitable, traps are more annoying than dangerous, we can upgrade our camp to give us an advantage in cooking and forging, and the mini-games are just fun asides. The skull is less about reversing progress and more about denying us forward progress. We don’t get to attack, we don’t get to do something helpful while exploring, we don’t cook good items, we don’t forge good armor, and we don’t win the mini-game. In each instance, we don’t lose anything as a result of our failure. We just don’t win anything.

In that way, the sequel is no different from the first game, but it’s still impressive to see that increased complexity doesn’t require increased difficulty.

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