Welcome back to the In-App Purchase Inspector - our regular look at free-to-play games from the consumer's perspective.
In each instalment, we consider the incentives or pressure applied to make in-app purchases, their perceived value, the expansion offered by IAPs and the overall value of the experience.
The end goal is to see whether the game makes a good enough case for us to part with our cash, or whether players are content - or engaged enough - to 'freeload'.
This time, we're taking a look at Marvel Avengers Academy, a casual management title starring teenage versions of Marvel heroes developed by TinyCo.
Hate is a very strong word
It's very rare that a game would ever drive me to use the word 'hate.'
The non-combative approach of simply uninstalling the game always seems like a healthier option, and with free-to-play there's even less excuse than ever to persist with something you don't enjoy.
However, with Marvel Avengers Academy, TinyCo has come very close to making me rethink my stance.
Marvel Avengers Academy is a casual management title set in a special high-school for teen Marvel heroes.
It's worth noting right off the bat that, for the most part, it isn't the monetisation that's the object of my ire. Much of it is caused by my own personal prejudice.
First off, I hate the Marvel universe. I hate how all the heroes are one-dimensional, self-obsessed quip dispensers and I hate that we're supposed to find this endearing.
With equal passion, I hate anything that takes existing franchise characters and reimagines them as slightly younger, slightly more infuriating teen versions of themselves.
Finally, I hate down-with-the-kids dialogue from the mouths of oh-so-cool teen characters that reads like it's been written and script-edited by a committee of besuited, 40-something execs.
Marvel Avengers Academy, then, is a casual management title set in a special high-school for teen Marvel heroes featuring reams of dialogue.
Do you see where we're going with this?
Do this, do that
But it's hardly TinyCo's fault that Marvel heroes are so popular; more a sad indictment on our society as a whole. So, beneath the annoying surface, how does it actually play?
Broadly similar to Minions Paradise, the game has you bossing around your school of young heroes - starting out with Iron Man, Wasp and Black Widow, with more joining later - to undertake tasks of varying length.
If that sounds simplistic, that's because it is.
If that sounds simplistic, that's because it is.
It's all tied up in a pretty bow with plenty of dialogue and a loose plotline involving an ongoing struggle with the baddies of Hydra (also teenagers), but the gameplay itself is incredibly rudimentary.
It's designed for drop-in, drop-out gameplay, which is to its credit, but there's so little to do while you wait up to 4 hours for some tasks to complete that you're effectively pushed away in the interim.
Unless you want to spend, that is.
The greatest villain
As you'd expect for a game of this type, the greatest pressure on the player comes in the form of wait timers.
“The only thing I hate more than Hydra is waiting,” says Wasp, in what was likely envisioned as a bit of charming, fouth-wall-breaking dialogue but actually feels like the game rubbing it in your face.
There are two currencies, in the form of Credits (soft, but harder than most) and Shards (hard). Both can be purchased using real money.
Both are sold in bundles ranging in price from $1.99 to $99.99.
Starting out, you're given 50 Credits and 25 Shards - respectively, a rather meagre $0.32 (approx.) and $0.50 apiece in real money.
I found that I was Shard-less again before too long - and without noticeable progress.
Credits, as you'd expect, are given out much more readily as quest rewards in standard play - albeit in small quantities - while Shards you haven't paid for are a rare sight indeed.
The problem is that if you want to feel as though you're making any real progress - and don't want to set aside an entire day - Shards are the only option.
As such, after giving into temptation and skipping a few wait timers, I quite quickly depleted my free stash.
Wait no longer
As usual, my first purchase in Marvel Avengers Academy was effectively a starter bundle. It was, however, presented slightly differently.
Offering 260 Shards (worth $5) as a reward for spending $4.99 on a box of Credits, the offer actually appears in your quest log so it can't simply be dismissed like an interstitial window.
I can see why a developer would try this tactic, making retailing seem like something to tick off the to-do list rather than merely an ad to ignore.
However, it lingers among the regular quests as an unpleasant, ever-present reminder that money is all the game wants from you.
Furthermore, upon actually utilising the offer, I found that I was Shard-less again before too long - and without noticeable progress.
And so, before I get tempted to break my own rule and say that I hate Marvel Avengers Academy, I feel it's time to practise what I preach by uninstalling it...