Review: Ticket to Earth
This game was selected as our March 2019 Reader’s Choice Review. Learn more on our Patreon page.
It’s not common, but it is possible for mobile games to spawn some pretty clever gameplay conventions that you might not otherwise see on PC. I’m not talking about AR or motion controls, but rather designs that work particularly well for short sessions on touchscreens, designs that many PC developers need not consider. Ticket to Earth takes two gameplay styles I’m a huge fan of, turn-based tactics and puzzles, and merges them into a battle system the likes of which I’ve never seen before. There’s a lot of story and character progression built around it too, and while none of it goes particularly deep or varied it does offer some challenging battles in bite-sized portions.
The colony world of New Providence has outlived its usefulness, and public order is breaking down as poor settlers scramble to get off-world. Tickets to Earth (see what they did there?) are unattainable by all but the richest inhabitants, sparking protests and unrest. In the distant settlement of Land’s End this unrest is about to take on a whole new dimension, as hardened criminals stage a massive breakout from the penitentiary and set their sights on upending the planetary government. In the midst of this chaos, several heroes will be called into action from their diverse walks of life, including a gardener named Rose, a hardened bounty hunter known as Wolf, a doctor, a test subject, and more.
I will warn you up front that Ticket to Earth is episodic, and currently contains three of its four planned episodes. There’s no reason to believe the fourth won’t make it in, but if you’re anything like me having an incomplete game can be a bit of a buzzkill. What is already present will last you awhile, though, with three to four hours of main quests and side missions to work through per episode. Battles themselves don’t take too long, averaging maybe five minutes each, but there are loads of them and loads of dialog and upgrades to explore between each. I will also say that the story is quite good, told in still comic panels with bold, colorful art and charming character designs. It’s not going to break any expectations, but there’s enough going on to keep you invested in the lives of Rose and her allies.
It all revolves around the battle system though, and as interesting as it is, it comes with a few drawbacks. Combat takes place on a small-ish grid of colored tiles, four basic types and a few special ones later in the game. Your characters get two actions per turn, and moving along a single color of tile uses one of those actions. You can move as far as you want on that one action, as long as you stick to the color you first stepped on. Attacking or using most powers consumes another point, so you’re generally going to be moving and attacking once each or moving across two colors of tile if needed. Each tile you step on boosts your attack, with a more pronounced effect after crossing five in a single move. This is key because it can push your base attack from 2 or 3 up to 20 or 30 for a single attack. Landing an attack resets your attack power, so running circuits around the grid between attacks is the name of the game, especially because that also charges your four color-matched powers.
I like this system, and it’s good for staging fast-paced tactical fights that don’t require particularly rigorous thinking. It has its drawbacks, though, and chief among them is that it’s heavily randomized. The tile layout for every battle is randomized, from the initial arrangement to what replaces crossed tiles. Most of the time you’ll be able to get into position or charge up your attacks no problem, but there will be instances where you can’t move more than two or three spaces because of a bad mix. It’s worse when you have characters like Wolf, who gets important bonuses from one type of tile, or battles with lots of enemies because they use the same rules to move and will eat favorable tile layouts on their turns. There’s also not much variety with the way this system is used, because almost every battle takes place on the same single-screen grid, and challenges you to defeat X enemies. After a few hours of those fights it can get a little old, especially if you repeat some due to bad tile luck or just to clear bonus objectives.
You’ll have plenty to do outside of battles, though, thanks to a wealth of progression systems. Your characters have four special powers, each tied to a specific grid color. There’s a whole library of unique powers for individual characters that can be unlocked with cash earned from battles, allowing you to customize the capabilities of each. Cash can also unlock new weapons with different base and max damage stats. Missions and their bonus objectives also award tokens which are used on a passive skill tree to unlock stat boosts and handy new effects like damage boosts off specific tiles or remote collection of item drops. There are new dialog scenes between characters after every mission as well, so you can get as close to the cast as you want through some solid writing and plot twists.
Ticket to Earth takes a great concept and makes a decent game out of it, one hampered only by the flaws of its ambition. As much as I enjoy the battle system it could have stood to be refined a bit further, mitigating the effects of bad RNG and adding a little more variety to the many fights you’ll face. But everything else surrounding this system is great, and it’s still a unique form of combat that you can get a lot of mileage out of. Bold, colorful graphics in both 2D and 3D and a surprisingly memorable soundtrack round out this unexpected gem. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for something lighter or just different in the turn-based tactics field, and don’t let the mutants, robots, or random chance get you down.