As a gacha game, Claw Stars is the closest thing we’ve seen on mobile to an actual gacha machine. This charming casual title is based on the claw grabber, another Japanese toy-vending arcade staple.
That makes it one of the simplest gacha titles we’ve come across. There are no fantasy worlds to navigate, no heroes to acquire and upgrade, to battle tactics to formulate. Just a lot of adorable critters to rescue and add to your collection.
You play as a hamster who was launched into space for survivability experiments, fell through a temporal wormhole, evolved into a super-intelligent being, built a spaceship, and headed home to rescue its critter brethren from the orbs that they’ve mysteriously become trapped in.
The core gameplay sees you sliding a claw left and right over a heap of orbs, pods, gems, and other goodies, and then tapping a button to make the claw drop and grab whatever it can.
This is unsurprisingly a lot of fun. There’s a slight curvature to the stages, so lining up a claw isn’t quite as straightforward as you might expect, and you often can’t be sure what your claw will manage to grab, introducing just the right amount of random chance.
You can visit your Habitat by sliding the screen up (or navigating to it on the menu). This is where your upgradeable buildings are, and also the critters you’ve rescued. To reach the next world you need to collect a set number of critters and upgrade your buildings to the max.
These buildings, meanwhile, generate hearts, and every time you collect a hundred you get a prize.
All Hail the Claw
Back to the grabbing. The pool of stuff you’re grabbing from contains coins, gems, chunks of granite, and a variety of different types of orb or pod. These contain critters, bundles of gems, bundles of coins, and tons of other prizes.
As you’d expect in a free-to-play gacha game, Claw Stars is built on a mini-economy of currencies, items, power-ups, and so on. Eventually you’ll need to manage stamps, ice creams, DNA, boosters, oxygen, and all manner of other game elements. We’ll leave you to discover all that for yourselves.
But the power-ups are worth mentioning. Claw Stars is a cute, cuddly, impeccably presented casual game, but beneath its kid-friendly exterior beats the heart of a stone-cold robber baron.
You see, the power-ups you collect are all about either sabotaging other players or avoiding sabotage yourself. There are Kidnap Cages, which let you kidnap critters from habitats for a ransom, Blockades, which prevent players from benefiting from their buildings, and Hacking Pods, which let you straight up steal their money.
There are also power-ups that let you protect yourself against these threats, such as Electric Shields, but they’re in short supply. A visit to the News section in the menu will let you know exactly how many times your gold and critters have been stolen and your buildings blockaded.
Gold is the main remedy. You can remove blockades and rescue critters with the coins you earn, though your earning potential is limited by the number of claws you’ve got in your inventory.
That’s right: Claw Stars only gives you a certain number of claws to work with. You can occasionally find more in orbs, and you get a measly four at timed intervals, along with an additional one every time you watch a 30-second ad.
But the only way to properly restock is to put the game down for a really long time or fork out for more claws. When you’re out of claws, you generally have nothing to do.
You can buy claws with gems, with 100 getting you 30 at the lowest band. Discounts apply as you increase the amount you buy.
It doesn’t take all that long to accrue 100 gems through gameplay, but you can also resort to buying them with cash if you’re impatient. £1.99 will get you 160.
At first, Claw Stars sees you running out of claws far too quickly. It’s normal in a free-to-play gacha game to get at least a couple of hours of gameplay in before the timers and shortages start to bite. In Claw Stars you reach that point in about 20 minutes.
And whereas in a game like Candy Crush there’s always a chance that you’ll crack a stage with one of the lives in your daily ration, in Claw Stars the claws only ever mean incremental progress. It’s like getting a handful of LEGO bricks a day and trying to build Hogwarts.
But as you start getting into the events, which yield huge numbers of gems, and you settle into the idea of having a quick play once or twice a day and nothing more, Claw Stars becomes a very likeable and engrossing casual game.