Free-to-play. Whenever these three words are uttered, it's hard to stifle the shudder that follows when you begin to think about microtransactions, "pay-to-win", and the other deceitful, annoying practices often associated with the whole model. There are the rare few with compelling gameplay and fair microtransactions such as Warframe, but unfortunately, we wouldn't put Shake Spears! in this respectable category after our time with it.
The only semblance of a story is, er, a single piece of art in the beginning of the Career mode, which shows a knight coming to the conclusion that he must battle his peers in order to score the perfect girl. No dialogue or written portions of any kind give meaning to whom you're fighting, who you are, or why you're even trying to win over this princess, so we assume that that's not important here – after all, this is a game that's been ported to the PlayStation Vita from the iOS store, so it's more about gameplay and currency than anything else.
Once you're in a jousting match, you're presented with a 2D view of the playing field, with you on the left side and your foe on the right. Trumpets sound when the characters and their horses automatically run towards one another, and you must control your shield by swiping up or down on the left side of the screen, and the same with your jousting stick on the right side. By landing a hit on certain parts of your enemy's armour, you'll deal a significant amount of damage; your goal is to inflict more than you receive.
In an attempt to keep things interesting, you'll be presented with items, abilities, and classes to purchase. Winning matches grants you gold, and – every now and then – a couple of crystals. As with so many other free-to-play games, the first 30 minutes are relatively easy to beat, but as you make your way through the host of matches with random jousters, you'll discover that it becomes hard to triumph unless you fork up some coins to obtain abilities for the default knight class like Spurs, Lightning Shield, and Armour Breaker, which you can activate before you collide with an opponent.
Other classes grant different abilities and have better armour or damage output as well, but they are hard to obtain unless you buy crystals. On top of it all, you can level up your class' stats to prevent them from becoming obsolete. How do these systems and mechanics work together, though? Well, none of the extras add any real strategy to the gameplay, as you'll be able to scrape through by purchasing what you can. Levelling up is the easiest thing to do, so we always did that and bought a couple of abilities for the knight class since we couldn't afford a new one in the Premium Store.
Speaking of which, the online plaza doesn't actually function on the Vita. We tried over a dozen times in several different ways to reach it, but we couldn't get anything to show up. Regardless, we wouldn't have felt like using it anyway. The simple fact is that the action is boring: you merely need to predict where to shield yourself and where your lance will make the most effective strike, and that's more or less it.
Even the amateur graphics are devoid of any creativity or originality. The only thing that changes during the Career mode is the backdrop for jousting, which doesn't affect gameplay whatsoever, and we hardly paid attention to it since we had to focus on our character. None of these are impressive either by the way, and they move about in unnatural, lifeless manners, adding insult to injury with cheap Flash game-esque visuals.
There are only a handful of decent songs to account for, and average sound effects that match the dreary quality of the gameplay – but there are separate modes to mention in Multiplayer and Survival. The former simply contains more microtransactions to purchase as you fight other players in equally lethargic matches, and the latter is an endless mode where you must outlast rounds of multiple enemies with a small supply of health. They're fine additions, but with the gameplay already so tedious, you'll be long done with the game before you boot them up.
By the time that you've fallen off your mount several times, you'll realise that Shake Spears! is flogging a dead horse with its yawn-inducing gameplay. This is a functional foray, but it's boring, and it'll never once give you an incentive to pay for it – even if it may demand you do so in order to overcome its difficulty spikes. Ultimately, this is a mindless medieval fest with bad microtransactions; don't touch it – not even with a 10-foot jousting pole.