An Initial Rant
What is it with these collaborations in the iGaming industry anyway? We are yet to see a decent outcome as the result of an established provider taking an obscure studio under its wing. Microgaming, in particular, has taken this new antic too far, having crashed and burned several times working with Triple Edge while dragging its own brand in the dirt at the same time. It seems nice and all for a successful company to help the little guy along, but the cynic in us suspects it's just a cheap, lazy way of churning out more slots. Quantity over quality being the new motto.
Lightning Box is no exception to this rule. In their case, however, a collaboration is more intelligible as they've never managed to produce one single decent slot in the 14 or so years they've been active. A couple of years ago, Lightning Box teamed up with Incredible Technologies, a US-based company producing casino and coin-operated video games, to release Astro Cat. The result was a freak of a game that no sane player would ever touch. Lightning Box, on the other hand, must have considered it a success, because, with Astro Pug they've decided to do it all over again.
Astro Pug Introduction
Astro Pug is an 8-reel, 1296 payline slot with geometric reels (similar to NetEnt's Jumanji) that are 3-3-4-4-4-4-3-3 symbols high from left to right. It's playable on all devices from €0,50 to €250 per spin, which may be slightly too high for some low-rollers, and a max bet that is just ridiculous for a low-quality game like this. The 95.7% theoretical return to player is slightly below our acceptable limit of 96%. Not terribly low, however, considering most classic Novomatic slots are somewhere in the 95.1% area.
The Pug, for those of you who don't know, is a small breed of dog with distinctive features of a wrinkly face and curled tail. It was brought to Europe from China in the 16th century and eventually turned into an online slot. Astro Pug has an Asian theme with the reel set positioned inside a traditional type Chinese temple. No far eastern slot is complete without a Chinese restaurant type soundtrack which you will find here as well. The best thing about this slot, sadly, is when the doggo pops up in celebration of a big win (crap win to be honest) to make quite a comical sound.
Astro Pug Symbols
On the reel set you will find 5 low-value symbols alongside 5 premiums represented by various Chinese animal artefacts and a kid hugging a golden nugget (?), which is also the most valuable, giving you 0,8 times the stake. Possibly one of the most pathetic 5 of a kind returns we've seen this year. To make up for the ridiculous payouts, the so-called Bone Multiplier has been included. When appearing, it will become a 2x, 3x or 4x multiplier for any combination it is substituting in. Unfortunately, the Bone Multiplier only appears on reel 2.
The paytable displays payouts in coins. Having to calculate coin value relative to bet value to figure out the potential is plain stupid and meant to confuse players. The majority of providers use this trick which we'd like to see the regulatory bodies forcefully have removed!
Moving on to the pay lines and setup of the reels which needs some explaining of its own. The middle section of the reel set is the so-called REELFECTA reel, a derivative of Trifecta - a system of betting where the bettor must pick winners in a correct sequence, and is comprised of 16 individual positions (3 reels with 4 rows each). In short, it allows for a winning combination even if the same symbols line up on reel 1, 2 and 5. As long as the corresponding symbols connect on reel 1 and 2 it can then go on to connect with a 3rd symbol anywhere on reel 3, 4, 5, or 6. However, the downside is that each symbol can be used only once per winning combination. A bit hard to comprehend until you actually play the game, but think of it more as one big reel rather than the visual 4 reels you see inside the box.
Astro Pug Free Spins
5 or more scatter symbols inside the REELFECTA box triggers the free spins. During each free spin, starting at the top left corner and moving clockwise on the outer positions of the REELFECTA reel, a specific reel will display either a +1 WILD PUG or BOMB symbol. If a +1 WILD appears it will be locked in place and award an extra free spin up to a maximum 12 free spins.
If a BOMB appears, free spins end and bomb pays 2x total amount bet. If all 12 outer positions have locked wilds, 1 Mega Spin is awarded. The Mega Spin expands to cover all 16 positions within the REELFECTA making all 16 positions wild. This way its possible to land the maximum win which is less than 1000 times the stake according to our calculations when taking into account that the premiums do not appear stacked and that the multiplier only appears on reel 2.
Astro Pug Conclusion
Not only is this a slow, annoying, and ugly freak of a slot. Lightning Box has overcomplicated things far too much. It's difficult to keep track of what's going on in the free spins and it all just seems like one big mess. Moreover, the win ways are confusing, and the REELFECTA comes across as a bit of a scam. Unfortunately, we have nothing positive to say about this slot which is possibly one of the worst we've played this year.
Lightning Box, if you're reading this, here is some advice from us players - keep it simple and stupid, make sure there is some decent potential, increase the RTP for god's sake, and make the gameplay smoother. There's nothing worse than a tardy slot in combination with low payouts. Makes you want to rip your eyes out in frustration.