Archive for the ‘5 Stars’ Category

Espgaluda II

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Espgaluda II

The Japanese developer, Cave, is responsible for some of my all-time favorite Bullet Hell shooters, with DoDonPachi for Sega Saturn at the top of that list. Having been fortunate enough to travel to Japan, on occasion, I have played several of their arcade releases as well, so it is no surprise that I immediately shelled out the cash for Espgaluda II. If you are at all a fan of top-down shooters, you should do the same, because this title will be an outstanding addition to your game library.

There are three different characters to choose from, each with an insanely powerful ship which progresses through multiple stages of screen-crushing upgrades. As Bullet Hell fans are aware, the real threat comes from the enemy bullets. At times, the screen is covered in a wall of bullets that the player must deftly navigate their way through at all costs. This is the core mechanic of the genre and this title nails it, in each of six killer stages, on each of three difficulty levels. There is really little else to say, as this is a near-perfect game released by an industry giant. Espagaluda II is my favorite shooter on the app store, by a fair margin, and this is unlikely to change…until Cave releases their next title.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Space Miner: Space Ore Bust

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Space Miner

If these guys would have told me they were developing an Asteroids/Sinistar RPG, I would have said they were nuts. Well, after playing it, I’d have to say you would be nuts not to buy it. It’s an  innovative hybrid with quirky characters, humorous dialog, a beautifully engineered progression system, and addictive gameplay.

The idea here is that you have a space station that serves as a hub for your adventures, populated by a small but diverse group of characters, each with their own motivation and personality. You receive quests here and then pilot your ship out into the surrounding sectors of space to not only complete the mission, but also to mine for ore, which is used to upgrade your ship.

Ship upgrades have both breadth and depth. There are a total of seven ship sections to upgrade: hulls, reactors, engines, collectors, weapons, shields, and scanners. Within each of these categories, there are countless upgrades of varying costs and abilities, enough to scroll off of the screen. Hours of gameplay, witty banter, and upgrade goodness here; don’t pass it up.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon

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Plants vs. Zombies

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Plants vs. Zombies

Two words: buy it. The grueling wait is finally over – Plants vs. Zombies, my 2009 Casual Game of the Year, has now been released for the iPhone platform in (almost) all it’s glory and gets the site’s highest recommendation of Editor’s Choice. What the casual gaming experts at PopCap did with this title was to take the well-known gaming genre of Tower Defense, dissect it, distill it down to its core elements, inject it with an ever-present sense of humor, and then present the whole  package in a way that appeals to players of any skill level. It is a brilliant game; one that is beautifully illustrated and animated, one that allows for both strategic and tactical decision-making, and one that provides hours of enjoyment for kids and adults alike.

The unique premise of this game is that vile and pernicious zombies are attacking your home and you must fend them off with diverse selection of of armed and dangerous plants from your garden. Zombies enter the garden from the right side of the screen, occupying up to 6 horizontal lanes, and proceed to plod toward the home on the left, only to be stopped by an arsenal of plants that have been placed in the space between. The plants run the gambit from simple, unassuming sunflowers (which provide the precious resource of sun that allows the purchase of all plant types) to massive Cob Cannons that lob devastating bombs, which obliterate zombies en masse. The zombies are no less diverse in their presentation and function, starting with the lowly grunt to the white-gloved, moonwalking, Solid-Gold-dancer-spawning Michael Jackson zombie. While this hints at the humorous vibe that the game provides, it really just scratches the surface. There are so many hilarious puns, pop culture references, and quirky/characterful personalities throughout the course of this game that it really is more than the sum of its parts.

The core gameplay is just so perfectly balanced, tuned, and executed. The player must make choices at every step of the way; choosing the most strategic plant load-outs prior to each level, based on the zombie types present, choosing when and where to plant them, and choosing how to respond tactically to situations that arise at each encounter. While it doesn’t provide every single feature of its Mac counterpart at launch, like the Survival Mode and the Zen Garden, it’s still a must-have title that is recommended for just about anyone that owns an iPhone.

SPOILER ALERT – highlight to reveal:

After beating the 50 levels in Adventure Mode, Quick Play Mode opens, which allows allows the player to start at any stage and play a subset of mini-games: Wall-nut Bowling, Whack-a-zombie, Vase Breaker, the Final Boss, and the Conveyor Belt levels (1-5, 1-10, 2-10, 3-5, 3-10, 4-10, and 5-5). Playing thorough Adventure Mode a second time is just like the Mac version; Crazy Dave picks three of your seed packs for you, so that you’ll potentially use a different strategy than the first time you played through.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Sally’s Spa

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Sally's Spa

Most fans of the Time Management genre are already aware of Sally’s Salon, which was a tour-de-force of production and gameplay, and they will most likely buy this sequel immediately. If you haven’t, here’s why you should; this developer has perfected the genre. The graphics are charming and crisp, the upgrades are numerous and interesting, the progression is engaging, and the minute-to-minute gaming is challenging and compelling.

Over the course of the game, the player will guide Sally through her career as the manager of a chain of health spas that span the globe. When patrons enter the spa, they seat themselves in the waiting area and indicate what service they are interested in first. This is typically a quick sauna or a facial, so the player must drag the customer to the appropriate station and then tap it to play a quick mini-game. The mini-games typically just require some quick shape recognition and/or a series of taps, but they do provide the feeling of actually doing something. At the completion of each station, the patron either indicates the next station they want to visit, a massage, a bubble bath, or a manicure, or just heads for the cash register to pay. Managing a series of spa-goers, keeping them happy, and managing time efficiently is what drives this game forward.

Sally’s Spa includes product sales, employees hiring, choosing which upgrades will be the most useful at each step of the way, and simply managing time wisely. Players of the first game will appreciate the new landscape display, which requires no scrolling like the portrait display did, and the Plus+ integration, which allows players to participate in leader boards and track achievements. All in all, Sally’s Spa is a great addition to the Time Management genre, an improvement on the first title, and one with lasting appeal.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

N.O.V.A.

This game is stunning. This is truly a must-buy game for fans of First Person Shooters; excellent gameplay, lush environments, and spot-on controls. It’s basically “Halo for the iPhone”, with a full 13-mission campaign game, a diverse arsenal of weapons, and some of the best visuals we’ve seen on the iPhone. While it may be a little too much like Halo, with regard to level design and encounters, I won’t fault it too much, because we’re talking about an iPhone game being compared to multi-million dollar, triple-AAA console title; just getting in the ball park is admirable, in my book.

The controls are similar to Gameloft’s previous effort, Modern Combat: Sandstorm, in which the virtual left analog stick controls movement and strafing, while a touch-and-drag elsewhere on the screen controls freelook. A fairly generous aim-assist helps to zero in on targets and score headshots. This is more than adequate during the single-player game and serves its purpose in multiplayer as well. Oh, did I mention N.O.V.A. has a multiplayer component…?

N.O.V.A. players who want to rip some face can do so in local matches or online via Gameloft’s servers. The 4-player multiplayer mode currently can be experienced on 5 different maps that correspond to of each the game’s diverse tilesets. While it doesn’t offer the more robust upgrade system of it’s nearest competitor, Eliminate Pro (which is the other top contender for best iDevice FPS), I didn’t expect it to, because the single-player was the obvious focus of the game.

While moving through a lush jungle or trudging through snow-packed canyons, one almost forgets what mobile gaming used to be (Mobile Snake anyone?). The encounters are scripted like a PC title and the enemies believably react to the player. Full-fledged mission introductions are shown, complete with voice-over and a full story arc and, while it won’t be called the Citizen Cane of gaming (lol), the plot moves forward as well as to be expected.

The amount of effort poured into the development of this game is is evidenced in the high level of polish that shows through in almost all areas of the game, including art, audio, technical achievement, and gameplay.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Words With Friends

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Words With Friends

This simple Scrabble clone has caught on in a big way, thanks to the ability to play versus real-life opponents, turn-by-turn. The player can create a game either by choosing a friend from facebook, from twitter, from their contact list, or they can be matchmade against a random player. After playing the first word, a notification is sent to the opponent, they receive a PUSH notification, and a badge appears on the game icon. There is no time limit for playing your turn and you can have several games going at once with other players. The rules are similar to Scrabble, as tiles from a tray are placed on the board to score based on tile worth and special spaces on the board, but there are no challenges; players can simply try a word and if it is not in the dictionary, they recall their tiles and try again. Because of the low time commitment per turn, the game is a perfect candidate to occupy a permanent spot on your iPhone to play at your leisure. Personally, I like it better than Scrabble IRL.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Scarab

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Scarab

Scarab is a really nice niche product; poetry and prose read by the creators, as if they were in the same room with you. Each issue provides a number of pieces, including interviews. The app itself is free and each new issue is purchased via downloadable content and then played through the core app. A portion of the proceeds goes directly to the artists, so by subscribing to this journal, we can fuel their future efforts.

Releasing a periodical literary journal via downloadable content on the iPhone was a great idea, in and of itself, because it allows such a personal and intimate experience. For each piece, the listener is provided with an audio reading, directly from the voice of the artist, as well as a photo, to put a face to the words. What really set this title apart, for me, is the quality of the work offered. The work of fiction in the first installment, by Michael Gutierrez is excellent, as is the poem by, and interview of, David Rivard. What really sold me on Scarab, though, was this beautiful piece by MRB Chelko:

-Night Rain-

Awake, I want to score the walls-
slash my quick life into them.

Signature.
Signature.
Signature.

I want to fall in shadow sticks across
the wall,
slice breath-holes in the room,
not sit
as this woman sits
in the dumb shelter of her body

as if the night will
spit its worm silk in her mouth.

I think this is a phenomenal project and I urge anyone that is mildly interested to pick up this app. It’s brilliantly conceived and well executed.

Update: The second issue is now available, via in-app purchase, and I am happy to say that it provides the same level of quality as the first issue; an excellent selection of voices in poetry.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Eliminate Pro

Monday, November 16th, 2009

After a brief heads-up last installment, I thought I would return with my impressions after having a chance to put the game through its paces. My verdict is…GET THIS. It’s a freakin’ online First Person Shooter on your iPhone! You learn the controls, which are decent, against bots and then quickly go online to rip face. Doing so provides credits that allow you to upgrade your gear, buy new weapons, and improve your stats. As I mentioned previously, the game itself is FREE, but the way they get your money is by Down-Loadable Content. After a few matches against real players, your health (energy) will be low. You either wait for hours for it to recharge, buy some for real money, or play without the possibility of obtaining credits. You want the credits, though, because upgrades make a noticeable difference in power. Frankly, I’m amazed by the level of customization offered, the steady framerate, and solid gameplay that this title provides. This game marks a milestone in iPhone game development, with regard to what is possible. Psst…first one’s FREE, kid.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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Need For Speed Undercover

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Need For Speed Undercover

This is one of the best looking racers on the app store and it is full-featured to boot; 8 different modes, 20 licensed cars, performance mods, exterior mods, intentionally dated Miami Vice style FMV cut-scenes, and boosh nitro. The AI rubber-banding is a little overkill, but it keeps the action level high. My biggest complaint is that there is no gas pedal. HUH? Yeah, your car just speeds up constantly unless you brake. I know you want your iPhone game to be approachable, but come on, that’s the point of racing! I’m probably over-critical of this point, but maybe it is because no one really seems to care. Anyway, it is a good racing game, regardless.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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PathPix

Monday, March 16th, 2009

PathPix

Apparently, this is based on some Nintendo DS game that everyone has played but me, called PicPic. You draw a path between two matching numbers that matches that number. Wow, that’s poorly worded; just look at the screenshot. The swipe controls are perfect. I’ve only played the first few levels, so I can’t comment on the depth, because it’s been dead-easy so far. The later levels look humongous, though, so I’m sure it will be fine. Not to mention that it provides 169 levels (with the recent update). When you’re done with the puzzle, it turns into a picture, which for me, redefines anti-climactic.

Update: Wow, this game is still on my iPhone months later. I’ve played a bajillion levels now and understand the attraction to the game much better than I did, when I first played it. First of all, it’s relaxing. The feeling of just connecting the dots is so fluid, that the act itself is simply pleasing. Gamers like to be rewarded and, in this game, each swipe rewards you. It is the perfect game to have when you don’t want to strain your brain, but you like the feeling of progress. In addition, the levels do get more challenging. So much so, in fact, that a new title has been released by the same developer, called PathPix Pro (which is a no-brainer, if you like this one, because it provides 300 new puzles). I’m increasing my rating to a 5, due to the longevity of the title and for the calming effect it provides.

Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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