Archive for the ‘Time-Management’ Category

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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Miriel the Magical Merchant

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Miriel the Magical Merchant

This is an excellent entry in the Time-Management genre that is based in a fantasy world, with ten different towns to visit, each with 6 days of work to complete. The denizens of this magical realm aren’t well fed, apparently, and it is your job to remedy this situation. This can be compared Chocolate Shop Frenzy, because you tap a customer menu, tap the proper ingredient, grab it, and serve it to that customer. The ways in which it differs are the upgrade choices, recipes, and a mini-game. Every few levels, the player makes a choice between two new recipes to add. Recipes require you to tap the proper two core ingredients (milk+milk=cheese wedge), which must then be baked in the oven, before serving to the customer. When you have several recipes active, it can get hectic trying to remember them all, but luckily you can always tap the customer’s order to see the recipe. The pacing is exquisite, because the core ingredients like cheese and flour share the same prep time, but special ingredients like apples and strawberries differ in that regard. Some recipes even require previously baked items as ingredients, which compounds your problems. While all this is going on, you need to collect tips, trash incorrect ingredients, and hand out candy to keep patrons happy. To unlock new component upgrades or additional components, like a second stove, you have to complete a Same Game clone, in which you tap groups of ingredients to make them disappear, without letting them spill over the top.  One surprising feature of the game is that throughout your baking career, you also unlock actual recipes that you can bake IRL, like “Farmer’s Cheese” and “Grandma’s Pie”. It’s a really charming and polished product that is lesser known than top-tier titles like Sally’s Salon, but it really has a lot to offer.

Rating: ★★★★½ icon
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Alice Greenfingers

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Alice Greenfingers

This is one of the many farming sims on the App Store in which you control a cute little girl that must grow crops to sell at the local market, to make money to buy more seeds, to grow more crops…you get the picture. The starting sequence goes like this: dig plots, plant seeds, water them, harvest them, bring them to market, and set a reasonable price for them. Customers will come by your stand and purchase them or express their interest in buying a different type of fruit or vegetable. New seeds become available, over time, that you can buy from the local store to increase the variety of your harvest and sell more. The store also sells harvest baskets, watering cans, pumps, sprinklers, chickens to lay eggs, cows and sheep, and fences to keep them in check. You just run around each day of the month, repeating the sequence described above, while you expand your business and experiment with pricing. This may pull you in at first, but it gets really repetitive, as you may have guessed. There are no target quantities of items to sell or pressure to produce, so there isn’t much depth or challenge at all. It can be fun for a while, but eventually, you just feel like you are going through the motions. To be fair, many casual players and children don’t like being stressed out and they might like this, but for more seasoned players, you probably want to check out a more sophisticated game like Ranch Rush.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ icon
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Tomena Sanner (US)

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Tomena Sanner (US)

Okay, this game is pure genius. The gameplay consists entirely of timing moves for your little man in a business suit to execute, WHILE BREAKDANCING, in order to keep his pace and reach the goal before the timer runs out. It is loaded with wacky Japanese goodness, including a rhythm section at the end of every level. The crazy factor most closely resembles that of a old playstation game I have called Incredible Crisis (which is a must-play); while the gameplay is completely different, the humor and style is similar. Over the course of the 9 game levels, you will accomplish all of the following important tasks:

  1. Moonwalk with Santa…on the moon
  2. Ski down a dinosaur’s back
  3. Disco-dance with a panda
  4. Play Baseball with a man in a Godzilla suit
  5. Get a kiss from a Swedish maid
  6. Line-dance with Japanese schoolgirls
  7. Slam dunk on a 20’ rim
  8. Do the robot…with a robot

    By the way, if you play through the whole game, you will be able to visit both heaven and hell. Buy this game and make Konami filthy rich.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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    Nanny Mania

    Saturday, December 5th, 2009

    This is a port of a popular casual game for PC and Mac of the same name. You are the nanny that has to clean up the house and take care of the bratty kids. If you leave the children to their own devices, they will pee in the plants, leave cola cans and candy wrappers all over, and just generally drive you insane…just like IRL! Gameplay is comprised of tapping things to pick them up or clean them. You can cue up a series of actions, but if you do too many, you’ll lose track of the kids. Tapping them makes them sit down for a short duration. Tapping the coffee pot speeds you up. I like it, but it’s not for everyone, and it is pretty buggy.

    Rating: ★★★½☆ icon
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    Zombie Pizza

    Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

    What do zombies eat for dinner? Brains, everyone knows that. What you didn’t know is that they put ‘em on pizzas, with bones, hearts, and a succulent variety of other internal organs. Zombies are also very picky about how you make their pizzas; they have to be just so. You learn a small number of pizza combos that are popular and start throwing them together, as the delicious toppings roll off the assembly line. Score extra points if you complete a special order, shown on the ticket. Very clever, very fast, and very funny.

    Rating: ★★★☆☆ icon
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    Tattoo Mania – Deluxe

    Sunday, September 20th, 2009

    This is an innovative title that uses the iPhone interface quite well. Your task is to run a tattoo parlor, so when a customer enters the screen zooms into the outline of the tattoo they are requesting. Your finger controls an airbrush-like tattoo gun that fills in areas with color. The correct areas are masked, so the ink will stay within the lines, but you still have to worry about proper coverage and not harming the client. Pressure outside the lines will not only leave a red mark, but will increase the client’s anger meter, which will cause the client to leave if it fills up completely. Laying down ink too quickly, without a break to decrease the meter is also a no-no. You are paid based on how well you perform, which I assume is a combination of proper ink coverage and not harming the client. The graphics are rendered in a very appropriate thick-edged cartoon style, which is perfectly appropriate for the subject matter. The gameplay is quite good, as you not only have to tattoo well, but also have to be good at time management (swapping customers in and out of the chair to keep everyone happy). There are quite a few tattoos of varying levels of difficulty. There are no progression systems or shop upgrades, which would have been a nice component, but overall, it’s a really solid title.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ icon

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    Jojo’s Fashion Show 2

    Saturday, August 8th, 2009

    I have yet to find a single other person on planet earth that is willing to play this game, besides me, but it is actually a really good game. The goal of the game is to put on successful runaway shows, all across the globe. The player is presented with a group of three fashion models that have to be suited up for a runway show. Prior to the show, you are provided with examples of three style types that are being featured at the show, such as Bollywood, Sockhop, and…uh…Military. You are then presented with a selection of clothes at the bottom of the screen that you have to identify as a certain style and then drag-n-drop onto the corresponding model. Powerups can be obtained to switch styles or wardrobe, when needed, and accessories that can compliment any outfit are opened up, as well. When a model is fully clothed, her icon will light up, indicating that you can send her to the runway. If you are fast and efficient, you can send multiple models out simultaneously to score a chain combo multiplier. When they get to the runway, they are scored for each clothing type (torso, legs, and feet), based on how well it fits the style category that she is sporting. If you exactly match one of the predefined “signature” outfits, shown on the left, you also score big.

    Semi-frequent, bonus photo shoots offer a different type of gameplay, in which a large number of fully dressed models are standing around, waiting to have their photo taken. You are scored based on choosing the correct model style (and sequential hits provide additional score) and framing the photograph properly. Each of the five unlock-able cities, such as Los Angeles and Berlin, contains 15 diverse levels, each of which contain a number of different styles. Dragging clothes onto models is not always as responsive as I would like, but overall, the game is really polished. This really is a textbook example of good casual game design; great presentation and player feedback, both visually and aurally, good decision-making, good pacing and progression, and intuitive gameplay. My 3-year-old loves it and can play it all by herself, which demonstrates how approachable it is.

    Update: Jojo’s now has OpenFeint social features, achievements, and awards. Downloadable Content is also now available; 2 level packs, each containing two full locations. Rating increased accordingly.

    Rating: ★★★★★ icon
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    Ranch Rush

    Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

    This is a really fun Time-Management game that is very popular on the PC. You buy the seeds, plant the crops, pluck ‘em up, and sell them. You invest in machinery to turn your tomato crop into ketchup and such. Your property is larger than a single screen, so you have to scroll around to tend your crops, which is a bit annoying. While this is a drawback, it is also a strength, because the freedom to place everything anywhere you please adds to the planning and strategy. Luckily, you can reposition anything at any time for better efficiency and the game pauses for the duration. The game has a total of 80 levels, 20 Trophies to win, and a Farmer’s Market Mini-game; all-in-all a charming and polished effort.

    Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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