Archive for January, 2010

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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Sword & Poker

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Sword & Poker

Prior to PuzzleQuest, I most likely would have told you that an RPG/Match-3 hybrid would be ridiculous, but it was awesome. Well, Gaia Co. LTD. chose an RPG/Poker hybrid as their first US game release and it too makes for a fun game. Each encounter begins with a 3×3 layout of pre-seeded cards on a 5×5 grid. The player looks at their hand of 4 cards and chooses 2 to put on either end of a 3-card row. This column, row, or diagonal line of cards is then scored as a normal Poker hand (pair,  2 pair, 3 of a kind, etc.) Points scored from the hand damage the opponent, who happens to be a monster. You see, the player enters a dungeon, making simple decision as to which route to take and then encounters a monster to play poker against. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? After exiting the dungeon, the cash earned from winning battles can be spent on equipment and such. This gear will improve the player’s abilities in combat. Abilities matter too, whether it be weapon damage multipliers, a fatter sack *ahem*, or a shield to mitigate damage. Magic spells can be equipped, as well, to perhaps sway the battle in your favor. The card play can be relatively interesting, with all of these variables in play. Denial is an important tactic too, since the hands are in open view, you will oftentimes want to forego your big move to block an even bigger one from the opponent. While the core gameplay is addictive and fun, it can sometimes devolve into when to chuck your cards and pass your turn, because the big combos that score multiple rows are generally seen near the end of the match. I can’t fault the developers, though, because they came up with a pretty original game here that has a ton of replay-value as the player levels up their character. The art, soundtrack, and gameplay evoke a wonderful, if somewhat quirky, theme and everyone that plays it, loves it.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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2 Minute RPG

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

2 Minute RPG

As the name suggests, this lolfest packs as much stunning gameplay as possible into the 2 minutes allotted per game. You move around the barely drawn landscape, talk to NPCs, battle monsters, grind in the dungeons, collect phat lewts, and then register a score after your 2 minutes expires. It is a clever idea and it’s actually kinda fun, to tell you the truth, but it’s too bare bones to really taken seriously. What the developers have proven is that it possible to make a Pick-Up-and-Play RPG and I applaud them for it.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ icon
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Bird Strike

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Bird Strike

This game offers the same approachability,  intuitive controls, and replayabitlity as some of the best casual games, with the added bonus of some delightful artwork. If you are a fan of games like Scoops or Doodle Jump, this is really worth checking out. The graphics are top-notch and loaded with character. It starts off as a simple Winter Bells clone, but soon diverges from the formula by adding different powerups and obstacles. The best part, though, is when you reach the maximum sky height, by grabbing rocket powerups, you encounter a UFO that blasts you back down through the vertical level at top speed. It’s even more fun on the way back, because you score big for destroying any of the obstacles that you originally had to avoid. At the very bottom, if you tilt your little blue bird perfectly, he plummets down through an open sewer lid to grab even more goodies. Great stuff here, for the most part, but the end-game can sometimes degenerate into an un-winnable state, if you overuse your rockets. Once you play through all the levels, you either return to compete more on the OpenFeint leaderboards or simply delete it with a satisfied feeling.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Arachnadoodle

Monday, January 25th, 2010

arachnadoodle

To call this game “Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor meets Peggle” is not far from the truth, but both are great games and this one stakes its claim in the mobile gaming space quite well. Pins are laid out across each level, all of which must be passed over in order to win the level. The player sets the direction and power of Boris the spider with a simple finger swipe, which sends the little critter whizzing across the level, leaving spider webs in his wake. This process is repeated a number of times to clear all the pins, at which point the player is scored for the percentage of web coverage. Then Boris kicks back as insects stream in from off-screen (to the well-known tune of Ride of the Valkyries); many of them will escape, but others will get trapped in the network of webs, netting the player more points before jumping to the next level. Over the course of 32 levels, all sorts of bugs and obstacles show up to keep the game interesting and test your finesse. This game is similar enough to the aforementioned titles to appeal to the same audience, but different enough to stand on its own legs…eight to be exact…

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Appsaurus

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Appsaurus

With Appsaurus the brilliant minds at Hello, Chair Inc. have hit upon the perfect combination of machine learning, usability, and fun. Full stop.

If you are a die-hard fan of the app search/comparison meta-game, as I am, this app is for you. When you hit the Explore button, a selection of five apps are displayed. The user simply taps his or her favorite app from the list and another similar screen appears, with a different assortment of apps. With each press, Appsaurus learns more about the types of apps you like and the recommendations start to get better and better. And that’s just the beginning. To expedite the recommendation process, you can swipe any of the apps to mark them as favorites or to block them. This whole process is surprisingly fun! You start to see more of your favorite apps to mark, which shows you the app is learning, but you also start to see recommendations for apps that you don’t own, some of which look quite interesting. After my first few minutes of use, I already found three apps that interested me and this is coming from a guy that owns over 3000 apps already.

That describes the core functionality of the app, but there are a variety of tweaks for users to experiment with. One important feature is that you can browse your Favorites list at any time and add your own manually. That’s right, you don’t have to wait hours for your favorite app to show up (although my favorite, Trism, showed up in a matter of minutes), you can simply do a search and add it to your list yourself to improve the recommendation process. You can also tap that favorite app to provide a list of “Apps Like This”, which is an indispensable tool. Yes, you will sometimes get a list of five apps with no “winner” on it, but you can simply reload for a new set of possibilities. You can also create customized lists that disallow certain categories (bye bye “Weather”), include specific search terms, and look only for apps below a certain price point. The real beauty of this app is that you don’t “start over” every time you open the app, instead it saves all of your data up to and including your entire path used to get where you are. By that I mean, you can backtrack through all of your previous exploration at any time, not just for the current session to find a certain app.

The only gripes I have are as follows: I would have liked the ability to mark apps of interest. You can always mark them as a Favorite and refer back to that list later, but then they could potentially taint your results. Besides, for me at least, the Favorites list becomes cumbersome fairly quickly. I would really have liked an option to disallow Lite versions, as well, since they are duplicative, but it’s not a major concern. I also can’t comment on how useful the app will be to users that start with very few apps, because I have no data on that (although my assumption is that this app would be next to useless for someone hasn’t used a lot of apps, since there would be no data to mine). None of these issues keep the app from being extremely useful for me, so I’ll continue to use it and perhaps hope for an update, at least on the Lite issue.

The user interface is elegant, the controls are intuitive, and the app does exactly what it professes to do – it finds apps that you might like. If you know about apps and you want to improve your app collection, in a way that caters to you directly, you can’t do better than this app.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Ravensword: The Fallen King

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

ravensword

At first, Ravensword feels like a decent attempt at making an Elder Scrolls-style game on a mobile platform. The player character wakes up in a small medieval town with…guess what…amnesia! The player must sort out the mystery of the evil sweeping across the land. This is the long-term goal, but just as any other RPG worth it’s salt, the short-term goals is to slaughter truckloads of rats first…pesky varmints. From the early presentation, my assumption was that the stage was set for an intricate progression curve to be min-maxed within an inch of its life by skill choices and gear selection, but it turned out not to be the case.

Character customization is almost non existent in this game. Sure, you kill stuff and gain levels to progress, but there are very few meaningful drops from monsters and a skill tree is nowhere to be found. You do pick up some rune stones that help you in some areas, but there is no full magic system. Two of the primary factors of great RPGs are deep character customization that involves frequent player choice on a diverse skill tree and a near-constant stream of new gear, upon which the player must sift through to find the best build. Unfortunately, there is no skill tree and the item game doesn’t provide nearly enough diversity and depth to keep the player interested.

The lack of these key features is really a shame, because the developers (just two guys, BTW) did get plenty of things right. The game has a wonderful soundtrack that evokes the medieval period brilliantly and the sound effects, like chirping birds and grunting beasties, are very convincing. The environments in this free-roaming 3D world are believable and interesting. The quest system works quite well to move the player through the story.  The lock-on combat system generally keeps the player in control, although it does suffer from the common problem that low melee attackers are hard to see. Your effectiveness in combat is limited only by your ability to press the pause button and guzzle a health potion. Wait, these were supposed to be positive comments! The best element of the game, for me, was the exploration and the accompanying feeling of discovery. That’s what kept me playing through the game; I wanted to see and hear what was next.

I attempted to enumerate not only the game’s flaws, but also its successes, because I do think it is a good game in some ways; just not the one I had hoped for. As a player, I’m definitely more suited to the Japanese-style RPG, such as Zenonia or even a more Western approach such as Dungeon Hunter (my favorite Diablo-style dungeon crawl on the iDevice, as of this writing). And for those that thought this game would be The Quest with better graphics, I hate to say it, but you will most likely be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Chuzzle

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Chuzzle

Popcap is a driving force in the casual game market and their games have proven to be a perfect fit for the iPhone platform. Chuzzle continues that fine tradition and, in my view, plays even better than its computer driven brethren. It is a match-3 game played on a grid filled with adorably fuzzy little creatures one can assume are called Chuzzles. What sets this title apart is that entire rows and columns are shifted by the player in order to create matches of 3 or more. While this initially feels like a constraint to players of Bejeweled 2, for instance, it can actually provide a sense of freedom, because matches can be made in any configuration, as long as the Chuzzles are adjacent. The game can sometimes run long, but it is a nice way to pass the time. My kid likes it too. You may want to wait for it to “do a Peggle”, though (come down in price).

Rating: ★★★½☆ icon
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