Archive for February, 2010

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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Thumpies

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Thumpies

What surprising and innovative rhythm game. At the beginning, it’s very simple; just tap the drum when the Thumpie bounces on it and you start to hear a rhythm emerge. When you reach the higher levels on hard difficulty, though, it can be maddening; four Thumpies bouncing every which way at breakneck speed, multiple drum positions and butterflies being snarfed up before you can tap them. That last point is important, because different numbers of tapped butterflies open up new Thumpies, including one called “Flippy”, thank you very much. On-beat drum taps fills the meter and moves you to the next level, but watch out, because letting it bottom out consumes one of your precious butterflies.

The artwork is amazing, both background and foreground, and you simply have to see these little guys bouncing around in 3D (well, 3D actors on a 2D plane). What’s really important in a rhythm game, though, is the music and rhythm and Thumpies scores high marks on both counts. What separates this title from others in the genre is the fact that you are discovering the rhythms, insead of trying to replicate them. Initially, you are just tapping when you see a Thumpie hit a drum, but later on, when there are several simultaneous Thumpies, the ability to recognize rhythm really helps. These quirky little creatures emit the strangest form of alien beat box too, which adds immeasurably to the charm of this title. The game really is lovingly crafted and I love pretty much everything about it, which is why I would also love some additional levels please…

Rating: ★★★★½ icon
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Sword of Fargoal

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Sword of Fargoal

This remake of the classic Commodore 64 Roguelike really plays well in short bursts on the iPhone. I’m a big fan of dungeon crawls and this one is no exception since the C64 was my computer of choice as a child, due to the great selection of games and the low barrier-to-entry (which here means, “rock-bottom price point”).

This translation may include the same old skool sid-chip sound effects, teleport traps, and buried treasure that you know and love, but what it adds is the real surprise. The developers have obviously put a significant amount of work into updating this to modern-ish standards. The artwork for the random dungeons is now in smooth 3D, the character art is much better (if you can believe it from the screenshot), they’ve added super-smooth fog-of-war, and also swipe controls (which act a little strange, but you get used to it).

What it has over similar games like NetHack is that it is very accessible. No pages and pages of cryptic commands, no ASCII graphics (*sobs*), and in turn, not as much depth. Still, it’s a really fun romp through a multi-level dungeon, as it always was, and its arrival on the iPhone is a pleasant surprise.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 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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Eco Punk

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Eco Punk

From the creators of Rasta Monkey, comes this sordid tale which begins on a street corner of a what looks to be a major metropolitan area populated with dispicable people that dispose of garbage out the windows of their gas-guzzling cars; cardboard boxes, bottles, stand-up basses, full cases of Brillo pads, piggy banks, gameboys, underpants, you name it. Apparently, these tossers are ignorant of how litter affects our environment, but luckily, the protagonist of our story is enviromentally conscience and he is here to save the day.

Our hero looks to be some type of a skateboarding Anarchist punk rock rabbit cookie-head and his job is to skate around the city block picking up refuse by running over it with his skateboard, all the while, avoiding the careless motorists. Picking up multiple bits of garbage in sequence provides a progressive-scoring chain combo that scales with the number of items snatched. That’s not all, sometimes power-ups drop, such as a laser machine gun or invincibility, so you can mow through the pigs on their goofy Segways. There are three modes of play; Classic, Timebend, and Blitz. Classic is the basic mode that ends when you become roadkill, cars in Timebend only move when you do (making it much less hectic, but still lethal) and Blitz is simply a timed mode.

Since there is only one map that covers just one street corner, the developers were able to render some beautifully lit  and detailed artwork. The game has personality and I love the stylized look and, even though it is somewhat limited in scope and depth, I still played it for 50 games straight and even got an achievement to prove it, thanks to the OpenFeint support. The touch controls are amazingly fluid and make D-Pad controls seem outdated. It’s a fun diversion and you may even decide compete with your friends to see who can become the most celebrated Eco Punk.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Bee Spelled

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Bee Spelled

Bee-Spelled is a streamlined clone of PopCap’s Bookworm Adventures. The word “streamlined” here means, “missing features”, but it’s still fun. What we have here is a humorous, artistic, and lovingly animated version of the primary gameplay element of the original game; spelling words from a 4×4 grid, with as many letters as you can, to blast a cute little furry creature to bits. I actually like their bonus system a great deal; red letters deal fire damage, blue letters freeze, and green letters heal. The player has to factor in these bonuses when choosing a word to play. Like I said, it works well and the game is fun, but it has very little depth. The reason for this is that they left out all the ancillary elements that make the original game great; overworld exploration, collecting items, mini-games, and…hmm…that’s all I can remember, but it was full-featured. Anyway, this version isn’t perfect and you’ll quickly beat it, but your kids might like it too. It does feature a wisecracking tomcat with a monocle and a top-hat, which would make any game a winner.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 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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Military Madness: Neo Nectaris

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

MIlitary Madness: Neo Nectaris

Recognize. If you ever owned a TurboGrafx-16 system (I didn’t), you need this game. If you ever had a friend with a TurboGraphx-16 system (I did and I was so jealous of that rich mothe…), you need this game. If you are as old as Abe Vigoda, you need this game. If you don’t fit any of the above categories, but you want to see why the Advance Wars series even exists, you need this game.

The original Military Madness was a Turn-Based Strategy game released in the late 80′s that was well before it’s time. In this lovingly-crafted conversion –  unit composition, movement range, defense, firepower, and placement on underlying terrain actually matter. That and your own knowledge of the enemy troops and armor. These missions are no cakewalk, either, and if you go into thinking they are, you will get pwnd. It seems more difficult than I remember, but I loved this game as a kid and I love it now. It’s not polished really at all, but I actually think it plays better than the original, because the touch interface is much better than the broke-as-a-joke scrolling cursor.

BTW, this is not the Psone or PSP remake with the fancy-shmancy new cinematics. This is bare-bones 16-bit pixel goodness and I love it. If Herzog Zwei ever comes out for the iPhone, I will cry sparkly unicorn tears.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Guerilla Bob

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Guerilla Bob

This is a really polished game and I think it feels somewhat like what some people were expecting with the intial release of MiniGore (which I also recommend). Guerilla Bob is a dual-stick shooter with a zoomed out view, in which you fight four core enemy types; the grunt, the flamethrower, the bomber, and the nuker. Each of the enemies sometimes requires different tactics, as do the several boss characters. You have three weapons that upgrade at various points in the missions; machine gun, rocket launcher, and flamethrower. Several items and powerups drop too, such as speed, damage, and armor. There are several missions, but most of them tend to feel like, “walk straight forward, shoot stuff, strafe to gather power-ups”, with the exception of the bulldozer level, the river rafting, and the final mission that opens at the end of the game. This Survival Mode harkens back to MiniGore, because it has a bigger arena in which to battle huge waves of foes. By the way, his life bar is a cigar! Now, If only they could come up with some way to combine the aforementioned games…

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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