Archive for March, 2010

Tilt to Live

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Tilt to Live

Tilt to Live is an excellent pick-up & play title with perfect controls, lively visuals, and host of killer power-ups. As the title suggests, all you have to do is live; red dots bad, open space good. Avoiding the evil red dots is no small task, however, because you’ll be weaving your way in an out of random dot bursts, encroaching dot rings, and solid walls of dots. To aid you is a wide array of power-ups, such as homing missiles, ice blasters, lightning strikes, and the spiked ball of death. The accelerometer gives surprisingly precise controls and the collision sphere on your ship must only be a pixel wide, because you can really get yourself out of some impossibly tight situations. This is really where the game shines; After triggering an impossible chain of power-ups at split-second intervals, while maneuvering between 50 obstacles, you really feel like you are in the zone and can’t put the game down. Not only that, but hitting the big scores on the AGON leaderboards will uncover hidden achievements that provide access to newer and bigger weapons. Tilt to Live is a challenging and addictive game that brings out the strengths of the iPhone platform.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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We Rule

Monday, March 29th, 2010

We Rule

We Rule is a beautifully presented Farmville clone for the iPhone with a compelling medieval theme, period soundtrack, and addictive gameplay. The player begins the game with a modest encampment which can be upgraded multiple times over the course of the game until it becomes a relatively intimidating castle. Castle upgrades are purchased using gold which is generated by constructing a thriving town. Planting crops, building tailor shops, lumber mills, wizard dens, housing for your citizens, and a ton of other structures all provide gold and/or experience. Creating or transplanting an active social network is the most efficient way to accomplish your tasks, because other players can put in orders for your goods simply by tapping on one of your shops (which conveniently sends an opt-in PUSH notification). They will do this repeatedly too, and so will you, because there is no work involved whatsoever, just time. You see, each task requires a predefined duration, from seconds to hours. Welcome to OCDville, please enjoy your stay!

Each time you level up, you are provided a small amount of “Mojo” which allows you to complete a task immediately. You can also buy your way to stardom by purchasing Mojo directly from ngmoco:) from within the app (which ca benefit both you and your friends, incidentally). This business model is being called “Freemium”, because the game is free to play for everyone and it is a premium title from a proven developer, but if you want access to content faster, you can buy it. I don’t typically talk much about app pricing, because it varies so much, but I thought this was worth mentioning, because ngmoco:) has stated that all of their games from now on are going to use this model. They’ve gotten some bad press for the decision, but to me the game is significantly better than most of the free games on the app store and if you want to support the company by purchasing Mojo, it’s your decision.

There are a few improvements that I think could be made to the game, primarily in the area of user interface and networking. There are no tool-tips to guide your purchasing, which was a major feature to overlook, because you want players to feel like they are making interesting decisions, even if all roads lead to gold and XP. Another missing feature is an “Achievement Earned” pop-up and the Achievements themselves are somewhat uninspired, as well. Moving buildings around is fairly cumbersome process too, but I’ll give them a break, since there is no associated cost to do so or frequency limitation. Just like any server-based game with a large player base, there were connectivity issues early on, but the company spokesperson did an excellent job of addressing the community and the team is burning through the issues as fast as possible.

I like the game a lot, after playing it for a couple weeks. One reason is that it provides a nice outlet for creativity, because there are all sorts of ways to decorate your town; several types of trees, lakes and rivers, picnic tables, windmills and water towers, rune-stones, banners, flowers, and the list goes on. This is in addition to the income-generating shops you can purchase, of which there are many (I’m saving up for the Dragon’s Lair!) There are also ways to min-max the system, so there is room here for math fiends as well. The artwork is cute without being cutesy and when you build your bakery and see a teeny-tiny little chef wandering around town, it really sells the theme. We Rule is an excellent entry into the social gaming market on the iPhone that is well worth a look.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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B-Boy Beats

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

B-Boy Beats

This game really has the potential to be an extremely good rhythm title, with clever mechanics and a great soundtrack, but it is bogged down by difficult controls, an unnecessarily steep difficulty curve, and the inclusion of repeated and somewhat demoralizing negative feedback.

As with most rhythm games, the goal is to tap the screen in the proper locations, while staying on beat. The play area is a top-down view of a busted up cardboard box, perfect for breakdancing. Your fingers loosely represent your feet. You plant your “feet” firmly on the two start points to start and then tap the next circle when its outer ring scales down to fit the circle. This may sound easy, but the timing and placement is more difficult than many other games in the genre. You have to keep your inactive finger seated on the screen, which is somewhat counter to the quick  ”tap tap” feeling of other titles. On top of this, the developers have layered on several other techniques that are explained fully in the tutorial including the Moonwalk (tap-slide), the Reverse Moonwalk (slide-tap), and the Handplant (+2 finger press), among others (10 total).

“Break your fingers with…B-Boy Beats” is the tagline for the game and I found that after playing it for hours, it’s not far from the truth. Holding the iPhone and tapping with my thumbs seemed to be the most comfortable control usage, but when handplants are added, you need to find two extra fingers somewhere. They suggested using the ring finger, which would be horrible, so I opted to switch my main stance to index fingers and use my thumbs for the additional beats, which was non-optimal, but at least doable. The other major issue is the new user experience. Whenever you drop below a certain point on the “Break-o-meter”, the crowd starts to boo. I understand you want a certain amount of attitude in a game of this ilk, but because the game has issues recognizing when your feet are replaced properly after a failure, the problem is compounded a great deal. I did persevere and beat every crew on their own turf in the city, but I have the feeling many new users would give up quickly.

Even with this laundry list of issues, I still enjoyed the game a great deal, personally. B-Boy Beats could easily be a 5-Star game if it was better tuned and less punishing, but as it stands, it’s hovering around 3.5 Stars for me. The soundtrack, by the way, is well above average; if you like underground hip-hop, then you may like what is on offer here from the likes of Optimus Rhyme and Magitek.

Rating: ★★★½☆ icon
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Fox Vs Duck

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Fox Vs Duck

What a pleasant surprise. The crew over at MrFungFung, the creators of the action-packed MiniSquadron, deliver an experience of an entirely different sort. From the very start, you can’t help but notice the perfectly executed graphic design vision that permeates this product. The minimalist headers slide in at the perfect pace from off-screen. The color, or lack thereof, prepares you for what you are about to see in-game and here is what you will see: a beautifully stylized black and white pool of water whose pleasantly calming waters are scattered with lilypads and vegetation that sprouts up at intervals. Beneath the water surface, a big fish lazily swims about. Outside the pool, a frisky fox prowls the environs. The whole scenario is quit zen-like.

In the middle of this serene scene, a cute little duck drops from the sky and splashes into the pond, causing quite a stir. Particularly if you don’t quickly tilt the iPhone in the appropriate direction to steer the little tyke away from the carnivorous fish lurking below, in which case he is snapped up instantly and thrashes to and fro in the sharp jaws, until noting is left but a widening circle of blood. Assuming you are deft enough to avoid the beast below, you can then tilt your ducky to the safety of the shore…unless of course…the wolf is nearby, in which case your little friend is gutted and left in a pool of his own blood.

The whole experience is tuned quite well: the amount of drag the lily pads cause, the frequency at which new plants appear, power-up drop rate, and the rate at which the fox’s speed increases with each new duck that appears. The gameplay will be too shallow for some, but I’m happy to help support talented developers with such a unique and beautiful vision.

Rating: ★★★½☆ icon
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Kerplinkus

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Kerplinkus

This tile-matching game sets itself well apart from competing products, due to its hectic gameplay, muted art style, and classic SID-chip soundtrack. Columns of tiles slowing march upward from the bottom of the screen and can be sped up, at any time, by tapping the bottom bar. If a stack reaches the top, it’s game over. Single tiles drop constantly from the top and the player must quickly align tiles below that match the ones above in order to break the lot. Switching tiles is done by tapping a stack tile and then tapping another stack tile to switch it with. The tiles that drop cannot be manipulated in any way. It takes a few plays to get your head around the idea, because it is actually very different from the normal mode of thinking in tile-matching games. It requires you to assess the layout very quickly in your mind and figure out the quickest way to delete the largest number of tiles with each drop or series of drops. By that I mean, you oftentimes just let a few non-matching tiles drop in order to get a larger match with another set of tiles. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it has an online leaderboard, both for Timed and Endless Modes. A really nice effort by the crew at Binary Square.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Ragdoll Blaster 2

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Ragdoll Blaster 2

I don’t need to say much about this one; this sequel offers 150 new levels of ragdoll rage, as good or better than the first title. The graphic style is much more sophisticated now, but it is up to each individual whether they think it betters the original doodle art. Personally, I like the update. Anyone that loved the first title has already hit the Buy Button, but for those that missed the original, it was an excellent pick-up-and-play physics puzzler that was smothered in winsawse. You simply aim the cannon and set the shot strength, together in one simple swipe, and hope for the best. Ragdoll hits target, move to the next level. Couldn’t be simpler. Killer game.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Radio Flare REDUX

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Radio Flare Redux

This sequel adds everything that was missing from the original and then some. If you liked the first one, buy this immediately. If you didn’t like it or haven’t played it, read on. Just like the original, this is a side-scrolling shooter; left thumb controls ship (note that your thumb need not cover the ship) and the right thumb controls the weapon lock-on. The lock-on is Panzer Dragoon-style, swipe multiple targets, release, all targets are destroyed. There is no limit to the number of enemies you can target simultaneously either. There are a good variety of enemies, with different flight patterns, attacks, and defenses. The early bosses are lackluster, but on the whole, I like the enemies. I love the soundtrack, though; absolute glitch-hop masterpiece. That alone is worth the price of admission. Enemies even explode to the rhythm! There are multiple sectors, each with several planets/levels and after each one, your progress is reported. Not only your star-rating for that particular level, but your progress toward a huge number of unlockable goodies; levels, weapons, songs, and even sound samples to use in their on-board sampler. How kewl is that? Yes your thumbs will get in your way, yes enemies will ambush you from behind, and yes, sometimes you will lift and replace your thumbs at the wrong interval and everything will be messed up briefly. Get over it, this game is win.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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The Hero

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

The Hero

Zombies? Check. Ninjas? Check. Swarms of killer bees, giant tanks with heat-seeking missiles, UFOs that spawn replicating green blobs from outer space? Check, check, check. Babies plummeting from tenement buildings? Check baby, check baby, 1, 2, 3. Well, it seems as though this title has something to please everyone…and to be fair, the babies do have parachutes…

You are a Superhero. Meanies invade the neighborhood. You look at your directional radar and fly at the meanies. You defeat them simply by flying into them, but using a little of your boost gauge helps. To fill your boost gauge, you give high-fives to the local residents that pop out of the windows frequently. You also have to put out fires, destroy uber-bombs, and make sure you don’t destroy too many civilian cars in the process. Killing creeps and high-fiving peoples increases your Fame meter. Do neither and your Fame meter decreases to nothing and your game ends. The further you get into the game, the more things you have to manage simultaneously, which is the core focus of the game.

The controls provide very fluid movement, albeit with a limited turning radius. Managing your boost is key as are your special powers; the two I’ve unlocked thus far are Freeze and Boom; both act as you would expect. There are two modes, Campaign and Survival, each with their own set of challenges. The soundtrack is upbeat and well-crafted, there are a number of achievements to gain, and the whole package is very polished.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Strimko

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Strikmo

If you like Sudoku and want to try a similar logic puzzle with a clever twist, Strimko is for you. The way it works is that each column and row needs a full set of numbers, as well as each string (numbers that are connected by lines), with no duplicates. Many of the same Sudoku-solving principles apply for these puzzles, but it still manages to provide a fresh experience.

I’ve played through many of the puzzles from the Core Pack (100), the Bonus Pack (20 puzzles unlocked after finishing the core pack) game, the Lite Pack (9), and the mixed pack (60 puzzles available via DLC) and have enjoyed most of them. The numbers are color-coded for quick recognition and you can input smaller ‘number candidates’ to narrow down your options. The game has four difficulty levels (Easy, Medium, Hard, and Master), OpenFeint integration that provides a number of achievements that are fun to chase after, and the all-important pause and resume.

My only suggestion to the developers would be to remove the extraneous top bar, move the bottom bar up, then add a number line to replace (or compliment, if you prefer) the circular number entry. You never know where it will appear and it covers information necessary to determine your input. I know you can move it around, but that’s too fiddly. Sometimes simpler is better (almost always, when in reference to interface).

Anyway, it’s a great puzzle game for the intended audience and the included puzzles far outnumber the DLC, so you can play through them first, before making the call on spending extra cash.

Rating: ★★★★☆ icon
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Street Fighter IV

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Street Fighter IV

Yes, you read that right; a full-fledged version of Street Fighter IV that is in the arcades now. Okay, it’s only partially-fledged, but it is more than I expected and it’s a blast. Here’s the lowdown:

8 characters – Ryu and Ken, of course, Chun-Li, Blanka, Abel, Guile, Dhalsim, and M. Bison. Yes, it is missing a whole slew of characters and most likely your second or third favorite character is not there (…no Akuma!!!!!), but get over it. I might. Akuma is allegedly being released as DLC anyway.
4 buttons – Punch, Kick, Special, and Focus. That’s right, 2 punches and 2 kicks are missing. Hmm…
Moves – Most of the moves are present that did not require the missing buttons. They did, however, add pairings of a punch or a kick with directional taps, that adds several moves to each kit, which was clever.
Mechanics – Combos, Specials, Ultras, EX moves, Reversals, Technicals, Super-Cancels, and throw counters, all there, thankfully.
Controls – Better than expected. The virtual joystick works really well, once you get used to the enormous size of it. The controls work well enough, in fact, that I would have rather had an extra punch and kick button and if you couldn’t do the specials right, then tough KO, chump. Supers and Ultras can be executed by using the normal moves or by simply tapping the corresponding gauges. While this makes sense from an accessibility standpoint and even a gameplay standpoint, actually, it still feels a bit strange.
Modes – Tournament, Dojo (with a secret bonus), Free-Sparring, Training Room, and Versus…
Multiplayer – Affirmative; Versus = multiplayer. Local Bluetooth only, with local leaderboards; no online play or leaderboards. Waahhh.
7 stages - The backgrounds are noticeably flat, with no parallax; just a scrolling floor. I think it’s a good trade-off, particularly because it allowed for the next two bullet points.
Framerate – Excellent framerate on a 3GS, even during Bluetooth matches. Haven’t tried it on my antique 1st-gen yet, because I chose to get the review up fast, instead.
Graphics – The characters and particle effects look really good.  To me, the characters look like sprites generated from 3D models, but I could be wrong. They look good, regardless.

It is Street Fighter, it is fun, and it is on your iPhone. Those are the 3 biggest selling points, in my opinion. Several compromises were made to ship it on this platform, which is to be expected, and it was rushed out the door. I would understand if any of the aforementioned issues were a deal-breakers for people; personally, I would have given up the beautiful intro cinematic and any number of extra modes for more characters and online play. Having said that, though, it is still a must-have title for me and for SF fans everywhere. I’m having a great time experiencing the game all over again, only this time, while driving!

Capcom recently inked a deal with Gameloft to have them produce Street Fighter Alpha, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and several other titles. Who’s to say what else Capcom has up their collective sleeves, because there is also a movie for Super Street Fighter IV included in this game…no official announcement for an iPhone version, but maybe if this one sells well…

Rating: ★★★★½ icon
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