Final Fantasy

March 1st, 2010 by djflippy

Final Fantasy

Square Enix has repeatedly dipped their toe in the water, with regard to the app store, but they finally released what the fans have been craving; the original Final Fantasy, a time-honored classic. This is the first title in the long-running series, brought up to semi-modern day standards, and converted quite capably to the iPhone platform.

For me, this game will always hold a special place in my heart. Is it because I imported the original title from Japan, before people even heard of importing video games, and struggled through the game with barely any translation? Nope, I believe that would be Final Fantasy IV for the Super Famicom. You see, I realize I will have zero street-cred when I say this, but…I never owned an NES. There I said it. I spent my childhood in arcades and I couldn’t believe anyone would release a system without a real joystick. Even my Atari 2600 had one! I got over it, much later, when I played Sonic the Hedgehog, but I digress.

The real reason this game means a lot to me is because this game ushered my 3-year-old daughter into the world of RPGs. Not the original…the iPhone version, just last week. After playing for hours and hours, she looked up at me with her big blue eyes and asked if I had any games like this “for the TV”. I bolted upstairs and then returned with armloads of Super Nintendo and Playstation titles, out of which she chose Final Fantasy IX. We played for quite some time, but she still liked the original better…true taste. I told her there was another series that was “daddy’s favorite” and in goes Dragon Quest 7. She loved it and we spent the weekend playing that and Dragon Quest 8. Best weekend of my life and out of all the games we played, Final Fantasy was still her favorite and we both enjoyed every moment of it.

Rating: ★★★★½ icon
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Colorbind

March 1st, 2010 by djflippy

Colorbind

Colorbind is a stylish, but minimalist puzzle game by the makers of Monospace (which is another great puzzler). In this title, the player must fold assorted colors of paper strips around the screen in order to create a path that encompasses all dots of the corresponding colors. It sounds easy, and the first few levels are, but once you get half way through medium difficulty, you start to encounter some real brain-burners. With many puzzle games, you’re just going through the motions, because you’ve played them a million times before, in one form or another. This one is different; it taps a certain part of the brain that others do not. It’s beautifully presented, the challenge is definitely there, and it will take quite some time to complete all 84 levels.

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

February 28th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 27th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 17th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 16th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 15th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 14th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 11th, 2010 by djflippy

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

February 10th, 2010 by djflippy

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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