Archive for the ‘Latest Mobile Games’ Category

Quick Look: Blast Monkeys for iPhone

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

My review schedule is so backlogged that I don’t get much of an opportunity to cover free games, but every once in a while one comes along that I feel compelled to discuss anyway.  Blast Monkeys is one of those games.  I honestly wasn’t expecting much when I downloaded it, but it turns out that its main flaw is the fact that there aren’t enough levels!  I was instantly hooked, and now that I’ve beaten the 25 levels in the game I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do next.  Well, not really, but I would love to see more levels added to the game.

The basic premise is that you must fire a monkey head out of a cannon and try to get it into the goal on the level.  That’s all you HAVE to do, but there are three bananas you can collect as well.  Of course you’re only really cool if you get all three bananas on every level.  There are 25 levels altogether, and so far I have 73 bananas.  Sadly, I’m not sure I have the skills to get the remaining to.  Guess I still have something else to do in the game yet!

Level 25

To fire the cannon you simply tap it.  The only other time you can interact with the game is if your monkey gets trapped in a bubble.  When you want the monkey out of the bubble you simply tap the bubble to pop it.  Other obstacles include boards and pegs that slide and spin and mini-mazes.  There isn’t a lot of variety to the types of obstacles, but the levels are so well designed that it doesn’t matter.  For some reason when I play this game I’m reminded of Donkey Kong Country… but I digress.

So what are my complaints?  As I said at the beginning, the main thing is length.  As I’ve been writing this review I continued to play the game, and now I’ve managed to get the remaining two bananas. There’s no replay value to the game, so now I just have to move on.  The bubbles are a bit hard to tap and pop in a timely fashion.  Also, there is a reset button that appears on the cannon, but it doesn’t always appear and I’m not sure what triggers it.  That might as well show up right after you’ve launched your monkey and just stay there so you can reset a level at any time.  Of course, these are all minor things, but things to think about none the less.

Level 13

The graphics are simple but get the job done.  A bodiless monkey is a bit freaky at first, but you get used to it.  There are really no special effects to speak of, though a little pomp and circumstance when you’ve gotten the last banana would be cool.  The sound effects aren’t bad, and there’s some nice music playing in the background, but it’s clear that the focus of the game was actual game play, and not aesthetics.  As long as its not horrid to look at or listen to, that’s okay for a free game.

In the end what we have is an extremely fun puzzle game that ends way too abruptly.  With some more levels, additional obstacles, and a couple more monkeys (don’t need abilities, just different faces), this could be quite a contender.  As it is the game is still excellent for killing a few minutes until you finish it.  Even if the result ends up costing money, let’s hope the developer expands this into the product it should be.  This is one of the most entertaining puzzle games I’ve played in quite a while, and with the right polish I believe it could give some of the heavy hitters a run for their money.

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
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Quick Look: Eggs In Space for iPhone

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Are you looking for some mindless, egg smashing fun, but have too much of a conscience to go decorate someone’s house?  Do you like silly, whimsical games that take just minutes to play but could easily consume your time if you let them?  Are you bored?  If you answered yes to all these questions (or at least one of them), Eggs For Space is the game for you.  If you have no sense of humor, just go buy a dictionary app and study or something…

C'mon And Kiss Me

This game is all about you, under the guidance of a professor that happens to be a spoon, saving the cosmos from some rotten alien eggs.  Affectionately described as a “tap’n crack” game, all you basically do is tap the bad eggs as they fly towards the screen at you.  Just tap the bad eggs, however.  Don’t tap the really bad eggs.  Tapping the really bad eggs is bad… really.  You can tell the “just plain bad” eggs because they look like rejects from a bad installment of the Police Academy movies.  The “really bad” eggs will cause the screen to flip or shake, making it hard for you to tap the eggs you need to tap, or they can even cause you to lose a life.

At the end of every three stages there’s a big “just plain bad” boss.  This boss must be tapped several times to be defeated, but when it’s red it will spit at you.  Just tap the spit at this point, because the only thing worse than egg on your face is egg spit on your face.  When the boss is red it can’t be tapped.  Basically you just keep going until you can’t go no more, which probably means you’re dead.  You start the game with three lives, and you can earn an extra life for every sausage link or piece of toast you tap.  Any time anything bad hits you, or you accidentally tap the “really bad” egg with the skull and crossbones on it, you lose a life.

Christmas In The Stars

There’s also a “bonus” Christmas Eggs In Space mini-game, but let’s call it what it is: level 1 with a Christmas skin.  Still, it is fun until you beat the snowman egg (the first and only boss).  My main gripe about the game is that because of the layering of the objects and the frequency of their arrival at times, it’s nearly impossible to tap the right eggs unless your fingertip is the size of a stylus.  Mine is about the thickness of 10.  As a result you need to wait for the “really bad” eggs to clear, at which point it’s too late to tap the “just plain” bad eggs.  Annoying, but in the end it’s livable.

The graphics are rather amusing in Eggs In Space.  From the old fashioned TV like interface to the dropping curtain between acts there’s this whole vaudeville / variety hour feel to the game.  The professor spoon is great, and the individual eggs are quite enjoyable.  Even the backgrounds are nifty, whether it’s the big lipped planet or the world with a huge pirate ship embedded in it.  I could just as easily see this game having a cartoon based off of it as Angry Birds.

50's Sci-Fi Reborn?

I’m actually a bit disappointed in the sound.  It’s not quite as zany as the graphics, and doesn’t do as much to enhance the experience as I’d hoped it would.  I’m also sad that we never actually get a voice for professor spoon.  The music is kind of the same way, though I do like the little piano riff that plays between levels.  I wouldn’t recommend letting that play for too long, though, as it gets repetitive rather quickly.

Overall, Eggs In Space is a great time waster.  If you’re looking for a deep, meaningful gaming experience, get a real life partner instead.  If you want plenty of level and lots of variety, I hear there’s this quirky little puzzle game called Angry Birds.  For simple, banal incredible edible smashing fun, Eggs In Space is the game for you.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Bubble Pets for iPhone

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

No offense to any developers of games in this genre, but personally I find the Whack-A-Mole concept fairly boring.  Until now, the one game that broke that rule was Hammer Heads from Astraware.  Now there’s a contender in the form of Bubble Pets on the iPhone.  What the game lacks in power ups and gnome bashing goodness it makes up for with quirky visuals, cool music and the need to smack a giant gorilla’s behind.  The last one is just a matter of preference though, I suppose.

Let It Snow...

Just like any other whack-a-mole type game you’ll have levels full of creatures that have nothing better to do than pop out of various places, and it’s your job to whack them.  Why this is so imperative I have no idea, but without it there’d be absolutely no point to the game.  What’s cool – and also adds to the difficulty – is that on each level there is an animal that is off limits.  For each correct animal you tap without missing any or hitting the “bad” one you’ll build up a combo.  Once you do something lame the combo starts over again.  My highest combo so far is in the mid 40s somewhere, almost like my age.

Each level gives you a certain amount of time to whack critters.  You can keep going until you lose all your lives.  You start out with 5 hearts, and each time you tap a taboo critter you lose a heart.  I think you can also lose hearts by missing a good animal, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case and I haven’t really confirmed it yet.  Thankfully there are also ways to gain hearts, so don’t think you’ll be left out in the cold on that department.  Occasionally items will float by on balloons.  To actually get the items you have to tap on them – if you just pop the balloons you won’t get the item the balloon was carrying.

It's A Gorilla!

What I really like about the game is that it doesn’t use boring stereotypical landscapes that most whack-a-mole type games use.  Level one is a park, level two is an airplane, and level 3 takes you all the way to the moon.  This is just a sampling of what you can expect.  Beyond the constant location changes, however, are the obstacles that come with each level.  On the airplane level you actually have clouds passing by that obscure your view.  In levels 3 and 4 there are bosses that you must tap multiple times to defeat (recall the gorilla comment from the intro).  I imagine the trend continues past level 4, but I’ve only managed to get there once and I don’t remember what it was like.

Once a level you get the chance to go into fever mode if you can tap the star that floats by on one of the balloons.  This mode makes the animals come out faster and gives you more points, but it stops when you miss an animal or hit the taboo animal.  After every couple of rounds you play a bonus stage where you simply tap all of the bubbles that float onto the screen.  The round ends when the time is up or you a bubble floats off the screen.  There’s even a special stage you can unlock called 199x mode, but in this mode you only get one heart, and it personally challenges me too much (read – I stink at it).

Bonus Round

The graphics look like they came straight off an EGA screen, back in the days when the Commodore 64 reigned supreme (or at least existed).  If you understood that last sentence, then thank you.  What it boils down to is that the visuals have a great old school look to them, but probably won’t appeal to those who think 2D as a whole is ancient history.  There’s a Christmas theme that adds snow into the mix, which as a general rule I like but I this case can make things hard to see.  I also find the fever mode very taxing on my eyes with all the flashing.  Overall I do like the visual style, though.

I think the sound effects are there mainly for the sake of having sound effects.  That’s all right, because the music more than makes up for it.  To relate to some of the “newer” older gamers, the score sounds like it was ripped from the NES.  The main theme is lots of fun, the Christmas theme is a nice twist on a classic song, and the bonus levels have their own music as well.

Bubble Pets is a wonderful casual game.  The graphics are great in their old school glory, the music has a charm to it that can’t be captured with full blown orchestras, and the game play is simple, frantic and addictive.  You won’t find a lot of flash here, but you will get plenty of entertainment for your money.

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
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Quick Look: Wackylands Boss for iPhone

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Wackylands: Boss turns the whole side scrolling beat-em-up on its ear by giving you control over the most sought after component of the typical game – the end boss.  You finally get to prove to the world that not every ending is a happy one (though wouldn’t it be happy for you?)  You’ll traipse through a variety of environments, crushing your foes and evolving your monster to make it the best, baddest boss it can be.  And, if you need a bit of a diversion there are three mini-games that you can play to practice your hero-bashing skills.  Being an evil monster has never been so fun.

Join The Club

You start the game as a fledging monster, with but a few gold coins your name and the desire to wreak havoc across the land.  Initially you’ll just get to torture the population with basic hitting moves.  As you progress through the game you’ll start to evolve and learn new skills, and eventually get a stomp move, flaming breath, and other nifty tricks.  Some are generic and some are dependent on your evolutionary “chasis”.

As you gain experience you’ll unlock new base creature types that you can evolve into.  Each type comes with a unique stomp move and special attack.  Plus, they all look different.  You’ll be able to mix and match things like eyes and hands, but it’s the body selection that gives you a particular power.  You’ll also get to buy things like weapons, armor and hats to improve stats like attack, defense and speed.  Keep in mind that all equipment effects all stats, so don’t choose something just because it looks cool.

I Need A Hat

Throughout the levels there will be items you can pick up to help you defeat the good guys.  Things like cows, poison barrels and exploding robot princesses do some decent damage as you pick them up and roll them through the crowds.  Should you happen across a real princess you’ll definitely want to scoop her up – that’s how you recover your health.  You may not finish a level the first time through, but you get to keep any gold you’ve earned for the level and you can continue the level from where you left off.  Or, you can go back to a previous level to earn more money and try and level up.

The levels are full of good guys just trying to make sure you have a bad day.  You start out with your typical knights and archers.  As you progress you’ll start getting things like ninjas and cannons, and my personal favorite so far, the guy that looks suspiciously like a Link knock-off.  Each has a slightly different means of attack – some long range, some short range and a couple with both.  In the end, however, they’re all going to do everything they can to hit you as much as they can.

Where'd The Big Monster Go?

The controls are easy to understand but not always easy to execute.  To move left or right you touch and hold the respective side of the screen where you want to move.  To attack you tap the screen, and to do a power attack you swipe horizontally towards the side of the screen you wish to attack.  To dodge you swipe from top to bottom, and to pick things up you swipe from bottom to top.  The problem I have with swiping motions in general when it comes to games is that it tends to prevent you from getting any sort of rhythm or flow.  It will be interesting to see how the D-pad option in their next update alters the game play.

The graphics in Wackylands are wonderful.  Everything is bright and colorful and finely detailed, and the animation is pretty decent as well.  I love the little touches like furniture on the lawn or UFOs in the background beaming up stuff.  The variety of different accessories is also neat.  It’s fun to swap out weapons or armor or even creature types and see how it affects your creation.  The cutscenes are great as well, capturing the “look what my kid drew” style that every parent knows oh so well.

Have Fun Stormin' The Castle

The sound effects are good, but there’s too much repetition.  Noises like the knights make when they are running are classic Saturday morning cartoon sounds, and the screams when people get lit on fire are hilarious.  Every single character makes the same noise, however, which is pretty disappointing given the range of adversaries you face.  It’s obviously not crucial to game play, but distinct sounds make the world seem more alive.  The music is decent, but it’s pretty standard fantasy fare.  The truth is that you won’t notice it that much when the action gets hectic anyway.

Wackylands Boss is a nice twist on the traditional side scrolling action game.  I’m not sure that there’s really innovation in mechanics or anything like that, but it is fun being the big, bad boss.  Not to mention the fact that it’s the rare game where you can play dress-up and still feel like a man!  The graphics are top notch, the sound is amusing, and the creature evolution is pretty neat.  This is just another notch in Chillingo’s ever lengthening belt of App Store hits.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Super Blast 2 for iPhone

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

The developers behind Super Blast 2 first wowed me with their inaugural iPhone effort Bloomies.  It’s not that Bloomies was an outstanding game, but rather that they managed to keep me engrossed by a fairly basic plant simulator.  As a result I had high hopes for Super Blast 2.  What I got was a pretty typical shooter with graphical inspirations from Bloomies and some decent but “seen ‘em before” power ups.  Consequently, Super Blast 2 ends up not being much of a super blast.

It Slices And Dices

The game has no story and no help, so I guess you just have to assume that the guys you’re shooting are bad and that’s why you’re shooting them.  The format is certainly old school – shoot a bunch of minions, collect various weapon power ups, and ultimately face the boss on each level.  Power ups range from ninja stars to cool bolts of lightning, and if you collect three stars your ship temporarily transforms and you get nifty, powerful guns.  All power ups wear off eventually and there are no “levels” to a particular weapon, but enough power up capsules plummet towards you that you should almost always have a special weapon of some sort.

If you get hit by enemy fire you lose some health, which starts at 100 and drops to 0.  When your health gets to 0 it is game over.  You can pick up health capsules from time to time, but they generally aren’t worth the risk if they’re surrounded by gunfire.  You’ll mostly likely take as much damage as you get back from recovering the capsule.  There is another way you can die as well (I think), but I have as yet to figure out what’s causing it.  All I know is that sometimes I seem to all of a sudden perish even though I still had health left.  I’m not sure if it’s because getting hit by an alien is instant death or what, but it does happen from time to time.

There’s a nice variety of aliens visually, but other than the fact that some shoot and others don’t, there’s not much difference between them in how they act.  They move in basic patterns either back and forth (the shooters) or heading down towards you.  What gets you is when you have a bunch headed towards you so you can’t deal with the ones at the top that are shooting at you.  You are stuck at the bottom and can only move back and forth via tilt control, and firing is automatically done for you.  Consequently, you don’t even really feel like you’re participating all that much in the game.

Electrifying Personality

Super Blast 2 supports both OpenFeint and Game Center for leader boards, and at least OpenFeint for achievements (I haven’t checked Game Center yet on this front).  There are only 10 achievements in OpenFeint, but it appears that at the rate I’m going it’s still going to take me a while to earn them all.  Don’t even get me started on how poorly I’m ranking on the leader boards so far…

On the plus side, the graphics are very nice indeed.  The backgrounds are detailed and have a nice range from jungle all the way to outer space.  Some of the weapons wield some pretty cool special effects.  As for the ships themselves, they actually look pretty slick as well.  Definitely not your typical vertically scrolling shooter style ship designs.  I will say that they remind me somewhat of mechanized versions of Bloomies!

The sound effects are pretty typical for this sort of game.  There are voiceovers once in a while that aren’t too bad.  I especially like the one in the beginning that says “prepare to fight” – it kind of reminds me of Killer Instinct or Mortal Kombat.  The music is well orchestrated and conveys a nice sense of urgency and adrenaline.  There are at least two different themes that I’ve picked up on so far, and I’d imagine that if there are others they probably sound cool too.

In the end it feels like Super Blast 2 was designed to cater to the same folks that play Bloomies, and I’m not sure that was the right move.  The game is very simplified as far as scrolling shooters go.  Given the excellent competition that exists for this genre on the App Store, I’m not sure what place Super Blast 2 will hold in months to come.  It’s not a bad game, it just doesn’t offer the same challenges and features that its opponents do, and there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before.

Final Verdict: On The Fence
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Quick Look: Song Shaker for iPhone

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Just take a look at games like Watermelon and Soccer Stealers and it’s obvious that GameGou makes every effort to separate itself from the pack.  Song Shaker is no exception to the rule, and in some ways it’s one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in quite a while.  Unfortunately, the same thing that makes it unique also tends to bog it down to the point where it can be as frustrating as it is fun.  GameGou has a good thing going with Song Shaker – I just hope they work on refining the control somewhat to turn an excellent concept into an excellent game.

The premise is simple – pick a song and shake the device to play the song.  It sounds easy enough, except that getting the rhythm down can be tricky, even if it’s a song you know intimately.  This is the reason I’m not keen on games that use shaking the device as a play mechanic.  It seems that sometimes the device will register a shake as two movements instead of one, and other times it doesn’t seem to register the shake at all, both of which will throw your rhythm off.  Add to that the fact that sometimes the songs might not be played quite like what you’re used to, and it can be a bit daunting trying to match the tune.  Fortunately you can listen to the song in full before you try anything, but there are a couple of songs I won’t even attempt.

Pretty Lights...

On the plus side, it’s easy to get excited when you “shake” a song well enough to earn a Fantastic and four stars.  The star concept is nice, but I think it needs to be fleshed out a bit, because right now you earn stars every time you complete a song, even if your most recent attempt was worse than your previous one.  Also, there’s no indication on an individual song what the maximum number of stars is you’ve earned for that song.  I guess at this point it doesn’t matter, but I think it could make things a bit more interesting if the stars actually did make some kind of difference.

The interface as a whole could stand to be cleaned up a bit.  When I’m playing a song, it would be nice if it said at the top of the screen what song I’m playing (that way if I’m really bad I at least know what my goal is supposed to be).  A “reset song” option would be nice as well.  If I’m in albums mode, hitting “home” when playing a song should take me back to the list of songs for that album, not the list of albums.  Finally, showing the max number of stars earned for a given song in the list would be nice, so I’d at least know which songs I’ve already done.

The visuals are pretty basic, but given the fact that you spend most of the time shaking the device you really don’t need much.  The interface for selecting songs is actually kind of cool, with a bit of a jukebox feel to it.  While actually playing a song you just get flashes of light, but once again, what else do you really need?

The only real “sound effects” are the clapping or booing depending on how well you do with the song.  Of course the main draw where the audio is concerned is the songs themselves.  For the most part I like the renditions of the various songs they perform, though a couple of them don’t sound quite right to me.  There were also a couple that I wasn’t real familiar with or had never heard at all, but we’ll just consider that a cultural experience!

This game has so much potential.  It’s a unique experience and would be entertaining to share with your friends.  I just really think they need to work on the shake mechanism a bit more.  I realize that part of the problem could be I’m just not very good at it, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I just think that depending on the song, the game has a hard time dealing with the rhythm in certain spots.  That can get real frustrating when you think you’re doing so well and suddenly you hear a bunch of notes strung together too quickly, or when you’re sure you shook the device yet no sound came out.  I wouldn’t necessarily shy away from the game, but the more fickle users will get aggravated with this issue.

Final Verdict: On The Fence
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Quick Look: Clock Blocks for iPhone

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

A lot of people were happy that Apple kept Flash off of their iDevices, claiming that Flash would offer nothing but junk to Apple’s tightly closed system.  While it’s true that there are a lot of mediocre and even bad Flash applications, given the right developer there’s also a lot of fun to be had.  80d Games is such a developer, and thankfully they decided to port their game Clock Blocks to the iPhone since it still doesn’t support flash.  This is a unique action-puzzle game that will capture the attention of the casual gamer and intrepid puzzler alike.

The objective of the game is simple – the screen is filled with block shaped clocks, and you need to clear them all off the screen in one chain reaction.  A bullet will strike one of the clocks on the left side of the screen, and you have until the clock’s hand travels a full revolution around the clock face to tap the screen and send the bullet to the next clock.  As long as you keep hitting clocks you keep going.  If you miss a clock you have to start the level over.  If a clock makes a full revolution you have to start the level over.

The game is all about timing and reflexes.  Not every clock moves at the same speed, nor is every clock the same size.  In quest and survival modes the clocks will be in different configurations on the screen, and in survival mode once a clock disappears another clock randomly appears somewhere else.  As a result there is no single strategy for beating a given level in a given game play mode.  When you’re playing one of the modes where the clocks stay away once they’ve been struck, it’s often a matter of luck hitting the final clock in the chain.

Clock Blocks has 3 game play modes.  In Quest mode you have to defeat 40 levels of increasingly complex combinations of clocks.  There’s no difficulty setting on this one, and thankfully you can always pick up at the first level you haven’t yet completed.  When playing survival mode you simply must keep going until you miss a clock.  Every time you shoot a clock another one will appear somewhere else, and the difficulty settings determine the size of the clocks, their spacing, and how quickly the hands revolve.  Finally there’s classic mode, which fills the screen with clocks and keeps a tally of the number of times you can completely clear a screen.  Again difficulty settings determine the size and speed of the clocks, though here the configuration is always nicely lined rows and columns.

This is one of the rare puzzle games where I actually enjoy all three game play modes.  Usually I tend to gravitate more towards the quest type modes, and while that’s still my favorite here, it’s easy to jump into the other modes for a couple of rounds of play.

Visually the game takes a minimalist approach, and it actually suits the game quite well.  There really aren’t any special effects in the game, and the smiley face when you beat a level or frowny face when you lose a level are actually kind of silly.  I do like the fact that as the active clock gets a shadow around it as your time runs out.  The sound effects are just as basic.  I am quite impressed with the music.  Each mode has its own theme, and they’re all pretty nice to listen to.

If you’re looking for a nice diversion between bouts of Cut The Rope or Angry Birds, Clock Blocks is just the game to fit the bill.  The concept is almost absurdly simple, the control is a piece of cake, and yet as the game gets rolling it can get quite challenging.  If you’re into pomp and circumstance you might be a bit disappointed by the lack of frills, but as far as I’m concerned the core game play more than makes up for it.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Go Usagi for iPhone

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Go Usagi brings us a variation of a nice little puzzle type we haven’t seen in a while: the “redirect to the exit” style puzzle.  The game features a bunch of cute little rabbits that are trying to escape, and often a group of mean (but somewhat cute anyway) aliens that are trying to stop them.  Everybody is in constant motion, and it’s your job to route the rabbits to the exit on each level while keeping the aliens away.  It’ll take keen observation and proper planning, but I’m sure you’re up to the task.

Redroom, Redroom!

Apparently a certain breed of rabbits called Usagi make a delicacy known as Mochi that aliens happen to crave.  The aliens traveled to Earth seeking the Mochi and will do everything they can, including killing the Usagi, to get it.  You don’t want to let that happen, so you need to help the rabbits escape the clutches of the nasty aliens.  It’s not just the aliens that will try and stop you either.  The levels are littered with walls that get in your way.  Then there are the lava pits that don’t treat the bunnies very well.  And don’t get me started on the switches – red to lower red blocks, and green to lower green blocks… but they raise the opposite color blocks as well…

There’s one other issue with this whole setup.  No one can seem to sit still!  The rabbits and aliens are constantly moving, and only stop when they run into objects or find the exit.  If an alien catches a rabbit, the level’s over.  If an alien gets to the exit before all the rabbits, the level is over.  And, if a rabbit falls into some lava the level is over.  The weird thing is that rabbits will always turn right when they hit a wall, and aliens will always turn left.  Thankfully you can use this to your advantage.

I'm so blue...

On each level you get several tiles with arrows on them.  All you have to do is drag a tile from the toolbox on the right side of the screen to where you want to place it in the level.  If it doesn’t work for you, drag it someplace else or drag it back to the toolbox.  I don’t know how well it would work, but one nice option might be the ability to double tap to put an arrow tile back.  Anyway, once you’ve placed all the arrows you want to use, tap Go and see what happens.  Thankfully you can replay a level as many times as you need to, and the game leaves the arrows in place between attempts, so you always have some point of reference to start from.

The key to this game is observation.  Before long you’ll find yourself watching how the level plays out before you’ve even placed your first arrow.  Then, even when you know the arrows don’t work where you’ve got them, you’ll still watch the same setup 3 or 4 times to see where you might adjust it.  If you just want to complete the game you might not need to be so thorough, but if you want to attempt to earn 3 stars on each level you’ll probably be doing this a lot.  You can complete a level with no stars if you just want to unlock the next level, but stars are based on the number of arrows used – the less arrows, the more stars you can earn.  For the average gamer you’ll find yourself replaying a level quite a few times to earn 3 stars.

Title Screen

The graphics are decent, if nothing overly exciting.  The rabbits and aliens look good, and the background for the most part is okay, but the pseudo-3D nature of the walls sometimes makes it hard to figure out where all the tiles are in crowded levels.  Also, since the exit is black and so are the tops of walls, actually deciding which tile is the exit can be tricky on occasion.  I do really like the title screen, which makes me wish there were a few cut scenes in the game.  There really isn’t a whole lot in the way of sound effects, and the music is enjoyable, though I’m not sure it fits with the game.  However, I’m willing to let that slide as I’ve become quite the fan of Kevin MacLeod’s work.

Overall this is a nice little puzzle game.  For hardcore puzzlers it might be a bit easy, especially since it only has 36 levels, but for the average gamer I think you’ll get plenty of play time out of it.  The game could use a bit more pizzazz, but being as it’s a puzzle game that doesn’t bother me too much.  It’s nice to play something that’s not a physics puzzler or some match 3 variant.  I’d definitely suggest giving this a try if you’re in the market for something a little different.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Vikings Row! for iPhone

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

There’s no denying that I-Play likes to take on kooky subjects when it comes to iPhone games.  Whether it’s the fowl antics of Pigeon Squadron, the “brutal” battles of Pillowfight Girls, or the disgruntled worker’s fantasy of Blend The Boss, I-Play has some odd games in their portfolio.  Vikings Row! is a great fit, then, as you take control of a Viking ship that must recover its lost booty after a night of drunken pillaging.  Unfortunately, in my case what could be a rather enjoyable experience tends to get marred by some unwieldy controls.  More talented gamers might find it acceptable, but I guess I’m proof that just because you play a lot of games, it does not mean you’re necessarily any good at them.

I still haven’t worked out the logistics yet, but somehow a bunch of big, burly men in a sturdy wooden boat managed to lose an entire night’s plunder.  Guess there was a hole in the bag?  Anyway, now that the crew is theoretically sober, it’s up to you to help guide them through 48 levels across 6 different worlds to recover all their gold.  It won’t be easy, as your path will be littered with whirlpools, rapids, and many things that make your ship go “ouch”.  There are a few things that you can safely run into or over, but most things will be happy to take one or more lives away from you, depending on how well you’ve gotten yourself trapped.  You start with five lives, and when they are gone you have to start the level over.

Follow The Seagulls

Follow The Seagulls

If the lives don’t get you, the timer will.  Each level is timed.  In some you get the time all at once, and in others you get a little time to start and must reach checkpoints to get more time.  On many occasions I have literally run out of time right before the finish line.  But wait, there’s more.  You must also collect a certain number of coins to earn a bronze shield.  If you don’t get at least a bronze you can’t pass the level.  You can of course earn sliver and gold shields as well, but I’m happy to get a bronze on most levels.

There really aren’t a whole lot of bonuses to be found in the game.  Once in a while you’ll come across a stash that gives you a significant bump in your gold meter.  You might also find extra timers even on levels that don’t have checkpoints.  The one bonus that is pretty cool is the Berserker token, which for a short time allows you to break through anything without getting hurt.  If you see this on a level, you should pretty much assume that you’re going to need it.

Dangers Ahead

Dangers Ahead

Now comes the part that I don’t get along with – the controls.  To move the boat forward or backward you swipe two fingers (down for forward and up for backward).  If you want to turn left, swipe down on the left side of the boat.  To turn right, use the right side of the boat.  To make a sharp turn you must swipe two fingers in a somewhat circular fashion in the direction you want to turn.  This is the main issue, because once you get going the “fast turn” is often hard to execute, only to finally be pulled off once you actually want to go straight again.  I have lost so many lives trying to execute the fast turns, and I’m almost 20 levels into the game.  Innovative controls?  To an extent, yes.  Practical for the craziness that ensues in some of these levels?  Not really.

The graphics in Vikings Row are pretty nice.  The top down perspective suits the game well, especially since you see very little of the Vikings themselves during the game.  There are nice little details like silhouettes of fish swimming in the water or birds or bats flying overhead.  I love the levels where you are in the whale and there is garbage floating past you.  Very authentic (at least what I’ve been told from every Saturday morning cartoon).

Mermaid Surprise

Mermaid Surprise

The sound effects are also pretty decent.  Nothing overly memorable, but nothing overwhelming either.  I’m a bit disappointed that there aren’t any comments from the Vikings as you’re sailing along.  There’s a lot of room for humor there, I’d think.  The music is nice, and fits the mood of the game fairly well.  It’s a tad ominous, but nothing overly brooding.

This game has so much potential, and I really want to say that I enjoy it.  I just can’t get over my frustrations with the controls.  You can replay any level to try and get a better shield, but the reality is that I’m so relieved when I finally pass a level that there’s no way I’d go back and play it again.  The concept, the graphics and the sound are all there, but the game almost becomes stressful when you’re trying to turn the ship and it’s just not cooperating, and a stressful game is not a fun game.

Final Verdict: On The Fence
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Quick Look: mScribble for iPhone

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I have one rule on my iPod Touch: I don’t use it to be productive.  That’s what my computer is for.  Generally speaking, though, I’m not really even into what I’d call “novelty apps”.  I usually just stick to games.  Every once in a while someone will ask me to take a look at something that’s not a game, and sometimes I actually bite the bullet.  In this case, I’m so glad I did.  mScribble is such a simple concept, yet it’s almost mesmerizing in what it does.  Plus, it’s just fun to play with.  It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

mScribble is an app for making music.  Unlike traditional apps that might emulate an instrument such as a drum or guitar, however, mScribble only requires one finger and the desire for you to draw on the screen.  You pick one of nine background melodies ranging from jazz to “Big Feet”, then you pick a “sound color” (your choices are blue, green, red and orange) and finally you tap start.  Then you just drag your finger across the screen and you’re writing a song!  When you’re done you can double-tap the arrow in the lower left corner of the screen to access a menu which will allow you to email the song you’ve just created to yourself or a friend.  Unfortunately this feature doesn’t seem to work on my iPod Touch 2G, otherwise I’d share a “composition” with you.

Scribble For A Song

Scribble For A Song

The left side of the screen is quiet and the right is loud, so you adjust the volume by moving back and forth.  This is just for your notes, not for the background melody.  Higher notes are at the top of the screen and lower notes at the bottom, so you can change the notes you’re playing by moving up and down.  If you just tap and hold on an area the note you’re playing will change as the melody changes.  Finally, you can adjust the vibrato by gently shaking the device, though that’s kind of hard to do while you’re playing music at the same time.

One thing I really like about mScribble is that unless you need to look at the pretty lights when you’re drawing you can effectively use this without staring at the screen.  It’s great if you’re embarrassed about messing with your device in front of people that don’t know what you’re doing.  As long as you use subtle movements to make the music, no one will even know you’re playing a game (unless you’re not wearing headphones, of course).

The main thing that’s missing from mScribble is a way to save and replay your creations on-device.  The email feature is nice (when it works), but it’s kind of shame that your only chance to do anything with a given song is when you first exit from playing that song.  A nice little file system at least showing the date the song was created, the length of the song and the background music that was used would be cool.  And of course the ability to email from archive and delete from archive should be there.  Still, for what the program offers it’s a lot of fun to mess around with.

As one might expect, the graphics are pretty basic.  Notes fly across the screen in a steady stream, and a line that’s constantly changing color follows your finger around.  There are, of course, no sound effects, as that would detract from the music.  There are 9 base tracks that you can choose from, and while none of them are really bad, you’re sure to find a couple favorites.  The nice part is that no matter which one you choose, it’s pretty hard to add a bad note on top of it with whatever algorithm they use to generate the music you “create”.

Those of you looking for high scores and leader boards need to look elsewhere.  Or maybe you need this as your bit of relaxation amidst all the stress of competition.  This is a great application to just pull out and mess with for a few minutes while you’re waiting in line somewhere or perhaps when that elevator is taking a bit too long to reach your floor.  And if you’ve got kids that love music, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have this application.  I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we might see a few more background tracks some day.

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
App Store Link
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[Note: since I wrote this review I've been in touch with the developer via Appular, and it turns out my problem with sending my songs out as emails is a combination of older device (iPod Touch 2G), older OS (3.1.3) and overall song size.  If all goes well the issue should be fixed in iOS 4.2, so if you've got an iPod Touch 2G and you're on the upgrade path you should be fine.  In the mean time, you can still send really short songs!]

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Quick Look: Drop Dead for iPhone

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

It’s not exactly like the iPhone is hurting for match 3 games, so each new one that comes to market needs something different to make it worth playing over all the other ones.  The funny thing is, I’m not really sure that Drop Dead has that “something different”, yet it’s still got me hooked.  The atmosphere certainly helps things along quite a bit, but maybe it’s just proof that sometimes “back to the basics” isn’t such a bad place to go.

In Drop Dead you play a guy running from zombies.  To escape the zombies you must feed them body parts, which is done by matching three or more of the same parts in a row.  You can either tap each of two adjacent parts to swap them, or you can drag the two parts to make the exchange.  From there you probably know how the whole match 3 thing works by now.  If you make a match of 4 parts you get an explosive version of that part which will blow up all parts adjacent to it when used in a match.  If you are lucky enough to match 5 parts you get a grenade that will destroy all instances of a part that it is swapped with.

Run Away!

Run Away!

Drop Dead has 3 different game play modes.  In Story mode you’ll race through 20 levels, each of which requires you to feed the zombie enough parts that it falls off the edge of the screen.  Once you’ve beaten a level in Story mode it becomes available in the other two modes.  In Endless mode you pick one level and your goal is to keep the zombie at bay for as long as you can.  The only quibble I have with this mode is that if you pick a lower level, the game should still speed up after a while.  Otherwise good players could find the lower levels truly endless.  In Impending Doom you will get caught, it’s just a matter of how many matches you can make before the zombie gets to you.

The big thing missing from this game is any sort of social integration.  I’d personally love to see OpenFeint since I’m still running OS 3.1.3, but Game Center would be better than nothing.  It’s kind of odd to see a game these days with a focus on scoring that doesn’t give you the opportunity to rub those scores in other players’ faces.  Obviously it’s not mandatory, but it sure would help this game a lot.

The graphics are really cool in a cartoony sort of way.  It’s funny because I often forget that the matching objects are body parts.  For instance, the spine part often reminds me of the neck of a guitar.  The real treat is the little window at the bottom of the screen that shows you running from the zombies.  There are a number of different zombie designs to entertain you, and the backgrounds are pretty cool as well.  It would be cool to see even more different zombie types based on the commentary of some of the levels, but what’s there is a great start.

The sound effects aren’t bad.  The one thing that’s really missing is any moaning and groaning from the zombies.  A zombie game always has to have moaning and groaning.  The music is decent, though it would be nice to have a few different themes to spread across the levels, given how diverse the settings are.  The music played at the main menu is actually more interesting than the in-game music, which sadly seems to happen a lot with indie games.  Not quite sure what makes the menu so appealing to give it the cool music.

Drop Dead is a nice little match 3 game with a cool zombie theme.  There may be nothing revolutionary about the mechanics, and it might even seem like a step back in some regards, but I still found myself clicking next each time I beat a level to move on.  There are definitely some improvements that could be made, but given the cheap price tag you shouldn’t feel gypped for what you get.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Dice Tower for iPhone

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

There have been a number of tower building games on the App Store, allowing you to build structures with everything from standard brick and mortar sections to sheep!  I think this is the first one I’ve seen that uses dice, however.  Plus, instead of being a game of reaction and timing, it’s more about planning and strategy (with a little bit of luck thrown in).  If you’ve got a craving to keep rising higher and higher, Dice Tower might be the breath of fresh air you’ve been looking for.

2 Pair

2 Pair

Dice Tower is a game about building towers.  As you might have guessed, these towers will be built from dice.  The key here is that the number on the dice makes all the difference in the world.  For the first layer you can use any dice you want except wild card dice.  For any layer after that, the die placed at a given location must either be the sum or the difference of the two dice below it.

There are two exceptions to this rule.  The first is if the two dice below the position are the same, in which case the die can have the same number as those two dice.  The second is if there is only one die below the position.  Then the die you are placing must have the same value, twice the value or half the value of the die below it.  It’s a bit odd to describe on paper, but it works quite well in practice.  Also, don’t worry if your math skills aren’t the best.  As long as you can add and subtract between the numbers 1 through 6 you’ll do just fine.

To help you along the way you might roll a wild card die, which can be used for any number.  In addition you might get an extra roll, more time (on the timed mode), or a treasure that gives you a random value of up to 1000 points.  On the flip side, you could get a die for less time, one that randomly removes dice from the top layer, and one that destroys everything in your hand.  If you get the bomb and lose the contents of your hand, that could be game over if that was your last roll.

Everything is executed via drag ‘n drop.  The control is quite responsive, but sometimes it’s hard to tell where you’re placing a die.  This is especially true if you’re trying to store one in the chest, which is an area that lets you keep a couple dice from your hand as spares before you re-roll.  Rolling is a simple matter of tapping the cup in the bottom right corner of the screen.  Everything else is handled automatically, and power ups (or downs) are used as soon as you get them, with the exception of the wild card die and the free roll.

Almost There

Almost There

There are three game play modes in Dice Tower: Casual, Time Attack and Endless.  In Casual and Time Attack you must build each tower to a certain number of floors starting with 6 rolls per tower.  The main difference between the two modes is that on Time Attack each tower is timed.  In Endless mode you start with 10 rolls and keep on building until you run out of rolls and dice to place.  Endless mode requires the most strategy early on, because if you’re not careful about placing your dice you might use up your rolls a lot sooner than you’d like.  I’m not normally a fan of endless scenarios, but I like the heightened strategic element in this one.

The game isn’t overly flashy, but it looks really nice.  The playing field has a clean layout, everything is easy to read and it’s perfectly clear what’s what.  I like how a little platform slides out for you to roll the dice on.  It’s also pretty sharp when a special die zooms in off the rolling area and then the symbol stays for a second while the actual die fades away.  The little effects like that which are scattered throughout the game give it a nice touch.

The sound effects are decent enough.  A die roll sounds like a die roll and so forth.  The audio is actually a bit more subdued than the graphics even.  The music is nice except for the fact that every song sounds like it’s just a few bars constantly being repeated.  As a result it kind of gets monotonous after a while.

If you’re looking for the splash of games like Digital Chocolate’s Bloxx series, you won’t find it here.  Instead what you get is a stylish yet humble presentation over a unique take on the tower building genre.  If you need some twitch reflex action, you probably want to look elsewhere.  If you’d like to exercise your brain a bit (while still relying on the occasional bit of luck) then Dice Tower is a good choice for you.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: The Secret Of Grisly Manor for iPhone

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

While waiting for a developer friend of mine to get me an ad-hoc copy of one of the games he was working on, he sent me a promo code and said “Here, give this a try.  It’s an adventure game a friend of mine wrote.”  I didn’t know the name or anything, but I trust his judgment (and I’m not known for turning down a free game), so I popped the code into iTunes and the screen came up letting me know I had redeemed a code for The Secret Of Grisly Manor.  Sounds cool enough, I thought.  I had no idea.

What's In The Trunk?

What's In The Trunk?

You start out receiving a package from your grandfather telling you to come find him at his manor.  Once you arrive you must solve one puzzle after another to find your grandfather and the secret his is trying so desperately to hide.  There really aren’t any instructions to the game, but anyone that’s played a point and click adventure game in the past 20 years will feel right at home before long.

There are several rooms within the house to explore, and you’ll even journey out to the shed and an old tree stump in the back yard.  Given that the house was just a decently sized structure and not a sprawling mansion, the developer did a good job of making sure there were enough puzzles to keep you busy.  On the plus side some of the puzzles did make you think, but there really wasn’t a time where my brain-wheels were spinning like crazy trying to solve something.

You Got The Time?

You Got The Time?

As a result, the overall game is not very long, especially if you’re a seasoned puzzle solver / adventure gamer.  As luck would have it, however, the game length is considerably extended due to the fact that you have to traipse back and forth between some rooms several times before solving a puzzle.  Well, there’s that and the fact that it feels like you’re constantly waiting for scenes to load.  Despite these issues, I was drawn in from the beginning and didn’t want to put the game down until I had completed it.  The only other drawback was that the ending, while somewhat interesting, was kind of a letdown given all you had to do to get there.

This is a straightforward adventure game with no mini-games to be found.  That basically means everything is a “tap to operate” type affair, so you won’t have any issues controlling the game.  There also aren’t any twinkles or real hints as to what you can interact with, which means in a couple of cases you end up “hunting and pecking” your way through a scene, though once again it’s not as bad as it sounds.  There is no concept of a hint system in the game, though it doesn’t really seem to need it.

A Tree Stump... With A Hole

A Tree Stump... With A Hole

The graphics in Grisly Manor are wonderful.  Everything is nicely detailed, and while there’s not a whole lot going on in this manor outside of you, there is some animation when appropriate.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more of an intro / ending, maybe done up in a comic panel style format, but what’s there is very nice visually.  The sound effects enhance what they’re sounding off about, but nothing really stands out.  Hearing the grandfather’s voice at the beginning and end would have been nice.  The music is actually really good, and definitely gets you in the mood for exploring the manor.

This game was a surprise, but ended up being one of the good kind of surprises.  Despite its short length and load times, it’s an enjoyable old school adventure with plenty of puzzles and enough mystery to keep you hooked until the end.  If you’re an adventure game fan, this is one you don’t want to miss.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Tappi Bear All In 1 for iPhone

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

When TaPlay sent me a code for Tappi Bear All In 1 I wasn’t really sure what to do with it.  None of my kids are allowed to use my iPod Touch (it stays intact that way), and I wasn’t really interested in a kids’ game.  However, I’m a big fan of TaPlay, so I thought I’d give it a shot anyway.  It turns out it’s actually kind of fun, and I could definitely see how little kids could get into it.  I can’t really compare it to any other kids’ games on the iPhone since I haven’t really tried any, but as it stands I’d say this is definitely a game you can feel good about your kids enjoying and while it’s not technically “educational” they can learn some stuff about things like timing, time management, and observation.

The game is actually a collection of 5 Tappi Bear games that are all available separately on the iPhone: Space Rush, Donut Dance, Donut Ninja, KungFu Battle and Tap Tap Jump.  I would expect that as more Tappi Bear games get created this collection will get updated as well, so if you think even one or two of them sound worthwhile you might as well save yourself a bit of home page space and get the collection.  Honestly, I actually find several of them mildly amusing, and I’m a far cry from a kid.

Space Rush

Space Rush

Space Rush is a simple “dodge the asteroids” style game.  You move back and forth either by swiping or tapping the left and right sides of the screen.  Personally I find the swipe method more precise.  The playing field is broken up into three lanes, and you need to make sure Tappi Bear is always in the empty lane (unless of course there’s a donut in the lane, then you want that one).  The problem with using the tap method is that a tap will often move you more than one lane, resulting in some bad stuff happening.

Donut Dance

Donut Dance

Donut Dance is a memory game where a group of bears will dance around, passing a donut between them.  When the music stops you have to pick the bear that’s holding the donut.  It sounds easy, but as the group gets bigger and the donut goes faster it gets hard to follow along.  This is my least favorite one, mainly because I’m no good at following quick moving objects, especially when there are cute dancing bears to watch!

Donut Ninja

Donut Ninja

Donut Ninja is cool just because the concept of a bear ninja tossing donuts is so funny.  You don’t control Tappi, but rather you just tap the bad guys to throw donuts at them.  The bad guys are descending towards you, and if one of them passes your defenses and gets to you it’s game over.  The real catch here is that some bears have numbers on them, and you must hit those bears the number of times on their shirt plus 1.  This game actually is somewhat addicting, and it can actually get crazy when multiple bears with numbers are coming at you.

KungFu Battle

KungFu Battle

KungFu Battle has you guarding a pile (and by pile I mean 3) of donuts from evil bears.  You simply tap left to attack to the left and right to attack to the right.  The thing with KungFu Battle is that you must have both timing and patience.  If you miss you are stunned for a second, and that’s all it takes for a bear to steal a donut.  Apparently I don’t have timing or patience, so I’m not very good at this one, though I do better than at Donut Dance.  Thankfully the music on this one is decent so I don’t mind trying a few times to get it right.

Tap Tap Jump

Tap Tap Jump

Finally there’s Tap Tap Jump, which kind of reminds me of NinJump just with cute bears, cute birds and donuts.  You basically jump back and forth between two vines, trying to get as high as you can.  The longer you press your finger before releasing the more powerful your jump, but if you wait too long the game will be over.  The game also ends if you hit a bear or bird.

The nice thing about these games is that you can pretty much play them with one finger, though games where you move left and right are a bit easier to use one finger for left and another for right.  They’re also easy to understand yet still entertaining, so they should work quite well for the younger set.  You might also get the slightly older ones interested, though they may not admit it.  You’d probably be pushing it for teens, though!

The graphics are nice, and will definitely hold a young child’s interest.  Everything is bright and colorful, and even though you can tell the bad guys from Tappi Bear they aren’t intimidating in any way.  The images are detailed yet not overly so, kind of like a nicely drawn PBS cartoon.  The animation isn’t bad either.  Sometimes it feels a bit stiff, but that might actually be on purpose.  Whatever the case the visuals are pleasing.  The sound effects are decent, and certainly suit the game, but there’s nothing overly exciting going on there.  I do quite like the music, though certainly some of the songs are better than others.  Ironically enough, my least favorite song is the one from Donut Dance.  Go figure.

Overall Tappi Bear All In 1 is a nice collection of games for kids.  It’s also a decent collection of games for the parents to secretly load up for a few minutes after the kids have gone to bed.  Now don’t get me wrong – if you don’t have kids then even if you find the games amusing you’re probably not going to be playing it for long, though for 99 cents that may not bother you.  However, for those of you with kids this is definitely a game to consider purchasing.  There’s plenty of variety in the five included mini-games, and hopefully with enough purchases they’ll be encouraged to keep expanding the collection.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Jewels Maker for iPhone

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

I have this bad habit of volunteering my reviewing services simply because a developer is asking for people to take a look at his game.  As a result, I often don’t necessarily know what I’m getting myself into beforehand.  As it turns out, what I’ve gotten myself into with Jewels Maker is a fun, frustrating and addictive game all rolled up into one.  It’s games like this that make me glad I tend to be impulsive and greedy when it comes to picking up games for review.

The premise behind the game is simple.  You control a ball that collects jewels, and your job is to collect all the jewels of a certain color on a given level while avoiding all the jewels of the other color.  As you collect jewels your ball grows bigger, and as your ball gets bigger you’re able to collect bigger jewels.  If a jewel of the wrong color suddenly becomes small enough for you to collect it will change colors so you can grab it.  The goal is to collect enough jewels to grow your ball by 10 levels.  Once you’ve done that you’ll get 5 seconds to collect as many jewels as you can for extra points (they’ll all be the right color at this point), and then you move on to the next level.

Hole In The Middle

Hole In The Middle

Unfortunately there are only 15 levels, because I think I’ll be sad once I’ve beaten them all.  Of course, the developer has made sure that task isn’t so easy once you get into the hard set.  The problem is that the difficulty doesn’t really come from the levels themselves, but rather the control.  All you have to do is tilt the device to move the ball.  There’s no option to calibrate, however, and sometimes it seems like it takes an awful lot of effort to get the ball to switch directions.  There’s a speed option, but make it too fast and the motion of the ball is jerky, and making it too slow pretty well guarantees you won’t be making many necessary quick turns.  And to top it off screen rotation isn’t an option.  Screen rotation happens automatically and usually at the worst time.  The controls really need to be tweaked a bit.

The levels really don’t get interesting until half way through the game, and even then the most complicated seems to be four squares connected by walkways with skimpy borders around the edges to encourage you to fall and an occasional hole in the middle of a square.  Variety is key here.  It would also be nice if the game did something different like maybe switch up the “good’ color every now and again within the same level.  That would certainly throw the player for a loop.  Despite all these critiques I definitely think there’s something going on here.  I’d just like to see the developer take the game from being fun and strangely addictive yet average to something that can really stand out from the crowd.

Surrounded

Surrounded

While not at the level of games like Hydro Tilt or Aerox, the graphics in Jewels Maker are decent.  The colors and patterns can be a bit garish, but nothing is overwhelming.  The ball looks like a big marble, which is actually kind of cool, and the jewels look decent.  The sparkle when you hit a jewel is a nice little touch.  The sound effects are workable as well.  Where the aesthetics stick out, however, is in the music department.  There are three tunes: one for the menu, one for the main game play, and one for the bonus time.  I don’t know if they were composed specifically for this game or if they were chosen from a site of the internet or what, but however you look at it the music is great and in an odd way really suits the game.

I’ve played better ball rolling games, but I’ve certainly played much worse.  The truth is that amidst the game’s brevity and issues it has a certain charm that can’t be denied.  I really hope the developer continues to enhance Jewels Maker, though, because I do believe that given the right amount of love and care it could become one of the top tier ball rolling games.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Monster Dash for iPhone

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I have a new addiction on my iPod Touch, and it’s called Monster Dash.  I almost bought Canabalt at one point, but thankfully I decided to try the flash version first. While the visuals were dynamite, the game play was just like all the rest of the run and jumps.  Like any other genre, new iterations of this style of game play need to have something a bit different to remain interesting.  Along comes Monster Dash, and suddenly we have that something different – weapons and monsters to take the brunt of those weapons.  Amazingly, it’s a simple addition that makes all the difference in the world.

You take on the role of Barry Steakfries, and your mission is simple.  Run as far as you can and take out as many monsters as possible before your demise.  You will not win, but you can have a whole lot of fun in the process of dying.  You’ll travel between four realms, fighting vampires, mummies, zombies and demons every step of the way.  You’ll also have the opportunity to collect a few weapons including “the Pacifier”, which shoots a bullet all the way across the screen, and the machine gun jet pack, which literally propels you in the air as you rain bullets on the bad guys below.

Let's Do The Dash, Let's Do The Monster Dash...

Let's Do The Dash, Let's Do The Monster Dash...

You’re constantly running, so all you have to worry about is jumping by pressing on the lower left corner of the screen and shooting by pressing on the lower right corner of the screen.  Initially you’re shown buttons for these two actions, but I think you can hit anywhere within the general location of each button to perform the action.  You’ll automatically pick up weapons when you run into them.  Your main gun is limitless but doesn’t have a very good range, and all the rest of the weapons have a small amount of ammo.  I would encourage you not to horde, however.  It’s much easier to get rid of the monsters whenever possible so you have more room to jump around.

There are two ways to die – fall down a pit or lose all your hearts.  You lose a heart if you get hit by a monster or run into the various traps protruding from the ground on occasion throughout each level.  Every level has a heart on it to replenish one hit, and if you’re health is full when you hit that heart you’ll actually get an additional heart added to your health meter.  Your score is based solely on how far you run, and each 1000 meters you’ll be teleported to a new world.  The game uses OpenFeint for leader boards and achievements (there are 25 altogether), and you can also post scores to Facebook and Twitter.  The one thing I’d like to see if they do some updates is a couple of new worlds.  I love the ones that already exist, but more variety is always good.

Mr. Zappy Is Electrifying

Mr. Zappy Is Electrifying

The graphics are great.  The overall style reminds me of an updated version of an old Apogee shareware game.  The characters look cool and each has their own death animation.  My favorite is the vampire, which looks like it bursts into a bunch of bats upon death.  Even your own character crumbles into a pile of bones when he dies.  The special effects are pretty slick as well.  When you get hit the borders of the screen go red (I know it’s an old trick, but it still looks cool).  When you use Mr. Zappy everything goes dark and you can temporarily see your skeleton.  The backgrounds are very nicely drawn too, and each had nice little touches to represent the creature of the land, like pyramids on the mummy level.

The sound effects are a perfect compliment to the visuals.  Every weapon has a unique sound, and there are enough little ambient noises that the world doesn’t feel dead (though for all intents and purposes it is!)  The only thing missing are some amusing quips from the hero.  I could easily see Barry being the next Duke Nukem with some creative catch phrase.  The music is quite catchy and really helps get the adrenaline pumping.

There’s no question in my mind that Monster Dash is the premiere run and jump game on the App Store right now.  The visuals have a “modern 80s shareware” look to them, the audio is very well done, and the game itself is just plain fun.  I just wonder what the next run and jump developer is going to have to do to kick the genre up a notch again.

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
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Quick Look: Lorax Garden for iPhone

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

If you’ve ever played the game Flower Garden (see my review here) then you’ll feel right at home with Lorax Garden.  And well you should, since Oceanhouse Media recruited the fine folks that developed Flower Garden to bring this particular tale of Dr. Seuss to electronic life.  I rather enjoyed Flower Garden, and personally I think Lorax Garden one-ups that product by feeling a bit more like an actual game.  I’d still call it more of a simulation, but it’s entertaining, it’s good for kids, and it might just be the best non-ebook Dr. Seuss product on the iPhone to date.

Grow A Truffula Tree

Grow A Truffula Tree

The Truffula tree forests have been decimated, and it’s up to you to help the Lorax regrow them to their former glory.  To accomplish this you must raise trees and plants using the intuitive interface designed for Flower Garden.  At the bottom of the screen you have a pot, and at the top of the screen is a water meter controlled by a watering pot.  When working on a tree you’ll fill the meter to the right edge of the green, and then let the tree grow and use up some of that precious liquid.

Growing plants is a bit more complicated.  Each plant growing session is timed, so you will only get so many plants per session.  The watering meter has an “overwatered” level on the right that you don’t want to reach (it’s yellow in color).  Weeds will also sprout up which you must pull by dragging them out of the pot.  Weeding is actually kind of fun (within the context of Lorax Garden only), and feels kind of like a mini-game.  Any plant grown successfully during a session will earn you a heart that can be used to help grow trees more quickly.

Once a plant growing session is over or a tree is fully bloomed, the foliage will be removed from the greenhouse and relocated to the garden you’re working on.  Each garden has its own set of requirements in order to be completed, and you can opt to completely regrow a garden at any time.  As the game progresses you’ll earn more types of seeds for plants, as well as unlocking characteristics of the trees that will let you customize them to your will.  The one thing I would like to see is the ability to position the plants and trees in the garden yourself, sort of like how Bloomies works.

Show Off Your Gardens

Show Off Your Gardens

Lorax Garden looks pretty sweet.  At any time you can go back and view any of the gardens you’ve completed, which really look like they came straight from a Dr. Seuss book.  When you’re actually in the greenhouse it is fun to watch the plants and trees grow in 3D.  The contraption that lets you specify the characteristics of the tree you’re planting also looks like a vintage Dr. Seuss gadget.  The sound effects are decent enough, with the gentle patter of rain as you water your foliage and background effects that shift from the howling winds of a deserted landscape to the lively chirps of a populated garden.  The only thing missing is some soothing background music.

I’m still not 100% sure I’d classify products like Flower Garden or Lorax Garden as games, but Lorax Garden certainly comes closer in that regards.  Whatever the case might be, it’s fun growing plants and Truffula trees, and it’s always nice to see the fruits of your labor as you gaze upon a loving regrown forest.  And, if you’ve got kids this would be a great game to play with them.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: Chuck Gnome for iPhone

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I’m not really sure where to begin with this game.  Sure you’ve seen something like it before, but nothing quite like it.  It is gnome slinging, target hunting fun that’s addictive and frustrating and captivating all at the same time.  The hero is a garden ornament, the villains look like paper cutouts, and the overall feel makes you want to believe it’s a kids’ game.  I can assure you that there’s enough challenge for the kid at heart trapped inside an adult’s body, though.  If you’re looking for a unique, entertaining experience involving short bearded men and big rubber bands, you need to get this game.  The rest of you ought to check it out as well.

The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest

I really wish this game had a story, because it’s just the kind of game that needs one.  Not because it would make the game any better, but because given the overall look and feel of the game, a story would be both amazing to look at and funny to read.  Since there’s not one, my best guess is that you’re trying to save a princess, since one of the levels is entitled “save the princess”.  I have some deductive reasoning skillz, that’s for sure.  You do this by employing one of the greatest weapons to ever grace a video game – a giant sling shot and a gnome.  Not even any old gnome, mind you, but Chuck Gnome.  I think his middle initial is D, though it’s never clearly stated.

I know Angry Birds did it first, and there’s even some argument that the birds are more amusing, but there’s something so prolific about hearing the war cry “Chuck Smash” in a high pitched voice that can’t be beat.  Regardless, your sole purpose is to pull Chuck back in the slingshot and let him go, hopefully hitting one of the many targets that litter the screen at any given time.  The first level is practice, so it’s filled with mundane things like clouds and trees.  There’s an additional cloud level to be unlocked when you beat the first one (appropriately called “First Flight”), but that level is just insane.  The other unlocked level right from the start is “When Ogres Attack”, and while this is much simpler than “Cloud Buster”, I still can’t figure out how to beat it.  But at least you get cool things like ogres, flaming balls and birds that look suspiciously like one of the characters from the aforementioned “other” game.

The ultimate goal of each level is to defeat enough of something so that you can expose the key, which you also have to acquire by chucking Chuck at it.  The problem is that I can’t for the life of me figure out what the trigger is to finding the key in each level.  I’m pretty sure it has something to do with full moons and the position of your hand over the iPhone antenna, but I can’t prove it.  I’m actually quite shocked that I beat First Flight, and even more so that I actually managed to expose the key two different times (I missed it the first time).  I still haven’t deduced the “last straw” for finding the key on “When Ogres Attack”.

Which brings me to another point – you might be tempted to look at the fact that there are only six levels and say “that’s not much”.  It may not seem like much, but unless you’re an expert Chuck chucker you’ll get your money’s worth simply by playing those levels again and again until you find the key each time.  Plus, rumor has it that the developer is already readying the next two levels for an update to follow soon after the game’s initial release.  I’d be a lot more excited if I thought I’d ever actually see those levels in my lifetime.

Controlling Chuck is a simple matter of dragging him and letting go when he’s in the proper position.  Thankfully you have Chuck Vision, which is a nifty line that shows you the arc he’ll take when flying through the air.  Do keep in mind, however, that the obstacles will be moving all the time as well.  You also have to remember to grab Chuck towards his head, because if you grab too low not only will he get uncomfortable, but you won’t be able to make a very big launch arc.

Storming The Castle...

Storming The Castle...

The graphics in Chuck’s world are fabulous.  The design is such that you feel like you’re watching a puppet show, but of course you’re the main character.  Nothing is overly detailed, but it’s still clear that a lot of work went into making everything look distinct and consistent.  The colors are both vibrant and brooding when they need to be, and it’s fun watching Chuck smash against a mountain or twist an object when he lands on it and his weight spins it around.  I also love how the backgrounds change around as you progress through each level.

The sound effects are decent, though truly the weakest part of the game.  Everything you hit makes a cha-ching, which sounds fine for a target, but not so great for a nasty ogre.  The thump when Chuck hits a hill or something should have been a bit more pronounced as well.  On the other hand, the Chuck-isms are great.  There aren’t many, but they make me smile every time, I’m sure partially due to the helium-inspired sound of Chuck’s voice.  The music is very well written and has an epic quality to it, which almost doesn’t fit the overall mood of the game… or maybe it does.  Either way it’s wonderful to listen to.

* Breaking News * – I finally managed to complete the “When Ogres Attack” level.  I’m not telling, though, so you can suffer just like I did!  Anyway, if you haven’t gathered by now, I’m rather enjoying this game.  I think you will to if you give it a chance.  If you’re really dead set against it, maybe they’ll at least come out with a soundboard app so you can play “Chuck Smash” to your heart’s content.  I know I would.

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended
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Quick Look: Steamballs for iPhone

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Recently I’ve lauded a few developers for taking the match 3 genre “back to its roots” and finding new ways to make the base concept interesting instead of mashing genres for the sake of diversity.  In comes Steamballs from IDW which not only follows this same trend, but then goes and turns the genre on its head with unique game play.  The difference here is that Steamballs really adds an element of strategy to the match 3 concept, so for those who like the fast pace of games like Bejeweled, you might not be so thrilled with the mechanics.  For me, however, it is a noteworthy departure from standard game play that still manages to retain the flavor of match 3 and makes it fun for a different mindset.

Here Comes The Lightning

Here Comes The Lightning

The object of the game is to make matches of three or more balls of the same color.  Sound familiar?  That’s about where the similarities between Steamballs and regular match 3 games end.  Instead of some sort of playing field filled with objects, the game board is comprised of a series of tubes at the top of the screen that contain the balls, and a series of scales at the bottom of the screen.  Your job is to swipe the balls from the tubes one at a time to rest in the scales below.

Furthermore, you have to balance out the scales such that three or more balls of the same color line up in a row in order to make a match.  Each regular ball has a weight, and as you drop the balls on the scales the total weights for each arm are displayed under the scales.  The cool thing is that as long as three balls of the same color match at a given point it counts, so as the scales are adjusting to balance the weight at any given time you could make a match.  This is the only way to get points for your matches.  If there are balls touching the matching row that are of the same color, they will disappear as well.  There are no diagonal matches in the game, and vertical matches must consist of at least 5 balls of the same color, which will disappear but not award you with any points.

In addition to the normal balls there is a variety of power up balls.  Some balls will get rid of other balls when they are dropped.  One ball changes the color of all balls on an arm to the color of the ball underneath the power up.  Another ball gives you bonus points when you make a match with balls that are touching the power up.  There are a number of different power ups at your disposal, each having great merit when used wisely.  Overall this game is much more strategy based than most match 3 games, and has a slower pace as a result.  I find it to be quite refreshing.

The controls are real simple in premise – drag the active ball back and forth to move between tubes and swipe downwards to launch the ball towards a scale.  Seems simple enough, but I often find that due to the relatively narrow tubes my ball is not in the right spot when I launch, which I don’t realize until it’s too late.  Ideally an undo would be nice, but if nothing else maybe an alternate way to drop the ball so that you can move your hand out of the way and be sure you’re in the right position.  On the other hand, I do like the fact that you can tap on a ball to get the details about what it does.  This feature seems a bit sensitive, though, as it tends to pop up a lot more frequently than I ask for it.

A Steam Bomb!

A Steam Bomb!

While not as slick as certain other offerings like Gold Keeper or Jump-O-Mania, the visuals in Steamballs definitely have a charm about them.  The whole steampunk atmosphere is cool, and the effects correlating to some of the power ups are pretty sweet.  One thing I will give them credit for is that so far I have not had any issues mistaking one color for another, which seems to be a common problem with matching games that rely on the same objects with different colors.

The sound effects actually suit the game quite well.  The power ups that emit steam or electricity sound pretty good, and there’s a useful if not potentially annoying alarm when you’ve got at least one column too close to the top.  The noise made when rows or columns are match is rather interesting as well.  The music for both the menu and in-game are nice, but I think I like the menu music a bit better.  The in-game music sounds a bit like the background to a detective mystery, while the menu music is just cool.  I don’t even know how to describe it, but I could listen to it for a long stretch without getting bored.

There’s no question that Steamballs ups the ante as far as what’s possible for a match 3 game without resorting to mixing with other genres.  The game still feels like a match 3 game, yet there’s enough strategy involved that it’s also something completely different.  If you’re a match 3 fan that’s not afraid to try something different, or someone that isn’t necessarily into match 3 games already, you definitely need to give this game a try.  For everyone else, try it anyway.  You might just like it.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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Quick Look: iSlice Cut It Up! for iPhone

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

When I first saw the screen shots for iSlice I thought it looked kind of like a bizarre Qix clone.  The reality is that iSlice is more like a Qix evolution, and honestly I find the game a lot more fun.  It definitely gets frustrating at times, but in the end there’s a great feeling of satisfaction for completing each level, especially if you can solve it in the required number of slices to get a gold medal.  Of course, there are times where you’re just happy to complete a level.  Either way it’s both challenging and entertaining, and it has a nice audio / visual presence as well.

The Signpost Up Ahead

The premise behind the game is simple.  Each board is a shape, and you have to cut away at that shape by drawing a line from one edge of the shape to another.  A successfully drawn line will cause part of the shape to fall away, and when enough of the shape is gone you’ve beaten the level.  The trick is that each board has a number of balls bouncing around in it, and you can only get rid of parts of the shape that don’t contain any balls.  If both sections of the divided shape have balls in them then nothing changes.  If a ball hits the line while you’re drawing it, the shape will be completely restored and you’ll have to start over again.  To add to the challenge, some of the shapes have partially white boarders.  You can’t draw a line through the white boarders, so you have to go around them.  In order to complete a level you must remove a certain percentage of the board.  Thankfully there’s no time limit, so try to plan your moves wisely.

Controlling the game is simple.  Touch the screen where you want to start the line, then drag to where you want the line to end and release.  If the line is successful you’ll see one of the two sections fall away.  If both sections have balls in them you’ll hear a distinct noise and nothing happens.  The levels are extremely well designed, though I’m not sure the difficulty is balanced very well.  It seems like I’ll often get a really difficult level followed by a level I can beat on the first try.  It would also be nice if they had a “beginner” level where you didn’t have to remove such a high percentage of the level in order to win.  On the plus side, if you do complete the levels there are three different medals you can earn, so if you have the patience there’s plenty of replayability as you try to get the gold medal on each level.  It appears you can only retry a level until you decide to move on to the next one, however, so to add to the replay factor a level select screen would be awesome.

I love the visual style in iSlice.  The background elements are a mixture of what look like cardboard cutouts and counter cross-stitched objects, and the playing field mimics the cross-stitch style.  The playing field is also a recognizable object that fits with the theme of the background.  There’s even a nifty little life saying written on each of the objects.  The sound effects are simple but fitting.  A snip sound means you’ve successfully sliced the object, a light tapping means it didn’t work, and a thump indicates you’ve hit a wall.  The endearing sound of shattered glass says that your line has been shattered by a ball.  The music has a bit of a bluegrass edge to it, and at first makes you feel like you’re in a Countrytime lemonade commercial.

I’m pretty impressed with iSlice.  Technically the game is simple to play, yet there’s no question that it provides a nice challenge.  The levels are beatable without getting too agitating (most of the time), and you always feel good about completing one.  The visuals are slick and the music is good, though it would be nice to have more than one song.  If you’re looking for the next challenging casual game, this just might be it.

Final Verdict: Recommended
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