Pix’n Love Rush Review

Pix’n Love Rush Review

May 31, 2012

Pix’n Love Rush is a game that celebrates all things retro. Retro-style pixels are everywhere in this multi-variate platformer.

The meat of the game is the Classic Rush mode, where players navigate short platforming sections, with the goal being to collect coins and kill enemies, while not scrolling off the screen, and avoiding the angels. High scores are the goal, and the way to get them is by keeping combos going, by collecting coins and destroying enemies all in a row, without hitting the negative coins, or hitting enemies, which decreases the combo by one level. Killing all enemies and collecting all coins in a section grants a 10000 point bonus that can be multiplied. Keeping an x10 bonus is the way to get high scores, but with the tricky level layouts, this is not easy.

The other modes are more basic and all involve different auto-running mechanics. Cursed Rush has players trying to navigate one of 5 extremely difficult auto-running platforming sections. Rainbow Rush lets players jump up, and they must try to avoid the walled parts of the 4-tier playing field. Finally, On-Off Rush has players running one direction to collect sun pieces while the sun’s up, then flipping around to collect moon pieces when the moon’s in the sky, while trying to avoid the other type of piece. Combos in this mode go toward collecting extra time.

The game is a must for anyone who loves retro 80’s gaming style, because it is chock-full of it. It’s not just the pixel art, the way the graphics shift also recall classic video game consoles and even the original Game Boy and Virtual Boy. Yes, the Virtual Boy, lest we ever forget the time when Nintendo made us see red, and then not see anything because the thing blinded us. The wide variety of game modes ensure plenty of replay value, along with the fact that they’re built for repeat play and high score chasing.

Controls are the issue here; the virtual buttons are small, and I regularly mis-hit buttons. Larger touch-enabled areas and even Bluetooth controller support would help out a lot with this. It’s a shame, because the controls were less of an issue in the iOS original; ironing these out is all that stands between me and a full recommendation for this game. Still, for those willing to deal with some occasional control hiccups, this is a retraux masterpiece.

Theme Thursday: WOOD

Theme Thursday: WOOD

May 31, 2012

One surefire way to add a touch of elegance to any theme is to put a nice dark wood background. The folks at Lucky Art obviously realize that and have provided us with the best hardwood theme for GO Launcher aptly titled WOOD. The provided wallpaper is easily this theme’s strongest asset as the deep browns really pop, and they are just amazing. Unfortunately, I immediately recognized the background as simply a manipulated version of a black and white hardwood wallpaper that I used to employ as my wallpaper and actually have for my ChompSMS background. While this is a little disappointing it does not affect the overall quality of the look. Lastly, the dark background to the dock adds a nice sunken effect that will really add a lot to character to any home screen.

Easily the most perplexing part of this app is that it comes with absolutely no icons. Zero. Initially I was shocked and re-installed the app thinking there was a problem, but what the developer’s intended was to use GO Launcher’s default app selection and then utilize an attractive sunken square slot for all the other icons. I cannot decide wether this should be applauded for its efficiency or derided for its laziness because the default GO Launcher apps actually work very well in WOOD’s theme. The problem is GO Launcher does not come with very many icons, just enough to cover the basic phone functions with not even a Facebook icon.

This theme is best kept minimalistic on the home screen as the bare wood works well with a favorite text clock or something simple. Also, this is a darker theme so I would recommend using the transparency theme for GO Widgets. In conclusion, anyone looking to add the nice touch of modern hardwood to their phone should look no further than WOOD for GO Launcher by Lucky Art.

KickStarter Spotlight: Always Outnumbered

KickStarter Spotlight: Always Outnumbered

May 30, 2012

There probably is not a single gaming genre that has been copied into oblivion quite like tower defense. Hundreds of developers were quick to snap onto the simple and addictive formula and soon app stores were flooded with mediocre tower defense games. Well, a promising hope for the future is carried by SRRN Games and their re-envisioned, multiplayer oriented tower defense game, Always Outnumbered. The biggest thing Always Outnumbered offers is dedicated multiplayer that was built right into the game from the beginning. Everything about this multiplayer has purposely been stripped down to the basics. Players have no control over their autonomous waves and the only thing that is in their control is when and where they place those life-saving towers. Too many games offer a complex, menu oriented tower upgrade system that does nothing but directly bump up damage or speed statistics. In Always Outnumbered the tower upgrade system is handled by three attributes that can be upgraded up to three times a piece. These are combined into a more in-depth attribute tree and these upgrades will be accessed by a simple radial map that removes all clunky menus and confusion. All these customization options add up to a crazy number of different towers and SRRN Games has estimated that there are over 100 different tower combinations for each of the three factions.

Another important part of this game for SRRN is establishing a solid backstory that could potentially be carried on to future games and really draw in the players. The story centers around a girl who is fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It might not be the most original premise ever, but I give the developers credit for at least making a discernible effort at establishing a credible backstory. As it stands now, this game needs a lot of help from the internet to get going. With only a week remaining SRRN still needs to raise just under $166,000. But there is no reason to panic, all it takes is a little publicity for these projects to take off and I hope everyone at least gives the page a look because the great people over at SRRN deserve a hand in delivering a breath of fresh air to a stale genre.

SmartShift Lockscreen Review

SmartShift Lockscreen Review

May 30, 2012

Many applications out there help make life easier. The problem is, most applications only serve one function, or can only do more with the help of other applications specifically made to help them. Well, for fans of location-based applications, SmartShift Lockscreen is a must try.

Android devices can use applications like Tasker and Locale to help change settings when certain criteria are met such as arriving at work will silence the ringer and shange your wallpaper to something more work appropriate. Well, SmartShift Lockscreen is a lot like that without being complicated like Tasker.

After the install, hitting the home button will ask what Home Screen Launcher to use. There may be an additional window asking which home application to use. Select SmartShift Lockscreen as the default. Once the default is set, go to SmartShift Lockscreen and open it. There is a tutorial talking about all the cool things it can do and how to make changes to the skins. After the tutorial, SmartShift Lockscreen needs to be started. There is a small on/off button in the top right of the window. Once it is started, situations can be made.

A situation is the specific things changing when other criteria are met. For example, a situation could be the settings for night time when the ringer doesn’t need to be on and the screen can be more dim. Another can be setup for when the device is on a unsecured Wi-Fi while traveling.

There are other settings needed to make SmartShift Lockscreen change automagically. There is a Places tab that can track the GPS location of the device to know when to change the situation. When at home, set up a place marker there. Also set up the office as a Place so SmartShift Lockscreen can change the device settings when it senses that location.

The next way is to use the Planner. This is a calendar to be preloaded with events like work schedules and bed times or typical driving times. Adding these appointments to the Planner will change to the desired situation when the date and time arrive overriding the other settings.

This is one of those applications that are wildly useful after a little bit of setup. Planning the week in advance will mean there will be no need to worry about being “that guy” in the meeting whose phone goes off at the worst time possible.

Trainyard Review

Trainyard Review

May 30, 2012

Matt Rix’s iOS puzzle hit Trainyard is now on Android, courtesy of the Noodlecake Games “Game A Week Project.” This game kicks it 19th century style, with players tasked to manage train routes in order to get them all safely to the gates. However, the challenge comes from the fact that all the trains are different colors, and they must all go into the correct train station. Oh, and sometimes the trains that come out don’t match the colors of the stations, or there are more trains starting out than slots in the stations. However, trains can’t crash, per se: they can mix colors, and merge into fewer trains.

The game becomes a tricky mental exercise, where plotting and timing of routes must be used in order to figure out how to solve the puzzles. Yet, the game is oddly addictive, and trying to solve one puzzle to get to the next becomes irresistible. The game looks great on both phones and tablets. For those that hate artificial content unlocking systems, there’s the ability to unlock all puzzles at once in the options menu.

The only real issue with Trainyard is the controls: it can be difficult on a phone to make the accurate path drawing that is necessary, especially since the player’s finger obscures where a path is, and making a wrong curve is easy. It gets a lot easier on tablets, just because of the fact that the squares are bigger, and paths are easier to formulate. However, the overlapping paths become tricky to make because the latest path made goes on top, so working from beginning to end is made more difficult because secondary paths wind up coming first, which can mess up a puzzle. Switching them is easy, by double-tapping on the path, and it may be better than any control alternative, but it’s still just not easy to use.

Trainyard may be tricky to control, but it’s still fun to solve its many difficult challenges. The game is available on both Google Play and the Amazon Appstore, and this feels like it would be perfect on the Kindle Fire.

Magic Academy Review

Magic Academy Review

May 29, 2012

Magic Academy is a puzzle game that involves multiple kinds of puzzles with a wide variety of levels. Each level starts out with a dialogue in a cut scene fashion. The main character, Irene, is on a quest to find her sister,Annie, who disappeared from the Magic Academy. Irene finds out only a person who knows magic can find her sister, so she is talking to other characters about what challenges are ahead.

The first level asks players to compare 2 pictures and find the differences. Some of the differences are pretty subtle. The levels are timed so there is a sense of urgency, but in the beginning, there is a lot of time given.

As the game progresses, the objects needing to be located are hidden better. The item needed might be a mouse. There will be a mouse toy a living mouse to choose from. When trying to select the object, make sure to tap the right thing. If too many taps are not on the correct object, there is a penalty of 20 seconds.

As each level in Magic Academy is completed achievements are awarded in the form of a trophy. The achievements aren’t much more than the markers along the plot. The trinket awarded is something will lead the character to their missing sister.

While the game is slow moving compared what some people may be used to with other games, the story is good and the game is quite challenging. There are over 20 levels of different puzzles to keep the mind muscles in good shape.

To save from paying for the upgrade after playing a couple of levels, simply sending a tweet or a Facebook update about Magic Academy will unlock more levels to play. Once the first 3 levels are completed, the choice is yours.

Does The Xperia Play’s Lack of Ice Cream Sandwich Signal the End for the Gaming Phone?

Does The Xperia Play’s Lack of Ice Cream Sandwich Signal the End for the Gaming Phone?

May 29, 2012

It appears as if the end of the line may be coming for the Xperia Play. After last year’s announcement that there were no immediate plans for a followup to the phone, now it seems that a full release of Ice Cream Sandwich won’t be coming to the phone.

While a beta version was released, and custom ROMs are available, the fact that Sony appears to be ceasing development on the phone does signal that the end is near. Gingerbread is still a ‘modern’ OS of sorts, considering that the majority of Android phones still run that 2.3 OS.

If this is the end, it’s a shame. The phone did a better job at attracting exclusives and developer support for an external control standard than any other phone or device. This may be in large part due to Sony promoting the phone. The Xperia line is continuing, and the lack of a gaming-focused phone, at least one that continues Play controls support, seems like a curious omission. For fans of mobile gaming who can’t get over touch screen controls, the eventual demise of the Play without a successor will leave a definite gap in the market.

Degrees: A Weather App for Canadians!

Degrees: A Weather App for Canadians!

May 29, 2012

I do not live in Canada. I live in South Texas, where there is no need to check the summer temperature, as it is either hot, really hot, or really really [censored] hot.For our friends north of the border, summertime may bring a variety of weather. There’s an app for these Canadian folk, and it’s called Degrees. This app provides stylish ways to view the weather anywhere from Vancouver to Saskatoon. The app was developed for both iOS and Android, which may explain the stylish, monochrome look.

Degrees supports the viewing of multiple cities on one screen. Want to see what the weather’s looking like in Newfoundland? Disgruntled Expos fan that wants to be able to taunt Toronto that while they may still have baseball, Montreal has better weather on this day? Go for it! Planning a trip north of the border but can’t quite understand Celsius? The app supports Fahrenheit as well! The app is available now from Google Play.

Squids Review

Squids Review

May 29, 2012

If Angry Birds has taught us one thing, it’s that pigs can’t be trusted. But given that Animal Farm taught us that decades ago, it’s probably best to pick out a second lesson: people can’t get enough of a control scheme that sees them pinging critters around with swipes of the touch screen. Squids, an arcade RPG-lite kind of game, uses this increasingly popular mechanic to great effect.

In a bright colourful undersea world, players manage a squad of squids in an adventure to save the land below sea-level. Each of the 22 levels sees the team having to get from one end of the map to the other, taking on enemies as they move along.

In general, movement and combat are one and the same. The player pulls back on the squid they want to move, and either fires them into space or into an enemy. Knock into an enemy hard enough, and you’ll take down their health metre a bit – or better still, send them flying off down a hole for an instant kill.

So far, so soggy Angry Birds, but what really sets this apart is the skills of each squid, and the fact that they level up as time progresses allowing boosts in health, attack, defense, stamina or their special skill. It’s not exactly Skyrim, it certainly adds a bit more depth to a fun concept.

The controls are pretty effective for the most part: forgiving enough, while still allowing the player to feel proud of pool style potting of enemies. Smaller screens can feel a little fiddly at times, and did cause a couple of accidental deaths, but for the most part it works well enough, and the satisfying moments more than outweigh the occasional frustrating bits.

While it’s a paid app on iOS, Squids is free to download on Android. It does allow players to buy extra pearls (found by exploring the world and defeating enemies) in order to level up quicker and to buy power ups, like the powerful kraken that will appear and weaken every enemy on screen. In my experience though, spending money isn’t essential, which is exactly the way freemium should be. You get experience points from every retry of a level, so even struggling players should be able to muscle past the game’s difficulty spikes with time.

Aside from the difficulty spikes starting around level 11, the only other real weakness with the game is its repetitive gameplay. Although there’s real strategy to it, the levels are all about exploring, or surviving for a certain amount of rounds. There’s not a great deal to separate most of the levels apart.

Still, it’s hardly the first mobile title to suffer from being slightly repetitive, and everything else is in place. Despite some minor teething problems, Squids is an original concept that’s well worth trying. When it has its tentacled grips around you, it’s very difficult to slip away from its charms, and Android gamers should be thrilled that a premium app is available to play through free of charge on their handset.

Spacetime Studios Hangs Out, Discusses Dark Legends Improvements and Upcoming Arcane Legends with Us

Spacetime Studios Hangs Out, Discusses Dark Legends Improvements and Upcoming Arcane Legends with Us

May 29, 2012

Recently, I got to participate in a Google+ Hangout with Cinco Barnes, Chief Visionary Officer at Spacetime Studios, and several other journalists, discussing Dark Legends. We broached a whole range of topics, finding out about new tweaks and features coming to Dark Legends, along with some early details on Arcane Legends.

Probably the biggest takeaway from the Hangout was that the energy system originally introduced will be radically modified in new updates. Most importantly, the ‘actual’ gameplay levels will become free to play as far as energy goes. This should help a lot with keeping players immersed in the game, especially as now players replaying earlier levels can more easily stick with ad hoc groups that form up. Because energy was frequently used up by the map’s story missions, this meant that only small groups would come together – and they would frequently disband.

While other changes to the energy system should be incoming, particularly as Cinco Barnes claimed that it was there primarily as a balancing tool, rather than just a monetization incentive, this should dramatically change and improve the game. It should dramatically change the pacing: now longer play sessions will be possible without expending energy.

The other big reveals from the Hangout were about Arcane Legends, the next game in the Legends series. This should take some of the combat mechanics from Dark Legends, and return the series to more of a fantasy-inspired setting. Oh, and there will be no energy system in this game. No real release date is available yet. However, do not expect development of Arcane Legends to slow down content additions for Dark Legends or past games at all.

The full Hangout footage is embedded below. We discuss other topics, including our general thoughts on the game and series as a whole. Vampire teeth get involved! Plus, hear about how Star Legends could have had space vampires. The full cast includes myself (see me adjusting my headphones at random intervals!), Ashley Esqueda of G4 and Techfoolery, H.B. Duran of GirlGamer.com, and Beau Hindman of Massively.

The Hills Are Greener: Because Amazon May?

The Hills Are Greener: Because Amazon May?

May 28, 2012

The “Because We May” sale that started recently may seem like an odd reason to have a sale, possibly even a meta-sale of sorts – a sale celebrating that we can have sales when we want! But there may be an Android-related reason behind it.

Ron Carmel of 2D Boy mentioned to Gamasutra that they were in negotiations with a store that had “draconian demands on pricing control.” Now, while it’s possible this could be for something else entirely, here’s what the likely scenario seems to be:

  1. World of Goo is 2D Boy’s biggest product, and much of their visible work over the past few years has been to bring the game to as many platforms as possible.

  2. World of Goo is on Android, and has been on sale on Google Play and through the Humble Indie Bundle. It is not on the Amazon Appstore.
  3. The Amazon Appstore has notable demands on pricing – including guaranteeing that they have the lowest price, and wanting their own controls over the price of apps on the store.

Put it all together, and it seems as if this is the obvious reasoning for the sale.

The problem is that this winds up being a double-edged sword for developers. Kindle Fire is a lucrative platform to be on. But to be on its preinstalled store, it requires agreeing to Amazon’s terms. While it’s definitely possible to sell to that device’s users and distribute through another store or to self-distribute, it pragmatically becomes a choice between principles and profit.

The developers participating in Because We May have a point. Developer freedom is a necessity, and they’re ultimately the ones that provide the content, so they should have control over how much they want to sell their games for. On Android, Amazon can fluster developers, because not only have they splintered off, but they’ve created a policy that benefits only Amazon.

Will these indie developers change the mind of Amazon and of companies like Microsoft who notably restrict developer control over pricing? Unlikely – and in all fairness, they may want to prevent a race to the bottom, and keeping developers from dropping prices to 99 cents with desperate fire sales may be for the best. However, Amazon’s policy is solely in place to guarantee that their own store has the lowest prices. The stores should be looking out for the developer, not trying to take advantage or them, and this is an interesting issue that Because We May has brought to mind.

Google Adds In-App Subscriptions to Google Play, With Fewer Restrictions Than the App Store

Google Adds In-App Subscriptions to Google Play, With Fewer Restrictions Than the App Store

May 25, 2012

Google Play just added a new subscription option for in-app payments. While this is something of a catch-up move to the App Store, which has offered in-app subscriptions for the past year, there’s a key difference here in Google’s approach versus Apple’s. See, Google is promoting their subscription with Frontline Commando by Glu, which is obviously a game. However, word from the App Store side of things is that Apple only wants publications to use their subscription API. This is why the new space strategy MMO Empire of the Eclipse requires that their subscriptions just be bought with individual in-app purchases, there’s no recurring billing available.

So, with Frontline Commando being the game that Google is showing off with in-app subscriptions, it’s apparent that they’re going to leave this more open to developers to use how they want. For example, there’s a recurring currency addition subscription added to some Glu games. This means developers can count on some steady sources of income along with in-app purchases.

As well, subscriptions will be extendable outside of Android – an HTTP-based API will allow for subscription content to be accessed through a desktop browser, for example. This does show the difference in Google’s approach versus Apple’s. Apple really wants to try and curate the store to their whims, and they’re willing to leave developers in a lurch by denying them access to a feature that would make sense. MMO games could really use the in-app subscription API. If there’s a concern about abuse or people racking up subscriptions, then Apple could address this, perhaps by prompting a user when their subscription is up if they haven’t loaded an app in some amount of time. As it is, it’s just a silly restriction, and one that Google is willing to be more open with, and even opening up an interesting new avenue for games to be monetized. It also gives Google Play a leg up on the Amazon Appstore for the time being. Support is starting to roll out to devices with Google Play 3.5 and above installed.