Android Rundown’s Look Back at 2013: Why Roguelike was the Big Genre of the Past Year…and the Future

Android Rundown’s Look Back at 2013: Why Roguelike was the Big Genre of the Past Year…and the Future

Dec 31, 2013

If there was any genre that took off in 2013, it was the roguelike. So many games felt like they took up this moniker, even if it was somewhat inaccurate. Roguelikes are typically defined by having permadeath and procedurally-generated levels. Beyond that, there’s the pure “Berlin Interpretation” of games that adhere strictly to the tenets set forth by the original game Rogue and others in the canon, as determined by a conference of roguelike developers who met in 2008 to form their ultimate definition. However, so many games have become roguelike-likes, employing roguelike elements to different genres, especially Spelunky which exploded on PC this year. Some people prefer to define the genre in a different term: procedural death labyrinths. This genre-free definition conveys the three core elements that these “roguelike-likes” share:

  • Procedural level generation (i.e., generated algorithmically, not using fixed levels by and large)
  • Permanent character death for the player character, though many games use continuing elements
  • Environments with traps and hazards to survive

But no matter what they were called, it seemed like many developers, especially on the independent side, wanted to take their spin at these types of elements.

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Why the genre wasn’t bigger on mobile is kind of baffling because it’s absolutely perfect for the platform. It’s built to be highly replayable and often features play sessions that are short but get longer over time as players get better. Why, then, has the roguelike revolution taken place on PC, and not mobile?

I predict that 2014 will be fruitful for the roguelike on Android. There’s already hints that FTL will come to tablets after its successful PC run, Sword of the Stars: The Pit should be on mobile in 2014, and it sees fit that Spelunky‘s got to inspire a mobile clone at some point, eh? There’s been some random Android games that work well in the roguelike mold, but the real breakout hit has yet to come.

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Until that moment arrives, here’s a few roguelikes from the past year or two to chomp down on:

Quadropus Rampage: This is a great example of a game that is perhaps more inspired by roguelikes, perhaps being a PDL hack ‘n slash, rather than a true “roguelike.” It has the permadeath, procedural level generation, and general “dungeonness” that exemplifies the genre, but all in the wrappings of an isometric hack ‘n slash game. As well, there are plenty of persistent elements – from the boss Pete to permanent stat upgrades. It won’t fit the Berlin Interpretation, but it’s definitelya great game that adheres to some of the genre’s conventions.

Hoplite: This roguelike is extremely simplified, but it is quite fast-paced for a turn-based game, and is a great way to dive into the genre and its rewards without delving into the overly-complex elements. A great introductory piece.

Cardinal Quest: Another fast-paced roguelike, but one with a bit more depth and length than Hoplite. Still, it’s well worth checking out for those who want a good, mobile-friendly introduction to the genre.

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Delver: This first-person roguelike takes some inspiration from Minecraft visually, but tons of challenge. It’s on PC as well as Android now, and is still expanding today.

NetHack: This port of one of the games of the roguelike canon has been updated from its ASCII art graphics to something a bit more visual. But hey, the original challenging gameplay is still here. Good luck with that.

Happy dungeon crawling! See you in the next year and the next life!

Get Ready for a Nice Scuttle in Space with the Upcoming Android Version of Shuttle Scuttle

Get Ready for a Nice Scuttle in Space with the Upcoming Android Version of Shuttle Scuttle

Dec 31, 2013

Ready for a nice scuttle…in space? The retro-inspired Shuttle Scuttle has been announced for Android by developer Embraceware. Featuring Asteroids-esque gameplay with NES-style graphics and a soundtrack by “Pretty Eight Machine” composer Inverse Phase, this previous iOS and Mac release will find a welcome home on Android. The game is being beta tested for the many vagaries of Android devices right now, with an initial public release planned for January 2014.

Stay Alight Review

Stay Alight Review

Dec 31, 2013

Stay Alight is a great physics-based game. The goal of Mr. Bulb is to free the very polluted world of the green microbes who took over the undersea where he lives. The quick explanation of the game is Mr. Bulb tosses a little bit of light at the little green guys. The direction and velocity of the light is user controlled. That’s the hard part.

Stay Alight-5The first couple of levels are a tutorial. I thought some of the directions were a little harder to understand. There are just fingers displayed on the screen indicating which way to tap the screen. Other than that, the controls for the game are pretty easy to use. As the game progresses, there are different weapons available. While this makes Mr. Bulb’s job a little easier, other obstacles make it more difficult. Things like bushes will actually absorb the light limiting the ability to get a ricochet like desired.

There’s only a limited number of light bursts available to throw. The less used the better and the more points earned. Many times there are ways to hit multiple green guys with one light throw. Sometimes it’s throwing a light burst at a barrel or corner of a platform will results in a chain reaction backing out several enemies.

I understand that they need to make money, but the ads interrupting gameplay are a little inconvenient. I would almost rather have them in a bar at the top or bottom of the screen. Or even if it placed the ads in between levels, that would be less intrusive. Where the advertisements are placed, it really wrecks the flow of the game. Making a purchase is the only way to eliminate the advertisements.

I really like the graphics and even the music in the background is not too bad. The controls are pretty easy to use, they are just a simple tap and drag style. There were few instances where placing a finger on the screen inadvertently made it hard to readjust the angle and power of the light burst.

This great physics puzzler is worth checking.

Big Win NHL Hockey Review

Big Win NHL Hockey Review

Dec 31, 2013

Big Win NHL Hockey continues the somewhat popular Big Win series of managerial sports games. Is it worth playing?

Big Win NHL Hockey is somewhat like a sports management game, without the sharp edges. Players gain control of a team of very poor players and are given a little money and attempt to build a world class team. For the first time in a Big Win game, Big Win NHL is officially licensed by the NHL and features real players.

Screenshot_2013-12-29-05-51-00Big Win NHL Hockey is based around cards. New players and stat boosters for them come in packs of cards the player can buy. Many card packs are available for both in game and premium currency. There are also power up cards that can be played during a match, and boost certain attributes of your team, such as shot power.

During a match the player has no control at all. Games can be skipped with no penalty. Like other management games such as Football Manager Handheld 2014, Big Win NHL is about management, not playing hockey.

Screenshot_2013-12-29-06-54-50However, the management side of the game is nearly non-existent. The only managerial feature is ensuring the team has good chemistry. Chemistry makes the whole team play better and can only be raised by recruiting players from the same real life team into your team. Unfortunately the completely random method of player acquisition makes this complete luck.

Like other Big Win games, the fun of Big Win NHL Hockey comes from finding the next great player or card and watching the team wipe out the opposition with it. The slow burning nature of the game makes acquiring new players satisfying.

Big Win NHL Hockey suffers from the same major downside of other games in the Big Win series, namely that players often make poor tactical decisions and there’s nothing to be done about it. Whenever it’s forwards screwing up the simplest passes or defenders taking shots from half the rink away, there are a lot of times when players just give away possession or otherwise mess up any chance of winning. This is frustrating to watch.

There also seems to be a problem with matchmaking. Nearly every time I attempted to find a game I was matched up with players who were level 70 or above and unbeatable with my lv 5 team. The Rivals at War series by the same developer had great matchmaking, so it’s a mystery why this is the case here. This is a real problem in Big Win NHL because levels are only gained by winning games.

The game’s presentation is rather dull as well. Players are small and poorly animated in game and while the sound gets the job done, some effects such as body checks lack impact.

Big Win NHL Hockey is really not worth playing. While having real players is a big step for the series, the oppressive microtransactions and some poorly implemented mechanics make it a very poor game.

Matchagon Review

Matchagon Review

Dec 31, 2013

Matchagon is a match-3 dropping block game from Tinytouchtales.

The game gets high marks for simplicity and invoking familiarity. The playing grid is coated in stark white, and the 2D stylings kinda remind one of Tetris. The playing pieces are octagon shapes, and are different colors, mostly soft pastels, with a sharp purple here and a dark blue there. These 6 or 7 colors drop one by one from the top of the playing area randomly, with one visually on deck.

The white playing area can take these playing pieces five playing pieces wide and six deep, and by dragging, it is possible to pick the lane a particular piece drops in; the idea is to use the matching powers of same colored pieces to prevent the playing grid from being completely filled. match1

When three or more pieces of the same color are stacked vertically, they combine to become a powerful combo piece. When a diagonal or horizontal line of colors is formed, they explode for points, and all the pieces around the disintegrated ones obey simplistic laws of gravity and fill the vacated space. If a combo piece is used in one of the sets, more points are gained, and it is possible to create a super combo piece by stacking three sets of three pieces of the same color. If and when the area is completely filled, the run ends, and the final score is tallied.

The gameplay is patient, but challenging at the same time. the randomness of the dropping pieces does create situations in which ad hoc strategy has to be created an adjusted in a play or two. the gameplay comes into two flavors, normal and hard. The hard playing level is set apart by the addition of an extra black piece,which are dead shapes; they just occuoy space, and create gaps that need to be played around.

For a simple brain teaser, this game hits the spot. The graphics are not going to cause George Lucas envy, but the gameplay doesn’t really need any extra sass to resonate.

It just works.

Meltdown Review

Meltdown Review

Dec 31, 2013

Meltdown takes the isometric action game and applies a cool feature to it: casual online co-op.

Really, the premise is quite simple: players control a space marine who’s shooting robots that get in his way, collecting coins and other baubles along the way. Coins and chips collected can be used for upgrades, of course. XP is earned and unlocks new skill points for players. Players are outfitted with two weapons and a melee attack. It’s all pretty familiar action game trappings, for better or for worse.

The Android version of Meltdown is free-to-play, and while coins, chips, and 1ups can all be obtained in-game, they are easier to get via purchasing, of course. As well, the game makes it so that levels have to be completed in order for any loot to be retained, so those 1ups become rather important no matter what. Chips are uncommon, and are required for weapon upgrades. So, long-term players might want to prepare to drop a few bucks down on the game to keep up with the Joneses.

What Meltdown succeeds at is two-fold: one, it exists as a game that is great with a controller, but still feels playable on a touchscreen. The use of multitouch and gestures to make the control scheme work is really quite ingenious; it also probably encourages players to play more cautiously than they would if they have a controller, because using cover is a bit more intuitive in that way. But still, the game is great with a gamepad.

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The other thing this game does is to solve the real-time multiplayer problem on mobile: the co-op play is very casual, allowing strangers to drop in quickly to help finish a level, or for friends to find a game and help out. It allows for the kinds of short sessions that mobile reuires, but it doesn’t restrict the kind of fun that real-time multiplayer can provide. And shooting hordes of robots is more fun with others. The loot system provides each player with their own spoils, so there’s no competing over who gets what, which is important because hey, lag can be a concern with people all over the world on wireless connections. Oh, and it’s all cross-platform.

While Meltdown is a little generic, it carries out its mission statement well.

Elemental Kingdoms, A New Tactical TCG, is Released

Elemental Kingdoms, A New Tactical TCG, is Released

Dec 31, 2013

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From the developer Perfect World Entertainment, comes a new trading cards game, Elemental Kingdoms. It contains three game modes: castle building, dungeon exploring, and actual card battles. The battles look somewhat like Magic, which is a good sign, and contains more than 200 cards to play with. It can be downloaded from here: Elemental Kingdoms on Google Play.

Sensei Wars Review

Sensei Wars Review

Dec 31, 2013

Sensei Wars looks to shake up the stale city builder genre with a few innovations. Does it differentiate itself from the recent glut of wannabe Clash of Clans games?

Sensei Wars differs a great deal from other city builders in that you are given a leader or Sensei to lead your town. This warrior is the only one that can be directly controlled in combat and his skills and strength make him a vital part of gameplay.

Screenshot_2013-12-20-23-33-53A sensei can pick from three schools of skills that make him better at attack, defence or healing. This also affects what skills he can learn. For example, an army might have either a tough hero that rushes into combat with the men, or one that isn’t as strong, but heals everyone around him, giving the whole army more staying power. This is a fantastic idea and really opens up the game’s tactical options.

While the sensei is very useful, a large part of Sensei War’s gameplay still revolves around building a thriving town, recruiting a big army and crushing your enemies. Mines and farms produce resources that can be spent on upgrades for your buildings or troops. Troops come in many flavours from the basic melee Monk to tough samurai and swift archers.

Screenshot_2013-12-20-15-21-16Sensei Wars looks excellent, with some stand out animations. Combat looks frenzied and even the most basic units ooze personality. Your sensei also looks great in combat as he walks around smacking enemies and there are tons of little details like how you see children skipping around the town and farmers labouring away in their fields that make you feel more like you’re building a bustling town of warriors. Sensei Wars has some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a freemium game of its type.

The sound is similarly impressive. The roar of battle sounds good and there’s plenty of loud melee sounds to give combat some feeling.

Unfortunately the stink of freemium is strong in Sensei Wars and tries its hardest to ruin what would otherwise be a great game. Timers are everywhere and some of them are incredibly long. The game is so rich and deep that spoon feeding it to the player at such a glacial pace is very frustrating and will turn many off the game.

Sensei Wars is very similar to games like Clash of Clans and Total Conquest, but avoids being a soulless clone by the merits of its unique sensei system and amazing amount of personality. It’s worth checking out if you like your city building with a strong dose of RTS and role playing.

Get Ready for War Daddy: War Harder on Ouya, from the Creator of Death Ray Manta

Get Ready for War Daddy: War Harder on Ouya, from the Creator of Death Ray Manta

Dec 31, 2013

Are you ready for the War Daddy? I don’t think you are. I was ready for it. I downloaded it on my Ouya, I knew Rob Fearon (aka @retroremakes) makes games that encapsulate the feeling of chaos into one playable package. But perhaps War Daddy, with its lovably rough aesthetic, was something I just could never be ready for.

After all, the subtitle is War Harder.

This is a top-down shooter, controlled with the joystick and a single button for firing. Enemies spawn from the UFOs on all sides of the screen, and bullets come in in spread-out formations. And in great number too. And they’re glowing. And the enemies are many, and distracting. Survival is…a challenge.

Rob Fearon does not make boring games. Whether they bore you in their play or not, that’s your opinion, but his games are always visually busy. There’s always something going on. It was true of Death Ray Manta, and it’s true of War Daddy. There’s flashing colors, everything’s moving, the game is chaotic in just about every sense of the word.

The key? Find out where you are. Always make sure you know where you are. Keep your head while all about are losing theirs. And hopefully if you’re shooting everything you need to, then it’s your head that’s still in the game for a while.

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Seriously, the game is well worth watching in motion, which is why I recorded video with commentary, because it needs to be seen to be believed, especially the challenge of figuring out where you are.

The game is not on Android in general, which is probably a good thing: physical controls are needed to have even a hope of surviving. If I had to not only judge where I was with my fingers, then that’d be practically impossible…r. The game can be had from the Ouya storefront, or from itch.io, which includes the PC version as well.

And get ready for the War Daddy. He’s ready for you.

Hero Siege Review

Hero Siege Review

Dec 31, 2013

Hero Siege (not to be confused with physics puzzler Siege Hero) is a hack ‘n slasher with roguelike/procedural death labyrinth elements that feels like it’s not quite built for Android, but there’s some bloody fun to be had here.

Players control a hero of one of several classes, trying to survive in one of three arenas with multiple sets of levels. Players attack in one of four directions with their base attacks, attacking waves of enemies and periodic bosses. Enemies drop coins, which are used for in-game upgrades like stat boosts and health potions, and crystals, which can be used for a variety of things, including temporary boosts, crystal keys for valuable chests, and cosmetic upgrades.

Hero Siege is a game of frantic survival, as waves come in and players must fight them off while seeing what loot awaits on the level: getting potions which can help but also lower stats are important, and players who look around the levels will get the spoils. As a free hack’n slash game, it definitely holds up its bargain well, and crystals aren’t explicitly necessary – and can be collected in the game proper too.

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The game doesn’t seem to be optimized all that well, as even on my Nexus 4, on the game’s “high” graphics setting, the game suffers from regular slowdown. It’s a fast-paced top-down 2D game, but it doesn’t seem as if it should be causing that much in the way of stuttering. Set the graphics to low if necessary. The art seems rather rough around the edges no matter what.

There’s support for MOGA gamepads, but it’s a bit buggy as of publication – the developer claims that this is due to the MOGA Pivot app, of all things. Oh, the irony.

Really, this feels a lot more like it’s structured as a PC/console-type game, a sit-down experience meant for lengthy play sessions, more than hat a mobile-friendly game would have. This can get players latched on to the game for longer than they might want to be, and it’s not just the “I don’t want to stop playing” sensation as much as it is the “I haven’t reached a good stopping point” sensation that makes it hard to jump in to and keep playing.

Really, I almost wonder if this is just a clever Steam Greenlight campaign for the game. There’s a PC version already available, and really, making mobile games is a risky financial proposition, especially on Android still. So, go free-to-play, get some attention that way, maybe make some side cash off of the game, but putting a big Greenlight button on the title screen might be converting those necessary votes to get on to Steam and to have the game be a financial success. This is mostly just speculation, but it seems like a rather clever scheme for someone to try.

Hero Siege is well worth the download for hack ‘n slash fans, though it definitely is far from game of the year material.

Division Cell Review

Division Cell Review

Dec 31, 2013

Division Cell (from Hyperspace Yard) is the game that was created to cater to the OCD segment that exists in all of us.

Three modes exist: Puzzle Mode, Time Attack and Endless Mode. The general gameplay revolves around restoring “harmony” to a disparate set of shapes. Evenness is a concept that is rewarded, and to do this, taps are used. It’s all about shapes, and making otherwise unequal shapes as symmetrical as possible. The shapes start with basic quadrilaterals and there are dots that signify the ability to shift borders one step in a given direction. Using said taps as the primary method of manipulation, the goal is to adjust the shapes till all are equal.

Tapping to slide up, down and sideways adjusts the shapes in real time, and the puzzle is solved when all shapes are equal. Per strategy, time to solve is measured, so it is important to make the requisite moves in as little time as div1possible to score maximum points. As the game goes on, different shapes come into play, and so do the solving shapes; there are triangles, trapezoids and even circles with portioned segments. For all these, making segments and/or shapes even is the key. The gameplay is leveled, and each level in Puzzle Mode can be re-done for bragging rights. Most levels depend on the preceding one to be solved to be accessible.

In Time Attack, the leveled gameplay gets the additional anchor of a countdown timer, and the idea is to solve as many puzzles as possible in the allotted time. Of course, high scores are recorded. Endless mode provides, well, endless fun. This was my favorite… no clocks and varying difficulty.

The game features a colorful background palette, as well as a soft but poppy soundtrack to play against. The visual contrasts are good, and help make the game much easier to engage with.

When it’s all said and done, this game proves that “innovation and “simple” can coexist.

In harmony, of course.

BIG WIN Racing Review

BIG WIN Racing Review

Dec 30, 2013

Hothead Games hits us up with another sports sim in the name of BIG WIN Racing.

Like most BIG WIN titles, this one is all about management and preparation. The backdrop for this is stock car racing in the same vein as NASCAR. No element is left untouched, giving players full control of team evolution via the management and improvement of card characters and other functions that effect success.

The gameplay starts with the creation of a new team and the opening of a starter pack; a starter pack consists of a driver, crew members, four parts, three “big impact” cards and a sponsor card. Characters can be customized down to hair style and even shape of face, but few of the customization are fee. Driving styles can be adjusted, as well.

After all is built and tweaked, it’s time to race. It’s possible to see the race simulated, or just skip this. bwr1Watching the races help with visualizing the effect of cards, as well as the effect of having sloppy pit work. This where careful use of the impact card becomes crucial. Selecting the right cards for each race can decide the end result. Each card has a purpose: Taking The Pole starts you up front and Grip Through Turns helps with tight turns. In any case, doing well has payouts, and the payouts can be used to improve material and personnel; during races (if watched “live”) it is possible to actually see errors made by, say, the crew that can be corrected.

Racing itself comes in five modes: Friends mode encourages the incorporation of Facebook to race friends, while Events mode gives out limited-time prizes. Trophy an Quick race modes are fairly self-explanatory, and there is also championship mode.

I think that in-game adjustments could really improve the game… in other words, the ability to use big impact cars as the action is unfolding. This would make the “live component” more interesting, I think. Even though the graphics are, in my opinion, a bit subdued, it looks good enough for casual play. I am also a bit hazy on the most effective use of the big impact pieces as well.

For NASCAR-style race management for handheld gaming loving types, this free-to-play game might just fit the bill.