Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 Review

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 Review

Jun 27, 2012

Golf, with its sprawling greens and peaceful streams, is about as far away as you can imagine from the hunched over cramped play of mobile game. Thrust into the armpit of a fellow commuter on an overcrowded rush-hour train, it can be hard to force a player to suspend disbelief, and believe that they truly are, in fact, Tiger Woods himself.

In other ways, golf games work rather well on the small screen. At its heart, golf is an incredibly simple game, and the arc of the club can be made quite effectively on a touch screen, without letting players blame the control system for their inevitable failings. It works well in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012: pick a club, aim approximately where you want the ball to go with a zoom out, and then swing on the touch screen. The area the player uses to swing goes from the top of the landscape phone screen to the bottom, and allows for a slight bend of the ball (by accident or not) if your swipe isn’t straight. If you go too far, your shot will suffer, which puts in just enough risk to reward ambitious players, while neatly replicating what happens when amateurs like me pick up a golf club in real life.

Putting is a similar affair, though EA have clearly realised it’s a bit harder to judge, so give the players a one-use per shot preview of where their putt will go. Doing so feels like the right call to me, allowing for some incredibly satisfying long shots, but understandably some players will scoff at the offer of help.

As you would expect from an EA product, the whole thing is nicely polished with great presentation, and all the licensing present and accounted for. There are plenty of courses to test yourself against, and along the way you earn money to improve your fully customisable golfing avatar’s skills and abilities. Money is quite satisfying to earn throughout the game as it rewards you for perfect fairway bound drives, immaculate green landings and placing well in tournaments. As well as individual courses, and the PGA mode, the game also lets you gamble your in-game money against ‘Tiger Challenges’, where you’ll be set a goal to beat, and greater riches if you manage it.

There are a few minor issues: mainly the longish loading screens between each hole, and the occasional animations that play between shots of proud/frustrated golfers reacting to their drive, but these are pretty minor in all. It would be unfair to complain too much about these: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 on Android offers players a enjoyable round of golf with plenty of replayability, and it’s nicely optimised for dipping in and out of. The “good walk spoiled” survives being shrunk down to a touch screen admirably.

Gingerbread Dash Review

Gingerbread Dash Review

Jun 18, 2012

You can loosely divide games into two types: those in which its possible to win, and those in which the player is left putting off the inevitable for as long as possible – high score games. In Gingerbread Dash, the player controls a Gingerbread Man running away from a hungry fox, and without wanting to give away spoilers for anyone unfamiliar with the children’s tale this is based on, the fox arrives right at the end of the book. The bit just before The Gingerbread Man leaves it. The two are connected.

Gingerbread Dash plays like a sidescrolling Doodle Jump. The screen scrolls to the left, with all kinds of increasingly perilous platforms to jump between, and hazards to avoid: the crow, for example, will grab the player in its beak and pull you straight to the chasing fox’s mouth for an instant game over. The fox is always chasing the player – a huge nose and mouth that fills the left hand side of the phone screen when it gets too close, meaning the player can’t spend too much time jumping around trying to grab the stars that fill the screen.

But it’s in the interest of the player to collect these: grab 10 of them and a power-up will appear in the world: a bomb to destroy all other enemies, or an ice cream to fire the Gingerbread Man further along the map, and delay the fox’s approach that little while longer. But eventually, just like in the story, the plucky Gingerbread Man will make for a lightly spiced stomach lining, and it’s all too easy to press ‘play again’, after seeing how the run compares against other fallen Gingerbread Men. It’s pretty addictive stuff, following a well trodden formula – a sort of mashup of Doodle Jump and Canabalt.

The Gingerbread Man is always jumping up and down, and the player’s control comes from tilting the handset enough to send our sugary hero onto a platform, and not straight into a crow’s mouth. Its a little inexact at times, but for the most part works well enough. The game is very nice to look at too, with a bold crayon palette that fits the subject matter, and looks pretty sharp on screen. The sound fares less well, with the squeaking jumping noise enough to ensure most players turn it off pretty much instantly.

It’s pretty hard to find any serious fault with, and those it has are shared with other games of its type: it’s repetitive, simplistic and a little on the frustrating side at times. That doesn’t stop it crying out for one last go, just to see if that fox can be kept at bay that little bit longer…

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.

Real Football 2012 Review

Real Football 2012 Review

May 11, 2012

Gameloft have made a very successful business by glancing admiringly across at the big console franchises and then shrinking them down to mobile devices, with touch screen controls. To avoid being contentious, I’ll generously call them homages: you’ve got a homage to Zelda (Sacred Odyssey), Call of Duty (Modern Combat), Everybody’s Golf (Let’s Golf), and plenty more. Their Real Football series is probably the least directly recognisable, partly because you could argue that FIFA is already a rip off of a real life sport, but crucially also because, goodness me, this is nowhere near as playable as EA’s polished console kick about.

Early impressions and the screenshots below are really promising. It looks polished, detailed and deep. Play it for a little while though, and there’s a realization that it plays more like decade old arcade cabinet football – and that’s an era that sports games fans should be glad to leave behind. Players are sluggish to respond and awkward in their movements, the AI is a bit clueless, and it doesn’t really resemble the way real life football matches plays out.

It doesn’t help that touch screen controls are also frustratingly inconsistent. There’s a virtual stick and buttons on the screen, alongside some more advanced touch screen fiddling for player switching and dribbling tricks, making it simultaneously overly simple and unnecessarily complex. The stick itself is often unresponsive, leading to players running the ball off the pitch, rather than turning on the ball as the player intends.

Despite this, the game does manage to occasionally capture the pleasure of the sport. A well-worked move can lead to a memorable goal, but even then it doesn’t feel like football. Sure, it follows the same rules, but the headless-chicken players, unchallenged dribbling, magnetic ball and pinball passing ensures you never get lost in the moment. And that’s not even mentioning the commentary, which occasionally spurts odd lines with all the enthusiasm of a supermarket self service checkout machine.

Worse, it follows the all-too-familiar freemium model. Essentially, while the app is free, unless the player stumps up significant cash (as in, far more than a standard non-freemium app would cost) they’re going to enjoy (or not) a stunted experience. Players can only compete in two consecutive matches before their lazy, overpaid athletes are too tired to carry on, and need an unbranded energy drink to continue. That or the player can wait until they’re recovered – around a day as far as I can tell.

It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of decent ideas around the game itself. As well as a decent number of licenced teams and leagues, both international and domestic, the game has some interesting concepts. You get in game currency for goals and wins, as well as answering football trivia questions correctly. There’s also an innovative scenario mode where players can choose everything from the teams, their form, their line-ups – even the weather – and share them with others to play, allowing enthusiasts to recreate classic matches from history, or upcoming fixtures.

Ultimately these fall flat because the basics aren’t in place, and the search for a decent full mobile football sim continues. The best game apps hook players on the go, and keep them off the console or computer when they’re home: think Cut the Rope or Angry Birds. Despite some nice presentational touches, Real Football 2012 won’t keep any football fans away from big screen Pro Evolution Soccer or FIFA.

Virtua Tennis Challenge Review

Virtua Tennis Challenge Review

Apr 30, 2012

The Dreamcast (may it rest in peace) had some brilliant games, and the majority of the classics have found loving homes on modern consoles, from Power Stone on the PSP to Crazy Taxi on Xbox Live Arcade. Virtua Tennis has had more success than either of these though, and has kept tennis enthusiasts happy for years on PC, Xbox, Playstation, Wii, Gameboy, even the N-Gage and now: Android.

Better still, this version – Virtua Tennis Challenge – is optimized for Xperia Play, meaning that the gameplay that once cost $50 on console can now be bought for a fraction of the price, without needing to sacrifice ‘real’ controls in the process, to the distinctly mixed bag of touch screen tactility.

This means that the player is controlled with the d-pad, and different shots are performed with the face buttons, allowing players to lob, smash and backhand their way from game to game pretty seamlessly. The only slight letdown here is that SEGA have decided not to let players use the touchpad for movement, meaning that the tennis stars move in more stilted ways than a true analogue input should allow.

As with most Xperia Play games, the touch screen controls are still present, and pushing closed the control pad element instantly changes it to the vanilla Android version. The truth is though, for Xperia Play owners, there’s absolutely no reason to do this other than misplaced curiosity. While the swiping and dragging along the touchscreen can mostly be mastered with a little practice (and forgiving a few missteps when the game gets confused), it’s absolutely no game, set and match for the d-pad and face buttons.

It’s this control system that makes this a true part of the Virtua Tennis series, a game that has been the go-to arcade tennis game for over a decade. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the best presented Android sports titles around. While the graphics are colorful, sharp and detailed, it’s the animation that’s the real winner here, with players celebrating winning moments, and tossing their racquet in frustration when things don’t go to plan.

Players of the Dreamcast original would have struggled to contain their excitement seeing such a polished version playing out on the small screen, without any sacrifices to the gameplay. It plays impressively well, with players having to judge the tempo of the match, and draw out their opponents on the harder levels by picking the correct shot.

The AI can be set to three difficulty levels, which can be worked through through either in straightforward exhibition matches or the simple but addictive career mode which sees players working their way up the world rankings by entering tournaments and earning sponsorship money. Once World Number One, or bored of the AI, there’s also bluetooth multiplayer with other local Android players, but sadly no online play as yet.

It’s not as fully featured as its big brother, Virtua Tennis 4 on console, but for a fraction of the price Challenge is a no-brainer for Xperia Play owning tennis fans. Regular Android players will have to consider how much they feel they’ll miss out by having to make do with the imperfect touch screen, but this is one of those games that can make Xperia Players happy they took the plunge on Sony’s hybrid handset.

New Star Soccer Review

New Star Soccer Review

Apr 18, 2012

Sensible Soccer, as any sensible regular person will tell you, died in 1996. Sure, there were a couple of attempts at bringing the Amiga/PC classic back to life with all singing-all dancing graphics, but they fell short of the fans misty eyed memories.

All is not lost, however. New Star Soccer is a long running indie football game, which could at a glance pass for the Sensible Software classic. They both offer a top down playing angle, and a simplified view of the beautiful game, without any of FIFA’s flash and pizazz. For the first time, the series lands on mobile, and rather than trying to cram in some kind of awkward touch screen D-Pad, monstrosity, NSS takes the sensible option of breaking the on-the-pitch action into minigames.

The player takes the role of a single footballer trying to become a superstar both on the pitch and off of it. On the pitch, the game gives a certain number of opportunities to impress with a shot, a pass or an interception, depending on the strength of the team and how much teammates like the player. Off the pitch, the player can train to improve skills, buy houses, cars and tat to get people talking about their superstar, or work on relationships with the fans, team mates or manager. None of these are particularly deep, but it does complement the main game, and pushes the player to try to get to bigger clubs, as your money increasingly doesn’t go far enough (sometimes, just like in real life, a bike won’t cut it, but a personal jet will).

The mini-games are simple affairs, but very satisfying. Firstly the game provides an overview of the pitch, and the player has to pull back on the ball to set distance and direction. When you let go, the ball comes in from a first person perspective leaving the player to tap it in the right spot to add height, spin, or keep it on the ground. This makes all the difference between chipping the ball neatly over a defender, or sending it towards the corner flag. It’s simple, but hugely rewarding, and the game does make the player think about the consequences their actions – send too many shots over the bar, and teammates will resent the player for not passing enough. And the manager will drop him, of course.

Slight issues creep in further into the game, with the age old problem of how to prevent it becoming too easy when you sign for a massive club. NSS tackles this by ramping up the price of energy drinks. It sort of makes sense, but knocks into the soccer superstar fantasy world, and even then it’s not that successful: four seasons in, and I had maxed out my player and matches were getting a little samey. Likewise, players may moan about the pricing difference between iOS (where it’s free, with a 99c IAP for the main game) and Android, where it’s over $3.

But these complaints are pretty minor for a game that’s eaten as many hours as NSS has for me. By thinking outside the box on how football should play on mobile, New Star Games have created something that feels new, fun and addictive. It’s not FIFA, but its stolen away many of its previously unchallenged hours.