Ninja Breakout Premium Review

Ninja Breakout Premium Review

Sep 2, 2011

You may not realize it, but pandas have a long-standing feud with ninjas. These two factions have been locked in an epic battle on the Android Market for some time now, and their war has raged onto the battlefield of Ninja Breakout Premium.

You may have already guessed by the name, but Ninja Breakout Premium borrows its gameplay mechanics from the arcade classic Breakout. You use a paddle carried by a sumo-panda to bounce smaller pandas up at the block-ninjas. Don’t be fooled – this game isn’t just a rehash of a game you’ve played a thousand times before. Ninja Breakout Premium sets itself apart in a few significant ways.

The levels don’t contain nearly as many blocks as Breakout (or other similar games for that matter) did, but those blocks are made out of different materials. Some of them only take one shot to break, some take multiple shots, and some can’t be broken with a normal panda (ball), which brings us to the other major difference between Ninja Breakout Premium and Breakout – power ups and power downs.

As you break blocks, various power ups and power downs will drop. Each item effects the paddle or the ball in a different way. For example, one power up lights the ball on fire, giving it a wider area of effect, while another makes the paddle smaller. The effects of the various items can be stacked, which can lead to some crazy scenarios like two flaming balls zipping around the screen.

There’s just one shortcoming in this otherwise enjoyable game – the controls. After dying, or when using a power up that makes the ball stick to the paddle, you have to tap the ball to launch it. That means you have to take your finger off of the panda under the paddle, tap the ball, and then put your finger back on the panda so you can both move and see the paddle at the same time. At face value that doesn’t sound so bad, but when you’re moving your finger to the panda, if you put it just a hair to the left or right of where you started, the panda (paddle and all) will jump to the left or right. When you’re aiming at a low hanging block, these paddle jumps can very easily cost you a life.

The control issues can be extremely frustrating, but they don’t come up often enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of Ninja Breakout Premium. It’s a fun game that will keep you coming back for more.

The Marbians Review

The Marbians Review

Aug 26, 2011

There’s a lot of debate over what really happened in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Some people say a weather balloon crashed, while others maintain that a large spaceship crashed, spilling alien bodies all over the place. Personally, I believe a tiny spaceship full of small round aliens crash landed, resulting in the production of the subject of this review, The Marbians.

The simplest gameplay mechanics often seem to work the best in mobile games, and The Marbians takes that lesson to heart. You have to send each tiny alien back to their ship by pulling back on them to determine how fast they’ll go when you let them go, aiming them, and releasing them to send them rolling through the level on the course you chose for them. That may sound simple, but you’ll also need to collect all the orbs in each level in order to get a three star rank after beating it.

As you progress through the game, you’ll be presented with new and more challenging obstacles to deal with like warp pads that will send you to a completely different spot in the level, and switches that will open and close various doors throughout the level.

The concept is simple, and the controls are effective, but there’s just one problem – predicting the path a Marbian will take once flung. Sure, it’s easy enough to predict the first bounce or two, but beyond that, plotting a course for your Marbians turns into a guessing game rather than a game of skill. Once you’ve figured out what you have to do to solve a puzzle, actually doing it can take a lot of trial and error. That’s not to say the game isn’t fun, but if you’re looking for a game that will challenge you mentally, you’re probably not going to find it in The Marbians.

Despite the fact that it won’t be teasing your brain too hard, The Marbians is an enjoyable puzzle game well worth the price of admission. If you’re not convinced, try the demo – it gives you 7 of the game’s 72 levels.

Revival 2 Review

Revival 2 Review

Aug 24, 2011

When it comes to turn-based strategy games on the PC, there just aren’t any around that can hold a candle to the Civilization series. In fact, Sid Meier’s Civilization V has been known to devour entire weekends, leaving me curious about when it became Monday, and why I haven’t moved in about 48 hours.

The Civilization series hasn’t made its way to the Android platform just yet, but Revival 2 has.

Revival 2 puts you in charge of an empire in which you’ll have to build cities, research new technology, and build up a military to keep yourself safe. Just like in the Civ series, you can take multiple paths to achieve victory in Revival 2. Unlike the Civ series, one of those paths involves killing every other empire’s emissary. No matter which type of victory you’re shooting for, you’ll want to take your empire’s emissary and bury him deep within one of your most well defended cities.

You’ll have to research new technology, build cities, manage military units, and have workers build new improvements on your land in order to conquer the world in Revival 2. Unfortunately, the counter-intuitive controls make running your empire extremely difficult.

Each action you take involves an unnecessary number of button presses. For example, instead of double tapping a unit to select it, and issuing commands, you have to tap one button to cycle through your units, tap another button to select the unit once you have it highlighted, and then you can either tap in a direction to move the unit, or tap the unit itself to issue a command. Just to be clear, the controls work just fine – they’re just unnecessarily complex. To make matters worse, the menu system is extremely convoluted. Without the tutorial, you’d never know where certain features for cities and units were burred.

The interface is the digital equivalent of walking through a waist-high pool full of pudding, which is a shame because under that broken UI lies a deep gameplay experience. In fact, if there’s another turn-based strategy game on the Android Market with equally robust gameplay, we haven’t seen it.

If you can find patience and tolerance in your heart for the game’s poor controls and user interface, you’ll probably find Revival 2 to be an extremely enjoyable game. Try the demo – if you don’t want to throw your phone across the room by the end of the tutorial, you’ll probably want to go ahead and pick up the full version.

Art of War 2 Online Review

Art of War 2 Online Review

Aug 17, 2011

Due to the complexity of the controls, real time strategy games don’t generally make their way to mobile phones. Art of War 2 Online brings the genre to the Android platform and attempts to create a functional control scheme.

The good news is that Art of War 2 Online offers up a surprisingly robust RTS experience. You can produce and control a fairly wide variety of buildings and units, and whether or not you beat your opponent will depend directly on your ability to build a defensible base, and manage your units effectively. The experience feels full-featured, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll find an extremely rich RTS experience in this game.

The bad news is that Art of War 2 Online never managed to work out an effective control scheme. You’ll have thirty seconds each turn to move your units, and issue build orders to each of your buildings. Without the ability to zoom in and out, you’ll find yourself falling short on time due to the clunky nature of the navigation controls.

In order to move around the battlefield, you have to tap the edge of the screen in the direction you want to go. That wouldn’t be so bad on its own, but the speed is jacked up just a little too high, and you’ll often overshoot your destination, making it very difficult to issue all of the commands you want to inside of the thirty second time limit.

It’s also worth noting that, at the time of this writing, there are about 50 people playing the game online, and about 1,770 total players. In other words, you’ll probably have a hard time getting into a match with a player on your skill level. The game’s a lot of fun when you’re matched up against a player on your skill level, but more often than not, you’ll find yourself getting creamed by a far more experienced player.

Despite some clunky controls, and a small pool of active users, Art of War 2 Online manages to bring a full featured RTS experience to the Android platform. If you’re a fan of the genre on the PC, you’ll probably want to check this game out. Just be warned – matches can last around twenty minutes, so you’ll probably want to avoid playing in the check out line at the grocery store.

Wisp Review

Wisp Review

Aug 9, 2011

When you think of the hero in an action game, what sort of imagery comes to mind? Probably a space marine wearing 600lbs of power armor, or a heavily armored knight with a sword that’s longer than he is tall. The last thing you’d probably think of would be a tiny ball of light, but Wisp’s hero is, well, a wisp.

As a wisp, you’ll face a number of challenges. First, you’ll have to find three glowing orbs in each level – that one’s not so tough, just explore – you’ll find them. The real challenges come in the form of obstacles like spider webs, and a black ooze that will kill you instantly. While you don’t have any basic attacks at your disposal, you will find power ups throughout the game that give you temporary powers suited to overcoming the various environmental obstacles you’ll encounter.

Wisp does a great job of gradually building up the difficulty level as you progress though the game. Unfortunately, a fair chunk of that difficulty comes from the controls rather than the solid level design. You steer your wisp by holding your finger on the screen to ascend, and tilting the phone to move left or right. While the control scheme itself isn’t directly flawed, Wisp’s physics make it very difficult to use those controls effectively. For example, as you shift direction from left to right, your wisp will pull to the left for a second or so, as if to resist the directional change. Most of the time it isn’t a major problem, but when navigating through tight spaces, the control scheme is likely to get you killed.

Despite the issues with the controls, Wisp still offers up some interesting and enjoyable gameplay. That, combined with a great sense of style makes Wisp a game worth checking out. If you’re not convinced, check out the demo. In fact, even if you are convinced, check out the demo anyway – it offers up levels not present in the full version of the game, making it worthwhile even if you’re definitely getting the full version.

With a solid sense of style, a unique demo, and some interesting gameplay, Wisp is definitely worth checking out.

Eskimo Tower Defense Review

Eskimo Tower Defense Review

Jul 29, 2011

There are two basic types of tower defense game. The first type provides open maps that force the player to create a maze within the confines of the map that keeps the enemies in range of your towers for as long as possible. The second type has the enemies moving along a fixed path, forcing the player to set up towers at strategic points on that path to dispatch enemies as efficiently as possible. Generally speaking, I find the first type far more enjoyable than the second. There are a few exceptions to that rule, and Eskimo Tower Defense is one of them.

Eskimo Tower Defense tasks the player with setting up towers (in this case, Eskimos) along a fixed path to defeat the incoming waves of monsters. The problem with many fixed-path tower defense games is that the level design has to be really strong to keep the game interesting. A predictable path can make it very easy to set up adequate defenses to deal with any situation. Eskimo Tower Defense contains some very well-designed levels that force the player to plan very carefully for each incoming wave.

The controls make setting up your Eskimos a breeze. Placing each Eskimo right where you want them can be a little twitchy, but the game forces you to confirm your choice before actually placing it, making it impossible to accidentally misplace an Eskimo.

The challenge provided by each level ramps up at a good pace, and as you make your way to some of the later levels, you’ll have to place, and upgrade your Eskimos carefully in order to keep up with the onslaught of enemies. The path the enemies take won’t always be clear, and you may have to think on your feet to place a few last-second Eskimos to keep up with the waves of monsters.

Eskimo Tower defense isn’t perfect; the graphics and sound are overly simple, and a little diversity in the types of Eskimos available to you would have been nice. Still, if you’re looking for a good tower defense game for your Android device, Eskimo Tower Defense is the game for you.

Curvy Review

Curvy Review

Jul 26, 2011

If you’ve read any of my previous work on this site, you know I’m a big fan of puzzle games on the Android platform. Puzzle games don’t require fast reflexes or a great deal of time to play, and that makes them perfect for short bursts of play when you’re on the go.

Curvy does a great job of providing bite-sized puzzle gameplay perfectly suited to mobile devices. You specify the number of tiles you want to use, whether you want the lines to come in one color, two colors, or two colors with a high density of lines, and Curvy will present you with a grid full of hexes. Each hex has some lines and curves on it, and your job is to make sure each line is connected to another line.

While that concept sounds simple, actually getting all the hexes to line up can be a real challenge. That’s partially due to the twisting lines and shapes on each piece, and partially due to the fact that there’s no predetermined shape you have to fit the pieces into. The lack of a bigger picture to chase after can be frustrating at times, but the nature of the game allows for an infinite number of puzzles, which more than makes up for that lack of direction.

Curvy’s only real shortcomings come from its minimalist presentation. The game offers settings for the colors of the lines, background color of each hex, and the background of the screen, but no matter how you adjust the settings, the game still looks extremely plain. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay, but it’s definitely worth taking into consideration before making a purchase.

Aside from the simple presentation, Curvy is a great game worth checking out if you’re a fan of puzzle games. It’s challenging, and the potential for replay value is extremely high, given the near endless number of variations each puzzle can come in.

Refraction Review

Refraction Review

Jul 25, 2011

Most games that let the player shoot laser beams involve fast paced action, but Refraction is a little different. Refraction challenges players to use prisms and mirrors to send different colored laser beams to goals of the same color. Lasers mixed with puzzles? What’s not to love?

Well, the twitchy controls are kind of hard to love. Directing a laser beam being bounced off of a mirror, or split using a prism can be more challenging than it should be. It can be extremely difficult to get the beam to stay where you want it, and it’s very easy to tap the wrong prism or mirror when two objects are right next to each other, but those issues seldom interfere with the sheer enjoyment of solving a tricky puzzle.

Refraction offers some of the most enjoyable puzzle gameplay we’re run into on the Android platform. Mirrors reflect laser beams, and prisms split them into two beams. When you fire a purple, orange, or green laser into a prism, it will be split into the two primary colors that it’s made of. Getting the right color light to the right exit while working around all the obstacles becomes increasingly more difficult with each new level. The challenge ramps up at a good pace, and you’ll really have to stretch your brain to figure out how to solve some of the more difficult puzzles.

Refraction doesn’t do anything to impress with its presentation, but it manages to get the job done. The beams of light don’t offer any distinguishing qualities other than color, so color blind gamers might have trouble telling the red beam from the orange, and the blue from the purple. The prisms and mirrors are represented by simple icons, and the goal is just a colored circle. This game isn’t about good looks and fancy sound, it’s strictly about the puzzles.

If you can get past the twitchy controls, and the lackluster presentation, Refraction offers some really smart gameplay sure to please anyone looking for a challenging and enjoyable puzzle game.

Poynt Review

Poynt Review

Jul 19, 2011

It’s Friday night, and your significant other says, “Let’s try a new restaurant tonight!” Sure, that sounds like a good idea, but how do you pick the restaurant? If only there were something that could Poynt you in the right direction. No, that wasn’t a typo, it’s the name of an app designed to do just that!

Poynt lets you sort though local entertainment that falls into several different categories, including restaurants, movie theaters, and events. When you first fire up the app, it takes a few seconds to figure out where you are based on your device’s GPS, and from there you’re just a couple of clicks away from finding whatever type of establishment you’re looking for.

The interface is simple and clean. Just tap one of the buttons on the main screen to get to the type of establishment you’re looking for, and from there you’ll be presented with several filters to help narrow down your search. For example, when searching for a restaurant, you can sort the results by nearby restaurants, or type of cuisine. Poynt could definitely benefit from additional filtering options, but the ones in place do a pretty good job of narrowing things down for you.

Searching for something to do using Poynt is a breeze, but sifting through the search results is another story entirely. Poynt just aggregates search results from other services like City Search and Super Pages, and as a result, some of the suggestions it makes aren’t great. The first time we did an events search, the first result was a class about real estate located about thirty miles from our current location. Either this particular listing was brought up at the top of the list in error, or it was a sponsored result that wasn’t being labeled as such. There were several other equally suspicious events listed, including one titled “Networking Event” held at a local lounge. The event was described as a mixer for anyone interested in the entertainment industry, and reminded us of those “Want to be a model? Just pay us $500” scams.

Most of the search results were legitimate, and worth checking out, but the ones that weren’t seemed like extremely blatant advertisements for extremely useless (and in some cases spammy) products. This happened far more often in the events section than any other section in the app. Restaurants and movie theaters turned up listings that were legit, or clearly labeled as being “sponsored”.

With apps like Yelp and Where offering similar functionality, it’s going to come down to personal preference. If you love Poynt’s interface, and you don’t mind skimming past the occasional dubious listing then Poynt will serve you well. If you’re looking for a more robust set of search features, you might want to look elsewhere.

UNO Review

UNO Review

Jul 15, 2011

The wildly popular card game UNO has made its way to a number of digital platforms over the past few years, and recently, the Android OS has been added to the lengthy list of platforms supporting it. Does the classic card game work well on the Android platform, or should you hand it the skip card? Read on to find out.

If you’ve made it to the point in your life where you own an Android device, but you’re unfamiliar with the classic card game UNO, it’s time to sit down and seriously evaluate the direction your life has taken, but we’ll go over the rules real quick just to be on the safe side. Each game of UNO starts with a card face up on the table, and the first player has to throw down a card of the same color, or number. Each player repeats this process until someone gets down to one card, at which point they have to shout “UNO”. If they don’t call it, any other player can challenge their UNO, and force them to draw two more cards.

Special cards can be thrown down to spice things up. Any card thrown down will affect the next player in rotation. So, if a player throws down a draw two card, the next player will have to take two more cards into their hand.

So, now that the three of you who just emerged from the cave you’ve been living in all your life (thanks for visiting this site before doing anything else by the way) know how to play UNO, let’s address the real question here – does it work well on the Android platform? For the most part, the answer is “yes”. To play a card, you just have to tap it, then drag it to the pile in the center of the virtual table. If you need to challenge someone else’s UNO, just tap the challenge button that pops up before it goes away.

If you’re just looking to squeeze in a few single player games of UNO when you have some free time, you won’t do much better than UNO for Android. If you’re looking to play UNO with your friends, you’re better off picking up a deck of UNO cards instead of dropping three bucks on this app. There’s no online multiplayer, and the local multiplayer has you passing your phone around the room to each player.

UNO is a lot of fun, but the lack of online multiplayer is kind of a bummer. Still, if you want to squeeze in a quick game of UNO while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, this app is the way to go.

Pocket God Review

Pocket God Review

Jul 12, 2011

Pocket God has seen huge success on iOS, and as a result, it has made its way to the Android platform. A lot of people have poked their pygmies and spread double rainbows across the sky on the iOS, but does this game have what it takes to compete on Android?

Pocket God offers up simple gameplay – just tap or drag an object, or a pygmy, and use it to interact with other objects or pygmies. You can fry your pygmies with a magnifying glass, feed them to a shark, scare them with a ghost, or terrorize them with a giant dinosaur, but ultimately, the results are the same no matter what activity you engage in; your pygmies will react in a whimsical manner. Watching your pygmies react to the world around them is the single reward for doing any activity this game has to offer. If you paint a double rainbow across the sky, your pygmies will freak out just like the guy in the Youtube video Pocket God draws inspiration from. Feed your pygmies to a shark, and they’ll panic as they plunge down into the mouth of the aquatic predator. In short, each task is simple, and the reward for doing it is equally simple – do a silly thing, get a silly reward.

Pocket God has several islands for you to explore, and each island has its own set of items you can interact with. One ice-covered island lets you build an igloo for your pygmies, while another tropical island allows you to help your pygmies build a fire. The various islands bring some much needed variety to the game.

The graphics and sound make those simple rewards worth experiencing. The pygmies in Pocket God are well animated, and the sound does a great job of complimenting the attractive art. Pocket God might be light on objectives and actual gameplay, but you’ll definitely find all of the animations and sound effects amusing, and ultimately worth experiencing.

There’s a fine line between a game and a toy. A game offers conditions for victory, and a set of rules that confine what you can do to reach that victory. A toy just lets you play around with it to satiate your imagination. If you think of Pocket God as a game, you’ll be disappointed. There aren’t any goals, nor is there any sort of structure to the experience. If you think of it as a toy, you’ll have a great time feeding your pygmies to sharks, and lighting them on fire.

The charming graphics and sound combined with the light investment of time necessary to make something funny happen make this toy worth playing with. The total lack of rules and objectives makes this game a dud.

Gem Miner Dig Deeper Review

Gem Miner Dig Deeper Review

Jul 1, 2011

Most video games rely heavily on conflict to drive the gameplay. Typically, the player has to overcome enemies, or beat other players in order to win the game, but Gem Miner Dig Deeper takes a slightly different approach pitting the player against the environment.

Gem Miner Dig Deeper tasks players with gathering and selling precious metals and gems so that they can purchase better equipment which will allow them to dig deeper into the earth. The object of the game is to dig down to the giant amethyst, which, presumably, is worth enough money that your miner can hang up his pick ax and retire to a tropical island somewhere.

At face value, the concept sounds simple, and a little dull, but managing your inventory, digging tunnels and bringing your treasures safely to the surface can be a challenging and engaging experience. Your backpack can only hold so much loot, and your miner will run out of stamina as you dig tunnels and travel through the mine. Throw in the need to throw up a support to prevent an unstable tunnel from collapsing, and Gem Miner Dig Deeper becomes a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

The controls can be a bit tedious but ultimately they’re effective. Moving your miner left or right requires a tap of the screen. Each tap moves the miner one block in whichever direction you choose, and if there’s a block of dirt or ore in the miner’s way, he’ll dig through it. In order to gravel great distances you’ll find yourself tapping the screen frantically You can disable digging if you want to cover a lot of distance without accidentally digging though an important block, and you’ll be glad that feature exists. It’s far to easy to break a block that supports a ladder, or accidentally break through into a different tunnel.

Visually, Gem Miner Dig Deeper offers a simple, but effective graphical style. It’s easy to distinguish the various ores and gems you’ll encounter based on their appearance, and watching the miner scurry around the screen never gets old. Unfortunately, the sound design wasn’t given the same attention. There’s no music in the game, and the sound effects range from dull to slightly jarring.

Gem Miner Dig Deeper builds an enjoyable gameplay experience around the man vs. environment conflict. It’s rare to find a game that doesn’t challenge the player to fight enemies, or defeat other players, but Gem Miner Dig Deeper proves that a game without traditional conflict can still be a lot of fun.