Zero Punctuation: Hatfall Review

Zero Punctuation: Hatfall Review

Jul 29, 2015

Well…

If one must know, Zero Punctuation: Hatfall is a story of loss and redemption. Sometimes, folks get really attached to headgear, and this game tells the tale of a dude driven mad by loss.

Oh dear.

At first glance, one might be a bit dazzled by the sharp yellow background; we don’t get a lot of colors, but that is okay, as the game works with the color contrasts within. Visually, it works.

The basic premise is uber simple: there are hats falling, and the idea is to position one’s white digital figurine underneath it, as perfectly as possible so that the hat lands on his head. To help accomplish this, there is a marker on the ground that one needs to ensure that our hat hero — let’s call him “Yahtzee” (Well, done, Ben!) — is in the middle of to ensure the had lands on his head. If one is successful, the level is passed, and the player moves on to a subsequent level; failure elicits, well failure, and ones has to restart.

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Now, it’s the way the game eases into difficulty that makes it pretty compelling. The developer craftily adds on elements that add some complexity with regards to getting the job done, and these are usually of a visual nature. For instance, the circular marker that allows the player to know where to position the figure? Yeah, one can find it shrinking in diameter, which can be disheartening when one finds that the figure is not smack dab in the middle. Then, as one progresses, there are other tricks, like other moving figures and markers, which can create a situation where visual acuity is exceptionally important. The tricks and hazards get harder the further that one goes.

Points-wise, it’s a simple game of accumulating hats, and unlocking stuff. It is the consummate arcade thriller, in that it puts a lot of emphasis on hand-to-eye coordination and twitch reaction to pull out. There are subtle variations to the gameplay, and ways to earn free hats, as well as to spend them (on stuff like boosts).

For folks who want a quick challenge that has a clear comedic component, this one does the deed. The side-games alone are worth trying to make the hat thresholds, and it’s perfect for in-house bragging rights contests.

Explorers: Skull Island Review

Explorers: Skull Island Review

Jul 29, 2015

If I were to use a word to describe Explorers: Skull Island, it would be “a product”. Another good one would be “awful”, but that’s a given. Explorers: Skull Island is a generic economic strategy. Actually, no, it’s THE generic economic strategy. The players are in control of some inhumanly ugly shipwreck survivors that are actively living out a story of Tarzan on a seemingly desert island that has nothing to do with skulls. They are so ugly, in fact, that I’m certain that they were merely thrown overboard for looking like a bunch of aliens with a human skin over them.

The player’s job is to clean out the jungle that surrounds the beach and build all kinds of buildings that would help the shipwreck survivors, including hammocks, palm benches, fountains, and a theatrical stage. This game isn’t exactly for fans of survival, is what I’m getting at. The actual mechanics of the game are a pack of free-to-play strategy Explorers Skull Island 3 staples. The player has several resources that he spends to build various constructions, and explore jungle. These resources are coins, strange red liquid, that I’m almost certain is virgin blood, and, even more weirdly, machetes. The resources can be obtained from the resource-gathering buildings, or by exploring the jungle and performing various missions. The game is a never-ending cycle of upgrading your buildings and building new ones, then waiting while these buildings generate resources, and then spend those resources on additional buildings. So, again, nothing new here.

The sub-par, unimaginative quality of the product is so all-consuming that I actively struggle to write another word on Explorers: Skull Island. It’s an all around crappy game that even the fans of this genre should find appallingly dull. So, if this game looks anything but horrible to you, just install one of the older Farmville simulators that at least have a bigger budget and look better.

Unium Review

Unium Review

Jul 29, 2015

Gameplay concepts really don’t get simpler than what we find in Unium.

To play the game is to understand it. The individual puzzles are laid out a bit irregularly, but do condense to one basic concept represented by similar types of layouts. The playing area consists of a bunch of squares, some black, and some white. They are all tightly packed, like the interior of a beehive, and there is a degree of symmetry in the way the black and white combine. Visually, it is very monochromatic, but not unpleasing.

Basically, the idea is to make all the squares one color, which is white; to change the black to white, one needs to draw a line through  the black squares. The kicker is that all the black squares need to have the same, line go through them to solve the puzzle. In other words, one gesture-driven line needs to be drawn through every black square in one motion — while avoiding every white square. No diagonal movements through squares is allowed; one has to navigate through adjacent squares only. If successful, at the end of the puzzle, no black squares will remain.

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So… how hard can it be, really? It’s a simple matter of drawing one, continuous line, right? Well, the increased complexity is derived from the developer’s creativity. As one progresses in the game, one actually needs to think through potential paths, so as to touch every square. The game comes in different levels, each with several levels, and success is needed to open subsequent levels and difficulty. As the game goes on, the puzzles get quite intricate, and it is relatively fun to try to rtrace one’s steps, or make alterations, or even simply restarting the entire puzzle. As one goes, the rules get bent a bit, but hey… why not?

It comes together well, and is a great time waster even while avoiding silly frills. Not bad for a 21st century game, really.

The Hobbit: Kingdoms Of Middle Earth Review

The Hobbit: Kingdoms Of Middle Earth Review

Jul 29, 2015

The Hobbit: Kingdoms Of Middle Earth (or, simply, Kingdoms) is a free-to-play economic strategy, set in the Lord Of The Rings setting. That’s, pretty much, it. It’s a straightforward FTP game, with everything you love (or hate) about the genre. It’s alright, although I’ve seen people complain that it’s somewhat buggy. I didn’t notice any bugs while playing, so they don’t influence the score. Anyway.

I have to say that I don’t have any strong feelings towards The Hobbit: Kingdoms. For the people who don’t know much about Farmville simulators – congrats on your life so far. Still, if you’re interested in this game, it has almost nothing to do with the Hobbit – or Lord Of The Rings, for that matter. It’s just a casual fantasy strategy game, filled with micro-transactions and wait times and surprisingly great graphics. The gist of the game is in management of a fantasy town. The town can be either elven, or dwarvish – the player chooses so at the beginning of the game. The game contains several resources that have to be extracted, using special buildings such as farms and quarries. These The Hobbit Kingdoms 2resources can then be spent on constructing additional buildings, or upgrades for the town’s economy, or army resources. The army is required to wage wars with goblins, rival kingdoms, or to attempt an attack at the legendary Smaug himself. The game has a lot of elements, and they seem to be working rather well together, even if the story and ties to The Hobbit movies seem a little hamfisted. The gameplay is alright, if you’re a fan of the genre. Although for some reason, I think that fans of The Hobbit movies would be alright with a more complex (and not free-to-play) game.

The best part about The Hobbit: Kingdoms is, undeniably, its graphics. The game looks absolutely majestic, the little buildings standing and forces moving about at your command. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s miles better than most of the FTP strategies currently about on Play Store. If anything, the art department surely tried their best here.

Overall, The Hobbit: Kingdoms is probably going to be appreciated by the fans of both Farmville simulators and Lord Of The Rings universe – at the same time, I don’t think that it’s for you if you like only one of those things.

Tiny Troopers 2: Special Ops Review

Tiny Troopers 2: Special Ops Review

Jul 27, 2015

Simple, fun games like Tiny Troopers 2: Special Ops are just what one needs to make it through that hard stretch in the day. On paper, at least.

The graphical representation is interesting; it is pretty whimsical in nature, with an adjusted top down view, which helps with the controls. Not too much of the landscape is given a way, which serves a purpose with regards to gameplay. The artwork is vivid, with rich colors and a hint of perspective, and the animations are relatively smooth.

As far as the action goes, in this one, the idea is to go out and conquer. As noted, one controls a soldier from up above, tapping on the screen to get the soldier to move to that area. Our little guy is equipped with a gun too, and this is useful against marauding enemy troops, who general shoot in lieu of civil conversation. Each soldier is equipped with a lifebar, so fire fights are really wars of attrition.

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The game evolves into more complex RPG fare as progress is made; the enemy soldiers get smarter with more sophisticated weapons and tactics. To combat this, one needs to collect upgrades and other goodies which help with both survival and lethal efficacy. Things like grenades and missile launchers come into play, and the developer is cogent enough to toss in atypical survival segments to break up any monotony. If all goes well, and the player is able to hold his own, he leads his troops to the rally point, and the level is done; with success comes payouts, and this in-game currency can be used to upgrade gear or recruit new members to the squad, which is a key aspect with regards to going far.

It all comes together as a leveled game presented as missions, with the expected increases in difficulty as one moves on. it is simple, and easy to get into and enjoy.

I think the mechanics of gameplay with regards to grouped squadrons is a bit illogical; some ability to divide and conquer would have been nice.

Still, for an action game, Tiny Troopers 2: Special Ops is a fun adventure.

Nebulous Review

Nebulous Review

Jul 24, 2015

So, what is up with Nebulous?

It’s all about cell-eating; the player gets to control a circular blob in an amorphous area that has blobs of different sizes that float around. Now it seems each blob, including the player’s, have an insatiable need to consume stuff, in this case smaller blobs. So, using the virtual controller at the bottom right, one can guide one’s blob through the black landscape.

As noted, the basic concept is to absorb smaller blobs; this is done by contact. At first, it might take a bit to cotton to the virtual control, because one’s small blob is pretty jumpy, and not so easy to control. In any case, as one picks up smaller organisms, one’s own blob starts to get bigger and bigger, and, for me, easier to move around adeptly.

But this isn’t just a game of predators with one at the top of the digital food chain; as hinted at, part of the game entails scooting the heck away from bigger blobs which are intent on swallowing the player’s playing piece. Here, size does matter somewhat, as smaller blobs feel nimbler than bigger ones. So, it comes together as a slightly frenzied dog-chase-cat-mouse type of world, with everyone trying to get bigger.

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There are also simple buttons that elicit a slick split move that is hard to guard against defensively. There are other structures that can help or hurt blobs.

There are several iterations of this type of game on Google Play, but Nebulous has some interesting features, like multiplayer, timed modes and different themes.It also tossed in experience points and leaderboards for those so inclined. Keep in mind, this game is fantastic on bigger screens.

It’s a game that takes you through the serene and somehow manages to dial up the pressure. Add in friends, and we are talking about more than just a compelling time waster.

That makes quite the adjustable game.

Dragon Blaze Review

Dragon Blaze Review

Jul 24, 2015

Another day, another half-assed free-to-play “RPG” game looking graphically better than 80% of western mobile market. Some artists either have it very good, or very bad, since all of the crappy excuses for games coming from there, look undeniably wonderful. But, after you take away the shiny wrapping, the nasty insides come out and you notice to your horror that the games’ guts are all twisted around, leaving them as half-dead husks just gobbling up playerbase by dangling the shiny sprites in front of their faces. I’m wondering how much better these games could be if the developers actually tried to make them better, instead of shuffling every ages old mechanic they possibly can inside a Skinner box.

It’s probably obvious that I don’t hold Dragon Blaze to the highest standards. It’s a tired, unimaginative gaming flick that reeks of bland corporate charts and some very tired programmers rehashing old code 10th time in a row. I don’t even want to describe the worthless, repetitive gameplay and generic, bland story. You run to the right and some monsters come up. Then you click on a single button until either your hero, or the monsters die, and then run further. There’s no skill involved, no interesting mechanics or Dragon Blaze 4turns. You have a squad that you can manage and alter, adding new equipment and learning new skills, but ultimately it’s all irrelevant, since this all doesn’t really make a difference. The story is about some dragon having attacked a kingdom some time ago, and its king hiding a terrible secret, or whatever. I don’t care one bit about any of those characters, since the developers certainly didn’t. This extends to the whole experience, really.

All in all, it’s not an unplayable game, or a cheap one, but it’s so generic and unfun that it’s impossible to appreciate whatever good parts it may have about it. Just ignore it, and continue playing any of the hundreds of similar games that have been around for years.

Mission Impossible RogueNation Review

Mission Impossible RogueNation Review

Jul 22, 2015

Now, now… before you get mad and start ranting at the proliferation of endless sequels to action movies — Terminator, Rocky, Die Hard, and yes, Mission Impossible — remember one thing: in today’s age, we tend to get at least one possibly great byproduct in companion games.

They tend to be simple, and may or may not follow the franchise canon very closely. In any case, such games can be fun to get into, even for casual fans of said movies.

Hopefully, such is the case with Mission Impossible RogueNation… a Glu joint.

Backstory? Well, it should be somewhat familiar to folks who have watched any of the movies. The player takes on the persona of Trent Kane, who is described as “IMF Agent Extraordinaire.” As in the movies, IMF can’t catch a break and seems to always to be in the middle of palace intrigue — this time, in the CIA’s crosshairs. When it’s all said and done, it boils down to first person shooter that is broken into leveled missions.

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The controls are virtual; one gets to fire equipped guns, and move to predetermined spots, use sights and even use secondry weapons. The controls are spaced well, and are fairly intuitive, and make sense together. The idea is to take the mission, complete it (which usually entails taking out a target) and profiting from the earned goodies. The missions increase in difficulty as one goes on, and one does need to upgrade weapons and level up to progress. The action sequences are easy to get into, with a bit of gore and familiar touches (salute to exploding glasses cutscenes). There are some nice angles thrown in, like silent kills, and the in-app purchasing system isn’t too intrusive.

I think the stealth aspect could be a bit more intricate, and the movement element could be a bit more complex in places, but for a free-to-try game, it’s good enough to stand on its own two feet.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review

Jul 21, 2015

Geometry Wars is a game series that has been around for a long time, and has even made its way to mobile devices. With Gemoetry Wars 3: Dimensions, we get to see the latest iteration make its small screen debut.

If use of color can be rated as an element, this game would get high scores. It pops big time, with a psychedelic appeal derived from its presentation. The animations are as smooth as they need to be, and the game comes together in a visually pleasing away, creating an arcade experience in hand.

And all the eye candy frames the gameplay; the premise is simple: control a small ship, blast enemies, and avoid contact with them to stay alive. In practice, it involves using touch to keep our protagonist ship moving; there is a virtual joystick that effects this, allowing one to move in any direction in the playing area. The enemy craft emanate from different places, usually preceded by a flash of light.

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The player’s ship can shoot (depending on the game mode, auto-shooting is also a feature); as the enemies come in waves, one has to dodge, maneuver and otherwise do what is necessary to avoid contact while putting the hero ship in position to knock out as many enemy craft as possible for points. When destroyed, the enemy ships leave behind goodies — “geoms” — which also serve as score multipliers. Of course, going after liberated geoms presents a new set of opportunity costs, which adds to the challenge of the game.

So, it becomes a dizzying battle of dexterity and even a bit of strategy, with one looking to avoid losing lives while taking on waves of enemies that actually get smarter the longer one stays alive.

As hinted at earlier, there are two different main modes, Classic and Adventure; the former has a bunch of sections that can be explored and enjoyed.

It all comes together nicely, and the premium styling is to be lauded. This is one game that translated better on bigger tablets, but it was a fun experience on smartphones too.

Inside Out Thought Bubbles Review

Inside Out Thought Bubbles Review

Jul 20, 2015

Inside Out Thought Bubbles continues a great trend of media companies releasing companion mobile games in the wake (or just prior) to the release of major movies… in this case, Disney’s Inside Out.

Simply put, it is a bubble shooter; here we get cues from the aforementioned movie, and we get to enjoy some of the characters from it: Riley, as our main character, learns to work with her emotions. The backstory is streamlined into memory bubbles, and the idea is to free said bubbles by creating match-3+ groupings.

Seeing the game is to understand it a bit more. It is a colorful affair, with plenty of pastels highlighting the portrait orientation. The bubbles are denoted by different colors, and jut down from the roof of the playing area. The shooter resides at the forefront of the playing area; activating it is done by pulling on it, much like one does in iotb2Angry Birds. The bubbles launched from it are randomly colored, but generally match those in the air above it.

The walls of the playing area have a rebounding ability, and one can shoot off the walls; an arrow helps guiding somewhat. The main idea, as hinted at, is to finish/create groups of three or more to “pop” them.

The game is leveled, and starts off simply enough, with a more or less easy go of it. The number of projectiles is limited, and scoring is based in part by how few bubbles one uses up, so being conservative pays. As the game progresses, the batches get harder to navigate; one gets special pieces with special powers, and rebounding off the wall becomes a valuable skill.

When it’s all said and done, the gameplay boils down to a collection of physics, virtual catapulting and match-3, seasoned with a bit of strategy. It doesn’t tax the mind too much, which is a strength, but does pull on the brain cells a bit. The opportunity cost of decisions is well underscored: does one go for the home run to drop/burst bunches of bubbles, or does one play it safe and take out smaller sets? Go straight or go big and score a rebound? There is a lot of ways to go within the framework of simplicity, and as such, the game lives beyond its supposed scope.

Because of its potential to engage across generations, it is easy to give it a go.

Go ahead.

Always Sometimes Monsters Review

Always Sometimes Monsters Review

Jul 20, 2015

Alright, it’s probably time for disclaimer: Always Sometimes Monsters is long. I’m certain I didn’t complete even a quarter of the game, so I can’t speak for the turns that it may have later than four or so hours that I’ve spent playing it. And it is the kind of a game that you should complete before you state your opinion. So, I apologize for that, but I did play for a long time, so if the game suddenly becomes a strategy or a goat simulator later on, it’s entirely not my fault. But I do think that the game is pretty great.

On the first glance, Always Sometimes Monsters is just a pretentious indie RPG, made with RPG maker – and there’s certainly a lot of those. However, after playing it after a while, you start to understand something. This thing is devilishly great written. The story and the characters and the world are just insanely interesting and hold you for a really long while. It’s even more impressive when you consider that the game is, essentially, a life simulator. The player character needs to go to work, find a place to Always Sometimes Monsters 3sleep and eat, and remember all the little things that would bore you out of your mind in any other game – but here, it strangely works. I’ve never knew I wanted a game where I’m supposed to remember my appointments and decide if I want to spend the last dollar on a meal, or on rent. Graphically and gameplay-wise it’s really not any different from what you’d expect, but I was completely blown away at how skillfully this game simulates a life that is just a bit more exciting that your own. It probably sounds like I’m describing a cheap Sims knock-off, but it’s entirely a different thing.

Overall, I strongly suggest Always Sometimes Monsters for anyone who is alright with playing a game that looks more like a daily life simulator, than a classic “hero” perspective. It may look a bit anime-heavy, and it certainly looks somewhat bland, but it’s just too interesting to skip it.

Empires and Allies Review

Empires and Allies Review

Jul 16, 2015

It almost pains me to say it, but this Zynga-developed, free-to-play, unoriginal economic strategy that steals graphics from one game and mechanics from another, called Empires and Allies, is kind of fun. Now, before the sky falls right down on me, let me explain why.

To sum up its gameplay, it’s suffice to say that Empires and Allies is exactly like Clash Of Clans. It’s got all the same elements, the same battle structure and the same economics, only applied to a modern-day military setting. The player builds his base, trains units, and then attacks AI or player-controlled bases, in order to capture their resources. But, while the core of the game isn’t anything interesting, it still manages to capture attention.

There are three things that make Empires and Allies different – better, even – than Clash of Clans, and all of the titles that rip it off. First and foremost – it’s graphics. The game looks absolutely great. I am totally aware that it steals the graphics look of C&C Generals, but I think that it’s a vastly preferred option, compared to creating another generic fantasy crap. The units are all in glorious 3D, and the game looks absolutely top-notch, while still requiring relatively modest resources.

Second is the lack of energy bar. I may just be mistaken, and if so – feel free to correct me – but I haven’t noticed anything resembling that. I’ve completed a bunch of AI Empires and Allies 2missions in about five missions, and the only thing restricting me from doing more was that my army god beaten up and required new recruits.

The final part is the actual action. Most of the time, real-time parts of games like this are absolutely useless. The player chooses where to spawn his units, and from there he is basically absent. The abilities in those games might as well not be there. In Empires and Allies, though, the player is able to use his abilities at least once, and this can change the tide of battle – at least to some extent.

In the end, it’s just another free-to-play game, albeit with a nice quality to it. It’s still free-to-play, it still requires as much skill as it requires time and money if you want to get anywhere. But it succeeds in eradicating most of the irritating stuff, and it looks good. So, it definitely looks better than its competitor