Castle Doombad Review

Castle Doombad Review

May 28, 2014

Ever since Dungeon Keeper turned out a flop massive enough to sink Japan, I’ve been yearning to play an interesting bad guy dungeon strategy, and Castle Doombad is almost exactly what I was looking for. It’s a trap strategy, somewhat close to the tower defense genre, but at the same time – completely different from it. And, of course, the main hero is a bad guy. Not some poor, misunderstood sob, but a proper torturing, evil and cunning bad guy.

Each level, a mob of self-proclaimed heroes storms your lair in an attempt to kidnap your princess that the evil boss has probably just finished kidnapping himself. There’s a number of cunning traps at your disposal, and they should be used to defeat the armies of good that can’t just leave you well enough alone with your tortured princess. The princess Castle Doombad 2produces screams that are collected and stored as the sole resource for your traps and minions. Incidentally, the minions don’t behave much different from traps, but can move around their floor, which the castle is divided into. The traps are very different and there’s a lot of great synergy between them, like a freezing trap making enemies get hit twice on the floor spikes. There’s a great number of traps and minions in Castle Doombad, and each one of them can be upgraded, giving them new abilities and improving characteristics. Of course, the enemies get tougher and tougher as well, and some of them can destroy your defenses and leave you helpless, if you don’t dispose of them in time. There are special abilities that you can use and turn the tide of an almost lost battle, but they should be kept for later levels.

I didn’t notice many IAP restrictions in Castle Doombad. Sure, the game becomes more and more difficult with each passing level, but smart management and the correct traps for each level almost remove the need to farm the gold on purpose. And repeating the levels is great fun anyway, as is often the case with strategy games. To be fair, if you don’t like optimizing your strategy and thinking about the different tower placements, Castle Doombad will probably seem too tense and punishing, but if you don’t mind the challenge, it’s a fun and unusual mobile strategy game. And it’s about 250% better than Dungeon Keeper 3.

Delta-V Racing Review

Delta-V Racing Review

Aug 16, 2013

Picture the futuristic racer Wipeout, with its high-speed hovercar racing, boost pads, and items to make for an intense racing experience with a dash of combat mixed in. Now picture Gradius. The classic 2D shoot-’em-up with its difficult-to-traverse paths, and unique weapons powerup system. Mix the two, and that’s what Delta-V Racing is. It’s Wipeout gameplay and aesthetics in a Gradius world. And it’s just crazy enough to work.

Seriously, playing the game, there’s no better way to describe it than that it’s a literal combination of the two games. This doesn’t mean that it feels like a rip-off of either: the combination makes it feel unique, and like a really clever idea. There’s the movement feel of a 2D shooter, with constant acceleration forward, but the lap structure of a racer. The powerups are standard combat racing fare: forward-firing missiles, reverse-firing mines, boosts, etc. But the game borrows the Gradius powerup cycling, where running over another item pad goes to the next item in the sequence, presumably a better one, unless it’s the last item cycling back around to the first! This familiar element adds a layer of strategy to the game that fits perfectly.

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The controls are a solid effort, with a 1-to–1 offset vertical sliding system, where sliding up and down the left side of the screen moves the ship, and tapping on the right side will use an item (or if tapped at the start, will launch a starting-line boost). This works well, and is helped by a cursor indicator showing where the ship will be going, which is great for quick sliding movements. Have faith in the cursor! Splendidly, there’s the ability to use an HID gamepad to control the preceedings as well, which is great too, as later levels demand precision.

Delta-V integrates in Google Play games services for achievements, leaderboards, and even a ghost racing feature where players can take on the fastest time of opponents in their circles. I’m glad to see developers using the games services in such unique ways.

This is well worth checking out for fans of shoot ’em ups and futuristic racers, as it combines the two genres deftly. I had a ton of fun with this one, even in later levels where the challenge ramped up.

Scribblenauts Remix Review

Scribblenauts Remix Review

Jul 9, 2013

Anyone who has ever owned a Nintendo DS may well have come across Scribblenauts. Essentially it’s a puzzle game set in a 2D platformer style world where the player has to solve various objectives- be it getting past a locked gate or chopping down a tree- to receive a star and advance to the next level.

What makes it unique is that it’s possible to create just about any object to complete the goals. Simply tap the keyboard icon and type out a word and it will appear on the screen ready to use- just as long as it’s a noun and isn’t anything objectionable or trademarked. Even better it’s possible to add adjectives, so rather than merely creating a giraffe it’s possible to conjure up a ‘tiny, angry giraffe’.
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Scribblenauts Remix plays in exactly the same manner as the original DS games and in fact having played the original games I’d seen much of what Scribblenauts Remix has to offer already, as it consists of 40 old levels and just 10 new ones.

Re-used content aside it’s a sublime experience. Being able to create almost anything is hugely liberating and fun, while having a touchscreen keyboard actually makes it a lot quicker to type things out than in the DS versions. The other controls are slick and more or less perfect as well. Press against the right edge of the screen to move right and the left edge to move left. Maxwell (the player character) will automatically climb up ledges and swim across water so things are kept simple. Once an object or creature has been created simply tapping and dragging it is all that’s necessary to use it or equip it.

It all works brilliantly well and it looks great too. The levels are also surprisingly varied, with goals such as causing the extinction of the dinosaurs without resorting to weapons or meteors. The flip side is that as it’s possible to create just about anything it’s also very easy. Occasionally it’s necessary to think outside the box but normally almost any level can be completed with ease- and often in dozens of different ways.

Thankfully the real fun doesn’t come from the challenge; it comes from experimenting and messing around. It’s basically like having a bottomless toy box. For example I found myself wondering who would win in a fight between a fire breathing lion and a mutated T-Rex, so I created them and found out (it was the T-Rex). It’s a cliché but the only real limit to the fun was my imagination- and I suppose the small scale of the levels. The re-used levels are a shame but for anyone who has never played Scribblenauts this is pretty much essential- particularly at the low price of just $0.99.

Mr. AahH!! Review

Mr. AahH!! Review

May 31, 2013

Ponos, in bringing their infamous iOS title Mr. Aahh to Android, bring forth somewhat of a different aesthetic to the platform than others do, thanks to the studio’s Japanese origins.

The game itself has players controlling the daredevil Mr. Aahh, who enjoys swinging from platform to platform, trying to land as close to the center as possible. Well, I say he enjoys it, but there’s no actual proof of that. He could just be forced to jump thanks to a tyrannical regime. Consider that! Well, whoever or whatever is causing this to happen, players must time Mr. Aahh’s jump to land as close to the center of the platform as possible However, landing on the platform to begin with is very important, as missing a landing causes the loss of a life. Three falls and it’s game over for Mr. Aahh.

The game is very simple to play, just tapping on the screen to jump once Mr. Aahh starts swinging, tilting to fine-tune the jump.. The game picks up in challenge as variable wind and gravity comes in to play. Suddenly jumps get to be a lot more difficult when the wind is blowing in Mr. Aahh’s face and gravity has increased.

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The game does a good job at ensuring that players have a rough feel for how the physics work even when the physics get twist-turned upside down. The game requires learning the ‘feel’ of it and how it works, and that takes practice, but it’s rewarding the more that players play. As well, with greater bonuses for landing near the middle and getting ‘JUST’ bonuses consecutively, mastery is especially rewarded.

Now, I think that the aesthetic of Japanese games is something that gets kind of missed in the recent era of gaming: Japanese gaming has a special feel to it that’s represented here. Whether it’s just the music that sounds like it was straight out of a 16-bit game, and just different enough from other chiptunes that are out there. It just has a different feel that’s quite welcome. Japanese gaming has a heavy continuing influence on game developers as a whole, and there’s no reason why it can’t continue.

Mr. Aahh has a simple premise and lots of fun that will come from it. There’s even online leaderboards, albeit with a system that visually apes the look of Game Center on iOS. Fans of arcade-style gaming need to check this one out.

Ice Rage Review

Ice Rage Review

Apr 26, 2013

Mountain Sheep’s arcade hockey game Ice Rage has finally made its way to Android thanks to Herocraft – is this game a slap shot goal or power play where the team with the advantage does not score?

I’m not too well-versed in hockey.

There are no power plays or penalties or icing here, as it’s all about one-on-one hockey action. It’s really more akin to air hockey instead of ‘actual’ hockey in any way. Players can check the opponent to get the puck, and when they have it, it’s possible to hold down on the one virtual button on screen to charge up and aim a shot. Matches last one just minute in most modes, so it’s perfect for fast sessions.

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There’s plenty of crazy action that goes on here, with arrow angles and tough shots to make. Just because it’s arcade hockey doesn’t mean that some degree of precision is unnecessary! The arcade ladder made with temporary character upgrades is a fun diversion, and the later difficulties with things like manual goalie control help out as well. There’s a crazy set of characters to play as, including Enviro-Bear. Bear is playing hockey, how can this be?

The controls feature a very simple joystick-and-one-button control scheme, but the fast pace of the gameplay combined with the general entropy that arises from skating on ice makes it very difficult to accurately maneuver. Sure, this is to be somewhat expected, but still, it feels like it’s just too hard to maneuver. Having a floating joystick instead of a fixed one would be a big step forward for the controls. Of course, there’s the ability to just play with one button and not move around manually at all, but it’s not exactly a solution, it’s just a compromise.

While Ice Rage is far from perfect, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had here, and getting a tricky shot in goal is still just extremely satisfying, no matter what else happens.

Syder Arcade HD Review

Syder Arcade HD Review

Feb 8, 2013

Fans of retro-style shoot ’em ups with modern twists ought to check out Syder Arcade. Studio Evil’s debut title, a Defender and Amiga-era pastiche (as discussed recently on The Portable Podcast), strikes just the right nerve as a solid shooter.

Like all good shoot ’em ups, the player has plenty of opportunities to shoot alien spacecraft, because that’s just fun. Players start by choosing a ship from one of three choices with differing weapons and statistics. The battlefield is two-dimensional and free-scrolling, where players can flip the direction they face. Players have a health bar, and can charge up a special attack by taking out enemies and picking up powerups. Boss enemies occasionally come by that need to be destroyed, which is where the special attacks come in handy! Well, that and the numerous enemy fleets, the special attacks help with those too.

There’s a campaign mode to go along with a survival mode, though the ultimate goal in each is simply to blow up enemies before getting blown up, though campaign levels occasionally have targets to protect. But hey, the best defense is a good offense, namely destroying all ships that come in. And that’s the fun of the game: blasting everything and watching the colorful explosions.

The graphics for the game are well done, though amongst all the noise and chaos it can be easy to lose track of the player’s ship. The virtual joystick on phone-sized screens can be small and it has a small activation area, which is tricky to use.

It’s hard for me to say anything too bad about the game, nor anything that’s especially effusive in praise. Syder Arcade just exists as it is, a retro-styled shoot ’em up that wants to let players destroy waves of enemies, unleash special abilities, and just have some mindless fun for a little while. That’s perfectly fine! It’s not a game of the year candidate, but it’s something those who download it and check it out will enjoy.

VitaCode Turns Phone Numbers Into Ringtones

VitaCode Turns Phone Numbers Into Ringtones

Jan 25, 2013

The problem with basic ringtones is that they aren’t all that identifiable – if you want to know who’s calling based on the sound that’s playing but don’t want to have things like music just always coming from your phone, your options are limited. Enter VitaCode.

What VitaCode does is that it takes a phone number, and it turns it into a musical tone that plays when people call. Users can customize the instruments that play with the tone; 4 are available for free, with 101 in total available with the Pro version, which can be unlocked through an in-app purchase.

The app runs at startup, and replaces all ringtones with the musical tone. Right now, it is not possible to generate a single file with a ringtone, so it is an all-or-nothing proposition. The app is available as a free download from Google Play. If this app interests you, and you want to take the Pro features for a spin, you’re in luck! Comment below or tweet at us for a gift code for the Pro version, unlockable in the app’s settings!

Sleepwalker’s Journey Review

Sleepwalker’s Journey Review

Jan 3, 2013

Typically, 11 Bit Studios has been known as a more traditional gamer’s development studio. After all, their first big mobile title was the Anomaly series, games that took the tower defense formula that’s been big the last few years in particular, and let players control the invading creeps.

Sleepwalker’s Journey is not like that very much, so it’d be hard to believe at first that this is from the same studio. This is a puzzle platformer, where players control a poor sleepwalking fellow. See, he not only sleepwalks everywhere, but he also keeps sleepwalking into perilous situations. So it’s up to the player, as the invisible hand of fate, to guide the sleepwalker safely to bed for another night of sleep. There’s no direct control of the sleepwalker; players instead manipulate the environment around him to get him where he needsw to go, moving platforms, switching ramp positions, and activating switches. There are three sub-goals: collect all three moon icons, collect all the stars, and finish a level under the time limit.

Now, time is relative in Sleepwalker’s Journey. This is because it’s possible to both reverse time to correct mistakes and fast-forward through sections. Now, any actions with time will keep the normal clock going, so reversing time means that there’s less time to finish and get the clock, and fast forwarding will make it easier to finish in enough time. Make sense?

The levels wind up being a creative blend between thinking-based puzzle gameplay with plenty of timing-based elements. The puzzles, in order to get gold on them by completing all 3 sub-objectives, require that players think on their feet along with having a plan. It isn’t possible to scroll around the levels, so it’s often easier to execute a gameplan on later playthroughs. The artwork looks great as well, with a hand-painted look as well.

While the lack of scrolling through levels, and the constant forward movement of the character can make the game feel somewhat rigid, this is an otherwise-fun puzzle game to check out.

Meganoid 2 Review

Meganoid 2 Review

Oct 26, 2012

As outlined in our preview the other day, Meganoid 2 is not a game for the faint-of-heart. This is a very challenging platformer. The goal is quite simple: get to the end alive. And if that wasn’t hard enough, then there’s additional objectives for getting to the end in under the time limit, and for finding the golden idol in each level. It’s usually cleverly hidden somewhere in secret paths. There’s spikes, falling blocks, disintegrating platformss, snakes, and giant boulders standing between the player and ultimate success.

The visual style actually doesn’t resemble the original Meganoid much at all: gone are the bright colors, replaced with the kind of dank caverns that fill an adventurer’s days and nights. I’m almost suprised that this isn’t a spinoff of Super Drill Panic, given the similar visual themes, but Meganoid may have more brand recognition. Hard to fault that.

The challenge level is the most frustrating thing, but it’s also rewarding. There’s nothing quite like managing to get that one incredibly difficult level figured out, itis perils melting away with perfect jumps, and manging to avoid running into those falling blocks. Blocks bad!

The button placement is customizable, which is handy because there’s a small gap between the two directional buttons.I would like to see custom sizing of the buttons, and maybe a way to more easily snap them along the same horizontal line; as it is now, it’s easier for them to be just slightly askew. It can be maddening.

Quick reaction times are really necessary, and the levels are set up to be absurdly challenging. There is zero forgiveness, and very tight timing windows throughout. Good luck. The difficulty curve of the levels can be uneven, with some that took me dozens of tries to complete, while I completed the next level in one shot. Maybe I’m just that good.

Fans of Orangepixel games, retro-style adventures, or those just looking for a challenge, will get what they want out of Meganoid 2. It’s often frustrating for various reasons, but is often very satisfying.

League of Evil Review

League of Evil Review

Oct 9, 2012

Fans of trial platformers on Android devices have missed out on one of the best original titles for mobile: League of Evil. Now, thanks to NoodleCake with Ravenous Games, evil scientists are only safe on Windows Phone. The premise? The League of Evil is doing evil things, so the UN calls on the Global Defense Force to save the day, but the GDF’s budget is a bit limited, so it’s really only one guy, a bionic warrior who has no guns and dies at the slightest adverse contact, but is rather acrobatic and can punch really hard. When it comes to killing those no-good scientists just standing still in out-of-the-way locations, he’s the robot man for the job. Thus, the goal is to double-jump and punch with great velocity through the many trials in the way.

And I do mean many trials. There’s a ton of content here, over 200 levels available in total for the low, low cost of $0.99. Seriously, while many of the levels can be beaten quickly, many can most assuredly not and will take some time to truly conquer. There’s plenty of reasons to keep coming back to this one. It’s funny, because I thought the game lacked content on its original iOS release, but later level packs made the game dramatically increase in replay value, and they’re here from the start for Android gamers.

The game really shines on the larger screens of Android phones. The pixel art still looks great on high-resolution screens, and there’s plenty of room for the responsive virtual controls; they’re the next best thing to physical controls. The goals of getting the briefcase and finishing under a certain time provide plenty of motivation to replay levels, to try and nail that perfect run, though it is possible to just survive and advance.

League of Evil is one of the better trial platformers available, what with its massive amount of content and great retro style at a low price. Action fans should pick this one up.

Photon Review

Photon Review

Sep 11, 2012

Photon is a match–3 game that uses line-drawing to sink its hooks in. The year is 20XX, and discs are falling from the sky, and the only way to save humanity is by matching them up by the same color 3 or more at a time. That’s not the story, there is no story, I’m making it up because these games need a story to them. I mean, something has to be causing these objects to fall from the sky, and there’s some reason that they need to be matched up three at a time, like trying to one-up Noah’s Ark somehow. Anywho, the discs pile up, and players must draw lines between somewhat adjacent discs (the rules are a bit flexible with what’s adjacent and what isn’t) in order to destroy them. In “Classic” mode, there are special discs that either require multiple matches to get rid of, or start expanding until matched. Arcade mode (available for $0.99) lasts 90 seconds, features none of the hazardous blocks, and has powerups for making frantic score runs even more possible.

The game’s simplicity is part of its charm. It’s easy enough to get into, and the way that physics affect the stack makes it more than just another match–3 title. It still is a match–3 game, it just feels fresher. The futuristic interface is a nice touch too. It’s minimalist, and it works. Colorblind folks need not worry, as the discs can be set up with patterns to be viewed independent of their color. The game works exceptionally well on 7" tablets. Google has it featured in Google Play as a great tablet app, and I concur: the interface and controls are perfect for the small-yet-big dynamic of something like the Nexus 7.

Photon is freemium, and really, the unlocks are kind of backward. The free mode is an endless one, where the only thing stopping the game session is if the discs stack all the way up. The Arcade mode, which lasts a minute per session and has coins for players to use on powerups, which can also be bought with real-world money, costs $0.99 to unlock. This is fair, but probably not the most profitable option for Bifrost Studios. If Arcade was free, then they could drive some downloads of consumable IAP, and then sell the free version.

Still, it’s something that benefits the player, and the Arcade mode is worth $0.99 (plus, it gives out a ton of free coins, and my high score came without powerups). At worst, even just Classic mode is well worth the free download!

Ski Safari Review

Ski Safari Review

Aug 13, 2012

Endless runners are en vogue, but what about endless skiiers? Why aren’t they a wildly-imitated method of transportation in endless games? It seems like a natural fit, with skiing being a downhill activity. Gravity never ends! And neither does Ski Safari. Players control poor Sven, who is roused from his restful slumber by an oncoming avalanche. So, he must ski and keep on skiing, or it won’t end well for him. Thankfully, Sven is quite the adept skiier. He can do backflips in the air, or more appropriately, the player can make him do backflips in the air that increase his speed and points multiplier, because even when faced with oncoming death, Sven is all about style points. Sven is such an adept skiier that he doesn’t even need to necessarily use skis. Penguins? Sure! Ride on the back of a yeti? Go for it! Ride the wings of an eagle? Definitely! Heck, he can even ride a snowmobile, which isn’t really skiing. But Sven’s such a cool guy that he lets the animals ride with him.

The interesting thing with Ski Safari is that despite having coins to earn, and items to unlock, there’s no in-app purchases at all. It’s easy to forget that IAP can really corrupt progression curves, and become about subtly suggesting purchases, rather than making the player carefully consider what they want to do with their earnings.

Interestingly, the game can kind of play itself – kind of. Just let it sit there without touching anything, and Sven will ski for a while, maybe even get the score into 5 digits, if the yetis are favorable. It goes on a bit longer than most endless runners would if left untouched, but then again Ski Safari has no need for bottomless pits.

The rotation can be tricky to handle – sometimes there’s just barely enough room to nail that landing and keep that snowmobile with a yeti and penguin on it from blowing up, slowing things down just enough to make that avalanche seem perilously close. Also, I don’t know if it’s a bug or a feature, but sometimes when riding the eagle and falling from a great height, Sven would just fall straight through the mountain. Game over.

Ski Safari is fun because it’s such a lightweight experience. Just jump in, make a great high score run, don’t feel pressured to be buying upgrades because there’s no way to earn them. There are missions, but these wind up feeling a lot more natural than in many games. This feels a lot more like it’s purely about high scores, rather than about trying to keep the player invested long enough to spend money. It’s nice to remember the true goal of the genre with this.

Until Defiant Development gets smart and adds it in, because hey, we all gotta get paid.