TNNS Review

TNNS Review

Nov 20, 2012

TNNS is Action Button Entertainment’s second game and first Android title, co-created with Rabbx. Those who recall my Ziggurat review (due to the original publisher folding, the game’s been re-released as a self-published title now with widescreen support) will know that I loved the game except for one thing: the controls. Well, history repeats itself.

This is a take on the classic Pong and Breakout formula, where the goal is to break blocks by bouncing balls off of the block at the bottom. The twist is literal: the balls can be bent in any direction or sped up by moving the finger in the desired direction during the slowdown period after the ball is hit.

This mechanic gives the game a unique feel, and it makes it feel like the player has more of a say over what is happening; a perfectly-bent shot is like nothing else. The goal is to hit the star box in each level to complete it, and with hundreds of level segments appearing in random order, each time feels different. Oh, and there’s same-device multiplayer for that true Pong action, in both TNNS enhanced mode, and a classic no-frills mode as well.

But oh, much like Ziggurat, my frustration with the controls is the one thing holding me back from truly, truly loving this game. The paddle controls are all 1:1, which allows for bending of the ball as it hits off the paddle to work extremely well. But it seems like there’s just not enough room for the player’s thumb to maneuver the paddle without obscuring things. This is because due to the ‘waggle’ mechanic, there’s just too much two-dimensional movement of the thumb to not often be blocking something. It’s especially noticeable on the iPad. Even on a widescreen device, it still feels like there’s just too much obscurity, in a literal sense. I played this game on 6 different devices across iOS and Android, and I only really felt somewhat comfortable on the Motorola Xoom, a 16:10 10.1″ tablet. Seriously. Perhaps if the game gave players three lives to play with instead of just one, so that mistakes didn’t feel like end of the world, then the game would be a lot more fun.

Someday, I’m sure that the creative ideas of Action Button Entertainment will come in a package that I will truly appreciate the controls for, and I will love it unequivocally. Maybe next time.

Bit.Trip Beat Review

Bit.Trip Beat Review

Oct 30, 2012

Ever play a game, then come back to it a long time later and find your reaction completely changed to it? Well, Bit.Trip Beat caused that to happen to me, for one big reason. This rhythm-meets-Pong game just never really clicked with me before, as I found it too difficult to control and thus enjoy.

Now, when I’ve played Bit.Trip Beat before, it’s usually been on normal. I’m a big manly man, I don’t like my games easy. I’ve played it on iPhone, iPad, and 3DS, and it never really stuck with me. Maybe the controls weren’t accurate enough, or the game felt unfairly hard, or whatever it was. It just never clicked. Then, the game was part of a previous Humble Bundle for Android, and it found its way on to my Nexus 7. One day, when trying to clear space off of it (why did I buy the 8 GB version?) I figured I might as well play it once before I cast it into purgatory. Sure, there’s a sunk cost fallacy working in my brain over “not wanting to waste the bandwidth” but hey, I’m sure the Humble folks would appreciate it too. So, I sit down and play it.

Lo and behold, I’m doing well and I’m actually enjoying it.

The 7“ screen size seems to be the perfect combination for the touch controls between getting easier range of motion like on a phone, but not blocking the screen like on a 10” tablet. The in-between size works very well for the game. Maybe that was it?

Well, it turns out that for some reason, I had the difficulty set to Easy. Likely came that way. And as I beat two of the three worlds that contain songs, I realized something: I was having fun. Since the challenge was staying out of the way of enjoyment, I actually thought that the game’s unique concept was enjoyable and accessible. If turning a game down to easy, making it more forgiving but also enabling less-skilled players to actually progress, then where’s the shame in that? I finally found some enjoyment out of Bit.Trip Beat by unintentionally toning it down, and it feels great.

So, to those that may not have played this yet – it’s been around the block, you probably own multiple platforms that can play the game – I say, its combination of Pong and rhythm gaming is interesting enough, check it out. Just play the game on easy first.

Block Breaker 3 Unlimited Review

Block Breaker 3 Unlimited Review

Sep 19, 2011

The classic ball & paddle game sure has come a long way since Tennis for Two, evolving into Pong and other games such as Breakout and Arkanoid. As those games pass ever further into history, new games crop up that take the classic gameplay and add new features. Just simply breaking blocks is no longer enough to make a game interesting. As Block Breaker 3 Unlimited reveals, sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks.

More like Arkanoid than Breakout, Block Breaker 3 Unlimited has you breaking blocks arranged in patterns while enemy creatures float about the stage, grabbing the ball and firing it back at you. Meanwhile, certain blocks drop power-ups that can either help, or hurt, your efforts to break all of the blocks. So far, none of that is new. However, as you play through each level, the game begins to take on more of its own identity.

One thing that makes Block Breaker 3 Unlimited unique is that each level is arranged in multiple spaces connected by tubes. When you’ve met a certain condition in one space, a gate opens to give the ball access to a tube which pulls it into another space. Suddenly, you have new creatures to battle, more blocks to break and more power-ups to catch. But the challenge also increases as you still have the same, limited number of lives.

As a timer counts down, you’re helpless to go back and pick off the blocks you missed in previous areas. From there on out, you have no choice but to continue on as you try to survive while striving towards a 3-star rating at the end of each level. You’re also looking to take as many balls with you to raise a score multiplier, either by catching a “triple ball” power-up or by locking balls in holding slots and getting to the end. All of this is setting you up for another unique feature: boss fights.

The levels are arranged in groups called “locations.” For example, the first location is a “club” setting with a very Lady Gaga-esque character (complete with background music which, much to my chagrin, sounds like a take on one of Lady Gaga’s “hits”) who taunts you and belittles you when you fail to pass a level. Defeat her boss, earn a special new perk and move on to the next location. However, the game still isn’t over, even after you’ve defeated all of the bosses.

There are multiple modes of play, secret levels and a level generator. Of course, there’s a social aspect with links to post achievements on Facebook. In addition, there are perks you can purchase to help you in the game — although, my one major gripe is that the perk system doesn’t seem to make much sense. I tried adding new perks, but it never seemed to work for me.

As you can see, in Block Breaker 3 Unlimited, the classic ball and paddle game has been given a serious upgrade with plenty of glitz and glamor for a solid experience, despite one flawed perks system.

BallBall Review

BallBall Review

May 17, 2011

Sometimes, we tend to over-complicate things. It’s easy to do, especially when it comes to app design – throw in a new feature here, develop a revolutionary control system there. More often than not though, simplicity is the best method, which is one of the reasons that BallBall works so damn well.

BallBall, developed by Whatwhat Studio, is essentially a backwards, single player version of Pong. Sort of. The screen is split in two by a divider; on one side there are orange bouncing balls, on the other, green bouncing balls. The divider has a gap in it, which can be slid up and down and that’s the only control you have over the game. Your task – moving the balls to the opposite sides they start on. Simple.

Except, in practice, it’s not. The game starts off at a gentle stroll, with one or two balls on either side and hair pulling and screams of frustration at a bare minimum. As things progress, and more and more balls are dropped into the equation, the game becomes an exercise in split second reactions and spectacular, user generated, swear words.

There are two modes offered, although there’s not much difference between them at first glance – in normal, the balls pass through one another and in collision they, well, collide. The difference becomes clear in later levels, when ricochets and chain reactions will have you sliding your divider like a demon.

The game’s not perfect, of course – there seem to be some crashing and updating issues that could do with sorting out and the basic art and design aren’t going to be to everyone’s taste, and there doesn’t seem to be any sound in the game, but these are minor quibbles at worst.

Whatwhat have shown how, for all the punch your phone packs, all a game has to do to capture your attention is be eminently playable. Ballball is a master class in designing mobile games – simple, effective and hugely addictive. This is a must have.