Squarescape Review

Squarescape Review

Aug 14, 2013

Gotta say, simple games that test my mind are ALWAYS welcome… which is why I figure Squareshape should be a breath of fresh air. Having Noodlecake Studios as the developer certainly doesn’t hurt its reputation either.

The game come in in 2D format. In each level, there is a container of mostly irregular design. This container generally has two exits, and a dot/ball somewhere in the container. There is a also a small square which is in essence the playing piece. The overall objective of each puzzle is nice the playing piece from the entrance to the exit, while collecting the dot on the way.

Between the playing square, the dot and the exit is a series of objects that can help or hinder the goal. There are square1stationary squares that are the same size as the playing square.

The real challenge is harnessing the movement of the playing piece. Swiping it makes it move indefinitely till it is stopped by a container wall or one of the squares in question. In this sense, the squares could be help or hindrances. As the game progresses, there are new elements added, like freeze squares which stop the playing square in place when traveled over and Xs, which destroy the squares and forces the level to be restarted.

The indefinite movement of the playing square is what makes the game such a challenge. As noted, it only stops when stopped by a stationary square, a container wall or a freeze square. Thus, positioning to get the dot, and then move on out of the container becomes quite tricky. The X spots are positioned such that it is possible to get trapped with a bad move.

And, oh yeah… the puzzles should be completed with a minimum of moves.

This game is so simply laid out that the potential for fun could be easily overlooked at first glance. That will be a mistake; there are few time wasters better.

Little Things Forever Review

Little Things Forever Review

Feb 7, 2013

I love all sort of games. Action, adventure, fantasy. But there is a very special place in my heart for hidden object games. They represent a passive aggressive challenge for my senses.

Little Things Forever is an enjoyable hidden object game that doesn’t concern itself with naturescapes or overly ambitious attempts at logical images. It simply packs in images into a bigger images and creates wanna-be detectives all at the same time.

Gameplay looked to be deceptively simple. After some interesting animations, I was presented a shape that contained a bunch of smaller shapes. To the right was a list of items in that bigger shape that I needed to find. Now, the kicker was that the smaller shapes (that made up the larger shapes) were VERY tightly packed in. They (the smaller shapes) consisted of different colors, and there was some overlap. The developer also cleverly used plenty of red herrings to trick the mind. For instance, finding a “fox” was hard enough without tripping over raccoons, bears and dragons in repose. Similarly, I hilariously wasted plenty of time looking for a pot of food rather than a pepper in the name of finding “chili.” Of course, the list of items rarely had items of a similar nature, except when it had me looking for two of one item, like a boot.

Speed was the name of the game, and successful completion of puzzles was rewarded with puzzle pieces and/or more levels. The puzzle pieces eventually opened up monotony-slaying jigsaw puzzles that could be rotated and re-arranged to create a picture of more objects. Some puzzles were timed, also adding to the fun factor. The game kept count of errant touches, and graded overall performance with adjectives.

The developer did a good job with media; I liked the music and the visuals. The objects looked like they were supposed to look.

For the calming effect a hidden object game should have, Little Things Forever strikes big, and is a fun addition to a popular genre.

Matchblocks Review

Matchblocks Review

Dec 4, 2012

Matchblocks is a fun, creative game from industry veteran Noodlecake that manages to meld visual elements of Tetris with color-matching games to create a surprisingly effective handheld adventure. While the physics of the game make comparisons to Tetris understandable, I hesitate to describe it as a Tetris clone, as the addition of said color-matching (that I go into below) is what sets it square on its own road.

The game involves rectangular puzzle pieces dropping from the top of the playing screen. Unlike Tetris, the blocks didn’t fall in clean, linear paths; it was free fall all the way down. Each block consisted of segmented color squares: green yellow and orange in springy pastels. Using a color-bar at the bottom of the play area, I had to tap the colors in the order they appeared in the respective blocks to dissolve each, because, as with Tetris, if the stack of blocks made it to the top, the game was over. Dropping buttons with dots (corresponding with the number of times they had to be tapped to be dissolved) and some with bonuses also ate into the space I had, so quick reaction time and dexterity of finger(s) were some of the keys to getting high scores.

As expected, it started off easy, and then got harder, with the blocks stacking in irregular patterns. Strategizing does play a role in success, as clearing from the bottom (which seems logical), isn’t always the best choice. When the height gets critical, one is greeted with a reddish warning hue.

Now, while speed is key, I can’t help but wonder why the developer used soft pastels instead of bright colors. Whether or not it was a conscious decision, I thought it was very welcome, as it made the game that more challenging, as more care had to be given to select the right colors.

The game features different modes (such as arcade, timed and zen); none deviated from the general principles of gameplay.

I liked the total package. I wish there was a form of head-to-head battle, but incorporated social sharing adds value in my opinion.

Motley Blocks Review

Motley Blocks is a uniquely addictive puzzle game with an arcade twist. While its goal is as simple as connecting blocks with the same color, the execution is not as easy as it seems. For something that’s visually sparse, it’s still pretty addictive and fun to play.

The challenging element of Motley Blocks is not so much as connecting same-colored blocks, but managing to do it while they rotate within a limited amount of time. In this game, you not only need to clear all blocks, but get it done on time.

To connect the blocks, one only needs to swipe through them and release when finished. The longer the link, the bigger the points earned. Blocks can be linked together as long as they’re near each other and are not blocked by other blocks with a different color. All blocks should be cleared before the time limit. The game makes clearing boxes more entertaining by having the cleared blocks form different images such as human figures, animals, and even food items.

One does not need to complete a level before going to the next one, and there is an option to replay a level or proceed to the next one regardless if the current level was cleared or not.

The game requires internet connection and a registration (by providing an email address) or a link to a Facebook account. This is needed to play the game’s main mode, which takes the player to all levels and saves game data. There is, however, a Quick Play mode, which can be played without a network connection, but will not store game data. As a result, one would have to start over every time Quick Play is restarted.

The main game mode also allows for accumulating points, social sharing, leaderboards and power ups. At the start of each level, one can purchase different power ups such as bombs to clear off blocks faster, freeze blocks, and a time extension for longer playing time. These can be bought by using points accumulated throughout the game.

Another nice addition is being able to create images and sharing them to other players.

The loading screens are a bit clunky on my HTC Sensation, but once the game starts, the lag seems to disappear. Tapping on blocks and linking them might be easier if the blocks where bigger, or some might actually prefer a bigger screen to see where their finger is going.

The game is 80 levels rich, and have interesting images with a Lego-esque feel. This should keep one entertained enough even without replaying it.

I must say Motley Blocks is the first block-breaking puzzler of its kind. It’s unique, fun and surprisingly interactive. While its game play may not be for everyone, those who get the hang of it and try to build an expertise are greatly rewarded. I almost gave up on it at first, but giving it a few more rounds actually had me hooked. After all, puzzles should be challenging while being fun at the same time.

Brained Lite Review

Brained Lite Review

Nov 11, 2011

Since the early days of humanity, people have been creating logic puzzles in order to amuse (and sometimes enrage) their friends. As time went on we started publishing books full of riddles and brain teasers, and eventually we started creating video games full of brain teasers. Brained Lite brings a collection of brain teasers to the Android platform. Some of those brain teasers will be familiar to you, and some won’t, and some…. well some fall into an all together different category from the rest.

Brained Lite offers some puzzles you might recognize from other brain teaser games like Brainage for the Nintendo DS. for example, you’ll probably recognize the “click the right color” puzzle where you’ll see the name of a color written in a different color. The actual color of the text is the color you want to click. You’ll have to click the colors in a timely fashion to pass the challenge, and as such, it gives your mind a bit of a workout.

Another of the brain teasers found in Brained Lite tasks you with cracking the combination to a safe. Above the safe are four dials. Each dial has a slit on it, and without giving anything away, those slits give you the combination. Not the most imaginative puzzle, but still a brain teaser.

Then there’s this other “puzzle”. At one point, the game flashes a series of circles on the screen and asks you to click only circles of certain colors. That’s it. That’s all their is to that particular brain teaser – just click the right colors as they flash across the screen. No logic necessary, just good old fashioned reflexes.

Brained Lite is sort of a mixed bag. Some of the puzzles will test your critical thinking skills, and force you to use logic to find the solution, while others will reduce you to tapping the screen quickly, or just using random guesses to find the answer, as there is no actual logic to them. Brained Lite is free, so if you really love brain teasers, it may be worth slogging through some of the worse puzzles to get to some of the better ones, but realistically, you’ll probably want to hold out for a better brain teaser game, or just pick up one of the many high quality puzzle games we’ve covered in the past.

Poker Swap Pro Review

Poker Swap Pro Review

Sep 28, 2011

Think you’ve got a pretty good poker face? Well, save it, because it won’t help you here. Poker Swap Pro takes the idea of assembling different poker hands from the cards you have available to you and turns it into a decent game of solitaire. Chips, cigars and a few extra buddies with thick wallets are also not required.

As far as puzzle games go, Poker Swap Pro isn’t very deep. You have 5 rows and 5 columns of cards, and all you’re doing is swapping them, one at a time, to assemble high-scoring hands vertically and horizontally. Depending on the game mode, you’ll be given a time limit, or a set goal score to beat before you can move on to the next round. There’s also a Zen Mode, with no time limit or other pressures holding you down. It’s just you and the cards, mixing and matching to your heart’s desire.

The addition of special cards with unique attributes add a bit more strategy to the game. You have cards that increase the time limit, score multipliers, locked cards and a stone piece that can be moved, but prevents you from making a full hand in that row/column. You also have to watch out for repeating matches you’ve already made, as this will deduct points. In Survival Mode, you need to be especially careful. You might hit the goal, but find yourself going under it when you make too many mistakes.

The graphics in Poker Swap Pro are rather plain and dull. Cards, menus and other interactive elements barely animate or show off any sort of glitz; they all seem too utilitarian. On one hand, it’s a puzzle game; you don’t really need glitz. On the other hand, some polish is better than none. The same goes for the sound. With no background music, all you have are the sounds of chimes that announce when a special card is in play, an element has been touched or when the cards are shuffling. That’s about it.

My biggest complaint about the game is that it requires you to already have a working knowledge of what cards constitute different hands in poker. If you don’t know the difference between a “flush” and a “straight flush,” you may have trouble getting high scores. On top of that, the game doesn’t tell you what hand you’ve just made, nor does it tell you how to make each kind of hand. This can be a pretty rough experience for newcomers who are not only unfamiliar with this game but who know nothing of poker (or could at least use a quick refresher) as well.

If you know a thing or two about poker and really like solitaire games, Poker Swap Pro can be a lot of fun. Even if you don’t know anything about poker, it’s easy to learn the different hands while having a good time. Then you have OpenFeint achievements, scoreboards and more to make this simple game a great challenge for yourself, or between friends.

Sparkle Free Review

Sparkle Free Review

Sep 27, 2011

You’re about to enter the dark and sinister Crowberry Woods. As the enchanted woodland has fallen under an evil spell, darkness has come over it and no one who ventures in is safe. As you search for ancient artifacts, amulets and other items, you’ll encounter a series of match-3 action puzzles which much be solved before you may pass! At least, that’s the premise of Sparkle Free, which has you choosing paths through a dark, mystical woods.

The puzzles you encounter in Sparkle Free as you move through the Crowberry Woods involve shooting a colored ball from a stationary turret at a line of colored balls which are rolling along a track, slowly moving toward a dark pit at the end. If they reach the end before you can clear them, you’ll lose a life as the level ends and be one step closer to starting over from scratch. It’s a rough challenge, but you’ll have a few items to help you out.

At certain points, you can win extra lives while recovering amulets and other power items. Each amulet has its own set of powers that can aid you, although some add an extra hindrance as a condition of their use. Also, being limited in the number of amulets you can wear, you’ll have to choose which ones suit your playing style the best. At the end of each path is an additional object waiting to be found, each helping to bring the light back to the woods as you progress through the game.

The power-ups you’ll be able to activate during the puzzles are also very helpful. Some will eliminate an entire color while others allow you to “blast” the balls right off the stage. During the easier puzzles, I tended to ignore the power-ups as I tried to get higher combos for more points. Later, though, the game gets very challenging, and I began to forget about setting up combos in favor of focusing on power-ups and ball elimination. With a limited number of lives, the sense of urgency when things get tough is extremely high.

As polished and nice as Sparkle Free is, it’s really just a preview of the full game, which hasn’t arrived, yet. Once you’ve passed the final level, that’s it. The game abruptly ends with only a “Thank you for playing, please play the full version,” screen to meet you on the other side. No more story, no more amulets to collect, nothing. All we can do is wait for the full game.

Regardless of the abrupt ending, it’s still a great, fun game with a lot of levels to keep you busy. You’ll get a good look at some of the features of the full game, including in-game achievements and more.

Gameplay-wise, Sparkle Free may be a Zuma clone, but I was surprised to find the extra polish and the pretense of an adventure through a mystical woods to make this a delightful time-killer. I just wish the full game were already available.

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.

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.

Phantom Probes Review

Phantom Probes Review

Jun 15, 2011

Phantom Probes is part puzzle game, part guessing game. There is an invisible shape that the player must discover the identity of from one of 3 possibilities. To help figure this out, there are 3 probes to use the will give clues to the shape of the object. These vary from magnetic balls that will fall on the shape, bullets that fall on the shape, and a wave that will fall partway down the screen to possibly hit the object (though not hitting the object is as much a clue as hitting it is). There are hints available, at the penalty of 1 minute on the timer, that shows the side of the object that the probes are hitting. Guessing wrong results in a 5 minute penalty.

Phantom Probes does a great job at making players use their deductive skills to figure out what the shapes are. It’s satisfying when something convincing about the shape is revealed by one of the probes. Soem of the later shapes are particularly tricky, and since the game randomizes the shape per level, just trying to use the tactic of quickly randomly guessing is largely just a waste of time – and not very fun, to boot.

The problem is the way the game’s progression works; right now, it’s based off of a single level time, with the game only adding five minutes per wrong guess. This would work better in a continuous stretch of gameplay, like if the goal was to try and get a certain number of objects in a row correct, then the penalty would mean more. For single levels that can be quit and then restarted, it makes a lot of the challenge dissipate. The developer is working on this, but it still isn’t quite at the level it needs to be. The game itself is interesting at times; it’s the meta elements that need a lot of work.

Phantom Probes needs a lot of work in the setup of the game itself, the concept is intriguing. It just needs a lot of work to be brought out in a form that makes it a great game.

101 Games in 1 Review

101 Games in 1 Review

Jun 1, 2011

101 games for the price of 1. Sounds like a great deal, right? Especially when you consider that the price of those games is free, how you can you possibly beat that? Well, just because something is free doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost something. Like, your precious time, for example.

This collection of mini-games was produced by Nordcurrent, a European game developer and publisher. Ported from the iPhone, 101 Games in 1 features puzzle games, arcade action games, gallery shooters, racing, sports, cooking and even Sudoku. There’s a little something here for everyone, and as you play through them, you’re sure to find a few diamonds in the rough. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many diamonds to be found, but there is PLENTY of rough.

In the beginning, you start with 10 games that you can play to your heart’s content. Each time you play the game, you’re aiming to beat a certain score so that you can rack up enough points to unlock more games. As you go, the games become more expensive, requiring you to go back, play the unlocked games more and get even higher scores. It’s not an unreasonable proposition, and certainly adds to the replay value, assuming you like what you’re playing.

The games in this collection are all simple, easy to play games. Some simply require you to touch the screen to get some action to happen while others will have you frantically tapping and dragging objects all over the place. As for the difficulty, the games range from very easy to nearly impossible.

An example of an extremely easy game is the air-hockey game, Tornado Hockey. Laughably, I discovered several “sweet spots” where I was able to park my mallet and watch the AI continually miss the puck. Again and again, the puck just kept bouncing right into the goal. After a while, I set my phone down and waited for the timer to expire. The AI never variates its attack, the pacing never changes and the game never gets any harder. It just repeats the same exact movements until the timer runs out. It’s a bit pathetic, but it only gets worse.

These are among some of the worst, “Punch the Monkey” style games imaginable. Really, I’ve seen better Flash-banner advertisements than some of what you’ll find, here. Some feature controls that are so unresponsive that they are barely playable while others have such poor hit detection and physics that, even when you’re playing the game correctly, you still can’t win. They’re just broken, terrible games wrapped around advertisements and offers to gain points by downloading apps, signing up for services and more. And that’s 101 Games in a nutshell, really.

If you’re looking for a collection of quick games that don’t require a lot of time or commitment, this app is for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a well-produced game with real merit that is actually worth your time, I recommend you look elsewhere.

Reiner Knizia’s Cluster Master Review

Reiner Knizia’s Cluster Master Review

May 30, 2011

I have to admit, I have no idea who Reiner Knizia is. Even after I ran a search on his name through Wikipedia, I came up blank; I’ve never heard of or played any of his games. In a way, that’s good, because it means I enter into this review without any preconceived notions. On the other hand, I hope his other games are much better than Cluster Master, because this one is kind of a dud.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Cluster Master isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a great game, either. The main goal is to rack up a huge score by matching colored tiles on a hexagonal playing field. So far, it’s not exactly blazing any trails. Where the game starts getting a little different is in the placement of the tiles.

The tiles are arranged in patterns that can make placing them a big challenge. The idea is to match up 3 or more in a “cluster” to make them disappear. However, the game never really explains how this mechanic works. As a result, you end up placing tiles in clusters of 4, 5, 6 and more, and they never disappear. As you run out of room, your frustration grows. Why aren’t these tiles disappearing?

It turns out, some tiles have gems in the shape of hearts, clovers and water drops on them. You have to watch for the tiles that sparkle so you know where to place them. This allows you to set up some big combos, as the tiles won’t disappear until you place the correct gem.

Further separating Cluster Master from similar games is the addition of “coins” that you can use to unlock certain powers in the game, like extra time, tiles, etc. Depending on the mode you’re playing, these powers come in very handy, as running out of time and space ends the game. My favorite mode has been “Stress” mode. You’re short on time and have to work fast to get as many points and time as possible.

Aside from the unusual gem matching game mechanic, which I’m coming to appreciate the more I play the game, there’s a slight graphical problem. The game was either designed for a screen that is slightly wider, or shorter, than mine. As a result, it looks slightly stretched, or squeezed, depending on your view. It’s a minor issue, but it’s a bit sloppy if the developers knew about the problem and left it in.

Another problem I encountered was slightly unresponsive controls that made it difficult to drag tiles correctly. This is a problem when time is tight and you have to repeat the same movement before getting it right.

Cluster Master may not be the most innovative game on the Market, but the additional strategy required does help it stand out from the crowd of similar, “match 3” style games that are so ubiquitous. It’s a solid puzzle game, and the additional modes should offer enough variations on the game to keep it fresh for when you’re in the mood to play something a little different from the standard mode.