Keeping an Eye on iOS (w/e Apr 28)

Each week, I’ll endeavour to trawl through a baker’s-dozen worth apps from my ever-growing backlog of iOS games that are, or have been, free. I’ll investigate and describe each game, and then decide what to deserves more playtime, and what warrants deletion.

Captain America: The Sentinel Of Liberty

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In short: An side-scrolling action platformer featuring the first avenger.

This title shares a lot in common with Mirror’s Edge on iOS. You swipe left or right to run in that direction, and use further swipes to jump (up), slide (down) and also attack enemies, either with fistycuffs or a thrown the Captain’s shield.  Unlike ME though, you aren’t encouraged to take enemies down with one blow. Instead, you are awarded with combos for performing more attacks. This means you have to stop running, and really break the flow of the game. Like Thor: Son of Asgard a few weeks ago, there is plenty of fan service here: An original story, told through 2D comic-cutscenes, and the ability to unlock some Marvel mementos, like different costumes and also covers of CA comics. Though to get these extras, you will need to collect five hidden and not-so-hidden dossiers from each level. The graphics looks pretty decent, and animations are smooth and varied. However the menus are very slow in my opinion.

Verdict: I’d get Mirror’s Edge over this, unless you’re mad keen for Marvel.

I’ll be removing this.


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In short: A small scale retro platformer.

Like Mos Speedrun and League of Evil that have featured in previous weeks, this is another eight bit platforming offering. Bit-1 however, is nowhere near as tight as those games. The left/right buttons are far to close together (pictured) and the protagonist’s jump is unbelievably floaty, more like a glide. The levels are small, a fact accentuated by the extremely zoomed-out perspective. A lot of the enemies and levels are also uninspired; for example, a clear clone Hammer Bro enemy. The AI is also pretty stupid: You can often shoot your enemies before they see you, and line of sight is indicated by a [!] a-la Pokemon trainers. If you can deal with those things, there is only a generic stolen girl story to follow. I guess there are positives here too though, to be fare. The visuals are quite nice, excluding the blurry fonts, and the gun power-ups, more akin to a SHMUP, are not often seen in a platformer. There are a suite of Game Centre features if you feel the urge to rack up some points.

Verdict: A platformer that shows signs of promise, but needs a bit of tightening to match up to the best, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

I’ll be deleting this one and sticking to the other platformers I mentioned.

Find the Way

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In short: A minimalist game that encourages exploration.

This is a hard game to pin down to a genre, though it is pretty simple to explain. There are maze-like levels and players are required to guide an hexagon/eyeball thing to the level’s exit within a time limit. Each level contains an optional “artefact” (actually just a glowing gold orb) to collect, and there are blue and red glowing items, the former of which adds a few seconds to the time limit, while the latter subtracts time. As well as normal ’01, 02, 03…’ levels, there are time trial challenges that require you to accrue as much time as possible before the end. Other than that, there isn’t really anything else to do in each level, which makes the game a little boring if I’m honest. I guess there is some judgement involved in balancing fast movements with the possibility of careering into an evil red item, but it really isn’t all that demanding or exciting. The camera is also very close, and since the games protagonist orb is controlled by swiping and flicking the screen, it is often hard to see where you are going, and navigation become confusing. I think it would be more enjoyable to play if I could see more of the level or at least access a map. Overall the gameplay is lacking here, which is a shame, because the game has a nice relaxed vibe and moves smoothly.

Verdict: A game that has a visual mood, but doesn’t offer much motivation. It is free though, so have a look even if you think the game has visual appeal.

I’ll be removing this game.

Tilt to Live

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In short: A minimilastic top down shooter with tilt controls.

Like Spirit last week, this is another top down 2D shooter that eschews normal shooting in favour of survival tactics. The name says it all here really. Enemies, like the whole game, are minimalistic in design, and you need to avoid them by tilting your device to direct your little arrow. By collecting certain coloured orbs, you will unleash a variety of attacks to take out your foes and live a little longer. Combos are created by destroying enemies constantly. As well as the described classic mode, there are four others: Code Red (harder), Gauntlet (time trial), Frostbite (enemies are frozen but will unfreeze if you don’t eliminate them) and the in-app-purchase mode, Viva La Turret. As mentioned many a time, I am not a fan of games that restrict their players to only tilt controls, but it is very well executed here, with extensive customisation options that offer a flat, angled or custom setting for screen orientation, as well as adjustable X and Y axis sensitivity. I do enjoy the bright and funky look of the game, and this light-hearted vibe is carried on by the Spanish(?) sounding tunes and the whistles that blare when you die. There are Game Centre achievements for getting massive combos and the like, and these are also linked to in game rewards, such as new power-ups like shields and lightning strikes. Chaining huge combos and bowling over previous high-scores soon becomes addictive, and although the game isn’t frustrating in any way, you’ll still be cursing when you fall victim to the killer touch of the little red dots.

Verdict: A stylish and funky shooter that is worth every one of it’s 99c, and features the best use of tilt controls I’ve found.

I’ll be keeping this.

Neo Mech

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In short: A 2D shooter with retro aesthetics.

From the long-time purveyors of Flash gaming, Miniclip, comes this iOS port. Neo Mech has a simple look, and a simple goal. Pixellated little armies are shiiting at your mech, so take them out! The mech walks automatically, so you just need to take care of the shooting. The highlight of the gameplay is a very clever little aiming system that offsets the reticule slight on the left side of the screen, so that the battlefield is not obscured by the right thumb. The left thumb then, navigates the four different weapon types, (the fancy ones of which, like lasers and flamethrowers, will run out of power quickly) as well as a bunch of powers like air-strikes and health kits. lots of upgrades, weapon types. More of these powers can be bought in the store, using the coins that enemies drop. Annoyingly, said coin needs to be collected by touch, which distracts you from the game, and may also result in wasted shots. Since there is no multi-touch support, you cannot avoid this issue, so auto-collection of currency would be far more appropriate. While the sprite-y visuals are pretty good, the sounds are annoying at best. This includes both the bland music and the gun sounds.

Verdict: A solid but ultimately uninspired 2D shooter. I think you could do better.

I’ll be deleting this one.

Grand Prix Builder

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In short: A tough indie strategy game.

This is as simple as it sounds; you need to build Formula 1 tracks! In Championship mode, you progress through a season, in races all over the globe, but rather than controlling the car, you build the track. The track must match the the random predetermined statistics of your car; (acceleration, braking, cornering, speed). Each track also has a set number of corners (i.e. one hairpin), that you must adhere to. Once the track is drawn, you will race against three opponents. At the moment, I am yet to win a single race. The AI is pretty ruthless, and I also am obviously not building tracks that suit the stats of my car well enough. This leads me to the conclusion that; despite it’s simplistic graphical exterior, this game is quite deep and technical under the hood.

Verdict: Grand Prix Builder is a clever idea, but needs a few alterations to get up to speed.

I’ll be deleting this one but I’ll keep an ear to the wind in case big updates come.

ORC: Vengeance

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In short: A well oiled action RPG.

This is one of the “biggest” games I’ve looked at in a while. “Big” because it is a fully fledged RPG on iOS, “big” because the game is longer and deeper than typical throwaway time-wasters, and “big” because it weighs in at 507MB. But the point is to hopefully not have a 8GB iPod/iPhone/iPad, and get playing!

The game opens with a better than average story about how men unleashed the undead, and ruined life for orcs and other races, in a Middle-Earth-eaque fantasy world. From then on, you take control of Rok, the orc warlord who needs to reclaim his power and people. Controlling Rok is easy from the game’s raised centred camera position, and both virtual stick and gestures can be used to move him around. (I’d stick with the former). There is also an attack button and some special moves that you can perform buy performing normal attacks. You will automatically attack the closest enemy, and thankfully this works properly, and doesn’t leave you too vulnerable. There are two health gauges, one for armour and one for health. The former depletes/replenishes, while the latter is slower. Defeated enemies will offer loot drops like coins, potions and weapons. These can be equipped and upgraded at any time in the menu, and at the end of each level you can also buy and sell these goods at the merchant. Levelling up, by defeating enemies, will net you skill points which can be fed into attack, defence, greed (better loot) and vengeance (better special attacks). Moving through each dungeon and bludgeoning enemies with blades, axes and hammers is a lot of fun, even if this often happens through a similar chain of events: Gates lock, enemies appear, defeat enemies, gates unlock. If I’m honest, this formulaic gameplay may become a little repetitive, but until that point and maybe beyond, I will keep playing.

Graphically this game is very well polished: There are excellent fire and lighting effects, models are well detailed, and animation is smooth. Artistically though, it is a little drab. The dungeon vibe is constant, as is the brown, green and grey colour palette. There are full load of Game Centre features to accompany this, including 27 achievements. I’m not sure how many levels there are, but I think it might be around 25, divided into acts. The game automatically continues from the last level or checkpoint (of which there will be at least one mid-level) though there are four game save slots hidden in the options menu. This is a great option if you have a whole house of willing gamers and only one iDevice, and something more games should do to retaliate against the restrictions that the Apple ID system usually imposes.

Verdict: An exceeding well made game that is fun even if a little derivative. Worth $3, but I’d suggest waiting for a sale, as Chillingo are often generous.

I’ll be playing this one until the end hopefully, unless it really does become uber repetitive.

Coin Drop!

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In short: A bright reverse-pinball game.

That is literally how the game works. You aim and drop coins from the top (as opposed to bottom) and they bounce around and score points. The only catch is that you need to hit all the bad pennies, of which there are four in every level, to progress to the next level. Like pinball, hitting more things with one ball coin will net more points, though you can drop five coins at the one time of you so choose. There are also five exit holes at the bottom of the level, and entering the highlighted ones in the correct order will score you more points and five bonus coins. In some levels, there are destructible elements like wood or bricks, and in others, you will need to also free lady coins. For each level, unsurprisingly, you are scored out of three stars, but as I said, you cannot progress without hitting the bad blue pennies, so there might just be one bastard you can’t get, and he will hold you up indefinitely. If you do get stuck though, at least it won’t be ugly. The game is very visually vibrant, and each group of levels has a theme; space, jungle, underwater etcetera, and these strike a balance of some cartoon elements and some very glowing light effects. There are high-scores to chase on Game Centre leader-boards, but no other objective/achievement system, so you could become stuck if you can’t.

Verdict: A shallow game, but not the worst time waster.

I’ll be deleting this one, as I don’t really feel much attraction to, or get much reward from, the simple mechanics.

Asteroid 2012 3D

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In short: A modern take on the classic shooter.

Asteroid 2012 is in the same vein as the classic title: You roam around freely blasting asteroids. The main update to the classic formula is a complete graphical overhaul. The game is not from a 3rd person perspective, and the world is fully three dimensional. It all looks very impressive, with some nice shiny planetary atmospheres, well modelled ships, and nice weapon effects. There are also a few new things to shoot other than asteroids, such as enemy ships, and there is also now a health meter that dictates how long your game will last, rather than X number of lives. Controls are simply provided by a single analogue stick, as the ship fires straight in the line of it’s nose. Shooting is handled by a button press and there are additional missiles that replenish based on your shooting prowess, and there is also a teleport button to get you back to the action in case you stray to far away from enemies in the vast reaches of space. Now this teleport button is a sad but necessary inclusion: I think it is there because it is so easy to become lost. There is a 2D radar that attempts to show you where objects are, but it fails to easily convey up and down positioning, and because the ship rolls and spins when you turn, it is very hard to know where you are. Like old Asteroids, the game is also very directionless, so there is nothing to really motivate you to play, other than chasing highscores.

Verdict: A shooter that is frustrating open, and a little tough to control.

I’ll be deleting this one.

WOPR: WarGames

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In short: A match-three puzzler based on the 1983 film Wargames.

I hadn’t heard of this movie, but apparently it is about a hacker (Matthew Broderick) who ends up hacking some super intelligent WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) computer thing, that in turn goes rogue and needs to be interacted with to convice it not to blow shit up. Anyway, the actual game here is a match three puzzler. You play against the AI, and try to defeat it by matching missiles, which cause damage. Other icons such as “$” earn you currency to upgrade your powers, and “+” regenerates your own health. Most of it is fairly standard match-three gameplay, offered in both an endless mode and a story mode, though there a variety of tweaks to gameplay formula in the story mode. These include timed missiles that need to be matched in a certain number of moves, otherwise they will cause you considerable damage. For a game that is a fairly simple puzzler, there is quite a lot of dialogue from avatars of film’s characers. No doubt this is great for fans of the film, but I found it annoying, as I like to feed my matching habit quickly. I guess this is pretty neat though, it isn’t often that a 30 year old sci-fi film lends itself to becoming an iOS puzzle game…

Verdict: I like the core game, but not the movie fluff. Probably one for the fans.

I’ll be deleting this one shortly, but I might play a few more endless rounds.

Shoot The Zombirds

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In short: An endless Halloween themed slingshot shooter.

The player’s job in this game is to shoot down a variety of zombie birds with arrows, before they steal all of your pumpkins. The birds fly left-to-right across the landscape screen, but if you can’t take them out before they reach the right, they will return, flying right-to-left carrying a precious pumpkin. You’ve then got another window of opportunity to shoot them down, but if they make it back to the left, you will lose that pumpkin. Shooting is done via a simple pull-back-and-release control method. For each hit, you are awarded coins, and these can be spent, as you’d expect, in the store n power-ups and upgrades. Arrows are hard to come by (you start with three) so you need to be accurate, or kill two birds with one arrow to earn more arrows, and continue playing. The game is over when you either have all of your pumpkins stolen, or run out of arrows. There is an objective system to keep your attention, and this will test your speed and accuracy, in the name of attaining more coinage. In all honesty, the game didn’t really thrill me; there are plenty of other games out there that use the same mechanics. However, it is at least a little unique thematically.

Verdict: An old formula with a new coat of dark paint. I’d pass, but it isn’t a bad game by any means.

I’ll be deleting this.

Sky Hero

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In short: A endless falling game.

This is another endless title that kicks all the genre-boxes. Objectives? Yep. In game currency? Yep. A store to buy upgrades? Yep… The boxes it doesn’t tick though, are the important ones, like fun or excitement or a quality gameplay hook. This sky hero guy just jumps off buildings, and I simply tap the left and right sides of the screen to avoid enemies. By reaching certain distances, I am rewarded with a new themed building to plummet from. Never mind why is there a flame monster chasing me, and why are there a strange variety of flying obstacles like a cannonball, a wooden barrel and a saw… At least other nonsensical runners make an effort; take a look at Jetpack Joyride with it’s overarching laboratory theme. And why on earth does this game demand to use location services on every launch?

Verdict: It is just a bit weird, simple and unexciting. Avoid.

I’ll be deleting this one immediately.


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In short: A port of the classic Microsoft DOS game.

Perhaps it is fitting that this old game from 1991, perhaps an ‘endless runner’, has been ported to iOS, the current home of the genre. I won’t make any bones about it though, this game feels old. I never played the original, so I have no nostalgic connections that could overcome father time’s effects. I guess the controls have been well adapted, as users can choose from analogue, d-pad or fullscreen controls. But the movement of the skier is very touchy (no pun intended), and the graphics are small and plain, and not in a cute retro way. I guess it is quite novel in the way that instead of navigating a menu to choose a mode of play, you simply ski in a certain direction on the mountain, be that the freestyle, slalom, tree slalom or ski free course. All differences between these are pretty self explanatory, but in reality, there isn’t much difference.

Verdict: A nice gesture, but not really a nice game. I’d avoid unless you think you’ll be skiing a slope of nostalgia.

I’ll be removing this.
_  _  _  _  _

Same time next week!

One comment

  1. Skifree on iOS? COUNT ME IN!

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