Keeping an Eye on iOS (w/e May 11)

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.

Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD

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In short: Another ‘too-big-for-iOS’ RPG.

Like ORC a few weeks back, this is another big game, with 3D environments and fairly complex gameplay; one of those titles that demonstrates how iOS is becoming a legitimate gaming platform and all that hoo-har. Now this is a big RPG experience, so I can’t really comment on the game’s variety, or difficulty at this stage. But all the expected features seem to be present: At the outset you can choose a race (human, elf, troll), a sex, and a class (warrior, paladin, rogue, ranger, mage) and also make a few facial feature alterations if you desire. Then in game, you have weapons and items to equip, stats to upgrade, things to craft, clothes/armour to wear and of course, quests to complete. The story is fairly generic at the moment: A dead father revealed to be more than a simple farmer, and a son setting out to follow his legacy as a mad-dog warrior and save a kingdom and such. The controls work as most 3D (graphics and perspective) iOS games do: There is a thumb-stick for movement, sliding motions anywhere for camera control, context sensitive buttons (for attacking or opening a door or talking) and and a quick access area to draw different weapons and the like from your pack. Visually the game looks pretty good. Models are a little simplistic, (hello N64 hands), but the game makes up for this with a pretty impressive draw distance. It also runs comfortable on an 4th generation iPod, even with about eight apps in the multi-tasking pane. Another really neat aspect of the game is it’s five save slots. This means that a whole family could all play on a single iPad if they wished, and all be different races and class, which is great!

I chose to be a ranger, so I am getting used to both close quarters and distance attacking. I’m not sure if the game will be intricate enough going forward to offer arrows with a greater range, but I imagine it will be, as better swords and shields are a given. Attacks automatically direct to what is targeted, but I am yet to test this mechanic is a truly heated battle where I am outnumbered. Apparently there is 30+ hours of game here, and I’ve seen screenshots that show horses, so fun times ahead hopefully!

Verdict: A full-blown, and good looking RPG that shows promise even in the early stages. I need more time to give a definitive verdict, but all is well at present. It is fairly hefty in size though, at 311MB, and it also is $3. But it is universal and it had cloud support.

I’ll be adventuring onward!

Guide The Light

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In short: A puzzle game of mirror moving and light directing.

This one follows a tried and true formula. I’m sure most people will have seen these kinds of games and know how they work. Basically, there is a light source, and a goal for the light to reach. The play must move 45 degree mirrors around a grib based level so that the light can reach it’s destination. Once this is done, the little cave explorer, who is usually somewhere on screen, will be able to progress to previously unaccessibile treasures. As the game goes along, things become more complex. Not just mirrors, but also boxes that switch incoming light sources, and other obstacles that will destroy the little wannabe Indiana Jones. In some levels too, there are enemies that chase the adventurer, so you are against the clock to finish the level, or perhaps trap the enemy. Visually, the game does seem a bit bland, but I guess that’s the price of exploring pyramid caves. For your dollar, you’ll get 50 levels and a raft of Game Centre achievements, so it is a fairly decent package.

Verdict: I’ve recently played quite a few of these types of puzzles in The Heist (of MacHeist fame), so I’m not particularly enthused. That said, I recognise that this is a well made game. Probably worth a look if you like this type of puzzler.

I’ll be deleting this one.

Freeze!

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In short: A puzzler based on the rotation of mazes.

Many moons ago here, I had a look at a game called Cado. It was a simple tilt controlled maze game. Freeze! is much the same. There is a ball thing that you must escort safely to the exit in each level. This is done by rotating the level so that all obstacles; sharp edges, razor blades, spikes etcetera, are avoided. Freeze! also introduces an additional mechanic; it’s namesake. You have the ability to halt time by hitting ‘freeze’ button. You can then rotate the level freely with the ball held in place. This adds an extra level of strategy, as some levels have no freeze button, some have limited uses, and then there are also rewards (achievements) for challenging yourself by not using freezes. As you can see above, the game has a distinctive black and white noire-ish style. With a story driven game, it would be an atmospheric style, but since it is a puzzle game and light on narrative, it just looks nice. Thankfully, the game’s controls are entirely touch based, so you don’t have to look like you’re doing the hot potato if you’re playing on public transport. The only real downside is the amount of content. Despite costing a dollar, you only get 25 levels, and the next 25 will set you back another buck. This won’t aid it in competition with the almost infinitely generous games like Angry Birds.

Verdict: A well polished puzzler. Definitely worth trying if it is free, but I wouldn’t pay for the game and IAPs just to get a few levels to go on with.

I’ll be playing through the first 25 levels, but then removing this one.

Luxor Evolved

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In short: A non-linear, ball shooting, matching game.

That was a confusing description. I’m not sure if there is a name for this type of game, but I’ve played things like this before. Basically, there is a snakelike track of coloured orbs, that travels slowly along, and you need to shoot orbs into the chain to match three or more of the same coloured orb. When colours are matched, those orbs vanish, allowing the chain to be replenished. If you can’t, or are slow to match colours, then the chain will reach the end of the track and it will be game over. This being “evolved”, the gameplay is mixed up across levels: Sometimes the tracks are more intricate, sometimes levels are balls-to-the-wall hard but only ask you to survive for a minute. There are also a variety of power-ups awarded for mammoth combos: A slowing of time, a stopping of time, or a beam that destroys all things. As a further extension to the gameplay, you will also sometimes have to catch these power-ups as the fall by sliding your shooter left and right. The game features that all to common geometric neon-outline look, but it holds up pretty well. The controls are a little too simple at times: Aiming is a slide-anywhere-on-the-screen affair, and shooting is tap-anywhere, so sometimes you can undo your own precision aiming just by trying to shoot.

Verdict: A surprisingly variety filled take on this type of matching-shooting game. It is fun but not thrilling. Might be worth a look.

I’ll be playing a little more I guess.

ORBITAL

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In short: Another neon shooter thing.

But this time, it is uses a portrait perspective, and calls for angular strategy rather than matching. The cannon at the bottom of the screen moves back and forth on its own. When you touch, it will fire an orb that will bounce of the edges of the playing field, and eventually come to a halt with a number 3 inside of it. Hitting that orb with another will cause it to become a 2, and so forth until it becomes a 0 and vanishes. So as you keep firing, the number of orbs increase, and it becomes harder to navigate the angles required to make the hit you intend. Once an orb crosses the ‘death line’ (pictured: just above the cannon) it is game over. There are three modes of play: Firstly there is ‘Gravity’ (pictured) where each shot will curve around other orbs. Secondly, ‘Pure’, where orbs have no gravitational pull and shots travel in a straight line. Third, there is ‘Supernova’ where movement is straight, but you control the movement of the cannon, and as a result of your extra power, the orbs count down from 5 instead of 3. This is a unique take on the orb shooting puzzler. It is nice to see something other than the Frozen Bubble type of colour matching. It also requires a bit of strategy and planning of your shots. However it is really annoying that the size of an orb is totally random. I could be huge or tiny. I think the game would work far better if it introduced a mechanic that, say, increased the size of an orb for each second that you wait to fire the cannon. Then the scoring could be adjusted to also reward the destruction of larger orbs. This would force players to think faster, but wouldn’t leave them at the mercy of randomness. Classic risk/reward no? If you did really like this game, there is plenty to keep you playing, as there is an online leader-board and also a PvP challenge system, though it isn’t affiliated with Game Centre at all.

Verdict: A neat little game, but not overly addictive. The randomness of orbs sizing is also a bit of a deal-breaker for me.

I’ll be removing this.

Another Dream

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In short: A visually deranged matching game.

Despite being labelled as a game featuring dream like elements, this is far more unrealistic and demonic than any of my own dreams. I hope nobody has dreams like this! Anyway, the visuals are certainly unique and the whole game maintains a magic-infused-steampunk feeling throughout. Art aside though, this is just a matching game. Chains of two or more of the same falling object need to be matched, and longer chains with more objects will net a greater score. The chains however will be broken by any object hitting the chain or an object in the chain, so you are rewarded for speed as well as size. More matches will charge the blue meter on the near-bottom right, while any object that falls out of sight unmatched, will fill the red meter in the new-bottom left. The falling objects include lots of weird things like fireflies, teddies, eyeballs, skulls, clocks and masks. Sometimes there are special objects like dandelion puffs, which must be tapped and not matched, and demonic-grim-reaper things which should be avoided at all costs. Each level uses these items differently to mix up the gameplay. So one level might be littered with falling reapers, and you just need to survive for a minute, while another level might ask you to match 100 fireflies. As you progress through the levels of the ‘story’ mode, you will unlock other free play and endless modes. You will also earn dosh to spend on spells, (which are pictured at the bottom the screen), and these enable you to do things like slow time or rewind a few seconds. Although the gameplay is mixed up in each level, I think I would find it repetitive after a while. It is after all a well worn formula. Sadly this game has no Game Centre presence, so you won’t be challenging your friends any time soon.

Verdict: Another Dream is pretty atmospheric, and deranged art is great. But at the full price of $2, it’s fairly standard gameplay mechanics are a bit of a let down.

I’ll be deleting this soon methinks.

Asension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

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In short: A deck (of cards) building strategy game.

I’ve played a couple of these things before, but they’ve never really appealed to me. In the real world too, I’ve only ever collected Pokemon cards, and then battled on only a few occasions. I am just trying to flag in advance that this genre really isn’t my cup of tea. Ascension is exceedingly complex to my mind. I won’t try to explain the rule in depth, so it will suffice to say that there are three sorts of powers; attack power, capture power and honour. Honour is earned by defeating other cards and from oher special moves, and it the main governer of the score ar the close of a match. The other powers are largely self explanitiory; attack power will defeat opposition cards while capture power will let you posess cards form the deck for use in play later. Matches are rather long and even the tutorial had me a little befuddled. The cards that appear in each match are also random, so there is no collection or sense of connection that might come from collecting cards in the real world. There is also rather a lot happening on the screen, and the game also requires a lot of dragging to move cards, so I think that this game is better suited to an iPad. The dragging thing is actually a bit of a design flaw in itself: Often it is clear that there is only one move applicable, and yet you still have to drag card x from point a to point b.

Verdict: A deep, to the point of confusing, card game that requires a keener mind than mine, and an iPad. In searching for an image, I’ve discovered this is an actual card game! So I’m sure it makes a lot more sense in real life, and with a nice big playing surface. The app is six bucks anyway, so the physical thing is probably better in the long run for potential fans.

I’ll be removing this.

Age of Zombies Anniversary

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In short: A humorous twin-stick shooter.

The controls and the gameplay don’t really need explaining. This controls like a standard twin-shick shooter and the only additional button is a grenade-throw button. There are random crates that appear in each level, and these offer better weapons like SMGs, shotguns and buzzsaws for a limited time. Players are scored based on how much they kill, how little they die, and by racking up zombie blasting combos. As in many of Halfbrick’s games, you you play as Barry Steakfries, who is out to defeat the hordes of undead that have been unleashed across time by an evil professor genius. The story is funny, not really laugh-out-loud stuff, but it makes fun of time travel, zombie, and evil genius clichés. As well as the straight up story mode, there is a survival mode, and plenty of Game Centre achievements to conquer and leader-boards to climb. This being the “Anniversary” edition, it is upgraded for retina displays, so 2D zombie stomping looks about as as pretty as it can.

Verdict: I think that sadly, this game is a victim of it’s developer’s own hight standards. After playing Halfbrick’s other classics like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride, this older title doesn’t quite feel as good. But it is a competent and fun shooter in it’s own right.

I’ll be playing this through, as I haven’t played a twin-stick shoter in a while.

nozoku

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In short: A number-based puzzle game.

At a quick glance, this looks a bit like Sudoku, however the mechanics are fairly different. The aim of each level is to reach zero. When two touching numbers are pressed, the smaller of the two will be subtracted from the larger, and the remaining number will take the place of the bigger integer. The only way a tile can be moved a space without a subtraction taking place, is if it is swapped with a zero tile. By nutting it out, you should only be left with a few greyed-out “0” tiles, and thus will have complete the level. It is a little difficult to explain, but that is the gist of how it works. As you go on, the levels have their numbers placed in more widespread and difficult positions, and from what I gather from screenshots, there are also other types of tiles that may result in addition or different movement. Though I haven’t reached that stage myself. I’m perfectly fine with mathematical games, but this one didn’t really grab me.

Verdict: Sudoku is pure maths, and I think I would prefer the raw numbers to the added gameplay that nozoku introduces. Real maths buffs might like this though.

I’ll be removing this one.

Pizza Vs. Skeletons

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In short: A stylish and variety packed action/brawler/platformer.

It is rare that I worry about spoiling a game in my weekly opinion-giving, but with this title I will be wary. Put simply, after the first few levels, you could not forsee the crazy variety (tweaks to gameplay, enemy types, level goals), that will come your way in latter levels. PvS is a hard game to describe. The name only really describes two things; the protagonist (the giant pizza) and the enemies (spear-wielding skeletons, and other skeletal foes). It is basically a platformer; you move and stomp enemies. But as it has a very close camera perspective, it uses gyro controls for movement, it doesn’t always ask you to move from left to right, and it sometimes requires you destroy enemies to even progress to an new area within a level. By tapping at various junctures, you can have your pizza jump, slam enemies, and also double jump. So there; it incorporates a lot of elements. It truly is your pizza as well, because you can spent the money earned in each level on different accessories for your pizza: Different crusts and toppings, and then facial features like moustaches, glasses and hats, with varying levels of hilarity. As the words “pizza with a top hat” would suggest, this game has a very wacky style. But it looks gorgeous (see above!!). The art all has a hand-draw look, and remains stylistically consistent throughout the game, even though the environments and enemies change. The tilt controls take a bit of getting used to, but eventually you will realise that they are perfectly tuned to the game, and the floaty jumping of your pizza. Judging by the Game Centre achievements, there are one hundred levels here, and as I said at the outset, these are sure to be packed with tons of variety.

Verdict: I got this during a free, which was a huge boon, because the game is normally $5. I’d say it is worth it, but I suppose it stops it quite reaching the must-have status of Angry Birds or Cut the Rope.

I’ll be playing through this for sure.

Super Knights

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In short: An endless game of swinging and gem collecting.

You could question “why” about many things in this game; why knights, why gems, why giant thieving birds. But it seems to be the norm for many iOS games to just pick weird shit and run with it. I guess if the game is fun it doesn’t matter. Thankfully, Super Knights is quite fun, though I have no idea why. It is a pretty simple game; just press the grapple button to grab on to a swing point, and press another button to reverse the swing direction. Otherwise, the knight will happily bounce off the floor and walls. The only other aims are to collect gems, and avoid enemies. You will get bonuses for collecting a group of same-coloured gems, and also for rescuing trapped princess that sometimes appear. Toward the end of each ‘level’ (there are levels, but this is an endless game), the aforementioned giant birds will appear and nick all the gems left on screen. By hitting them you will add to your score. Then a really big bird will appear, and carry you to the next level where you start all over again. For your efforts in each game, you receive coins… [insert usual description of in-game store] so yeah, other characters, boosts and so forth. Like your typical endless game, there are also objectives to complete; score X, do X, buy X. This will level you up and earn you a new knightly title, as well as grant you access to stuff in the shop. Visually, this is again fairly; typical, bright, colourful. The same adjectives can be used to describe the music.

Kudos are lost here for another annoying tutorial that when introducing the store, gives you bonus coins, but then forces you to buy something you may not want in the store. (This is an ongoing bitch I have with games.)

Verdict: A fairly typical casual/time-waster/high-score-chasing game. At the moment I am finding it quite fun for some reason.

I’ll be playing it a bit, until I get over it.

Bitter Sam

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In short: “A vertical action-puzzler that’s all about physics-based descending.” – from it’s website. Just about as convoluted as my own descriptions!

Sam is attached to a rope for whatever reason, and as he descends through each level, you dear player, must tilt the device to keep him unharmed. In each level there are three gems to collect. Sometimes there is a cute pig that Sam can grab, and this will give him a one-off shield, allowing him to bust through rock obstacles unharmed. Sometimes this is a simple second chance, and other times you must sacrifice the pig to reach a gem. There are also razor sharp obstacles (pictured) that threaten not only Sam, but his rope too. If the rope is cut, Sam also perishes, so this adds an extra level of strategy as the levels increase in difficulty. There is also a rope protector power-up (pictured) that will shield the rope for a limited time, and again, this is sometimes just a safety blanket, and other times it must by collected to get through a tough spot. No doubt there are other powers for me to discover in latter levels, but to be honest I don’t feel much drive to discover them. I think it is supposed to be a parody of some of iOS’ tropes: So the game features cartoon graphics, but unlike the happy vibe of many other casual games, Sam’s expression remains miserable, as he descends downward. The game has Game Centre leader-boards, but no achievements, which I think is a huge oversight, as some ironic parodies (if that is indeed the game’s intent) would be fitting for achievements.

Verdict: Sam eponymous doesn’t really give a damn, so its hard for me to be enthusiastic either. An average title really.

I’ll be deleting this.

Growtopia

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In short: A 2D platformer/MMO/sandbox game with Minecraftian/Terrarian elements. Yes, of course I made a giant Mario sprite!

There are now plenty of games that feature lo-fi graphic in either 2D or 3D, and emphasise creativity, crafting and craziness. Growtopia is another of these, but it differentiates itself by being tailored for mobile platforms, and also by it’s unique crafting mechanics. In the same way you use an axe in Terraria, you can punch stuff to break it in Growtopia. By breaking dirt, you many be rewarded with dirt, a dirt seed, a gem, or nothing and the same goes for nearly every other type of object. Seeds can be planted to create trees that will flower with that item. Though there is no guarantee of exactly what a tree will provide; some may grow the seed, some the object, some gems, or some a mixture. This randomness makes it more important that you make good choices about how and what you plant or use, so that you get the maximum output. Seeds can also be combined (“spliced”) to make new trees; for example a dirt seed and a rock seed will create grass tree. This chain continues upward from bare-bone materials like dirt and lava to bathtubs, bricks and toilets as well as wearable garments like pants and hats. There are also signs you can create to leave messages for others, and you can also make doors to provide access to spaces within worlds and between worlds. The gems, mentioned earlier, are the game’s currency, and can be used to buy more inventory space, rare seeds or locks.

Why would you need a lock? Well, this is an MMO after all! There are plenty of people running around in busier worlds, interrupting your farming, pushing you into lava, or smashing the platform you are standing on. Few people are as friendly as in the screenshot. But thankfully you can create your own world, and eventually, you will be able to secure with a lock, from all but your list of allowed buddies. I’ve managed to buy a 10sq lock and with a system of doors, I have secured my own world. This means I can craft, farm and mine in peace. However it does feel lonely without others, so I think it is better to try and play this as a social game.

The game, admittedly, has a cluttered interface. There are movement buttons, and attack button, a jump button, plus speech and menu buttons, as well as inventory shortcuts, the full inventory, and also little notifications of server announcements, player speech and a slow network warning indicator. This is a lot for an iPhone/iPod/Android phone screen to cram in! Thankfully different panels can be dragged in and out of view, once you figure out how it all works, so it becomes far less intimidating over time. Alternatively, you can play on a tablet since the app is universal. It also features its own (optional) GrowID account that allows you to sync your progress across devices and platforms. Neat!

The game is still in development stages, so servers are frequently down and updates are rolling in daily. Usually, there are under 1000 people online. So if you you’re interested in this, I’d say jump right in while it is still growing. It is impossible to remember what seeds should be spliced, and new types are being added all the time, even musical objects! So I recommend a guide/wiki for anyone interested in jumping in.

Verdict: Growtopia is not easy to get a handle on. It takes a while to get used to the game’s mechanics, and requires some grinding for new players to become established. But for those who enjoy sandbox building games, it is a winner.

I’ll be playing this, longtime.
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See you next time! Now go buy your Mum some games!

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