Keeping an Eye on iOS (w/e May 16)

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.

Dungeon Story

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In short: Another match-three plus game! (This genre seems to be exploding at the moment!)

Dungeon Story is like WarGames from a few weeks back, and like some others from prior weeks too probably, insofar as it combines match-three gameplay with an overarching game. You, a faceless adventurer, faces-off against other faceless opponents. The battles are decided entirely by how you match the threes. You and you’re opponent are only represented by an name and a health bar: i.e. “Skeleton 17/30.” The icons in the matching area offer similar functionality to most of these games; there are swords for attacking, coins to earn money, hearts to replenish health, and then there are also icicles and flames to perform magical elemental attacks. There are five dungeons to work through, though these are just a battle-until-you die affair. There are also quests you can accept in the alehouse or something, but these are really just thinly veiled objectives like ‘defeat fifteen enemies’ and the like. To be honest, all the games I’ve looked at in this genre prior to this, did a better job if integrating the match-three system with a greater story/game. But to be fair, it all works pretty well. You get to buy little perks from the randomly-appearing merchant, like the ability to deal damage with each turn, or replenish health each turn. However I still have a hurdle with the game, and this genre as a whole. Match-three games are simple, and addictive, so why do you make me wait thrice during what should be fast-paced gameplay: 1) for the enemy to ‘make their move’, 2) to deliver me an arbitrary ‘Skeleton attacked you’ message, and 3) for my health bar to deplete. I know it is part of the attempt at making an overarching RPG, but it ruins and insults the game’s own core mechanic.

Verdict: I’m sure match-three mechanics can be paired up with other mechanics in a game successfully, but not this time.

I’ll be deleting this one. Even though reviews have been pretty positive… I can’t see it getting hugely better as I go on.

I’ve persevered with this one a bit longer. I’ve got used to the pacing, the responses of enemies, so it doesn’t feel so slow now. I’m also noticing that in some battles, the board is refreshed on each turn, which keeps things interesting and hampers your planning. The quests in the tavern actually have beneficial effects on your character, and the Game Center achievements (of which there are a shocking EIGHTY) are becoming quite motivating. I think I am changing my mind a little.

Crumble Zone

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In short: A shooting game, a little like Asteroids but without the ability to move.

Instead, you are a stationary creature who is required to protect a small planet (or maybe it is an egg), from incoming planetoids/asteroids. If you let the egg/planet get destroyed, it is game over. As you shoot the space rocks, they will break down into smaller and smaller chunks, until finally they become colourful gems that you can collect. As well as a fire button, there are left/right movement buttons which allow you to move your little guy around the planet to aim or to collect gems. Said gems can be spend on power-ups, which I will discuss shortly. The game is basically endless, but you do progress through ‘levels’ of increasing difficulty, which means that there is an increasing in the size, speed and frequency of oncoming aggressor planets. From shooting larger planets, or ones with extra craters and even water on their surface, you may be rewarded with a power-up of some description. These power-ups seem to activate automatically and are usually a different weapon; one that is more powerful, fires faster, bullets that bounce, bullets that can orbit the planet for a few seconds destroying all it their path, or ones that creates a little gravity that pulls asteroids together for an easier shot. There is also a limited-time metal shield for your planet. Visually, the game has a very bloomy, hazy, and very green aesthetic. It looks nice but I’m not in love with it. I should mention though, that this game has excellent menus, with smooth animations and nice transition effects. (I’m a sucker for a good menu, remember). Overall though, this game does not really hold much appeal for me. But I recognise that what it does it does well.

Verdict: A smooth take on the 2D scrolling shooter thing, but not something that I would sink time into.

I’ll be deleting this shortly.

Bean’s Quest

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In short: An adorable platformer that can be adapted to the abilities of most gamers.

Bean’s Quest starts like many platformers: A damsel is kidnapped! However, the game’s hero, some little Mexican, is also turned into a bean! This means that he cannot walk or run, only bounce through many perilous levels to save his lady. So players will be spending a lot of time jumping, and the mechanics are pretty floaty: You can easily make two noticeable changes of direction in a single bounce. But I soon adapted to this, and quickly focused my attention back on the platforming at hand. Each level has four goals, and this is where the game can either be straightforward tricky, depending on your ability and how you want to play. The obvious goal is to reach the goal in each level. Additionally, you will earn a badge for: a) collecting all gems, b) finding each level’s hidden axolotl, and c) completing the level without exceeding a prescribed number of bounces. Now, I’ve ordered these roughly in order of difficulty. Gems are easy to see, so you just need to make accurate jumps, and in places, take your time to make sure you collect them all. The placement of the axolotls varies, so they aren’t always easy to spot, and often take a really precise jump to reach. The limited-bounces thing is basically speed-running: Since you can’t actually run, completing the level in less bounces means you did it faster. Fulfilling this is a tough gig, as you will need to read Bean’s bounces like a book to fit into 1×1 gaps without using extra bounces. So there is a lot on offer in each level here, if you’re up for the task, and even if you’re not up for it, you’ll still have fun. The game rarely causes frustration, as there are checkpoints within levels that you will re-spawn at if you perish, though you will of course lose any gems you collected between the checkpoint and your demise. It is also hard to rebel against the bright and cute visuals/music, reminiscent of 16-bit era platformers. This is handy, because 50 levels would be a lot to work through if it wasn’t a fun experience. Speaking of levels, there is also a cute, zoomed out miniature level in the background of the stage select screens. How neat is that!

Verdict: A great platformer that is only as challenging as you want it to be. Highly recommended to all.

I’ll be playing through every level at least, and maybe testing myself on completing the additional challenges.

Run’n’Gun

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In short: Another portrait-orientation runner, but with more shooting than usual.

That’s how it sounds anyway. Which is all I have to go on for this one, because it’s a crasher for me. A bit of loading screen is all I get before it goes. Apparently support for devices older than the iPhone5 was only added to the most recent update, so maybe kinks are still being ironed out. Or maybe I just got unlucky. Either way, it’s all up to you folks. It’s a free game, and only weighs in at 40 odd megabytes, so go check it out for yourself if you’re a fan of runners.

Verdict: null.

I’ll be deleting this, unless an update rolls in the the next few seconds.

Ghost Racer

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In short: A fairly average top down racer.

I have enjoyed the odd top-down racer, but this one just feels very flat. You just race against the clock and against ghosts. The graphics too, are very flat: There doesn’t feel like there is much depth to the world, and everything looks pretty simplistic. Everything is here though, you get all the buttons, lap times, speedometer, and a map all packed onto a small screen, which is pretty good. I read somewhere that the car physics were actually quite deep, and so on, but I’m not really feeling it myself. It just feels to me that an unnecessary level of precision is required to race competently. I’ve never been a fan of sim-racing games, and I think top-down style races are better as more casual affairs myself.

Verdict: I would pass on this one unless you really have a thing for top-down and simulation racing games.

I’ll be deleting this.

The Blockheads

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In short: Another open-ended world builder in the vein of Terraria/Minecraft.

This is much like last week’s Growtopia, however this game can be almost totally described as ‘Minecraft on a 2D plane.’ The 3D models scream Minecraft, as do the blocky characters and their movements. One of the things that differentiates The Blockheads is it’s perspective. The word around you exists on a 2D pane, however it is actually a globe, so you can keep walking in one direction and eventually wind up back where you started. It seems silly to offer 3D Minecraft visuals in a 2D pane when part of MC’s appeal is creating awe-inspiring creations that can be traversed and explored. I haven’t played enough Minecraft to comment on the crafting system, so I’m not sure how it compares, but here it is all about creating workbenches: A woodwork bench, a tool bench etcetera, that let you create their namesakes from resources like wood, dirt, fruit, flint, rock and so forth. Making tools will help you to harvest or mine resources more quickly and efficiently, but they will break in time. Everything in this game is controlled by tapping various spots. Tap above the earth to move to that spot, tap on a block of earth to dig, tap on a tree to cut it down. I don’t like this system personally; I’d much rather have the use of standard run/jump platformer controls. However, one cool feature of the control system is that it allows you to queue tasks. So you can instruct your dude to mine five squares, and then way over to the left, go and chop a tree. The downside of this is that there is a lot of waiting around. This isn’t an online MMO, so there’s nobody to talk to while you wait, and besides, your iDevice is likely to turn off the screen and lock itself in the time it takes you to get through a batch of tasks, so it can be a counter-intuitive system. There is a two player mode on offer here. I haven’t investigated it, but I presume two devices are used, as I can’t see this working on a shared device. Frankly, this game is a little slow for my liking. The movement and crafting all take a lot of time and leave the user with a progress bar to watch, and as I said, there is nothing else to do in the meantime. At least with Growtopia, you could leave the world, talk to someone, or just exit the game while you waited for things to grow.

Verdict: A decently looking crafting game, but might slow and nothing revolutionary. It is however, free, so go for it if you want.

I’ll be removing The Blockheads.

Cute Kill

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In short: An fairly unexciting auto-shooting, shooting game.

The main idea here, is to outrun zombie hoards, and kill them while doing so. Yet, the core two aims; run and shoot are handled automatically. So there honestly isn’t a lot of fun to be had here. All you to is tilt your device to make the girl run in that direction, and occasionally hit the melee button when the undead get too close. The baby on here back does all the attacking, which is why this is called “Cute Kill”. But this baby with a gun isn’t at all cute. Maybe it could be in some different context, but here it feels like it is in slightly poor taste. This sort of thing doesn’t really bother me, but here there is just no context, so it seems highly unnecessary. The rest of the game if par for the course: Coins are earned, and used on upgrades, chiefly more and better guns. An extra negative mention has to be made of the controls, which, in both tilt and tap modes, are slow even on highest (default) sensitivity.

Verdict: An uninspired, largely boring shooter with unnecessary amounts of children.

I’ll be removing this.

Hyperwave

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In short: A 2D space shoot-em-up.

This is a fairly standard shmup affair. Enemies come toward you on a scrolling pane that looks a little like the Guitar Hero fretboard thing. You shoot automatically, but you have the ability to move left and right, and also direct your fire in those directions, via two L/R d-pads on either side of the screen. there are also a variety of power-ups that will come your way that you must move toward to collect. Your health is shared with the line at the bottom of the screen, so letting an enemy touch you or the line will eventually spell game over. I don’t really understand why this game gives players the option to direct their fire, as most shmups just have you firing forwards only. As a result, the ship in Hyperwave feels much slower, and I find it hard to adjust to controlling the fire and the movement separately. On the graphical side of things, this is yet another game that uses the neon-outline style, albeit with different patterned backgrounds. (I think the pictured one is supposed to be circuitry?) Anywho, I don’t think it looks particularly attractive this time around. There are Game Centre achievements on offer, though they are few and basic; like pass word one, world two etcetera. There are seven worlds to work through, plus an endless mode to unlock. However I think it will become quite a repetitive affair to get through them all.

Verdict: A standard entry into the shmup genre. I think there are better things to drop two bucks on.

I’ll be removing this.

Car Jack Streets: Director’s Cut

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In short: A top down, open-world game full of violence and crime.

The game starts off quite well. The story is actually quite clever: Your motivation to carry out missions is to earn enough dosh to pay off gambling debts. This also introduces an clever gameplay quirk that will keep you on your toes; payment is due in instalments. Missions seem to be varied, even in the early stages. Anything from carrying out hits to delivering stolen cars to a warehouse. The world city is open to you to explore, but thankfully there is also a well implemented GPS system that will point you to mission locales. Like the newer Grand Theft Auto games, you have a place to call your own. In the safe house you can escape the cops and also store your vehicle. There is a four-star wanted system that works just like GTA too: Blowing up cars and running down pedestrians will gradually increase it. If you die, you will wind up all better, but lighter in the hip-pocket, outside a hospital, again, just like GTA. Visually, the game features the top down, sprite based graphics reminiscent of (again) the Grand Theft Autos of old (I, II, London, Advance, etc.). Sadly, it is quite a dated look if you ask me, as they haven’t gone with a pixellated look or a crisp look, just some sort of blurry middle ground, and there is no real visual hook here to make things at all exciting for the eye. The game does have a few problems of its own that differentiate it from GTA. There are inconsistencies in AI behaviour; drivers rarely stop, and people can easily get stuck in corners trying to run away from you. When driving, you whiz through light posts as if they were transparent, but bushes and fire hydrants can be pulverised. Overall, the car physics feel a bit off, and this is not aided by the at times unresponsive controls. Even the confirm/advance-the-dialogue button during a scripted sequence is particularly finicky. The game just feels a little old and clunky, a fate shared by the old GTAs if you play them today.

Verdict: A game that just feels outdated. It also seems a little rich to slap ‘Director’s Cut’ on a title like this. But it is free (presumably to promote the the 3D sequel), so give it a look if you still enjoy the 2D GTAs and would like a decent story to go with it.

I’ll be removing this from my device.

Polyroll

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In short: A retro styled platformer that borrows more from Sonic than Mario.

Indeed, many platformers see Mario as the franchise to borrow from, but Polyroll, borrows from Sonic, emphasising the “roll”. Just as Sonic spins lethally, so does the thing in Polyroll. You spin when you jump (B), and also on the ground when you press A. A more powerful ‘rocket roll’ can also be performed by holding A. The enemies that suffer the wrath of your rolls are fairly typical of all 2D platformers; creepy crawlies, and flying things along with environmental hazards like spikes. Mostly, enemies feel easier to defeat than in the standard Mario-derived pound-to-kill platformers, because you can just jump straight at enemies without needing to read their movements to get on top of them. Along the way, each level also has a few flowers, and jumping on these will you grant you a power of some sort, like limited time invincibility, deployable bombs, or the ability walk on spikes. Usually these are strategically place, are necessary to find the big gem from each level. So you will need to tread carefully and avoid losing any health, as this will also cancel the power-up. Unlike a lot of other platformers I’ve gone through so far, Polyroll does not reward speed, but rather exploration. Levels are big and open, with a multitude of paths to choose. Usually you will have to backtrack a little to find some gems or hidden collectibles. The game encourages you to seek these gems in a rather self-fulfilling way: Collecting ten gems will net you an extra hearth in your health bar, thus allowing you to take greater adventurous risks. There are 28 levels, but I am guessing that they will only get larger, and judging from the stage-selection screen, may potentially have multiple exits. The game’s retro art is also very nice to look at, offering bright worlds, and old school sprite animations.

Verdict: A solid retro platformer that definitely offers some fun. Despite getting it free, I think it looks to be worth it’s $2 price at the moment.

I’ll be playing through this one.

Cubed Rally Redline

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In short: A cute isometric endless racer.

I only call this a racer because it features cars. But there isn’t any racing; this game revolves around survival, and chasing high scores. You control a car as it zooms along and isometric roadway. The game’s modes though, are 3D, so the game looks very smooth in motion. The car and track will rotate at corners, but the camera stays in a fixed position. There are five lanes for the car to travel in, and it is up to you to move the car between these lanes to stay safe. Game-ending enemies include moles (in the dirt), trees (anywhere), rocks (anywhere), barriers (anywhere), cows (anywhere and on the move), and lakes (which can sometimes be jumped if there is a ramp). Game-aiding collectibles include blue drift tokens, which allow the car to drift around corners and earn points, gold coins to use in the store, and fuel to sustain your drive. Ever so often, there will be a chequered strip across the road, and this indicates a checkpoint, which will ‘bank’ any coins that you have earned. As said, the coins can be used in shop to buy new cars. Cars have a rating from one to three stars, but I imagine that the differences are largely cosmetic, given the gameplay on offer. There is also an ’emergency time brake’ at the bottom of the screen, which will allow you to slow down briefly when you need a bit longer to dodge an obstacle. Though the brake overheats and needs to be used sparingly. As you would expect with this being endless, there are objectives to complete as you play, though these, for better or worse, are tied to Game Centre achievements. So the game has a whopping 55 of them. Kudos are in order for the music here; bright catchy chiptunes abound. Sadly, this game is leaning toward being labelled ‘freemium’: There is a dollar IAP that will unlock a mode that features 20 time trials, and also remove ads. Granted, the adverts are pretty infrequent anyway, but it is always a little annoying to feel like you’re missing out on some of the action.

Verdict: An undeniably cute little endless driving game. Not overly deep, but it offers a little fun.

I’ll be deleting this soon though.

Rail Rush

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In short: A 3D endless runner in a mine setting.

This is another typical into-the-screen 3D endless affair. The mine cart barrels along, but to keep it doing so, players will need to avoid various hazards by; leaning (left/right tilt), jumping (swipe up), ducking (swipe down) and jumping between different rails (swipe left/right). There are also gold nuggets and gems to collect to use in the (wait for it) SHOP, which offers a plethora of the regular power-ups that you would expect. The game is free, so it has a few ads. But that doesn’t really excuse the outrageously expensive in-app purchases. Like seriously; $5.49 for a new character that you will mostly only see the back of… Totally crazy. I’d hate to be a parent with a kid that liked this game… The game does look pretty good: But it must be lovely for Miniclip to be able to re-energise and re-monetise flash games on iOS. Overall, Rail Rush lacks the adrenaline of Temple Run, the undisputed king of these runners. It takes longer to speed up, and there are no no giant killer monkeys chasing you so, always feel like it is your own fault when you die. This game also uses any excuse to sent push notifications, so if you do decide to give this a try, I’d recommend denying push notification privileges.

Verdict: A competent game, but one that doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. Pass.

I’ll be deleting this.

Munch Time

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In short: A physics puzzle game starring a hungry chameleon.

Quite simply, all the chameleon wants is food: The pink grub in each level. To reach it, you will have to grab onto flowers with his tongue. If you time your grabs and swings well, you will be able to collect three stars in each level, and this makes up the typical scoring system, although you are also scored in points based on your collecting abilities and your speed. The chameleon can obviously change colours too, so sometimes levels will feature different coloured flowers, and you will need to grab an orb of that colour before you can hope to grab onto a flower of that colour. Each flower is a single-swing only, adding to the strategy required, but some special flowers (i.e. pink) will swing you around forcefully and can be grabbed many times. The chameleon can also walk to a point by touching that point, but this is slower, and he will be stopped by the slightest edge, so swinging on the flowers is preferable if you want a decent score. Once you get close (maybe 1.5cm) to the grub, the chameleon will automatically grab it with his tongue, so again, it is best to utilise your swings to the fullest extent so that you can finish fastest. I expect that as the game goes on, more types of flowers, and perhaps different environmental factors will influence the gameplay, so I think this will be come quite the puzzler. As you can see, the game features the cartoon artwork that we have come to expect from many iOS games. But it looks nice and crisp and inoffensive. There are also twenty-one Game Center achievements to display in your virtual cabinet as you progress through the game.

Verdict: While it is in a similar vein to plenty of other titles, Munch Time is a polished and fun experience. I’d go for it.

I’ll be playing through this one.
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See you next week.

One comment

  1. […] If you only wanted to play one bouncing-platformer, I’d still recommend one of my favourites; Bean’s Quest. But this game is a lot of fun, totally stress free, and it is monetarily free too! So you should […]

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