Keeping an Eye on iOS (w/e Jun 2)

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 deserves more playtime, and what warrants deletion.

After a week off, I return! Apps ahoy!

Mutant Mudds

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In short: A retro-styled platformer that hits the sweet spot.

This really is a an old-style game for a new age. Perhaps the best example of this it the way the game animates. Mudds (the main enemies) will explode into globules when you shoot them, and the protagonist’s hair will flops after when he lands after a jump. Indeed, there’s an attention to detail here that is admirable, and it is clear that just because this game looks simple, it wasn’t created in a quick-and-easy environment.

One of the first things I noticed about Mutant Mudds is that it is rather slow compared to many of the other retro platformers on the App Store. The likes of League of Evil and Mos Speedrun are all very focused on speed, so this is a very welcome change of pace. That difference aside, there is not anything here that is particularly revolutionary. The main gameplay hook is the way that game manipulates perspectives. There are actually three planes you can run on: The standard middle pane, the uber-close-up foreground and the miniature background. This has been done in other games like Donkey Kong, but it isn’t a mechanic you see every day. It is also very thoroughly executed: The entrire world scrolls along in a sophistocated manner, as it would in real life: So the foreground moves past very quickly with each step, even though the middle goes at a normal speed and so forth. Enemies are also able to jump between the foreground and background, so it does make for a challenge.

Again, progression is fairly straightforward. There are various bits and bobs to collect in each level, but to progress to the next stage, you only need to make your way through the prior level, not 100% it. On the control side of things, I found the touchscreen performed fine for my needs, but this is available on the PC, and the eShop, so if you want buttons, get it on another platform. And get it you should.

Verdict: This is a game that doesn’t try hard to be old school or retro, and because of this, it succeeds at being an excellent platformer. There’s nothing really uber-new, but it is just really well made.

I’ll be keeping this for sure.

eBoy FixPix

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In short: Its as the name says: You fix pictures.

This is a quirky little one… Basically, you are presented with oodles of levels, filled with a vast variety of broken or scrambled pixel/sprite based artwork. You then need to need to tilt the iDevice to make everything line up. Sometimes it is a city scene with an augumented reality feel (i.e. you can see behind certain layers as you tilt) and sometimes it is as simple as lining up the black border of a few objects, or just piecing together a face. There is great variety here, and the artwork is great, but there are two main problems. Firstly, the game often undoes it’s own challenge: There is usually one continuous line in each picture, (say, a roadway or a light pole), and by using this as a reference point, the level is easily solvable.
The other issue is that this is not a game that can be played wherever you and your device are. Its just not practical to tool around with the gyro on public transport, is it?

It’s also a bit buggy. Sometimes you can’t get the gyro to sit still. But if you wiggle the device around and come in from another angle, so to speak, it will all just about fall into place. Difficulty is also uneven. In some of the levels with the (aforementioned) augmented-reality effect, it is almost impossible to line up all the layers. Plus, the game is just too basic as an overall package. It just offers these levels and nothing else. It really needs some Game Centre action or at least a timed mode, to add some action anf excitement.

Verdict: Avoid this one. The only reason I would download is if you were really keen on the pretty sprite-works.

I’ll be deleting this one.

Tiny Bang Story

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In short: A glorified hidden object game.

I’m very sorry to have given the above summary, but that is what this boils down to. Sure, this is a very stylish game. It looks pretty, thanks to a sort of colourful-take-on-steampunk art style. Fairytale-like. But it is a very static world, so you cannot become very immersed in this world. The whole game is just about finding hidden objects really. Collecting things, so that you can progress to the next room or area. Now the real issues: This game is poorly optimised for smaller iDevices, with vertical black bars appearing on the sides of my iPod screen. It has (lazily, considering that there is a separate HD version) just retained the 4:3 ratio of the iPad. (Not pictured above, but you can imagine). This is made a greater issue by the zoom function, which is poorly implemented: You pinch to zoom, but the game doesn’t allow you to look around freely. You have to zoom out, and then in again at another spot. Very, very clunky. I’m also not even sure if there is retina display support here… Some stuff is might hard to see.

Verdict: A game that just isn’t made for this platform. Maybe check it out on Steam instead.

I’ll be removing this.

Megamassive

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In short: A lo-fi puzzle/plaforming/maze game.

The game doesn’t have a lot of fluff, so neither will my description: There is a single object with three elemental forms; water, cloud and rock, which slide, float and roll/fall respectively. You need to switch between these on-the-fly, to make the object reach the black hole (exit) in each level. There is a three-star scoring system, based on the time taken to beat each level, which is fine, but this is a game of much lot of trial and error, so it is actually pretty tricky to get three stars. You will really need some very precise timing to, say, float up through a specific crevasse, and not end up back where you started. The visuals are very minimalist, and while it is clean and clear to look at, it doesn’t exactly scream with personality either.

Verdict: A neat little puzzler, but one that will require patience.

I’ll be keeping this for a little while… Maybe I’ll get hooked.

Cognitile

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In short: A fairly simple maze drawing game that adds in a memory element.

The above screenshot explains this one pretty well. You’ve got an Indiana Jones wannabe, who needs to be guided to treasure via a player-drawn path. The only real restriction is the grid-based movement, but there are also obstacles and enemies to get in your way. The idea is to draw a path that takes the least time to get Indy to the treasure. However the way enemies and obstacles appear, turns this into a type of memory game. You will need to learn to memorise the patterns of enemy appearance: After ‘x’ turns, a hazard will appear here, so I need to navigate around it etc. Frequent obstacles are; a pit opening up under a tile, a fire starting, or a snake appearing.

This is a perfectly competent game, but I’m just not really into it. And for the record, I don’t think it “re-imagines the puzzle genre.”

Verdict: A solid game that lacks any real wow factor. For die-hard puzzlers only. For the rest, there are plenty of other more exciting line-drawing games.

I’ll be removing this title.

Sminis

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In short: A game of stop-start machinery and robotics.

The basic deal is that you have to get these little grey robot things from the left side to the right side of the screen. The little fellas amble along in an assembly-line type factory setting, and you need to keep them alive. This involves tapping the screen to halt the Sminis, so that they avoid the dangerous machinery that comes down from above to pound them. Simple enough, but to be fair, later levels my be more difficult. Annoyingly, you need to select your difficulty at the beginning of the level, and this then restricts the score you can get. So is you choose to only play on 2-star difficulty, you can’t get a 3-star rating for that level without playing it again. It seems to defeat the purpose of the classic three-tiered scoring thing. The game’s graphics are fine; serviceable 3D, and pretty inoffensive. Though with a combination of robots and factories, it really is a very grey game.

Verdict: In fact, this is a grey game in every sense. It’s just bleh; not that exciting. Pass.

I’ll be removing this one.

Cardinal Quest

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In short: A dungeon crawling RPG with retro sensibilities.

The screenshot is a little overwhelming, and that is also how I felt when I played. There are buttons all over the screen to use item, access the menu and so forth, and also the various heath gauges of friend and foe. But basically, you’ve just gotta rove around dungeons, collecting loot, items, weapons and potions. On the way, you’ll have to face off against lots of enemies, of course. One of the nice touches is the ability to choose between three classes, a fighter, a thief and a wizard. I played as the fighter, as I think he was the middle option. I gather the wizard would have ranged attacks, while the thief would have been weaker but with leet loot skills.

Now by retro ‘sensibilities’ above, I mean the retro aesthetic, but also caveats like clunky movement. Movement is restricted to tiles that are displayed on screen, but there is no d-pad to get around; you basically a just press/hold in given direction to move about. This is a chore, thanks to the tiny game screen which is a by-product of the aforementioned giant buttons. It’s also a chore, because you can’t see very far ahead of yourself, so you will be constantly looking at the map.

Verdict: This game has some good ideas, but control/design choices bugger it up. I’d avoid it.

I’ll be looking for a better example of this type of game, because I’m sure it could work.

Bit Dungeon

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In short: Oh look! A better example of that type of game!

I don’t really intend to do this compare/contrast thing, but it fell into place here. Bit Dungeon really is a lot like Cardinal Quest, only better. The visuals are still old-school sprites, but they are prettier. There is more colour and variety. The loot-gathering aspect of the game is also a lot more fun and intuitive, you can choose to equip a new sword, or not, based on brief stats shown when you open a treasure chest. The delerious, maze-like quality of Cardinal Quest is not found here. Instead, dungeon layouts are more simple, with less doors. Battles are more fun here because they are more action-orientated; you can run around to avoid ranged attacks, and attack-types actually play a part. There is also greater variety in the monsters you face, including bigger sprites. These larger sprites are in contrast to the small and neat HUD, which is something that again, totally usurps CQ. The controls here for movement are analogue rather than LRUD restricted, and while it doesn’t work perfectly all the time, it is way less clunky.

Verdict: An excellent dungeon crawler that hits all the right notes for this platform. Get on it!

I’ll be keeping this!

Hidden Doodles

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In short: A hidden object game, featuring many zany doodles.

This is pretty standard stuff. You just need to find a few things in each level. You can move around, zoom in and out, and when you find something, you just touch the screen to identify that specific doodle. Usually, there is huge, random assortment of doodles, on screen. Though all levels aren’t totally static; sometimes things go flying past, and sometimes doodles are overlapped, and need to dragged around to reveal the hidden ones. There is also a neat VS Mode (suited to iPad players) that allows two players to compete in their doodle-hunting, in a shared group of doodles. Despite the whacky art style, I still thing hidden object games are a “seen one; seen them all” type of game. But at least this one hasn’t tacked on a stupid story as a front-end.

Verdict: An rather inane game overall. I’d avoid it, and go with Little Things for hidden-object goodness.

I’ll be deleting this.

Finger Balance

In short: A simple puzzle game with plenty of potential.

This is a simple game; all it requires are two fingers (or thumbs) at all times. You just need to balance the ball on a horizontal pole, and guide it from the bottom, to the top of each stage. Most of the levels offer some sort of a maze to navigate, and require both balance and speed: If the ball hits a wall/obstacle, then it’s game over. Since this requires balance, timing, and two touch-points at all time, this game is only good for serene playing locations, i.e. not public transport. Perhaps the best thing about this is the game’s level editor. It is a bit tricky to use, and often requires selecting and holding a drawing tool with one hand, while actually drawing with the other. Regardless though, I’m always a fan of level editors, and I think that if a game is good enough to spawn a community, that community will make their own content, regardless of the tools offered. Aesthetically, this game isn’t overly pleasing, as it all follows the above mustard/teal/burgundy/red colour scheme. And as a by-product of this, colourful user-created levels look out of place. Also, there are in game ads, so be aware of where you’re tapping in the menus.

Verdict: I think this is the type of thing you will like or dislike immediately, so there’s no harm in having a squiz at the lite version, or the full, if it again goes free.

I’ll be keeping this for a little while longer.

Uber Racer

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In short: A racer that I feel I’ve played before.

Probably because the developer, Mad Processor, is the same developer that made Motorblast, which I’ve looked at before. Rather than a kart-style racer, this is a purer racing game and is set in a dystopian future. So while wide-open barren levels are expected, the tracks are weirdly large. There isn’t often much of a course, just arrows for you to follow. Annoyingly, these arrows look a lot like those used in many other racing games to indicate a barrier; the border of the track. Furthermore, the paths made by the arrows weave unnecessarily, so it is actually best not to follow them, and find your own speedy route. Some might see this as an enjoyable aspect of the gameplay, but I just think it shows bad track design. The game’s difficulty is also rather inconsistent, even in the beginning. Time trials are hard, but races are easy, even with a stock vehicle.

On the positive side, the graphics are on a par with Motorblast, that is; rather impressive. But they are less easy on the eye here, as there is no foliage or greenery in this post-apocalyptic future. There are also a wide variety of cars to unlock, and these offer a nice range of suitably ragged body types; from dune buggies to big utes. There is also full Game Centre support.

Verdict: This is a lot like Motorblast, but without weapons. Track design and track variation are the game’s weak points. I’d probably pass on this one, but worth a look if it goes free again.

I’ll be removing this in favour of Motorblast.

Frocket

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In short: An action-puzzler that relies on timing.

The best way, I think, to describe this is: The visuals of Rayman 2/3 with the gameplay of the barrels in Donkey Kong Country series. The main character even looks a little like Globox in my opinion… Anyway, the barrels: That’s how it goes down. In each level, there are multiple pathways offered by a myriad of static an moving barrels. All you need to do is tap-to-fire, and get Frocket to the exit after collecting as many goodies as possible. ‘Goodies’ here refers to the three hidden stars (seen above) that form the ubiquitous scoring system, and also these lumie things that form the game’s currency, and look a lot like Navi. This is a nice, casual game, and it is fun. BUT:

By the fifth level, I was forced to the game’s store, where I was given 500 lumies to spend. Lovely. Except this was only one third (500/1500) of the item I actually needed. So in order to actually get three stars on level five, I would need to spend real cash, or play for a very long time, and them come back to get stars. I think I’d struggle to get 10 lumies per level, so that’s some 100 levels until I can afford the item, and comeback and complete level five. Classic crappy pay-wall. Boo.

Verdict: Unless I made an error of reason or judgement, which I may have, this game has a pay-wall that undoes much of it’s charm. Only check it out if it is free.

I’ll be deleting this.

Team Awesome

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In short: Another runner that ticks all the boxes of generic-ness.

For once, it isn’t actually an endless runner, because there are levels. But this means that the game only ticks more of those aforementioned boxes of generic-ness. Okay, here we go: Multiple forms of in-game currency. Yes. A store where said currencies can be spent on boosts. Yes. Objectives in each level. Yes. Some sort of star-rating system for each level. Yes.

Right. Now that that is cleared up, we can discuss the game. It stars a super hero, which is fine, but he feels far to overpowered to make the game remotely exciting: Enemies: You are expected to hit, just run into them. Solid walls? Just break through. There really isn’t much challenge here, and without a balance of risk and reward, I don’t think any game can be engaging. Other annoyances include the positioning of groups of coins, which are always the same, so each line of coins requires the exact same angle of jump. Plus the overall press to jump, and then press again to fly mechanic feels stilted. Furthermore, the game’s dynamic camera just feels like it is too far behind. Each level is actually pretty big, both in vertical and horizontal size, but the camera can’t keep up. Oh, and another thing is that you are forced to watch progress bars (yeah, there’s XP and a leveling system too) fill up really slowly after each level. Nope, touching the screen won’t make it speed up. Just sit tight. I guess it looks pretty good, and it is cute that you can knock over mister awesome in the menus by tapping the screen.

Verdict: A game that sadly embodies a lot of my dislikes about gaming on this platform. It isn’t really even that bad, just horribly generic.

I’ll be removing this.
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See ya round!

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