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Swordsman (PC) Review

July 31st, 2014 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: Perfect World || Overall: 8.0

World of Warcraft never wowed me. I didn’t ground myself in Tera. I didn’t enlist myself for Guild Wars. Neither did I ever play EverQuest. Much like the old Zelda CD-i games, what your humble reviewer is trying to say is that he avoided Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like the plague. Perhaps it was due to a lack of interest in taking the RPG experience online, or maybe it was the fear that the time sink would melt the proverbial face off of my free time à la Raider of the Lost Arc. At least, that was until I gave Perfect World’s MMO Swordsman a try.

giphy
Always make the Indian Jones reference.
Always. 

Disclaimer: This review is based on my experiences playing the Infinity swordsman class up to level 37, during the open Beta. There may be some changes when the game goes live on July the 29th and after as the game is updated.

 

Swordsman Online is Perfect World’s latest foray in the Free-to-Play (F2P) Action MMO market. Inspired by the popular writing of wuxia (martial hero) novelist Louis Cha, Swordsman trades in the typical fantasy-styled combat and races found in most MMOs for martial arts action and oriental locales. The game touts wonderful graphics, an abundance of visceral martial arts inspired combat, exclusive guild-only quests, a variety of classes based on schools of martial arts, a rich story, and an overall fun experience for any MMO junkie.

 

Though, does the Action MMO hold true to those boast? Well, without further ado, here is my review.

Lets get this started
LET’S GET THIS STARTED!!!
YEAH!!!

Right off the bat, Swordsman introduces you to a rather aesthetically intricate and detailed character creation process. From height to build to facial scars, the standard character options already provide an ample playground to create a character to your liking. Furthermore, the advance options offer you sliders to adjust the size, shape and location of those features allowing anything from an eye-catchingly attractive character model to a grossly hideous one.

Character Creation 2Character Creation 3
Character Creation 4Character Creation 5
It ranges somewhere between Cloud Strife to Quasimodo.

Along with the varied character models, the graphics in the game are much better than I expected from a F2P offering. The fields are decorated in a lush mixture of greens, grays, blues and browns that capture the various dirt roads, mountains and areas of water you’ll come across. Inside the cities, the graphics do well to bring the various decorations of the city to life, and also include some neat tile designs that can be seen along the main roads. The shadows in the game also deserve a special note with every item in the city casting its own distinct shadow and, at times, overlapping with others to create an almost realistic effect. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the greenery outside of the cities’ wall. The only other graphically lacking part is that a few of the enemies and other NPCs don’t seem on par with the rest, but it still turns out to be a very minor flaw when compared to the depth of the other visuals in this Action MMORPG.

 

Being an “Action” MMORPG, the combat in this game appears to take on a far more involved attitude than with other MMOs. Instead of targeting an enemy to constantly unleash a swarm of basic attacks, every swing of the character’s chosen weapon takes either a button press or mouse click to execute and actual aim to hit the enemy’s hitbox. The typical flow of combat takes on a mixture of those attacks along with special moves and a dodge mechanic to round off a standard fight. There is also a combo mechanic that grants more damage depending on the number of continuous hits you have scored… as long as another player doesn’t move your target out of the way mid-combo or the clunky controls don’t screw it up.

Not Giving a Shit 2
Currently Pictured: My character not giving a shit as he spins around like a
doofus for a high combo.

Regrettably, while the game offers three control options, the controls aren’t the most intuitive with the combat. No matter which of the three control styles your choose, you will find yourself having to get used to the clunky controls rather than naturally having it blend with your own personal style of playing, which can delay you from enjoying it at the onset. The controls themselves have an effect on early combat that causes it to appear stiff until you acquire a more diverse move set later in the game. Though, with that said, each successful hit does carry a distinct weight to it as it makes contact with the enemy. Watching a finishing blow send the lifeless body of an enemy flying did solicit a grin from time to time.

 

The questing itself is rather generic, however. Most taking the form of fetch quests, defeating a certain number of the same enemies, talking to NPCs or the occasional boss fight. Considering that the game has a rather robust acrobatics system that offers triple jumps, air dashing, and gliding, I was hoping there would be more quests involving these abilities that are ripe for platforming elements. Unfortunately, only one quest asked me to use such skills to climb to the top of a building to meet with a man’s wife. Also, word to the wise, there are guild specific quest that serve to spice up the gameplay a little bit, so I’d recommend joining a guild at some point.

Secret
“Golly, Mrs. Lin! I’m okay with that, but I sure hope you told Mr. Lin
about it.”

In addition, early on, the quests give a considerable amount of experience points for whatever you have chosen to do, from important to inane. Constantly I would find myself talking twice to the same character only to have him vomit out about ten percent of the experience points I needed to gain a level. I would prefer to see all that experience be bundled up at the end of the quest line in a neat box, rather than be given out in parts like that for every unimportant task I do… but that’s just, like, my opinion… man…

well-thats-just-like-your-opinion-man-gif-the-dude-lebowski
Abide.

Out of the figurative box and onto other parts of the game, Swordsman offers a whopping ten classes under the guise of martial arts schools your character can study. While each of the schools or “classes” are different, they all follow the standard roles of tank, DPS (Damage Per Second), healing, support and control seen in most MMORPGs. Delving deeper, each of the schools offer three distinct styles that can be changed on the fly even during mid-combat that are usually either a variation on the school’s role in combat, or a dip into another of the usual combat roles.

 

Being comfortable with my masculinity, I chose to study under the Infinity Style that is usually practiced by nuns and offered quite the unique counter mechanic to their tank-ish style of combat. Most of the skills are charged attacks that release high damage the longer the charge is held.  However, if hit during the charge the class will unleash a completely different move that usually substitutes damage for a negative status effect or a “debuff” on the opponent. I found that to be a rather interesting mechanic, and would love to see what other mechanics the other schools introduced in the story could pull off.

SWORDSman
The Infinity School also attempts to make a two sword style viable, which is about
as unrealistically awesome as I wish to be. 

Taken by itself, the story is a little bland and hardly noteworthy. When seen through the eyes of a martial arts film aficionado (i.e. me), it’s quite the enjoyable love letter to genre and the books the game is based upon. All of the tropes are there: the main character’s village being destroyed, ancient relics, feuding martial arts schools, revenge, secret scrolls and the glorious Fu Manchu facial hair. To add to that, Perfect World made the decision not to dub the dialogue and to keep in its original Mandarin Chinese. This proved to be fairly wise decision as the authentic Chinese voices give the story an authentic vibe, in turn. The only way it could be more authentic is if it replaced the voices with bad English voice acting that doesn’t exactly match the lips flaps of the character. All in all, the story is a mixed bag; those that enjoy the genre will enjoy the homage to the books and films the story is based on, and those that do not will hardly care for it.

Fu Manchu
Though early cinema has given the Fu Manchu facial hair a bad rap,
few things are as majestic when properly maintained.

Beyond the story, the game offers a variety of instances, dungeons and events for a group of people to run. Starting at around level 15, the player is already offered their first instance to play at one of three difficulty levels. While most instances can be tackled by themselves at the normal level, swordsman and hero levels ramp up the difficulty to be better tackled by a team of players. Along with those, the game also offers a variety of dungeons at higher levels that offer their own form of exp rewards and items gains. Adding to that, there are many daily events and activities that are sure to better your character in one way or the other.

Generic
The instances are as important to do as their names are generic.

The Player versus Player (PvP) options come in a few flavors. While typical one on one and group combat can be enjoyed in the game’s arena, which includes customizable settings and a reward system for the victor, the game also offers guild based PvP that allows guild to take over land in-game. However, the most intriguing option lies in how Swordsman handles PvP in the open world. PvP players outside of the arena and the guild wars come in three types. First are the Harmony players that aren’t allowed to attack others. Then there are the Outlaws that can attack any player above a certain level for a monetary reward but at the cost of their name turning red and branding them as a player killer. Lastly, there are the Avengers that are only allowed to gank (kill) characters whose name has turned red, netting the player an item from the character’s inventory once defeated. In a way, this game of mouse and cat (and dog) is a fascinating way for the player characters to police themselves.

 

As for the audio, I found it rather lackluster to say the least. Not that it ever detracted from my experience of the game, but nothing struck me as noteworthy in the music or sound effects department in the open beta.

 

Being in open beta, Swordsman is riddled with enough bugs to make a roach motel jealous. A few I encountered included: graphical glitches, closed doors that I could pass through, opened doors that looked closed on screen, the sound randomly cutting out during cutscenes, my character freezing in place for several minutes and an invisible enemy hunting me down until I could escape to a safe zone. As a special mention, the most amusing glitch in the game allowed me to make the enemies windmill uncontrollably after being killed by certain moves. While none of these glitches are game breaking, they sure do bring you out of the game’s immersion.

Dance
I like to think that sometimes I don’t kill my enemies, but instead their defeat
inspires them to take up their true passion in dance.

Lastly, for the duration of the game, I was offered the Hero’s Pack by Perfect World. Included in the package comes a combination of a mount, a unique companion, equipment, an exclusive fashion and consumables all meant to make your Swordsman’s experience all the more enjoyable for $59.99. While most of the items only serve to streamline the experience and literally make things faster for you, like the Blazing Stallion that goes about 3 miles per hour faster than a typical horse, there is some worth in the rather powerful Ring of Valor, which is an upgradable piece of gear that can boost its stats as you level. Also, the package offers you a unique fashion  which doesn’t serve anything outside of an aesthetic sense that this is the closest you’ll be to looking like Mortal Kombat’s thunder god in Swordsman, which admittingly, is still pretty cool. Overall, while it can be convenient for those starting out or seeking to raise an alternate character, I found the Hero’s Pack unnecessary for a patient player.

Raiden CosplayThunder God

Maybe if you squint your eyes and turn your head to the left…

Though the game definitely has it share of glitches and faults, I believe the game is worth a try for anyone looking for a new MMO to enjoy. From the unique setting, variety of classes, abundant PvP and eye-catching graphics, the game more than makes up for getting use to its clunky controls and other lesser traits. Plus, it made my first true MMO experience not all that bad…

-~-

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Long Live the Queen (PC) Review

March 4th, 2014 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: Hanako Games || Overall: 8.0

Welcome Lords and Ladies, gentlemen and women of esteem to the tale of Princess Elodie. A young girl caught betwixt her royal appointment as upcoming queen and the many dangers that the title holds. Watch her take classes on the many facets of a proper ruler and matriarch. Watch her weave her way through the tribulations of both political intrigue and royal scandal. Watch her conquer both the battlefield and the ballroom with her might and refinement. And watch her die… and die… and die again…

Cheerful

Don’t get too attached, her many deaths will be the result
of your bad decisions.

 Okay, I had my fun.

 

Long Live the Queen is a visual novel of political intrigue, war and death all dressed up in a pretty, pretty pink ribbon for your playing pleasure. The game casts you in the role of young princess Elodie, fresh from the sudden and unexplained death of her mother; this understandably depressed young lady is now tasked with running the country until her proper coronation on her fifteenth birthday. You, on the other hand, are in charge of keeping her alive by means of a point and click adventure where you will raise up skills to complete tasks through menu commands. You will fail.

 

At its core, Long Live the Queen is a literal numbers game. You have a number of weeks until Elodie’s coronation, attempts on her life occur on certain numbered weeks, and you then avoid them by having leveled the necessary skills to survive to a certain number. Long Live the Queen’s success in this formula is in how fluidly this all comes together. The game does the number crunching for you while clearly explaining all in-game mechanics.

 

If described in one word, the “game play” in Long Live the Queen is “light.” A typical in-game week consist of first sending Elodie out to learn two skills in the form of classes, and ends with having her participate in some sort of event during the weekend. Both skills she has focused on are raised by a base of two points per day and, with no bonuses, results in 10 points for the week. This is further diversified by her mood; every weekend you are asked to have Elodie participate in some sort of activity that affects her mood and, in turn, her mood affects how well she does in her studies. If done correctly, you could gain a bonus that is about three times the usual rate. If done incorrectly, you could succumb to a penalty that results in an effective score of zero points for the whole week.

Skills

The skills range somewhere between “a lot” to a “crap load.”

Now while simple enough in execution, to make the most out of your skills and moods requires a careful point and click balancing act. First off, the skills are quite numerous and the game doesn’t really allow for your princess to train evenly in all fields. More often than not, you will find that making Elodie a jack-of-all-trades will lead to an earlier demise than min-maxing (minimizing the effect of undesired skills and maximizing the effect of desired ones). This can get particularly difficult when you find out that each skill has two associated skills that must be raised over 25 points before the skill you want can be raised over 50 points. Overall, you’ll find that a well-rounded princess usually equals a hated, useless and dead one.

 

Moods, to the same extent, also require their own special balancing act to make the most out of them. Each mood is set at one end of an eleven point scale and at the opposite end of that scale is a mood that is contradictory to it. For example, in this game, you can’t be angry if you are afraid, you can’t be cheerful if you are depressed, and you can’t be lonely if you are pressured. How much each of those makes sense is up to you. So whenever a certain activity gives you points in one mood, it also detracts points from its opposite mood. This will often have you subject your princess to a constant state of manic depression as you go from one end of each mood scale to the other in search of the right mood bonus to complement the skills you desire. Though, even with perfect mastery of both skills and moods, it doesn’t mean your princess will make it out alive.

 PassiveAggressive

 It’s not like I think that the combination of angry and afraid is being
passive-aggressive, but it could make sense, man…
Source

Elodie is going to die… she’s going to die a lot… but that is also part of the fun of Long Live the Queen. Even when you believe you have a perfect set of skills and moods to take your little monarch from princess to queen, the game has no problem throwing a surprise curveball at you and killing Elodie off. The process, while frustrating, often times fills you with a renewed sense of determination as you start fresh and tweak her skills to overcome that particular obstacle and then find another one to have you repeat the whole process. Even when you do eventually manage to make Elodie a queen, you can find yourself eagerly replaying the game to find out what other sets of skills can make her a queen and not a cadaver. Altogether, Elodie’s constant deaths give a sort of morbid charm to the game.

SwordBlood
ArrowBlown_up

Never before has brutal death been more adorable.

Visually, the game takes many cues from the art styles found in most shoujo (girl) comics in Japan, which makes sense since this game is targeted towards girls but with a wider audience in mind (justifying my manhood: done). The girls are cute and the boys are just as pretty. My only problem is that despite the game fitting the visual novel category, it seems far more inclined to just describe the story rather than illustrate it. The game could do well to provide more illustrations during the more important points of the story than just a portrait of a face and some text next to it. Though, when illustrated, the pictures are a treat to see.

 

In the audio department, the piano arrangements that accompany the story give it a fairy tale ambiance, as well as, just being pleasant on the ears to hear. It does well to highlight the sad, cheerful, and action scenes throughout the novel. In contrast, the sound effects are virtually non-existent. Which is a shame, since a well placed clang of steel or cheering crowd could have picked up the slack where the visuals did not.

 

There isn’t really much to say about the interface. To its benefit, everything is easy to get to, clearly explained and hardly confusing. You point. You click. You get on with Elodie’s life (or death).

 

The narrative does a good job at juxtaposing the pretty princess theme with the darker tones of rulership. One minute Elodie could be enjoying a grand ball, and the next she could be at the end of an assassin’s blade. Though, in that regard, it does exactly what the game promises; it takes you through the “typical” year of someone destined to be queen. Where the narrative thrives is in the fact that, despite one scene near the end, it is exactly what you make of it. Often times, you will even find that events from much earlier have great impact on events found later on in the story. Though, whether princess Elodie makes the castle her gilded cage to protect her from the world’s troubles, becomes a war mongering tyrant, or goes on an adventure to vanquish fantastical beast is completely based on the skills she takes and choices you make.

 Military Elodie

…or you could play her like I did. As a warlord skilled in both decoration and public speaking that I imagine
screams, “I AM THE PRETTIEST!” after every victory to the cheers of a loving crowd

 

and so ends our tale of princess Elodie. A tale, while lacking both in effects of visual and of sound, can be an intriguing piece that is delightfully frustrating and wonderfully addicting to come back to. To all the Lord and Ladies in the audience, I bid you “Adieu.”

-~-

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Puzzle and Dragons (Android) Review

January 7th, 2014 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment|| Overall: 8.5

Hardware Used: T-Mobile G2 with Android 2.3.4

With its roaring success in the Land of the Rising Sun, (that’s Japan, because the sun doesn’t rise elsewhere) GungHo Online Entertainment now intends to addict America with its special blend of Puzzle, RPG and Free-to-Play/Pay-to-Win elements with the straight-to-the-point title Puzzle and Dragons. Though, does the game deliver a fun experience that can garner the attention of an American audience, or will it simply fade in obscurity like many other Japanese imports?

Nintendo Gameboyvirtualboy

If you need me to tell you which of these imports was a failure and which wasn’t, then videogaming
might not be the right hobby for you.

 

Puzzle and Dragons is the unholy combination of the puzzle elements of Bejeweled, the monster mechanics of the Shin Megami Tensei series and a dash of Pokémon for added flavor. While each game is addictive in its own right, someone in Japan thought combining the three would make an addiction juggernaut of the likes that mobile gamers have never seen before… and for the most part, he was right.

 

Puzzle and Dragons starts you off with the wholly “original” idea of having you pick one of three elemental monsters: a fire monster, a water monster, and a plant monster. You are given a random “rare” monster to further entice you to collect more monsters. Afterwards, you are thrown into a seemingly endless supply of dungeons to capture monsters, level and evolve your collection, as well as level yourself up — all to eventually continue the vicious cycle when you find that you can now take on stronger enemies and dungeons. All of which aptly describes your journey through the game.

Mega-Evolutions-of-Classic-Starters-700x372puzzle-dragons-main

Okay, I don’t care how it happens but one of you
is helping me catch a Mewtwo.

Game design in Puzzle and Dragons is actually pretty solid. The meat and potatoes of the core game will have you encounter wave after wave of monsters in each dungeon until you reach the boss monster. During battles, the monsters will attempt to attack and reduce your hit points to zero. You’ll counter by matching up elemental gems to make your corresponding monsters attack and reduce the enemy’s hit points to zero. The best moves are when you form a chain of matches, which further multiply the damage your monsters dish out.

 

Along the way, you collect more monsters while making enough coins to further advance your monster team. While the premise is simple enough a layer of strategy is added by the various special abilities each of your monsters provide that sometimes cause extra damage, other times restore your HP, and can even convert one type of elemental gem into another. Taking these special abilities into account when forming a team of monsters can mean the difference between beating an enemy monster that your current level shouldn’t be able to handle or having a boss curb-stomp them. Furthermore, special “Leader Skills” further shake things up and add another layer.

 

Puzzle and Dragons also resides in the easy-to–learn-but-hard-to-master category, though the game does a sufficient enough job at explaining the basics, it leaves the more advanced strategies to the players to find them on the internet or discover them in a happy accident. Overall, the gameplay is fun and engaging.

Strategy

This is an example of strategies derived from a
“happy accident.”

 

On the other side of the Free-to-Play coin is the fact that Puzzle and Dragons is a Free-to-Play mobile game and has no shame in reminding you of that. While plenty of activities can be done with the in-game currency, namely leveling up your monsters and evolving them, there are activities that require a special form of currency called a “Magic Stone.” The activities vary in usefulness; you can revive your monsters in a dungeon, regain their stamina so you are allowed to play longer, or get a turn at the hallowed “Rare Egg Machine” for an almost guaranteed chance at a strong monster for the price of five Magic Stones. Then, once their usefulness has been established, the game proceeds to remind you at every turn that they can be purchased in their online store, especially when you have none left.

 

Now, a fair warning to new players: the game will attempt to make it seem like Magic Stones are easy to come by as it bombards you with them early on in your career as a Pokémon Mas… Persona Use… Dragon Tamer(?). Know that this is only temporary and the stones quickly become a much rarer commodity. That’s not to say that you’ll never get them, and that you can’t eventually achieve the same results with a lot of hard work, but the game is more than happy to offer you an easy way out if you wish to throw money their way.

 

The controls in this game sometimes suffer the same foibles that many touch screen based games have, but work enough of the time for that to not be a problem. The game never really asks you to do any more than tap the screen or drag your finger along it, and barring an occasional accident, you are able to do just that with no problem. The other elements of the interface are also easy to use. On the main menu, everything is visible and doesn’t require more than three taps to get somewhere, and in the dungeon the elemental gems and monsters are in clear view. The only problem I have with the touch screen controls is that the gems seem a bit too close, making it hard to see the gems around the one you’re currently in control of. Of course, it could just be my fat finger and small phone that are the real problems.

 

Visually, the game doesn’t really offer much outside the portraits that come with each monster. They are often colorful, creative and somewhere along the lines of adorable, ferocious or a very specific fetish that I’m sure applies to someone. In contrast, the backgrounds are mostly just pallet swaps (recoloring the same textures) of the same hallways. The special effects are just as bland and usually involve a ball of colored light that hits the opponents, followed by an uninspired effect that represents the element used in the attack.

Echidna ArchangelLilith Flame Girl

Ladies…

 

The music unfortunately hits the same note (see what I did there), and is just as bland as most of the visuals. You are constantly subjected to the same slightly upbeat and so-often-forgettable-that-I-had-to-log-into-the-game-to-remember-it music in every dungeon. The monotony is only broken up by another, more intense song that is also played at every boss encounter. The sound effects are just as forgettable and really don’t do anything different that you haven’t seen before.

 

Now, a special note should be added as to why this game is so addictive. Not only does it provide solid gameplay, and a vast collection of monsters to collect, improve, and form a team around, but the game is also constantly in the midst of some sort of special event. The events serve many purposes from providing the user with fresh new dungeons to explore, the chance to collect rare monsters such as angels, demons, and batman (I’m not kidding), and also the ability to collect more of the coins, experience, and “Magic Stones” to make team building all the easier. Furthermore, these events often come and go, so it pays to log in daily to check out what is going on, what you can take advantage of, and exactly how long you can take advantage of it. In conclusion, the events give an incentive for players to log in daily.

BatmanPuzzle

Okay, let’s be honest here… you’d make a much better leader of this team
than me, so I’ll just stand back here and let you call the shots.

 

Despite the hiccups in the audio and visual department, Puzzle and Dragons is a fun and addictive game. The combination of bejeweled-like puzzles, collectable monsters, and a Shin Megami-like advancement system seemed to have meshed well into a game that is indeed playable, and worth a look.

-~-

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Aspects TD (iOS) Review

November 26th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: Sabaton Games LLP || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Due to a supposed shortage of tower defense games on iOS (I’m not personally an expert on the statistics of genres of the games on the App Store), Sabaton Games thought it prudent to create the recently released Aspects TD.  So, has Sabaton Games developed the experience one should expect from a tower defense game on the iOS?  I suppose the answer would be yes, but at the same time, no.

Aspects TD is a little bit different from most tower defense games I’ve played.  Most of my genre experience comes from the fantastic PixelJunk Monsters, as well as many StarCraft (the first one) Use Map Settings games, among other games I can’t particularly remember.  The most unique thing about Aspects TD is certainly being able to essentially “combat” against an opponent.  More than just defending your base with towers known as Totems, you are assaulting your enemy’s base with your OWN monsters known as “Phantoms.”  Monster waves are sent to each player at the same time, from what I can tell, and you’ll have to be able to time your summoning of extra Phantoms at the right moment to throw a kink in your opponent’s tower coverage in hopes to get some of your Phantoms across the map and through to the opponent’s base.

This game-play design forces a balance.  Either build more Totems to defend or summon Phantoms to attack your opponent.  You automatically gain a resource called “Mana” every time one of your Totems kills an enemy Phantom.  When you summon your own Phantom,  you begin to gain Mana from something called “Faith.”  You gain more Faith by summoning Phantoms — 10% of their cost goes into this Faith pool.  Every ten seconds or so from the time you summon your first Phantom, you will begin to gain Mana equal to the number of your Faith in addition to what your Towers gain from killing monsters.  This process continues until the end of the match, and your Faith number will grow as long as you summon more Phantoms.

Depending on how well you do at placing your Totems, you may be able to be more economical and send more Phantoms out against your opponent and gain resources over time.  The investment can build up into something worthwhile, but depending on what kind of enemies end up being sent at you, you can definitely use that extra 1000 mana to build more Totems rather than waiting for the long-term interest on your investment.  Unfortunately, the game does not reward you for being truly economical with your Mana — you don’t see the typical percentage gain of resources based on what you have pooled.  This can create the issue of needing to keep your Mana at near 0 or you will run the risk of possibly being behind in either defense or attacking.  If you choose to spend on attacking, your Faith will grow to almost ridiculous levels and you won’t have enough time to use it on building more Totems or attacking.  But at that point, you’ll probably be able to overwhelm your enemy with a ton of Phantoms — so that isn’t a big deal, per se.

On top of the prior circumstances, due to the mishmash of enemies each wave, you can’t really construct a strategy other than hopefully having enough damage to get through each progressive wave.  Phantom waves are not usually themed, such as “flying only” or “this type of enemy only” so it can be hard to plan for all contingencies at all times.  Each wave increases difficulty of killing the monsters, because your Totems do not grow in strength and your enemies get more health.  The tuning in this regard seems very exact and they don’t really give much leeway in exploring the use of different totems in different places.  Totems cost a lot and there’s not a huge diversity, not to mention they can’t be upgraded at all.  It feels like they were going for more of a Plants vs. Zombies feel more than a traditional tower defense game in some aspects, but in the end after trying a lot you can get through most of the fights just by trying to perfect your strategy as much as possible.  Overall, the game tends to just be super fucking hard and you can get the feeling you are relying on luck to get past the challenges rather than actual strategy.

Your profile will have experience gain, but for what purpose, I couldn’t tell you.  I can only assume that your Phantoms/Totems gain power as you “level up” but that means you have to lose several games before you gain enough power to actually beat a mission you might be having trouble with.  There is no indication of actually increasing your power through these levels, since when you level, there is nothing that tells you what you’ve gained.  Even if you notice that some of the numbers in your profile change, whether or not they are large enough to affect anything is left to question.

As you play the game, you’ll notice that numbers fly all over the place signifying how much damage your Totems are doing.  These numbers are useless, and clutter up the screen, not to mention they are absolutely redundant since there are also health bars — which can’t be seen because they are hidden behind all the numbers!  There is wayyyy too much information and it is to the detriment of the visuals of the game.  The satisfying aspect should be seeing the damage you do to your enemies, not the damage numbers covering up the actual visuals.  Health bars are more than enough to gauge if an enemy is going to die, and should be all that is needed.

Controls are a whole other issue with this game.  For one, the squares are way too small.  I don’t know how much of an issue this would be on an iPad, but since they opt for a “tap and drag” interface rather than something that is more natural for a touch screen, it can be quite cumbersome to place your tower somewhere you actually didn’t want it to go or on a square you aren’t able to build on.  A more natural option would have been tapping an existing square on the board and then choosing the Totem you want to make from there.  The same is true with the Phantoms — you are “tapping and flicking” them upwards when really all you should have to be forced to do is tap them.  The User Interface can be cleaned up considerably if they put a little more effort into those systems.

Lag can also be an issue — when you have a ton of Totems and a ton of Phantoms going around on your opponent’s map, numbers are flying everywhere, shit is blowing up, and you are left with a game dropping down to four frames per second.  This goes to the root of the issue where the words “less is more” comes to mind.  It may have been a more pleasant experience to be able to place less Totems on the board in a more strategic fashion, with less enemies, and less stupid numbers flying all over the place.  Not to say that you can’t have a game that is designed like Aspects TD is currently — just that there are some things you can do to prevent a clumsy game-play experience that chugs at a low frame rate when too much is happening.

The character art in the game is pretty cool — but the actual game-play art is below what you may have expected at first glance.  The “Phantoms” pretty much all look like crap, but some of the Totems look very cool.  The totems have this weird sci-fi shamanistic thing going on — think Avatar, I guess.  There’s no real explanation as to why Totems launch missiles and shoot lasers or flames, but at least they look cool doing it.  This leads into the story itself.  The story is actually very interesting in the beginning and I was very hopeful for what the game would have in store.  I had been putting a lot of effort into this game since it was so freaking hard, but it came to be my extreme disappointment that the story completely fell off and most of the missions became something like “Oh, I have to defend my people” and “Oh, there’s bad guys over there, but whatever I’m going to go and kill them.”  The story had started with some sort of conspiracy thing and mystery as to where the evil forces were coming from.  Also, I was hopeful that the technology would be explained somehow to add more layers to the story.  But they never really propel that story forward by the time you’re on the 19th mission, which is the currently last mission available.  Not to mention, the 19th mission also feels like it is rigged against you and unless you grind some levels, I don’t see how its possible to beat the mission at all.

According to the game, there are more missions “coming soon.”  It is kind of weird, because the whole way through, you’re “unlocking” more Phantoms and Totems — even in the last available level!  Like, for what purpose am I still unlocking things on the last level?  Is there a time where I actually get to play the full game with all of the options available?  Apparently not.  At least, in this current version of the game.  This isn’t a “free to play” style game in which you expand your options or buy more missions.  By saying there are missions “coming soon” it is essentially saying that you are buying an incomplete game.  It’s nice to have an update to look forward to, but when you’re playing a game you outright bought and you get to the end of the game and you haven’t actually started to use all of the skills you learned about during the progression, you can feel cheated.  It feels almost like the game is too hard on purpose, just to elongate the amount of time you have to spend on the game to get to the last mission, with the last mission being practically unbeatable.  There is also no information regarding when “soon” is or how many missions are to be expected.

There are three different characters to choose from… but you can only save the progression of two separate characters.  Each of the three characters have their own perks, and special totems.  But as you might expect, the story is the same for all of the characters.  I am unsure why you can’t have one save slot for each character, but it’s not like it really matters that much since the game is essentially the same between them.  Save slots don’t even seem very useful at all in this game, since you can go back and play any mission at any time.  It only seems to serve as restricting you from switching characters on the fly and to keep your “levels” contained to only one of the characters.

Oddities arise with the game as well — you will see the occasional bad spelling error or a grammatically incorrect phrase.  I think there also might be a tower that has had its description switched with another tower, but I can’t be too sure there.  Considering there isn’t a whole lot to actually read in the game, it is fairly rare throughout the experience where you’ll encounter these bizarre errors.  Sound is another issue with the game, which is easily solved (hint hint).  The music is repetitive and the sound effects are just annoying.  While I can agree that the music is nice to listen to maybe one or two times, there doesn’t appear to be any variety at all — they keep playing the same song over and over.  Sound effects can be really annoying if they are not used correctly, but like many other games you may play on your iOS device, it’s better to just turn off the sound.  The game has been stable, and except for the massive frame drops when there is a ton happening, there is only one consistent crashing problem.  When you lose, if press “Next” the game will just quit completely and you will have to boot up the game again to replay the level.  To prevent having this happen, you have to tap “Skip” and then replay the mission.  I have no idea what “Next” is supposed to do if it was actually meant to work.  It’s almost like the game is saying “You suck, you shouldn’t play this game anymore, so let me quit the game for you.  See ya later asshole!”

Currently the game is $1.99 for a release sale, but will go up to $2.99 once the promotional period is over.  Two dollars is definitely not a lot of money, but in the case of this game it might be worth it if you’re really into seeing a different tower defense game, or if you absolutely need something like this on your iOS devices.  Multiplayer is a feature in the game, but can only be played locally, so if you want to take advantage of that feature, you’ll have to convince another friend to pay their two (or three) dollars to get into the game, as well.  I suppose that the multiplayer aspect might actually be “the thing you were meant to do” with this game, but considering Tower Defense is a niche genre already, you’re not going to find someone to play this with unless you make them buy it.

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Grand Theft Auto V (PS3) Review

November 14th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games 1 Comment »

Developer: Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games || Overall: 9.5/10

For me a Grand Theft Auto game is like one of those mini-milestones in my life, where I get to experience something fantastic, funny, and overall extremely entertaining.  I’ve bought each of the mainline GTA games during the first week of release, and have thoroughly enjoyed each of them.  I still have yet to complete any of the games on PlayStation 2, and I still need to buy Vice City Stories, but I can pretty much say that GTA is a big part of what makes gaming so enjoyable to me.

So, does Grand Theft Auto V continue to be the torchbearer that has been such a motivator for me to stick with gaming as a whole?  The answer is yes, but the answer is also no, in some regards.  Grand Theft Auto is a lot of things to a lot of people — a social scapegoat, a cool game to fuck around endlessly in, and most of all an offensive and satirical look at America and what it means to be an American.

Grand Theft Auto V breaks the mold of its predecessors by allowing you to play as three different characters.  Each character has their own individual stories and some missions that overlap with each other.  The missions culminate at certain points of the story where you will do “Heists.”  Heists can essentially be looked at as the major challenge or “boss” of that point of the game.  To open up more missions, you must complete the Heist, at which point you unlock missions for all three characters again.  Heists themselves are very dynamic story missions that allow you to switch characters based on what sort of preference you have.  At times, you’ll also be forced to change characters to progress the mission.  There are several occasions where a character has to drive 5 miles to a certain location, but during “their drive” you can switch to another character who is currently in the middle of another objective that is occurring.

Each of the three characters draw parallels to previous characters in the series, with the character Trevor, who is a drug dealing crime entrepreneur being the most unique as far as the series-as-a-whole goes.  All three characters, and their motion capture/voice work actors, do an amazing job in conveying the story and making it enjoyable.  First and foremost, the story of Grand Theft Auto V is a character story.  There is very little strength in an overall arcing story, which never really comes to a head — but the real joy of the story is the interactions between the characters, and the way they live their lives and the things that go on around them.  The main storyline revolves around the government and government corruption, but is never fully revealed as to what the purpose of any of it is.  My feeling is that there will be expansions, a la GTA IV’s expansions, where each character may be the sole focus to fully flesh out the remaining questions that each individual’s story sort of left open ended even as the credits rolled and after.

As a result, the story sort of just drops off at the end and you’re left with a few questions for each of the individual character’s stories without any real indication that they will be answered or even if the inevitable expansions are even going to focus on the main protagonists of the GTA V.  A lot of the plot points of the personal stories of each characters make you question why they bothered having them when there was no real pay off.  A wait-and-see approach for the expansion plans is sort of unnerving, but if it pans out the way I hope it does, then it may not be that bad.

Now, the game play has been much universally improved from GTA IV.  Combat is a lot more fun and refined.  The addition of the weapon wheel allows for switching guns in a more efficient manner.  Many of the same features you expect in a GTA game are present, and have been refined as well.  Being able to customize cars permanently is a welcome addition for the single player mode.  Speaking on cars, your characters all have their own “personal vehicles” that you will undoubtedly drive more often than not.  This is a vast change from previous games where you would always just steal a car to get around the city.  Now that you have your “own” personal vehicle you can always rely on using that car and you may even prefer to use it to make you feel as if the story is more realistic as you are making your way through it.  The cars are also unique, so you can tell when another character is driving it or is parked somewhere waiting for you to start a mission.

During a lot of the missions there are opportunities to catch references to action movies in a way that is an homage to Hollywood and Los Angeles, which the game is framed after entirely.  There are plenty of hilarious scenes and subtleties that make this Grand Theft Auto leagues ahead of any before it, while referencing others at the same time.  Most notably is San Andreas, as you encounter gangs that existed in that game as well as visiting CJ’s home neighborhood — you will instantly recognize it and there is even a mission where you will have a shootout through the whole neighborhood.  You will also be able to walk into a lot of different buildings during your missions — one such being the LifeInvader offices where there are a lot of Facebook-related jokes and scenes to be had.

Missions are split out into separate categories — “Missions” and “Strangers and Freaks.”   During the series there has always been those “off-storyline” missions that came around that made you question what they had to do with anything.  In Grand Theft Auto IV, they added “strangers” that you could meet on the street and talk to them for a little while.  The Strangers and Freaks missions in Grand Theft Auto V allowed Rockstar to combine both of those aspects and let themselves go really crazy with designing missions.  Shooting aliens after smoking weed, kidnapping a movie star for two old British tourists, and skydiving out of a helicopter into the city are only some of the things that you can do in tandem with the main storyline.  Another welcomed feature is the ability to replay all of the missions you find and refine your score on them so you can earn trophies.

With Grand Theft Auto V, you can tell that even though the game is goofy at times, they have made it a point to make the game very much more “realistic.”  The way people walk and run, physics that are toned down, and the serious storyline are all honed in on this goal of becoming a “realistic” game.  A major casualty of this appears to be the loss of many of the more “traditional game” elements that we have seen in the Grand Theft Auto series, namely Vigilante, Ambulance, and Firetruck side missions.  Vigilante has been seemingly replaced with “random events” that you will stumble upon as you are driving through the city.  During these random events, people will get their property stolen or police will be in a shootout with the criminals and you can either step in or let them go.  While they are nice as an addition, I think I would have gotten at least a couple of more hours of enjoyment from being able to hunt down a list of bounties or have the game generate a group of criminals for me to take down, like in GTA IV.  It is unfortunate because GTA V’s combat system is A LOT OF FUN, and I wish I could just have more combat outside of missions.  Being able to access the internet on your phone is also very convenient, but it seems like there are a lot less web sites to find this time around.  Watching TV is also not as convenient because there is no “full screen” mode and the volume never seems to be able to be turned up loud enough where I can comfortably hear what is going on.

The graphics in the game are very impressive.  Really awe-inspiring, however, is how big the game’s map is and how accurate it is to Los Angeles and the surrounding area in California recreated as Los Santos, Sandy Shores, and Blaine County.  Being from the LA area, I felt right “at home,” and the lighting in the game makes it that much more authentic.  The wilderness and desert areas are much more fleshed out compared to how they looked like in GTA: San Andreas.  You can even hunt in the wilderness.  While GTA V is a “revisiting” of San Andreas, the lack of San Fierro and Las Venturas can sort of irk you if you are a stickler for the “lore” of Grand Theft Auto.  As a result of having the game be more focused on Los Santos itself, we got a much more detailed and expansive city.  The radio stations are also pretty good and varied.  There are some great tracks in the game, but since nothing can ever live up to GTA: Vice City, we’ll just have to say it’s about as good as it can be.

A part of the experience to note is that ever since the Hot Coffee controversy became a big deal with GTA: San Andreas, Rockstar started becoming more and more daring with what actual sex content they choose to depict.  While GTA IV poked fun at themselves by saying “hey wanna have some HOT COFFEE” and then had a lot of groaning noises saying how good the coffee is, in GTA V they literally have people having sex in plain view as part of missions — not something that is really optional like dating.  And I don’t think anyone even gave a fuck (pun!) about it this time around!  I was laughing my ass off when I saw one of the “movie stars” getting pounded doggie style as you take pictures of her, which resulted in her chasing after you in her convertible trying to kill you.  GTA V can just be a lot of fun.  You can also call random characters up to “hang out” with them and play mini-games, but as opposed to GTA IV, you aren’t forced to maintain any relationships, but as a result there doesn’t seem to be any benefits from them now.

Playing the game for about 50 hours, I can say that GTA V is the best game of the series.  Growing and changing as a gamer since playing GTA III, I find myself less and less inclined to just “fuck around” in the game for an endless amount of time.  This time around I just got through the missions, played a couple of the repeatable side missions, and called it.  Ostensibly, it was worth my $60 regardless, but the point of mentioning it is that sandbox games have become a more focused experience and is less about “go do anything you want” and more about “here’s the things we want you to do, go do it the way you want to do it.”  This is the way gaming has evolved and I do enjoy a more focused experience for sandbox games since they can be very distracting from the “main game” at times.  Not to say that you CAN’T just go do anything you want to do for hours on end, but it pushes you towards what it wants you to do much more than other GTA games.

GTA V also comes with GTA: Online, which is basically just a fleshed out version of the multiplayer from GTA IV.  GTA: Online is structured more like a free-to-play MMO game with progression of your character, and also gets back to the more “gamey” aspects of the Grand Theft Auto series than the single player experience offers.  There’s definitely more people playing it than GTA IV’s online mode, but since GTA: Online is almost its own game entirely, I will just review it later if I get around to it.  It is constantly changing as well since they will be adding patches and re-balancing as time goes on.

GTA V is good, and I hope to see more for the game soon.

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Wild Arms (PS) Review

August 17th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer: Media.Vision Inc. | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8/10

Wild Arms is one of the seemingly overlooked RPGs from the PlayStation-era.  While some of the greatest Japanese RPGs to have been created were enjoying their prime, there were many B-tier RPGs that rode the coat tails to success as well.  Wild Arms had given me that feeling upon first thought of the series, and while it may have been trying to copy what made the Final Fantasy series great, it brought its own flavor and methodology to the genre that holds up even into playing it in 2013.

Hunkering down and forcing yourself to play Wild Arms for the first PlayStation is probably going to be a difficult thing to do in a gaming landscape that we enjoy nowadays.  Wild Arms essentially looks like a 2D Super Nintendo game.  The battles are early-3D, which makes the age of the game immediately show.  The art style tries to carry over into the 3D battles from the 2D field, but if the game wasn’t under seeming pressure to integrate 3D elements into the game I could have seen the battles working better as 2D, benefiting from keeping a consistent look throughout.  Given that the game was released in 1996, it probably wowwed a few people at the time, and the 3D battles were probably one of the things that were marketed heavily to contrast away from the Super Nintendo and butt heads with the Nintendo 64 (which had just been released the same year).

The story in Wild Arms is pretty interesting, and the initial set up of the game is actually quite different than your usual RPG.  The game revolves around three characters:  Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia.  Each of these characters are independently controlled and swapped to during play, so you have a somewhat decentralized feeling as to which character is actually “you.”  The only character that is sort of implied to be the main character is Rudy, who is a (mostly) silent protagonist and holds a couple of terrible secrets that don’t really pay off very well in the end.  Rudy is able to use weaponry known as ARMs, which are remnants of an old war that was fought against the Demons, which are the antagonists in the current events.  Jack and his “assistant” talking mouse named Hampan are adventurers who join up with Rudy.  Cecilia is a princess whose father dies as a result of the Demons attack early in the game, who ends up being the shaman savior of the world.  These three characters have their independent storylines at the beginning of the game until they meet up and decide to adventure together.  I wish the reasoning these guys got together was a little more profound, but it really wasn’t much more than saying “Hey, are you adventuring, too?  Let’s go kill some shit.”  Eventually the bonds between the characters are made and the group ends up being a great cast of friends.  They all go through a bit of personal emotional turmoil together despite the larger story going on around them, and saving the world actually gets put on hold for their smaller stories at times, though they do end up being related to it in the end.

The story revolves around a conflict that arises from a group of Demons who find their way back to Filgaia, the planet that the Humans are living on, to either take it over and enslave Humanity — or destroy it.  Filgaia has already been having a little bit of a problem with the planet dying and no one understanding why the life energy of the planet was being sucked out of it with no cure to be had.  At the end of the last war, there was another race that shared Filgaia with the Humans, known as the Elws (Elves).  After the last war they had sacrificed the world’s life energy to rid the invading Demons.  As a result, the Elws and Humans had a falling out and soon all of the Elws “disappeared.”  The Elws soon became only part of stories and besides a few remaining monuments and structures, had been gone for a very long time.  The Elws were very good with technology and along with the Humans had created ARMs as well as huge machines called Golems.  The Golems were tantamount in expelling the Demons and many had eventually been scattered and “lost” outside of a few that were kept around for show.  There are also ethereal entities known as Guardians that watch over and protect Filgaia for some unexplained reason, and had been lying dormant in a weakened state due to the results of the last war.

The Demons themselves are not actually “demons” in the classic sense.  They are essentially robot aliens from a planet called Hiades which is no longer habitable for them.  Unfortunately not too much of their origin was explained by the end of the game, but they seem to be able to come back from Hell (wherever that is) a lot after they die.  Wild Arms, surprisingly, has a lot to do with science fiction.  The beginning of the game has more of a fantasy feeling until later where there is teleportation, dimensional traveling, super computers, and space travel.  You get a little taste of the technology in the beginning of the game, but it doesn’t really come back around until later.  For these reasons, Wild Arms sets itself away from “normal” fantasy RPGs because it seems to address the question of what stakes are involved in not only the survival of the planet, but what external threats are “out there” that could come at any time.  If you take the time to read the extra informational books on the bookshelves throughout the game, you’ll find quite a bit of interesting lore regarding the previous wars, the Golems, the Demons, and the Elws.  If you have any interest in the story, my suggestion is to make it a point to explore towns as much as you can and to read as much of the texts as possible.  The lore is probably the most unique part of the game when all is said and done.

Unfortunately the story starts out VERY slow.  I didn’t feel like the story got interesting at all until about 10 hours played, where the game is trying to slowly get you used to the gameplay mechanics and the feel of the dungeons.  As the story ramps up, I found myself engrossed in the finer details, and while the game itself wasn’t that exciting, I wanted to know more and see more of what was happening to Filgaia and how the protagonists fit into the whole debacle.

There’s probably not much point in actually explaining the gameplay itself.  It’s pretty standard as far as RPGs go from this era, and most of the time you’ll be mashing the X button and perhaps throwing some special abilities out to defeat the endless droves of enemies that you’ll be slaughtering.  There are a couple of unique things about this game from a gameplay standpoint, however.

The dungeons themselves are designed around the use of a concept called “Tools.”  For example, Rudy starts out with Bombs.  He’ll use bombs to destroy obstacles, such as rock walls, boulders, etc.  Most of the dungeons have some sort of elaborate puzzle-solving, and eventually each of your three characters will attain 4 tools each.  Most of the game will be played with only about two useful tools, and some of the other tools are only used situationally a couple of times after you get it and then not again.  The Roller Skates and Power Glove were used probably three or four times outside of the dungeon you actually get it in, for example.  In contrast, most Final Fantasy games don’t really have you do too much with the field (aka the dungeons), leaving most of the challenges to be navigating through mazes or maybe flicking some switches, which Wild Arms has as well.

The battle gameplay is a bit forward-thinking for a game from this era and this genre.  Possibly the most interesting is that they let you swap out equipment in-battle without any penalty, which opens up the use of more items during the battle and being able to adapt to the challenge WHILE you are facing it rather than getting ready for it or dying and then knowing what to do.   There are also auto-battle stances according to whatever behavior you want your characters to adhere to, and they are independently adjusted — meaning you can manually control one, and leave the other two on auto-battle.  This can also be adjusted in battle, which is very convenient in case the auto-battle isn’t working out.  As you grind a lot of mobs to get through some of the dungeons, it can save a lot of button mashing.

Another cool thing about the game as a whole is that they only give you three characters.  As opposed to other games where you can get around ten characters, this allows the game to focus on the characters you have.  You will always use “all” of your party members in every fight, giving you the feeling that all of your party members are taking the burden of the challenges on their shoulders alone and they don’t miss out on any vital events that happen in the game, like beating a difficult boss.  There are also liberties taken with this as well, as there are a few dungeons where you will control only one character at a time, and you have to use the other characters to help yourself in another part of the dungeon until you all meet up again.  Tools are also attached to certain characters, so you will constantly be switching between characters to use the different tools — which allows you to control them in the field in an equal amount compared to the other characters, again resulting in a feeling that your party members are “all” there at the same time, and not waiting somewhere drinking coffee while you’re out saving the world.

A lot of the boss battles are easy — they’re not too complicated or grueling.  Since I didn’t want to spend 60 hours on the game, I was using a walkthrough for the majority of the game, but whenever I hit a boss battle I wouldn’t usually read anything about the boss before going into it.  I ended up spending about 35 hours (which literally took me 8.5 months to play) on the game and accomplished a majority of the optional bosses and activities the game offered.  While there are definitely hard battles to be had, the battle system isn’t necessarily too enthralling or deep.

Each of your characters have a unique group of spells/abilities that they have access to.  They use MP (magic points) or ammo, and most of the time you’ll be using them instead of the normal attacks the game allows you to use.  One thing that struck me as an odd decision was that Rudy, the character who is able to use the “ARMs,” notated in the game’s title, didn’t use ARMs as his normal attack.  He has a sword… The ARMs were “special” abilities.  In fact, ARMs themselves don’t really play that much of a huge part of the game since only one character uses them.  The game could have been called Wild Magic or Wild Fast Draw and the same result would have been seen in the game.  Rudy doesn’t use his special ability to solve anything other than lay the smack down on anything and everything you saw fit to use them on.  It was a missed opportunity to distinguish Rudy apart from Jack, who is an “experienced” swordsman, but for some reason Rudy used a sword, too, and not a gun to blow shit up with all the time.  I suppose that you could use his ARMs all of the time and never use his sword attack, but you usually want to keep “special” abilities for bosses or harder enemies.  That’s what makes them special.

Character progression isn’t all that exciting, but each character is different from each other.  Rudy will acquire new ARMs occasionally through play.  You can spend straight money to upgrade these ARMs to make them more powerful and useful.  You get nearly ten of these ARMs, and the last two are found in the last string of dungeons.  Unless you make it a point to exit the dungeon and go upgrade these, they are pretty much useless since when you find any ARM they are basically crap.  Jack is an expert swordsman with a mysterious past, so he gets “Fast Draw” hints — the name of his school of abilities is “Fast Draw.”  When you acquire a hint, you have to use the ???? ability you have just acquired until you are able to “learn” the ability that you had been given the hint for, at which point you can then use the ability when you like.  Cecilia uses all sorts of magic, and you can learn more by acquiring items known as Crest Graphs.  You use the Crest Graphs to bind spells to the character.  The choices you make at the beginning of the game are more important when you have almost no Crest Graphs, but as you find more, the decisions become less important.  There will eventually be an “Advanced” set of magic, which will sort of reset the importance of Crest Graphs about 2/3s of the game in, but since you can unlearn and relearn abilities with absolutely no penalty, it is easy to just “upgrade” all of your Basic magic spells into Advanced spells.

All of the characters have something called Force abilities.  Each turn in battle gives them a certain amount of “Force.”  Each character has four different abilities that they can use according to their current Force level, and they use Force to use them.  These are especially useful when summoning Guardians or amplifying special abilities during longer fights.

Once you get to the later part of the game, there are a few optional quests and bosses to do, which can fill up about 5 to 10 hours.  There is an arena which gives you very special items depending on which fight you fight up to.  The items you earn here basically let you “cheat” and build out your characters into ridiculously strong killing machines, if you were so inclined to do so.  I passed over a couple of optional bosses, and most of the optional bosses will drop best-in-slot gear for your characters, making them even better.

Something to note, I played the majority of the game without a map.  I was wondering why they didn’t give us a map for the whole game and how stupid it was that there wasn’t one in the game.  I looked it up online eventually and it ended up being that I missed a room where I should have blown the wall apart — IN THE FIRST DUNGEON — and inside that room was the map.  I was making the game way more frustrating for myself than I had to.  Which basically ends with me saying that a map should not be something you find in a game in a hidden room optionally.  It has to be a forced thing you find, are given, or just friggin happens in the game.  BAD GAME DESIGN!

That’s basically Wild Arms.  It’s not an overly ambitious game, but if I was playing it in middle school alongside Final Fantasy VII, I’d probably would have still enjoyed the game quite a bit.  I didn’t actually have a PlayStation until closer to the year 2000 or so, so it was completely off my radar until I started collecting more games later in middle school and high school.  I didn’t actually acquire the Wild Arms games until I was in college, though.

All in all, the things I take away from this game are the great story, and the great character relations that are built through the events of the game.  If you’re able to sit through and play old PlayStation games, it is definitely worth playing.  Unfortunately Wild Arms 2 appears to have an all new, yet seemingly familiar-looking, cast of characters, so the stories of Rudy, Jack, and Cecilia are left to fanfiction.

Since I’ve actually beaten the game, I have the following to say about the story:

*Story SPOILERS past this point.  Beware!*

The story ends with the moral that “Humans are the true Guardians of Filgaia” — not the spiritual entities that are actually known as the Guardians, since now they’re dead or whatever.  Obviously this is a big comparison to what we as humans on the planet Earth are to our own planet.  The story is essentially telling us that we have the power to protect our world and to defend it from bad stuff, yadda yadda yadda.  It’s a good message, although a bit cheesy in its delivery since they literally state the facts (just in case you weren’t able to pick up on that from the 35+ hour journey you just went on).

A few things about the story just plain don’t pay off, and it kind of makes me sad, since there definitely could have been more room to explain some of the things they didn’t delve into:

– The Demon race’s history wasn’t explained, other than that they are evil and are taking over planets.  Were they created from something or what?  What was their fascination with Filgaia over other planets in the universe?

– “Mother,” who is the supposed leader of the Demons is apparently some sort of a parasite and NOT a mechanical robot like the other Demons.  She apparently needs to incubate for long periods of time.  It begs the question of what she actually is, and where she came from.  Closely related, where is “Hell” in this universe?  Is it another dimension?  They have several Demons who die but come back from “Hell” to fight you again but in a more powerful form.  Zeikfreid, who is the last boss of the game comes back to life for a THIRD time at this point, but that time he is all mangled yet is even more “powerful” than ever before.  The only reason he probably didn’t go to Hell the last time was because we were fighting in a wormhole, and he was talking about some nonsense about it being unstable to fight in the middle of the space travel teleporting dimension thing.

– Rudy being a Demon himself raised by a human, he was able to feel pain and compassion.  However, Rudy being a Demon didn’t really do anything in the end.  He didn’t have to choose a side between being Human or being a Demon.  All it did was serve for an explanation as to why people had always wanted to ostracize him, even though they didn’t actually know he was a Demon.  The only reason they actually ostracized him was because of his use of ARMs earlier in the story.  His use of ARMs and his “Demonhood” didn’t actually play a huge part in the ending of the story.  It did serve to characterize him and make him standout during the course of the story, but it was a set up with no pay off, other than giving a reason to have his arm torn off completely and then repaired at a later time.

– The Elws all transported to a different dimension and remain there, and they don’t give a shit about Filgaia anymore.  Their story doesn’t seem to be resolved at all, and it sort of makes me question why they were even written into the current events of the story other than to just have them there.  The only profound thing they did was repair Rudy’s arm when it was ripped off during one of the fights with Zeikfreid, but they are never talked about again.  They don’t even help during the last battle or help Filgaia in the restoration process or anything.  The Guardian Blade which caused Filgaia’s weakened condition is still in the alternate dimension and you never actually acquire it for use.  Another set up with no pay off, as far as I’m concerned — excuse me sir, but I’d like to use the ultra powerful sword, please!

– Jack’s love interest, Elmina, is nowhere to be found after she is saved in the quest in Arctica Castle.  I would have liked to see something else from that plot point to close it out, other than the fact that “she will forget everything, even Jack.”  It would have been nice to at least have seen Elmina living in the world somewhere so that you KNOW that what you went through to save her paid off, but I don’t think you can even find her in the world.  If you have a chance, definitely don’t forget to watch the “hidden” backstory about Jack and Elmina and what happened to Arctica Castle by remaining idle on the Start Screen.  It is quite riveting, and I had only found out about that scene after Elmina’s ultimate resolution in the game.

– I can appreciate the fact that the group “goes on more adventures” at the end of it all and you can kind of tell that the story has come to an end, but I have to wonder what the hell they’re doing.  As far as I can tell, the main conflict that was presenting itself to Filgaia was… solved.  They said that there are “still monsters out there” so it is kind of weird to think that all they’re going to do now is slaughter tons of monsters that are just living out in the world minding their own business.  It would have made more sense if Wild ARMs 2 was actually about them… but it isn’t.  I would have enjoyed seeing more adventures with these three characters, but unfortunately it’ll never happen.

– There is an interesting nod to breaking the fourth wall at the end of the game.  Where they are saying that they weren’t the only ones to have saved the world, they start naming off different characters from the game… whom we didn’t actually see any of those characters during the “celebration” scenes, unfortunately.   At the end of their list, they say something to the effect of “and one more person…” and then trail off awkwardly.  They then turn toward the camera and stare at “you” as if to “thank” you for helping them through their journey as the camera pans up into the sky and focuses on the sun.  The fourth wall acknowledgement sort of caught me off guard, and I didn’t realize it until the awkward end of dialogue and the tilt up to the sky.  Unless you were reading every single word they were saying it might have been easy to miss, especially since the text automatically scrolls and you can’t read it at your own pace.  It is interesting when a game does something like this, and the feeling I got from it, especially from the camera staying on the sky until it faded out, was that you are some sort of “all-powerful being” in this universe watching over them and helping them through their journey.  After being invested in the story and the characters, it’s a charming acknowledgement and it almost makes you feel like you yourself are “part of the gang” instead of being “in the shoes” of one of the characters you were controlling — this is a very different feeling a game tries to give you when all is said and done.  It was definitely my first time experiencing something like this.

There is a remake of Wild ARMs called Wild ARMs: Alter Code F which is a direct remake of the first game and refines the gameplay and retells the story in a more cinematic fashion on the PlayStation 2.  I hope that I can play it one day, but it appears to be a $90+ expense to do so.

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Fran Bow (PC) Preview

July 12th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Currently in a crowdfunding campaign at IndieGoGo.com.

Developer: Killmonday

Overview:

Children. Strange happenings. Dirty walls. Psychotic medications. These are just some of the things I can’t get grandma to shut up about. These elements are also present in this great preview for an upcoming horror-themed point and click adventure. Fran Bow shares its name with the lead protagonist (Fran Bow, if you’re paying attention).

Story:

Fran Bow is a ten year old, saucer-eyed girl in the Bow family that seems to have trouble making friends. She receives a black cat from her parents and dubs it “Mr. Midnight.” She remarks that the cat is her only friend, although she quite likes her aunt Grace as well.

We all know that in any good story, if one good thing happens, five bad things have to occur right after. Fran Bow finds this out as she comes across her murdered parents one tragic night. This understandably sends her running into the night in a panic. She finds solace only in Mr. Midnight, and eventually blacks out from the traumatic event.

An untold amount of time passes, and we find poor Fran in a psychiatric evaluation center, surrounded by adults that either don’t believe her story, or don’t care. She is given a new medication that sends her into a bizarro world where there is nothing but death and misery every time she takes it.

She knows that her aunt Grace would take good care of her, but no one will let her leave. Can she find a way out? Will she find Mr. Midnight and aunt Grace? Does she need prescription eye drops to see properly?

Graphics:

The characters and setting are very stylized and detailed. Animations are on the basic side but I believe this was done for artistic purposes. Nothing looks out of place, and the game maintains a great visual theme throughout the demo. Little touches like the grainy filter covering the screen help to immerse the player further into the story. The characters are appropriately disturbed looking and mesh well with the creepy atmosphere.

Sound:

All music and sound effects are appropriate for the situation, which is really all I ask for in a game. Still, it would’ve been nice to have a few more sounds, such as a little jingle when you played with a toy.

Gameplay:

Standard point and click adventure mechanics, which you’d expect any game in this genre to have. You click on items to examine or take them, and use things you find to try to escape the asylum. Fran’s a very clever girl, so she can combine different objects together through her inventory menu and use them to reach her goals.

Fran also has a bit of a troubled mind. She carries around a jar of the psychotropic pills that the doctor didn’t want her to have anymore. If you decide to pop one, the room you’re in is transformed into some horrible alternate reality filled with dead bodies, evil spirits, and bloody messages on walls that sometimes hint at what you should do next.

There are several fun, just-challenging-enough puzzles to satisfy anyone looking to use their brain. These can vary from finding a key, to combing the right items together to progress the story.

Crappiest Part:

The fact that this is only a demo and the full version isn’t funded yet! That’s a not-very-subtle way of me telling you to go pledge on their campaign!

Overall:

Aside from a few grammar and spelling mistakes here and there due to the company not speaking English as their first language, Fran Bow oozes professionalism (and lots of other stuff if you take your pills). The demo is a good length, being just long enough to make you want the full game. I suggest anyone interested in well-done adventure games, or just games with a good story, to head over to their IndieGoGo page and throw down what you can to help make this great game happen.

Fran Bow IndieGoGo Crowdfunding Campaign

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Candy Crush Saga (iOS): A Soccer Mom’s Review

April 26th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Soccer Mom Dave

This is a satire about the way a certain “parent” would look upon a video game. It’s written as if it was for a site that was run by mothers who denounce controversial video games based on third party information rather than actually experiencing it themselves, and making rash judgments about things they have little knowledge about. The name of this “mother” is Soccer Mom Dave.

Developer/Publisher: King Games  | Soccer Mom Score:  0/10

How dare they.

They made a game based on candy.

A group of buffoons who have enough gall to create a game so delicious-looking that it influences my children to eat candy!!!!!! All of these developers who made this game will rot in Candy Hell – don’t they know that America’s obesity epidemic starts and ends with the media? Games like Candy Crush Saga influence our children to become stupid, fat, obese adults who want to eat more candy and junk food. Jelly, whip cream, gum balls, exploding candy, chocolate balls with sprinkles that turn everything else into exploding candy! What kind of a sick mind would think of this stuff?

Not only does this game appeal to children, since they put a little child in the game as the main “protagonist” but they also try to appeal to sexy fatherly men who wear suits, just like this butler guy who tells you how to accomplish all of these massively unappealing, evil puzzles while talking in a sultry voice. It is just perfect that this game is a “match-three” game – it influences our children and prospective husbands to always want to eat candy in groups of three, four, or five. Not only that, but you get rewarded for matching higher combos, implying that you will succeed if you eat more candy! What lies are they feeding the general public with their implications!? There are absolutely no disclaimers that this candy is Calorie-Free, or even Fat-Free! Eating candy will kill you. Also, dragons and talking robots do not exist. I don’t know why they even put them in this slow-and-torturous-murder simulator. The dragon probably has diabetes from swimming in sugar water too long.

As if my life wasn’t terrible enough before this game came out, for free, I now have to deal with my children begging me for candy and acting like the whip cream in the game. They hug my knees, and don’t allow me to move until I clear them out. The only way I can get them to leave me alone is by pelting them with candy, just like in the game, and then I can move more freely. Sometimes my children cover themselves with Jelly and the only way to remove the Jelly is by throwing multiple combinations of candy at the Jelly chunks on their faces. My children are also recreating the game board from Candy Crush Saga in our 10-acre backyard with 300+ levels, just like in the game. When my husband gets home, all he does is drink beer and neglect me and my children, so it’s not like he’s going to put a stop to this madness! I wish that I could hire a butler to escort my children around this hugely elaborate candy game that is evolving in my backyard.

And just like the real-life version in my backyard, Candy Crush Saga was probably play-tested by all of three people, none of them paid. What’s the point of balancing a game when you can charge people anywhere from a dollar to FORTY damn dollars to cheat on an unbalanced game? Instead of trying to make the game a “fun,” balanced, and healthy experience, they’ve created a death machine meant to extort money and make the obesity epidemic even worse! Candy Crush Saga takes over the minds of the sheep we call our fellow humans and bleeds them dry for “power-ups” that shouldn’t even exist in a balanced game. No wonder they made 300 levels – you will inevitably be stuck on level 30, and never be able to play the other 90% of the game unless you pay to cheat! The temptation is absolutely unbearable! My children, both with iPhone 5s, have spent nearly 200 dollars each on this game to cheat. In real life, cheating is free — all you have to do is skirt around your obligations and make the other guy pay for the hotel. This game doesn’t teach my children any valuable or “useful” lessons.

Why can’t they make Health Food Saga, instead? It would have relieved my potential stress levels immeasurably. They should have used Fat-free milk, Baby Carrots, Asian Pears, Romaine Lettuce, Cherry Tomatoes and Vitamin Pills.

To conclude, this game needs to be more like real life – STOP PUTTING DELUSIONS IN MY IMPRESSIONABLE CHILDREN’S HEADS!!! LOOK AT WHAT IT HAS DONE TO MY LIFE, MY HOUSE, AND AMERICA!!! BAN CANDY CRUSH SAGA FROM YOUR iPHONES, PARENTS!  THE RESISTANCE STARTS WITH YOU!

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Pocket Planes (iOS) Review

March 9th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: NimbleBit LLC || Overall: 5.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Pocket Planes is a somewhat-sequel to another NimbleBit game, Tiny Tower. Instead of managing an endless tower of floors, you are in control of your own endlessly expanding airline full of planes and airports across the Earth. Eventually you’ll be able to grow your airline from using planes that can only carry one person or one piece of cargo to planes that can carry up to 17.

The goal in Pocket Planes is to deliver stuff to different cities in the most efficient way possible. You take people and cargo in varying combinations from different airports and try to end up at your destination in the quickest/cheapest way possible so that you can have more capital to expand your reach. The idea is pretty interesting to me, personally, because I like Tycoon games, and at the end of the day it is one.

From a game design standpoint, Pocket Planes is a nice evolution from Tiny Tower. In Tiny Tower you basically had to micromanage your endlessly expanding tower. While there is still micromanaging in Pocket Planes, it isn’t nearly as stressful to keep up with since there is some actual strategy involved instead of just mindlessly spam-tapping you finger against a screen endlessly. When you want to deliver a person/cargo to a city, you have to figure out the best way to get there and the best way to make profit from the venture.

As opposed to Tiny Tower, you don’t necessarily feel like “time” is a resource. All of the planes in your fleet operate independently of each other, and you don’t feel like you’re “losing money” by having your planes sit at an airport waiting for instructions. Technically you could always be sending your plane on a job to make money, so there is that element of wanting to keep your planes busy, but the inclination is much less urgent. You can also dump a person/cargo at another airport without any penalties (other than fiscal) so that another one of your planes can take them wherever they need to go.

However, there are still some inherent flaws that the developers at Nimblebit just don’t seem to grasp that are present in both Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes — being able to FIND what you’re looking for EASILY. You’re going to have to memorize and hunt-and-peck for the airports you’re trying to get to. An arrow indicator or at least some sort of noticeable color that grabs your attention instead of slowly pulsing white text would be a real help here. Why are they trying to make me memorize where all of the airports in the game are? It looks like there are a hundred airports, at least.

User interface can also be a little wonky at times. It can lack intuitiveness, and the biggest issue is trying to figure out what is the most profitable flight path for a particular plane. You can’t easily switch out cargo to another piece to figure out if you’re going to make more money from shipping one piece versus another if you’re at the airport screen – you have to go back to the airport, go back to the load out screen for your plane, and THEN back to the map screen. You can’t just go back to the load out screen and back to the map screen back and forth. I feel like there are a lot of unnecessary taps involved in trying to send a plane on a new order. It should be more refined in this aspect and instantly bring up certain screens once you tap certain items instead of having to tap the button that explicitly has them occur. Or allow you to go back to the immediately previous screen.

Stability of the app is a huge issue. The game freezes, lags, and even crashes. Tiny Tower had some lag issues when you had a lot of floors, understandably, since it was trying to display all of the info at the same time. In Pocket Planes, there is much less going on, so it makes no sense whey I have to wait a minute or force quit the game to get anything going when it decides to go haywire.

The currency system in this game might actually be more ridiculous than Tiny Tower’s. Tiny Tower pretty much only had one place to sink your Coins into – more floors. In Pocket Planes, there are at least ten things you can spend Coins on, and more things to sink your Bux into. Coins are used to buy new airports (which come with a bonus plane part) and upgrade airports/airplanes. You can also advertise airports to get more traffic in and out of it. Bux are used to make planes instantly arrive at their destination, buy more Coins, and buy more planes or parts. Once you have enough parts for a particular plane, you can spend more Bux to build that plane and put it into service. If you don’t have enough available airplane slots, you have to buy another with more Coins. Airplanes have three stats that you can upgrade with Bux: speed, range, and weight. Speed and range seem self-explanatory. Weight, however, can be a little bit ambiguous. Weight will improve the efficiency of the plane and make them cheaper to fly, which means more profit in the long run. All three stats can be upgraded three times.

Of course, Bux are the all-important currency in this “free-to-play” game. Bux allow you to pretty much excel in the game, and if you have too many you can exchange them into Coins. While Bux are the more valuable currency and you are “allowed” to buy them with real money, Coins are the most needed and you need gobs of them to do anything profound (we’re talking tens of thousands). There is also the cost of actually having to spend Coins to have your planes fly anywhere, so if you don’t have any Coins, your planes aren’t going anywhere. When a piece of cargo or a passenger is paying Bux to get to their destination, you are essentially paying Coins to get those Bux. Spending Coins in this game to make Coins doesn’t have the same problem Tiny Tower does – in this game you can actually influence how much profit you can make by your flight plan for each individual plane. In Tiny Tower, all Coin costs were essentially fixed and could have easily been taken into account so that you wouldn’t have to “spend Coins” to make Coins.

The prices of airports range from 1000 Coins to 75,000 Coins, or maybe less/more. I’m not really inclined to tap a ton of airports to figure out how much they cost. Airplane slot costs slowly increase from about 2000 Coins to infinity. There is a leveling system in place that restricts your maximum amount of airplane slots you can buy (as if you would be able to buy them all) and the amount of airports you can own. Gaining levels gives you extra Bux to use as you please. Once you get to the point where you don’t want to use your one or two passanger planes anymore, you can remove them from service, which go into a repository named the “Hangar.” If you want to put those planes back into service, it costs Bux to do so.

One of the redeeming factors of the game is that it allows you to “collect” all of the planes in the game in your Hangar. It is also pretty cool because they have fun planes like a Starship or Hot Air Balloon. Another cool aspect is that practically every screen allows you to instantly look up Help information in-game if you are sketchy on the details of a particular option. The Help icon in the top right is pretty helpful at times, and is nice to have.

Notifications are also a problem that carries over from Tiny Tower. This game constantly notifies you if you are going in and out of the game. Every time one of your planes land it buzzes to let you know. You can temper the notifications – there are two options: “First & Last Landing” and “All Landings.” You can only disable the notifications if you go into your iPhone’s settings — not something you can do in-game. If you are constantly playing the game you are going to get buzzed quite a bit, and it can become tiresome during those points. There needs to be some sort of way to group up notifications – such as every 30 minutes (or something you can customize) the game should at that point tell you there are “8 planes ready for directions” instead of resetting the “First & Last Landing” counter every time you go into it.

A lot of the art in the game is re-used from Tiny Tower. The art style is basically the same as its predecessor, on account of the recycling, so it meshes well with it. It is nice to look at, but not as upfront humorous as Tiny Tower, since most of the time you’re spending it on menu screens. The sound is also sort of annoying since it is ambient airplane burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And you can’t make it go away unless you go to an unoccupied airport. Recommend to turn it off, sirs and madams.

Pocket Planes may become as cumbersome as Tiny Tower does later in the game. As you expand airports, you might have a tough time remembering where anything is, and since there isn’t an easy way to figure out how much profit you can get from alternate choices, it may compound even further. You also shouldn’t get smart and try to start having airports randomly across the world – you will start getting requests to go to those airports you can’t reach with your main fleet, so it’s better to expand from your first airport out.

Playing the game for a longer period of time, you tend to hit a “wall” where you can’t buy any more airports or add any more planes to your roster. Gaining Coins is such a cumbersome task that it is hard to gain because your smaller planes only make so much in one delivery run. Expanding to the larger planes is also a difficult prospect, because the “class” of the plane allows it to only land at “bigger” airports. A Class 2 plane can only land in Class 2 or higher Airports, and so on. That means your larger planes won’t visit any Class 1 airport you bought and as a result, you won’t really be making money from a Class 2 plane until you have a lot of Coins. But you can’t make a lot of Coins with smaller planes… unless you grind forever. It is a vicious cycle, and sort of impedes any natural “progression” that you may have. The level restrictions are just an additional unneeded barrier since the thing that is really holding you back is the amount of Coins you earn.

I suppose recommending this game would be something I would do, but it’s not really all that fun, just more attention-inducing than anything else. You kind of wait around a lot and get tons of notifications. There’s a few “meta objectives” that consist of you delivering thousands of jobs and competing in some sort of social competition thing called Flight Crew where you can qualify for bonuses if you achieve a certain mark during an event, but they don’t really change the game that much – it just “inspires” you to play more.

Games like this tend to not be anything more than a time waster. There isn’t any skill involved with playing, and there isn’t any “fun” progression. The natural progression of the game is lassoed by the intent to make you buy Bux, and that is pretty sad. If it weren’t for the endless grind, stability of the app, and the recycled art, Pocket Planes might actually be fun.

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Infinity Blade (iOS) Review

February 27th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer: Chair Entertainment Group | Publisher: Epic Games || Overall: 5.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Infinity Blade is a game in which you must vanquish a bum in his castle.

How does a bum get a castle? Hell if I know. But this guy who owns his five-room castle full of his sex-slave gimp-dressed “Champions” stand around and jerk it all day waiting for the next adventurous idiot (20 years apart from each) to go through the castle and kill them.

Infinity Blade is everything that is wrong with traditional gaming trying to make its way on mobile platforms. It’s an on-rails dungeon crawler with some point-and-click (or is it point-and-touch, now?) elements to it. It takes the feeling of freedom away from the player since you aren’t necessarily able to explore wherever you like and can only progress in a few paths that all ultimately end up in the same place. As opposed to a traditional console game where you’re able to move by yourself with ease, the designers decided it was best to not allow you to have the frustration of moving in 3D with only a touch screen and completely removed the ability to freely control your character. During battles, all you do is swipe your finger to hit the enemy with a sword, block, dodge, or use your overpowered specials (a stun and various magic spells) that can help you win a battle. Battles break up your combos whether you like it or not by inserting a five second cutscene at every third of the enemy’s health. The camera angle is also changed so that you become disoriented to limit your ability in fucking up the enemy again right off the bat.

The touch screen is no replacement for buttons, and this game makes it all too apparent that buttons are an evolution of necessity – it is easy to know when you push something it will react. However, when you swipe your hand across the screen or push a touch-screen-button the reliability of the action that you actually want to happen is around 85% rather than 99%. My biggest problem with the game is that the touch screen “buttons” in the game are not reactive to my lifeless hands. For some reason I always have trouble conducting enough electricity or heat or jazz in my hands to make something work on my touch screen. Don’t ask me why, it just happens. No matter how many times I smack my finger down on the touch screen to dodge, if it isn’t going to work, it isn’t going to work. The other annoying thing about Infinity Blade is instead of pushing a button and an analog stick to swipe; you have to move your whole hand, wrist, and arm to do one swipe. Essentially, you are playing Fruit Ninja on steroids, and I really wish there were buttons for this game because I’m going to get tendonitis in my shoulder if all games end up being like this.

But I suppose that buttons would make this game too easy as is. You can tell that the difficulty is adjusted to allow for reaction times in swiping. However, once you memorize the animations of each of your enemies (there are probably about 5 unique models in total, with different skins), you will breeze through most of the encounters. You can also use a healing spell, depending on which item you have equipped, which will basically help you cheat. Items are also an important part of the game, as when you master one of the hundreds of weapons and armor in the game, you gain a stat point to allocate. This aspect forces you to progress and not use the same items forever so that you can master more items and gain more stats, in addition to the stats you gain each level.

On the other side of Infinity Blade, you have a game that aspires to be something greater than it is. “Amazing” graphics, notwithstanding, you’ve got a unique experience with Infinity Blade that isn’t replicated very often in mobile gaming right now. I would align the graphics in the game to early-PlayStation 3 quality, but since the image is shrunk down to a 5 inch screen, that would be a bit too much credit. It’s probably more like late-PlayStation 2 graphics shrunk down with cooler lighting. However, the game will make you say “hey this looks pretty cool” …and then you get used to the graphics and it kind of doesn’t matter anymore. Except when you notice that the battery on your phone drains faster while playing than your phone can charge if you have the foresight to have it plugged in while playing.

So, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what makes the game even worse. Once I figured out the point of the game, I actually got sad. The overall, repeating, arc of the game is that you go in as this nameless adventurer guy, fight through battles until you get to the bum who is ridiculously powerful and kills you almost assuredly on your first encounter. Once you die, you see your adventurer’s son appear on the same ledge overlooking the castle that his father did 20 to 23 years earlier. Each tour through the castle and meeting your fateful demise is considered a “Bloodline.”

What this game tells you about the story is basically nothing. What it implies, though, is that there is society outside of the reach of the bum who owns a shitty castle. This society breeds new adventurers so that one day, a hundred or so years in the future, the bum will be killed. So, since these adventurers are somehow forced to father a son before leaving on their journey, he must be banging all of the women in the society to make sure that there is one son before he leaves, so that in twenty or so years, that fatherless child can go and die the same death his father did.

Thinking further about this “society,” you have to wonder about its structure. Is it matriarchal or patriarchal? My personal thought is that the women in this society are propagating this attitude of sending the son of this same Bloodline over and over to their death because they’re mad the bum bought up all the tampons at the general store for his Champions.

These women have deemed this particular Bloodline the only one that can go and fight the bum known as a “Deathless.” The Deathless guy sits on his chair eating chips and his Champions stand in the middle of rooms for twenty years at a time. He only ever gets out of his comfy throne to fight an adventurer who is idiotic enough to go and die by his blade. Pretty weird, if you ask me. Nothing is demonstrated as to the terrorizing the Deathless dude actually does to anyone else in the world, so I have to fill in the blanks. He just sits on his throne and watches Law & Order all the time. Leave the guy alone!

If this society’s only purpose is to destroy this Deathless guy, why hasn’t the Deathless guy got off his ass in the hundreds of years before and after you start playing the game and just fucking kill them? Who the fuck knows. He’s probably a lazy bum, that’s why I keep calling him that. I mean, he doesn’t even improve his living situation. There are literally no cool features of his castle — he doesn’t have a bowling alley, or a game room, or even a bathroom. What the hell are you paying your Champions for? Train them to be plumbers and masons instead of just how to use weapons only once every twenty years. They’ve got to be depressed being sanctioned to only a certain part of the castle and never being able to do anything fulfilling. Can’t he find a better castle? One where these stupid adventurer guys won’t bug him?

Once you are able to fight the Deathless guy and beat him to about a third of his health, he will proposition you to either join him or you can pick up your sword again and fight him to the death. If you join him, you just fight him again, so the game doesn’t really “let you” join him. If you end up actually killing the guy, the Deathless dude will say something inane about “other dangers” in the world being even worse than him. And as if that wasn’t a cop out enough, the adventurer dude is now alone in this stupid castle and has nothing better to do than snoop around. So he presses some weird console on his throne and all of a sudden a 3D Holographic map appears and some weird sci-fi music and other random weird shit happens. I have no idea what the fuck is going on in this game. What the fuck is the point of all of this? All you do is grind XP, master your weapons, gain stats, and swipe your sword over and over at the same five enemies, and then they throw in this mind-fuck for no good reason.

If ChAIR even bothered to put some sort of inkling of a story in this travesty of a game I wouldn’t feel like I was put out to pasture. What the hell is the point of half-assing this story and throwing in some random sci-fi shit that doesn’t belong just to give us a mind-blowing moment or whatever? Just so that they can get us pissing our pants in excitement for the next Infinity Blade game? Get out of here with that shit. The only reason I even downloaded this game to begin with was because it was free. If I paid 9 dollars or whatever it is for this game I would be fucking pissed off right now.

As if endlessly grinding XP and Gold wasn’t enough, they make the prices of this shit so astronomical they “allow” you to buy Gold in the game. 2.5 million Gold-things for 50 bucks or whatever? Doing more research about what you do in the game after you kill the level 50 God King Deathless bum, you are able to purchase the Infinity Blade for 500,000 gold. Using this blade, you can open three or four extra bosses who have levels in the hundreds. So, that’s one reason to keep grinding the game after you’ve “beaten” it.

Yeah, that sounds great. What a load of bullshit. This game sucks. I’m uninstalling it. Eventually.

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Crazy Rings (iOS) Review

February 22nd, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 8.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Want to go on a Match-Three Safari full of deformed animals that are caged in some weird contraption called a “crazy ring?” Well, if that specific craving has arisen, Crazy Rings is for you. 101 stages full of fun and oddly not-very-funny humor. For some reason the game is listed in the store as “the funniest game ever” or something, but I have yet to even see a real joke or something funny. Maybe that’s the joke.

I guess it doesn’t matter. What there IS to like is probably what should be paid attention to, anyway. Through the “Campaign” mode, in which you presumably play through all 101 of the stages, you are trying to get as many points as possible and clear the Crazy Rings with as much efficiency and/or combo-making as possible. Once you complete a level, you gain up to three stars (you can earn zero, too) depending on how well you do in the level and progress to the next one.

The concept is not hard to grasp, nor is it really that difficult, at least until the point I’m at, which is Stage 25. The game can get a bit hectic, depending on the little things they throw in to make it harder/easier to play. There isn’t a whole lot of variety up until this point, but I’m not complaining since the art is nice to look at, and the game isn’t really that frustrating to play – it is also a stable application that doesn’t crash or have frequent bugs that I have encountered.

The essential control mechanic is to tap where you want to send one of your spherical animals, and in doing so, try to match them up with the others and try to make combos, like many other Match-Three games. What makes this game a little bit unique is that the crazy rings will rotate, expand, or travel around in a circle, so you will have to pay attention to those elements in order to not misplace any of your spherical lions, frogs, snakes, pigs, or other animals. You can also have multiple crazy rings which will also rely on the speed of each ring’s rotation if you want to match any animals with the outer rings, as they can all be rotating and expanding at the same time.

At a certain point, the game will begin to give you helpful one-time-use power-ups. One of them is a pork-chop-shaped meat thing that you can launch at the ring of animals, and they will all go chasing after it off-screen. This can be useful if you have two rings at the same time or if you just have a lot of random animals. Another power-up is a tranquilizer needle, which can slow down the ring that you shoot at, limiting its rotational speed or elastic rate. Later on, there is a Rhino that you can use to break through any obstacles, including rocks. I’m sure that they throw in different power-ups and obstacles every now-and-then to break up the monotony.  Obstacles, like the rocks, which act as a wall within a crazy ring can change your strategy in completing a level.

You aren’t able to save these particular power-ups, and you have to use them within about 10 seconds of their appearance, or lose the opportunity to use them. The only power-ups that you actually keep are Rocket Rings. Rocket Rings are basically things you can use to “cheat” and clear a level if you somehow get frustrated enough to use it. I am not entirely sure if Rocket Rings are acquirable in-game, but you are able to buy them. Doing so will also unlock all of the levels in the game without having to progress one-by-one — it is a package deal and I’m not sure if you are able to just keep buying Rocket Rings after your first purchase.

Considering the Rocket Rings aren’t very enticing to use, and you can unlock all of the levels by yourself anyway, I don’t know why you would WANT to buy this “package,” even if it is a very low price to do so (at the moment, $0.99). The game isn’t particularly annoying in trying to get you to buy anything or share anything with your friends, so that is a welcomed aspect. There are also no naggy notifications or stupid social/faux-multiplayer bloat features. What I enjoy about the game is that you are actually playing a game and not trying to show your friends how cool it is to not play a game.

The game itself is quite meaty, considering there are 101 levels, and once you get through all of those, you can re-play them and try to get three-stars or play what seems like an endless-play mode called “Zen Mode.” The rings probably get crazier and crazier (and difficult) as it goes along. The sound effects/ambient noises aren’t annoying, so they’re nice to play with if you require something to listen to, but you’re not missing much if your phone is on silent.

The game is not a bad bargain for “free.” If you like puzzle games, you will enjoy Crazy Rings, and while it may not be the most unique concept you’ve ever seen, it is still worth playing. It can get pretty hectic at times, but I have yet to encounter a level that I couldn’t pass on the first go. I’m sure that in the later levels it may become difficult enough where it may require a couple of tries, but in general, there isn’t much retrying.

-~-

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Jetpack Joyride (iOS) Review

February 15th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games 1 Comment »

Developer/Publisher: Halfbrick Studios || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Jetpack Joyride feels like one of those games that are intentionally supposed to make you nostalgic for side-scrollers. In a sense, the way the game is actually played is almost like an old arcade game, pitting you against ridiculous challenges and timing that almost guarantees you will die – the question is when. And literally, that is the metric by which you “win” in Jetpack Joyride. You are trying to get as far as you can, running from left to right, to the farthest point possible before you are fried, blown up, or electrocuted to death. Avoid as many obstacles as possible, get a couple of power-ups, and collect coins. That’s pretty much it.

When you begin the game, you probably won’t get further than 200 meters or so. Then you’ll slowly progress to 400, 500, and then maybe 2000 meters. Eventually you might even get further, depending on how lucky you are. The only thing that is guaranteed, though, is that you will be attempting it over and over again. The distance you might end up is pushed just a bit further each time when buying enhancements or one-time boosts with Coins that you find during your repeated runs through the evil (or at least, nefarious) science lab you have decided to run endlessly through with your character.

Ah, yes, Coins. Considering you need thousands of coins to even get the smallest of upgrades, you will be playing a lot of runs just to be able to use them in any meaningful manner. BUT YOU CAN BUY THEM WITH REAL MONEY!!!! As if you didn’t see that coming, right? I don’t have much incentive to purchase anything in free to play games, but when something is as grindy as earning the coins in this game, it is definitely one of the biggest motivators to pulling out the credit card. You’re probably going to be spending a good too many hours just trying to collect enough coins to buy the next jetpack or whatever random gadget they included in the game for you to use to your benefit. I suppose it is nice that they at least have Coins in the game for you to collect, but the grind is practically endless. They appear in somewhat plentiful manner, yet they almost always require you to skillfully fly your jetpack in a formation to maximize your collection of the coins. The collision with the coins is fairly unforgiving, so you will have to really be accurate if you’re running through coins to get as many as you can, since you will be leaving a few behind. Sometimes you may even have to sacrifice yourself when your reaction time isn’t fast enough to avoid the next obstacle.

As you run further through the endless, randomized, corridors of this very large science lab thing, your character will begin to speed up. This increases the difficulty considerably, since you aren’t able to see what is coming up more than half a second before you almost hit it. When you come across a power-up, such as the Lil’ Stomper, Crazy Freakin Teleporter, or Gravity Suit, among others, you essentially gain a life before dying – if you are unable to avoid one of the coming obstacles, you forfeit your power-up and revert back to normal Barry Fries the Rocket Guy. The acquiring and destruction of your power up will also clear out any of the obstacles on the screen, so it gives you a fair chance to reset your bearings and be ready for the next obstacles ahead.

The humor of the game is probably what is most enjoyable. I like the terminology they use, like calling the Teleporter power up the “CRAZY FREAKIN TELEPORTER” or the huge mech robot with rocket boosters the “Lil’ Stomper.” The names of gadgets and types of rocket packs are also fun names. The Machine Gun jetpack, the first jetpack you get, shoots bullets underneath you and kills the scientist guys below you. The “DIY Jetpack” is a balloon, which I assume let’s you control just a little bit better than the Machine Gun Jetpack, but I’m not sure if these different jetpacks are more than just cosmetic upgrades. Other jetpacks do other funny things, like shoot bubbles or 1920’s 1000 dollar bills.

I suppose it would be beneficial to buy the in-game upgrades offered. There are quite a few gadgets to purchase, and you can’t get the next tier of gadgets without buying a certain amount of stuff from the lower tier. Of course, the grind becomes longer and longer each time. I am unsure what kind of variety this game can really offer since all that really seems to happen are randomized obstacles, randomized backgrounds, and not much traditional progression. You aren’t excelling to another level. You aren’t starting from a point further than the beginning unless you spend Coins on head starts. I’d even go so far as to say the game is engineered to make you fail a lot and make you feel you AREN’T progressing so that you are more inclined to spend money to get ahead.

Once you die, you are given a chance at bonuses based on how many Spin Tokens you gather during your run. The bonuses will give you another chance, more coins, bonus distance, or a free head start on your next run. The bonuses are random, since it is a slot machine, but since the Spin Tokens are plentiful enough, you’ll at least have one after each run. You can also cash-in your tokens for 50 coins each, which may be a particularly attractive offer if you don’t win a lot on the spins.

To break up the seeming monotony of the game, there are Missions to complete. They are “interesting” challenges such as finishing the game between the 500m and 600m mark (aka intentionally dying at that point), or going a certain distance in a vehicle, or collecting spin tokens in varying amounts, among other things. Completing missions awards you from one to three stars to gain levels, which require progressively more stars. I’m not entirely sure what the point of gaining levels is, except to gain the coin bonuses awarded for achieving the next level. However, you are allowed to spend coins to complete a mission so that you can get the next mission, so there is some weird disconnect here. You don’t really gain any benefits from gaining levels, so why are you trying to do it, and why would you ever spend coins to get fewer coins? It is fairly confusing. But then, I remember that they want you to spend money on coins, not give it to you in copious amounts, so I guess that’s why they let you spend coins to make fewer coins. It’s almost ingenious, really.

The experience as a whole is relatively stress-free. You can play a couple of runs and be done with it for the day. It doesn’t notify you to go back into the game to collect bonus coins or to do something inane for upkeep. In a sense, the game is almost more traditional in this way in that it doesn’t constantly nag you and beg for attention. It also relies on skillful controls, which is rare to see in a touch-based game, especially considering touch-based controls are anything but accurate most of the time. Relying on the skill of the player is also a boon to this game since the controls do not inhibit being able to control the character as they are binary and very responsive. It doesn’t rely on any touch-screen directional pad – you either propel yourself up or let yourself fall down.

However, I wouldn’t say that the game is original or even very exciting. It doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to do anything other than provide a single, difficult challenge, and force you to grind coins for years. If there were actual levels or some other kind of quantifiable progression that allowed you to feel like you were accomplishing something overall, the game would be something great. It definitely has a foundation for good gameplay, good art, doesn’t have any noticeable bugs, and the sound design is pretty much ridiculous in and of itself. I feel a game like this isn’t being simple for simplicity’s sake; it’s being simple because it is lazy, and the intentions of the game design are not toward the experience of the user, but towards people spending money so they can bypass the monotony of dying over and over.

There are a couple of those stupid social features, like leaderboards, and “tweeting your progress.” I can’t believe people would ever want to tweet that they went 1,979 meters. I can’t believe anyone even has another friend that plays this game that they added as a friend in the iOS Game Center thing. Why these developers waste their time with these absolutely terrible features is beyond me.

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Words with Friends (iOS) Review

February 4th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer: Zynga With Friends Studio | Publisher: Zynga Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6 / LG Ally with Android 2.1 (past experience, not used in basis for review)

Reviewing a game like Words With Friends is basically just reviewing a game like Scrabble. It’s sort of pointless as long as the rules are adhered to and aren’t taken in some extreme manner. The point of reviewing Words With Friends comes with taking a look at the feature set, its ease of use, and user experience, and little to nothing with the gameplay itself.

The actual meat of the game almost has nothing to do with the actual purpose of playing the game, oddly enough. The point of Words With Friends seemingly is to play Scrabble with your friends on a pace that may take days or weeks, instead of straight through. Given the gift of technology, there is now a higher probability you will actually get to finish a full game of Scrabble. It’s a lot easier to convince your friends to play a couple minutes a day than it is to invite them over to your house to play an hour-long (or more?) board game. So, if you actually enjoy playing Scrabble, this game is right up your alley.

It would literally be impossible to talk about this game without talking about Scrabble. I’ve already mentioned it 5 times, and that’s basically what the main problem with this game is. It’s not very original, but at the same time it doesn’t really have to be. When it comes to Words With Friends, the game pretty much mirrors all of the rules – but there are no errors, since it calculates all of the points for you, easily, and tallies them up. It also makes sure that all of the words you are using are actually words you can use. Inviting random friends on your Facebook is pretty easy, and it shows you who plays and when they last played – so you can play with last week’s hookup or even your mom, and use as many provocative (yet, legal) words as you can in games with them. There is also an option to play a randomly matched player — so it’s not all that hard to find someone to play with, although random matches won’t seem to be as motivated to play with you… at least in my experience. And in the rare instance you are physically with someone who you want to play Words With Friends with, there is a local multiplayer mode where you can play and pass your phone after each turn, which is a nice, if seemingly antiquated in today’s environment, option to have.

Most of the game is rooted in convenience, when it comes down to it. You’re not getting any particular feature that is exciting or cool or helps provide some sort of meta-game experience. I honestly think some sort of score-counter between two players for games won would do a great amount of good for the game – if you play hundreds of games with one person, at least you’re going to see something from all of those matches and know who is usually winning, etc. I’m not asking for a page of statistics, but it shouldn’t be that hard to implement a counter.

The game is free, and with being free comes lots of advertisements. They’re not particularly intrusive, since they will appear typically after one to two plays. You can also upgrade to an ad-free version for 3 or 4 bucks, which might be worth it if you play a lot. Obviously, this is Zynga’s end game when it comes to Words With Friends: Making money off of ad impressions and clicks. They are pretty much painless, though you do have to actively move past them when they appear, sans any bugs that might force you to quit and restart the app (which may happen quite often).

What really inhibits this game are the random bugs you will get. I’m currently playing this on iOS, but started with the Android version. For two years, it was absolutely the most terrible piece of shit I have ever seen. It would crash over and over and when my Android finally ran out of space to keep any apps on it, out went Words With Friends until a year later when I finally got an iPhone (that had more than 512 mb to store stuff). So, why do I bring up the Android version in a review for the iOS version? Because the iOS version is not without its own bugs, either, and shows a pattern of carelessness. While the game is demonstrably more enjoyable to play when it’s stable, there are occasional random crashes, and advertisements that fail to load which produce nothing but a white screen which make you force quit the program to remedy. I have also had problems with letters being frozen and not moving onto the board. Network connectivity issues can also cripple the game temporarily – whether it is a problem with your phone’s connection or not. A company like Zynga, which relies on nothing but its games, should be squashing these bugs within weeks, not months or years. I can’t imagine they aren’t losing some sort of revenue from these bugs.

The occasional interaction with people you may or may not talk to a whole lot is probably the biggest benefit of the game. I personally enjoy playing with people I actually call my friends, because there’s some sort of interaction going on, whether or not it’s real life or meaningful. I suppose that is the main appeal of the game itself, and seeing how well you can play against them. It’s also great when there’s some random word that they make that might have some sort of inside meaning or something that is completely off-base that catches you off-guard. My most recent gaffe was playing a game in which “Krauts” was an accepted word. In another game, I played “Shit” and got a few points, as well. The rules say they don’t allow derogative words or racial slurs, so I’m not sure how they went through, but it’s still fun, nonetheless. It should also be noted that this game’s social features are actually useful and there aren’t really any stupid features like “post your word on Facebook” or some other dumb shit you might see in some other game as a cheap way to get you to advertise for them.

Words With Friends is your barebones convenience package for Scrabble. It’s an enjoyable game that you can play with your friends, but little more than that is what is going to be going on. There are no interesting game modes and no features that string together your multiple games into some sort of a career or competition with particular friends. Some might appreciate the simplicity of “just Scrabble” but there is just a little that could have gone into it that could have kept that simplicity while adding something interesting to the mix. I wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of 3-or-4 player modes implemented or inviting people to tournaments. But since this game doesn’t make a habit of adding features, that is about impossible to ever see from Zynga, who typically like to ride coattails.

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Tiny Tower (iOS) Review

January 19th, 2013 Posted in Game Reviews, Games No Comments »

Developer/Publisher: NimbleBit LLC || Overall: 6.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Tiny Tower is one of those games that takes a relatively simple concept and artificially inflates the time it takes to do anything to make you feel like spending money to get ahead.  But that’s every game nowadays on an iOS or Android platform, and its easy to get riled up about business aspects of any of these “free to play, pay to win” games.  So, what does Tiny Tower offer that you might not occasionally see in other games?  Well, I can’t say that there’s much that I really “enjoy” about the game except for maybe two things: the art style and the humor.  It’s nice to say that in this case, Tiny Tower actually tries to go “against” the curb, looking cartoony or “old” (read: 8-bit) and get away with it.  Truth be told, the art style mixed with the humor therein is more what makes this game enjoyable than anything else.

In Tiny Tower, the basic goal of the game is to add more floors to your tower.  Your tower floors can be residential or a random store within six individual categories.  The people who live in your tower work in your tower.  These little slave people bend to your will and will work and live wherever you tell them to.  And if you don’t like their face or their skills, you can evict them.  Ah, yes, Tiny Tower is also probably making a social commentary on the downturn of the economy with people having “dream jobs” of working in a donut shop or a coffee house, but I digress — that is probably part of the humor of the game and also adds an element of difficulty in trying to match your “Bitizens” (whom live in your tower) to work and be happy.  Oh, and they also pay you rent.  It’s indentured servitude at its finest, and they can wear a sheet to look like a ghost while doing it all.

Tiny Tower is an okay game.  It isn’t exactly the most fun that I’ve ever had with my spangly-dangly iPhone, and I can’t imagine I’d be playing this game for very long because of it.  I think what actually ticks me off about the game more than anything is that there is a lot of micromanaging involved.  Each business on your floor has 3 items it can sell, and each take a certain amount of time to “re-stock.”  Once re-stocked, the game notifies you the item is ready to be stocked, and doesn’t start selling until you go back into the game to click it and then get back out.  I thought I was paying my little slaves to do that for me, why do I have to get notifications every 3 seconds to do something new?  I thought this game was supposed to be leisurely fun, not harassing me to pay attention to it like a GigaPet or Tomagatchi!  Not only do I have to do that, but I have to monitor all of the floors individually by clicking on them and figuring out which items will become out of stock soon.  There isn’t an easy way to just view all of the possible re-stocking actions I can do and decide from there — I have to individually click 6 different floors to see what’s up and if I don’t, I run the risk of losing potential money.  What happens when I get to 30 or 40 floors?  Who do they think they’re kidding with this?

Reeling it back a little bit, there is basically one goal to the game, and that is to add more floors for you to manage.  To accomplish this, the game gives you two currencies.  You know that when there are “two currencies” in a game, one is the one you actually want (Coins), and the other is the one that they want you to buy with real money (Towerbux) so that you can save “time” and actually progress in the game to the point of madness before you have your third coronary.  Towerbux can be used to buy more coins, or pay off some of your Bitizens to do stuff faster.  Great, so why couldn’t I do that with coins?  OH, that’s because Towerbux cost like 3 to 9 cents each (depending on the bulk size) and THEN you can convert them into coins, but you can’t seem to do it the other way around.   Tiny Tower allows for a little leniency in this regard, however, since there are actually ways to earn Towerbux INSIDE the game and as a result the game is balanced around using Towerbux to at least a certain extent.  It makes Towerbux not seem as useless as its cousins in other games, like BlowJobBux, or whatever they’re called in other games, since you actually get to use them.  If a game were giving out free Blow Jobs, would you not partake?

Coins are the real end-game, however, and the more coins you get the more floors you can add to get more coins for the whole process.  Towerbux essentially help you earn more coins at a faster rate, and depending on if your math skills are any good, you have to figure out what the best way to use your Towerbux actually will be.  My general tactic seems to be using it for the “3rd tier” items for whatever has the most stock that can sell (since they sell for 3 coins each, as opposed to the lower tiers which are 1 and 2 respectively).  The amount of stock that an item can maintain depends on who works there, which also relies on your ability to count from 0 to 9 and being able to assign people to the right color based on those numbers.  Sometimes Bitizens will be useless in your situation, so you can evict them and hope for a better idiot to replace the guy who is wearing last year’s purple hat.  Or hope that you’ll get an Asian-looking lady for your Day Spa so that you can start selling Happy Endings.

There isn’t ALWAYS something to do in the game, though.  So, during those times where you’re just trying to wait for more measly minutes of your life to pass you by while you wait for another event to happen in Tiny Tower, you can act like an elevator attendant and work for tips.  Depending on what floor they ask you to take them to, you’ll get twice the amount of coins there.  However, you will occasionally get one Towerbux instead and boy howdy, it’s time to go to the strip bar!  If you know what I mean… it’s on the 69th floor and the 3rd tier of stock to sell is Backroom Dances, so you can tell them to “Hurry!” and get some more Backroom Dances in stock so that people can start buying them at 3 coins each so you can repeat the whole process again and be depressed that there is absolutely nothing better to do with your time than be a slave to this game.

Not only do you have to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 (or more?) hours for things to restock, but you have to use coins to pay for the restocking so that you can earn more coins.  It sort of doesn’t make sense to me when you look at it from a gameplay standpoint, even if it makes sense in a real life standpoint.  But this game is not real life, it is a game.  They should just make us earn less coins per stock or reduce the amount of stock you gain per restock.  It is sort of a weird, needless, cyclical thing going on and perhaps it is some sort of fail safe on their end so that if you end up spending all your coins and somehow can’t afford to restock anything you have to sit there and waste an hour elevating people to parts of the tower that are closed because they can’t sell them anything — or buy Towerbux so that you can exchange them for Coins!!  AHA!  I found out their little scheme.  But, for now, I’m just going to chalk that up to another one of those “meaningless” micromanaging things they thought was necessary to include in this game, since there’s a lot of those already.  Once you further progress in the game, you are also able to fulfill missions and get Towerbux for them.  There are about 50 of them, and it probably isn’t even worth doing for the return you get.

So, what makes me come back to this game?  Honestly, not much.  The only idle interest I have in pursuing the game any further is to see how ridiculous the micromanagement of all of your stores can get once you add a lot of floors to your tower.  I’ve played the game for approximately two days and I already find it taxing on my sanity.  Every three minutes I feel like I have to go back to the game and do “something” before I put it down and wait another three minutes to do “something” again.  The game is stable and has some seemingly useless social aspects in which you can see what towers your friends have or whatever, but that interests me not in the slightest.  How about spending more time on a single-player experience and less with these meaningless faux-multiplayer features?

This game certainly didn’t help my terrible cough, that’s for sure.

Post-mortem:

Since I wrote the review, I ended up getting to the point at which I had 40 floors in my Tower.  The more floors you added, it seemed like the game began to become less stable and you would get random crashes now and then.  They also updated the game for “Valentine’s Day” a week before February even rolled around, and made everything an obnoxious pink.

I finally decided enough was enough and I uninstalled the game on February 3rd.  I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I probably should have done it much earlier.  This is an absolutely terrible game, and I would probably re-rate it at about 3.0/10 based on playing it for a long time (3 weeks straight?).  I can only imagine what floor that poor schmucks out there who actually enjoy this game are at, and how much time per day they spend restocking and shuffling Bitizens.

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Slots – Pharaoh’s Way (iOS) Review

December 7th, 2012 Posted in Game Reviews, Games 3 Comments »

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 9.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Slots are one of your basic casino stereotypes.  Old ladies clutching their purses, chasing the 20 dollars they get from their nickel bet…  It’s not that exciting to think about.  In fact, it’s probably a bit comical.

Video slots are much different, though, and appeal to a new generation that is very technologically and entertainment-focused.  Video slots open up a whole new realm of possibilities such as bonus games, screwing the gambler through incorrect math programming, and enchanting the player with even more lights and sounds than mechanical slots typically offered.  Themes also work a lot better with video slots.  Star Trek slots, anyone?  Who wouldn’t want Shatner’s soothing frequencies spurted every time you lost a spin?

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is basically going to be the best video slots fix you’re going to get for free or otherwise.  I personally downloaded this on iOS 6 with an iPhone 5 and have become enamored with the fake gambling experience it provides.  If the title of the game wasn’t obvious enough, it is an Ancient Egypt-themed slots game.

The game contains all of the things that make actual video slots fun and exciting to play.  Fast plays, smooth animation, high quality art that fits in with the theme, and lots of annoying noises.  The first thing I did was turn off the audio, of course.

It should be obvious that if you don’t like the concept of video slots, this game is probably not for you.  I would say that slots in general do not appeal to me, at least until I played video slots a couple of years ago.  Video slots, to me, provide more “gameplay” opportunities when it comes to bonus games – and boy are they (usually) exciting.  Slots – Pharaoh’s Way replicates the exciting feeling of normal video slots by providing unique bonus games (depending on the slot game you are playing) and free spins.

If you break down the goal of the game to its very basic element, you are doing one thing: Earning Diamonds.  These Diamonds are used in grinding levels to unlock more slots to play.  Diamonds are earned through normal slot play and each progressive level has a substantial percentage more to get to the next level, which promotes playing more/upping your bet to get further along.  Playing straight through, the feeling you are grinding out levels doesn’t settle in until about level 13 or so, and depending on how many Credits (the game’s currency) you have, it is fairly influencing to up your bet and earn Diamonds at a faster, even reckless, pace.

Your most reliable source of Diamonds comes from your initial bet at a rate of x2 what your bet is.  If you’re betting 10 Credits per slot play, you gain 20 Diamonds, if you bet 100, you get 200, etc.  More often than not, at least one of the spaces on your slot board will be bonus Diamonds which also increase at a rate of x20 what you are betting.  In this case, you gain 1000 bonus Diamonds for a 50 Credit bet, and so on.  That’s only if you hit bonus Diamonds in a space, and that can sometimes prevent you from winning more Credits depending on its placement.

When your next level is about 150,000 diamonds away (at level 21) you’re almost going to be hoping for the bonus Diamonds more than anything else you could get.  Essentially, when you are using Credits to win more Credits, what you are actually doing is using Credits to get more Diamonds, and being as efficient as possible in earning Diamonds becomes the real intent.  Earning Credits only allows you to have a chance of earning more Diamonds.  There are also various rewards and bet amounts unlocked for each progressive level, which can supplement your Credit gain/usage.

What I began to realize is that earning Credits is paltry compared to getting Diamonds, and in the end Credits almost mean nothing as the game forces you to keep parity with your growing Credit pool and level by upping your bet to earn more Diamonds at a higher rate.  No matter how many Credits you have, you will practically always have the “same” amount of spins you started out with as the winnings all scale linearly.  The only thing that increases exponentially is the barrier to level up.

Sure, you could play for 1 credit each bet while you have 3,000 sitting in your pool, but what the hell is the point when there’s absolutely NOTHING else to do with said Credits other than to earn Diamonds with them?  In a sense, it combats the inflation that the developers no doubt predicted would happen with Credits, and unless you want to be stuck at the level 20 range for the rest of your life and never unlock another slot, you’re going to be upping your bet.

My personal strategy for betting with Credits has been to always have “100” spins available to me before I go bankrupt.  If I fall below the 1,000 Credit mark, I would lower my bet to 10 Credits so that I could work my way back up to a comfortable level for my currently-comfortable bet of 50 Credits.  However, when I get up to 5,000 Credits I’m sure I’ll at least up it to 100 or 250 Credits.

Design-wise, all of this makes sense.  When you actually play it, however, you begin to beg for variety.  Playing the slots game proper is good enough, and every time you win a bet, you get the option to play a simple card game where you can guess the color or suit of the card and gain twice or four times what you won in the slot game.  This bonus game is fun for a while, but ends up being less enticing as the stakes get higher, since it really is not in your favor, and doesn’t even net you any Diamonds directly.  You’ll probably not want to waste time playing it at all after a while, regardless of the fact that the card game has better odds than the actual slots game at the end of the day.

New slots open every 10 levels with new artwork, a different bonus game, different payouts, and slightly different rules/spaces.  For example, the second slot is only 3 reels, but every consecutive 3-way match is counted.  On the 5 reel slots, which are the first and third slots, you have 25 to 50 lines in many different random combinations that are harder to predict when you win.  The idea is that the more progressed slot has the best payouts, but you might visit the previous ones to get a change of scenery every now and then.

Each slot has its own bonus game which throws in a little variety every now and then, but they are barely rewarding.  One of the bonus games named River of Luck relies on your… “luck” to guess whether or not the next number in a sequence of numbers will be higher or lower.  If you know anything about statistics, it might be an easy decision process, but it certainly does take a long time to get through the game, not to mention the payouts are almost laughable for the amount of time you spend on it until you guess about 8 times in a row correctly (which almost never happens).  The bonus games don’t typically hit often either, which adds to the disappointment.  The monotony of constantly pressing the “spin” button can be subsided with the AutoPlay option, but then it REALLY feels like you’re doing nothing, so I use it sparingly — only when I’m jerking it.  Other bonus games are pretty simple, like “finding a match” and clicking cat idols until you click two of the wrong ones.  Meh.

I think there is a missed opportunity here with the way the game is made as far as bonuses go.  If they made some mechanic for spending a certain amount of Credits and being able to play a bonus game that awarded Credits, Diamonds, or even both outside of the random chance of the Slot games, it would be a lot more fun to play for long sessions.  Even if they were rehashed bonus games that you already unlocked for the slots you are playing, it would be a step in the right direction.  As it is, you simply plug away and hope that you get to the next level range before the turn (pun!) of the century.  But I suppose that’s where buying Credits might alleviate this frustrating aspect of the grind.

Every 4 hours you are able to collect free bonus Credits.  When the four hours are up your phone will light up and notify you that you are able to collect bonus Credits, thus allowing for the timer to restart.  Your bonus will increase the more levels you gain, but in the end you’ll probably burn through it all in about a couple of spins regardless of how much you actually get, since your normal bet will keep increasing along with the bonus.

And if you really have nothing else better to do with your money, you can always buy more Credits ranging from 2200 Credits for 2 dollars to 2 million Credits for 100 dollars at its current rates.  The option to buy Credits isn’t that terrible, but you have to think about the philosophy behind a game like this that tries to sell you meaningless digital currency in a fashion that is almost predatory.  By no means is Slots – Pharaoh’s Way a major offender of the “Free2Play” format as you can get by just fine without ever paying one red cent to get ahead.  However, I can’t help but think that this “option” has been used all too much by people who become addicted to the cheap thrill of the video slots in the game, and it stales the experience of just enjoying the game since the real “intent” of the game appears to become one where they try to get you addicted to it enough to spend money on it with its teetering-on-the-insane grind.

Taking a long, hard look at business practices for one throwaway game might be a waste of energy, but this isn’t the only game with this model.  “Free2Play, Pay2Win” games create unique products that may not have otherwise been available, and I know that I wouldn’t be playing this game at all if I had to pay anything to play it.  With so many options for games nowadays, getting someone to even spend time with your game is particularly valuable when you can make more money than you ever could per player by creating the capability to spend absurd amounts on it on the back end.

At the end of the day, Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is what it is, regardless of the philosophy involved.  Having a four page review on what is “simply” a slots game is probably overdoing it but as soon as I started playing I knew I had a lot to say about it.  The game sets out to do what it does with almost perfect execution, and the only glaring flaw is that the game lacks variety and more of a meta-game.  I don’t only want to progress, but I want to be able to play a random cool game every hundred spins so I can be excited to do another hundred spins to play that quick, fun mini-game without taking too much focus off the slots game itself.  It would be a detriment to the point of the game to have a whole suite of mini-games that are always accessible – but there is a happy medium that should be attained.  Otherwise, all you’re “doing” is grinding the Diamond counter, and not playing a game.  It is “drop-in-a-bucket” gameplay at an extreme.

From what I gather, this game is actually updated every couple of weeks to add more slots and adjust payout balance or math errors.  I’m not sure how engaging this is for people who just start out the game, since it appears you have to grind at least 50 levels before you even get to a “new world” which may or may not be available at this point.  To know the game is supported is nice, however.  But it would do wonders for the game if it had some sort of “news” in the game to keep people up to date with what’s going on.

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