Wild Arms (PS) Review

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.

 

Fran Bow (PC) Demo Preview

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

 

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

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!

 

Pocket Planes (iOS) Review

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.

 

Infinity Blade (iOS) Review

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.

 

Crazy Rings (iOS) Review

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.

 

Jetpack Joyride (iOS) Review

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.

 

Words with Friends (iOS) Review

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.

 

Tiny Tower (iOS) Review

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.

 

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way (iOS) Review

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.  If you are really enthralled with the experience, you can always buy more Credits.  The option to buy Credits isn’t terrible, but you come to think about the philosophy behind a game like this.  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.  At some point, though, you’ll need to up your bets considerably to match the teetering-on-the-insane Diamond 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” 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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Odin Sphere (PS2) Review

Developer: Vanillaware | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.0/10

Warning: This review has spoilers since the game is like 5 years old at this point.

If ever a game has attempted to be Shakespearean in its story delivery, it is Odin Sphere.  Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action beat-em-up game starring five different playable characters.  The story and how it is presented is very much the forefront on what is “unique” about this game, but the mechanics involved are also very robust and allows for a challenging experience whether or not you want one.

Without doing much research or knowing much about the game beforehand, if you dive right into it, you’ll probably be a little bit confused.  Confused because you start out the game as a little girl in the attic of the house she presumably lives in.  You’ll see a book, and then you’ll see a cat named Socrates.  Nothing really happens unless you start reading the book at which case you’ll begin the story of Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon Lord Odin.

My personal experience with the game began 2 or so years ago.  I had played the game quite a bit but never actually beaten Gwendolyn’s storyline, so when I had actually gotten through her book, it was quite intriguing to see the oh-so-dramatic events and the ending for Gwendolyn.

For the first 5 books, you will play characters who are somehow connected to the royalty of the world of Erion.  The five different characters go through the events of the story from their points of view, and will occasionally fight or interact with other characters you have controlled or will control later on.  Needless to say, the story itself is very non-linear and if you stick with it you will see an interestingly multifaceted story unveil before you.  The only thing that detracts from this are the boss battles in which you defeat bosses in different areas or under different circumstances, but still the same fight when all is said and done.  It feels kind of weird “killing” or severely debilitating the same dragon repeatedly, considering he had just been defeated or will be defeated again by another one of the characters you play in what seems like a day or two story-wise.

Besides the blatant “replay the same game 5 times” aspect of the game, which you really kind of do, they do toss in different mechanics for each of the characters you play with.  The different weapons and characters all have unique and different feels, and it keeps the gameplay more-or-less fresh as you go and play through the story again.  As for the mechanics itself, you will mostly be hitting the Square button over and over.  Jumping and the direction of the analog stick while you press the Square button affect the type of attacks you do, and it is a pretty standard combo fighting system.  There aren’t any huge combos to pull off, but most of the challenge in the game comes in the strategy in which you defeat the enemies that are laid out before you in each section.  Almost every character is able to parry attacks and perform knock-backs.  Gwendolyn, using a spear, can block and glide around the map.  Cornelius, using a sword, can block attacks and do a spinning attack in mid-air.  Mercedes, using a bow, can fly, charge her attacks, and use a unique magic spell.  Oswald can activate shadow powers and make all of his normal attacks hit around twice as hard and twice as fast for a short period of time.  Velvet, using chains, can attack all around her, charge an attack and swing across the map. Using each individual character’s strengths to your advantage is vital to defeating the challenges presented.

Each character has the same repertoire of magic “Psypher” attacks, but they are earned in a different order.  The essential purpose of these Psypher magics are to make the game easier for you — you will need to use them to defeat tons of enemies or defeat a boss you just had enough of instead of just spamming your basic attacks.  Basic attacks can also only be spammed to a certain point, as they are limited by a POW gauge.  The POW gauge will decrease as you use your basic attacks and then you’ll have to run around or stop attacking for a few seconds for the gauge to fill again.  If you fully deplete the POW gauge you will stun yourself for a good 4 to 5 seconds waiting for the gauge to fill to 100% again before being able to move.  A lot of the strategy you employ during the harder fights in the game rely on a careful balance of your attacks and trying to be conservative in your spams.  The game mechanics are fairly engaging and can be quite fun despite its simplistic approach.

What makes the game more of an Action RPG is obviously with its leveling and, to a lesser degree, alchemy system.  Your Psypher and your Character each have independent levels.  The main way to increase your levels is by the way you use Phozons.  Phozons are magical orbs that appear after you defeat an enemy.  You can choose to absorb the Phozons into your Psypher weapon or put a seed into the ground and after a certain amount of required Phozons, pick the fruit (or meat) that grows out of the ground.  You also have a limited storage menu so you’ll have to constantly be managing it as you play through each section.  The food that you can buy or grow in the game can also be used between levels to increase your hit points and gain more experience at a more efficient rate than just eating the food alone.  When you are able to access the Pooka Village, you can visit either of the two restaurants and have them cook up something using your food and adding some permanent hit points.  Using these restaurants are vital to increasing your characters stats — the natural hit point increases from leveling up are about half the amount you actually want to have by the end of each book… at least on Easy mode.

One of the things Odin Sphere has going for, or against it, is its difficulty.  I started playing the game on normal, and ended up dying so many times on shitty trash (non-boss) enemies that I changed the difficulty to Easy.  It was more-or-less smooth going from there, but there were still some tricky bosses that made me question whether or not I was still on Easy.  The bosses at the end of the game were also quite difficult for an “Easy” setting, which makes me wonder how hard the Normal and Hard settings actually would be.  It really made me question what kind of enjoyment people get out of dying over and over on games like this… it really isn’t that much fun to keep dying, but to each their own, I suppose.

The visuals are definitely one of the other unique aspects of this game.  Vanillaware is known for their awesome-looking 2D hand-drawn visuals that stray from what you normally see in gaming today.  They also like to draw chicks with huge boobs and sexy legs and little to nothing to cover it all.  Girls with less-emphasized features also exist in the game, so it’s not that “one-sided” as far as it goes.  Suffice to say, all of the chicks — even the queen of death — are all banging and who wouldn’t want to see these chicks getting ass-rammed with their boobs flopping around?  There’s a lot of provocative fan-service animations and poses the female characters in the game do, as well.

The art style is also interesting because you will see giant men who have toothpick legs.  Not all of the men in the game are that disproportionate, and there are a couple of different mythological races in the game such as Dwarves and Fairies.  Most of the game is influenced by Norse mythology and mixes in with normal fantasy, and the art style definitely goes with what is going on, as it is essentially a “storybook” being read by the little girl in the attic every time you start up the game.

The point of the game probably won’t culminate into much of a cohesion until the end of the game, which all of the events that transpire in each individual character’s book leads to.  The last phase of the game is a series of five difficult boss battles, and provided you leveled each of the characters appropriately and they have enough items to assist them in the final battle, you will choose one character to fight each boss up to the game’s ending.

The game begins to split its path when you choose the correct or “incorrect” character for a particular end boss.  Each boss is to be paired against one of the characters you have played as “the prophecies state” that you collect while playing the preamble.  There is a satisfying ending as long as you choose the correct characters, but there’s not a whole lot that is “plainly explained” in the context of the story.  The purpose of the girl, which I believe her name is Alice, at the beginning is more-or-less justified, giving the story, which you thought as a “child’s story” to be something more of a sad, dark history of the world she lives in.  When Cornelius and a Pooka-cursed Velvet appear in the attic she has been reading her books in, it affirms that the books her “grandpa loved to read so much” actually were real after all.  The set of five books, including the Armageddon and Wheel of Fate books combined ends up being the “Odin Sphere” book written by an unnamed, unknown character whom we can only assume the identity of.  It can be also be inferred that the writer is “you” since you were there at all of the events that had transpired.

I sort of wish that they would have added a little bit more of an explanation on certain things that were left open to interpretation in the game.  The question behind who wrote the Odin Sphere book series is probably the biggest question, and how Cornelius and Velvet affect the world after they turn back into humans, and where the people of Valentine originally came from, and what the actual origin of the mechanically alien-like Cauldron is.  The total rounding up of all the loose ends wouldn’t have taken much effort, considering they were more-or-less extraneous aspects of the story that were still interesting.

I spent a good 40 hours or so on this game, and I probably would have liked to spend about 10 hours less than I did, having to beat the same bosses over and over, in what seems like a forced fashion.  They could have, and should have trimmed any of the “forced” boss encounters, especially considering you don’t even get any experience from those battles anyway.  Once you complete a book, it’s nice being able to replay the story from the beginning, but all of the locations you opened up through your first time through should have been open as well so that people trying to grind up levels a little bit for the Armageddon didn’t have to go through the same stuff again.

The inventory UI, while having an interesting take, was probably the most frustrating thing about the normal gameplay.  I wished so many times that I could open the bag view and use all my items there rather than having to use it through the swirly-circle-single-bag-at-a-time interface.  I would lose items many times and just go through each of my bags not remembering or not knowing or not seeing where something went.  Once all of the books opened up and I was grinding levels for the Armageddon, there is no way to change books without resetting the game entirely — that seemed like an oversight on the part of the design team.

Odin Sphere can be a real challenge to get through and see it through, but I feel like it’s worth it, since what the game set out to do is probably not going to be done again.  I loved the art, I loved the way the story was told, and the game play was a good stylistic compliment.