Category Archives: 3 stars

There are a lot of different ways a piece of interactive fiction can succeed. Some of them tell a great story, some of them give the player a genuine feel of agency in the plot, and some of them have interesting puzzles. Some have tense, RPG-like battles, while others have no fighting at all and focus on building character relationships. A few just take a very interesting setting or theme and run with it. But for all of these strong points that gamebooks can take advantage of, there are a ton of pitfalls that, if not specific to the format, are at least more potentially devastating to the overall enjoyment of a work. It's not an easy thing to put a smooth, highly-interactive narrative together that manages to be strong enough to carry an entire game. It involves almost all of the headaches of writing a good book combined with the difficulties of quality game design...

The Kingdom Hearts series is one of the top-selling RPG brands in the world. It's hard not to be cynical about its origins, as it was a clear attempt to mash together two things that are very popular, especially in Japan, to see how much money would come out. The answer was, a lot. To the credit of the various development teams who have worked on the franchise, they've made the best of a very unnatural mash-up. The original game sort of coasted on the goodwill of fans and largely inoffensive gameplay, but some of the follow-up games have been surprisingly high quality. Even the failures have tended to be interesting experiments worth messing around with just to appreciate their quirkiness...




Monkey Swingers [Free] is a game that has some immediate appeal, but it doesn't take long for it start pushing you away. Not only is the game quite tough, it also demands a fair bit of concentration, and a good run usually lasts longer than the excitement does. If you intend on getting your little monkey up into space and beyond, you need to demonstrate a high level of skill, but also set aside a reasonably big chunk of time to dedicate to the task. I like the idea behind the game well enough, and it's certainly got a nice system of upgrades and fun cosmetic items to unlock, but it just doesn't come together as well as I'd hope...

I question why Rayman Classic [$2.99] had to be brought back from the depths of 1994. The proper context to play Rayman is when you have literally nothing else to play. Say, if you bought an Atari Jaguar; man cannot live on Tempest 2000 alone. And if you bought a Game Boy Advance, Rayman Advance was one of the launch titles, a welcome respite from Super Mario Advance. But the thing is that Rayman was always a frustrating and difficult game. And we live in a universe where there's limitless games, and several great games starring Rayman to play besides this. Rayman is only worth it as a history lesson...

I've learned a few things from MetaHuman Inc. [$3.99], the latest interactive fiction release from Choice Of Games. First, with a little creativity, the ChoiceScript engine that powers these games can be more mechanically versatile than I thought it was capable of being. Next, I'm a terrible CEO. Just plain awful. Finally, I don't especially like being a CEO, and that ended up being a problem for me because being a CEO is more or less what MetaHuman Inc. is all about. At the start of the game, you are appointed the job of running MetaHuman Inc., a shady company that produces human enhancements through a variety of means legal or otherwise. The job starts in January, and you'll see it through to the end of the calendar year, at which point you'll face a final evaluation by the majority shareholders. If you fail to impress them, your death is certain...

Fantastic Plastic Squad [Free] is a game that punched me in the stomach. I’ve rarely felt so excited and then so disappointed in such a short amount of time. Maybe that’s not fair, but let’s start with the good part: The game has one of the strongest first five minutes of any game I’ve played on iOS. It introduces you to these awesome '80s action figures that walk around in a hilariously stiff way (they are plastic, as the game’s name suggests), and you get to use them to shoot aliens around a giant house! I absolutely love games that take place in ordinary places seen from a miniature perspective--probably because of playing with action figures as a child--and this game nails that feeling. The controls are smart and tight, and I could feel myself getting super pumped while playing through the tutorial. I could tell this would be a game I’d be playing for a long time. But I was wrong...

Off-beat simulation game developer Kairosoft has slowed down their iOS releases considerably in the last couple of years. That was probably a wise move, given how many elements each of their games tends to share with the rest. With new games from the developer coming only a few times a year now, it's easier to appreciate each one of them on their own merits, and it hasn't hurt that their recent releases have demonstrated an effort to break out of the reskinning that categorizes most of their work. The Ramen Sensei [$4.99], their latest iOS release, isn't as innovative as it could be, but its tight focus on its unusual subject matter helps it stand out a little. That said, unless you're really into the subject of ramen, this game is still essentially preaching to the Kairosoft choir...

'Rush N Krush' Review - Wacky Races

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December 18th, 2015 10:39 AM EDT by Chris Carter in 3 stars, Free, Games, iPad Games, iPhone games, Racing, Reviews, Universal
Free Buy Now

I never could have imagined that the mobile platform would house so many old school arcade experiences. Growing up I'd spend hours pumping quarters into various games, often times logging how much average playtime I'd get out of a single coin, so I could maximize my time at an arcade. I kind of do the same thing now with mobile games, especially if they offer "extra lives" or some form of energy mechanic...

Another day, another Warhammer game. But Pixel Toys' Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade [Free] seemed promising not just because Apple showed it off with 3D Touch, but also because it's a game where you walk around as a giant Imperial Knight and shoot everything in sight with big, explosive weapons and a giant chainsword. What's not to love with that combination? Well, the issue is that this game plays everything big – and that includes the monetization, which tries every trick in the book to get you to pay. This isn't bad, except for a misleading energy system that really sours the experience. And like many free-to-play games, including the social RPGs it apes much of its structure from, it quickly becomes something where if you tire of the cycle the game puts you on, you will fall out of it quickly. The gameplay is brutal fun, but it alone is not enough to keep you going...

Kemco appears to be on a bit of a strategy game kick of late on iOS, with Legend Of Ixtona [$3.99] releasing a few months ago, and now, Legna Tactica [$3.99]. Well, I can appreciate them wanting to change things up a bit here and there. Although I know many of their fans appreciate the regular trickle of traditional JRPGs, there has to be some kind of saturation point. Forty titles in, Kemco might just be finding it. Of course, it's also possible that their stalwart developers simply feel like making something different. Whatever the reason, we've got another strategy RPG in front of us, and I'm sure no one will fall out of their chair when I say that it's very derivative of the classic Tactics Ogre. This genre seems to have trouble shaking off Yasumi Matsuno's influence, and Kemco certainly weren't going to be the ones to do it...

I still remember the wild west of touchscreen development years ago, when people said that platformers would never work. While many classics have been ported by way of MFi controls, a lot of others stuck it to the naysayers with inventive on-screen control methods, or a design philosophy that accommodates accordingly. Count Crunch's Candy Curse [$0.99] is definitely manageable even without the help of an MFi device, but it doesn't really seek to do much more than that...

'Ghost of Memories' Review - Dazzling and Vague

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November 10th, 2015 1:00 PM EDT by Chris Carter in $2.99, 3 stars, Games, iPad Games, iPhone games, Puzzle, Reviews
$2.99 Buy Now

The isometric take on puzzles games isn't new, but Monument Valley did it with such panache, that it started a revolution in the mobile arena. It's such a good premise for a limited amount of screen real estate, as the view allows you to take in gigantic landscapes without getting lost, or wanting for more. Ghost of Memories [$2.99] follows that same principle, but it's  not quite as exciting as its competition...

If there's one thing, above all else, that you should take away from The Doom Beneath [$2.99], it's that you shouldn't run away from bears. Stand your ground, play dead, or fight back even, but if you run away from a bear, there's a strong chance it will give chase and you'll end up falling into a subterranean cavern filled with cultists and Lovecraftian horrors. If the worst happens and you do fall into such a cavern, you should then play dead. It's good rehearsal for what's ahead, I promise...

With the Gamebook Adventures series winding to at least a temporary close, Tin Man has opted to release the last couple of volumes at the same time. I'm not going to fib, I'm a pretty big fan of this series and the fictional world of Orlandes it uses as a setting. From a story-telling standpoint, it's great to have a well-realized setting that players can take so many different perspectives in. On the gameplay side, the Gamebook Adventures gamebooks are usually fairer and more enjoyable than the paper gamebooks that inspired them. They're written knowing the player isn't having to stick a thumb in the pages and keep track of their inventory with a pencil, and they're stronger experiences for it. That we only have these last two volumes to hold us over for the time being makes each of them precious. That's why it kind of breaks my heart that I don't like Songs Of The Mystics [$5.99] more than I do...

Just under a year ago, an enjoyable take-off of the classic board game HeroQuest was released. Called Arcane Quest 2 [Free], it offered up a single-player take on the concept, putting you in control of four different characters as they made their way through dungeons. It introduced a few new elements to make it more than just a copy, while retaining most of the core that made the original board game so much fun to play. The production values weren't the best, and without multiplayer it was missing a key part of the HeroQuest experience, but it nevertheless proved to be a pretty enjoyable turn-based RPG. This year sees a return to the series, not with a follow-up, but rather with a spin-off. Arcane Quest Adventures [Free] uses similar core mechanics to the previous game, but focuses on providing a solo hero adventure. In some ways, it's better than the last game, but in others, it falls well short...

'Oraia Rift' Review - The Good, The Bad, And The Dull

There's a surprisingly competent action-adventure game contained within Oraia Rift [$1.99]. There are lots of abilities to collect, most of which will be used to solve puzzles here and there throughout the game. The puzzles themselves are engaging enough, though fans of games like Legend Of Zelda will find very few new ideas among them. Lots of block-pushing, torch-lighting, switch-pulling, and that sort of thing. There are plenty of enemies to fight, including some bosses, though the combat isn't terribly satisfying on the whole. The world itself is a big, semi-connected maze that will have you backtracking to use keys or new-found abilities to open the way forward. It's a reasonably attractive game, too, particularly considering it's an indie effort. There are a few hours of solid enjoyment to be found here...

There are moments in The Deer God [$9.99] that are so beautiful and feel so right, that I want to give a running, leaping series of high-fives to the developers. Its sense of style is outstanding, making for one of those games where you sometimes just want to stop and take in the view. When you're running free and clear, leaping over chasms without missing a beat, the game just works in a pure way. The steady sound of your hoofbeats, the rise and eventual fall of the sun on each day, the rolling scenery, the zen-like state of tapping to leap over whatever gets in your way, this is when The Deer God is at its utmost. But there's another side to this pretty little game, and it's most unlike a deer: clumsy, ugly, and lacking in gracefulness. This one is a real mixed bag, and while I could see people falling hard for it over its worthier merits, the many issues with the game really drag it down for me...

MoBu - Adventure Begins [$0.99] is a swinging platformer where the player guides MoBu the ape through deadly jungle terrain by tapping and swiping the screen. MoBu is given the power of infinitely stretchy arms, which helps him swing through the trees, around rocky obstacles, and over water and swamps. Because of MoBu's new "power", he gets hungry quite quickly and must collect bananas to keep himself mobile. Should his "banana gauge" run out, MoBu will fall and the level will restart...

Looking past Mobius Of Magic [$2.99] 's lifting of Final Fantasy's mage designs, there's a somewhat creative idea at its core. Battles play out as duels between magic users, and in this game the best offense is a good defense. You can block most incoming attacks by swiping in the direction it's coming from, and in doing so, not only does it nullify most of the damage, but it also charges up your mana so that you can deliver stronger counter-attacks. Thus, battles are enjoyably fast-paced affairs where you need to pay careful attention to your foe and react quickly and precisely. It makes a valiant go of building a game around that interesting mechanic, but it ultimately doesn't quite manage to take things much farther than what you'll see in the earliest combats...

Even as they've racked up a few strong successes in the puzzle genre, I'm sure King has realized they would have to branch out at some point to keep their business healthy. Besides a weird trivia game, Paradise Bay [Free] is the Candy Crush giant's first attempt at something outside of the puzzle genre on mobile platforms. Don't get too excited, however, as they've simply moved from one crowded free-to-play favorite to another. Paradise Bay has you building your own little village in a tropical location, producing goods to sell to other players or trade for various resources. It has the polish we've come to expect from King's recent games, but without any interesting new ideas, it's hard to make a strong case for it even if this is your genre/pay model of choice...

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