Tagged "Android"

Fist of Awesome
Oct 25

Fist of Awesome has been one huge charm offensive: from the early animated GIF screenshots, through the doubling-its-target Kickstarter, to designer Nicoll Hunt’s beard.

It’s been either: (a) a cleverly orchestrated PR campaign; (b) a demonstration of the benefits as an indie developer of being a bit different; or (c) proof that people really really want to punch a bear IN THE MOUTH.

Fist of Awesome

The game will certainly sate that particular desire. For enjoyably irrelevant reasons, Tim Burr’s fist has taken on a personality of its own, and he must avenge or rescue or something his family by lamping an awful lot of wildlife. And there’s kicking and stomping and shoving and throwing, as well as a charged punch, in addition to your common-or-garden punching.

That little lot is handled admirably by the gesture controls. Logical taps and swipes on the right of the screen take care of the action – tap to punch, swipe up to jump, down to stomp etc. Only the pushes and throws are a little awkward, and as always a virtual d-pad – in this case wherever you touch on the left of the screen – is less precise than you’d ideally like, but it’s as good as it’s going to get.

It’s a solid scrolling fighting game mechanic, but not quite enjoyable enough on its own to carry the game. The storyline and humorous touches dotted around the levels hit more often than miss, but again, aren’t quite enough to carry the game.

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Garfield's Wild Ride
Jul 17

You know when you’ve been playing a game of an evening, and you can still see it in your mind’s eye when you go to sleep?

Match-three puzzlers have a habit of doing it to me. Well, Garfield isn’t an obvious choice for an endless runner, so Namco-Bandai have had to set Wild Ride in his dreams. And he’s evidently been playing Jetpack Joyride.

Garfield's Wild Ride

It really is very, very similar: the simple touch-to-rise controls; the coins, the obstacles, even the warnings of approaching enemies; the ‘vehicle’ power-ups; the challenges, three active at a time; the slide along the ground when you eventually come a cropper.

It’s diligently similar, in that it’s still a bit of fun, but it adds virtually nothing of its own. And the basics are lacking: the controls are flabbier for one thing, which isn’t satisfying whether it’s intentional or not.

The presentation is at least solid: the menu screens are very jazzy, it sounds quite jolly, and the graphics are perfectly pleasant – even if the inexplicable floating obstacles look like strange mattresses, and the lasagne pick-ups looked more like hot dogs at first.

It starts to look samey very quickly though: you start with only one location – the street – and variation only comes from buying additional themes. The cheapest is yours for 100,000 coins – not earned in-game at anything like that magnitude, but inevitably available as IAPs. That number would set you back £1.99, several times the up-front price. Poor show.

Which all adds up to little reason to throw money at a slightly pale imitation, rather than Halfbrick‘s modern mobile classic, or one of the many games which have managed to actually build on the formula.

Version: iPhone
iOS: iTunes App Store (£0.69)
Android: Google Play (£0.69)

The Great Brain Experiment
Mar 20

They might have peaked in about 2009, but there’s still a healthy market for games with the word ‘brain’ in the title – certainly on mobile. But rather than playing another clone of Nintendo and Dr Kawashima’s 2006 effort, why not contribute to medical science?

Well, there’s an app for that: The Great Brain Experiment, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, launched to coincide with Brain Awareness Week. Which was last week. My brain, clearly, was not aware.

The point is to harness all sorts of buzz words – ‘big data’, ‘the crowd’, ‘citizen science’, ‘gamification’ – to research a number of brain questions on an unprecedented scale. So rather than collecting data from a subject in an fMRI scanner, scores and basic demographic data are harvested from the willing smartphone population.

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realracing3_top
Mar 01

Freemium gaming has no shortage of critics. It’s understandable, given that such games have earned a reputation for nickle and diming their players. EA have taken the concept further than ever with Real Racing 3, their attempt at combining the freemium model with AAA production values. The result? Possibly the most depressing thing to happen in modern gaming.

This article started life as a review, but seeing as Real Racing 3 is less a game and more an attempt at flagrant money grabbing, providing a score would be tricky. Ethically it doesn’t feel right writing a typical review.

“Gameplay not included. Fun may cost extra.”

On the surface, Real Racing 3 is an impressive game, bringing almost console-quality graphics to mobile devices – although the sparse trackside visuals don’t quite match the pretty cars. The racing experience itself is adequate, but with the vague tilt controls, auto-acceleration and feeble opponents, it’s not remotely near the same league as anything on a console. That’s probably because EA haven’t really made a racing game, but a car-themed credit-grinding simulator, in an effort to part you from your cash at every turn.

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Sep 07

Mobile games are released at such an unrelenting rate, that I don’t generally find pre-release coverage very helpful. If I can’t click through and buy it immediately, then there’s every chance I’ll have forgotten about it by the time it’s released. But it’s been a pretty lovely week for announcements.

Rayman Jungle Run

Rayman Jungle Run

Everyone loves Rayman Origins, and it’s to Ubisoft’s credit that they’re not going to try to convert it to mobile. Instead, they’re using the same luscious UbiArt framework to create a new outing specifically for touch screens.

Going by the trailer, Rayman Jungle Run is going to be similar to the treasure chase bonus levels in Origins. It looks like it will be an auto-runner, with the jumping, swinging and punching you’d expect from everyone’s favourite French limbless platform star.

If the levels are anything like as expertly crafted as in Origins, and the controls are sensibly implemented, we’re in for a bloody treat.

Release isn’t far away: 20th September for iOS and Android. It’ll be interesting to see the price, but I’d imagine it’ll be more Chillingo than Square-Enix.

Year Walk

Year Walk

It’s hard to know what to make of Year Walk, the latest offering from Beat Sneak Bandit developer Simogo. As you can see, it’s strange and intriguing. So, let’s resort to recycling some of the developer’s words:

“Venture out into the dark woods where strange creatures roam, in a vision quest set in 19th century Sweden. Control and interact with the world, objects and creatures in every way you can think of in your search to bend the rules of the universe and open the rift that separates our world and what lies beyond it.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself? Curious – in a very good way. Matters may be clarified when it’s released on iOS sometime this winter.

Aug 03

London 2012 – Official Mobile Game: Swimming

The freemium model is a bit of a curious fit for an official Olympics game. It doesn’t quite give the right message, does it? If you want to succeed, you need to build on your natural talent through plenty of good solid practice. Or just bung us a few pennies and we’ll sort you out. Hmm.

But actually, the freemium elements aren’t particularly problematic. Stamina – which is required to play and is depleted by doing so – recharges with levelling up, and early on that’s pretty frequent. Stars aren’t handed out quite so liberally, but you get a decent number for free – and even more in the premium version – so it’s not a problem to unlock most of the events on offer.

There’s plenty of standard issue button bashing – and variants thereof – and that remains a surprisingly moreish activity – for a bit, anyway. Only 9.90 seconds in the 100m? Pah! I can do better than that! That is, until you realise that you can’t do any better, and enough is enough.

A word of warning though: button bashing on a slippery iPhone is a risky business. Maybe it’s my technique, but it’s all to easy to get carried away and see the shiny slab flap all over the shop. I wouldn’t want to try it on public transport.

London 2012 – Official Mobile Game: Archery

The tilt controls are less of a risk, but they’re bloody awful. Sluggish isn’t the word. Actually, it’s exactly the word. Switch them off, though, and the virtual controls are generally fine. Other than canoe slalom, which is pretty poor either way.

But it’s mainly fine. There are a few rough edges, but it looks moderately nice, and it’s quite diverting. And free. At least, I managed to keep it that way: by the point that it started to look like IAPs might soon become necessary, I’d got plenty of tapping out of it.

Usually, I’d feel a bit bad for not paying for something that’s given me some entertainment. But in the case of the Olympic Games, with their invasive corporate sponsors, I’m quite happy to take what I can get. Plus I’ve paid more than enough for my athletics tickets…

London 2012 – Official Mobile Game
Version: iPhone
Free: iOS (free) / Android (free)
Premium: iOS (£0.69) / Android (£0.69)

Jul 23

Last month Google unveiled their entry into the tablet market, with the Google Nexus 7, the budget-priced 7” Android tablet that aims to surpass the Kindle Fire and potentially Apple’s iPad. The Nexus 7 finally started shipping last week and I was lucky enough to take delivery of one on Wednesday. I opted for the 16GB model, which is selling for just £199, whilst there’s also a model with 8GB storage for £159 – both costing less than half the price of an iPad, with the 8GB model costing even less than a PS Vita.

The modest price is clearly one of the main attractions of the Nexus 7, but even more remarkable is the high quality of the device, especially considering the price. The internal hardware is up there with the best devices on the market, with the Nexus 7 packing a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU (for reference, basically double the processing power of an iPad 3) and a 12-core (yes, a dozen) GPU pushing a lovely looking, pixel-packed 1280×800 resolution 7” screen. As a gaming device, this actually makes the Nexus 7 pixel-for-pixel more powerful than the iPad 3, which has to push a 2048×1536 resolution screen with a similar graphics chipset. Sure, 1280×800 isn’t quite “retina-level”, but it’s still 216 pixels per inch, which is almost the same as the 220 pixels per inch that Apple call “retina-level” on their Retina MacBook Pro. (To be fair, based on Apple’s guidelines, absolutely any screen becomes “retina” once you’re really far away from it.)

A few corners were cut to reach the sub-£200 price tag, namely the lack of a rear camera and SD card slot. The latter is a bit of a shame, as expandable storage has always been one of the nice perks of Android hardware, but life with a mere 16GB is manageable and I suppose we mustn’t grumble. Connectivity is limited to WiFi only, with no 3G option, if that’s something that matters to you.

But enough about the hardware, you can just look at this spec sheet if you’re really interested…

Specs Google Nexus 7 iPad 3
CPU 1.3 Ghz quad-core
ARM Cortex A9 (Nvidia Tegra 3)
1 Ghz dual-core
ARM Cortex A9 (Apple A5X)
GPU 12-core 416Mhz Nvidia GeForce ULP Quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4
Memory 1 GB DDR3 RAM 1 GB DDR2 RAM
Storage 8 or 16 GB flash storage 16 or 32 or 64 GB flash storage
Battery 4,325mAh (approx. 9-10 hrs) 11,560mAh (approx. 9-10 hrs)
Display 7 inch IPS LCD
at 1280×800 (216 PPI)
9.7 inch IPS LCD
at 2048×1536 (264 PPI)
Weight 340 grams 650 grams

There are a few things which really set the Nexus 7 apart for me, and make it more than worthy of its price tag. Firstly, the fluidity of the user interface. Google have spent a lot of time working on the response time of the Android UI, working on what they call “Project Butter” for the latest version of Android (codenamed Jelly Bean). As a UI designer myself, I was really impressed to see the lengths Google’s Android team went to in an effort to make everything so responsive. In addition to including a special low-power CPU (in addition to the main quad-core CPU) to make wake-up times instant, they used RED cameras to measure the UI response time down to the millisecond, to ensure the whole interface felt silky smooth. Also it doesn’t hurt that now everything’s hardware accelerated on the GPU. The end result is a UI that feels incredibly responsive, moving quickly and precisely, giving the impression that the Nexus 7 is doing everything absolutely effortlessly. This is the first time I’ve felt like Android has actually surpassed Apple’s iOS in terms of interface and that subjective software quality that just makes the whole package feel so solid.

So Android and the Nexus 7 work together harmoniously, but what about gaming? Well, that’s the other reason I think the Nexus 7 makes a formiddable little gaming device. It just so happens, that ergonomically seven inches work surprisingly well. If you’ve experienced trying to play traditional games on an iPad, holding it in your hands like a giant controller, the experience is… a little like holding a big plate. It’s too big, a little difficult to hold, and it doesn’t take long before the weight becomes a little too much for your limp wrists. The Nexus 7 however is about half the size of an iPad (though more than half the screen size) and half the weight. It’s comparable to a Kindle – so you can easily hold it one handed to read a book, without it ever feeling too heavy. Like the Kindle it also has a nice rubberised backside, which feels nice and always provides a great grip.

What does all that have to do with gaming? Well, when holding the Nexus 7 in landscape mode, it’s almost the same width as a PS Vita. Obviously it doesn’t have the analogue sticks or buttons, and virtual buttons are never quite perfect, but holding a Nexus 7 isn’t unlike holding a PS Vita – or as Google themselves said, it’s “like holding a Sega Game Gear” – which makes the Nexus 7 a surprisingly good little gaming device. Being Android, the whole operating system can be as customisable as you want it, so if you really feel the need to tinker with things, it is actually possible to connect a regular control pad to the Nexus 7 using Bluetooth or USB. You can run emulators on it too, so it’s quite an impressive little gaming device.

As good as the device is though, it needs great games to be a great games system. That’s where things get a little muddy – and this is true for all Android devices. Whilst Android is a wonderfully open system, free for practically anyone to publish on, it’s still lagging behind Apple’s App Store for great games. Many of the big hits are available on both platforms, but due to rampant piracy and a general reluctance for many Android users to pay for games, developers still favour iOS. That’s slowly changing, but it still remains an issue.

That’s not to say there aren’t any good games to play on Android. Most of the “obvious” mobile games are available on Google Play, such as Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Where’s my Water?, whilst there are quite a few console-quality games too, such as Shadowgun, Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto III and Football Manager 2012. Considering such games could easily retail for £20 or £30 as PS Vita games, downloading them from Google Play for a pound or two is a bit of a steal.

As a tablet for web browsing and email, the Nexus 7 is arguably the best on the market, if you’re fine without a 3G connection. The latest version of Android feels incredibly slick and frankly rather good, and a tablet with an Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset for under £200 would have been unthinkable just six months ago. Solely as a gaming device, the Nexus 7 shouldn’t be your first port of call, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint in that department. In fact if you like the idea of getting your hands dirty and installing emulators, it actually makes a brilliant retro emulation machine. As a package, it’s just a remarkably nice and likeable little thing.

May 11

Don't Run With A Plasma Sword

I’ve been playing Don’t Run With A Plasma Sword recently. It’s been hard to put my finger on why it’s not entirely satisfactory, but I’ve got there: it’s a packet of Party Rings.

It’s unarguably a great name for a game. The sense of humour is carried through to the loading screens, where you’re given more advice of what not to do with a plasma sword: pick your nose, use it as a pointer in presentations – it’s good stuff. But it’s just the colourful sugary crust on the Party Ring, a one-note attempt to try to make a rather ordinary biscuit look exciting.

The game itself – the biscuit in the metaphor I am going to persevere with – is a perfectly serviceable auto-runner. There’s more to do than usual: jump, slide and attack with your plasma sword, all via virtual buttons. It works nicely enough, though the relative complexity means it always takes a couple of goes to get back on top of what’s required of you.

Jetpack Joyride

So why is it different to, say, Jetpack Joyride? Ah, because that’s a bag of Haribo Starmix. Whereas Don’t Run With A Plasma Sword is fairly uniform throughout, each mission in Jetpack Joyride is a different chewy little sweet, and you want to keep going until you’ve greedily devoured the whole damn bag.

There’s no particular attraction in going back to sniff the empty bag afterwards, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want a bag of Tangfastics before long.

Canabalt

Different again is Canabalt. I touched on it when I wrote about ZiGGURAT, that it’s a slow-burner, completely satisfying in short bursts. It was put better by Vertex Dispenser designer Michael Brough on Hookshot Inc., who described ZiGGURAT as “solid nourishment”.

Along those lines, I’d say Canabalt is a really good dark chocolate – from Hotel Chocolat, perhaps. Refined, a little bit classy, just a morsel or two is entirely satisfying – and you’ll come back for more later.

Alas, there’s not much in the way of dark chocolate out there in App Land. There’s a fair amount of Haribo, admittedly, but far too many Party Rings.

Don’t Run With A Plasma Sword: iOS (£1.49) / Mac (£1.99)
Jetpack Joyride: iOS (free)
Canabalt: iOS (£1.99) / Android (£1.99)

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