Tagged "Android"

Mar 01
By Adam Philbin In Mobile Games 15 Comments

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
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

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
By Jake In Mobile Games 2 Comments

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
By Adam Philbin In Mobile Games 8 Comments

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
By Jake In Mobile Games 1 Comment

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)

Mar 23
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

Angry Birds Space

They say that there are five stages of grief. Well, in my experience, there are three stages of Angry Birds Space.

1. Anticipation

Fuelled by the NASA association, endless tie-ins and ceaseless media attention, the impression that this is a Big Deal built and built. With it came an assumption that it must be a departure for the series – otherwise it wouldn’t be such a Big Deal, surely.

2. Disappointment

Angry Birds Space

Oh, it’s still Angry Birds. Sure, there are gravitational fields and all, but essentially it’s just flinging birds at pigs in a faintly haphazard way. Again. But in space.

And it’s over-sensitive on the iPhone screen, so releasing your finger can be enough to shift the trajectory. A result of focusing on the bigger versions, perhaps?

3. Acceptance

But still, back you come, for more and more of it. The realisation dawns that gravity does open up some fun opportunities – slingshots, that sort of thing. It’s not huge – not a game-changer, if you like – but it’s enough to make it more than just a bunch of new Angry Birds levels.

One day, Rovio are going to have to take a risk, and do something genuinely different. That’s a day I’m looking forward to.

Meanwhile, despite its absolute ubiquity, Angry Birds Space is still fun. And selling by the arse-load, of course.

Version: iPhone
iOS: £0.69, £1.99 (HD) / Android: free (ads), £0.63, £1.89 (HD) / Mac: £2.99 / PC: €5.95

Feb 16
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

GAME British Academy Video Games Awards

The nominations for March’s BAFTA Games Awards were announced yesterday, and the portable category makes interesting reading. What was previously referred to as the Handheld award is now Mobile & Handheld, which neatly reflects the shift that seems to have occurred.

In 2009 and 2010 it was all PSP and DS. In 2011, one mobile game – Cut the Rope – sneaked in there, and only went and bloody won.

The Nightjar

The 2012 nominations are striking: other than Super Mario 3D Land, it’s all mobile games – Dead Space iOS, Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint, Peggle, Quarrel and The Nightjar. Okay, Peggle is on DS too, but the only format it was released on in the last year was Android.

It’s to the BAFTA panel’s credit that they’ve not given more nods to the 3DS, simply because it was released in the last twelve months. They have – bravely, you could argue – recognised that, actually, 3D hasn’t in and of itself really added much to the portable gaming mix; that more interesting stuff has been happening for a fraction of the (software) price on mobile platforms.

The question is whether this year is the start of a trend, or a mere blip. Will we see more downloadable and indie games filtering through into the main categories?

Minecraft

This year there are nods for the likes of Bastion, Eufloria, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Monstermind and Minecraft, but mainly in the Debut Game category, with the odd one in Game Innovation and GAME Award of 2011. Most of the categories are dominated by the usual blockbuster releases.

As Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint’s now BAFTA-nominated Ste Pickford argued some time ago, part of the problem is the categories themselves. But the fact that it’s by no means only big name publishers’ mobile games that have been recognised this year, gives hope that BAFTA will continue to broaden their horizons.

That would be welcome for any number of reasons: rewarding indie developers, exposing regular gamers to new and unusual games, and maybe even pushing the majors to try a bit harder.

Feb 10
By Jake In Mobile Round Up No Comments

Some games are dangerous. There was no mobile round-up last week, because Triple Town monopolised my time to the point that I’d not played the rest of the games I was intending to write about.

Actually, that’s not quite true, because I did get around to writing about Kimi Raikkonen ICEONE Racing elsewhere. (It’s not great.)

So: onto the games that I should have written about last week.

Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon
version: iPhone

Sir Benfro’s Brilliant Balloon

In an App Store full of cartoon-cuteness, it’s surprising that more games don’t try to stand out by being differently lovely to look at. Like Sir Benfro here, with his gorgeous eye-nugget of a world, the tone to my mind recalling Wes Anderson as much as the stated influences of the likes of Terry Gilliam and Studio Ghibli. Which is a good thing. It’s so successful, in fact, that a picture book based on his travels is already in the works.

As a game, it’s not quite as interesting. Exploring the four worlds uses a tried and tested mechanic: tap and hold to float upwards, release to drop. You have to collect the ‘hilariously’ named Light Emitting Daves – which make a sound which might as well have been lifted from LocoRoco – to keep floating, and bumping into the scenery or monsters causes a further loss of Daves.

It’s passably entertaining, but the balance is slightly off. It’s too easy to get stuck on an obstacle, losing all your Daves in the process. With long levels which require a modicum of memory, this can be a touch tiresome.

But it really does look ruddy lovely. For visual nourishment alone it is emphatically worth 69 pennies.

iOS (£0.69)

Triple Town
version: iPhone

Triple Town

Apparently, Facebook games aren’t all rubbish. This is, quite genuinely, news to me. Shameful, I know, but there it is. The proof is Triple Town, frankly one of the most inspired ideas in years.

I love a bit of match-three, but that’s ingeniously turned on its head here. Placing three or more matching items on your town map not only removes them, but replaces them with an evolved item where you put the final one. Grass becomes hedges becomes trees – it goes on. These evolved items can too be matched, and so it continues. Cue much mental gymnastics to work backwards four or five evolutions. It’s fantastically intricate.

Bears complicate matters by wandering around, getting in the way. But they can be turned into gravestones by trapping them in a space, and these can be matched to turn into churches – and so on. Later, ninja bears are even worse, as they can’t be trapped. But robots can be used to destroy any item, and there are crystals to use as wildcards. Plus a shop for when you need it, where you can spend coins earned or bought.

And it’s free, for God’s sake. That gives you limited – though quite generous – moves, which replenish over time. But if you’re not willing to spend £2.49 (on iOS at least) to unlock infinite moves by the time you need them, then you’re just being difficult.

iOS (free) / Android (free)

LostWinds
version: iPhone

LostWinds

As even Nintendo would admit, WiiWare hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success. But it has been peppered with highlights, one being 2008’s LostWinds. An adventure game with vague nods to the likes of Zelda and Metroid, the core mechanic of creating gusts of wind makes it a good candidate for a touchscreen conversion.

For the most part, it’s a very successful job. The intriguing, but manageable, unravelling game world definitely helps in the mobile suitability stakes, and the wind-based puzzles – which variously involve water, fire, boulders and the like – are no less charming.

The controls have been tweaked in an update since release, but I’m not convinced that a game converted to rather than designed for a touchscreen is ever going to feel absolutely right. Nevertheless, drawing a gust of wind to carry Toku over a chasm is a delight, and movement by tapping areas of the screen is effortless. Other than the awkward combat, it’s just when fine accuracy is required that it falls short, probably nothing more than an inevitable result of a fat finger on a reasonably small screen.

iOS (£2.49)

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