Tagged "iOS"

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)

May 04
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

Crow

I can’t imagine why I’ve never been asked to contribute to Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. I’d totally base one around iPhone game Crow. It’s got moral choices, you see. Really unsophisticated ones, which do little but switch the game into hard mode if you try to be good. I could relate that to Jesus, no bother. I doubt Anne Atkins has even heard of Crow. Then again, she does have religious conviction, regular commissions from national newspapers and three published novels. Fair point.

Crow

Crow’s gameplay – split starkly into ‘adventure’ and ‘action’ sections – largely continues the unsophisticated trend. The adventure element involves flying high above the landscape waiting to happen upon trinkets, pompous story points and action levels. Which is as interesting as it sounds.

The action is slightly more involved, though being on-rails, not hugely so. You have two gesture-initiated spells – a shield and an attack – and the ability to move around the screen to dodge incoming attacks – which is trickier than it should be because the perspective is a bit wonky. Boss battles can turn into a test of patience, requiring numerous ‘laps’ of the on-rails environment to inflict sufficient damage. It’s as satisfying as circling above Heathrow waiting to come in to land.

Crow

The trinkets you collect are used to purchase upgrades to your shield and attack. Later in the game, with faster regenerating magic and life energy, and with a chance of inflicting a second attack for free, there’s the beginnings of a moderately fun combat system. Then it ends.

It is pretty though. Developer Sunside’s in-house game platform is called Radiance, and the game does look suitably radiant. It looks better in screenshots or at a distance though; up close some of the detail is a bit lacking.

Despite all that, I began a second play through – the first took well under an hour – to unlock the aforementioned hard mode. As far as I can tell, it just makes you vulnerable to the point of instant death. Thanks for that.

Version: iPhone
iTunes App Store: £1.99

Apr 13
By Jake In Mobile Games No Comments

774 Deaths

I imagine that, after playing Square-Enix’s 774 Deaths, most people would be comfortably able to describe it in one word. Not necessarily the same word, mind. In my case, that word is BRUTAL.

The difficulty is brutal. Each death, usually on a blood-splattered blade, is brutal. The graphics and sound are brutally retro – though also endearingly so, to my eyes and ears.

774 Deaths - tilting!

Little in the way of explanation is ever offered – brutally so, if you like – but it’s not hard to get the gist. Each room contains a number of doors, complete enough of those and you unlock the next room.

The four varieties of game behind those doors are equally simple to fathom: standard platforming levels, complete with virtual controls; auto-running levels with a tap to jump your only input; tilt-controlled maze-like levels; and levels that you fall through, again with tilt controls.

That’s the simple bit. The tough bit is not dying. Repeatedly. The game delights in throwing virtually unavoidable obstacles against you, and relishes you making the wrong choice. This delight and relish mainly comes in the form of killing you. Repeatedly. Did I mention that?

774 Deaths - falling!

But, in common with the chase levels in Rayman Origins, the game minimises the frustration: restarting a level is speedy, and the controls are surprisingly spot-on. No mean feat, given that virtual buttons and tilt controls have a habit of being as precise as rounding a really really really small number to, like, one decimal place.

As such, although death is rapid-fire, with sticking with it yields incremental progress. Levels are often like puzzles, and completing them equivalent to finding the solution – albeit a solution which requires some exceedingly accurate tapping or tilting to execute.

In that way, there are some lovely puzzles, which initially appear impossible, but reveal themselves after either rethinking, or just being even more bloody precise. In fact, it’s genuinely surprising just how precise you can become with repeated attempts.

774 Deaths - platforming!

That lasts for a while. I even chuckled once or twice when, in reach of the level exit, the game throws something unreasonably harsh at you. Dead. Do it again. Ho ho!

But I imagine most people will reach a point at which the part company with the game. The problem, to my mind, isn’t increasing difficulty – though it does get tougher, obviously – but that the levels get too long.

It never becomes less than satisfying to master yet another tricky section of a level, but when the game doesn’t even let you know how much more you’ve got to persevere to reach the exit, it’s hard to keep committing time to it. And coming back later isn’t an enticing prospect, since you’ll have to virtually relearn the timings and so on.

774 Deaths - running!

So about half way through the nine rooms and 33 doors, after more than 600 deaths, I’d had enough. Not angry, not frustrated, just a bit bored of it.

For 69p – the all too brief promotional launch price – it would be a recommendable little bugger. But now at full price – £2.49 – it’s a tougher sell.

Version: iPhone
iTunes App Store: £2.49

Mar 30
By Jake In Mobile Round Up No Comments

Interesting tales at both ends of the App Store this week. Angry Birds Space achieved 10 million downloads in three days, a story so important that literally every site on the internet reported it.

At the other extreme, one-man developer Mr Qwak had his well-received iOS game Retro Racing removed from the App Store for what amounted to a banking error, then thankfully reinstated, albeit a few days later. His account of the removal and subsequent reinstatement is admirably balanced, and offers a fascinating insight into indie development.

Anyway, onto a couple of games that don’t really need any more coverage, but I feel compelled to write about.

Beat Sneak Bandit
version: iPhone

Beat Sneak Bandit

I’m awful at rhythm-action games, and I know it. But every few years, a game too interesting to ignore comes along, convincing me to give the genre another try. Space Channel 5 was one. Loved the look and sound of the game; bloody awful at it. Hence misery.

Beat Sneak Bandit is the latest: it’s achingly stylish, and the sneak-to-the-beat premise is inspired. It’s funny, and the levels are exquisitely designed.

Yet I just can’t deal with it. It’s hard work for me: I can manage a couple of levels before my concentration falls, and I begin to fall out of time with the beat – through a combination of ineptitude and impatience – and get stuck there.

It’s completely my fault. The game is outstanding, but I just can’t enjoy it like I want to. Highly frustrating.

iOS (£1.99)

ZiGGURAT
version: iPhone

ZiGGURAT

ZiGGURAT, on the other hand, has turned out to be something of a slow burner. It’s incredibly simple: you’re the last human alive, standing atop a ziggurat (look it up), armed with a laser rifle, fending off the advancing aliens for as long as possible.

A couple of goes, and you’ll have the measure of it. Next. But there’s a strange appeal. Back I went. A few more goes. And actually, the aiming system – sliding your finger along the bottom of the screen to aim, holding it down longer to charge the shot to a maximum which is maintained just for a moment – is more precise than it perhaps first felt. Failure is my fault.

Not wishing to invoke the name lightly, it’s starting to earn a long term place on my iPhone similar to Canabalt. It may not lend itself to prolonged play, but the simple mechanic, together with distinctive looks and sound, mean it’s always tempting when I’ve got a few minutes to fill.

iOS (£0.69)

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

Mar 02
By Jake In Mobile Games 1 Comment

Gluddle

It’s hard to predict what’s going to make something stand out on the App Store. In the case of Gluddle, it was the screenshot above faintly recalling some Lemon Jelly album artwork. It’s quite the stylish game, to my eye.

It’s more physics-based fun, in this case launching bouncy balls (‘Gluddle’) to knock into targets (‘The Supervision’). Handily, you can freeze a Gluddle in mid-air whenever you like, to bounce subsequent Gluddle off. Less handily, The Supervision can also freeze Gluddle if they stay in their gaze too long.

Gluddle

As usual, levels slowly become more complicated – by the likes of black holes and transporters. And of course there are targets on time and number of Gluddles used.

What’s nice is that not all of the levels are highly orchestrated. There are levels with targets such that there’s only really one solution, but also more free-form levels. These have much higher targets, letting you freeze Gluddle all over the place and improvise your way to completion.

This plays neatly on the chaotic nature of the physics, where a small change to the launch angle can result in a very different path for your Gluddle several bounces later. It’s like throwing a bouncy ball very hard indoors and seeing what it smashes. Fun, in other words.

The only sticking point is the price. Peanuts in absolute terms, yes, but three times the price of many equally good one-screen physics-based games? It’s a tough market out there.

Version: iPhone
App Store: £1.99

Feb 24
By Jake In Mobile Games 1 Comment

Beat Hazard Ultra

Beat Hazard Ultra looks fantastic, with its neon explosions and swirling backgrounds, and sounds – well, it sounds as good as your iTunes library. Which in my case is excellent, I’ll have you know.

Here’s the twist: the soundtrack you choose is used to generate the on-screen action. More going on aurally means more going on visually, affecting the enemies, your firepower, and the backgrounds. Volume power-ups heighten the effect, and there are others to increase your multiplier, smart bombs and so forth.

Beat Hazard Ultra

The action matches the music enough to convince, but not too much to hamper the game. There’s a lot of fun to be had just playing around with different types of music; Girls Aloud work fantastically, Fanfarlo less so.

There’s a choice of single and twin stick control. Shooting is automatic with a single stick, leaving you to duck and dive – but mainly just enjoy the visualisation effects, as the auto-firing is fearsomely accurate. It’s inevitably a more challenging beast with twin sticks. Either way, the virtual controls are surprisingly unproblematic; it’s hard to quantify exactly what makes them work where others don’t, but they’re responsive, accurate and unobtrusive.

They need to be, too, particularly for the boss enemies. The pace varies hugely, not always entirely based on the music, but at times you’re faced with a screen full of hell. Which, as every gamer knows, is a good thing.

It’s a fun visualiser, then, but also a very nice shooter. And all that by one man UK studio Cold Beam Games. Ludicrously impressive stuff.

Version: iPhone
App Store: £0.69

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.

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