Posts Tagged ‘iOS’

Dash Race (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dash RaceThe App Store description for Dash Race notes that it is based on “a popular paper game that can be played everywhere at anytime”. So that begs the question, why would you bother paying for an iPhone/iPad app version of it? To save paper of course! Ok, that’s perhaps not the best way to sell a game but thankfully there are more reasons to consider giving Dash Race a go.

The premise for Dash Race is harder to explain than it is to actually understand. Your vehicle is represented by a series of lines (or dashes if you will) and crosses. The “track” is overlaid on graph paper, the game uses various rules to take in to account speed and all that jazz. You don’t have to worry too much about the background stuff but by thinking ahead you can try and determine how fast to go to take the next corner with minimal fuss. This is done by choosing how much you will extend the line representing where you will travel to next. It sounds a bit complicated but once you’ve taken your turn a couple of times the idea soon clicks.

The “rules” of Dash Race take a little time to figure out but there’s a surprising depth to them which isn’t immediately clear. They inspire a somewhat foolish overconfidence which quite easily results in many, many crashes. This is of course the likely scenario for everyone and not just the rather simple person writing this review. Ahem.

Once the games complexity reveals itself there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from the races. Despite the fairly low-fi presentation, a close race can be just as tense to watch as the real thing, you’ll soon forget you’re just watching a few colourful lines on virtual graph paper. Up to four vehicles can be involved in a race (controlled by AI or other people) and those are usually the most exciting races to be had. It might sound crazy to say a game about graph paper can be exciting but it really can be! As two or three of you try to squeeze around one corner at a time, leaving one of you with no choice but to risk slamming into a wall by taking the turn far too wide.

Dash Race is certainly not for everyone, it’s a tactical racing game which aside from sounding a bit weird is not an idea many will want to give a go. But if you think you can use your imagination to turn those little crosses and dashes into high-speed automobiles hurtling down a racetrack then you may just want to check this one out. Don’t forget you’ll be saving on a ton of paper too, the trees will thank you for it.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Battleheart (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Role playing games on iOS often have trouble trying to balance the fact they are on a mobile device with the in-depth nature of the genre. Some developers disregard this concern and go all in, making an RPG much like those you would find on PC or a home console. Then there are games like Battleheart which simplify the formula while still keeping some of that much needed depth.

Battleheart sets players up with a team of up to four characters who must defeat evil forces – the usual fantasy stuff. The make-up of this party is entirely up to the player. There are a handful of classes to choose from, each with their own speciality. Clerics heal, Barbarians deal damage, Wizards specialise in magic and so on. You can mix and match the classes as you see fit, and new recruits can be found at the Tavern to bolster your ranks if you fancy a change. It allows for a good bit of variety and often requires a rethinking of tactics.

Once you have your team assembled, it’s off to battle. During the game’s fights, each character is controlled directly. It’s a simple case of placing your finger over the character and dragging them to the enemy you wish to attack or the place you want them to move to. It’s an incredibly intuitive control method and allows the screen to remain relatively free of any clutter. There are some issues when characters get too close together, making it difficult for the game to determine who you are trying to control. In addition to basic attacks, each class has special abilities, which you can access by tapping on that specific character. Stronger abilities are unlocked as your characters level up, which they do individually by gaining experience points for each battle.

This is the crux of Battleheart, at certain points of the game you will come across a stage – perhaps containing a stronger boss character – which will prove more difficult than previous battles. In order to best the level, you will have to replay earlier stages to gain more experience points and improve your characters. The game is all about upgrading, whether it’s your party members or the equipment they use. It can sometimes become a grind but it’s a testament to the core gameplay that it takes a long time for that grind to set in. In fact, if played in short bursts, the grind may never set in at all.

The visuals in Battleheart are gorgeous, the art style is simple but executed perfectly. Coupled with fluid animation, it’s a wonder to look at. The entire game, from menus to characters, looks sharp and expertly crafted. They give the game a great deal of charm and personality.

Battleheart is perfect for those looking to get an RPG fix on the go, without having to worry about an intricate story or a ton of complicated gameplay systems. Even with its minor control niggles there’s plenty of fun to be had, from the battle system and the lure of one more battle to level up that Wizard.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

They came from the deep (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

They came from the deepWhen looking at They Came From The Deep it would be unfair not to take into account how it was created. Birmingham City University are currently offering a “Gamer Camp” course, this game was created by some students on the one month “Nano” version. With the first week being pure tuition, this means the game was created in around three weeks.

They Came From The Deep is a tower defence game, very similar in style to the incredibly popular Plants vs Zombies from developer Popcap. Enemies, in this case sea creatures rather than zombies, stroll slowly from the right side of the screen to the left. It’s up to you to use the various defences at your disposal to stop them. You must collect treasure coins which randomly appear on the beach to pay for your various contraptions. Deciding when to stockpile them for a more powerful defence and when to go on a spending spree is the key to success.

As one might expect from a game created in just under 3 weeks, They Came From The Deep isn’t as refined and polished as Plants vs Zombies. That being said it is mightily impressive in it’s execution. The art in the game is simple but surprisingly high quality, with some lovely painted backdrops and charming enemy designs.

Gameplay can be a bit slow to ramp up, a problem which Plants vs Zombies suffered from too. Since each level starts from scratch you’ll have to amass your stockpile coins again and rebuild all your defences, which is fine except this means each level takes around a minute or so to really get going. The pace of the game in general is very slow, even when there are a lot of enemies on screen there’s rarely a sense of urgency. Whether that suits you or not will be down to the individual player but impatient players probably won’t appreciate it.

They Came From The Deep feels very much like a proof of concept, it’s short and doesn’t really end, rather once you get to the end of the last level it just stops. That being said, as a showcase of what can be done in less than 3 weeks it’s very impressive indeed. It’s easy to imagine the potential outcomes if these students were given a little more time and resources. The app is free so there’s no reason not to check it out.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

The problem with touch controls (Article)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Chrono TriggerRecently I started playing the iOS version of Chrono Trigger, the classic Super Nintendo role playing game. The port is well done, for the most part, the visuals are perhaps a little muddy but not to the extent they detract from the experience. I’m usually wary of iOS ports of games originally played with a controller but being a turn based RPG I expected the translation to touch controls to be a fairly easy one.

For those unfamiliar with the game, depending on how much exploration you do, the first half an hour or so of Chrono Trigger is fairly low on combat. As such this section of the game required use of the bane of many an iOS game, the virtual analog stick. Personally any kind of virtual replacement for physical buttons almost instantly puts me off, but in this case I was ok with it because I knew the majority of the important gameplay would not require it.

Little did I know there were a few instances were precision and speed would be needed, something that is not the virtual stick’s strong suit. The problem with virtual analog sticks, d-pads, and buttons is the lack of tactile feedback. When using an actual analog stick for example you can feel out the directions and know how much give you have based on how easy it is to move the stick and how much the stick pushes back. Current technology on smartphones and other touch devices just can’t give that kind of feedback.

In this particular case the issue could easily have been overcome with, simply by adjusting the few sections that require precise use of the analog stick to compensate. I think developers should always tailor their game to the platform. However it seems Square-Enix decided to keep the port as faithful as possible rather than change things for the sake of the platform it was porting to.

If you look at some of the most popular iOS games, they all use the unique aspects of the platform, rather than tailor an established type of gameplay to platform it wasn’t designed for. DoodleJump uses the iPhones acceleratometer (or gyro) to create an simple yet engaging take on high score orientated games. The beauty of a game like this is that it requires almost no instruction. Give someone DoodleJump for 30 seconds and they will know exactly what they’re doing. If you need a five minute tutorial to explain the ten different virtual sticks and buttons then you’ve failed in making an iOS game. You’ve made a PSP game and released it on the wrong platform.

In the case of Chrono Trigger the touch aspects added to the game just don’t work very well and are not intuitive. Menus can technically be navigated by touch but they do not react the way one would expect, in fact it is often easier to use the virtual stick to navigate them. When using a virtual stick to navigate a menu on a touch screen is the easier option, something is very wrong.

I’m not saying virtual controls can’t work, games like Dead Space managed to get the controls about as right as one could hope. Michael had no real complaints about those in the recent GTAIII port, so they can be done well. It can’t just be a case of shoving a virtual analog stick in there and hoping it all works for the best. Developers need to put a little more thought into the process than that.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Star Marine: Infinite Ammo (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Star-Marine-2Star Marine: Infinite Ammo is a fairly apt title for this iOS shooter. It’s a generic hodge-podge of standard iOS conventions in the form of a side-scrolling shooter. Oh, and if you were wondering about the subtitle, your main weapon has infinite ammo for some reason.

Gameplay consists of guiding your titular Star Marine from the left side of the screen to the right. Along the way you will face increasingly large hordes of enemies, which you’ll want to dispatch quickly to build up a highscore and combo meter. This is particularly important here because you earn gems as you hit certain score milestones. These gems allow you to purchase upgrades, weapons and various items. Being an iOS game you can also buy these gems for a fee, allowing you to get a little extra progress without having to grind through levels.

The difficulty in first few levels is inconsistent to say the least. At times it can be hard to get through an encounter without taking damage, especially bosses. On other occasions you can quite easily stand at one end of a room and hold down fire until all waves of enemies are defeated, with absolutely no danger of being attacked. As a result feelings within levels range from boredom to frustration with little to no fun or challenge in between.

To make the bosses easier it is almost essential to purchase a new weapon or upgrade. As otherwise they are quite a chore, with health bars which drain far too slowly. But earning gems takes longer than one would hope, so using the micro-transaction system almost feels necessary at times. Without that purchase it is likely you will have to play through the first couple of levels a few times to upgrade your Marine or buy a more powerful weapon. It’s also worth noting that those weapons have limited ammo, which can be replenished at very specific points in a level, so even purchasing them can’t guarantee you’ll have an easier time.

Star Marine‘s art style, much like its name, is fairly generic. It’s colourful enough but it doesn’t have much identity, it wouldn’t be hard to find a handful of other iOS shooters with very similar styles. It isn’t particularly well animated either, looking a little like an older flash game in movement. However the backgrounds within levels are often impressively attractive, especially in the later levels. It’s a shame the same aesthetic doesn’t apply to the rest of the game.

Directional range of your weapon is arbitrarily restricted to eight directions, which isn’t initially clear as the onscreen analog stick doesn’t indicate such a restriction. This often makes trying to aim a little more frustrating than it should be as you can’t always tell how far you have to go to get to the next pre-determined direction. The ability to fire freely in any direction would certainly make some of the more hectic encounters a little more bearable (and feel less cheap).

With very little originality and fun in short supply, there’s not much reason to recommend Star Marine. It has recently received an update to speed up the gameplay and slightly lessen the milestones needed to unlock gems. Sadly, it needs more work than that to improve the core experience. As it is, there are just better games on iOS worth your time and money.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Game Dev Story (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

My game studio “Shaved Zebra” is fairly well known at this point (perhaps you’ve heard of our hit game Mystery Quest?). On a whim I decide we should make a wrestling sim for the Intendro Super IES called Grapple Guys. To my surprise it turns out to be a huge critical and commercial success selling over 2.9 million copies.

This isn’t some bizarre fanfiction you’re reading, this scenario occurred during my first playthrough of Game Dev Story on the iPhone. In the vein of Theme Hospital or Zoo Tycoon, Game Dev Story is a simulation game. As you may have guessed you take charge of a game development studio. As the head of the studio you are tasked with hiring and firing staff aswell as decided which type of game to make and on which system.

The actual gameplay is pretty simple as you might expect, you click through lots of menus. The real fun comes from making choices. Should you make a niche game for PC to try and build your fanbase? Or should you go straight for a popular genre on the industry leading console and make some money? Once this decision is made your staff will start working away on your game, injecting it with “fun”, “creativity”, “graphics” and “sound” (bugs also get acquired during this stage).

To maximise each of these four stats for your game you need to pick the correct member of staff to lead certain areas of development. So what seems like a simple game at first you will soon realise takes a surprising amount of thought.  You’ll also have to take advertising into account, both before and after the release of your game as you’ll want to create some hype and gain some new fans before you ship.

For $3.99/£2.39 Game Dev Story is certainly worth a download, it’s remarkably insightful at times as I found out once Grapple Guys became a huge hit.

I immediately put the studio to work on a sequel but decided to use the money we’d made to hire some third party help in designing the games graphics and music. This also meant my staff wouldn’t become as tired from making two games so close together. Grapple Guys 2 got better review scores than its predecessor and sold 3.2 million copies. Now to get to work on Grapple Guys 3…

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Dungeon Raid (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dungeon Raid is a match three puzzle game with a twist, much like the Puzzle Quest series it lays RPG elements on top of the proven puzzle formula. And as those games have shown that is a formula that can lead to exceedingly addictive games. It takes a slightly different (although no less addictive) approach than the Puzzle Quests however, in order to match the items on the grid you simply use your finger to draw a line connecting them. You can even draw lines diagonally, which can open up huge chains giving bonuses with certain items.

Dungeon Raid Screenshot 1

The game should be easy to pick-up for anyone familiar with the match three concept. Rather than matching gems there are varying items, potions which restore health, shields which restore armour, coins which give money for upgrades and swords which when matched with skulls (which represent enemies) will do damage to the enemy. Collection money and shields will allow you to buy new equipment or upgrade the stuff you already have. While killing enemies will net you experience points, gaining levels will then allow you to upgrade your stats. It isn’t the most in depth but there is certainly enough RPG minutia here to keep you engaged.

Dungeon Raid is a score-attack game, while it’s Puzzle Quest-esque trappings may suggest otherwise there is no story or epic quest to speak of. When starting a new game a random paragraph of text will explain your situation, whether it be that have you taken up adventuring to pay a debt or you have stumbled across a hidden labyrinth in the desert. This minimalist approach benefits Dungeon Raid greatly as it encourages replayability. There is no persistence to your character, any upgrades or levels you acquire in a game will not carry over once you start a new game. A mode which allowed for some level or persistence would have been welcome but the game as it is doesn’t suffer without such a feature.

After a few games you’ll find yourself thinking more strategically, should you attack the boss enemy or go for the corner full of health potions? The game is a constant juggling act as you try to keep the board clear of enemies while also trying to keep yourself alive and continue upgrading your character. You will unlock powers which grant abilities such as collecting all the coins in play or changing all skulls to swords. Choosing which of these powers you want and when to use them adds yet another layer of intricacy to the gameplay.

Dungeon Raid Screenshot 2

For those looking for a Puzzle Quest like experience without the need to play a mutli-hour story Dungeon Raid is definitely worth checking out. On normal difficulty games can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, allowing for an excellent bite-size experience.

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

For the love of… Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (Article)

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Broken SwordBroken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, on the surface it’s a fairly standard point and click adventure game, like your Monkey Islands or Day of the Tentacles. You collect various objects, which you’ll use to solve puzzles, ask people questions or just keep in your pocket for posterity. That said, since I first played it almost 15 years ago it has remained one of my favourite games. A wonderful tale of intrigue, conspiracy and adventure told via a beautiful cartoon style, Shadow of the Templars is a true classic in my mind.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Broken Sword tells the story of George Stobbart, an American tourist traveling across Europe. When we join him he is relaxing outside a quaint little cafe in Paris. Things quickly start to go wrong as a creepy clown playing some suitably menacing accordion music shows up. Swiping a fellow cafe patron’s briefcase and leaving his suspiciously beeping accordion in its place, as he quickly flees down an alley. Before anyone can react, a thunderous explosion erupts from the cafe. Thankfully, George survives with barely a scratch and quickly sets about investigating just why a clown would want to bomb a Parisian cafe.

This opening is all presented in a colourful but simple animated sequence, which remains one of my favourite game intros. Accompanied by the elegant orchestral score of Barrington Pheloung [who wrote the cracking Inspector Morse theme too – Ed], the scene sets up the tone of the game perfectly. We quickly go from a gorgeous sweeping vista of Paris to a playful moment in front of a cafe, only for things to take a nasty turn as the explosion rips through the scene. Broken Sword keeps this feel throughout the game, a fun, joke-filled adventure that at the same time can be dark and mature.

The writing is exceptionally witty, George has a brilliantly sarcastic and dry sense of humour and his narration of events is filled with hilarious one liners. Characters outside of George and Nico (the other main character) are painted with broad strokes, all simple archetypes; the dopey policeman, misogynistic workman. This might sound like a bad thing but it works surprisingly well here, thanks again to the fantastic script. Broken Sword is a rare game in which a large bulk of it’s cast of side characters are eternally memorable. Emboldened by some pretty good, if occasionally hammy, voice acting.

Then there’s the overall plot, which sees George follow the mystery of the Knights Templar all over Europe. Don’t worry if you don’t know much about the (very real) Knights Templar, the game isn’t afraid to give you a history lesson or two. An excellent mix of real historical events and a gripping modern conspiracy, there are plenty of twists, turns and revelations to enjoy throughout. This isn’t a short game either, it’ll take around ten hours to finish, more if you are someone who likes to click on every single interactive object. A perfectly acceptable thing to do just to hear what George has to say.

While some of it’s visual aspects may not have aged all that well, Broken Sword is still a delight to look to at. Every scene has a marvelous hand-painted background which have all held onto their charm, even if they have lost a bit of fidelity over the years. The character art was never especially detailed but they remain exceptionally well animated and affable, if a bit blurry in their old age. You can still appreciate the craft and ambition that went into making the game look like an animated film.

In my personal gaming history, Broken Sword is the game which showed me games are not only a viable avenue for storytelling but can be bloody good at it too. Having played mostly 2D platforming and action games on my Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, it was quite a revelation. Before I played The Shadow of the Templars I didn’t think game stories got much more complex than King Koopa kidnapping that poor Princess again. Some might argue that there are better ways to tell stories in games. I’d be inclined to agree, but that doesn’t stop me getting engrossed in Broken Sword every time I play it.

A director’s cut of Broken Sword has been released on various platforms in the last couple of years, sadly it made some changes to the game that make one wonder if George Lucas was involved. So if you are interested in trying the game out, I’d recommend grabbing it on Good Old Games, as those lovely chaps have included the original version for free with the less than great director’s cut.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: , , ,

Hard Lines (iOS Review)

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Hard LinesWe all know it. That age old question we’ve all longed to be answered; what would happen if you crossed Tron Light Cycles with Snake. Thankfully Hard Lines answers that question and answers it well.

If you aren’t familiar with either Snake or Tron don’t fret as Hard Lines is very easy to understand. You control a small white dot which leaves a coloured line in it’s wake as it moves across the grid which is your playfield. Simple. A simple swipe in the direction you want it to move is all you need. There are a couple of other control methods but swiping is by far the most responsive and satisfying.

So why exactly are you swiping your little white dot around a grid? Well that all depends on the game mode you’re playing and there’s quite a few to choose from. The default Survival mode sees you trying to gain a high score by collecting bits (small coloured dots). You’ll also be trying to simultaneously avoid and destroy computer controlled dots. That’s where the Light Cycle part comes in, you’ll need to use your coloured trail to trap your enemies. Difficulty ramps up at a steady and satisfying pace with more and more enemies entering the fray as your score increases. You may not even realise there are other modes because Survival will get it’s “just one more go” hook into you.

Deadline is the second mode and plays much like Survival except you can die as much as you want but you only have three minutes to get as high a score as you can. Time Attack is once again much like Survival but this time you have to collect bits in order to keep your timer going all the while chasing that high score.

Piñata is where things start to get shaken up a bit, in this mode you can only get bits by killing enemies. It turns your innocent white dot into quite the mass murderer, but seeing all those bits spill out feels so good. Gauntlet is by far the craziest mode in the game, the screen is literally filled with enemies. It may look pretty but it’s incredibly manic and tense, the slightest wrong move can be disastrous. While fun for a few rounds Gauntlet is definitely the least compelling of Hard Lines‘ modes.

Finally there’s Snake, which is exactly what you expect. Anyone who has had a Nokia phone over the past decade will no doubt have played Snake, and it’s various incarnations, to death. The only enemy here is yourself, as collecting bits makes your colour trail grow meaning the higher your score gets the harder it becomes to navigate the grid. It’s a faithful adaption of the classic game and just as addictive as it ever was.

Hard Lines is wonderfully charming. It’s bright neon visuals are simple but a joy to look at. The retro, synth-laced soundtrack isn’t especially original but it’s fun and is at the very least not annoying. For a game centring around a white dot it has tons of personality too, most of it coming from said little speck. Your dot constantly spouts jokes or just random quips and facts. It can be a tad distracting at first and the humour doesn’t always hit home but for the most part it’s an entertaining and welcome surprise.

If Hard Lines only had Survival mode on offer it would be more than easy to recommend. The fact it has so many other modes, the majority of which are equally as fun and addictive, makes it a must buy.

So, what do you get when you cross Tron Light Cycles with Snake? As it turns out a rather fun and addictive iOS game with great sense of style and charm.

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,