Review By Drew Bower at 21:06 on 13/12/2013 - 0 comments
Tags: G5 Entertainment, Awem Studio, Hidden Object, Casual, In-app Purchases
Having reviewed the two previous Letters From Nowhere titles, and been left feeling underwhelmed on each occasion, I was curious to see if Awem Studio had finally delivered something special. Spoiler alert: They haven’t.
To quickly recap on the previous two games, they are very traditional hidden object games that had no real inherent faults and actually had some nice ideas such as the use of ‘power ups’ that temporarily helped you out. But they just didn’t have the gloss to make them into something worth recommending. Thus, one might assume that if you were charged with creating a follow up, adding that extra sparkle whilst keeping the same solid gameplay would be the way to go.
Awem Studio evidently disagree with that theory to the point they poured lighter fluid onto it, set it on fire and then washed the embers down the toilet. If only they actually added a bit of fire and action into the gameplay, it might have actually helped!
I’ve waffled on long enough already without actually pointing out why this game is so utterly pointless. Initially things start out quite normal, being dropped into a map with various locations and entering into the first scene. The warning signs begin right away though with just three totally random objects given to find.
Back on the map and little icons begin to appear on the left side of the screen indicating special items that are in some way part of the story narrative. Although that should be taken very loosely as it’s nothing more than a sentence or two and well, as you will find out shortly, don’t really make much of a story. You tap on one and are directed towards the location it supposedly is currently hiding. However instead of finding that one particular item, you are instead given just six objects to find, none of which are the story related item.
After finding them and are taken back to the map screen, you are told you’ve found the special item and are ready to move on to the next one. You also begin to accumulate random parts of numerous collections – you get them for a variety of reasons from finding items in a combo, to simply playing the game for five days straight. There was even one collection that needed to be earned by playing the game five days in a row at any time between the hours of midnight and 5am! I don’t know which is more worrying – the fact that someone might actually do it, or that I somehow found myself playing the game during those hours one night to discover its existence...
What quickly dawns on you when playing is that the game is centred around making in-app purchases. Puzzles can only be opened when you’ve found enough black cats, extra locations can only be visited once you’ve purchased them or found enough stamps and are at a high enough level... As always with these types of games, you can play through the game without spending a penny, but the truth is you’re going to have to grind your way for hour upon hour that way. Which makes this game very curious: Why on earth would anyone pay to speed up a hidden object game – and not a very good one at that – when there are a multitude of much better HOG’s to play that have a proper storyline and structure?
It’s not often that I struggle to find at least something positive to say about a game, but in this case I genuinely am stumped. As a hidden object game, it’s pretty standard and suffers from many of the genres worst faults such as stupidly placed objects that constantly repeat along with the same locations. The story is a stretch to say the least and the whole idea of grinding through a hidden object game leaves me totally bemused.
Tank Domination Blasts Onto iPad
News By Chris OToole at 17:01 on 10/12/2013 - 0 comments
Tags: Tank Domination, iPad, iOS, iPhone, Free
Tank Domination has now released for the whole iPad product line, starting from iPad 2 and including iPad Mini. The project was developed on the Unity engine, which has resulted in graphics quality unprecedented for tablet games and a stable refresh rate more akin to that enjoyed by PC players.
The game gives players the opportunity to prove themselves in team tank battles on maps of 1 square kilometer. Two teams of up to 10 people each can fight in one battle. The widest range of modern warfare is available in the game, divided into four classes: light, medium, heavy tanks, and artillery.
Players can upgrade all the vehicles and equip them with various combat devices of their choice, adjusting their tanks according to their own unique style of play. All this, as well as a variety of landscapes, partially destructible environment, and a well-designed system of damaging the individual tank modules, forms a unique gameplay, which will be interesting for single players, and also for the fans of multiplayer team battles. You'll also be able to design and test a large number of different tank battle tactics.
Tank Domination is planned to be updated regularly, which will give users unlimited development opportunities to help them one up their chums.
An Android release is promised next year (again!)
Createrria Lets You Make Any Game You Want
News By Chris OToole at 16:40 on 10/12/2013 - 2 comments
Tags: iPhone, iPad, iOS, Android, Free
Createrria, apart from being nearly unpronounceable wants to turn the fun and joy of making games in to a game itself. You'll be able to become an instant game designer by creating the games you always wanted to play (penis space invaders) or construct your own improved version of world famous franchises (also penis space invaders). Whether you want to tell a story, create an awesome action game maybe you have a great idea for a puzzle game or platformer, you can go right ahead and make it with Createrria offers quick and easy tools to create any game you want without any technical or programming skills. Seems those of us with poo brains will be well catered for.
“Nowadays you can create almost anything on mobile devices; Take photos, paint, compose music, even shape virtual pottery – you name it. But until now there hasn’t really been a good app for game creation. We want to change that with Createrria. And remember, this is meant for players, not developers.” commented Jakub Duda, Incuvo co-founder.
“I often start Createrria early in the morning just to check new crazy game ideas that appeared in the community the previous night. It’s a great feeling when players surprise you with new creations.” said Wojciech Borczyk, Incuvo’s second co-founder.
Want to create that great 8-bit classic? Then the Pixel Art Theme is for you. How about a Grimm fairy tale with a twist? The Fable Theme is what you’re after. Featuring a variety of powerful and easy-to-use tools, all the graphic styles in Createrria comes with its own set of backgrounds, terrain, items and enemies, did I mention penises?
Already the recipient of critical acclaim including making the final of the ‘Game Connection 2012 Best Project’ Createrria is hoping to unlock the game making dreams of aspiring creators everywhere.
Createrria is out now as a free download for Apple devices, and will be released next year for Android.
Review By Dale Morgan at 12:17 on 25/11/2013 - 3 comments
Tags: iOS, Card game, Playdek, Fluxx, Review
In this modern age of electronics, it’s sometimes easy to forget the basic joys provided by more low-tech pursuits. Whether it’s sitting down with the rest of your family for a roast dinner on a Sunday instead of sticking something in the microwave or feeding the ducks in the local park instead of flinging grumpy avians at malevolent pigs, sometimes it can feel like we have things a little too easy these days and have lost some of the more simple pleasures in life.
One of these simple pleasures is card and board games, which have fallen by the wayside for many.
Thank God for smartphones and tablets, then. In a majestic meeting of old and new, many classic games have been enjoying a new lease of life, reincarnated in bits and bytes instead of decks and dice.
Fluxx is one of those games, developed by Playdek, who has made a name itself with quality digital versions of popular physical games.
If you’re not aware of it, Fluxx is a card game where the rules and goals continually evolve as you play, as decided by the players themselves and what cards they put down on the table. To an outsider, it can look bafflingly complex on a first look at a game in full-swing; but in reality it’s no more difficult to learn than that perennial family favourite, Uno.
Each player starts by being dealt 3 cards. At the start of your turn, you draw one card from a deck shared by all players. Cards are split into certain categories – a “Goal” card, when played, establishes the win condition for all players and is always to have a combination of two cards – called “Keepers” – in play that match the requirements. “Action” cards can be played, forcing other players to draw a card, swap their hands, remove or introduce certain cards from play, etc. You then have “Rule” cards, and it’s here where the often chaotic joy of the game lies.
Initially, there is only one rule to consider at the start of your turn – draw one card, play one card. A fresh game doesn’t even have a predetermined goal to start with – players set that themselves by playing certain cards, and it continually changes throughout the course of play. However, very soon the rules will change. That “Draw one, play one” starting rule will suddenly change to “draw four, play all except one” before changing to “draw four, but you may only have two cards in your hand at a time and now you have a choice of two different goals to aim for and can only have two Keepers in play at a time”, etc. etc. If a new rule card is played which contradicts an existing rule, the existing rule is removed from play and returned to the bottom of the deck – unless another rule or action removes it from the game entirely, of course.
With all of these rules, goals and actions being played with every turn, things can quickly take a turn for the riotously complex, until someone plays a card that junks all the rules currently in play and returns the game to its original “draw one, play one” stage. This is a game in constant motion, hence the name.
It might sound as though all of this chaos makes it impossible to play tactically and to a large degree that’s correct – the sheer unpredictability of it renders it impossible to set down and stick to long-term plans and just as you think you’re close to achieving a victory, someone else will swoop in and scupper your chances by stealing one of your Keepers or changing the goal or rules. But once you’re familiar with the game, you’ll realise that it’s precisely this unpredictability that allows you to block your opponents from winning. If you think another player is getting close to victory, change the goal. Do they have a Keeper in play that you want? Steal it. You can go from feeling like there is no hope of winning to triumphantly playing a card and taking victory in the space of a single turn and with the maximum of four players, games are brief enough that they don’t overstay their welcome and become stale.
The digital translation is very well produced. It’s incredibly faithful to the physical game. The artstyle is largely identical and while some small adjustments have been made, the deck contents are also consistent. Whichever form you learn to play in, you can carry over that experience and knowledge to the other. Graphics are fairly simple, as is to be expected from a game where the action largely consists of drawing and playing cards, but attention has been given to some subtle areas such as animation, ensuring that everything remains clear and easy to follow (essential in a game where things can escalate in complexity at the click of the fingers) and it’s all bright, colourful and well laid-out. New players are brought up to speed with the game via an excellent and simple tutorial which will ensure that you are fluent with the rules in five minutes flat.
Sound is a slightly mixed bag – individual cards have their own sound effects reflecting their contents – so a stereo will play a short blast of music, a love heart will come with a refrain from a harp – but the music, as pleasant as it is, gets repetitive incredibly fast. You’ll find yourself quickly switching off the music and then the sound effects as it all becomes over-familiar a little too quickly. A little more variety in terms of the music and effects would have been welcome.
In addition, you’ll become very familiar with the cards rather quickly. There isn’t a huge selection in the deck and within a handful of games you’ll have seen every card on offer. While this keeps the game simple and easy to learn as well as assisting in your limited tactical options, it’s disappointing that many of the additional supplemental decks available for the physical game (there are variants based on Zombies, Pirates, Sci-Fi and even Cthulhu which are all compatible with each other and can be swapped in or out as wanted) aren’t available as in-app purchases. This may change in future, but at this point the game has been available for quite a while with no additions or expansions released. It’s a little disappointing, but the basic game is fun enough that you won’t tire of it as soon as you might think.
The AI can also be a bit flaky and prone to strange moves that can seem counter-productive. Luckily, the game is blessed with both local and online play, and the ability to have multiple games in progress at the same time with definable time limits means that you shouldn’t find yourself waiting endlessly with nothing to do because another player is taking their time. Also in a nice touch, if a player drops out of the game they are instantly replaced by an AI player that picks up exactly where they left off, meaning that you shouldn’t see a game cut short simply because one player has left after throwing a tantrum at having a win stolen from them at the last moment.
At a very reasonable £1.99 on the App Store, there’s a lot of enjoyment here to be had for the price. While the presentation is simple and there are concerns with the AI, for a fun five-minute burst there is plenty to recommend - particularly if you like card and board games but don’t have the luxury of having some friends on hand to satisfy those times when you just want to indulge in the simple joys of playing something that doesn’t involve blowing things up.
Version Tested: iPad
Also available on: Other iThings
Mega Dead Pixel Review
Review By Dale Morgan at 03:14 on 22/11/2013 - 0 comments
Tags: Chillingo, About Fun Games, iOS, Android, Endless Faller
Accompanied by a thumping 8-bit dance track, I fall endlessly.
I move a bit to the left, brushing past a pixelated pair of headphones. I suddenly move to the right and that UFO blossoms from pure black to multi-coloured glory. I am rewarded with a satisfying sound effect and a ding notifies me that I’ve completed a mission. My appetite for pixels fed, I grow huge and surge downwards crashing through everything in my way, shrinking with every collision until I am miniscule; but then I pick up a pistol and shoot through any obstacles blocking my descent, until suddenly I crash into a single pixel and die.
And then I go off to buy a pirate hat for my avatar with the coins I’ve accrued during my many lives.
Welcome to Mega Dead Pixel, the latest breakout hit from mobile publisher Chillingo and developer About Fun Games. And it is glorious.
Billing itself as “The world’s first Addictive Arcade Retro Pixel Endless Faller”, the premise is actually simple and not as complicated as that mouthful of a phrase suggests. You’re a pixel that has escaped from a computer, endlessly falling through data and attempting to collect other pixels on the way, which are organised into shapes. This s accomplished either by brushing up next to them as you pass – labelled “painting” – or crashing through them, at which time your avatar will either shrink slightly, or explode if it is already a mere 1x1 size.
Every shape you brush up against or crash through has its pixel count added to your score, and this will be increased by various multipliers depending on your size, speed, whether you narrowly escaped death or have painted multiple shapes in quick succession. On the way down you will also collect "white pixels" which increase your size at the expense of increasing your velocity, or coins which act as one of the game’s virtual currencies. And after you fill up a boost bar, you will automatically grow to a massive size (celebrated with a big on-screen message) and surge down the screen, crashing through everything in your way until you’re small enough that your velocity returns to something more manageable.
Movement is a simple case of tapping left and right, and sensitivity can be altered in the in-game menu. Other options are sparse aside from volume control, but really it’s unlikely you’ll feel the need for more anyway due to the basic simplicity of the game. You won’t feel like you’re being hampered by lack of customisation.
Your pixel also comes with a hat, no doubt inspired by the baffling popularity of virtual headwear after Valve introduced the concept in Team Fortress 2. There are many of these in the game, purchased through coins which are collected throughout your endless drops, and each one provides different benefits and deficits. The Party Pooper hat makes bigger pixels spawn more often, at the expense of only getting 75% of their pixels added to your score, for example.
But hats aren’t the only thing to collect. Oh no – you can buy more shapes to place into the game, buy and upgrade power-ups, purchase worlds – each of which has a unique soundtrack – and more. All of these require those coins you collect on your falls in exponential amounts.
You even unlock wallpaper backgrounds for your device – every pixel you add to your score goes towards filling up a progress bar, similar to levelling up in an RPG. When the bar is filled, a wallpaper and title is unlocked with a fanfare. And with every bar you fill, you unlock access to other things – more hats, more shapes, more power-ups or upgrades to spend those coins on. There is an incredibly well-judged sense of constant reward here that serves to keep you coming back again and again. You’ll die and curse the empty air, then immediately hit “Play” and try again to see if you can do better or beat your friends' scores, thanks to the implementation of leaderboards.
And oh – when you do die, a little message flashes up on screen, like “AM I JUST ANOTHER DEAD PIXEL?” and “DON’T GO INTO THE WHITE PIXELLATED LIGHT”. There are so many of these that you will rarely see the same one twice.
As with many other games of this nature, there are “missions”, completed upon reaching certain milestones or performing certain actions. For example, you might be asked to collect 50 white pixels, or paint 40 headphone shapes. Each mission comes with a coin reward upon completion, and given how they’re tied so closely into different hats and shapes, there’s a simple tactical element in deciding which hat to equip for which situation, and which shape to enable or disable for your next run.
In fact, there is so much to unlock and discover in this game that I could easily fill another 1,000 words and still not cover everything. It’s a huge web of interlocking systems and mechanics.
It has to be said that to start with it can feel like the game is being a bit stingy with the amount of virtual currency you make. This is almost certainly on purpose – in-app purchases allow you to double the value of each coin, or to purchase coins or “megatokens” – used to revive yourself after death and continue your fall – for real money. But if you play tactically, aiming to complete missions (which are the best source of coins), equipping the right hats and enabling the right shapes, you will start to see the coins accrued from each run increase exponentially as you become familiar with the game. Also, the game if free to play and it’s hard to begrudge the surprisingly reasonably-priced in-app purchases for something this good. You never feel like you have to spend real money to get somewhere and you always want to have another go.
All in all, this is an excellent game - well-judged, well-balanced and well-presented. With a huge amount of charm and hightly addictive gameplay, it will see you coming back to it again and again.
Chillingo has made quite a name for itself by publishing quality titles on mobile platforms – Cut The Rope, Pixel People and Contre Jou have shown that they have an excellent eye for spotting quality mobile games that appeal to a broad audience while also providing a good amount of charm, presentation and challenge. With Mega Dead Pixel, they have another mini masterpiece to add to their portfolio.
Version Tested: iPad
Also available on: Android devices, iPhone
Price: Free to play
Shivah: Kosher Edition Review
Review By Chris Grapes at 09:34 on 21/11/2013 - 4 comments
Tags: Shivah, Wadjet Eye, Point and Click, Adventure
Oy gevalt. When Dave Gilbert announced he was remastering his first commercial release from 2006, The Shivah, I said to myself “The chutzpah of this guy. Here he is, a maven of his craft, and he wants to go back and tamper?” I don’t mean to kvetsh, but what’s a meshugener like me going to do?
Thankfully, for us goys who don’t know our schlemiels from our shmendriks, it’s one of the better examples of remastering. Gilbert has wisely avoided overly tampering with things, leaving the mechanics as they were and instead giving it a lick of new graphical paint, and it’s testament to the strength of the underlying game that the overhaul leaves it feeling like a fresh release alongside more recent adventures like Resonance and Gemini Rue.
The game itself has you playing as Rabbi Stone, thoroughly disillusioned with his faith, drowning in debt and one step away from throwing the whole lot in and closing his synagogue. It’s not exactly a conventional setup for a genre that’s usually overflowing with sci-fi or police stories, but that’s partly why it feels so fresh and strong. Even in the best games stories are usually plot before character (if it even has anything resembling a story), but Shivah: Kosher Edition is pretty deeply character driven.
Of course, one pitfall of making such a cultural and specific story is of alienation. Many goyim (that’s non-Jews) who don’t know much about Jewish culture may get confused by some of the references. But in an example of narrative-by-gameplay so clever it should be a textbook example, one of the very first puzzles in the game requires you to read through a Yiddish phrasebook for an answer to a password. It’s learning by doing, discovering the inside culture without even realising it. By the end of the game (which, granted, won’t take very long—with a walkthrough you could probably clock it in about ten to fifteen minutes, though none of the puzzles will have you hung up for very long) even the most gentile will be kosher with the shtick.
That’s not to say the game’s free of problems. The voice acting ranges from okay to horrible, and still retains the obviously-not-recorded-in-a-studio quality of the original release. There are a couple of dialogue puzzles with unpredictable game overs (though an autosave makes them less problematic), and towards the end the game takes a little bit of a crazy turn, which seems a bit at odds with the heavy character-driven nature leading up to it. Yet it also marvelously sends up Monkey Island’s Insult Swordfighting with a bout of Rabbinical Question Boxing.
Shivah: Kosher Edition, in many ways, reminds me of Evil Dead. Not that it’s full of deadites and Bruce Campbell, but that you can see the exploration and innovation inherent in the director. It’s a testbed for the gameplay trends and motifs that make their way into Gilbert’s later work (such as the superb Blackwell series), gradually getting more fleshed out and more confident with each game. Play through them chronologically (especially with the commentary tracks on) and you can almost see the development and maturation of someone who really should be a bigger name in the industry. But, then again, it’s probably more satisfying and wholly nobler to sing to your own tune, putting out games for the love of it. This is what makes Shivah: Kosher Edition so satisfying, even despite its faults. It represents a small corner of the gaming industry that remains unblemished by big business, a testament to bedroom programmers who put art before career, and end up garnering a hell of a lot more respect because of it. I think that’s well worth a few quid on its own.
Fireproof Games opens the door on The Room Two
News By Dale Morgan at 12:48 on 20/11/2013 - 1 comment
Tags: Fireproof Games, The Room Two, iOS, Android, Mobile
Following on from 2012 smash-hit The Room, FireProof Games has revealed that the sequel - unsurprisingly titled The Room Two - will be released for the iPad on 12th December, priced £2.99/ $4.99.
Android and iPhone versions will follow sllightly later in early 2014.
The Room was a big success and picked up a slew of awards and accolades including a BAFTA and Apple's "Game of The Year" award, among many others. So it was quite good then and is highly recommended.
I had the chance to spend some time with an early version of the sequel at the Eurogamer Expo earlier this year and can confirm that it's shaping up to be something quite special, continuing the high production values, excellent atmospherics and clever puzzles that the first game did so well. The Room Two is also much bigger than the original, expanding the puzzling into a number of different areas that you'll move between as you attempt to unlock its mysteries.
Blocky Roads Review
Review By Dale Morgan at 02:43 on 17/11/2013 - 0 comments
Tags: iOS, Review, Blocky Roads
I have a little thing for these sorts of games. Ever since Trials HD turned me on to the simple joys of navigating an obstacle course, I've always been on the lookout for similar games so I can get my vehicle-balancing fix.
I'm a bit rubbish at Trials HD, by the way. There's dents on my living room walls which stand as a testament to that.
iOS is a great source of this sort of stuff. And standing out from the pack right now with its impressive production values is Blocky Roads.
Anyone familiar with Minecraft will recorgnise the visual style right away - everything in the game is made up of cubes with crude textures. Although Blocky Roads is strictly played on a 2D plane, it really goes out of its way to look as good as it can - it's ridiculously attractive, particularly on an iOS device with a Retina screen. The jaunty country tunes also give it plenty of personality, though you'll want to turn them off pretty soon as they repeat themselves past the point of over-familiarity.
Controls here are are simple - on the right hand side of the screen you have acceleration; on the left, you have your brakes. Your basic objective is to reach the end of each 2D course. There's no multiple routes here; what you see is what you get.
On the way, you'll collect coins which can be spent on upgrading areas of your vehicles. There are 4 different upgrades to choose from, each with 10 levels which require exponentially increasing amounts to unlock, but to be honest they don't seem to make a huge amount of difference. In fact more than once I actually thought the game became harder after "improving" a car.
And that's sort of the problem with Blocky Roads. To afford an updrade you will find yourself replaying the same courses over and over again. To unlock a new course, you also need to pay for it - so that's more grinding. The fact that upgrading various aspects of your vehicle don't seem to do much means that it's very easy to get a bit frustrated or feel like you've wasted all those thousands of coins you've accrued. The charm very soon wears off.
The weirdest thing about the game is that after upgrading a vehicle you can often surpass one part of the course which caused you trouble - and the game absolutely loves to throw near-vertical inclines at you - only to suddenly fail on another which previously caused you no problems. Because of this, progress frequently feels as much down to luck than it is to skill, and players may find their will to continue quickly dissipating.
In each course there are 3 chests, evenly spaced. These are unlocked automatically by driving over them and contain things like additional cosmetic upgrades for the Farmyard hub that serves as your home for choosing vehicles and courses, additional visual options for your avatar, or very (very) rarely a new vehicle. If you've collected them before, driving over them again on another run will give you a small coin bonus.
There's a superficial charm to be found in the game, but anyone hoping for gameplay to match the presentation will find themselves disappointed.
It's a bit of a shame really because with the production values on show the developer clearly has some money and time to throw around. It's just a pity that they didn't spend more of it on improving the gameplay instead of the presentation.
Rayman Fiesta Run Review
Review By Dale Morgan at 00:03 on 17/11/2013 - 7 comments
Tags: Ubisoft, Rayman, iOS, Endless runner, Review
Back in the ancient days of the PS1, Saturn and PC when 2D was still a thing and 3D gaming was still just a twinkling little prospect before Mario 64 came along and blew it up into the mainstream, a little character called Rayman made his debut. Moving from 2D, to 3D and back to 2D again, in recent years his star has been in the ascendant thanks to the fantastic Rayman Origins and the more recent Rayman Legends.
Both of those latter titles have also served as the parent of iOS-based Endless Runner games. Rayman Jungle Run, released last year on about every mobile platform under the sun, was an excellent game with only a few minor flaws that set it back from true mobile masterpeice status. But With Rayman Legends having been released on PC and consoles this year (after a lengthy delay), new title Rayman Fiesta Run fixes those flaws and the result is an essential purchase for both casual and serious gamers alike.
The basic setup remains the same: You run through a series of courses, each containing a total of 100 Lums (little smiley-faced... erm... things). The number of Lums collected on each course feeds into your total and goes towards unlocking further courses.
The differences to the previous mobile title here are many though. Firstly, instead of picking levels from a basic menu, here there is something more akin to a world map. Progress towards unlocking courses is still made by the total Lums collected as before, but along the way you will also unlock artwork, additional playable characters and other things.
All Lums feed into your total and can be spent on various things in-game. Aside from the aforementioned artwork and characters, there are also various boosts which can be purchased before the start of each course. For more casual players this will be a huge boon - one bonus in particular highlights the ideal route through each level, ensuring you will pick up every single Lum on your dash to the finish line. You can also purchase extra health.
As before, the game introduces you gradually to various elements. At the start you only need to worry about jumping, but before long you'll be punching through enemies, hovering to extend the reach of your jumps, and more besides. It's a nice carry-over from the main games on other platforms and means that players of all skills shouldn't find themselves overwhelmed.
All of this is framed in the gorgeous graphics and catchy music that anyone familiar with the series will already know about. It has to be said: the presentation in this game is truly glorious and puts many other me-too spin-offs of console games to utter shame.
Difficulty seems to have been toned down a notch to start with - not least due to the fact that it's rare to not be able to afford the power-up at the start of each level which shows you exactly when to jump - but as levels go on, the reflexes needed to keep up with the action steadily increase, and upon a perfect run of each course, a much more difficult version unlocks. It's a very good balance.
Of course, it wouldn't be a mobile game without in-app purchases, and they are present here too. Thankfully though you never feel like you need to spend real cash. While you can buy additional Lums to help you afford those art and character unlocks, it's just as easy to replay earlier levels and you'll certainly want to in order to get that perfect run.
All in all, Rayman Fiesta Run is not only a perfect example of how to do a mobile spin-off, it stands as a fantastic mobile game in its own right, one which will appeal to both casual and serious gaming fans alike and with a level of thought and care that is refreshing in a time when so many sequels on mobile platforms take the phrase "more of the same" a bit too literally for comfort.
Star Wars: Tiny Death Star Review
Review By Chris Grapes at 15:20 on 10/11/2013 - 6 comments
Tags: iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8
I’ve never actually been in a lift that plays music. I’m convinced it’s all an elaborate lie by TV and movie studios in order to have something to fill scenes with uncomfortable silences. No, the lifts I’ve ridden in have all been silent, musically. The virtual lifts that make up the majority of your screen time in Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, however, are overwhelmingly vocal, spewing out muzak twists of John Williams until sanity snaps and volume is muted.
It’s all personal taste, of course. You may delight in hours of a lounge music interpretation of the Imperial March, or a curiously upbeat rendition of The Force Theme. You may even seek out an mp3 soundtrack to listen to when not playing the game. I’m not sure why even the most devoted Star Wars fan would want to put themselves through that Hammond Organ Hell, but horses for courses, I suppose.
Tiny Death Star, then, is a game about lifts. A game about ferrying people around in lifts. A game about manually ferrying people around in lifts, holding down the button until they reach their destination some 10, 20, maybe even 80 floors or so above. Floors that you’ve meticulously constructed and laid out in optimum fashion to give the residents of the Death Star jobs to do, food to eat, entertainment to enjoy and...er...ducts to clean.
TDS is a spin-off/sequel to the fairly successful Tiny Towers. It’s functionally identical to the original, only with Star Wars veneer. R2D2 working in an ice cream store, Boba Fett hoping for his dream job in freight shipping, etc etc. When you open up the game after a few hours away, the Emperor spins round maniacally in his chair only to cheerfully announce you’ve earned 13,764 credits while you were gone. These credits flows in from the various stores—retail, service, recreation—manned by the various “bitizens” (who also need residential levels for somewhere to stay, because having Ewoks and Gungans live on the Death Star is clearly part of the Empire’s grand plan). Money also comes from missions assigned by Palpatine (usually a subtle prod of what needs to be built next) and secret missions from Darth Vader, which require building special Imperial levels like detention cells, tractor beams etc. Actual Death Star stuff, rather than karaoke bars and pet shops.
It’s also a freemium game, so that of course means micromanagement combined with lots of waiting around. Gameplay consists of pressing things. You have to stock the stores by pressing a button. And open stores by pressing a button. And pick up items by pressing a button. And send people about in lifts by pressing—and holding—a button. All with their own respective cooldowns that range from minutes to hours.
The freemium side of things manifests itself through the use of “bux”, which can be bought outright in bulk for real cash or trickle in slowly on completion of certain things (matching a Bitizen to their dream job, or constructing a new level), and can be used either to speed up construction or stocking, or saved up and spent on pointless tat like pixel versions of famous characters, rather than the randomly generated everymen who make up the usual Bitizens you’ll see. Most things are just a few bux, which isn’t all that bad, but some of the fancier, well-known characters are in the triple digits. At the time of writing, 100 bux would set you back a fiver.
Oh, and there’s also faster lifts you can buy. Lifts are necessary to ferry new Bitizens about or deliver the occasional VIP who’ll have a random effect like upgrading the stock levels of a store. The problem is, by the time you’ve built up a sizeable number of floors the lift can take a good thirty seconds or so to reach its destination, and even though the Star Wars universe has sentient robots and planet destroying battle stations they’ve yet to figure out how to automate lifts. So you have to hold the lift button down for them literally the entire journey from start to finish. Once they’ve moved into an apartment the Bitizens can move about on their own, but guests seem to need constant shepherding about for little actual reward (a tip in coins equivalent to the floor number and a whole minute off construction/stocking costs for that floor—useless when you’re earning thousands a minute and have countdowns measurable in hours). And if you don’t shepherd them, the notification icon flashes away endlessly and the Bitizen sits there, blocking up the lift until the end of time, ensuring no VIPs or special guests will ever get in. So faster lifts seems like they’ll be a solid investment. But they cost quite a few bux each (to get all of them would cost you in the region of 800 bux—40 quid in real money) and consecutively knock off a fraction of a second of finger-holding-time, making them as worthwhile as spending an entire day in an actual lift.
So, quite shit then. But also annoyingly compelling. It’s one of the less insidious freemium games out at the moment—you can eke your way through at a reasonable pace without explicitly needing to spend any physical money, and most things you can purchase for bux eventually unlock through natural play (except, inexplicably, the lifts). Most freemium games tend to hit a wall of grinding to progress, not-so-subtly pushing towards having to spend real cash for anything to happen, but all you really have to do to move forwards in Tiny Death Star is check in a couple of times a day to restock the larger stores and build new levels. The two different kinds of missions also add a nice meta-game (with the ultimate goal being to build all the Imperial levels and make it a FULLY ARMED AND OPERATIONAL BATTLE STATION) and there’s the same sort of twee charm the Lego Star Wars games had, including occasional cutscenes and mini-narratives involving hunting down rebels.
It really boils down to how you get on with the cooldowns and long periods of doing nothing you get with the freemium model. If you’re the sort of person who can happily check in every few hours during ad breaks and keep things in your own personal Death Star ticking over, it should keep you entertained for a good while. If you’re someone who wants quick progress and cerebrally engaging gameplay (or someone who hates Star Wars and/or lifts) then probably best to avoid.
Star Wars: Tiny Death Star is free to download, and out now on iThings, Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8.