My iOS Top 5 List For 2014

2014 saw a ton of great releases for iOS. Too bad I didn’t play most of them, although with Pocket Gamer’s advent calendar and a number of Christmas sales, that should change. So without further ado, here’s my top 5 iOS games from the year 2014:

1. Terra Battle

This game got me to quit Puzzle & Dragons, which is a pretty impressive feat if you know me. Terra Battle is essentially a combination of a board game and an SRPG, with enough twists on its basic gameplay loop to keep things fresh. Kudos to Mistwalker for delivering a game worthy of their pedigree, and the soundtrack proves that Nobuo Uematsu still has it.

2. Vainglory

More than just a pretty tech demo for Metal, this is a competent and well-designed MOBA. It’s simple enough to be a good introduction to the genre, and yet the jungle gives it enough tactical depth to be interesting. If Super Evil Mega Corp can keep pushing out unique characters, this game could have a lot of teeth heading into 2015.

3. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite

It shouldn’t work at all, and yet, somehow, Capcom managed to pull it off. Much like how Vainglory was a great game to show off iOS 8’s new Metal API, this game would have been a great game to show off iOS 7’s new MFi controller API. Even without a compatible controller, though, Capcom managed to put together a competent control scheme for a button-heavy PSP port.

4. The Nightmare Cooperative

One of Pocket Gamer’s advent calendar games, this is a dungeon crawler with a twist: though your party members may be spread throughout the level, they all move as one. Moving one character to safety may put another character directly into the line of fire.

5. Threes!

I briefly considered putting this at number 3 just for the novelty of it, but I figured my journalistic integrity was more important than a crude numeric pun. So anyway, back to Threes!. If you played 2048 or any of its clones, you know the drill, although as the title suggests, this game is based on multiples of 3 instead of 2. Unlike the stark commitment to minimalism of 2048, Threes!’s (is that awkward or what?) tiles have a bit of personality. It’s not much, but it’s nice.

Honorable Mentions

In no particular order: Bean Dreams, Chain Chronicle, Sky Force 2014, Brothers in Arms 3, Defenders.

Games That Likely Would Have Made The List Had I Actually Played Them

Again, in no particular order: Kingdom Rush Origins, XCOM: Enemy Inside, Card City Nights, Hitman GO, Monument Valley

All 5 games I selected have a couple of things in common. First, they work well with a touch screen-based control scheme (with a few hiccups in Monster Hunter). All of them present nice large interaction targets with good feedback to show which items are being interacted with, making them quite forgiving of the occasional mistouch. They work with the touch screen, rather than trying to force an awkward virtual joystick and buttons setup. (As a side note, that particular issue is what pushed the otherwise excellent Arcane Soul entirely off the list.)

Second, they’re not annoying with IAPs. In fact, only two of them even have IAPs to begin with, and in both cases the game is not really designed around trying to get you to buy them. (As another side note, this particular issue is why Brothers in Arms 3 only received an honorable mention and why Castaway Paradise makes me want to hurl.)

While it’s probably impossible to completely erase certain misconceptions from the minds of the gaming community at large, my Top 5 games of the year show that the platform can have deep strategic games that don’t have awful controls and don’t encourage you to pull out your wallet. And that’s something.

Big Week For iOS

Hearthstone for iPhone was the most noteworthy (and most anticipated) release of the week, but there were a couple more big releases for iOS as well. (Final Fantasy: Record Keeper was another noteworthy release from earlier this month, but unfortunately, that game was awful.) So get ready to burn your battery, because there’s a lot to play this month.

Implosion: Never Lose Hope

The developer, Rayark Inc., describes this game as “bringing the AAA console gaming experience to mobile devices”. I’m not sure when the AAA console gaming experience began to involve poor grammar skills, but at least they hit everything else on the nose: a lot of talking about “first-class voice acting” and “orchestral scores masterfully mixed by Grammy Award winner and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy engineer, John Kurlander”, not a lot of talking about the gameplay.

Fortunately, the game manages to hit a good majority of the AAA gameplay as well. It’s a relatively mindless hack-and-slash, with some timing-based combos mixed in. You can temporarily switch to a ranged weapon by sliding the attack button, and there are special attacks you can activate when you’ve built up your gauge by using regular attacks. The game tries to add replay value by including special challenges to earn badges, such as not using ranged attacks, never getting hit, or not using your special attacks.

Despite this, the game is actually pretty entertaining. The controls are responsive and the game does look and sound pretty nice, especially if you’re lucky enough to have an iPhone 6 Plus. Ten bucks is a lot to ask in the mobile space, but it’s still worth a try.

Mortal Kombat X

More like Mortal Kombat Why, amirite?

Seriously, though, this is pretty much Mortal Kombat combined with P&D’s collecting aspects. The controls are pretty simple: tap to attack, hold with two fingers to block, swipe to activate combo finishers, perform various QTEs to activate special attacks.

It works as a game, and it does seem like Warner Bros. is going to support the game with new content and special events. It’s just, why?

Hearthstone

I was impressed with how Blizzard managed to work the UI onto a phone’s screen, although I’m lucky enough to own an iPhone 6 Plus. It would be doable on a regular iPhone 6, but it could get ugly on an iPhone 5 or earlier.

Since I never played Hearthstone until now, I can’t really comment on how the UI feels compared to a tablet, nor can I really comment on how the game itself is played. If you want free wins: cottontail#1998.

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Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Capcom threw its dedicated American fans a great present in the form of the fourth entry in the Monster Hunter series. The franchise has been making steady improvements with each successive entry, MH3U’s underwater combat notwithstanding, without losing what originally drew in gamers. How many franchises can say that?

The first thing I noticed upon starting the game was that the mighty Tigrex makes a triumphant return, along with some other monsters that skipped the third entry, like the Gravios and the Basarios. Capcom was smart enough to let the newest monsters take center stage, though, as the game opens with you hunting monsters like the Seltas, an overgrown beetle with a giant horn, and the Nerscylla, a giant spider that swings on its webs like a frightening Spider-Man. Later on, you’ll meet the Zamtrios, a giant shark that can inflate his belly and bounce on top of you, and the Najarala, a snake-lizard hybrid that encircles you and can paralyze you with its bite.

The coolest thing about the early quest progression is that you face monsters with unique movements and attacks, a far cry from the normal -dromes and charging wyverns from the previous games. Unfortunately, Capcom couldn’t completely break from series tradition, as they saw fit to stick you with those crappy fishing and egg-gathering missions again. Argh.

Capcom seems to have put some thought behind the story this time, with more (nicely done) cutscenes, characters to interact with, and places to visit. Fortunately, it doesn’t get in the way of the hunting, although the characters can be a bit talky at times.

There are two new weapons, the Insect Glaive and the Charge Blade. Since I don’t use the Blade, I have nothing to say about it. But the Glaive is an extremely cool and fun weapon that relies on you using your Kinsect to steal essences from the monster to buff yourself. The Glaive also has a cool pole-vaulting attack that takes advantage of MH4U’s emphasis on verticality and aerial combat. You can now climb ledges and leap down on monsters to mount them, which can lead to an easy knockdown if you do it right.

Although the verticality is cool, it does occasionally lead to some troublesome moments where you’ll attempt to roll out of an attack but get hit because you went over a tiny ledge, which forced you into the “leaping down” animation instead of the “invincible rolling” animation. Mounting is useful in solo play but sometimes problematic in multiplayer, as the non-mounting players can’t attack the monster without potentially ruining it for the mounting player.

Another new feature is the addition of subquests, which are optional objectives that give extra rewards upon completion. You can leave the quest without completing the main objective if the subquest is completed, although there’s little need to ever do that if you’re prepared. Take the free rewards and run, I suppose.

Expeditions have replaced Moga Woods as the game’s free hunt mode, and while the Everwood is pretty dull compared to Moga Woods, Expeditions themselves are fun and a useful way to practice fighting. You can also find Rusted Weapons and Armor in the Everwood, and when polished, you might find that the equipment has different abilities and stats from the “normal” version of that particular piece of gear. Interesting and potentially useful, especially for weapons like the Bowguns and Hunting Horns.

The core gameplay remains as strong as ever, and despite some goofiness with the verticality, it’s still a net positive because it opens up some neat opportunities, both for you and the monsters. Veterans of the series can pick this one up and feel right at home, and they should, because Capcom has been able to keep the core gameplay intact despite all the goofiness. Who cares if you’re talking to a bunch of weirdos and pointlessly running around in the Everwood at times, when the fighting just feels so good?

Destiny: The Dark That Sits Below The Internet Gaming Community

It’s funny to me that Destiny: The Dark Below will probably get trashed by most of the Internet gaming media (which means that it’ll get something along the lines of an 8.99999993/10), who will then be baffled that people will still buy the expansion and wonder why their strongly-worded reviews did not bring about the end of Destiny. In fact, Destiny as a franchise is fast becoming the new Call of Duty: loved by Internet critics, loved by “the unwashed masses”, hated by the “hardcore”. Or at the very least, certain members of the “hardcore”.

For better or worse, the “era” is over, if it really existed. I think Destiny shows that gamers as a whole no longer care about on-disk DLC (or at least not enough to affect their purchase) or content being cut so it can be added as DLC later. This probably has some distasteful long-term consequences for the gaming industry, and I think it’s a bit of a shame that The Axis Of Evil(tm) basically trudged ahead and did whatever they wanted and gamers as a whole just kind of went with it.

I think it’s kind of the same reason it’s funny to watch people just get angry and when the person they’re upset at doesn’t react at all, it just makes them even angrier. Impotent rage is kind of funny to me, and impotent Internet rage is even funnier because of how hyperbolic and self-important it can get. I kind of like it when overly self-important gaming communities get put in their place. Not to worry, though, guys, you can still take comfort that your choices in media make you superior to the unwashed masses.

Getting back to Destiny as the new Call of Duty, I can’t decide whether it should have been expected or not. On one hand, it had so much hype that a bit of backlash was inevitable, but on the other hand, I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated this kind of reaction from certain sections of the Internet gaming community, even factoring in that the Internet lends itself to a bit of hyperbole. Expected or not, though, it’s causing some weird cognitive dissonance all across the Internet. Are we “supposed” to love it or hate it? I don’t know the answer to that question.

iOS Roundup – Vainglory! And some other games.

Vainglory

After minor amounts of hype, Vainglory finally launched in the US, with iPhone 6/6 Plus support to boot. Although Vainglory isn’t the first MOBA on iOS, it’s the first one to be featured in an Apple keynote speech, which is probably worth something.

If you don’t know what a MOBA is, you’re luckier than me. Seriously, though, Wikipedia once again knows all. For the rest of this post, I assume that you have some knowledge of the genre and are interested in reading about Vainglory. If not, feel free to skip right to the next section.

If you’re still with me, Vainglory plays differently from League of Legends or DotA 2. The biggest difference is that Vainglory is 3-on-3 and only features one lane. Because of this, I think the metagame will eventually end up as “lane-jungler-roamer”, where the roamer can hold his or her own in both the lane and the jungle and fills in where the team needs help. The most versatile champs will rise to the top in this format.

I also think that jungling and counter-jungling will be the most important factor as the metagame stabilizes, due to the existence of the jungle item shop, the minion miners, who strengthen your minions as long as you control the two mines, and the most important factor: the gold miner and the Kraken. At the four-minute mark, all three miners appear. The gold miner continues to mine throughout the game and when a mining cycle completes, the team that most recently killed him splits the gold payout, which can be a significant gold boost. At the 15-minute mark, the gold miner unleashes the Kraken, who kills the miner and takes his place for the rest of the game. The Kraken is a dangerous opponent, but the team that kills him gains the Kraken as an extremely powerful ally. Getting the Kraken will almost always allow your team to make a comeback or allow your team to secure the win. He’s that important.

The best thing and the worst thing about Vainglory is the lack of chat support. It’s great that you don’t have to talk to the crazies out there, but it can be damn hard to get your teammates on the same page without it. The waypoint markers can help, but they’re not always a good substitute.

So if all of this sounds interesting to you, hit me up. My in-game name is “cottontail”.

Sailor’s Dream

Another big release was Sailor’s Dream by Simogo, the same team behind acclaimed games such as Device 6 and Year Walk. And just like those games, it’s tough to describe exactly what the game is like. But it’s only $1.99, so maybe skip out on those McDoubles one day and give it a try.

Faraway Kingdom

Hoo boy, this one. It has that retro 8-bit aesthetic, and it also has that retro 8-bit thing where the game doesn’t do a great job explaining exactly what everything does. The game is part town-builder and part pseudo-dungeon-crawler. You build up your kingdom by building houses for your heroes to live in and underground dungeons for them to train in so they can be strong enough to head out on raids against the big bad monsters.

The raids are the only interactive part of the game. When you enter a raid, you’ll be asked to create a party of 6, 9, or 12 heroes. The game sticks with the MMORPG holy trinity, so you’ll need at least one Warrior to lead the group, along with a combination of Mages and Priests. You can also bring along a friend’s hero. Once in the raid, your characters will do their roles automatically, but whenever a critical hit (or heal) occurs, a corresponding orb will pop out. Touching that orb will allow you to use that class’s special ability, with more orbs leading to a greater effect. Special abilities range from increasing that class’s strength for a short time or making critical hits more likely or quickly regenerating a class’s HP or MP.

Okay, so it’s not the most interactive thing out there. But it is the most interactive thing that happens in the game.

A key aspect of the game is your heroes’ elemental stats. Each underground dungeon and raid has an element associated with it: either Fire, Water, Nature, Darkness, or Stars, and sending heroes with a high elemental stat will give them major stat boosts. This is especially important in raids, where your opponents’ stats tend to rise pretty damn quick.

If you’re looking for some action, Faraway Kingdom is pretty short on it. But if you like the town-building aspects and are looking for a game that you can “play” while you’re doing something else, it might be worth your time. And if you like it, hit me up. My in-game name is “cottontail”. Again.

Destiny’s Thorn Bounty: Symbolism? Partial repost? Both?

(This is a partial repost because readers couldn’t figure out how to get to the second page of my posts. It’s not your fault, it’s mine.)

In-game lore describes the Thorn hand cannon as a corrupted weapon, a “Weapon of Sorrow”, which probably explains the kind of behaviors I had to engage in so I could complete the bounty. To complete the bounty, you need to get 500 points by killing other players in PvP with Void damage: 5 points for a kill, -2 points for a death. Unlike some of the other PvP bounties in the game, you get nothing for assists.

So because of this, whenever my teammate and I are both shooting at an enemy and I only get the assist instead of the kill, instead of thinking “Good teamwork, there”, I think “You just stole my kill, asshole. I hope we’re on different teams next time so I can shoot you in the face.” That probably isn’t healthy. And I’ve found myself abandoning teammates to die in a firefight because I thought they were so incompetent that they would get me killed too and I would lose progress in the bounty. Again, not healthy. I committed the ultimate sin twice, too: one time my team was doing so poorly that I figured I’d losing too much progress if I stayed. I also left the final match as soon as I finally got the 500 points needed to progress the bounty.

The mechanics of this bounty mean that you either go completely lone wolf, or you use your teammates as meat shields to soften up the enemies and you clean up afterwards. There were multiple times when I deliberately hung back in a firefight, letting my teammates die, and then leaping out and killing the enemies when they were weakened afterwards.

So if you have a teammate who’s being an ass, maybe he was corrupted by the last of the Weapons of Sorrow. Or he’s just an ass. Who knows?

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Sorry, P&D

You had a good run. But in 2 hours of Terra Battle, I saw more interesting twists on the base gameplay than I saw in probably close to 50 hours of P&D. Maybe if you’d spent more time improving the gameplay instead of adding more half-naked chicks who look like they’re 12.

In fact, Terra Battle is so good that I’ve been sitting on some pretty solid games like Monster Strike and Faraway Kingdom. But I have managed to make some time for Puzzle to the Center of the Earth. It’s essentially a match-3 platformer: you drag your finger over a connected set of at least 3 blocks to make them disappear, allowing your character to descend through each level. If a block is hovering, with no blocks beneath it, dragging down on that block will make it fall. Both clearing blocks and causing a block to fall costs energy, and if you run out, you can’t do much of anything. Clearing a set of 6 or more blocks gives you a catalyst, which allows you to use special combinations. For example, clearing a blue-red-green combination causes an explosion that clears out more blocks, while clearing a tan-light blue-red combination turns those blocks into extra energy.

I ended up killing myself for this screenshot. So you'd better appreciate it.

I ended up killing myself for this screenshot. So you’d better appreciate it.

My main complaint is that I’ve already run into some “gotcha” moments. There’s been a couple of times where I missed a star or a switch (both of which are required to access certain secrets) because I did something to block the passage without knowing that it was there. You can replay levels to pick up secrets that you missed, but it still kinda rubs me the wrong way.

Welcome Back!

In this post: I talk about iOS games. Then on page two, I talk about Destiny. Then I stop talking.

Terra Battle

The most anticipated iOS release for October was Terra Battle, and it definitely did not disappoint. The game had reached 500k downloads within a week of release, and while I suspect it won’t reach some of the loftier goals, the perks we’re getting are definitely worth it.

The game is played on a grid, where your units and the enemy units face off. To attack, you must move your units in a way that they flank an enemy unit. While you can only move one of your units at a time, you can push your other units into position by dragging over them as you move. You’ll want to plan moves in advance, because your units can provide support if they’re inline with an attacking unit. With some clever movement, you can set up your units so that they simultaneously attack and provide support, all during the same move.

You’ll need to do this, too, because the game definitely stops pulling punches around the fourth or fifth chapter. Players who were there from day one have a bit of an advantage in the form of Kuscah, a mage who heals the units who support an attack with him. Like Fire Emblem, the game features a rock-paper-scissors weapon system, where spear beats sword, sword beats bow, and bow beats spear.

I can’t recommend this game enough. Pick it up now.

Vainglory

This game also got a ton of attention in the iOS community when Apple heavily featured it during their iPhone 6 event. The makers, Super Evil Megacorp, tout it as “the MOBA perfected for touch”, and let’s face it, that’s a bold claim. If they can deliver, it’ll go a long way towards legitimizing the iOS gaming community. They’re currently soft-rolling out the game throughout various regions. No word on when it’s coming to the US App Store, but it is available in southeast Asia, if you’d like to create an account in that region.

The game currently requires iOS 6 and supports the iPad 2 or later, the iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6 Plus, but they do plan on supporting other devices in the future. I would think the iPhone 5S wouldn’t be completely crazy, but I wouldn’t count on support for the iPhone 5C or earlier. If you have a device that can run this game, I highly recommend to keep checking their site to see if the game is out in the USA.

Castaway Paradise

I had high hopes for this game. I was thrilled about the idea of an Animal Crossing-like game on iOS. But man, this game is just not that good.

It controls fine, although the touch-to-move is a bit jarring compared to the virtual joystick controls that you’d expect the game to use. What’s particularly off-putting about the game is how cluttered the game screen gets, even on my iPad mini. It wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t insist on popping up timers for every little thing, complete with the option to use premium currency to speed it up. It’s like a double dose of pain: the game clutters up your screen with offers to make them go away if you just pull out your wallet.