iOS Roundup: The FOB Edition

Once you get tired of supporting microtransaction-laden, freemium, pay2win, exploitative games that are bringing down the entire industry and turning everyone into filthy casuals, try these complete, pay-once-and-get-the-whole-experience games instead. If you have enough money after buying all your FOBs, of course.

Lara Croft GO

  • Cost: $4.99
  • Exploitation Rating: 2 FOBs out of 5

Square-Enix’s second game in their board-game-inspired GO series follows Lara Croft as she explores the ruins, fights off baddies, and collects treasures. It turns out that Tomb Raider actually translates very well to a turn-based format and it controls surprisingly well. The only controls are swiping to move and tapping an enemy to perform a ranged attack if you have an appropriate weapon, although it could be a little clearer that you can do the latter. Enemies are shaded white if you’re in range to target them with a ranged attack, which can be a bit hard to see in some of the environments.

Here's a random screenshot taken from the game's iTunes page.
Here’s a random screenshot taken from the game’s iTunes page.

What I like most about the game is that it’s designed in a way that you don’t need tutorials, because every new obstacle is introduced in a way that you can safely observe how they move and how Lara can bypass them. Once you’ve been properly introduced to the obstacle, the game then challenges you to solve various puzzles, using what you observed the first time. It’s a clever design that isn’t really seen too much these days.

Dungeon of the Endless

  • Cost: $4.99
  • Exploitation Rating: N/A

This is a rogue-like tower defense hybrid, according to the developers, Amplitude Studios. Unfortunately, this game requires an iPad 3 or newer, which I don’t have. But people I trust have spoken of it very highly, so well, here it is. Here’s a random screenshot:

Looks pretty good, right?
Looks pretty good, right?

Alphabear

  • Cost: Free
  • Exploitation Rating: 1 FOB out of 5

Alphabear: Word Puzzle Game is a cute little word game featuring adorable little bears that will help you increase your vocabulary. You can bring up to three bears, with each bear having it’s own way to help you gain points. For example, the Fore Bear gives you bonus points for 4-letter words, and the Easy Bear gives you bonus points each time you use E, A, S, or Y. If you use all the letters on one side of a bear, it expands; larger bears are worth more points at the end of the game. If you don’t use a letter, though, it’s worth fewer and fewer points, and if the value drops to 0, it turns into a rock, which blocks the growth of your bears. Try to avoid that.

The best part of the game, though, is the Mad Libs-style rewards screen, where the bears say weird things based on the words you scored during the game.

Galactic Keep

  • Cost: $3.99
  • Exploitation Rating: 0 FOBs out of 5

I haven’t had time to play this game yet, but people I trust have spoken very highly of it, so well, here it is.

Take a bold step into the world of GALACTIC KEEP, a science fiction RPG adventure game the likes of which you have never played before! NOTE: Requires iPhone 4s, iPad 2 or iPod Touch 4th gen and later.
– The iTunes page description

And again, here’s a random screenshot:

Looks pretty good, right?
Looks pretty good, right?
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iOS Week in Review: The Four Job Fiesta Edition

I’m going to be doing Four Job Fiesta this year, even though I haven’t played Final Fantasy V in about 8 years. This has the potential to get dicey, but the iOS version was on sale this week, and hey, what’s the worst that could happen? Wish me luck!

Fallout Shelter

It was a stroke of good fortune that the Shenmue 3 Kickstarter and stomach-turning things like The Last Guardian and the Final Fantasy VII remake were also announced at E3, because otherwise the sheer audacity of announcing a mobile game during E3 probably would have caused the complete annihilation of the gaming world forever.

Brand-name recognition (and the resulting appeal to non-mobile gamers) probably contributed a lot to the success of this game so far, as the game really isn’t anything special and it’s nothing that mobile veterans haven’t seen before.

I think the biggest issue with the game is that it starts strong and quickly sputters out. You start out with a good number of caps and lots of dwellers, and you’ll probably get a few more caps from the lunchboxes you can earn by completing randomly-assigned challenges, but it eventually peters out. Once that happens, you need some luck to get your engine going again because the only reliable way to get more caps (and therefore, more rooms) is to send your dwellers out to explore the Wasteland, which has three issues:

  • It’s dangerous if they don’t have any gear, which again comes back to the lunchboxes.
  • It takes way too long to gather enough caps to build one room and then you have to wait for them to return.
  • Every dweller you have out in the Wasteland is one fewer dweller to actually work the Vault, generating the power, food, and water you need to keep the Vault going.

Because of this, and the fact that you don’t use resources while you aren’t playing, and the fact that you can’t really play the game in any meaningful way anyway, your best bet is a very hands-off approach to managing the Vault: check in every few hours, collect your resources, and then leave them be.

Card Crawl

Card Crawl isn’t technically a new game, but it did have a significant content update and a big sale this week, and since I didn’t play it when it was new, I figured it could still count for this week. This is a fun little dungeon crawler played with a standard deck of playing cards, with each suit representing monsters, equipment, coins, or potions. Cards are dealt four at a time, with new cards being dealt when one card remains on the table. You have three slots to hold cards, your two hands and a backpack, and once a card has been placed in one of your hand slots, you can’t use that slot again until you use the card. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead, as you may be forced to discard useful cards or take damage if you can’t clear your hands.

Discarding cards isn’t always the worst thing, though, as discarding equipment and potions gives you coins equal to their value. The more coins you bank during a game, the higher your score, which creates an intriguing dynamic: You need to use equipment and potions to stay alive, but you’re also trying to get high scores by throwing away useful items. Coins can also be banked between games to purchase special ability cards which have powerful effects such as temporarily returning cards to the bottom of the deck, dealing damage equal to the life you’ve lost, and causing creatures to attack each other.

While Card Crawl doesn’t have a lot of depth to it, the nature of the game makes it a fun little time-waster in between “serious” gaming.

Xenowerk

While Xenowerk doesn’t bring anything new to the genre, it’s still a fun twin-stick shooter. What more could you want? I mean, besides more words about the game itself.

iOS Week in Review: The Downgrade Edition

If the Witcher 3 downgrade has you bummed, pick up your iOS device instead. None of these games have had any graphical downgrades, nor have any of these developers ever misled you about the graphical fidelity of their games.

Ire: Blood Memory

Ire is the game you would get if you combined the aesthetics and the combat of the Souls series with the endless farming of Monster Hunter. Your attacks feel nice and weighty; it’s just too bad that some of the weightiness leaked out into the interface. The game does a poor job acknowledging button presses, which can lead to a lot of moments where you can’t be too sure if the game has froze up or if the connection to the server is lagging.

Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of similarities with Monster Hunter. You’ve got a 5-minute time limit for each of your quests, and they all revolve around taking down a tough monster. The game also uses the same skill system as Monster Hunter, where each piece of equipment allots a certain number of skill, and if the combined skill points of all your equipment, including your accessories, reaches a certain number, that skill activates. As I mentioned earlier, though, the most striking similarity with Monster Hunter is that you’ll be running these 5-minute quests a million times to get the right number of parts to upgrade your equipment.

There are IAPs, but I can’t figure out exactly why. You can’t use them to buy anything useful such as the parts you’ll need to upgrade your gear, so I guess the only reason to spend money on the game is if you really want to support the developer. And since they’ve never lied to you about the graphical fidelity of their game, maybe you should consider it.

Dragon Blaze

Gamevil knows their audience.
Get used to this sight.

Upon booting up the game, this is what you’re greeted with. Gamevil clearly knows their audience.

Dragon Blaze is actually kind of short on actual gameplay: enemies and allies autonomously (as the game puts it) attack and use their skills, and all you can really do is tap to select a character, use a skill, then wait for that skill to come off cooldown so you can tap it again.

Instead, the meat of the game is the metagame: collecting allies, equipping said allies, enhancing said allies and said equipment. It scratches a weird kind of itch, and the nature of the game means you can play it effectively even when you’ve only got a few minutes. Or if you’re only using 10% of your brain.

While the game does feature some creepy sexualization of young-looking girls, at least Gamevil had the good sense not to lie to you about the graphical fidelity of said young-looking girls.

Fearless Fantasy

RTFFT
RTFFT

Do you like QTE battling? No? Okay.

Knights of Pen & Paper II also released this week, but I was too busy playing Dragon Blaze and The Witcher 3 (while crying my eyes out over the downgrade, natch) to give it a proper try. Maybe next week.

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.

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.

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.

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.