Frozen Free Fall Review

Dec 20, 2013

By many people's reckoning, Disney's Frozen might be one of the best animated films they've done in a while; even so, there's nothing that says the movie's ancillary products are up to snuff. Disney's team knows how to market with things like dolls, toys, and clothing, and these days they're reinforcing their cinematic brands with mobile games. Sadly, interactive entertainment is not their forte, as evidenced by the mediocre free-to-play match-three game Frozen Free Fall.

It's no surprise that Free Fall tells more or less the same story as the film and banks on the film's appeal. Starting with sisters Elsa and Anna, it sets you to removing the snow and frost slowly taking over the kingdom of Arendelle. There's nothing earth (or ice)-shattering here; like a thousand other match-three games, you're asked to achieve a set score or clear the board by matching three or more same-colored crystals. Also like other games in the genre, power-ups like Icebergs are created when you match four or five crystals; other power-ups cause entire vertical or horizontal rows, or rectangular groups of nine crystals, to explode.

Frozen Free Fall

Disney tries to connect the game with the movie by including some of its imagery in the game's backdrops, as well as its music. It also connects the two through the inclusion of various minor characters who appear here in the form of helpers. It tries to add some Frozen flavor by offering purchasable tools like Ice Picks that can remove a single tile, by scoring each level from one to three snowflakes, and by making you buy snowballs (which are used to add five additional moves if you come within a hair's breadth of winning a certain level). The problem is all of this is window-dressing.

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Quarriors Review

Dec 20, 2013

If, like me, you’ve never played a physical dice-building game before, then Quarriors should be the right game for you. It’s not very complicated. You roll your dice, gather your resources, and attack with your monsters while your enemies defend. Sometimes you buy monsters or spells and build up a whole virtual dice bag of possibilities.

Unfortunately, that last paragraph is far and away a better tutorial than the one the game provides. In Quarriors, the actual tutorial is a dizzying info dump of pop-up windows and flavor terms with nary a layman’s interpretation to guide you. It will teach you to collect “quiddity” to capture monsters from the “wilds” so you can accrue “glory;” just don’t expect a breakdown of what any of that means, or for any of it to be eased into your game organically. If you miss the tutorial blast at the top of your first round, you can dig through a series of static PDFs in the help section for a dictionary of terms and turn orders, but that’s hardly optimal. Quarriors does not make a good first impression.

Quarriors

Lucky for the developers, then, that the game is so addictive. Once you parse the learning curve, the core mechanics are surprisingly simple – and more importantly, incredibly fun. You can get through an entire match in a few minutes if you play with other humans in the room, or against the game’s AI. Online matches take longer, being asynchronous, and unfortunately share the offline mode’s drought of information. It took me a few moments to even realize online play was asynchronous.

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Disney Hidden Worlds Review

Dec 20, 2013

Disney has a new hidden object game (HOG), and despite some of the rumors and urban legends that still haunt the House of Mouse, it has nothing to do with finding bad words or naughty imagery in movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, or The Little Mermaid (Say, Disney – are you taking pitches for game ideas?).

No, Disney Hidden Worlds is very innocent. It also features its own unique cast of characters that guide the player through several familiar Disney worlds – an admirable addition, given Disney could have easily phoned in the game's presentation. In fact, Disney Hidden Worlds would be a perfect "starter" HOG for young people if not for some problematic bugs and an energy system that makes it difficult to play for an extended period of time without paying.

Disney Hidden Worlds

Disney Hidden Worlds stages several hidden object scenes across popular movie properties like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Tangled. If you know your way around a hidden object game, then you should be able to jump straight into Disney Hidden Worlds. Each scenario provides a list of items to find in a crowded scene, and you simply tap or click on the object to grab it.

The faster you find items, the higher your score multiplier becomes. The higher your score at the end of a hunt, the faster you fill up stars that indicate you've mastered the scene.

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Abducted: Episode 1 Review

Dec 20, 2013

Abducted: Episode 1 is the first entry in a six-part, episodic sci-fi adventure that combines puzzle, horror, and RPG elements.  This genre sampler is a mixed bag both literally and in terms of quality: while it presents a mysterious and beautiful world to explore, actually doing so is a slow process.  Episode 1 lays the groundwork for a sprawling adventure across unexplored—and unsettling—reaches of space, but with less than compelling gameplay that often fails to encourage making the journey.

Players take on the role of Eve, an amnesiac who wakes up on an alien ship with no memory of how she got there or anything about her past.  Eve’s only clue to her current status is a computer built into her arm that claims to have been with her “since the beginning” and is able to answer questions about their life together.  Although the arm computer is also unaware of how or why you’ve ended up on this particular ship, it is able to fill in some of Eve’s blanks—like the fact that she is an explorer that catalogues alien life forms—and help her investigate her surroundings.  It will mostly provide information on objects from its extensive database, but the computer also allows Eve to hack into terminals throughout the ship that give her access to new areas and a potential escape.

Abducted: Episode 1

This progression through the ship takes the form of a simplified point-and-click adventure, but without any items to collect or manage.  When Eve walks near an area of interest, it glows faintly and can be viewed for more information.  Most items exist solely to describe the ship’s atmosphere: gazing out a window might describe the asteroids in the distance and comment that you are definitely far from home, while examining a broken piece of machinery may explain its original purpose and ponder “Is it repairable?”  Since Episode 1 is linear and Eve’s goal is always clear, these areas of interest are rarely needed to move forward and serve only to expand the alien environment.

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The Gate Review

Dec 20, 2013

I was disappointed to discover that in spite of all the pre-release promotion, The Gate has about as much to do with real-time strategy as Family Feud, and is in fact a straight-up collectible card battle game. But as I delved into it, I was also elated to learn that it's a really, really good CCG, quite possibly the best one I've played since I broke free of my Rage of Bahamut-habit.

"Combines Real Time Strategy and Training mechanics," the App Store entry for The Gate promises, and for a brief while I bought into it. Passing through the Gate into a hellish underworld filled with demons and wickedness, your only hope is to fight – and by fighting, your hope is sustained. As you move ever deeper into this sulphuric underworld, you'll acquire "Disciples" who you can train, upgrade, and evolve, and who will do battle on your behalf against both computer-controlled opponents and the forces of your fellow players. This is where the RTS component comes into play, as instead of simply a static, numbers-versus-numbers contest, battles are rendered entirely in 3D and filled with impressive visual effects.

The Gate

You move your characters by tapping and then dragging to where you want them to go, and unleash their skills in battle by tapping on icons at the top of the screen. To heal them, simply tap your healer – everybody has one – and then drag to the character in need. It's simple and reasonably intuitive, although the lack of a zoom control makes it difficult to select a Disciple in the heat of a crowded battle.

But it's also almost entirely unnecessary thanks to the "auto" function that will control the demons in your army with a good degree of competence. It may not be quite as effective as handling the situation personally, especially at higher levels, but the "fire and forget" convenience is handy; and if you don't like how things are going, you can turn it off and assume direct control of the action at any time.

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Ridge Racer Slipstream Review

Dec 19, 2013

Riiiiiiiiiiiidge Racer!

With two decades and a ton of releases under its belt, Ridge Racer is one of the golden standards in the realm of arcade racing games, and Ridge Racer Slipstream is no different. The latest installment in the series brings what you would expect from the folks at Namco Bandai with regards to the series, including lovely graphics, tight controls, a catchy soundtrack, and of course, appearances by Reiko Nagase, the Ridge Racer racing queen herself. 

The premise is simple, and as old as time itself: Take control of one of a number of top-of-the-line automotive vehicles and gun it down the track as quickly as possible, outracing the competition and crossing the finish line either first, or with the best time. Of course, you’ll need more than just the ability to drop a lead foot down on the gas to win; as with many an arcade-style racing game, drifting around sharp turns and tight corners is essential. Plus, when the chips are down, you might still be able to call upon the surge of speed provided by a nitro-charged turbo boost.

Ridge Racer Slipstream

One key element, though, is the one from which this particular iteration takes its name: The slipstream. Trailing behind an opponent and using their speed to boost your own is a key mechanic this time out, complete with an assortment of several “perks” dedicated to either maximizing your slipstream potential, or shutting down that of your opponents.

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République Episode 1: Exordium Review

Dec 19, 2013

It’s a surveillance society, and we’re all just living in it. At my day job, I have to admit that I happily contribute to it. Other times I do wonder about the implications of it all, and the folks at Camouflaj obviously do too. Their sci-fi stealth survival game République explores the positive and negative aspects of omnipresent cameras and a connected civilization, and does it with a storytelling flair few mobile games have managed to date.

If setting the mood of a video game was a college course, République Episode 1: Exordium would be the professor. You meet the game’s protagonist, a girl named Hope, when she calls you for help. She may or may not have read something she shouldn’t have, which is against the rules in the (apparently near future) city of Metamorphosis. The Orwellian buzzwords fly during the opening scene of dialogue – Recalibration, The Arrival, etc. – but it’s clear Hope is in trouble, and only you can help.

République Episode 1: Exordium

The reason you can help is both a plot device and a nifty gameplay mechanic. It turns out you are hacked into the surveillance system of this particular totalitarian nightmare through Hope’s cell phone. You can hop from camera to camera to see where Hope can’t, looking ahead to help her evade her captors.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Using the special OMNI software, you can not only see how the cameras are linked together, but you can also pull off useful tricks like unlocking doors, seeing through walls to find the guards, and finding items like pepper spray. You’ll also find pieces of propaganda that fill in the game’s world and work as currency you can trade for additional abilities, like scanning the guards’ email and causing distractions.

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The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1 - All That Remains Review

Dec 19, 2013

Telltale’s highly anticipated The Walking Dead: Season Two is finally here with its brisk and brutal first episode, All That Remains. While the main story picks up 16 months after the end of Season One, the game wastes no time in reminding us of its inner darkness, with unnerving decisions around every bend, the occasional walker or two to keep you on your toes, and of course, the dangerous and distrustful individuals in Clementine’s path who serve to remind us that Telltale isn’t holding anything back. If only the episode as a whole wasn’t so short and actually let us take control for more than a few minutes!

As the episode’s title would suggest, there is a reoccurring theme of aloneness that permeates the entirety of All That Remains. After the events of Season One and the heartbreaking first few minutes of this new installment, Clementine has all but been left to fend for herself, with a large chunk of the episode being devoid of any other human interaction. The few poignant remnants of Lee’s memory that are expertly woven into the surroundings pack a serious emotional punch, and the overall direction that Telltale chose to give to their little heroine (not the least of which making her the playable character) is nothing short of genius.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1 - All That Remains

But despite the more low-key direction of this opening episode, there’s no doubt about it that All That Remains is easily one of the most brutal experiences that Telltale has ever crafted, and probably features a few of the darkest and most unsettling moments that we’ve seen in a Walking Dead game so far. I was constantly shocked and stunned by some of the violent twists that occurred within the opening first hour, and one event in particular that involved an abandoned dog literally had me begging for the encounter to end: and then so of course, Telltale designed the game to prolong it even further in a way more excruciating fashion.

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Colossatron: Massive World Threat Review

Dec 19, 2013

If they ever add the world Halfbrick to the dictionary, I’m pretty sure the definition will read “guaranteed mobile gold.” After all, we’ve come to expect nothing less from the house that Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride built. Their latest offering Colossatron puts players in control of an interstellar space monster with a snake-like body out to destroy every city on Earth.

And yet it’s nothing like what you’re expecting.

Your initial guess – especially based on the term “snake-like body” – might be that this is Halfbrick’s attempt to update the old school Nokia-era classic Snake. And if that’s not your guess, you might think that it’s an action game full of rampaging and smashing. But believe it or not – and if you’re looking at the screenshots, we’ll understand if it’s not – Colossatron is a wholly original twist on match-3.

Colossatron: Massive World Threat

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The Shadow Sun Review

Dec 19, 2013

As Santa once said, good things come to those who wait. Wait, maybe that wasn’t Santa. In any case, mobile gamers have been patiently anticipating The Shadow Sun, a fantasy RPG from Ossian Studios, since it was announced back in 2010. Slowly but surely it’s now made it to release, but has it aged like fine wine or like damp bread in the meantime? Read on, adventurers!

One big strength of The Shadow Sun is showcased right off the bat. I’m not talking about the dramatic soundtrack that starts as soon as you first fire it up (though that’s nice too), but the extremely flexible character creation system. After picking your gender and a handful of appearance options, you get down to the nitty gritty with several points to put into attributes and skills.

The effects of the six attributes are well-explained, and while there’s no class system per se, making smart choices can help tailor your character to your desired play style. You might go heavy on Strength and Endurance if you fancy a warrior type who can wield two-handed weapons and wear heavy armor, or specialize in Intelligence for magic use. Charisma might be my favorite; higher scores can actually add dialogue options when you interact with NPCs.

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