Big Win Racing Review

Dec 27, 2013

Sometimes it’s smart just to recognize you’ve got a good thing going. Hothead Games has done that by expanding its Big Win series of sports games to all the major stick-and-ball sports. But just when it appeared there were no more ways to expand the brand, along comes Big Win Racing. It’s the tried and true formula of light sports sim plus collectible card elements applied to stock car racing, and it adds up to something pretty good.

Your climb to the top of this particular racing world starts out in humble fashion. A pack of starter cards gives your team a foundation, though it’s not one you want to rely on for very long. Where the other Big Win titles revolve around building the best possible team of athletes, you obviously only have the driver and the car here (and some people don’t consider drivers athletes, but that’s a subject for another forum).

Big Win Racing

Big Win Racing handles this dilemma smartly by taking both the pit crew and the parts that make up your race car into account. So while you want the best driver you can get, you also need steering, transmission, an engine and tires for your ride, along with six crew members (two tire carriers, two tire changers, a jackman and a gas man) to service it in the pits.

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Fightback Review

Dec 26, 2013

Developer Ninja Theory has a short but sweet track record of quality console games, the last being January's DmC: Devil May Cry. So when asked to check out their newest title, Fightback on iOS, I was intrigued. This is the company's first venture into the world of mobile games, but I was confident that the company's prior success would be able to make the transition into the mobile market. Then, I looked at the game and I started to get nervous.

It's easy to take one look at Fightback and start to judge it. It's a two-dimensional beat'em up with a protagonist that looks like a dark-haired Duke Nukem and plenty of dark and unimaginative stages. There's little about the presentation that's worth applauding, but I'd like to think that Ninja Theory realized this after jumping into development. Even though the presentation is often laughable, it gets to the point where it starts to feel like a cheesy “B” movie. I found myself chuckling at the giant muscle man storming into a room, beating people, and checking behind him before leaving.

Fightback

Unlike movies, cheese means nothing if gameplay doesn't back it up. Fortunately, Fightback's play is often as solid as the protagonist's abs. Right away, I started to pick up on some Mortal Kombat (2009) vibes. Those who played that reboot are likely to pick up on some of the similarities. While there's no super-exaggerated uppercut or gratuitous gore, you'll be able to punch, kick, and juggle enemies in the air until they're finished. 

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Ratchet and Clank: Before the Nexus Review

Dec 24, 2013

Ratchet and Clank is a popular action game property that's exclusive to Sony and the PlayStation, so it's only natural to do a double-take at Ratchet and Clank: Before the Nexus for mobile.

Before the Nexus isn't actually a full-fledged Ratchet and Clanktitle, however, nor does it contain the depth of any of the series' mainstream entries. In fact, Before the Nexus is a 3D endless running game that plays much like any other runner slumming around on the App Store or Google Play. It looks great and it should keep you busy for an hour or two, but the game obviously exists just to whet your appetite for the latest Ratchet and Clank title, Into the Nexus for the PlayStation 3.

Ratchet and Clank: Before the Nexus

As its name implies, Before the Nexus takes place before the events that unfurl in Into the Nexus. Vendra Prog and her brother, Neftin Prog, are making trouble. And, like most villains in endless running games, they're making a beeline for the horizon. Ratchet gears up to stop them. Luckily, Lombaxes are fleet of foot.

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Fighting Fantasy: Island of the Lizard King Review

Dec 23, 2013

The final paragraphs of the gamebook Island of the Lizard King contain a scene I can still remember clearly today, nearly thirty years after I first read it. It stamped itself on my ten-year old brain because it seemed so hideous at the time. I’m made of sterner stuff today, and was positively anticipating re-living those climatic moments on my iPad.

As a digital gamebook, you’ll spend most of the time reading paragraphs of text and then being presented with a series of possible choices at the end. In this way, you work your own chosen path through a work of fiction. Occasionally you’ll be called on to fight creatures or test one of your three statistics, all mediated by dice rolls with a slick and satisfying system.

Fighting Fantasy: Island of the Lizard King

As the title suggests, the plot of this tale sees you travelling to a tropical island to search for, and hopefully dispatch, a deranged lizardman who’s been terrorizing local populations with slave raids. 

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Cat Story Review

Dec 23, 2013

Waking on the shore of a strange island, your first realization is that your friends are missing. Your second realization is that it's time to get to work! Much like CityVille and The Tribez, Cat Story puts you in control of creating a functional town one building at a time. Harvest food, gather resources, and build bungalows as you find your friends and expand the village to take over the island!

Cat Story

It starts with simple strawberry farms and fisheries, the most fundamental things necessary to keep your village alive. You’ll grow basic food products so you can refine them into more marketable items, slowly increasing your pot of gold with each sale.

Once an item is ready to collect, tap the building to take its resources, then tap it again to set the workers on a new task. Quests appear on the side of the screen to guide you forward, instructing you in the ways of wheat production and sawmill construction as well as pushing the story forward with new events and challenges to complete.

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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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