Doodle Kingdom Review: How to Make a Dragon

Jan 24, 2014

After several games and several million downloads under their belt, JoyBits has returned with their first new game in the Doodle series in over two years. The original Doodle God staked its claim in the gaming world by having players combine two different elements in order to create a third, and then using that third to create a fourth, and so on until a rich and resource-filled world materialized right before their very eyes. While Doodle Kingdom builds upon this tried and true formula with a fresh thematic twist, the game also tries a few new things to usher in this latest era in the Doodle universe as well.

This time around, there are an initial 116 elements to discover across 13 different categories, and if you’re a fan of any Doodle game before it, then the odds are you’ll feel right at home in this one. Things start out simple enough, with your typical “Human + Forest = Berries and Lumber” equations, until the main draw of Doodle Kingdom begins to kick in: the medieval fantasy elements! Given its name, the game has an inherently medieval theme, and a lot of the elements you’ll discover fit into this mold perfectly: from Golems and Dwarves, to Catapults and Forges, to even Unicorns and a Pegasus. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air for the game and the series, and one that really ramps up the challenge by forcing you to push your imagination to its limit (related: if anyone knows what the heck a Unicorn can be combined with, you know where to reach me).

Doodle Kingdom

Luckily, Doodle Kingdom implements a fairly attractive hint system so you’re never stuck for too long, with lots of good incentives to spend currency on more of these nudges in the right direction, but never any hard requirements to do so. There are three different forms of hints you can choose from in the main game: ones that reveal an element that can be created from your existing ones; another that shows two categories which currently have an undiscovered reaction between them; and a third which automatically makes a random elemental pairing for you. Each one has its own addicting benefits, and daily rewards for playing will keep your pockets full of currency to purchase more by the bundle.

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Mega Jump 2 Review: One giant leap for monster-kind

Jan 21, 2014

A lot has certainly happened in the world of mobile gaming since Get Set Games’ original Mega Jump was first released on the App Store in 2010. These days, smartphone and tablet gamers have come to expect things like console-quality graphics, the option for cross-platform play, and of course, a free-to-play model that’s both fair and noninvasive. So can a purely simplistic endless jumping game still manage to take a firm hold today in 2014 as it did in the early days of the App Store? Well in the case of Mega Jump 2, I’ll let my lack of sleep due to playing this game answer that for me: why yes it can, and yes it does.

The gameplay of Mega Jump 2 is built on an interweaving system of jumping and falling, and the mid-game switches between the two are so seamless that you might not even realize it at first. For the majority of each game, you’ll be on the offensive, so to speak: maneuvering your way side to side into gems and coins to keep your upward momentum going strong. But then you’ll hit a stretch of sky where the items are scarce, and the appearance of breakable platforms quickly slows down the action to a careful and precise Doodle Jump experience. And then it’s one more power-up and before you know it, you’re skyrocketing through the clouds without a care once again.

Mega Jump 2

I encountered three different environments throughout my time with the game, although there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when one background switches over to another: jungle, beach, and a rocky canyon. In addition to these, every environment is filled with all sorts of fun hazards and gameplay mechanics, from baddies that you’ll need to bop on the head, to trickster coins that jump out of the way just as you’re about to nab them, to even a ball-and-chain that serves to seriously put a damper on your jumping potential. Don’t worry though: you’ll have plenty of awesome power-ups to breeze by these obstacles in a jiffy, like my personal favorite, Mega Mode, which makes your monster grow to fill up the majority of the screen and completely wipe out anything and everything that’s floating above him!

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X-Men: Battle of the Atom Review: Not the X-Men you X-pect

Jan 21, 2014

X-Men: Battle of the Atom is a new free-to-play card battle game that lets you face off against the forces of evil at the head of a famous band of mutant superheroes including Scotius Summerisle, Stepford Cuckoos, the Glob, Cipher, and Cypher. Wait, who?

If you're a casual X-Men fan – you enjoyed the movies, maybe read a few trade paperbacks – then the first thing to know about Battle of the Atom is that it's probably not the X-Men you X-pect. As a tie-in with the "Battle of the Atom" comic crossover that began in the fall of 2013, the mobile game features "hundreds of characters spanning 50 years of X-Men history," according to the App Store description. To fill a roster that broad, Aeria Mobile brought in just about everyone who ever appeared in a mutant comic book, from past, present, future, and even alternate worlds.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

The net result is a menagerie that might be familiar to die-hard fans of the franchise but is largely baffling for anyone who thinks of Thunderbird or Northstar as "exotic" X-Men. This would be fine if it was actually a good CCG, but that's the real problem with Battle of the Atom: It isn't. It is, in a word, boring, and while that may be at least in part due to the cookie-cutter nature of the CCG genre, there's simply nothing about this one that makes it stand out from the crowd.

All the usual CCG elements are here: Battle enemies by tapping the screen, collect points to recruit new cards, enhance and evolve cards to make them stronger, build a powerful deck, square off against your fellow players and, when your stamina runs out (which will happen relatively quickly at higher levels), stop playing until it recharges or fork over some money to make it happen immediately. But it's unengaging and flat, and comes off feeling like a minimal-effort tie-in mandated by the marketing department and farmed out to the lowest bidder.

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Midnight Castle Review: You’ll play until the sun comes up

Jan 21, 2014

In Midnight Castle, the newest social hidden object adventure from Elephant Games and Big Fish Games, players are summoned to a dim and eerie castle after their uncle’s strange and unexplained demise, which seems to have something to do with the castle’s hidden Mystery Chamber. But one step onto the castle grounds and one interaction with the spooky cast of characters, and you’ll quickly see how the game’s stunning presentation and masterful exploration of the genre leave nothing dark or mysterious about its great and truly rewarding nature.

Despite being a free-to-play “social” hidden object game rather than a premium and streamlined “adventure,” Midnight Castle is presented in a way that would make any adventure fan feel right at home. Instead of some lifeless map you have to click around to move from scene to scene, every area in the game is beautifully laid out across an interactive landscape, where you will move from location to location, interacting with characters and entering hidden object scenes. Even the smaller details are incredibly cool, like the way you’re able to click to interact with key items in your inventory, and serve as a much-needed breath of fresh air for both sides of the HOG genre at large.

Midnight Castle

The hidden object scenes are pretty much what you’d expect from a social HOG, with speed and repetition being the primary focus. You’ll breeze through each scene finding small lists of items until you know their locations by heart and can start chaining together some high score combos from clicking on them in quick succession. Once you’ve played through a given scene numerous times, you’ll unlock its next tier of difficulty, which adds more items to the overall list and rearranges their positions for a nice and welcome changeup. Typical social HOG fare, yes; but the hidden object scenes themselves are still some of the most detailed and nicely drawn that I’ve seen from such like-minded games in a while.

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RHYTHM THIEF & the Paris Caper Review: A shaky beat at best

Jan 21, 2014

Attention, rhythm game enthusiasts: Rhythm Thief & The Paris Caper is not a straight port of Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure for the Nintendo 3DS. It's actually a title engineered specifically for mobile platforms, and it apes – curiously enough – the hit card/battle game Puzzle & Dragons.

[Audience groans in disappointment]

Yeah, it's a bit of a bummer, but it's not a washout. Rhythm Thief & The Paris Caper is certainly interesting, and it has moments where it shines as brightly as a disco ball on Saturday night. Unfortunately, its disjointed pacing, frequent loading times, and panhandling for in-app purchases bust up its rhythm.

You play through The Paris Caper as Raphael, a young man who's a shy Parisian student by day and the notorious art thief "Phantom R" by night. Though he lifts art, Phantom R is actually on the trail of his father who vanished several years prior without an explanation.

RHYTHM THIEF & the Paris Caper

The action in The Paris Caper is carried out via several mini-games peppered in between static story scenes. Most of the mini-games are based on reflexes or luck, requiring you to hit buttons quickly, pop as many balloons as possible, or stop a roulette on a treasure chest. The fun really begins when you play a rhythm game, which requires you to tap or swipe along to the music. Standard stuff for the genre, but catchy nonetheless.

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Broken Age: Act 1 Review: Welcome Back, Schafer

Jan 20, 2014

For years, people have been insistent on saying that the point-and-click graphic adventure is a dead genre. And to that, I say “bullcrap.” It doesn’t have the mainstream appeal that it once had, sure – but thanks to the likes of companies like Wadjet Eye Games, Daedalic Entertainment, Telltale and more, the selection of great point-and-click adventure games has been bigger than ever in recent years.

The problem, though, is that there was one person we all really wanted to see make adventure games, and he just wasn’t doing it. That person co-wrote the first two Monkey Island games, gave us Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and walked away from the genre completely once public interest died off. That man was Tim Schafer.

And now that man is back.

Broken Age: Act 1

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NBA Rush Review: Athletes versus aliens

Jan 20, 2014

You would think that the life of an NBA player is stressful enough trying to figure out how to dethrone LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat. But no, we’re asking them to fend off alien invasions too. If you think I’m just babbling incoherently, you need to check out NBA Rush, a competent but unspectacular endless runner made notable mostly by the unusual premise I just laid out.

Granted, RenRen Games could have made this just another sports-themed runner, so the devs get props for coming up with something different. Yet it’s never really explained why NBA stars would be the proper people to help fight off the aliens, except, I guess, that they look more like super heroes than mere athletes thanks to the game’s angular, stylized art.

No matter. The game gets you right into the action with controls very familiar to anyone who’s ever played anything in this genre: swipe to either side to switch lanes, swipe up to jump, and swipe down to slide under certain obstacles. Notice how your player keeps his dribble going at all times? You wouldn’t want to be called for traveling or double dribbling, even under these dire circumstances.

Along the way, you’ll be looking to pick up coins, but also to defeat the aliens whenever possible. The ones on the ground can be defeated by jumping on them, which also gives you a boost to get on top of otherwise unreachable places. Flying aliens are a little trickier, as you have to wait until you find a “DUNK” icon to be able to smash their flying saucers with some seriously aggressive jams.

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Road of Kings Review: Road of middle-ranking courtesans

Jan 17, 2014

Gamebooks have made a big comeback on mobile devices recently. But for all the nostalgia and entertainment they provide, I can’t help but feel most of them are a wasted opportunity. On a multimedia touchscreen device, why limit yourself to static pictures and text? Road of Kings attempts to take the concept to a new level by mixing in elements of rouge-like adventure games. You play a barbarian warrior who has 100 days to amass a fortune of gold big enough to buy yourself a chieftainship.

The action takes place on a top-down hex map of a fantasy kingdom. There are towns to visit, ruins to explore, and monsters and other heroes to encounter, which you can either fight or have join your party; if you choose the latter option, you must then feed them by buying food or risking hunting in the wilderness.

Road of Kings

So far, so ordinary. What’s intriguing about Road of Kings is the combination of chance encounters and scripted story. Travellers on the road or the contents of long-forgotten ruins are generated randomly, but many locations on the map provide a richer vein of adventure.

Enter one of these and the game map is overlaid by a text window describing your encounters and offering you choices in the vein of a “choose your own adventure” book. The locations of these change occasionally, but once you’re in a given adventure the script remains the same. And you’ll need to experiment and learn the rewarding choices if you want to succeed in your quest.

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Overlive Review: The Reading Dead

Jan 17, 2014

Overlive is a promising mix of things. On one hand the game is a tap-and-shoot zombie shooter, and on the other hand it's a choice-driven narrative full of decision making. Unfortunately, neither one of these elements stands out memorably. The combat scenarios involve simply tapping at static images to shoot, or swiping a finger across the screen for a melee attack, and while the writing was grammatically sound, by the end of my playthrough I was left with more dead-end subplots than I cared to remember.

In the game, players are tasked with escaping a zombie-filled city before the local nuclear power plant has a meltdown and blankets the area with atomic radiation. Instead of simply tossing players a shotgun and pointing them in the direction of the best way out of town, Overlive has players scrounging the city for a vehicle to use to escape the blast radius of the power plant. While on the hunt for a vehicle, players encounter a number of survivors and begin to unravel the mystery surrounding what really caused the apocalypse.

Overlive

The problem with Overlive's storytelling is that the game can end before the story does. I literally ran the clock out, attempting to unravel the story, and ended up dying on the 180th day when the power plant exploded. I never found any answers to the half-dozen plot points brought to my attention while playing through the game. Now, while that does promote replayability (something which I typically like within a game), the gameplay itself was just too dull for me to want to have to deal with it again.

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Lost Yeti Review: Icy retro fun

Jan 17, 2014

Italy's not exactly considered a hotbed of video game development, but if Lost Yeti is any indication, it should be. This adorable retro puzzler hearkens back to a time before boob physics and ultra-realistic violence, when games were made for and played by everyone. With its pixelated, primary color approach and simple but challenging mechanics, it's like the charming descendant of games like Dig Dug and Burger Time. If not for its maddeningly repetitive (although admittedly fitting) music score and cruel “coming soon” level tease, it would get high marks all around.

Lost Yeti begins as a troop of yeti (yetis?) is crossing the glacier-scape doing whatever it is yeti do. Among them is a wee, easily distracted, buck-toothed youngster. He spots a tasty popsicle, veers off the path, and—the horror!—finds himself lost. Fortunately, he has you to guide him back to safety. The gameplay here is based on three precepts: 1. Get the yeti (within an enclosed area) from his starting area to a safe zone; 2. Once the yeti starts moving, he doesn't stop until he runs into an enemy or reaches the safe zone; and 3. Every time the yeti hits a wall, he turns ninety degrees clockwise.

Lost Yeti

These rules couldn't be simpler, but it's amazing how much gameplay developer Neutronized gets out of them. To start, things are fairly simple. You're given time to get your furry feet wet traversing very basic levels by manipulating ice blocks positioned within them. Even better, you get to tromp around picking up tasty popsicles before skipping along to safety. Soon enough however, you're faced with nasty things like pointy-headed blobs and fire-breathing mini-dragons who seem to have it in for you, not to mention tricky burrowing creatures and pits full of spikes. If you manage to get your baby yeti from point A to point B, you're allowed to move on; collected popsicles can be hoarded and used to buy your way past the more challenging levels.

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