Block Fortress: War Review: A merciless mobile RTS

Mar 11, 2014

Block Fortress: War is a real-time strategy (RTS) game from Foursaken Media. It's also hard. Damned hard.

Nobody really expects a real-time strategy title to be as easy-going as a walk through a grove of block-shaped trees. We're talking about war, after all. People die in wars. Zombies explode in wars. Nevertheless, casual RTS fans will probably balk at Block Fortress: War's steep learning curve. Even genre veterans may quickly realize they've met their match.

Block Fortress: War takes place in the far-flung future. Space has been colonized, and the universe is very square. That's not to say it's lame: it's literally made out of cubes. 

Block Fortress: War

As humanity zips around the universe, it logs more face time with aliens. Many of these critters are hostile and wish for our destruction. What do we do with angry aliens? We go to war with them, of course. 

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Block Legend Review: Not quite legendary

Mar 11, 2014

I've not felt the draw of a Puzzle Quest game since the first one. The novelty of RPG mechanics met with match-three gameplay wore out for me quickly as I realized even the developers behind them weren't sure what made those games great.

Now I have Block Legend. It's full of obligatory pixel art and chiptunes and the super deformed character design you expect from an indie dev. What it's not is a Puzzle Quest game -- it's not even a match-three game. It is, however, a blend of puzzle and turn-based RPG.

Block Legend

Your character (more on those later) moves from left to right automatically, running into enemies while you match blocks below, a la 10000000. Rather than switching blocks about to match, any number of identical tiles can match at once. 

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The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot Review: A great game hobbled by its dependence on player content

Mar 7, 2014

The allure of loot is something that's hard to deny.

Some argue the loot-based formula, popularized by action-RPGs like Diablo, aren't actually "fun," and instead wage psychological warfare against players to make them feel like tweaking numbers is actually enjoyable. The same is often said of free-to-play games. When abused, the "pay-if-you-want" model is nothing but a shell to trick you into spending more money on a system that's designed to make you do it all over again, never really letting you play a "game" along the way.

The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is a loot-based action-RPG in the style of Diablo. It's also a free-to-play game with not just a few resemblances to EA's much-maligned Dungeon Keeper reboot. Immediately the corporate cards seem stacked against any actual "game" to be found in this blend of genres.

The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot

It's mental tug-of-war; I want this here, but I don't want to spend money. Is this actually fun, or is it just gratuitously satisfying? The same push-and-pull defines Mighty Quest on a design level.

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If... Review: Emotional edutainment

Mar 7, 2014

Obvious moves aren’t that interesting. So when it came to light that EA founder Trip Hawkins had a new startup working on a game to teach kids social and emotional learning (SEL), it raised some eyebrows. Well, mine anyway, and possibly Dwayne Johnson’s. Now that game, If…, is live, and it’s no less intriguing in the way it blends high production values and dedication to its mission to create a viable alternative to much of what school-aged children might otherwise play on their iPads.

The story of If… (the title is inspired by a Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name) unfolds on a planet called Ziggurat where anthropomorphic dogs and cats once lived together in harmony. But something has happened to upset the balance, and it’s up to your child’s customized canine character to get to the bottom of it, starting with a special town called Greenberry. Your guide is named YouDog, a mentor figure who’s one part Yoda, one part Mr. Miyagi and one part man’s best friend.

If...

Other characters follow through the portal to Greenberry in short order to help you with the literal rebuilding. This is the least compelling part of the gameplay, requiring the simple gathering of several resources to restore buildings to their former glory.

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Frontline Commando 2 Review: A love letter to firearms and chest-high walls

Mar 6, 2014

I’m new to the series, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I started up Frontline Commando 2 for the first time. In some ways it’s about what I expected: burly dudes that almost could have come from that one really popular game about throwing bullets at one another. But it’s also a well-constructed shooter that isn’t ridiculously heavy-handed with the in-app purchases. I’d even call it “a lot of fun.”

There’s a story behind the events of Frontline Commando 2, but it’s pretty much just a backdrop. Bad guys doing bad guy things has and will always be a great excuse. Each mission takes place in a fairly enclosed area with a few cover points and quite a few enemy soldiers to shoot at. There’s no open movement, however - players can tap arrows on either side of the screen to move to a new piece of cover in that direction (best used for avoiding explosives or getting a better angle for a shot), but that’s the extent of the movement. Instead, they’ll be using the on-screen virtual buttons to focus on aiming, shooting, and reloading. And not getting shot, obviously.

Frontline Commando 2

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Toca Pet Doctor Review: The doctor is in (your dog)

Mar 4, 2014

If you’ve got small children and a touchscreen device, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ve already encountered a Toca Boca product or three. That being the case, we can probably dispense with the formal introductions and get right to Toca Pet Doctor, a game seeking kids 2 through 6 to help 15 different pets with their problems. The result is a colorful but brief burst of fun that should put some smiles on the faces of the baby teeth set.

When it comes to intuitive design, Toca Boca is typically on point, and that’s once again the case with Toca Pet Doctor. What you see is what you get: 15 different animals awaiting attention with nary a human in sight. It’s like the waiting room to the world’s cutest and quietest veterinarian’s office.

Toca Pet Doctor

Tapping on an animal begins its mini-game, each of which asks the player to heal an injury of some sort before feeding the animal in snack. Not all of the maladies are created equal, as the rabbit has what appears to be a very bad multi-bone fracture but the worm simply has his tail tied in a small knot.

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Card City Nights Review: Like No One Ever Was

Mar 4, 2014

My brother and I were born only about 17 months apart. As such we usually went to the same schools, played with the same friends and watched the same shows.

We also look a lot alike. Obviously we’re not twins, but those meeting us for the first time often assumed as much. Even today people confuse us, or just refer to us by our collective last name. Our similarities meant we rarely fought, except to distinguish ourselves from one another.

We expressed our distinctiveness in the language of GameBoys. Of course we each had to have our own – not just because sharing is definitely not an option, but because they had to be different. They were different colors (mine teal, his purple), we had different carrying cases and, of course, different editions of Pokémon.

Card City Nights

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Calculords Review: The calculus exam of video games

Feb 28, 2014

Math Blaster was a godsend. It was an "edutainment" game that fell just far enough East of its portmanteau to syphon the mid-afternoon doldrums that only a fifth grader can appreciate. Thanks to that game, the Westside Elementary computer lab wasn't just a crawlspace in the back of the library – it was my Rock of Gibraltar.

Calculords likely isn't educational enough to make the cut in Mrs. Antonopoulos' keyboard class, but it does hit on a lesson I've managed to learn in the years since: Math is kind of fun.

Now, I don't mean mapping geometric proofs, but there is something about manipulating basic patterns – finding the hidden meaning in numbers – that's challenging and interesting. It's why people enjoy Sudoku; it's why we play puzzle games.

Calculords

Did you catch that? I just called Tetris “math.”

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Autumn Dynasty Warlords Review: An unfinished kingdom-in-process

Feb 27, 2014

The sequel to the hit real-time strategy game Autumn Dynasty, Autumn Dynasty Warlords carries some great expectations on its shoulders. And it seems to meet them quite handily at first – but the deeper you dig into it, the more it becomes apparent that this game isn't quite ready for prime-time.

Autumn Dynasty Warlords is set in a fictionalized ancient China, in which you play as one of several regional warlords vying for control of the country. Each has his or her own particular strengths and weaknesses, plus a unique military unit and an officer who can be sent on special military or diplomatic missions. Beginning with a single province, you must build your armies, conquer neutral provinces, engage or defeat your fellow rulers, and ultimately declare yourself Grand Poobah of the Middle Kingdom.

Autumn Dynasty Warlords

Provincial management is very simple, as each province has just one city and their boundaries are preset. You can build various structures and upgrade them through five levels, but each city holds only a small number of buildings – sometimes as few as two or three – so you'll need to be careful about what you build. Military units can only be raised in provinces in which the city has an appropriate training facility, but population growth and tax income are best supported with "civilian" buildings. You'll also want to maintain high levels of order and alertness to keep your kingdom happy and prosperous by keeping a lid on bandits, placing sentries, and if you can afford the space, building constabularies and palaces.

Once created, armies can be moved in whole or in part from province to province and require no special facilities to maintain. You don't need to worry about feeding your people, either; farms encourage growth but your population is quite capable of taking care of itself, leaving you to handle the big decisions. The only resource you'll need to worry about is gold, required in abundant quantities to raise armies and upgrades your cities.

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Another Case Solved Review: The sweet, sugary smell of success

Feb 27, 2014

Another Case Solved is the follow-up to developer Ars Thanea Games’ ridiculously engaging match-3-meets-city builder, Puzzle Craft.  Like its predecessor, Another Case Solved relies primarily on puzzle-matching objects that are used as building blocks for progress throughout the game.  Unlike Puzzle Craft, this progress is less cyclical and more monetary, wrapped in an economy that makes the noir-themed newcomer notably more challenging, but rarely malicious.  With a number of variations on gameplay packed alongside the primary puzzle boards, Another Case Solved manages to differentiate itself while still offering all the trappings that made Puzzle Craft compelling.

This time around, you are not the mayor of a fledgling village, but a newbie private detective in a Prohibition Era-styled city.  Sugar, not alcohol, is the banned substance and everyone from crooks to cops can be put on ice for having a sweet tooth.  You’ll occasionally run into cases involving sugar smugglers and donut blackmail, but as a no-name private eye, you’ll also take on work that requires chasing kittens and tracking down missing documents.

Another Case Solved

All of these assignments, no matter their gravity, follow a similar format split into two camps.  Minor cases you find in the daily newspaper are basic gigs that merely require you to play the match-3 portion of the game.  These can be played over and over and are used to earn cash (known as “detective bucks”) as well as credibility that unlocks more involved story missions.  The story missions, or major cases, are brought to you by characters in need and are the meat of Another Case Solved.  They not only present plot points involving recurring characters you’ll meet throughout other major assignments, but require you to complete four different types of puzzles in order to crack the case.

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