Coldfire Keep Review: Old-school dungeon crawling done right

Feb 20, 2014

The town of Newsettle needs your help! There's evil around every corner (careful not to step in any) and it's up to you and your stalwart band of newbie adventurers to delve into the depths of Coldfire Keep, uncover the source of the trouble, and put an end to it once and for all!

A brief history lesson before we get going: The "dungeon crawler" is a type of first-person RPG, solo or party-based, with a focus on exploration, puzzle solving, collecting loot, and copious amounts of combat with a host of inhuman ne'er-do-wells. They were particularly popular in the 80s and early 90s, but by the mid-90s the genre had fallen out of mainstream gamer consciousness. In recent years, however, it's enjoyed something of a resurgence, driven largely by the 2012 indie hit Legend of Grimrock. (I delivered the same sermon in the lead-in to that review too, by the way. I like to keep readers informed.)

Now along comes Coldfire Keep, and if you've ever wished that you could go digitally spelunking on your bus ride to work, I have good news: There are some rough edges, but in most of the ways that matter, this is a game that gets it right.

Coldfire Keep follows four inexperienced adventurers as they investigate strange happenings in the ancient castle that lies just outside of town. In fine dungeon crawler fashion, that's the extent of the setup: Some monsters busted up the place and you're going to look into it because nobody else will. The tale gets a little deeper as you progress through the catacombs but it's perfunctory stuff, and the truth is that, much like climbing a mountain, you're diving deeper into the dungeon for no better reason than because it's there.

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The Last Door: Chapter 4 - Ancient Shadows Review: Coming home to the horror

Feb 17, 2014

Jeremiah Devitt has been through a lot in the short time we’ve known him.  He discovered the dead body of his childhood friend, Anthony Beechworth, in Chapter 1 - The Letter.  He was buried alive in Chapter 2 - Memories.  He was abandoned and stranded in a fog-encased slum in Chapter 3 - The Four Witnesses.  While all of these events were the result of his own deliberate search for answers, they happened without his consent or desire.  In The Last Door: Chapter 4 – Ancient Shadows, Devitt chooses to inflict what might be the final act of horror upon himself—or it could be the beginning of an entirely new struggle.

The Four Witnesses was an excursion for The Last Door; it deviated from the previous two chapters’ focus on Devitt and the enclosed, claustrophobic spaces related directly to him.  In this, Ancient Shadows feels like coming home.  Devitt begins this chapter travelling to the house of Alexandre, another friend from the boarding school he and Anthony attended, and a member of their occult group bound by forces we have been slowly uncovering for three episodes. 

The Last Door: Chapter 4 - Ancient Shadows

Alexandre’s home is the focus of Ancient Shadows, but everything about it is eerily reminiscent of Beechworth Manor in The Letter.  The house staff have fled, scared off by events alluded to in diary notes left behind.  A madness similar to Anthony’s has overtaken Alexandre, who has demanded all statues be turned towards the wall or beheaded to end their relentless staring.  Even the house itself has a familiar setup, with a grandfather clock ticking away in the foyer and a cluttered cellar that hides a secret.

But there are plenty of differences, as well.  Although the house is devoid of staff, Alexandre remains in his upstairs bedroom, unresponsive to Devitt but alive and “well.”  Having been called to the manor by Alexandre but unable to learn anything from him directly, Devitt is forced to search the house for some clue as to why Alexandre beckoned and what is happening to him.  Alexandre’s presence is used to solve some puzzles but also as an unsettling constant, providing further incentive for Devitt to unravel the mystery before they are both lost to madness.

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Final Fantasy VI Review: A muted retelling of a grand old story

Feb 14, 2014

Another day, another controversial remake of a classic RPG from Square Enix. This time, the beloved SNES epic Final Fantasy VI is getting the "Vaseline treatment" – that is to say, this mobile rerelease has had its scenery and characters smoothed out to hide its pixel-based shame.

The end result looks awful, but what's really important is how Final Fantasy VI plays on mobile. And, well, after all these years, the game still ranks amongst the best RPGs released during the 90s and early aughts, a golden era for the genre.

Final Fantasy VI

Final Fantasy VI has a pretty ambitious story that's still compelling to follow. One thousand years after the destructive "War of the Magi," magic vanished from the planet and was replaced by steampunk and other technology. Magic and the people that used it faded into legend – but a slow trickle of magic is coming from an unidentifiable source, and it's enough to send the land's Emperor on a hunt for this ancient power.

War quickly follows, and the conflict grows until the apocalypse cracks the earth, poisons the water, and mutates the animals. No, really.

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Undefeated Review: Proof that the JRPG is still alive and kicking

Feb 13, 2014

Few game genres have undergone as much change and experimentation as the Japanese RPG (JRPG). Sometimes, those inflicted changes turn out to be popular. Other times, you get Final Fantasy XIII. As a result, these past couple of decades have been lonely ones for those of us who grew up with (and still love) the likes of Dragon Warrior, old-school Final Fantasy, and Suikoden.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of independent game studios willing to give us our fix of tile-based movement and magic-slinging heroes with crazy hair. Undefeated by Aldorlea Games is a particularly solid and enjoyable effort, though it has a bug or two that might throw a wrench into your plans to save the world.


The three main heroes of Undefeated, Marcus, Bastien, and Fela, are new conscripts in a world that's troubled by an ever-expanding Wasteland. While the authorities have always managed to keep the Wasteland under control, lately its monstrous plants and animals have been creeping down from the poisoned lands. After a chance encounter with a mutant wolf, the three friends are swept into a plan to figure out why the Wasteland is creeping over healthy territory – and stop the takeover, if possible.

Undefeated is a traditional JRPG through and through. You travel across an overworld map that occasionally gives way to sub-maps of forests and dungeons. You visit towns. You take on side quests for folks. You meet enemies (which can be rendered visible on the sub-maps, giving you a chance to avoid random encounters) and take turns beating the snot out of them by issuing commands via menus. Depending on what you like from your RPGs, Undefeated may be exactly what you want.

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Puzzle Defense: Dragons Review: Match-3 meets medieval might

Feb 12, 2014

If two game genres ever deserved to be nominated for a “most over-used” designation, it's match-three and tower defense. Still, the shelf life of stale mechanics can often be extended a bit by creating unexpected combinations as new match-three/tower defense game Puzzle Defense: Dragons has managed to do. While this cute little game isn't exactly a paragon of innovation, it does offer a generous amount of free-to-play fun.

Puzzle Defense: Dragons has two modes: Campaign and Battle. The significant difference between the two is that the first has combat happen in stages as you progress across a map, and the second has it go on indefinitely (or until you run out of reinforcements). Also, Campaign mode has a weensy bit of implied narrative (re: the dragon attack on your resident kingdom) and gives you five lives/chances to fulfill each level's objectives. Battle mode on the other hand, is continuous and does away with the story add-ons.

 Puzzle Defense: Dragons

Whichever the mode, the match-three element of Puzzle Defense: Dragons is clever, since rather than having you rearrange existing icons within a grid, it asks you to create matches by placing the icons yourself. In this case, the icons represent different types of military units starting with a basic swordsman (who's more or less useless) and continuing through more powerful units such as archers, snipers, king's archers, and heavy crossbowmen.

The idea is to group three or more of the same unit next to one another. This combines the three and transforms them into a single, more powerful unit. The progression of this works in the order listed above—three swordsmen equal one archer, three archers equal one sniper, and so on. The strategic part comes in as you determine where to create these groupings, especially since once placed, units are immovable (in general).

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Only One Review: One sword, one life, one hundred pop-ups

Feb 11, 2014

Before I even knew what was happening, I had a magical sword in my possession and the bad guys were teleporting in to try and kill me. Naturally, I reacted as any magic sword-wielding hero would when facing down a horde of enemies: I paid $1.99 and froze them all with my newly purchased frost spell —but only after I had to put the fight on hold in order to decline rating my experience thus far.

Only One is a fun game that is hampered by constant, tacky reminders that you can spend your money in the game to power-up your hero. While it would be silly of me to say that a developer has no right pointing the player in the direction of where the in-app purchases reside, I feel like it's counterproductive to stop the game every time a new pair of items in the store are available to purchase. Point the player in the store's direction the first time it becomes available; anything beyond that and it feels like a nagging merchant following you through the flea market, trying to get you to buy his stuff.

Ignoring the bouncing arrows and pop-ups reminding the player to rate their experience, Only One is a relatively fun game. Developed by Ernest Szoka, Only One is a top-down sword fighting game where players battle atop a mystical battleground, high up in the clouds. Enemies teleport in as others are dispatched and they can all be killed with sword attacks or magical abilities that the player unlocks by spending the points they collect from slaying other enemies. Kill an enemy and they drop loot; knock an enemy off the side of the battleground and more points are awarded, but the majority of the loot will follow the doomed opponent off the edge.

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Eliss Infinity Review: The first great mobile game is even better now

Feb 11, 2014

First released back in March 2009, which was literally like the prehistoric ages for the mobile gaming world, Steph Thirion’s Eliss has often been considered by many to be the first truly great mobile game. After one playthrough of the newly refined and expanded rerelease, Eliss Infinity, it’s hard not to see why. But what’s so amazing about the experience is that not only was the original Eliss such an innovative game for 2009, but the challenging mix of arcade and puzzle gameplay has managed to stand the test of time and remain insanely relevant and accessible even today in 2014.

For those new to the world of Eliss, the gameplay is deceptively simple: you’ll be presented with a number of different colored planets that slowly materialize in the vastness of space. You can touch and drag any planet to move it around the screen, and combining any two like-colored planets will create a new larger one. Conversely, stretching two fingers apart on any one planet will split it up into two smaller ones. As time goes on, several color-coded portals will begin popping up around the screen, and it’s your goal to maneuver your different planets in order to fill each one (keeping in mind that the portal and accompanying planet must be the same color and size).

Eliss Infinity

Things start to get tricky early on, as you realize that different colored planets are not allowed to touch. If they do, a green health bar at the top of the screen will quickly start depleting, and if it empties all the way then you’ll have to start over. It seems easy to keep the colors separate at first, but once new planets start spawning over already-existing ones of a different color, or when some planets get so big that it becomes hard to maneuver them to the portals without banging into the edges of others, you’ll quickly understand the game’s immense and rewarding sense of challenge. And that’s without even mentioning the various hazards like moving red vortexes which only complicate things even further.

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Threes! Review: Three is definitely not a crowd

Feb 10, 2014

Over the past two years, the three-man team of Sirvo LLC has been narrowing in on mobile gaming gold.  Although their only title as a trio was the brilliant Tetris-meets-SpellTower mash-up Puzzlejuice, their Midas Touch spread through the App Store via individual roles on critically-acclaimed games such as Hundreds and Ridiculous Fishing.  After regrouping from their award-winning walkabouts, Sirvo’s sophomore offering is another puzzler, and one that sets the bar even higher than it was already stratospherically placed.

Threes! is the definition of deceptively simple.  Its one-touch gameplay requires seemingly nothing more from players than the ability to swipe up, down, left, or right.  Doing so will slide all tiles on its 4x4 game board in that same direction, with one of two results: either the tiles will simply move, or they will combine with other tiles.  This is all you have to do to play Threes!, but it’s only the beginning of its strategy and depth.


Your overarching goal in Threes! is to create larger and larger numbers by combining like-numbered tiles.  While Threes! appears mathematical at first glance, it’s strictly a matching game.  When two tiles with the same number cross, they will merge into one new tile featuring their sum.  So, two “3” tiles become one “6” tile, two “12” tiles become one “24” tile, etc.  The only exception to this rule are “1” and “2” tiles, which must combine together to create a “3” tile.  The purpose of these numerical Voltrons is twofold: first, larger numbers are worth more points towards your final score and second, merging tiles clears space on the board.  Since the game ends when the board fills up (and no other matches are available), this is a key component to progress.

These core aspects are vaguely similar to Triple Town, but Threes! is only lightly reminiscent of the anti-bear match-3 game.  Combos in Threes! can only be made within rows or columns that are butted up against the walls of the grid; otherwise, the tiles will simply shift to fill open spaces.  This allows freedom to rearrange the grid when needed, but while creating the added demand of filling a row before you can merge tiles.

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The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors Review: You got Snow White in my hard-boiled crime fiction!

Feb 10, 2014

Don’t you hate when a TV series ends its season (or mid-season) on a cliffhanger? It keeps you on the edge of your seat for months, and you just want to throw your remote through the TV. Telltale Games creates a similar fury in me with every single game they release. And The Wolf Among Us is no different.

Finally available after a bit of a delay (and nearly four months after Episode 1: Faith), Episode 2: Smoke and Mirrors continues the story of Bigby Wolf, sheriff of Fabletown, as he investigates a pair of beheadings that have occurred in the Fable community.

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors

What’s a Fable? If you have to ask that, we suggest you stop reading this review now and go play Episode 1 (or even better, go read Bill Willingham’s award-winning comic Fables that provides The Wolf Among Us its setting). Here’s the short version for those not interested in taking our advice: due to some unseemly shenanigans, the characters that populate fairy tales had to escape their world to live in ours. They live normal lives masquerading as humans, but mostly try to keep to their own kind, aka Fables.

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Octodad: Dadliest Catch Review: Suit up those tentacles!

Feb 7, 2014

I don't really need 600+ words to explain why you need to play Octodad: Dadliest Catch, as this single paragraph will be more than enough: You play as an octopus dressed in a suit, who has a human wife and two human kids, and must complete everyday tasks without letting on that he's an octopus. Oh, and you control each of his legs and arms separately, meaning that his cephalopod tentacles sprawl all over the place and make simple movements rather difficult.

If that description doesn't already have you reaching for your wallet, then let me use my additional 550 words to tempt you even further. Octodad: Dadliest Catch isn't just a one-trick pony, serving up a silly salad of jokes and nothing more – the way it couples the hilarity with the sorts of banal activities that may usually be seen as dull is sheer genius, and when you break into the second half of the game and experience some of Octodad's more touching moments, it's impossible not to fall in love with his big slimy face.

We join Octodad on his wedding day, and no one appears to realize that he is, well, an octopus in a suit. This is a running joke throughout the game – only one person, a dastardly chef, knows Octodad's true identity, and goes to great lengths to attempt to unmask our tentacled hero.

The jokes continue when it comes to the game's controls, too. You move Octodad's legs separately, and his other tentacles fling around in the meantime, causing carnage and mayhem wherever he goes. He can also grab items with his "hands," but it's all purposely difficult to maneuver around, and highly hilarious throughout.

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