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.

Threes!

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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Jazzpunk Review: The funniest game you’ll play all year

Feb 7, 2014

Jazzpunk is different.  When its mother says it's a special and unique snowflake, that the other games only make fun of it because they have gout, that deformed ducklings are actually beautiful pigeons, she's right. 

If we had to categorize Jazzpunk in a "normal" genre so it can go to regular school instead of one with crocodile grades, it would be a first-person adventure.  But that's just a disguise.  Jazzpunk doesn't fit neatly into any classification, except something like "joke sandbox," of which it is the pioneering and only one of its kind. 

Jazzpunk

And yet, it is still very much a game.  It looks like a game, it feels like a game, and it rewards its players like a game.  In fact, it's actually a lot of games: a yard sale assortment of almost-recognizable titles with strangers' names scrawled across them in black Sharpie, dropped in a one-price-for-all box someone decided to round out with whoopee cushions and books of Russian brain teasers.  This box is familiar and foreign, and while you can't possibly appreciate everything that's inside, you take it home and sort through the spoils, giggling at nostalgic discoveries of sticky hands and foam dinosaur pills.

So what's actually in the box labeled "Jazzpunk"?  There's a 1950s spy motif, splashed across an alternate Cold War era reality where technology has evolved to the point of robot butlers but not past the point of banana phones.  This world is painted by a colorful, cartoonish brush that elicits memories of everything from Team Fortress 2 to Viewtiful Joe.  The characters that populate this 3D-but-at-times-2D land fit the strange anti-dimensionality well, as armless creatures that acknowledge they—or at least you, the player—look like bathroom symbols.

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Naughty Kitties Review: Cute kittens grow into expensive cats

Feb 6, 2014

Naughty Kitties is an adorable, energetic mash-up of two genres that excel on mobile: endless runner and tower defense.  It’s a unique pairing that works surprisingly well.  The nonstop obstacles of the ever-scrolling runner have become targets that must be destroyed instead of dodged.  The strategic unit positioning and between-game level-ups of tower defense offer more activities than your standard jump, duck, dive.  The kitties are icing on the already delicious gameplay fishcake.

Unfortunately, despite a strong base and charming theme, Naughty Kitties falls short of revolutionary.  Runs are often repetitive and unbalanced, crawling through boring spans of enemy-free territory until you hit an overly aggressive and indefensible attack.  Its freemium model forces frequent downtime on players through an easily-emptied energy meter.  Kitties are expensive and difficult to unlock, resulting in replaying levels with the same units again and again.  The result is a game that’s great fun for the first dozen or so runs, but inevitably grind-heavy for players who don’t wish to shell out real clams.

Naughty Kitties

Each run pits your crew of artillery-laden attack cats against a never-ending invasion of robot-piloting aliens.  These amorphous fiends are trying to take over the Cat’s Planet, and only the kitty army and their rundown spaceship can stop them.  Luckily, the cats that inhabit this world have mastered the art of spray-and-pray, and have an unlimited arsenal of weaponry at their disposal. 

Naughty Kitties’ endless runner heritage has your catship hurtling through space as the aliens come at you nonstop, shooting and slamming into your ship for damage.  Your run ends when the ship’s health bar reaches zero, and your score is tied to the distance you managed to travel.  The tower defense portion comes from what you’ll actually be doing as all this automatic action takes place: assigning and managing kitty defenders who man the ship and retaliate against the alien onslaught.

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Dawn of the Plow Review: When a snow shovel just won’t do

Feb 4, 2014

When game developer Dan Fitzgerald decided to take a "mini-vacation"from developing his main game, Dog Sled Saga, he really didn't take a vacation at all. Instead, he got to work on another title, but rather than an Iditarod-esque adventure, this new game is much more...undistinguished —undistinguished in the task at hand, not the fun to be had. Make no mistake: Dawn of the Plow is plenty of fun.

Dawn of the Plow has players clearing the roads of snow, allowing drivers to safely get home. Snow is constantly falling, and if left neglected, will pile up and completely block a road. As the driver of a snow plow truck, it is the player's duty to ensure that everyone can get home in a timely manner. Drivers waiting for extended amounts of time will cause the player's approval rating to plummet. The more a driver waits, the longer the approval meter drops. Too low of an approval rating and the player gets fired. Players get a point for every driver that makes it through the map and gets home. Each level requires a certain number of points before the next level unlocks.

Sometimes in order to clear a pile of snow, players must go off-road to move around a car and tackle clearing out a pile. Easier said than done. The snow causes a severe loss of traction and makes tight turns impossible. Of course, there is more than one car on the road at a time, so skidding around out of control is complicated by other motorists attempting to get home. Accidently smashing into another car is grounds for immediate termination. Chances are, players will accidently sideswipe or rear-end another car, long before their approval rating hits zero.

Luckily for players, Dawn of the Plow randomly spawns pickups throughout the levels, which upgrade the snow plow in some way. One of the most useful pickups is special tires that allow the player to drive on snow without loss of traction. Another pickup allows the player to coat an area with ice, which stops snow from piling up. All the pickups expire eventually, so you’ll need to be as efficient as possible when one is equipped.

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Flappy Bird Review: This bird has wings

Feb 4, 2014

I’m terrible at Flappy Bird, but that’s ok – I think that’s sort of the point. Nobody is actually “good” at Flappy Bird. Some people are just less terrible than others. I’m still near the bottom of the pile, but like everyone, I’m just trying to get better.

This isn’t the first time that Flappy Bird has sounded like a metaphor for life, and it probably won’t be the last. But I suppose that’s what happens when something is simultaneously so simple yet so frustrating.

Flappy Bird

For those not in the know quite yet, Flappy Bird is the latest game to take the mobile market by storm. It’s a free download – and not, I should stress, “free-to-play” – that tasks players to guide a bird between an endless series of gaps in an attempt to get the highest score possible. Every set of pipes you pass earns you another point. It’s as simple as that.

And yet this might be the most controller-throwingly frustrating game to ever appear on the App Store.

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