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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Bloodstroke Review: Black and white and RED all over

Feb 3, 2014

From legendary action filmmaker John Woo, Chillingo’s Bloodstroke serves as a fun-filled reminder of all that is brutal and beautiful in the world. While this isn’t Woo’s first ever video game (he also made Stranglehold for home consoles in 2007), Bloodstroke marks the filmmaker’s first foray onto the mobile scene. And while the thirst for action soaked in blood is definitely the biggest selling point of this release, it’s the loud story of betrayal and the breathtaking, painted visuals that truly elevate the game into a piece of art that action fans can’t help but appreciate.

The storyline is certainly simple as events unfold in comic book-style cutscenes in between the levels, but it still brings enough twists and turns to get the job done. As “Lotus,” a newly recruited and trained security agent, you’ll need to advance through locations such as Hong Kong and Beijing while protecting your client, Dr. Koorse, who is at constant risk of being killed by entire armadas of street thugs and soldiers. It’s a fitting setup that’s meant to lead right into Woo’s trademark action world of violence and bloodshed.

The entire art style of Bloodstroke looks as if someone painted over every screen with black and white watercolor paints. You can even see the watery brushstrokes sweeping across the moving environments, whether in an accent on the road or simply swirling off the tops of the trees. It’s rare for a game that’s so rooted in action and gory violence to evoke such feelings of art and candor, but that’s exactly what Bloodstroke manages to achieve, and it’s something that adds to the story’s allure in a wonderful fashion.

Of course, it’s not all black and white in Bloodstroke, as the contrasting color of red plays a crucial role in the presentation. The only splashes of this color that you’ll find in the game are the red trenchcoat that Lotus wears, and of course, the bright gushing blood that spews out of your enemies as you slay them up and down the streets. Another nice touch is that after an enemy’s blood has been spilled, the red quickly fades to black and remains on the world’s canvas: letting players essentially add to the living painting with more bloodshed.

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Bardbarian Review: Go forth and rock!

Jan 31, 2014

There has always been a fine line between a bard and a barbarian. In fact, the two traditionally couldn’t be any more different: one is a highly refined poet from medieval culture, while the other is a ruthless warrior who often wields a club. But much like its name, Bardbarian from BulkyPix and Treefortress not only manages to weave together these two vastly different ideas in flawless fashion, but it also strings together a number of tried and true gameplay mechanics to make for one enjoyable and long-lasting defensive-adventure: one that the mobile scribes of our time are sure to write about one day.

Let’s start out with the game’s story and presentation, which do just enough to set the stage for the onslaught of awesomeness that is waiting just behind it. Bardbarian is wonderfully self-aware and just downright funny, from our hero Brad’s growing annoyance at having to save his town from evil yet again (and also being “tired of grinding XP and saving useless NPCs”), to the ironically-named Tutorial Goblin who helps you get into the basics of play.

There’s an inherent musical theme that runs throughout the story and gameplay, with Brad combining his deadly axe and a lute to make a truly rockin’ instrument that lets him pull off some pretty sweet and power-inducing solos. Seriously – the gameplay will stop for just a second as the player activates a special power, treating everyone to a quick animation of Brad wailing away on his axe with pure metal passion. The whole thing has a huge Brutal Legend vibe going on beneath the surface, but the beautiful 2D visuals and smooth animations give the game its own unique sense of charm entirely.

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Marvel Run Jump Smash! Review: Underwhelm Disappoint Bore!

Jan 30, 2014

I’m a sucker for superhero games. If you follow my scribblings here at Gamezebo, you’ll have probably figured that out already. So when I learned that Disney was bringing their Korean mobile hit Marvel Run Jump Smash! to the West, I was ready to welcome it with open arms.

…but it’s gameplay just didn’t welcome me back.

Marvel Run Jump Smash!

Marvel Run Jump Smash! is an endless runner that’s trapped pretty firmly in the past. You’ll have a selection of superheroes that you’ll cycle through, but in the end it all plays out very much the same: you’ll run, you’ll jump, you’ll smash. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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Motocross Meltdown Review: There’s very little excitement in these bikes

Jan 29, 2014

I’m not generally opposed to the idea of one-button games. In fact, when done well they can be pretty awesome. On the other hand, they can also be a pretty shallow letdown. Motocross Meltdown falls somewhere in between those two extremes. It’s pretty, and it’s full of customization options that encourage replay, but it’s also very one-note. So much so that it’s rather difficult to remain interested for very long.

The basic idea of Motocross Meltdown is to keep winning races and other motocross-style events in order to earn enough money to upgrade your bike (or buy a better one). Then win tougher races and events to win more money to upgrade or purchase better bikes in order to win even tougher races, etc. Each event is one-on-one against either an AI rider or another player depending on the mode chosen, with the spoils going to the faster or higher-scoring participant.

Motocross Meltdown

There are a fair number of events that include stunts, races, a combination of the two, and more. However, they all play in pretty much the same fashion: watch as circles move across the bottom of the screen and tap a button at the right times throughout each event in order to optimize your performance. For most events, this means tapping at key moments for jumps and turns. For stunts, it means tapping at the proper time and holding down in order to extend the trick – just be careful not to hold it for too long. And that’s really all there is to it.

Motocross Meltdown is definitely a pretty game to watch in motion. The riders animate well, pyrotechnics light up the edges of the tracks, and by the end of a race everyone is appropriately dirty. The simplistic timing-based gameplay could even be viewed as a means to enjoy the visuals more thoroughly if you’d like to think of it that way. Pulling off tricks and landing them perfectly can also be quite satisfying, even despite their relative simplicity. The various customization options, bikes, and upgrades are also welcome and do a decent job of giving players a reason to stick around.

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Suits and Swords Review: Don't get caught counting cards in this one

Jan 28, 2014

As someone who makes most of his income working in the casino industry, but also enjoys playing and writing about RPGs, I sometimes feel games like Suits and Swords are messing with my head. Splicing together blackjack and a fantasy RPG could be really intriguing. Or it could be a disaster, as splicing in general sometimes is. This game manages to be neither, ending up a middle-of-the-road experience in both content and execution.

Unlike some other casino-RPG hybrids, having the inhabitants of the Suits and Swords world play blackjack to fight their battles makes some sense. That’s because the whole place is themed like a deck of playing cards, with four distinctly different lands – Heart Union, Diamond Empire, Club Kingdom and Spade Nation – in which to adventure.

Suits and Swords

As Captain Black Jack (get it?), you return to find all four nations have come under the sway of the evil Joker. No, not the famous one, but their inspiration is clearly the same. To get to him and set things right, you’ve got to defeat a number of enemies and brainwashed friends by defeating them in head-to-head blackjack play.

Most people know at least the basics of blackjack, so I won’t go into the rules here. Suffice it to say that in each round of play, if you get closer to 21 without going over than your opponent, your character attacks. The reverse is also true, and if both sides bust or have equal totals, it’s a push and no damage is done either way. Better totals do more damage, so a 21 takes away more hit points from an enemy than a 19.

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Winds of Destiny - Duels of the Magi Review: More like a slight breeze

Jan 28, 2014

Winds of Destiny - Duels of the Magi is one of the most straightforward games I've ever played. Seriously, the game is on par with Checkers as far as complexity goes. A single match in Winds of Destiny can be completed in minutes, and the entire single-player game can be knocked out within a half-hour or so. Best of all, the game's brevity comes without penalty. It’s clear that the developer, Stupidgizmo, realized the key to a good smartphone game is succinct gameplay, and they capitalized on that knowledge here completely.

Players start the game out by choosing a guardian from one of three class types: healer, protector, and "damage." There are eight guardians in total, and the only difference between them (apart from varying cosmetically) is that every character possesses a special ability which can be activated during battle. Once a guardian is selected, players meet Custos, the leader of the guardians! Custos introduces himself and it is quickly apparent that his own special ability is conjuring up walls of text out of thin air.

Winds of Destiny - Duels of the Magi

Once Custos' history lesson is over, players are plopped right into their first battle. There is no tutorial in Winds of Destiny. In lieu of a tutorial, Stupidgizmo uploaded a video onto YouTube that runs through the basics of the game. The video is linked on the main menu, which is inaccessible during gameplay: a fact I discovered straightaway. I found myself starring at a hand of cards, some with numbers, some with pictures, and I had no idea what to do.

Luckily for me, and probably the good chunk of players who failed to see the tutorial link on the main menu, Winds of Destiny is really easy to figure out. At the start of each turn, players choose three cards from the hand which has been randomly drawn. If the player selected three numbered cards, the numbers are added together and that is how much damage is dealt to the opponent.

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