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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In Fear I Trust Review: Nothing to be afraid of

Jan 28, 2014

I’ve seen some reviewers refer to In Fear I Trust as a survival horror game. I’ve also seen the App Store’s description describe it as “polished, compelling, and instantly unsettling.”

It is none of these things.

The game does nothing to dispel the rumors of its horrific nature, but I can assure you that this is a visual novel at heart. Personally, I like visual novels quite a lot (Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward has one of my favorite video game stories of all time and Device 6 proved that the genre has a place on iOS).

In Fear I Trust

Perhaps Chillingo and Turn Me Up Games didn’t think a Western audience would be receptive to a game marketed as such, because the app’s page is quick to point out the “danger” and “creepy jump scares” found in the game. Unless you count the danger of encountering one of several dozen bugs and glitches in the game’s decidedly unpolished first two chapters (the game is episodic and, at the time of this review, only the first two chapters are available) you’re in no threat of dying – ever.

Rather, the game is presented as a series of locked rooms and the illogical puzzles needed to open them. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a tape recorder or journal to fill out the story or trigger a flashback cutscene. That’s pretty much the whole game, and if the puzzles weren’t so poorly designed, the story so disjointed and confusingly written, and just about everything else riddled with technical issues, that would be enough.

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Tales of Phantasia Review: What a Phantastic mess

Jan 27, 2014

Free-to-play mobile titles tend to make traditional game fans furious, and when you come across a hair-pulling experience like Namco Bandai's Tales of Phantasia, it admittedly becomes hard to defend the controversial formula.  

Tales of Phantasia is a 16-bit classic action / RPG that was a huge hit in Japan, but has had a limited Western release since its debut on the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo). The original game received a fan translation that takes some creative liberties with the story and its characters (think unwarranted profanity – lots of it), and a poor Game Boy Advance remake, but otherwise, English-speakingfans will have to make do with Tales of Phantasia for mobile. What a shame, then, that Namco considers this poorly-constructed adaptation a worthy ambassador for newcomers to the series.

Tales of Phantasia is free to download, which should rightfully set off some warning bells. How does the free-to-play formula even work in this instance?

Tales of Phantasia

The answer: It doesn't work. This is a 16-bit RPG through-and-through, right down to the "orphaned hero" storyline. You grind enemies for experience, grow in levels, and buy better monster-slaying equipment. That's fine – except Namco Bandai has thrown in optional purchases like orbs that revive you when you die.

The problem with making a title like Tales of Phantasia free-to-play is that you have no idea if the game is playing fair. The mobile iteration is apparently a port of a Japanese PSP re-release, and to hear the tittle-tattle from series fans on message boards and the App Store, the mobile port allegedly jacks up the difficulty, reduces item drops, and even removes save points to goad players into buying resurrection orbs and other boosters.

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Front Wars Review: This battlefield smells familiar

Jan 24, 2014

War. War never changes. Well, except for humanity's new tendency to play our little battle games on a digital plane instead of with real guns and soldiers. That's a change, and a pretty relieving one at that.

Front Wars by Gregory Challant is one such example of a war simulation. It actually looks and plays almost identically to Famicom Wars / Advance Wars, a Nintendo series that hasn't seen an update in quite some time (the studio behind the series, Intelligent Systems, has been hard at work on alternative war / strategy games like the excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS).

Front Wars

While Front Wars is nowhere near as polished as even the earliest Advance Wars titles, there's still quite a bit to like here – provided you're not bothered by Challant's, er, "flattery" of Intelligent Systems' work.

There is one major difference between Front Wars and Advance Wars, however: Whereas the latter is based off fantasy scenarios and made-up wars, Front Wars lets you play through prominent battles that defined the Second World War. You literally send cute, large-headed soldiers to their deaths on the shores of Normandy. It's bizarre.

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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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