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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Mega Jump 2 Review: One giant leap for monster-kind

Jan 21, 2014

A lot has certainly happened in the world of mobile gaming since Get Set Games’ original Mega Jump was first released on the App Store in 2010. These days, smartphone and tablet gamers have come to expect things like console-quality graphics, the option for cross-platform play, and of course, a free-to-play model that’s both fair and noninvasive. So can a purely simplistic endless jumping game still manage to take a firm hold today in 2014 as it did in the early days of the App Store? Well in the case of Mega Jump 2, I’ll let my lack of sleep due to playing this game answer that for me: why yes it can, and yes it does.

The gameplay of Mega Jump 2 is built on an interweaving system of jumping and falling, and the mid-game switches between the two are so seamless that you might not even realize it at first. For the majority of each game, you’ll be on the offensive, so to speak: maneuvering your way side to side into gems and coins to keep your upward momentum going strong. But then you’ll hit a stretch of sky where the items are scarce, and the appearance of breakable platforms quickly slows down the action to a careful and precise Doodle Jump experience. And then it’s one more power-up and before you know it, you’re skyrocketing through the clouds without a care once again.

Mega Jump 2

I encountered three different environments throughout my time with the game, although there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when one background switches over to another: jungle, beach, and a rocky canyon. In addition to these, every environment is filled with all sorts of fun hazards and gameplay mechanics, from baddies that you’ll need to bop on the head, to trickster coins that jump out of the way just as you’re about to nab them, to even a ball-and-chain that serves to seriously put a damper on your jumping potential. Don’t worry though: you’ll have plenty of awesome power-ups to breeze by these obstacles in a jiffy, like my personal favorite, Mega Mode, which makes your monster grow to fill up the majority of the screen and completely wipe out anything and everything that’s floating above him!

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X-Men: Battle of the Atom Review: Not the X-Men you X-pect

Jan 21, 2014

X-Men: Battle of the Atom is a new free-to-play card battle game that lets you face off against the forces of evil at the head of a famous band of mutant superheroes including Scotius Summerisle, Stepford Cuckoos, the Glob, Cipher, and Cypher. Wait, who?

If you're a casual X-Men fan – you enjoyed the movies, maybe read a few trade paperbacks – then the first thing to know about Battle of the Atom is that it's probably not the X-Men you X-pect. As a tie-in with the "Battle of the Atom" comic crossover that began in the fall of 2013, the mobile game features "hundreds of characters spanning 50 years of X-Men history," according to the App Store description. To fill a roster that broad, Aeria Mobile brought in just about everyone who ever appeared in a mutant comic book, from past, present, future, and even alternate worlds.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

The net result is a menagerie that might be familiar to die-hard fans of the franchise but is largely baffling for anyone who thinks of Thunderbird or Northstar as "exotic" X-Men. This would be fine if it was actually a good CCG, but that's the real problem with Battle of the Atom: It isn't. It is, in a word, boring, and while that may be at least in part due to the cookie-cutter nature of the CCG genre, there's simply nothing about this one that makes it stand out from the crowd.

All the usual CCG elements are here: Battle enemies by tapping the screen, collect points to recruit new cards, enhance and evolve cards to make them stronger, build a powerful deck, square off against your fellow players and, when your stamina runs out (which will happen relatively quickly at higher levels), stop playing until it recharges or fork over some money to make it happen immediately. But it's unengaging and flat, and comes off feeling like a minimal-effort tie-in mandated by the marketing department and farmed out to the lowest bidder.

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Midnight Castle Review: You’ll play until the sun comes up

Jan 21, 2014

In Midnight Castle, the newest social hidden object adventure from Elephant Games and Big Fish Games, players are summoned to a dim and eerie castle after their uncle’s strange and unexplained demise, which seems to have something to do with the castle’s hidden Mystery Chamber. But one step onto the castle grounds and one interaction with the spooky cast of characters, and you’ll quickly see how the game’s stunning presentation and masterful exploration of the genre leave nothing dark or mysterious about its great and truly rewarding nature.

Despite being a free-to-play “social” hidden object game rather than a premium and streamlined “adventure,” Midnight Castle is presented in a way that would make any adventure fan feel right at home. Instead of some lifeless map you have to click around to move from scene to scene, every area in the game is beautifully laid out across an interactive landscape, where you will move from location to location, interacting with characters and entering hidden object scenes. Even the smaller details are incredibly cool, like the way you’re able to click to interact with key items in your inventory, and serve as a much-needed breath of fresh air for both sides of the HOG genre at large.

Midnight Castle

The hidden object scenes are pretty much what you’d expect from a social HOG, with speed and repetition being the primary focus. You’ll breeze through each scene finding small lists of items until you know their locations by heart and can start chaining together some high score combos from clicking on them in quick succession. Once you’ve played through a given scene numerous times, you’ll unlock its next tier of difficulty, which adds more items to the overall list and rearranges their positions for a nice and welcome changeup. Typical social HOG fare, yes; but the hidden object scenes themselves are still some of the most detailed and nicely drawn that I’ve seen from such like-minded games in a while.

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RHYTHM THIEF & the Paris Caper Review: A shaky beat at best

Jan 21, 2014

Attention, rhythm game enthusiasts: Rhythm Thief & The Paris Caper is not a straight port of Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure for the Nintendo 3DS. It's actually a title engineered specifically for mobile platforms, and it apes – curiously enough – the hit card/battle game Puzzle & Dragons.

[Audience groans in disappointment]

Yeah, it's a bit of a bummer, but it's not a washout. Rhythm Thief & The Paris Caper is certainly interesting, and it has moments where it shines as brightly as a disco ball on Saturday night. Unfortunately, its disjointed pacing, frequent loading times, and panhandling for in-app purchases bust up its rhythm.

You play through The Paris Caper as Raphael, a young man who's a shy Parisian student by day and the notorious art thief "Phantom R" by night. Though he lifts art, Phantom R is actually on the trail of his father who vanished several years prior without an explanation.

RHYTHM THIEF & the Paris Caper

The action in The Paris Caper is carried out via several mini-games peppered in between static story scenes. Most of the mini-games are based on reflexes or luck, requiring you to hit buttons quickly, pop as many balloons as possible, or stop a roulette on a treasure chest. The fun really begins when you play a rhythm game, which requires you to tap or swipe along to the music. Standard stuff for the genre, but catchy nonetheless.

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Broken Age: Act 1 Review: Welcome Back, Schafer

Jan 20, 2014

For years, people have been insistent on saying that the point-and-click graphic adventure is a dead genre. And to that, I say “bullcrap.” It doesn’t have the mainstream appeal that it once had, sure – but thanks to the likes of companies like Wadjet Eye Games, Daedalic Entertainment, Telltale and more, the selection of great point-and-click adventure games has been bigger than ever in recent years.

The problem, though, is that there was one person we all really wanted to see make adventure games, and he just wasn’t doing it. That person co-wrote the first two Monkey Island games, gave us Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and walked away from the genre completely once public interest died off. That man was Tim Schafer.

And now that man is back.

Broken Age: Act 1

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NBA Rush Review: Athletes versus aliens

Jan 20, 2014

You would think that the life of an NBA player is stressful enough trying to figure out how to dethrone LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat. But no, we’re asking them to fend off alien invasions too. If you think I’m just babbling incoherently, you need to check out NBA Rush, a competent but unspectacular endless runner made notable mostly by the unusual premise I just laid out.

Granted, RenRen Games could have made this just another sports-themed runner, so the devs get props for coming up with something different. Yet it’s never really explained why NBA stars would be the proper people to help fight off the aliens, except, I guess, that they look more like super heroes than mere athletes thanks to the game’s angular, stylized art.

No matter. The game gets you right into the action with controls very familiar to anyone who’s ever played anything in this genre: swipe to either side to switch lanes, swipe up to jump, and swipe down to slide under certain obstacles. Notice how your player keeps his dribble going at all times? You wouldn’t want to be called for traveling or double dribbling, even under these dire circumstances.

Along the way, you’ll be looking to pick up coins, but also to defeat the aliens whenever possible. The ones on the ground can be defeated by jumping on them, which also gives you a boost to get on top of otherwise unreachable places. Flying aliens are a little trickier, as you have to wait until you find a “DUNK” icon to be able to smash their flying saucers with some seriously aggressive jams.

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