Road of Kings Review: Road of middle-ranking courtesans

Jan 17, 2014

Gamebooks have made a big comeback on mobile devices recently. But for all the nostalgia and entertainment they provide, I can’t help but feel most of them are a wasted opportunity. On a multimedia touchscreen device, why limit yourself to static pictures and text? Road of Kings attempts to take the concept to a new level by mixing in elements of rouge-like adventure games. You play a barbarian warrior who has 100 days to amass a fortune of gold big enough to buy yourself a chieftainship.

The action takes place on a top-down hex map of a fantasy kingdom. There are towns to visit, ruins to explore, and monsters and other heroes to encounter, which you can either fight or have join your party; if you choose the latter option, you must then feed them by buying food or risking hunting in the wilderness.

Road of Kings

So far, so ordinary. What’s intriguing about Road of Kings is the combination of chance encounters and scripted story. Travellers on the road or the contents of long-forgotten ruins are generated randomly, but many locations on the map provide a richer vein of adventure.

Enter one of these and the game map is overlaid by a text window describing your encounters and offering you choices in the vein of a “choose your own adventure” book. The locations of these change occasionally, but once you’re in a given adventure the script remains the same. And you’ll need to experiment and learn the rewarding choices if you want to succeed in your quest.

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Overlive Review: The Reading Dead

Jan 17, 2014

Overlive is a promising mix of things. On one hand the game is a tap-and-shoot zombie shooter, and on the other hand it's a choice-driven narrative full of decision making. Unfortunately, neither one of these elements stands out memorably. The combat scenarios involve simply tapping at static images to shoot, or swiping a finger across the screen for a melee attack, and while the writing was grammatically sound, by the end of my playthrough I was left with more dead-end subplots than I cared to remember.

In the game, players are tasked with escaping a zombie-filled city before the local nuclear power plant has a meltdown and blankets the area with atomic radiation. Instead of simply tossing players a shotgun and pointing them in the direction of the best way out of town, Overlive has players scrounging the city for a vehicle to use to escape the blast radius of the power plant. While on the hunt for a vehicle, players encounter a number of survivors and begin to unravel the mystery surrounding what really caused the apocalypse.

Overlive

The problem with Overlive's storytelling is that the game can end before the story does. I literally ran the clock out, attempting to unravel the story, and ended up dying on the 180th day when the power plant exploded. I never found any answers to the half-dozen plot points brought to my attention while playing through the game. Now, while that does promote replayability (something which I typically like within a game), the gameplay itself was just too dull for me to want to have to deal with it again.

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Lost Yeti Review: Icy retro fun

Jan 17, 2014

Italy's not exactly considered a hotbed of video game development, but if Lost Yeti is any indication, it should be. This adorable retro puzzler hearkens back to a time before boob physics and ultra-realistic violence, when games were made for and played by everyone. With its pixelated, primary color approach and simple but challenging mechanics, it's like the charming descendant of games like Dig Dug and Burger Time. If not for its maddeningly repetitive (although admittedly fitting) music score and cruel “coming soon” level tease, it would get high marks all around.

Lost Yeti begins as a troop of yeti (yetis?) is crossing the glacier-scape doing whatever it is yeti do. Among them is a wee, easily distracted, buck-toothed youngster. He spots a tasty popsicle, veers off the path, and—the horror!—finds himself lost. Fortunately, he has you to guide him back to safety. The gameplay here is based on three precepts: 1. Get the yeti (within an enclosed area) from his starting area to a safe zone; 2. Once the yeti starts moving, he doesn't stop until he runs into an enemy or reaches the safe zone; and 3. Every time the yeti hits a wall, he turns ninety degrees clockwise.

Lost Yeti

These rules couldn't be simpler, but it's amazing how much gameplay developer Neutronized gets out of them. To start, things are fairly simple. You're given time to get your furry feet wet traversing very basic levels by manipulating ice blocks positioned within them. Even better, you get to tromp around picking up tasty popsicles before skipping along to safety. Soon enough however, you're faced with nasty things like pointy-headed blobs and fire-breathing mini-dragons who seem to have it in for you, not to mention tricky burrowing creatures and pits full of spikes. If you manage to get your baby yeti from point A to point B, you're allowed to move on; collected popsicles can be hoarded and used to buy your way past the more challenging levels.

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Happy Tree Friends: Deadeye Derby Review: You'll shoot your eye out

Jan 17, 2014

Whereas slingshots and air rifles were once regarded as symbols of childhood boisterousness and hijinks, they've since lost their innocence. It's not hard to understand why: It didn't take parents long to realize childhood can come to a quick, bloody end when a BB makes contact with a young eye at 200 feet per second.

At least the violent side of child's play lives on through the Happy Tree Friends cartoon series. These Flash-based shorts bring cuddly woodland critters together in some of the most brutal playdates to hit the airwaves. Happy Tree Friends: Deadeye Derby is a racing/combat title that attempts to capture the spirit of the bloody cult hit, but its iffy controls and rampant peddling for in-app purchases make playing it as much fun as getting disemboweled.

Happy Tree Friends: Deadeye Derby

It's summertime in the world of the Happy Tree Friends. While there's never a bad time for pain amongst these friends of the forest, the summer brings a chance to indulge in two specific activities: Box kart racing and killing small animals with slingshots.

The majority of Deadeye Derby is played against live opponents. When a round begins, you and your rival race side-by-side. Each of you is armed with a slingshot, and your goal is to knock your opponent off their kart with well-aimed and well-timed shots. Beware, though: Your opponent's goal is to do the same to you, and if they're faster on the draw (and if they have better equipment), they might succeed.

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Shadow Blade Review: Break out those ninja reflexes

Jan 16, 2014

The movement of a ninja needs to be tight, swift, and precise with each delivery. There's no use in sticking to the shadows and sneaking up on your enemies if they're going to be able to disarm you and discard you without a second thought. That's why any ninja-based game on a mobile touchscreen device is a gamble – it's tricky enough as it is to make a platforming game feel right on a touchscreen, so to recreate the feel of stalking your prey as a ninja is really rather difficult.

Remarkably, new ninja-based platformer Shadow Blade manages it with grace. While the controls feel a little unorthodox to begin with, they quickly prove ambitious and well considered, with flicks and gestures becoming your window into a world of great set-pieces, wall-jumping, blood-spewing, and rushes to the finish.

You play as a ninja student who is attempting to return to his master with important information. Unfortunately there are numerous obstacles and enemies standing between points A and B, and he's going to need to hack and slash his way through the lot of them. Of course, that can only be good news for us – I mean, we need some baddies to make this fun, right?

Shadow Blade wants you to feel slick. To this end, the game comes with a control scheme that's a little bit different – you can opt for the regular d-pad style controls, but you'll want to go with the gesture and swiping control set, because it feels really damn good once you properly get into it.

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Across Age 2 Review: A chip off the old blockbuster

Jan 16, 2014

Across Age 2 has a lot to live up to.  Its predecessor is one of iOS’s earliest action-RPG success stories.  Despite a shaky start upon its 2010 release, subsequent updates and expansions—in the form of Across Age DX—improved the original’s controls and added an entirely new dungeon to the 10-hour+ adventure.  Its combination of character-switching, time-traveling, and 16-bit-era charm formed the basis for a series that would pride itself on nearly non-stop action interrupted only by the occasional switch puzzle or drunken pirate quest.

All of these features have returned to duty in Across Age 2, along with a number of upgrades that improve upon even Across Age DX.  The story is richer and less cut-and-paste “collect the items and stop the bad guy” linear; characters are deeper and not limited to Ceska, Ales, or one-off caricatures; and gameplay has been expanded through additional items, puzzles, and strategies.  While these enhancements technically make Across Age 2 the best entry in the series, they are minor changes in a game that relies heavily on its predecessor’s features, too intimidated by its success to fall far from the tree.  The result feels more like Across Age DX2 rather than a brand new game in an expanding series.

Across Age 2

The story of Across Age 2 picks up immediately after the end of the original: Prince Ales and Mage Ceska have thwarted Count Agrean and altered the course of time to save the future.  Because they changed history itself, no one remembers their heroic deeds save the two of them, and life returns to a peaceful normal.  Meanwhile, 25 years into the future, an evil king and queen have taken over Ales’s kingdom, openly killing subjects who defy them.  Lily, a member of the rebellion against the despotic rulers, uses the power of Across Age to travel to Ales’s and Ceska’s present, intending to kill the monarchs before they come to power.  She runs into our newly minted heroes and the three set out to save the future once again.

While the monarchs could easily have become the next Count Agrean, Across Age 2 utilizes a bait-and-switch technique that makes most dungeons and dangers feel of the utmost importance.  Instead of traveling around in search of clocks to prepare for the impending final battle, there are multiple “final battles” and big bosses throughout the journey, and the true danger to the world is often yet to be revealed.  This is a popular tactic in Super Nintendo-era RPGs like Final Fantasy VI—which requires a cataclysmic event to reveal the true big baddie—and it keeps Across Age 2 exciting and surprising.

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Jet Car Stunts 2 Review: Soaring to new platforming heights

Jan 15, 2014

Back when mobile gaming was just really starting to take off, a little stunt-based racing game called Jet Car Stunts hit the scene in 2010, and quickly captivated gamers with its addictive level of challenge and wildly abstract track designs. Well now it’s a few years later, and developer True Axis has returned to give us the enormous and long-awaited sequel that we were hoping for. And while the end result isn’t perfect, it’s still filled to the brim with rewarding ways to play, exciting new vehicles, and a crazy cool level editor that will quite literally have you gliding on air.

While Jet Car Stunts 2 might seem like your typical racing game at first glance, a “racing-platformer” might be a much better description for what the experience actually entails, as the game is much more GripShift than Wipeout HD. There are a number of different level types that cycle in and out to always keep the gameplay feeling fresh: from time attack courses and full-on races, to an open playing field that tasks you with performing as many different stunts as you can within a given time limit. But my favorite type of levels have always been the quintessential Jet Car Stunts platform levels, in which you quite literally have to hop from platform to platform and deal with all the other obstacles and pitfalls that get in the way as you drive.

Jet Car Stunts 2

As the word “Jet” in the game’s title might imply, your nitrous jet boosters play a big role once again in letting you pull off a lot of the stunt-based maneuvers that will be required of you. Much like its predecessor, Jet Car Stunts 2 features those same rewarding gameplay mechanics that make you feel unbelievably accomplished for earning a gold medal after 50+ retries. Medal requirements are usually determined by level type, and can range from finishing the course in a certain amount of time, to scoring a designated number of points, to completing a platforming level without restarting at a checkpoint.

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Archangel Review: Don't judge a game by its screenshots

Jan 15, 2014

Sometimes all you need is to hear a game’s name and see a few awesome screenshots to know that it’s going to be cool. Yes, it’s the digital equivalent of judging a book by its cover, but it does work on occasion. Other times, you end up with something like Archangel, a dungeon crawler that boasts attractive graphics but misses the mark with so many other things that it ends up a depressingly dull experience.

Let’s get the positives established up front. Black Tower Studios and Unity Games definitely came up with a decent enough concept, placing you in control of a vengeful archangel who looks like he means business. He’s got the big wings, a menacing weapon, and a shield: all the things you’d need to rough up anyone defying the will of Heaven (though technically the Powers are the warrior angels; just saying).

But as soon as you’re done admiring how awesome everything looks during the opening cinematics, the doubts start creeping in pretty quickly. The animation doesn’t do justice to the character designs, as everything moves very stiffly. It’s almost like the forces of Heaven and Hell don’t have as many joints as us mere mortals. The beautifully rendered scenery also gets in the way, making it hard to see more than an inch or so in front of you.

That wouldn’t be so bad if it was used to create some tension or something, but the bad guys simply stand there and wait for you to approach. You do that by tapping to get the archangel to move from one point to another, meaning you’ll be tapping a lot to get him from one end of the dungeon to another. A virtual button is used for attacks, which can increase along with movement speed after defeating strings of enemies without taking too much damage in return.

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The Banner Saga Review: This epic is EPIC

Jan 14, 2014

The word ‘epic’ gets thrown around a lot these days, and it’s starting to undermine what that word really means. Your Cheetos are not epic. That skateboarding porcupine, while adorable, is not epic. ‘Epic’ is a literary term used to describe a certain kind of story. One that takes us on a journey into a richly detailed universe; one that’s existed long before we got there. And more often than not, the fate of the world is hanging in the balance.

The Lord of the Rings is an epic. Star Wars is an epic. And this first chapter of The Banner Saga kicks off one of the finest interactive epics I’ve ever known.

The Banner Saga

Set in a world of varls, humans and dredge, The Banner Saga can best be summed up as Tolkien by way of Scandinavia (if it were adapted by Don Bluth and Intelligent Systems). The developers at Stoic Studio have managed to blend these seemingly disparate influences together into something wonderfully original, creating a world that’s even better than its gameplay.

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Nidhogg Review: The most frantic sword fight you'll ever be a part of

Jan 13, 2014

I had first heard about Nidhogg back in 2011 when it was the recipient of the very first Nuovo Award. Every year at the Independent Games Festival, one title manages to rise above the rest and win the Nuovo for being the best abstract, shortform, or unconventional game presented to the judges that year. With a medal like that hanging around its neck, you’d better believe that I had to get my hands on it.

…only I couldn’t.

Nidhogg

Years passed, and as much as I wanted to try Nidhogg, the game remained an exhibition piece only. Friends and colleagues would go hands on at events and tell me how fantastic it was. I’d read articles that threw around terms like “perfect game.” But at the end of the day, it seemed like Nidhogg and I just weren’t meant to be.

That all changed today when developer Messhof unshackled their game from its exhibition-only chains, launching Nidhogg on Steam for the masses. And yes – it was very much worth the wait.

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