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Highborn Review: Standard gameplay, but then hilarity (and good writing) ensues.

Highborn is a strong game. Its mechanics are smooth, and the gameplay is well thought out and easy to learn. In fact, you’ll probably think it’s pretty similar to lots of other games of its genre. It reminds me of Advance Wars on the DS and Mechowars on iPhone/iPod Touch. The list could go on and on. There are a huge number of games just like Highborn.

But not really.

This is a funny game in a few ways, but mostly because it is in fact funny. It’s really funny. I mean, I have literally laughed out loud while playing this game.

At this point I suppose I depart from reviewing Highborn for a moment, but this is pertinent. One thing I’ve found lacking in many, if not most games on iOS devices, is good writing. I’ve seen some of the most shoddy, halfhearted, attempts at giving a game a story/backstory since days prior to the NES. In many cases, I’d rather they had not tried, and just tossed me into it as if I was playing some version of bricks.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m sure it’s not because it’s too expensive to get a writer. As a writer, I can promise you, it’s not too expensive to get a writer. I am no stranger to writing cheap, and by cheap…I mean free.

No, it’s not a lack of hungry writers willing to sell their soul for a chance to ply their trade in a meaningful way. I actually think it’s because the app store is literally dominated by projects where the driving creative influence is from the programmers. And please, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a slam to the one-man/girl shops. In fact, I see some of the strongest writing out there on the app store coming from one-man/girl shops and some of the worst coming from the likes of EA, who seems to still care about iOS game development about as much as McDonald’s cares about making actual food.

Too many games on the app store still seem like tech demos with individual programmers or companies saying ‘look what I can do on the iPhone! Now, maybe I can get rich from this!’ There simply aren’t enough people (EA included) choosing iOS as a platform and then making something truly excellent for it by adding all the other touches; all the things that give a game true life and make us want to exist in that mental space instead of veg’ing or sleeping on the bus.

This is changing. Just look at the games we’ve reviewed lately and you can see that iOS is the future of gaming. The potential is there and ready to be embraced, but to do so, it takes a lot more than programming.

So, programmers and developers, get out there! Find yourself a writer. We want to work for you and I promise you, we all suck at haggling.

…which brings me back to Highborn…no really, it does.

As I said, the gameplay is excellent, but familiar and none too remarkable. Graphically, it’s a joy. Everything about the look of Highborn is beautifully simple, that simplicity being used to sculpt a unique and comical look for the game. I just love looking at it.

The writing is really clever and funny, with a myriad of pop culture references and jokes about other games. Perhaps the funniest thing is that the game world is self-aware. This breaking of the fourth wall provides such humor and cleverness that you forget that you have to do a lot of reading in this game. It’s totally worth it. Unlike most games you really feel like these pieces you move around the world are little people you know, with 3D personalities that bring comedy much like the joyful hilarity in the those games about the plumber with the mustache. Highborn could not be a better example of why games need good writing.

So in a nutshell…

Likes

Graphics: This game is beautiful and proves, once again, that gameplay and artistic design will win out every time over flash & pop noisy things that wow you instantly and are forgotten ten minutes later.

Writing: I love the voice this game has, and I love that I can point to this as a game with a voice. Smashing job!

Multiplayer: Excellent use of the Plus+ network for matchmaking and conducting your multiplayer games with your friends. It’s really a lot of fun, bogged down only by the fact that I don’t like Plus+ very much. If you do, it’ll be PERFECT.

Dislikes

Multiplayer: I’d really like them to use Game Center. I really hate having to have two, three, and four accounts for connected gaming on the iPhone. Apple’s put Game Center out there; reward them for it, USE IT.

Highborn is a really strong game and I highly recommend you give it a shot, even if your not a fan of turn based strategy games, or you’re tired of them. This is fresh, new, and seriously…how expensive is it really?

Highborn is developed by Jet Set Games and is available on the app store for $1.99. This review is based on version 1.1.2 and was played on my iPhone 4.  There is also a lite version available for free.




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