All posts by Hope

Ash Review: Retro 16-bit RPG designed for the Modern Era

It’s no secret that I love a good RPG. Probably even less of a secret that I love my SNES classics. So with those two thoughts in mind, I eagerly loaded up Ash by SRRN Games. I must say not only did this not disappoint but it was beyond whatever expectations I had. With Ash’s 16-bit sprites, combination of map exploration, dungeon crawling and turn based battle system, you will feel swept back into a time where cartridges ruled the gaming world and a bottle of air (or a very strong breath) was necessary to blow away the dust. Ah, but back to the present time.

SRRN Games has done one better with Ash, not only is Ash true to it’s retro inspired roots, but it brings you into the 21st century, no bottled air needed. The story is fresh. No cliches of saving the princess or avenging the death of your parents here, just a story of a hero and his protege; mercenaries ready to save the world. Ok so that does sound a little cliched, but what RPG isn’t? Where Ash differs however is in the engaging, humorous and clever dialog. I literally laughed out loud at some points in the story and will not ruin it for you here. Let’s just say the story is as original as it is cliched – and that is indeed a good thing.

And for good or for bad, the game was designed from the ground up for the platform. This makes some portions of the game easy to control, others a little frustrating. Easy is the combat. With turn based battles, simply tap on an enemy and he will be the target of your next attack. Drag new equipment to your party with a well designed interface. Check your stats and save your game all with the virtual press of a button. The bad? Well the control mechanism is a little clumsy at the moment as you press “around” your character to move in the direction you want to walk. It takes a little getting used to but soon you will be maneuvering through the mountain passes with ease. As I write this however, I am told that a new option for a virtual d-pad  is in the works for an update already. So if you don’t like blocking the screen with your fingers like me, then you will look forward to what this new control mechanic will bring!

Likes:

Story: As I already touched upon, I love the story. Perhaps it is best summed up via this quote from SRRN’s press release about the game:

Ash tells the story of two mercenaries on the fringes of the Empire of Aghaus, a once-great kingdom now fallen into ruin after the death of its king five years prior. When a routine contract takes an unexpected turn, the two men are gradually embroiled in a conflict that consumes the entire continent—and brings to light the mercenaries’ mysterious pasts.”

But what this quote doesn’t touch upon is the humor, the puns, the interaction between characters, and depth. It is refreshing to see such an in depth dialogue in an RPG. And speaking of dialogue, as an example of the care that was taken by the developers to really polish the title, as you talk to NPC’s in the game, their talk bubbles fade from bright white to a faded shade of gray. This prevents hearing the same comments over and over as is often the case for those that like to explore every nook and cranny of an RPG. Though in Ash some of the comments are worth hearing, er, reading, again. A shopkeeper or a critical character will have a yellow talk bubble and that will indicate to the player a crucial point in the story not to miss.

Battle: One of the easiest turn based battle systems I have played on the platform. Simply tap an enemy and consider it attacked. Skills are available, especially as you level up, but by and large I have just used brute force through my battles with great success.

Art: Retro 16-bit. What more needs to be said?

Dislikes:

Touch Controls: Well, they are made for the platform after all, but they can take a little bit of a learning curve to get used to them. That being said, you will indeed get used to them. But I like to be able to see the screen and control my characters from one position as opposed to moving all over the screen to simply move through the forest. But as stated, an update is already in the works which will offer an additional control scheme.

Lack of Map: With such an expansive world to explore it would have been great to be able to zoom out and see the entire map and get an idea of where to head off to next. I have to admit I got a little lost a couple times and found myself well over my head in battle. I also was spinning my heels a little not really seeing a place to go next. Luckily a map is found here on the developer’s website but an in game map would be great to have, especially if it can be added to the world exploration.

Enemy Health Indicator: The game has two ways to tell your health levels. There is the standard health meter that decreases as you get hit. But a clever thing also happens to your character’s portrait as your health decreases. Turning colors from a glow of white to bright red, you can determine how close to collapse you are. But that is lacking for the enemy. A nice feature would be to determine how close you are to winning the battle as some of even the earliest battles are pretty tough and with potions few and far between, you really don’t want to waste one if your next hit will knock out the enemy.

Music: Everything about the game screams 16-bit — except for the music. The music is some mix of new age piano that just gives the game an identity crisis. While change is always good, this change just is just a little too different and disorienting for the classic gamer. For those that had no idea what my bottled air reference was about, I am sure the music will be fine; but for those that did, this style might be a little bit of a shock.

Ash by SRRN Games is a wonderful title in the grossly under represented Turn Based RPG genre. Fans of all RPG’s will feel right at home with all aspects of the game, even the obligatory grindfest necessary right from the start. And since no RPG is complete without a strategy guide, SRRN is rolling one out as we speak here on their website. Complete with character stats and item locations even the strategy guide reminds me of my tattered and torn Final Fantasy guidebooks.

Perhaps best summing up why anyone who loves RPG’s and owns an iOS device should own Ash is summed up, again from the press release:

“We decided to develop Ash for the iPhone because there’s really nothing like it on that platform yet,” says SRRN co-founder Aujang Abadi. “There are surprisingly few turn-based RPGs on the App Store, and nearly all of them are ports of older games. We wanted a classic, story-oriented RPG that honored the games we played growing up. The story behind Ash is completely original.”

Ash by SRRN Games is a journey. A journey that will have you facing over 100 enemies, exploring dozens of dungeons and towns, conversing with comedic NPC’s and taking an average of 15 hours to complete. It is a perfect RPG for the mobile platform and is surprisingly simple to pick up and play. Though I suspect once you get involved with Ash, you won’t be able to put it down until you see what happens next.

Ash by SRRN Games is available for $4.99. Version 1.0 (Version 1.11 now available) was reviewed on a 2g iPod Touch with iOS 4.1.


Vizati Review: Turn meets Fling! in this new Puzzler

What do you do when you need a break from all the shooting, leveling up, complex plots of all the mainstream games you can find on the appstore these days? You play a puzzle game of course! Puzzle games are delightful little gems that you can pick up and play whenever you only have a few moments to occupy yourself. Puzzle games make you think. Puzzle games, well puzzle games are totally overlooked and underrated. Vizati by Different Pixel was just released on the appstore and hopes to turn (literally) everyone’s head in its direction.

Having some time to preview and play this title, I have to say that I am impressed by the originality and uniqueness that Different Pixel has brought to the table. Combining several tried and true game play elements, Vizati utilizes them to make one of the more enjoyable puzzle experiences that you can find. Strategy abounds as you make your way through 100 levels. Using swipe gestures and fitting the game to the platform, Vizati will have you scratching your head on those moments where only just a level or two will do.

Likes:

Story and Arcade mode: With 100 levels in story mode, you progress through the story as Julie enlists Peter’s help to figure out what the large grid she discovers in the forest. Ben the dog also seems perplexed by its presence. As day turns to night and more and more vizati stones appear in the grid, you the player must help Peter and Julie on their quest for answers by solving each level and unfold the story.

Arcade mode is a timed mode where you must clear the stones before new ones appear. While the story mode is untimed and allows you to think out your moves, arcade moves and the timer makes you just try anything to clear the board. Both modes give a different play experience and that is sometimes lacking when another mode is introduced into a game. It is not simply a rehashed gameplay of the original mode, but different strategies need to be employed in order to progress.

Music: The first thing you see when you load up the game are the words “headphones recommended.” Definitely if you are in a position to listen to the in game music, please do so. The music adds tremendously to the atmosphere and creates great ambience.

Art: The art and graphics are excellent. Combine them with the music and the experience of playing the game is almost as good as just playing each level.

Dislikes:

Controls: While I love the fact that the game is designed around unique controls for the platform, they can be touchy at times. For example, to turn the box, the tutorial instructs you to make an arc. Well I tried that and the success was about 50%. Sometimes it just shook the box,  or flipped the box upside down, or anything but rotating the box, all of which messes up the strategy and makes the puzzle unsolvable. Some tweaking of the controls would be great so the level does not have to be restarted when a false move registers.

No undo button: Now I am usually not one that jumps on the rewind bandwagon, but given the loose controls, an undo your last move button would be a valuable addition to fix your mistakes.

No hint system: The puzzles unlock linearly. If you get stuck on one puzzle and simply have a brain freeze on it, there ends your game. For that reason I would suggest a hint system that you can either earn or be given a limited number of uses so that your game doesn’t end at Puzzle 42. Or if a hint system is not to be used then more levels should be opened at once. That way if you get stuck on one there are more to help you move along. Perhaps only three can be unlocked at a time and if you do skip one only 2 unlock when you solve the next, but for linear games it is always appreciated by players to not feel pressured into solving a level required for progress.

Color Blind Mode: The game is a great puzzler that should not cut off a potential market. Many matching games have color blind modes available, so hopefully one will be available in an update for this game.

Overall, Different Pixel has introduced a great unique puzzler into the appstore that will be suitable for anyone. Pick your poison between two great modes – Story or Arcade – and watch the time flip away as you solve over 100 puzzles and help Peter and Julie discover the mysteries of the forest. Immerse yourself with Vizati’s great art and music and you will almost feel the breeze.

Vizati by Different Pixel is available on the appstore for $0.99. Version 1.0 was tested on an iPod Touch 2g with iOS 4.1 installed.



chronoSgear Review: The Mafia meets “Might and Magic”

Axion Logic has released a strategy RPG that is a cross between elements of Puzzle Quest, Critter Crunch, and turn based strategy games called chronoSgear. Most similar to the Nintendo DS game Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, chronoSgear combines a match 3 battle system with an interesting and unique story line making for an engaging title. Leveling up units and yourself adds to the strategy as you embark on linear quests in a time travel storyline. Different factions with different abilities will keep you thinking for the best way to defeat an enemy.

Being a fan of the Heroes of Might and Magic series for some time now, I was immediately intrigued by the announcement of this title. It is the only and closest entry on the Appstore for fans of the series. In chronoSgear you play as Stark, an adopted member of the Amici Mafia. The head of your family sends you on quests that help them, and of course put you in peril. It all boils down to one fateful day where your enemy General Vincenti makes a move that the family is too late to stop. It is up to you to stop him and the only way is to go back in time. Luckily the Amici Family has a time travel device at their disposal so off you go to try and prevent the unfortunate events of the future.

Battling opponents utilizes a match 3 battle system while protecting Stark’s “Soul Zone”. Deplete the enemies’ soul for the victory, allow Stark’s to empty and he is defeated. Simple? Not really, since many different units are available for play and with different abilities, strategy is high. Decisions must be made to  attack or defend and in some cases one choice is clearly the more beneficial. There are no weapons or armor to upgrade here, only Soul Zone points and Soul Cards that help in battle.

Likes:

Battle System: Strategy is involved in the battle system as you try to match units of three. Only a set number of moves are allowed each turn and choices must be made to attack or defend. Each unit has a different attack rating. But those with the higher attack values need more turns to “mature” if you will. Choices between waiting a turn for the higher attack, or attacking with less on the next turn become crucial to winning and losing a battle.

Manga Art: Having not seen manga artwork in some time in a game of this caliber it is refreshing for a developer to take the risk and it pays off. Lots of Japanese influences abound with Japanese writing on the title screen. The cut scenes are very enjoyable with this style of artwork.

Controls: To move Stark in the overworld a d-pad appears wherever your finger touches the screen. This makes it easy to move around the portrait orientated map. Touch anywhere and you can move. Since moving around does not need to be precise, this works very well. Especially if you need to move in circles to encounter enemies while leveling either yourself or your units.

Dislikes:

Balance: While in most RPGs I expect some amount of leveling up via grinding, it is frustrating in this game to face your first assignment by the family only to get obliterated immediately. Setting out to level up, Starck circled in place and battling enough enemies to level up not one but two levels before having success in that battle.

Another instance of too much too soon are the amounts of exp points needed to level up. Even at low levels, leveling up needs an average of 4,000 exp in some cases and battling opponents yields between 175 and 325 exp, leaving a daunting task in order to gain a level. There are also quite a few side battles to face to accomplish your goal. While a veteran of this battle style and game play will welcome the added battles, there has to be a middle ground for the new player. I can see frustrated new players barging into battle and encountering frustration as the enemy depletes their Soul Zone in one move.

Options Menu: Separate music and sound effects controls are needed in the options. Perhaps this is a personal pet peeve but for me it is a sign of a polished game that the dev took the extra step to finish off for the consumer. There are a ton of games that it is great to hear the sound effects but not the music and vice versa. I am not sure why this is not a standard feature at this juncture of the Appstore. While the game supports playing music from your own playlist, the music drowns out the sound effects. A separate volume control within the game option menu should be included to control not the overall volume of the game but instead the sound effects and the music separately. So many games have been doing this successfully I guess I have been spoiled.

Unit Selection: The battle screen is separated in two. The top half is your opponent and the bottom half is Stark. To make a match, select a unit to move from one column to another – in the style of Critter Crunch or DynoGems. With so many units on the screen the boxes and columns are pretty slight. This led to some false movements due to the wrong selection. The blue column highlight camouflages the color of the unit just enough so that orange might look purple and vice versa so a wrong move is discovered too late. With only three moves per turn, this can kill a battle against a stronger opponent later in the game.  An undo button should be at the very least implemented in a future update since screen real estate is at a premium and the number of units on screen should not be sacrificed.

Length of game: The loading screen indicates this is a “prequel.”  Each unit only levels up to 5, so paired with my gripe about the game being unbalanced it is also short. What the grinding seems to do is artificially lengthen the play. It will remain to be seen if there is a next chapter and if it is a free upgrade or DLC or a new title.

Overall, chronoSgear is a nice addition to the Appstore that takes some familiar game concepts and rolls them into one. With gameplay similar to a popular game series, and new elements introduced, this game should satisfy many needs. Seamlessly combining a strategic RPG, a puzzle and a turn based strategy game into one was not an easy task, but Axion Logic appears to have done just that with chronoSgear.

chronoSgear version 1.01 by Axion Logic was tested on an iPod Touch 2g with OS 4.1. It is currently available for an introductory price of $1.99.


Carcassonne Review: A Minute to Learn, A Lifetime to Master

Let’s call a spade a spade. I come from a family of gamers. It can be any kind of game honestly – card, board, video, you name it we have probably played it. This started from as far back as I can remember. Card games with my grandmother, board games with my parents, backgammon with my father, video games with my brother – the list goes on. Family get-togethers consisted of the obligatory meal and then straight to the game playing. In fact I can outline my childhood based on gaming milestones – the first time I beat my father in backgammon, reached a high score of Tank, etc. My family is so animated in our game-playing that many of our neighbors can probably remember what Scrabble dictionary we were using on a certain date or whether a certain item was finally (after much boisterous debate) acceptable for a “Facts in Five” category. Why the need for Hope’s Memoir you ask? Well it is all a lead up for the release of the board game Carcassonne by TheCodingMonkeys & Hans im Glück Verlag in the App Store this past week.

When I heard that Carcassonne was coming to the App Store I was elated. I must admit though that through my elation I learned that not too many people here in the US even knew what I was talking about. Lucky for me I own the original game, brought to me straight from Germany, its country of origin. For years I begged people to learn the intricacies of the game with me. Soon it was clear that I wasn’t ever going to have as many human players as I would need for a true game so I developed my own “solitaire” rules and played however I could. I broke out the game at family gatherings and I got to play a game or two. But much to my dismay it never quite caught on like some of our other family favorites and I was back to making my own fun with the 71 tiles and the ever simplistic Meeple.

For those new to the Carcassonne community, play is with those 71 tiles I mentioned, each with a drawing of fields, roads, buildings, cloisters and more of a settlement. Players alternate turns by drawing a tile and placing it next to another already in player (almost domino style) so that it continues the structures. Points are gained by strategically placing one of your Meeples on one of the elements of the tile you just played – road, structure, or farm. Strategies emerge, blocks and defense begins, making roads or farms larger continues until points are tallied at the end of the game.

Likes:

Tutorial and Manual: For the rookie or the seasoned veteran, the tutorial is a fun and informative experience. Complete with voice-overs, polish and knowledge, the walkthrough will get you straight on your way to your first game. Though the game has very few rules to play with, it has a very complex point system and the game manual does a wonderful job explaining all the ins and outs of what is and what isn’t included. Learning the scoring system and developing your own strategy is key to success, otherwise you can be at the mercy of the luck of the order of the stack of tiles.

AI opponents: Just as in real life there are different styles of play, the AI opponents have unique styles. There are the aggressive blockers, there are the silent road hoarders, there are the jump at the start on a farmer amongst many other combinations. Should you want to play against the AI, there are many to choose from, all of which will provide a challenge. The more varied the opponent I find, the more you can learn new strategies. Quite quickly I found that the first to farm is not always the big point gainer when playing against an aggressive player who might try to horn in on your territory. The best way to learn the game is to play against the various opponents.

Multi-player: Carcassonne allows multiplayer capability in many ways. Several modes will also be available when the free universal iPad upgrade is available later this month. Some of these modes include pass and play, wifi and bluetooth. But by far the most popular at the moment are the internet match ups. Connected over the 3G network or wifi, “quick play” matches can be arranged between any players awaiting a match up. A very strict system is in place to prevent abandoning of games so be on your toes in these games.

Creating multiplayer match ups with friends is as simple as emailing your friends the link to your match and when accepted the game begins. The timer is not present in these familiar match ups and asynchronous play can commence. It is not unheard of for one match to take days to complete depending on schedules, time zones, conflicts, etc.

ELO Ranking: Purely for bragging rights as far as I can tell, ELO rankings have been included to compile your rating as a player. Simply put, beating a higher level opponent increases your rating points and losing to a lesser level player lowers your rating points. Of course there is more of a mathematical formula used to calculate these numbers but if you have never heard of an ELO rating (popular in chess and much like a handicap in golf) that is what it is in a nutshell.

Also included in the stats of your play are win loss records, not only of total games played but against particular opponents. Your arch nemesis is calculated based on who you have lost to the most and much more!

Solitaire Mode: Ok so I was ahead of my time I guess when I began to play solitaire games when I couldn’t find an opponent. Well, this isn’t exactly the game play that is featured but a great solitaire mode is indeed included. There are several cities that each represent a tile set. The goal is to complete a board with as few tiles as possible. Starting with 1,000 points, points are added or subtracted depending on the roads, structures, etc that you complete per move. Using the city name, you can then challenge your friends to top your score. A unique twist on the solitaire concept.

Carcassonne by TheCodingMonkeys & Hans im Glück Verlag arrived on the App Store at a time when board games are gaining in popularity due to their playability on the iPad. iPod Touch users benefit from this as a myriad of board games are now available for them as well. With no tiles to lose, no Meeples to misplace and certainly no confusing territories to add up for your final score because the game does it for you, Carcassone for both the iPod Touch and the iPad is a board game done right. New and seasoned players will enjoy the easy rules and the strategic game play. As players quickly discover, no two games will ever be alike.

A universal iPad update has been promised and In-App DLC will be forthcoming. This DLC presumably will be for some of the 20 or so expansion packs available for the board game. Carcassonne is a game everyone will come to love with its easy to learn, a lifetime to master complexity.

Carcassonne by TheCodingMonkeys & Hans im Glück Verlag is available for an introductory price of $4.99. It was reviewed on a 2g iPod Touch running 3.1.3 OS.


Spotflick Review: Great Idea, Poor Execution

Starting June 11, 2010 the FIFA World Cup will begin in South Africa. Because of that highly anticipated event, we can predict a litany of soccer/football apps to hit the market trying to capitalize on its popularity. Beating the crowd to the starting gate comes Spotflick by Spotflick Ltd, is a game designed to pit you against the greatest goalkeepers in the world in a shoot out. With its “flick to kick” game play and short bursts of play time, this is not your typical sports game. You can choose to play as your favorite country and try to beat the greatest of the great. On June 11th, a promised update will allow you to bring your team to glory in the Spotflick Cup Challenge.

Likes:

Graphics: The graphics in Spotflick are crisp and realistic. Cartoon figures of your favorite world goalkeepers are portrayed in each level. The fans and the realistic scoreboard all add to the atmosphere.

Gameplay: Being able to play short levels of any game is a plus to me on a mobile device. Doesn’t matter how much time you have to play since this is a game that you can play for 1 minute to an hour. The premise is simple and should be addicting.

Dislikes:

Content: With only 20 levels and most of them fairly easy, I beat the game in two short sessions. Though each country’s goalkeeper is unlocked with a win on an earlier level, I breezed right through unlocking them all. Stats for each goalkeeper are included yet their actual actions on a save are each pretty predictable until around level 17. Unfortunately that makes the game tedious in the beginning until you can reach the more challenging levels.

Controls: The flick to kick mechanism is one of the more utilized controls of the system. But in this case it seems unresponsive at times. In Practice Mode I had trouble reaching some of the corner shots. In Arcade Mode it seemed random sometimes when my flick would register. This was particularly annoying when trying to get a bonus – the bonus that you were supposed to hit was off the screen before the ball re-appeared because of the delay in the flick registering. Aim was also off. Combined with the ease of the levels, this felt more like an exercise in randomness than skill.

Spotflick is a game that I really wanted to love since it has a great premise, lends itself to becoming addictive, and has perfect amount of gameplay for short bursts of mobile game time. But ultimately it falls short because of the mechanics of the game. Spotflick by Spotflick Ltd is the first FIFA World Cup game out of the gate and even promises a new Spotflick Challenge mode to be released on June 11th to coincide with the start of the World Cup. The game would have benefitted from a bit more polish on the controls and gameplay however, even if it meant a delay in release. Graphics are cute and realistic in their cartoonish sort of way, but that does not make up for poor controls and lack of challenge. Until the controls are updated and tweaked to be more accurate, Spotflick will remain a good game in concept but a poor game in actualization.

Spotflick by Spotflick Ltd version 1.0 is available for $0.99. It was reviewed on an iPod Touch 2G with OS 3.x.