All posts by Matt

A Good Day for Roguelikes: 100 Rogues, Legends of Yore and more

It appears to be a big day for iOS roguelikes. Here’s a rundown of new releases in the genre.

Following a brief absence, 100 Rogues [$0.99] returns to the app store at version 2.8 with impressive new content. Two new “monster classes” are available, the Tourist and the Rogue-Bot.

Tales of adventure have brought many Tourists to the dungeons. These weak, naive souls rely on wits and pity to avoid combat, though years of bar brawls have honed their ability to throw just about anything and make it hurt. The Tourists abilities include asking for monsters for directions, arguing prices at the shop, blinding enemies with their cameras, and disguising themselves in an effort to blend in. When all else fails, the Tourist excels at running away! The Tourist class is available as free DLC.

The Bandit Hole Robot-Fighting Championships have announced a new Rogue-Bot Fighting League! The dungeons now swarm with this new breed of machine as they research unstoppable new fighting techniques and bigger explosions. The Rogue-Bot is built for combat, and will pistol-whip anyone or anything standing in its way. The Rogue-Bot is also capable of launching explosive rockets, creating walking bombs, tossing grenades, immobilizing enemies with nets, rolling into a defensive ball, and lubing its mechanical joints with the blood of his enemies. The Rogue-Bot is available as paid DLC for $0.99.

The 2.8 update also includes two new DLC game modes, Combo and Endless. In Combo Mode your character begins much sturdier, but skills and items are purchased with game points. You earn points by killing monsters, and even MORE points by killing monsters quickly to rack up a combo multiplier. In Endless Mode the third level of Hell wraps back around to the Bandit Hole, and play begins with a harder difficulty setting. The first loop is roughly equivalent to Normal Mode, the second loop slightly easier than Rogue Mode, the third loop is way harder than Rogue Mode, and the fourth loop … well, no one really expects you to survive to the fourth loop … Neither Combo nor Endless modes include boss fights, with the first level of each world leading into the first level of the next. Both modes are available as paid DLC for $0.99 each.

100 Rogues is one of my very favorite iOS games, and with so much new content is now more awesome than ever!

Legends of Yore [FREE] is a new roguelike, featuring three character classes and endless adventure. While I do think there’s a bit too much lag between turns, I love the big-pixel graphics and old-school feel of the game, and I am most definitely looking forward to spending more time with this one.

Initially made for the “Seven Day Roguelike Challenge” — I love the Seven Day Roguelike Challenge! — Pitman [$1.99] casts you as Krumb, a dwarven pitman on a quest for mighty artifacts in a 3D dungeon. The game plays out in a peculiar, board-game fashion with an unusual set of camera controls; it definitely takes some getting used to, but the game is also thoroughly intriguing and offers a unique approach to the standard roguelike formula. Also, the soundtrack is wonderfully quirky.

Of all the dungeon-crawling adventure to be had today, Saga Dungeon [FREE] is the one I am least digging. The sprawling, procedurally generated 3D dungeons are nice in theory, but are incredibly bland in design and quickly begin to resemble frustrating mazes more than compelling adventuring halls. The turn-based combat runs almost entirely on auto-pilot, and I have seen very little variety in enemy types. And the game’s in-app purchasing is a little weird; you can visit the merchant at anytime to buy items using real-world money, but can only spend in-game gold between dungeon levels. The character models are decent, if not very detailed, but there’s not a lot of personality or fun to be found in Saga Dungeon. For a three-dimension game, Saga Dungeon comes off feeling flat. Still, it’s free to play and genre fans may want to give it a go.

KRPG Cage Fight: Wild Frontier vs. Zenonia 3

I have said before and will say again, Wild Frontier is the best Korean role-playing game (KRPG) in the app store. Wild Frontier may not have the same name recognition as the Zenonia franchise, but it trumps those games in every conceivable way.

The recently released Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story has more of a buzz at the moment, standing upon the hype and legacy of two previous games, the release of the third having been drummed up pretty heavily, and the fact that Gamevil is very active in developing games for the iOS market. Meanwhile, Wild Frontier developer KTH has only one game in the app store — Wild Frontier — and little clout on which to gain footing.

Nonetheless, Wild Frontier is incredible. In this article, I pit Wild Frontier head-to-head against Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story in a number of important categories to prove once and for all which is the better game. Let’s rumble!

Graphics:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Zenonia 3 is the first Zenonia to support the iPhone 4 retina display, and it’s about damned time. The first two Zenonias were blurry, smudgy looking affairs that never lived up to the visual capabilities of even the pre-retina iPhones. No doubt, Zenonia 3 looks great. But the sprites and animations don’t do anything they didn’t do in previous Zenonias; there have been no refinements to the artistic presentation other than to ensure the game is of proper resolution for the device on which it runs. Enemies still poke around the environments in stilted fashion, and characters in story sections just don’t animate properly at all. Zenonia 3 is pretty, but it’s also pretty pedestrian.

Wild Frontier

Wild Frontier was the first KRPG to embrace retina quality graphics, and the sprites, backgrounds and animations are superb. Everything is full of color and of life, and animates smoothly. Enemies blink and twitch and look alive; your character actually moves his legs when he runs. In general, Wild Frontier’s sprites include more frames of animation than Zenonia’s sprites, and it really makes a difference. Add to this weather effects such as rain and lightning, and daylight cycles including dawn, day, dusk and night and Wild Frontier is one fantastic looking game.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Sound Design:

Zenonia 3 offers up some of the best music the series has yet seen, but its loops are still short and repetitive, and the sound design is overall fairly generic. None of the tunes really stick with you, and that’s actually a good thing — they’re so repetitive, it would become annoying if they did. In terms of instrumentation, the soundtrack is also comprised of pretty harsh sounding synthesizers.

Wild Frontier’s soundtrack is more subtle and emotive, often relaxing and more melodic than anything Zenonia has ever known. The game also makes more of an effort to simulate real instruments. The music is obviously synthesized, but strings sound plucked, string arrangements are epic, and the compositions are layered in thoughtful, compelling ways. Further, the musical sections are much longer than in Zenonia, making them much less repetitive over time. Wild Frontier is a melodic treat.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Story:

Zenonia’s story is one that we’ve played a million times, Divine forces battle Demonic forces, the Heavenly realm having fallen from grace, and humanity caught somewhere in between. Mixed in are the personal issues of our protagonist, which mostly amount to boy likes girls, but refuses to admit to liking girl, meanwhile being teased by his fairy companion: grade school romance and teasing, framed in a cliche struggle between good and evil.

Wild Frontier tells the story of a group of travelers having landed upon a new continent. The protagonist Chris is not an adventurer, having tagged along on the journey to follow after his girlfriend, Lamia, adventurer extraordinaire. Much as it pains her to do so, for his own protection and safety Lamia leaves Chris to pursue her adventures. With encouragement from some of his fellow travelers, Chris realizes that to win Lamia back he must become an adventurer himself, capable of surviving in this new land, and with the help of his friends and the Mokar natives he sets out to do just that. There are no demons, and the fate of the world does not hang in the balance. Wild Frontier plays out on a smaller, but altogether more compelling stage; it tells a story of relationships, self-realization, perseverance and personal growth. There is no other KRPG that tells a tale quite like it, nor as effectively. It’s a rare thing in KRPGs, but Wild Frontier’s story is actually worth experiencing.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Characters & NPCs:

Zenonia’s characters are occasionally endearing, but more often juvenile and irritating. They interact with each other not as adults, but as grade school students. NPCs in towns often approach Chael with their problems, most of which are trivial or stupid, and often refuse to offer information for reasons that are simply childish. By and large, Zenonia’s characters are one-dimensional and annoying.

Wild Frontier puts a greater emphasis on characterization. Characters have personalities and real-life problems. They also have real and adult motivations for their actions. Lamia cares about Chris, and that’s why she has to leave him; she doesn’t want him to get hurt chasing after her on adventures. Ben is a crotchety academic, and teaches the Mokars to mix potions and draw maps; he’s also older and requires more rest, and all of this factors into conversations he has with Chris throughout the game. Meanwhile, Roman sees the brighter side of life, and constantly offers Chris advice, assistance and encouragement. He’s an immensely helpful character, and serves to guide Chris on his path to become a self-sufficient adventurer. Greg is aloof and anti-social, and not because he’s an agent for evil, but simply because he can’t be bothered by other people. Meanwhile, the Mokars are consumed with local concerns — monsters threatening the village, missing persons, the need for supplies — but are generally friendly to the outsiders, just as you might expect people to be in a small, foreign town. The characters in Wild Frontier are fueled by their personalities, and are much more than simple mouthpieces intended to push players onward; they feel as if they really live in this world.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Character Classes:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story offers four character classes. The Sword Knight is a strength-based melee fighter, favoring heavy weapons and armor. The Shadow Hunter is an agile melee fighter, favoring lighter armaments and putting a greater emphasis on dealing damage through critical hits. The Mechanic Launcher is a long-range class favoring weapons, and the Nature Shaman is a long-range class favoring magic and totems.

Wild Frontier offers three variations of melee classes. The Warrior wields two-handed weapons for high damage, the Tanker is a defensive character favoring heavy armors, and the Scout is an agile fighter capable of dual-wielding small weapons and inflicting criticals. There are no ranged classes, and while there are class differences, Wild Frontiers classes generally approach combat in a similar fashion.

Clearly, Zenonia 3 offers a greater variety of character classes and approaches to combat.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Interface:

Over the course of three games, the Zenonia franchise has made leaps and bounds in interface design. Zenonia 3 has one of the best in-game menu systems I’ve seen in any iOS role-playing game. The controls are easy to use and their positions and opacity may be customized to user preference, and the in-game menus used to manage your character, inventory, quests, etc. are slick, intuitive and easy to use. They also fully embrace the iPhone’s touch interface. Zenonia 3 is a big win for interface design.

Wild Frontier has pretty solid controls; the d-pad could be a touch more sensitive to input, but I really have no gripes against the game for control during play. The in-game menu for managing your character, however, relies on the d-pad and confirm/cancel buttons for navigation and manipulation, and ends up feeling pretty clunky. It’s a lot better than the menus in the first Zenonia, but not nearly so good as the menus in Zenonia 3.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Questing:

Zenonia is well-known for its assinine fetch quests: kill 10 bats in the forest, collect 15 frog horns, find a document and bring it back, etc. While some of these quests serve to progress the storyline, many of them serve only to keep you in one place far longer than you should have to be there. I managed to reach level 15 in and around the first town in Zenonia 3, but found myself constantly being sent back into the Akun Temple area to battle level 3-5 enemies for fetch quests. When you’re level 15 sword knight is battling level 5 frog-people, you’ve been in one place too long. And yet the game kept giving me pointless things to do, liking buying a steak for a hungry child, or collecting flowers for another … Zenonia makes a habit of providing pointless quests as a method to artificially extend the completion time of the game. Further, it’s not always clear which quests are important to advancing the story, and which are filler, and so you just sort of do them all until you’re given permission to move on.

Wild Frontier categorizes quests as Main, Sub or Free. Main quests are those pertaining to the story, while Sub are side-quests you may perform to assist the NPCs you meet in towns. Free quests may be picked up daily from the job board in each town, and are short, repeatable and entirely optional quests that you may undertake for extra experience, when you’re headed that way anyway, or just when you’re bored and looking for something to do. The quests often make sense within the context of the setting, which makes them feel more worthwhile to undertake, and the game does a pretty good job of telling you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do, kill or collect to fulfill the quest requirements. More importantly, you always know which quests are important and which are extra, which allows you to more easily gauge and plot your progress through the game.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Grinding:

Zenonia is a grind-fest. It’s not uncommon to spend 30 minutes or an hour grinding to survive in one area, only to move to the next area — a transition of only a single screen — and to then be obliterated by new, significantly higher-level opponents. And so you spend yet another 30 minutes to an hour grinding to survive this area before moving on. And God forbid you skip through an area without grinding, because enemies two areas on from where you belong will flatten you. Zenonia forces players to grind for experience points constantly throughout the game (and then keeps you in one place too long with questing before forcing you to grind again?!), and the grind-fest eventually becomes a snooze-fest.

Wild Frontier encourages you to press on through the game, and discourages you from dallying too long in any one area. On first entering a new area, enemies will yield significant experience points. Level-up a few times, however, and enemies will give you only 1 experience point per kill — and that’s the game telling you it’s time to move on. Further, enemies are more powerful during the night than during the day, and will yield greater experience bounties. Grinding at night, you can quickly harvest an area and move on to the next. While Zenonia strives to keep you in one place far too long, Wild Frontier is constantly pressing you onward into new, unexplorered territory.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Looting:

Enemies in Zenonia occasionally drop items. Some of them are useful, but I often find my inventory swelling with garbage that I never use, which I either cart around until the end game or sell off in the nearest town. When I’m actually seeking items, item drops occur only infrequently. No matter which way you cut it, it’s frustrating. Then there’s the mining: you need to carry a special pickax, which will eventually break on you. The act of mining is a constant tap-tap-tap of the action button to beat on rocks, and you have to tap it again every time you pick up an ore. Looting in Zenonia is tedious, time consuming and frustrating. It’s a chore to harvest or mine or items, and then it’s a chore to manage them in your inventory. Further, there is neither rhyme nor reason for most of what you find enemies carrying; to get flowers, you have to kill weird forest spiders?!

Wild Frontier does neat things with it’s looting mechanic. Downed enemies may be harvested for materials, and those materials are generally relevant to the enemy from which you take them — plant-based enemies yield leaves, wood and thorns; crabs yield shells and claws; mammals yield bones, leather and fur; etc. And these are not random item drops; every slain enemy lingers as a body on the field, and every body may be harvested for materials. These materials can then be used in rest areas to craft weapons and armaments, or to cook food, or may be sold off in the Mokar shops for coin. Mining ores from stones or foraging for items in the forest works just the same as looting bodies: you hold the button while Chris harvests materials — a process both simple and well animated — while the message display lists out your findings as they happen. Looting in Wild Frontier makes sense, serves a purchase, and is far less tedious than in Zenonia.

Winner: Wild Frontier

In-App Purchase:

Zenonia 3’s system of in-app purchase is one of the more draconian examples currently to be found in the app store. As anyone can tell you who has played either of the first two games, Origin of Life items are essential to successfully completing the game. When you die, the Origin of Life item allows you to resurrect in place without suffering the usual penalty for dying; resurrecting without an Origin of Life, you lose experience points and item durability, which ultimate leaves you nearer to death’s door than before you died the last time. In the first two Zenonias, the Origin of Life was pricey, but could be purchased using in-game currency. In Zenonia 3, the Origin of Life is only available for real-world currency via in-app purchase. And the game will flat-out steal them from you, such as in the Midgard Bridge quest where you have to raid the demon camp: your character should be roughly level 15-17 at this point in the game, and you’re without warning thrown up against level 47 demons who make short work of you. You’re supposed to find another way around, but the only way to realize you can’t win this fight is to walk into it and get killed, then being given the choice to use an Origin of Life or to resurrect at a penalty.

The Origin of Life is not the only item you can only get via in-app purchase in Zenonia 3. Examine scrolls, two-way portals and other important items must also be purchased with real money. So you pay for an Examine scroll, use it on an item only to find that the item is worthless to you — of lesser value than your current equipment — and … you’ve wasted your actual money.

As I said in my full review of Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story, “the IAP is a textbook perfect example of how to ruin an otherwise good game, and clear indication that Gamevil doesn’t really value its fans and supporters.”

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier also includes items for in-app purchase, but those items are entirely optional. By consulting the Item Shop in each town, you can use real-world money to expand your inventory, add extra ability sockets to items, purchase scrolls to reset your stat and skill points, purchase extra runes or equipment sets, or an unlimited use taming kit. You can also purchase first-aid kits, similar in purpose to Zenonia’s Origin of Life.

Dying in Wild Frontier, however, does not incur the same penalties as in Zenonia. If killed in the field, you may opt to use a first-aid kit if you have one, or you can wake up in town with a deduction in gold. The game does not penalize your experience points or equipment durability, though, so does nothing to cripple your character in the way that Zenonia does.

The bottom line on IAP in Wild Frontier is that it is entirely optional, and not necessary to complete the game. A well-prepared adventurer can survive the game’s challenges, and an unprepared adventurer will wake up in town, where they can easily embark once more, better prepared for the opposition after a visit to the accessory shop (sells potions and other support items, based on in-game currency).

Zenonia is full of cheap deaths, encouraging and all but requiring that you use the in-app purchase system to by restorative items; Wild Frontier offers in-app purchases to enhance the game, but does not require them of them player.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Price:

At the time of this writing, Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story retails for $4.99 and carries with it the potential of spending a fortune via in-app purchase.

When I originally reviewed Wild Frontier, the game retailed for $0.99; at present, the game is FREE. In-app purchase is available, but entirely optional.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Conclusion:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story definitely has some things going for it. My final impression is that it’s a highly entertaining game, derailed by a draconian system of in-app purchase and taken with a grain of salt. For better or worse, it is a Zenonia game, with all of the traditional Zenonia flaws. It does nothing to reinvigorate either the genre or the franchise. For all the good to be found in the game, flat storytelling and characterization, and an over dependence on experience grinding and assinine fetch quests are trademarks of the Zenonia name.

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier does so much right that it’s hard not to love it. The game offers a great story with a wonderful cast characters, a beautiful world to explore with flourishes such as weather and daylight cycles, fantastic art direction in both stills and animations, an enjoyable soundtrack and solid gameplay. It also takes many of the KRPG conventions which often prove problematic in other games, and turns them on their heads, making them all a part of the fun. What’s more, Wild Frontier is an incredible bargain.

There is no question in my mind that Wild Frontier is the better game, and by a long shot. Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story can be enjoyable and takes many steps in the right direction, but Gamevil still hasn’t done enough to improve the game over previous entries, and they really drag the game down with one of the worst in-app purchase systems since SEED 1.

See my original reviews for Wild Frontier and Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story.

Zenonia 3 Review: A great game that no one should play

As its name would imply, Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story is the third itineration of Gamevil’s smash-hit Zenonia franchise, and successor to one of the app store’s most prominent role-playing games.

The first Zenonia cemented itself into the hearts and minds of mobile gamers early on as one of the first iOS games to offer a complete RPG experience. The game was deeply flawed, but managed to rise above its many shortcomings. For one thing, it had virtually no competition within its genre; also, it was as close as iOS had to console classics such as The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana, though it fails to live up to either.

Zenonia’s second outing made welcome improvements. The graphics were little better — still smudgy and out-of-focus looking, having been upscaled from mobile phones — but the redesigned interface, improved controls and sound design, new character classes and other refinements resulted in a vastly superior game.

In many ways, Zenonia 3 is more of the same; it doesn’t rewrite the rules, but it does adhere to the second game’s precedent of refining the formula. But given the app store’s present RPG landscape — in which we see Zenonia now completing with ports of Final Fantasy I, II and III, and Secret of Mana, original role-playing games such as Chaos Rings, Eternal Legacy, Aralon and Across Age, and a slew of KRPGs including three Inotia titles, Queen’s Crown, and the utterly brilliant Wild Frontier — does more of the same old Zenonia stand up to expectations?

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Zenonia 3 follows the adventures of Chael and his fairy companion, Runa. Chael is the son of Regret, protagonist of the first Zenonia. The game’s overarching story is that of a conflict between Good and Evil — the Divine and the Damned — and humanity caught in between. The opening scenes depict a battle between the knights of divinity and the invading demonic forces, and … I’m already bored. It’s only the same scene I’ve seen opening nearly every Korean RPG I’ve ever played. But then, Zenonia has never been a narrative powerhouse. Fortunately, the game fairs better in other areas.

The most notable improvement is the graphical presentation. Gone are the blurry sprites of Zenonias past, which were awful even on pre-retina displays. Zenonia 3 is the first pretty Zenonia, crisp and colorful even on the iPhone 4 retina display, and a very welcome visual treat.

The game’s interface is also much improved over previous games, no longer the cumbersome beast it once was. The on-screen controls are responsive and as unobtrusive as might be hoped for, while the in-game menu — from which stats, skills, equipment, inventory and quests are monitored and managed — is slick, intuitive and easy to use. In addition to being functional, the interface enjoys quite a bit of visual flair, and the controls may be repositioned and the opacity adjusted to the user’s preference.

Gameplay-wise, Zenonia 3 remains a KRPG with the usual trappings: grinding and fetch quests. However, as far as I have played, the game has been much more judicious in its handling of these aspects than previous entries. You will still be required to revisit old territory maybe a little too often, but things are not as bad as they once were, and all of the other gameplay improvements make the backtracking more tolerable than before. Beginning a new game, players complete a brief tutorial quest and are then warped into a mysterious dungeon for some real adventuring. I was grateful not to have to complete a slew of menial chores before being allowed to venture forth.

Combat is similar to past entries — an attack button to mash, and various attack skills available at an MP cost — but feels better on account of more responsive controls and better combo animations.

The supremely annoying weight and hunger systems of past entries have been dropped in Zenonia 3, which is for the best. They were a buzzkill and will not be missed.

There are four character classes from which to choose: the strength-based, melee fighting Sword Knight; the agile Shadow Hunter, relying on criticals to deal heavy damage; the Mechanic Launcher, a gun-toting ranged battler; and the Nature Shaman, a magical ranged class.

Chael’s character sprite looks fantastic to begin with, with variations for each chosen class. And as you play through the game and don various new armaments, his appearance will evolve to reflect his gear.

Overall, Zenonia 3’s enemies are also a step up from previous efforts. The tribesmen faced early on are awesome looking, and boss battle are also more impressive than in previous games.

Zenonia 3 sports a number of social features, including Game Center support and achievements with Facebook and Twitter posting. There are two types of network play, asynchronous PvP and co-op play in the Execution Rooms, both accessible from towns. Also, messages and items may be exchanged with other players via the Network Gal in each town.

A number of smaller flourishes round out the experience, such as quest markers now appearing on doorways when important NPCs lurk inside of buildings, some Game Center achievements manifesting themselves as equipable “titles” in-game which grant bonuses to the player, and the ability to level-up and customize your fairy companion to realize advantages in combat.

Zenonia 3 is not without it’s shortcomings, however. There’s a bug to keeps the game clock running even when the game is inactive during multitasking; at time of writing my game clock shows 18 hours on account of my not killing the app overnight. While the narrative has its moments, the overall tale is dreadfully dull, having been done to death by so many games before. The script is also rife with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, typical of games translated from Korean. Gameplay-wise, Zenonia 3 offers nothing we haven’t already seen in the previous two games; it’s the same old song and dance, but delivered in a more palatable package, making the game more of an upgrade than a new experience. Level grinding and fetch quests make their triumphant return to artificially extend gameplay, but I expected no less; I’ve long begrudged KRPGs for their stubborn adherence to what is essentially junk gameplay. And combat does become repetitive, as there is really little to the mechanic beyond standing in place, mashing the attack button …

My final gripe is the in-app purchases (IAP), and this is a BIG GRIPE. The game will give you a handful of Examine scrolls, Origin of Life items, and other “Paid” items in the course of play, but insofar as I have seen, the only way to get more of these items is to pay out-of-pocket for IAP. Considering that such items were available for purchase from item merchants in previous games — using the in-game currency, rather than real-world currency — it’s bullshit they are only available as IAP this time around. Especially considering that Origin of Life items are nearly essential to completing the game, as you will otherwise be penalized with experience and equipment durability reductions for dying — and die you will a lot later into the game, and usually unfairly. Considering the game costs $4.99 to begin with, Gamevil is seriously screwing players with IAP and Zenonia fans should be outraged. I sincerely hope players will make themselves heard on the matter. Furthermore, many of the restorative items and equipment available via IAP could potentially give players an unfair advantage in network play, essentially making the IAP a major disincentive to engage in network play for those unwilling or unable to afford IAP. Much as I like Zenonia 3 otherwise, Gamevil ought to be changing their company name to GamEVIL for this one. I cry foul.

While I’ve felt that past Zenonias were mostly overhyped and under-realized, Zenonia 3 is the first game of the series I feel truly deserves whatever praise it may find. It looks great, plays well and holds a lengthy adventure in store for those willing to see it through. Removal of the weight and hunger systems from previous games has really helped to streamline the experience, leaving the kernel intact without the chaff, and the interface and control overhaul make playing the game better than ever.

Despite app store crowding, there’s always room for another RPG if it’s a good one, and Zenonia 3 is just that. Mind you, it’s still a Korean RPG with all that implies — the grinding, the fetch quests and the grandiose, hackney storytelling that may turn off some players — but fans of the genre should know by now to expect such things, that they’re just a part of the deal. Accepting that, I would gladly give Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story an effortless recommendation. And yet, I cannot effortlessly recommend Zenonia 3, because much as I feel the game has going for it, there is one major bugbear that derails every good thing I have to say about the game. And that’s the IAP.

It is ABSURD that a game costing $4.99 should be so bogged down by in-app purchase, and all but require you to spend yet more of your money on expendible items. I would expect this from a freemium title — it is the very nature of freemium games to nickel-and-dime gamers into poverty — but not from a premium RPG in a longstanding, well-regarded franchise. I am fully in favor of IAP being available for players wanting to enhance their gaming experience, but IAP is plain evil when a game all but requires that you spend real-world money to see it through to completion.

I genuinely like Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story, but cannot in good conscious recommend it to gamers. The IAP is a textbook perfect example of how to ruin an otherwise good game, and clear indication that Gamevil doesn’t really value its fans and supporters.

You have been warned.

If you really want a good KRPG and one that doesn’t attempt to fleece you, play Wild Frontier.

Zenonia 3 [$4.99 + bullshit IAP] is developed and published by Gamevil. Reviewed on an iPhone 4.

Who’s That Flying?! Review: A Soaring Good Time

The Guardian of Earth has failed in his duties, has allowed hordes of Doom Beasts to run rampant in Earth’s fair cities, and has been put to trial by his intergalactic peers — the Galactic Counsel of Space Justice — to face space justice for his inadequacies …

Who’s That Flying?! — a.k.a. WTF?! — is a unique side-scrolling shooter emphasizing both its narrative and its action. The tale unfolds as the Guardian of Earth recounts events to the council, often hilariously, with players reliving his exploits — as action-packed stages of alien blasting! — in the telling. The dialogue is punchy, full of banter, and laugh-out-loud funny, if a tad juvenile at times.

With excellent use of humor, unique game mechanics and a presentation as stylish as it is adorable, WTF?! manages to set itself well apart from other app store shooters. What’s more, the game is just plain fun!

In most shooters, players must avoid collisions with enemy ships and projectiles, while collecting power-ups to better their chances of success. WTF?! eschews even these basic conventions. For starters, the Guardian of Earth cannot die; he can only fail in his appointed duties. Ravagers are the most basic of enemy types, but also of greatest concern to our hero; their goal is not to defeat him, but to get past him so that they may rampage in the city. Each ravager that gets by the Guardian of Earth will do damage to the city, and when the city suffers enough damage, the Guardian will have failed.

The Guardian of Earth is too powerful to be harmed by these creatures; collide with a ravager and the Guardian will simply tear it apart. More effective in dealing with the ravagers’ constant threat, however, is the stream of laser beams the Guardian constantly spews. By destroying ravagers, the Guardian of Earth builds his multiplier. As the multiplier builds, his Awesome Meter increases in several levels, each level corresponding to increasingly devastating special attacks. Allowing a ravager to slip by, however, breaks the chain and empties the Awesome Meter’s current level progress.

The thrust of the game then is to chain attacks, building the Awesome Meter to unleash destruction upon your foes, and not allowing a single ravager to slip past you. Collisions are okay, but misses are not.

Beginning with the second stage, however, new enemies appear to attack the Guardian of Earth directly. While they cannot kill him, they have various means of distracting him, stunning him or blocking his attacks, allowing ravagers to slip by unharmed to wreak havoc upon Earth’s cities. Larger enemies need be softened up with laser beams, with the Guardian then able to grab hold and pummel them. Fun stuff!

And so WTF?! is both a shooter and a defense game, an intriguing blend of genres.

The game’s audio/visual presentation is cartoonish and further serves to drive the game’s humor. The Guardian of Earth spins and hurtles through the air impressively, showboating for his fans while battling invaders. As he builds chains, the crowds below can be heard cheering, but begroan his failures when a ravager gets by him. All the while, the Guardian proclaims his own awesomeness and enthralls his audience with his tales of daring-do.

The game includes 12 achievements, in-game labeled as “Evidence” for the trial. The OpenFeint social gaming platform is supported, but Game Center is not — indeed, WTF?!

Aside from the lack of Game Center support, the only gripe I can level against the game are its controls, which take some getting used to. Left or right joysticks are available as options, but the Touch controls are definitely the way to play. But even so, the touch controls are a mite wonky and imprecise. Essentially, a joystick is centered wherever you touch the screen; I find myself having to crank the sensitivity WAAAAAY down to prevent my Guardian from swirling all over the screen. After a short adjustment period the controls become manageable, but I would far prefer to see 1:1 relative touch controls, like those found in Space Invaders Infinity Gene and a number of other shooters. Maybe I can hope to see such controls (and Game Center support?!) added in an update …

Minor shortcomings aside, Who’s That Flying?! is a wonderfully fun game and an easy recommendation. I’ve been having a blast with it!

Who’s That Flying?! [$2.99] is developed by MediaTonic and published by Capcom. Reviewed on an iPhone 4.

Halfbot Interview: The Blocks Cometh creator drops crates of info

I admit, I have lately become just a little obsessed with The Blocks Cometh by Halfbot [$1.99]. The perfect blend of tone, presentation and addictive gameplay, The Blocks Cometh is a paradigm of modern retro game design, and represents iOS gaming at its best.

Like so many blocks from above, I recently had the opportunity to drop questions on Halfbot’s Derek Laufman.

NoDpad: To begin, could you tell us a little about your general role in Halfbot, and specifically in development of The Blocks Cometh?

Derek: I am the art half of Halfbot. I create all of the visuals and animations. We try to share game design duties when we can but generally art doesn’t take as long as code so I shoulder a bit more of the design end of things. For The Blocks Cometh in particular this was an idea I came up with when we were challenging ourselves to make a Flash game in a day. In 6 hours we went from concept to playable demo and in the end, the final Flash version took 5 days to complete.

How would you describe The Blocks Cometh to someone who has never played it?

The best way to describe the game is to imagine that your character has been trapped in a game of Tetris. Your goal is to avoid the falling blocks while trying to climb as high as you can before ultimately getting crushed. The game pushes you to beat your previous score or compete against your friends with the integration of Open Feint and Game Center. With the addition of achievements and unlockable characters, it’s quick pick up and play style lends itself to any gamer that has 5 minutes or 2 hours.

The Blocks Cometh seems a perfect fit for the iPhone, but was originally released as a browser-based Flash game. How did you find the process of porting the game to iOS? There are quite a lot of other Flash games I would love to see ported; why do you think so few Flash game developers bring their work to iOS, and what motivated your team to make that leap?

Back in October 2010 when we created the game for the Flash Market we had already been contemplating the idea of making the move to the iOS and other mobile platforms in the coming year. So when we developed the game I kept the screen ratio to that of the iPhone. We had also used the Flixel engine to create the Flash Game and when Adam Atomic released his Flixel iOS code for open source it made porting the game a lot easier. The iPhone is a harder platform to develop for then Flash. I would imagine that a lot of Flash devs are intimidated by the technical side of the platform. Luckily for us we have both been working in the games industry to over 5 years and had a lot of experience working with other platforms which made the transition for us a lot easier.

The App Store is a crowded place, over-saturated in nearly every genre of gaming, and for every ground-breaking title a slew of copycats quick on its heels. How do you feel The Blocks Cometh stands out from the crowd, both from similarly premised games like The Incident, as well as against games other action/reflex titles?

I’d like to think that we bring a good level of polish and quality to our games that allow us to stand out. We strive to make our games as good as they can be, whether that is through game play fixes or just adding more content. We will try and bring our fans that best game possible.

I think one aspect of The Blocks Cometh that keeps me coming back is the game’s nonstop action. The game is one narrow escape after another, with never a moment to catch your breath. While in some respects similar, The Incident favors a more lackadaisical pace and lacks that sense of imminent peril; I rarely find the incentive to play the game. Meanwhile, The Blocks Cometh is a game I can hardly put down. Was this notion of real and constant danger something that you actively pursued while developing the game, or is it something that evolved more as a side-effect to the game you were making?

From the start we wanted the gameplay to be fast and intense. It took a lot of adjusting to find that balance and we are really happy to hear that the players feel the same way.

The Blocks Cometh features fantastic art direction. The retro presentation and the atmosphere of science fiction in ruins calls to mind games such as Mega Man and Canabalt. Were these titles an influence on The Blocks Cometh, and what other inspirations did you draw upon when setting the game’s excellent tone?

Actually you really hit it on the head. Those two games were both in my head when I was trying to come up with the setting for the game. Canabalt is the ultimate distance game in my opinion and I’ve always loved the setting for that game. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mega Man. It was my first NES game as a kid. I had the DuckHunt/Gyromite package and since I didn’t have Super Mario Bros I bugged my parents for Mega Man immediately. So I’ve been a huge fan of that game from day one.

The Blocks Cometh is clearly not intended to be a work of great narrative force, but is there some backstory to the catastrophic destruction? Why are the blocks falling, where are they coming from, and what do our heroes hope to accomplish by climbing ever higher? Are these questions that might be explored in a future game?

We like the idea of having this ominous presence in the background. Is the world falling apart? Is someone dropping these blocks from the sky? We hint that people are trying to escape the planet and as you are playing you see ships taking off into the sky. In the trailer we imply that our “hero” has waited too long and is now trying to escape by physically climbing his way off the planet. I’m not sure if we’ll explore the narrative any further but we like the idea of letting the players draw their own conclusions.

Do you anticipate developing other titles within the same world as The Blocks Cometh, whether a direct sequel or any spin-off titles heading in new gameplay directions? I would love to see the Halfbot character appearing in a title of his own; he’s a fantastic character with loads of personality. The world itself seems like it could go in plenty of directions as well.

We’ve definitely discussed the ideas of expanding on the brand but for now there are no immediate plans to do so.

From your blog, I understand a large content update is in the works, containing new characters, game modes and achievements. What can you tell us about the coming additions? Will the new game modes provide any significant changes to gameplay?

We are currently working on a big feature update. First and foremost we are including an ability to play the game in Landscape mode. We received a lot of player requests for this feature and although it was technically challenging to integrate we were able to pull it off. So we are excited about that feature. Also, we will include a Casual mode for the gamers who want a more relaxed style of play and on the flip side of that we will offer an Extreme mode for the really hardcore players. We will also introduce 4 new characters and a bunch of new achievements.

Do you plan any further improvements to the existing game, such as control improvements, new leaderboards — perhaps to track scores for each character separately?

We have tweaked the controls a bit more since the first update and with the addition of the Landscape mode we hope the gameplay experience will appeal to everyone. As for new leader boards we will be adding additional leader boards for each mode but with the addition of characters, having individual boards would get too out of hand.

One design choice I find interesting is the decision to give each of the game’s characters an attack. The attacks are occasionally useful, but I have found the game can just as easy be played without them. What motivated this choice, and might we see future game modes or a scoring system placing more of an emphasis on combat and/or destruction?

The attack was originally put into the Flash game to allow the player to get out from being boxed in, rather than just wait until the screen crushes you. The attack basically evolved from that. Some players utilize the attack more than others but we like that the feature is there. We have definitely discussed the use for it in additional modes and if the game ends up performing better in the market place we’d love to explore the potential in future updates.

Your fiasco with Edison Games has been well-publicized. To summarize for our readers, while you were busy developing the game for iOS, The Blocks Cometh was ripped-off by developer Edison Games — title, gameplay, art assets and all — whose only change to the game was to replace the main protagonist with a character stolen from Ravenous Games’ League of Evil. Apple approved the game and even listed the game as one of its weekly featured titles. Upon discovering the theft, Halfbot launched a campaign to defend their intellectual property, resulting in the removal of the doppleganger title from the App Store.

Am I missing anything you would like to add?

That sums it up perfectly.

As I understand, the event precipitated some changes to Apple’s approval guidelines for apps. In short, what is the intent of these changes, what are your thoughts on them, and how effective do you think they will be in preventing such incidents in the future?

I think that any improvement that Apple makes to ensure that IP’s are protected and guilty developers are punished is going to be a step in the right direction. However, I’ve yet to see this policy in action. It’s been about a month since Apple posted the announcement about guideline changes and yet Edison Games is still alive and well in the app store with no recourse. It’s really disappointing to see that no action has been taken against them.

How damaging do you believe it has been to the reception and sales of The Blocks Cometh, having had the game released out from under you by another developer?

We feel it had a huge impact on the success of our game. We had a very strong launch day and even with an Apple feature the game struggled to gain any real staying power. It’s hard to imagine that The Blocks Cometh didn’t perform better than it did with all of the press coverage and positive reviews. All we can do is speculate but we honestly feel that the copycat game affected the overall sale of our title.

Not that I want to imply good in an evil act, but is there a silver lining? Have these incidents had any positive effect on your game? For example, we speculated in our review that had this never happened, you might not have had the opportunity to come together with Ravenous Games — The League of Evil / The Blocks Cometh crossover is quite possibly the best crossover in App Store history!

Despite the poor performance of the game we were able to form a good friendship with Ravenous Games and the out pouring of support from the community and press was amazing. This incident helped put Halfbot on the map and will only help us to be successful in the future. You have to look at the positive side of every situation and this is one of those times where we feel that we still came out ahead.

Do you plan any further crossover content with Ravenous Games? Do you think your teams might work together on projects in the future?

We have definitely discussed the potential of working together again and we would be honoured to team up with them on a future title.

Do you have any plans for an iOS release of your previous Flash game, I Don’t Come In Peace?

Not at this time. I Don’t Come in Peace was our first Flash title and although we enjoyed the game we feel at this stage we can offer a much stronger platforming experience. We are definitely not short on ideas so we are really excited to see what new games we can bring to iOS.

Apart from The Blocks Cometh, what are a few of your favorite games on iOS? And Flash-based, or on other systems?

Without trying to sound biased the League of Evil is the best platformer on iOS in my opinion. I also recently became addicted to Game Dev Story for iOS, I highly recommend this game to any developer or fan of sim games. I love everything that Juicy Beast is putting out in the Flash market. Those guys are loaded with talent and I believe they have their first iOS game Gobtron coming out very soon. I’m definitely going to be checking that out.

And finally, are there any questions you wish I had asked that I didn’t?

I believe you covered it all! I just want to thank you for all the great questions and I really had a great time doing this interview!

Many thanks to Derek for contributing his time for this interview.

Halfbot is working hard to ready the big content update, and hopes to have it ready for submission in two weeks. In the meantime, for more on The Blocks Cometh check out our review and further impressions. And definitely do yourself the favor of swinging by the App Store to pick this one up. For serious: coffee money well-spent.