All posts by Matt

The Blocks Cometh updated, second impressions and a whole lotta love

The Blocks Cometh by Halfbot [$1.99, review] recently received an update featuring improved controls and collision, as well as addition bug fixes and performance improvements. I thoroughly enjoyed the game when I reviewed it last month, and with the improvements made in 1.01, the game is even more enjoyable and easy to recommend. But that’s not where this story ends …

Having put The Blocks Cometh aside after completing my review and moved on to other releases, I came back to the game with the update and have hardly put it down since. In the last two weeks, The Blocks Cometh has become the most played game on my phone as I have gradually been working my way through the game’s 20 achievements — I have only a few more to go!

Of the unlockable characters, Halfbot and the Agent from League of Evil are my favorites. The agent is incredibly mobile and a lot of fun to play. Halfbot is fast on his feet — er, wheel — but one of the game’s weakest jumpers. The little guy has a wealth of personality, though, making him the game’s most likable character. When the other characters die, the game is over and it’s a shame; when Halfbot bites it, I feel really bad having let the little guy down. Being a humble conglomeration of blue pixels, it’s a fantastic feat of art direction for Halfbot to possess such incredible strength of character.

In all honestly, I would very much like to see Halfbot get his own spinoff title. I want to spend more time with the little guy.

Halfbot — the developer, not the robot — promises a content update coming soon including new gameplay modes, characters and achievements. Beyond that, however, I can only hope the game will continue to evolve. Following an all-too-brief spike on the app store charts, the game quickly fell off the radar. According to the developers’ blog, the game’s sales performance has been less than what was hoped for, perhaps due to the much publicized plagiarism of the game that hit the app store some months earlier.

Can weak sales be attributed to gamers having previously bought Edison Games’ rip-off, and not wanting to shell out for the real thing?

Whatever the case, let’s hope the next update isn’t last we see for The Blocks Cometh, because I still have a wish list of things I’d like to see added to this fantastic game: character-specific leaderboards and further control improvements (the attack button could be more responsive yet) top my list of realistic requests, while wishful thinking would also like to see a game mode with enemies to fight — maybe crossing over with League of Evil again to include some of that game’s baddies — as characters all have attacks anyway, why not give them someone to fight?

Of course, The Blocks Cometh is already wonderful as it is. I have a wish list not because the game still isn’t good enough, but because it’s so good that I just want more.

If you haven’t yet played The Blocks Cometh, get on it. When it comes to games of vertical ascension, games like Doodle Jump, Mega Jump and The Incident are all okay, but only The Blocks Cometh has really managed to grab my attention in any significant way. I can’t put it down, and I certainly hope more iOS gamers will pick it up.

BulkyPix Sales for iPad 2 Launch

In celebration of the the iPad 2 launch, developer BulkyPix will put all of its iPad titles on sale Friday, March 11 only. The list of on-sale games includes:

Saving Private Sheep HD: $0.99 instead of $2.99
Cardboard Castle HD: $0.99 instead of $1.99
Twin Blades HD: $2.99 instead of $4.99
Last King of Africa HD: $0.99 instead of $3.99
A Moon For The Sky HD: $0.99 instead of $1.99
Hysteria Project 2 HD: $0.99 instead of $1.99
Drum Challenge HD: $1.99 instead of $2.99
Snake Galaxy HD: $0.99 instead of $4.99
Battlestar Commander HD: $0.99 instead of $3.99
Pix’n Love Rush DX: $0.99 instead of $1.99
Aqua Panic DX: $0.99 instead of $1.99
My First Game HD: $0.99 instead of $4.99

While I cannot speak from personal experience for every game on this list, I would definitely pick up Twin Blades HD and Pix’n Love Rush DX if I didn’t already own them. I loved Twin Blades when I reviewed it on the iPhone, and Pix’n Love Rush is a retro-licious good time. BulkyPix is generally known for producing quality titles, so iPad owners and would-be owners should definitely take advantage of this sale event while they can. These titles do not often go on sale.

League of Evil Review: Among the Best of iOS

The world’s best evil minds have banded together to produce a weapon of mass destruction capable of obliterating goodness everywhere. To combat this great threat, the GDF — Global Defense Force — enlists their most cyborginated agent to hunt down the evil scientists and to splatter their faces with his bionic fist of squish-making.

The League of Evil must be stopped!

League of Evil, by Ravenous Games is an action-platformer with an emphasis on speed-running stages. The stages themselves are short, many completable in under 15 seconds. At the end of each stage waits an evil scientist who must be pummeled into a puddle of guts. Standing between your agent and his target, however, are enemies, obstacles and defenses. Death comes fast and frequent, especially when trying to rush stages for completion times under par.

The Agent is incredibly nimble: light on his feet, able to jump and double-jump to great heights and distances, and able to slide down or rebound off of walls. Moreover, his punch attack doubles at a dashing maneuver, allowing him to quickly close the distance between his fist and his foes, or add greater breadth to his leaps.

Likes

Controls: League of Evil features some of the finest controls yet seen in an iOS platformer, being both precise and responsive. Agent be nimble, agent be quick, and with controls like these you will feel entirely confident in his footing as you rebound wall-to-wall, negotiate deadly spikes, tackle dastardly foes, dodge bullets and speed through level-after-level.

Content: The game’s stages may be brief, but they are plentiful and challenging. Players wanting to ace the game and win the corresponding Game Center achievements will find plenty of replay value attempting to finish each stage under par time for a three-star rating, and collecting the hidden briefcase in each stage. The original game includes 54 stages, and the recent 1.1 update has added an additional 30 The Blocks Cometh themed stages, plus 18 challenge stages. That’s a lot of game for your buck, especially if you’re shooting for perfect ratings on every stage.

Brand New, You’re Retro: League of Evil sports sweet pixel graphics and a rockin’ chiptune soundtrack for some of the finest retro action in the app store. The game feels old-school Mega Man, and it’s up there with other iOS retro greats, Hook Champ, The Blocks Cometh and Dark Void Zero in fun-factor. Retro for the win!

Decapitations: Fist to the head and the head goes flying in a spatter of gore. It’s morbid, but it’s totally awesome!! Don’t look at me like that; pixel blood is awesome!!

Dislikes:

League of Evil is very to-the-point; it does what it does, and it does it very well, leaving very little room for complaints in the process. As iOS platforming is concerned, League of Evil is essentially perfect. That is to say, there’s nothing at all to dislike about solid action-platforming, brilliant controls, great tunes, ultra-rad pixel artwork and sweet character and stage designs.

Were I forced to nitpick, though, I might point out that the game has no options — not even to adjust the volume of BGM or sound-effects — nor does it include any way of accessing Game Center achievement lists from within the game, though it does allow you to access that information via OpenFeint; I just prefer Game Center. These are very minor gripes, though, and I mention them only because our review format encourages red paragraphs.

League of Evil is a rare find, a game that excels at short, quick bursts of gaming, but which also holds up in longer play sessions. Whether lounging about with time to spare, or trying to catch a quick game while on the toilet or between bus stops, League of Evil is a great fix, and probably the best dollar you will spend this year.

The. Best. iOS Platformer. Ever. Need I say more?

League of Evil [$0.99] is published by Ravenous Games. Reviewed at version 1.1 on an iPhone 4.

Buddy Rush Review: Killing Oblins with Friends

Had you told me a few weeks ago that I would soon be spending an inordinate amount of my time playing a Facebook game on my iPhone, I would have laughed in your face — for such is my disdain for all things Facebook, Farmville and Farmville-similar.

But that would have been before getting my hands on Buddy Rush.

To be fair, Buddy Rush has nothing to do with Farmville, apart from the both of them being games on Facebook, and that I have been investing more time than I should into it, much the same as I have seen people do playing Farmville … Grr.

Buddy Rush is a cross-platform, casual role-playing game, in which players select one of several classes and venture out into the world to complete missions. Missions can be taken solo, but a wiser strategy is to recruit help from your friends.

If your Facebook friends are also on the Buddy Rush wagon, and if your characters are of roughly equivalent experience levels, you can invite up to two of your friends’ characters to tag along on your excursions as AI-controlled party members. There is no experience bonus for completing missions solo, and no penalty for sharing the love with your friends, so you only win by taking your buddies along. Sweetening the deal, your buddies also receive experience when you take them out, and your character(s) receive bonus experience when joining your friends’ adventures. It’s a lovely little You Scratch My Back, And I’ll Scratch Yours scenario, and it’s wonderfully addictive.

Gameplay breaks down simply. You outfit your character with equipment won in battle, rewarded for misison completions or gifted by friends. You can carry a limited amount of restorative items into missions. You gather your friends, accept a mission and win experience points for finishing it.

Out on missions, you tap where you want to walk, tap enemies to attack them, and tap objects to interact. In addition to your character’s standard attack, each character gains three active skills and one passive skill as they level-up; these skills are used to improve your odds in combat, and different character classes have different skill sets.

The missions themselves are often linear, but vary in objective. Mission types often require that you travel to a specific goal, slay a number of enemies, gather items, or defend an area from attack. Some missions do present opportunity for more open exploration, while others will walk you in a set path from beginning to end.

Taking a missions costs one stamina point, of which your character has three. Stamina points recover over real-world time; if you run out of stamina, you’ll be ready to rush again when you return to the game a few hours later. You may also use stamina potions to take on extra missions, but using these potions will lengthen the downtime before stamina recovers naturally.

Missions may be mastered by completing them three times. Mastering missions will earn your character a skill point to be spent improving their skills, and also will cause the mastered mission to be replaced by a more difficult version offering a higher amount of experience points for completion. Mastering missions is therefore very important to improving your character.

Likes:

Buddy Rush is disarmingly charming. Whether friend or foe, characters are adorably designed and animated. The world itself is diverse and vibrant, with plenty to see. Buddy Rush is easily one of the prettiest 3D games on the app store, and totally kid-friendly too. While I typically shy away from Facebook-driven games, even I was lured in by the game’s artistic direction.

Seven character types are available to play, though only three — the Worrier (Warrior), Boorseye (Archer) and Wizz (Wizard) — are accessible without in-app purchase. New players begin the game with two free character slots.

The social aspects of the game are handled well. Your buddies gain experience when they tag along on your adventures, and you gain experience when they take your characters out on their missions. Items may be gifted to or received from friends as well, which is cool, especially as some items are only usable by specific character types which you may not have.

Inventory is limited, but shared amongst all of your characters. This means that items found by one character may be used by another if you have more than one. You can also off-load inventory into another character’s backpack to open up storage slots.

One of my favorite things about Buddy Rush, though, is that your data is synced to the server. The game may be played on your iPhone, iPad or in your desktop browser on Facebook, and your characters will be up-to-date no matter where you access them from. Cloud-synced saved games are the future of gaming, and something Apple really needs to begin supporting via Game Center. It’s ridiculous to have the same game installed on your iPhone and iPad, for example, but for your data to be separate so that you cannot continue your adventures from one device to the other. Buddy Rush manages data via Facebook, allowing all of your devices to handshake. Awesome!

Dislikes:

As you might expect from a Facebook game, there is an in-game marketplace that runs on real-world currency. Shop items are purchased by spending Potato Chips; these chips cannot be won in-game, and must be purchased with cold, hard cash. Luckily, shop items are not mandatory to enjoy the game; as a kindness, basic items and equipment are found or awarded in missions. Items available in the shop include additional potion packs, inventory and backpack expansions, and additional character slots.

Purchased character slots provide access to the game’s other four classes, the dual-wielding Aikilu, the ronin swordsman Nagne, the exotic Vivich or the morbid princess Botherella.

Be careful, though: character slots are not permanent. As I learned the hard way, deleting a character removes both the character and the slot — even the two free slots the game starts you off with. It will cost you potato chips to acquire a new slot for another character.

My personal favorites are Nagne and Vivich. Nagne learns some devastating sword attacks as he levels-up. Vivich is — I think — the game’s cutest character, and has a versatile skill set. Her first skill is a powerful attack spell capable of damaging groups of opponents, while her other skills are geared towards healing and protecting the party, making her a valuable ally for your friends to include on their adventures (which earns you additional experience).

Sadly, you cannot take your own extra character out as party members. I do wish the game offered more options for solo play. Luckily, if none of your friends are playing Buddy Rush, the game provides you with two AI companions, and will locate other players for you which can be friended.

While I usually shy away from social games, especially those Facebook-driven, Buddy Rush is undeniably fun. Early adopters are being awarded 40 Golden Chips for free, which is enough to buy two additional character slots (with access to all character classes) or a single character slot and an inventory expansion.

The iPhone verison of the game costs $0.99, but Buddy Rush may be played on Facebook for free at http://www.facebook.com/buddyrush. And today (February 17) only, the game is free in conjunction with FAAD, so get it while you can!

Buddy Rush [$0.99] is published by Company 100 Inc. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.


The Blocks Cometh Review: Halfbot Triumphs, Gamers Win

Halfbot’s The Blocks Cometh [$0.99] hath come to the app store, having climbed a arduous slope to get there.

By way of abbreviated history: The Blocks Cometh was first released as a free-to-play Flash game, with Halfbot later beginning work to port the title to iOS. With their port still a work-in-progress, however, Halfbot’s two-man team discovered their game had already been released to the app store by another developer — Edison Games — who had stolen not only their title and concept, but their art assets as well. As if it were not enough to rip-off one developer, Edison Games went a step further and ripped-off a character from Ravenous Games’ League of Evil [$0.99]– another Flash game at that time in development for iOS, and which has since been released — to replace the original protagonist.

A further twist of the knife, Halfbot discovered the doppleganger as it rose into the app store’s Top 100 rankings and was featured by Apple. As you might expect, Halfbot took action in defense of their intellectual property, and while Apple was slow to respond, Edison Games’ copycat title was eventually removed from the app store. For the full story, see Halfbot’s blog.

Having suffered so much, however, Halfbot hath overcome. They have scaled the slope, penetrated the clouds cast over them, and now stand in that light once obscured. The Blocks Cometh — the real The Blocks Cometh — is in every way superior to its impersonater ( I know; I’ve played both ), and we find that those clouds may even have had a silver lining. More on that in a bit.

The Blocks Cometh is a game of vertical ascendency, similar in some respects to The Incident. In it, blocks fall from the sky in random array, stacking Tetris-like as they land. As Blockman or one of several unlockable bonus characters, the player’s goal is to climb those blocks as high as possible without being crushed or scrolled off the bottom of the screen.

To achieve this endeavor, players may jump, double-jump, wall-slide or destroy blocks as necessary. The Blocks Cometh is challenging, but all in good fun, and rocks some stunning pixel art alongside a chiptune soundtrack for a distinctly retro — and distinctly awesome — presentation.

Likes:

Perseverance: Above all, Halfbot has earned by enduring respect. They were handed lemons, and they made lemonade. Not only is The Blocks Cometh awesome on iOS, but it comes to the app store having endured and overcome adversity. All too often is the app store host to plagiarism, and I am glad for once to see the right come out on top. I hope that Desktop Dungeons, a game now in development for iOS and suffering similar problems, should find the same success, and that unscrupulous developers might take note of Halfbot’s victory.

Retro Fantastic: Pixel art? Chiptunes? The Blocks Cometh is retro-fantastic! The game looks and sounds brilliant, and it’s retro challenging as well. Those with an old-school itch will here find a good scratch.

League of Evil Tie-ins: So, about that silver lining … In a way, we owe thanks to Edison Games. In ripping-off both The Blocks Cometh and League of Evil for their sorry immitation, they inadvertantly put the games’ two developers together in a unified front against them.

In a lucky turn for gamers, Halfbot and Ravenous Games did not disband after trouncing Edison Games, but set to work on tie-ins for their two games.

I will say this: Edison Games may have been unscrupulous, but they did produce a competent facsimile of the real The Blocks Cometh, and adding League of Evil’s evil ninja fellow to the mix was undeniable cool.

Perhaps recognizing the potential, or maybe just because they hoped to convert those having bought the immitation into taking a second plunge on the real McCoy — and didn’t want to take anything away from them in the process — League of Evil’s evil ninja fellow returns as an unlockable character. But that’s not all, as League of Evil’s hero is also included, alongside two other unlockable heroes.

What’s more, a reciprical update to League of Evil is now awaiting approval by Apple including 30 new stages inspired by The Blocks Cometh.

And THAT is a win for everyone!

Dislikes:

Controls: My only gripe against The Blocks Cometh is that the areas of sensitivity for the control buttons are not large enough. It’s too easy to “miss” the button while playing. This is something I imagine could easily be remedied in an update, and I do hope Halfbot will take notice and address the issue. The existing controls are by no means broken; they could just be a little more forgiving, as it’s easy to loose track of your fingers as the game turns frantic.

The Blocks Cometh is an easy recommendation, both to new players as well as to those who previously bought the knock-off. The game is attractive, challenging and rewarding, and nails that just-one-more-time addictiveness factor that makes games easy to pick up and hard to put down. And be there any doubt, you can always take the Flash version for a spin. And with League of Evil being totally awesome (review coming soon), the tie-in is icing on the cake.

The Blocks Cometh [$0.99] is developed by Halfbot. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.