All posts by Travis

Rimelands: Hammer of Thor Review: Prepare to be Smitten

Smitten, a perfect word to describe how I felt after playing Rimelands: Hammer of Thor.  You may be asking yourself, ‘Does he mean he’s in love with the game or that he was brutally beaten by it?’  Well the answer is both.

Rimelands: Hammer of Thor is a very traditional style RPG that goes so far to prove that fact that the game shows you the dice rolls normally hidden behind the scenes.  You have three basic talent trees to choose from, barbarian, assassin, and shaman.  While you can mix your talents, based on my experience I would definitely choose one and stick with it.

I have an affinity for magic users and thus chose to play as a shaman.  Not surprisingly the game was more difficult to early on as seems to be the customary format for magic classes in RPGs.  However, I found the difficulty to be incredibly frustrating at times, having to replay almost every fight early in the game numerous times because dice rolls simply were not in my favor.  Despite this I did find myself coming back again and again wanting to take another shot at the fights, knowing that I could win somehow.

Likes

Tutorial: Because of the complexity of the game, it is necessary to have a lengthy tutorial.  While long tutorials are often turn offs for most gamers it is a necessary evil to push through.  Fortunately, the information presented (in a succinct yet detailed manner) is spread out enough that it can be absorbed with relative ease.

Highly Detailed Areas: If you take the time to stop and look around in any given area you’ll find that there is an incredibly high level of detail in every single piece of environment.  Buildings clearly have individual bricks in them, trees have leaves on them, floors have individual tiles, and the list goes on and on.

Dungeons and Dragons style combat: Showing the dice rolls works two fold: Gives the game a much more original visual flare compared to most RPGs, and it adds a great deal of Dungeons and Dragons flavor that the app store is still very lite on.

Combat Variety: No matter how you choose to engage in combat in Rimelands you will be satisfied with the bevy of choices to make with each encounter.  Despite being magic focused I often found myself choosing to fire my gun rather than take a step towards an enemy in order to remain on the offensive as much as possible.  Changing up the combat style from my normal routine like this was very refreshing and greatly enhanced my satisfaction with encounters.

Enemy Variety: Unlike many other RPGs you don’t start out killing rats and work your way up to bigger targets.  There are lots of human targets to engage, but it’s not long at all before you start to see more and more monsters.  The resistances/immunities to specific attacks forces the player to adapt and change their play style much more frequently in order to succeed.

Sound: Sound effects are distinct and very crisp.  Particularly noticeable during the heat of combat are the sword swings and magic spell connects.

The music is fitting as well.  The dungeon music is foreboding and moody while the town music is noticeably lighter but still portrays a sense of uneasiness.

Menus: Not only are the menus simple and easy to use, there is a real classic RPG feel to them as well visually.  Great aesthetic that is just one more example of that excellent traditional RPG quality that makes this the complete package.

Dislikes

Dark Dungeons: Working completely against the great boon that is the highly detailed environments are the often unnecessarily overly dark dungeons that add a good sense of foreboding to the mood of the game, but this darkness is a little too extreme and ends up reducing this effect.

Dpad Responsiveness: The virtual dpad is not as responsive as one would like. Frequently I found myself tapping the arrows more than once to get my character to move. This gets to be a little grating but is only a minor setback.

No Ability to Grind Experience: Due to the incredibly linear nature of the game there are only a set number of enemies to fight at any given time in any area.  This eliminates the option for players like me that prefer to fight many extra rounds early in the game to help establish a level cushion to ease the rest of the game’s flow.  Although the developers considered this to be a good thing, this lack of ability to grind ends up forcing the player to struggle through the game more so than they may prefer.

Small annoyances aside, Rimelands: Hammer of Thor is simply one of the highest quality traditional role-playing game experiences available on the app store.  It’s tough as nails, but the combat have you coming back for more.

Rimelands: Hammer of Thor was developed by Crescent Moon Games, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPod touch 3G.  The price is $4.99.


Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night Review: A Traditional Castlevania Experience with a Twist

Like most Castlevania fans I was more than a bit skeptical when Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night was announced for the iDevices.  But like any true hardcore gamer, I decided to reserve my judgement for the final product itself.  While I was not thrilled with the idea of a puzzle fighter I decided to give it a chance and let Konami put my fears to rest.

What I found was, in fact, one of the deepest and surprisingly longest games I have ever played on my iPod.  The game takes place after the legendary Symphony of the Night game and has you take up Alucard’s mantle once again.  Featuring high production values and a single player campaign that is incredibly long, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night has a lot more to offer than most any other game on the app store.

Likes

Classic Castlevania feel: This was quite possibly the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the entire game.  Konami managed to maintain the very essence of Castlevania through traditional map exploration, short character interactions, and many traditional RPG elements such as a leveling system, spells, equipment, and other items to manage.

Music: The music also has a very classic Castlevania sound to it that really helps maintain the essence of the franchise while also keeping the mood intense throughout the entire experience.

Art style: Keeping with the series’ now trademark 16-bit art style, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night again maintains the integrity of the franchise by not straying from another key element.  The detail of each segment of the castle is also instantly noticeable and easily appreciated for the intricate designs.

Depth: Despite the overly simple puzzle fighter mechanic, there is a surprisingly deep and long adventure/RPG in there. There are lots of items/item sets to collect and a wide array of in-game achievements that inspire the player to scour every inch of the castle in search of its secrets.  The castle itself is as big as any found in previous titles with many varied areas.  Just exploring this behemoth will take hours of your time.

Story: The traditional short story segments spread throughout the castle are by today’s standards sub-par. Contrary to this, these snippets of story have long since been a staple of the series’ storytelling format and thus add a smidgen of charm despite the weaker dialogue than in previous games in the series.

Dislikes

Boss fights: The one real flaw about the game is the lack of potency of the boss fights.  The vast majority of them did not feel much different from regular monsters.  Sometimes the difficultly is ratcheted up a few notches but often times they just feel like regular fights that go on a little bit longer.  This is the only area of the entire experience that really shifts away from the classic Castlevania style.  Boss fights always stand out and often require a dramatic shift in gameplay tactics over trash mobs.  Perhaps the puzzle-fighter aspect of the game is what prevents this traditional part of the experience from being presented since it’s highly restrictive on what can and cannot happen during a battle.

Control: Another small grievance is the control issues.  While the puzzle touch sensitivity can be adjusted it does not seem to help the occasional hiccups that occur with the controls.  More often that could be considered just a fluke I found that when I was swiping a puzzle piece around the screen it would randomly drop straight down when I had not made the downward stroke for it to do so.  Also the exact opposite happened occasionally as well: I made a downward swipe to make the puzzle piece fall straight down to the bottom of the puzzle and instead it would either do nothing or make one turn in a different direction.  Fortunately these problems never caused any major harm I was almost always able to recover from the mistake.

Another control issue that arose was very similar in nature, leading me to believe that there is some fault somewhere in the control design. Quite frequently I would tap on one side of Alucard only to watch in shock as he would walk in the exact opposite direction.  The end result would often be two unnecessary fights to get back to where I started.  This quickly became my greatest frustration with the game as I am usually pressed for time and would like to make as much progress as quick as I can and avoid any unnecessary combat.

Hints: One of the most frustrating parts of any Casltevania game is when you occasionally get lost when backtracking and retracing your steps in order to find where to go next.  Konami has decided to alleviate this problem by having the Master Librarian give you hints at any given point throughout the game.  However, the Master Librarian’s hints are often incredibly cryptic and/or vague and as a result are almost completely useless.

Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night took me by surprise in many ways.  Having seen so many classic franchises fail miserably when trying to do something a little different, I was initially concerned that making the game a puzzle fighter was a misstep.  Fortunately, Konami obviously took very special care to craft a full (and I mean FULL) Castlevania game for the iDevices with a fresh take because what we received is quite possibly one of the biggest games exclusively made for the iDevices.  While the game is clearly made with longtime Castlevania fans in mind, there is more than enough content for a newcomer to the series to get their feet wet and enjoy.

Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night was developed by Konami Digital Entertainment, and I played through version 1.0.10 on my iPod touch 2G.  The price is $1.99.


Assault Squadron Review: A Spaceflight to Remember

Shooters have had a bit of a renaissance with the birth of the iPhone platform. Most of the attention has gone to dual-stick shooters like Minigore and Meteor Blitz.  But where are the more traditional style shooters like Ikaruga or R-type?  Sure there’s Espgaluda II, but what if you’re finished with it and want a new shooter? Fortunately The Binary Mill has produced a classic style shooter for all to enjoy.

Likes

Cinematics: I was surprised when I saw the cinematics.  There was clearly a great deal of effort put into them and it shows.  For a moment I forgot that I was playing on my iPod and not my PSP.  Quite possibly the best cut-scenes I have seen on the platform. Simply remarkable.

View Angle Changes: There are two basic views for shooters. Top down vertical climbs and horizontal side views.  Assault Squadron mixes it up by having both views interchanged throughout the game.  A very pleasant surprise that made me question why has this not been done in more shooters?  Marvelous idea.

Graphics: Most shooters now a days have great opportunities to dazzle us with amazing effects.  Assault Squadron is a fine example of just how pretty games in the genre can be. The weapons effects are not quite as awesome as I would hope for, but the rest of the art design makes up for it.

Sound: Laser sounds are sharp and explosions have a weight to them.  Quality effects.

Dislikes

Control: While there are 4 control schemes to choose from, with the exception of the tilt controls, they all feel about the same.  The controls themselves are adequate enough, however I prefer much more sensitive and twitchy controls for shooters.

Action: The intensity of the action is just not quite there.  Perhaps it’s the way everything seems to move just a little slowly.  This is probably related to my control preference. It’s possible I’m just used to the must faster console and arcade shooters.

Assault Squadron is a fantastic game.  While I personally prefer twitchier controls, most players will not find them to be an issue so this concern really should be considered more of a personal preference.  Overall Assault Squadron gives the player a full console experience from its cut scenes to it’s high quality visual and sound effects to its challenging boss battles.  The fact that all of this comes in a tiny iDevice app package makes it an incredible value and a buy for any shooter fan.

Assault Squadron was developed by The Binary Mill and published by Chillingo, and I played through version 1.0 of the game on my iPod Touch 3G (OS 3.1.2).  The current price point of the game is $2.99.


Super Quickhook Review: Get Hooked Again

Fans of Hook Champ have been eagerly awaiting its spiritual successor Super Quickhook.  While the core gameplay remains the same, there have been numerous changes made to improve upon the original game’s design.  Now that the game has finally been released, the question is: Was it worth the wait?  I have good news for fans because the answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’.

Likes

Upgraded Graphics: As promised this new game brings the series into the 16bit era.  The immediately obvious change is the increased size of the main character sprite.  Now with a much more full featured body, Jakob and his new crew swing through much brighter and more colorful environments than in Hook Champ.  The backgrounds are also more detailed as well.  Rocketcat has done a superb job truly capturing the essence of a Super Nintendo game, more so than Hook Champ did the NES.

New Mode: The newest addition to the game format is the inclusion of Avalanche mode.  This mode adds virtually infinite replay value.  No matter how long you last, you will always be inspired to outdo your last score.

Multiple Challenges: Each stage has several different challenges.  Beyond the standard high score challenge the game includes a collect all coins and find all the secrets in each level that add a ton of replay value.  You are also given a medal based on how many challenges you can complete in each stage driving the player to complete as much as possible.  Have fun getting those platinums!

Collectible Hooks: In Hook Champ the player was tasked with collecting a considerable amount of coins in order to obtain the ultimate hooks for each character, of which there was only one per character.  Now in Super Quickhook there are more hooks to collect.  Although they are only an aesthetic, they are a very welcome addition that fuels the collectibles fire that Hook Champ started.

Level Menu: A very slick and intuitive level select menu has been implemented that looks amazing.  Without even thinking I swiped across the page and found more levels.

While it does feel very intuitive I do feel that the Avalanche mode might have been better suited in a separated position to better differentiate it from the traditional levels.  However, its position in the first section of levels does make it instantly replayable and thus this is more of a preference rather than an issue.

In Game Advertising: I know what you’re thinking. Why is he glad to have an in-game ad?  Simple. The ad is tucked in the corner and reminds the player of the original game being available for purchase as well as a notice of the upcoming update.  I was thrilled to see the developers have already got plans for new DLC and it’s coming very soon.  This is a great way for Rocketcat to keep the player abreast of new content without the player having to go out of their way to stay informed.

Dislikes

Lack of Character Charm: Perhaps it’s the having to go out of the way to talk to the characters compared to having little snippets of conversations before starting each level in Hook Champ, but the characters don’t seem to have the same level of personality that the cast of Hook Champ did.  The jokes are barely mildly amusing and fall flat.

Universal Hats:This could really be classified in likes or dislikes as I can see the obvious advantage to making the hats wearable by any character.  On the one hand, your special hats like the golden crown can be worn by any character.  But on the other hand, the lack of character exclusive hats takes away from the personality of the characters themselves.  I found this in the end to be just a little bit of a disappointment.  Perhaps in the future there will be special hats released for each character, but for now the universality of the hats hinders the game by blandifying the characters.

Ease of Level Completion: According to Rocketcat people have been complaining that the challenges were too hard to complete in order to unlock the later levels, but I found the opposite to be true.  Because of the wide openness of the levels and the lack of a chaser to amp up the challenge I found that for the most part I could leisurely stroll through levels with little effort to master the challenges to unlock the content.  I thought I wanted the chaser to be gone but it turns out that the pressure created by it is a necessary evil to keep the levels more challenging.  Be careful what you wish for.

My quibbles with the game are minor, superficial and arguably super fan only complaints.  For most these opinions will seem incredibly nit-picky and virtually not worth mentioning, however to the loyal Hook Champ fan they are worth noting.  Despite these criticisms, Super Quickhook manages to replicate the magic that is Hook Champ and turn it into something new.  I don’t know if it’s my emphatic love that spills over onto the new game or the fact that the core game was so perfectly carried over into the new game that makes me so thrilled to play.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s pure magic to me.

Super Quickhook was developed by Rocketcat Games, and I played through version 1.0 of the game on my iPod Touch 3G (OS 3.1.2).  The current price point of the game is $1.99.


Gameloft Continues to Discount Games

After the big sale recently, it appears Gameloft is looking to finish off what iTunes credit you may have left.  While there are only 5 games on sale this time it should be noted that none of them have been on sale at the $0.99 price point before.  Of particular note is The Oregon Trail, which has been out for well over a year and has never had the price cut.  As with the previous sale it is unknown how long it will last and it is highly recommended you grab whatever you like as soon as possible.  Here’s the full listing: