Category Archives: Reviews

Tiny Tower Review: NimbleBit’s First Disappointment

I’ve never been a huge fan of freemium games, but I will admit that some are very enjoyable, such as Gun Bros and We Rule.

Some of them allow you to play through many levels without having to pay a single dime, while others really annoy with ads and the like to try and get you to purchase their in-app purchases.

Games such as Overkill allowed you to download other apps using the Tapjoy system, which then in turn gave you the OM to allow you to purchase and use some of the most powerful weapons in the game without having to pay any real-world money.

So with those parameters set, Tiny Tower falls somewhere in the middle: a place where it doesn’t advertise you and annoy you with ads to try and get you to buy, but the game is set up so that you have to buy and pay, or you’re stuck waiting for hours upon hours, waiting for your floor to be built or waiting to restock your goods.

At least in We Rule it gave you small events and such so that you could earn those potions and not have to wait.

But Tiny Tower is built around the whole idea of waiting, with nothing else to really do but continue to build floors and shops, all with no real motive or objective.


Graphics/Artwork: I’m not a huge fan of 8-bit graphics as I wasn’t exactly around when those things first came into being, but the color combinations and cuteness factor in Tiny Tower really stand out.

Clever: I just thought that the BitBook bit was quite clever and worth a mention in the likes; completely useless feature, but cool nonetheless.


Nothing to do: There really is absolutely nothing to do in this game.  You build your tower as high as possible… for what?  There’s nothing else to do when you’re within the app except restocking and building things, along with taking people on an impossibly slow elevator ride.  All of it adds up to keeping the app open for a few seconds then quitting out; it almost feels more like an errand rather than a relaxing, fun game.

GameCenter achievements: I honestly believe that this game would have been so much better if the achievements were not so hard to achieve; the first achievement appears sometime after you’ve built your 13th floor, a feat that takes days if you factor in all that waiting time.  Of the 40-some achievements, I have achieved the grand total of 0 after tinkering with the game for more than two weeks.  It’s all just quite discouraging after seeing that you’ve spent so much time only to see that you have achieved absolutely nothing.

Tiny Tower is boring.  This is a boring game with no real joy or excitement attached to it; it almost feels like one more thing to do in life.  You can visit your friends’ towers and compete against them… but for what?  You can’t visit it and have little playdates and trade things; you can’t walk around and expand outside of your tower.  You’re stuck within one building with nothing to do but serve people and push them up the elevator; I mean, really?

I’m just glad that it’s free.

*In my opinion, attaching a rating to this review is utterly pointless since it is free.  Try it out for yourself and see if it really is Worth A Look or one that you should avoid.  But if you don’t like it, can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Backstab Review: A Story of Betrayal, Love, and Quite a bit of Action

The story starts out with you, the main character, as a high-ranking official in the British army going to war with the intruding Spanish army, presumably sometime during the 18th century and the French and Indian War (Hundred Years’ War, etc.).

But in a story that somewhat reminds us of The Count of Monte Cristo, you get betrayed and imprisoned, ultimately going from high-ranking official and soon-to-be wed to imprisoned, tarnished, and ruined.

You then join some sort of rebellion against Britain; therefore, you become an enemy of the country you once fought for.

The gameplay itself is very much like Assassin’s Creed with a little bit of Grand Theft Auto elements snuck in there, suck as the “criminal” level, along with being able to steal other people’s horses.

It’s all quite an intriguing mix of story and gameplay — one that is actually quite enjoyable — but there are some factors that leave it short of ultimate praise.

For one, the gameplay is very repetitive in the whole tapping mechanism; shooting the soldiers is very inconvenient and takes a bit too long in the heat of battle.  Also, the graphics and animations on the iPad 2 aren’t exactly the greatest, as the framerate seems a bit slow, and the player models are very geometric.


Gameplay: Gameloft is really one of the only companies that manages to create these blockbuster, action-packed games, and it seems to manage to create a slightly different gameplay mechanism in each of its games.  Backstab isn’t any different — what — with its guns, grenades, swords, cannons… the list goes on and on.  While the gameplay does get a bit repetitive—I do wish there were some sort of combo system—it is quite enjoyable and one that shouldn’t disappoint action fans.

Storyline: The storyline really reminds me of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, one book that I enjoyed and still continue to enjoy.  And if I’m not mistaken, this seems to be an original Gameloft game with no real “copied” game that I can think of.  Well props to them for such an intriguing storyline and a game title that fits quite snugly with the entire theme.

Universal: I love universal; even more when Gameloft decides to go universal for no extra cost.  Nothing to lose, so much to gain.


Repetitive: The fighting system in this game could use slightly more depth; there are no different combos and the like, with only one button for sword fighting and one for shooting.

Graphics, Animations, Etc.: I never thought this day would come: the day I bash on Gameloft’s graphics.  Well here I am, looking at Backstab, and sitting in utter disbelief at how terrible the character models, animations, and graphics are.  Ok, maybe not terrible.  But definitely not up to par with the graphics of games such as Aralon or Nova; heck, not even up to par with Modern Combat: Sandstorm.  The framerate on the iPad 2 also seems less than ideal — maybe around 20 fps at times — and it all just seems quite out of character for Gameloft.

The graphics and animations aren’t so horrendous that it ruins the gameplay, but it could use some improvement.  And it is definitely not on par with Gameloft’s previous games.

Backstab is an enjoyable, action-packed game that I don’t think will disappoint many in terms of gameplay and storyline.  All of it is intriguing, interesting, and enjoyable; there’s nothing like it on the App Store.  It is a little repetitive though, and the graphics and animations really keep it back from being named one of the best on the App Store.  The performance isn’t really up to par either.  But all in all, Backstab is a solid game that is enough to keep you busy for more than a few hours.

Backstab was developed by Gameloft, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPad 2.  The price is $6.99.

Icebreaker Hockey Review: Different Sport, Same Gameplay, Same Fun


A company that entered the App Store with so much fanfare with their highly-touted, new animation system that was supposed to be the best of the best.  And more than a year later, that animation system has proved to be the backbone for both their follow up Backbreaker Football 2 and Icebreaker Hockey.

The animations are still some of the best I’ve seen on the iPhone thus far, which does help its case, and entering hockey into the mix of its series really adds a whole new dimension.  For one, along with dodging all the defenders with spin, juke, and stop, you must get as close to the goal as possible without having the goalie take it away from you.

I do have to admit that the campaign mode is a little short—10 levels, 30 minutes—but it’s 30 minutes of thrill and just plain awesome.  You can also go back and try to earn all three stars on each level, plus there are over 40 achievements to unlock.  Not too much to complain about if you ask me.


Animations: It’s been over a year since Backbreaker Football was released, and still, the animations that are used are by far the best in the App Store.  Sure, it’s much harder to tell if the animations are the best or not, but NaturalMotion has done a great job with sticking to their roots and to the whole reason why they’re so successful in the App Store.

Replay value: Even though there are only 10 levels and two game modes, there is a lot of replay value enough to play over the game at least three times.  There are three difficulty levels for you to get through in each of the modes as well, so there’s actually much more than the 30 minutes of gameplay I mentioned above.  Casual games usually contain a lot of replay value, and Icebreaker Hockey is far from exempt from that.

GameCenter: The GameCenter implemented does contain some flaws that I’ll mention later in this review, but you really can’t complain about 42 or so achievements.


Graphics/UI: There’s no option to return back to the start menu; you have to go through that whole customizing player screen before getting to the start menu.  Along with that, it seems like a lot of the graphics aren’t Retina-friendly such as the opening logo for NaturalMotion and some of the UI elements.  I’m not going to say that it’s horrible, but it is unacceptable considering that Retina-friendly is pretty much given nowadays.

GameCenter achievements: Now I know I mentioned that there were a lot of achievements, but it would be nice if they actually synced with GameCenter.  For some reason, the achievements I’ve collected within the game don’t transfer over to GameCenter itself, meaning that the achievements in-game screen shows over 20 achievements achieved, but when going inside the GameCenter app, it shows that I have complete zero achievements.  It’s quite frustrating when you’re as competitive as I am, and a fix for this would be nice.

Icebreaker Hockey follows the footsteps of both Backbreaker Football and Backbreaker Football II with a fun and addictive gameplay, great animations, and great character models.  The UI and other graphical elements do need some work, and the GameCenter needs a bit of fixing up to do, but overall, Icebreaker Hockey is definitely worth the low asking price of $0.99.

Icebreaker Hockey was developed by NaturalMotion, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPhone 4.  The price is $0.99.

Pulse: Volume One Review: Interesting Concept, But Fairly Raw Gameplay

Rhythm games on the App Store have all, for the most part, been exactly the same.  Rock Band Reloaded brought some interest with the whole vocal mode, and Guitar Hero implemented that interesting sliding mechanism.  But other than that, all of them have been very similar to the likes of Tap Tap Revenge: tap the dots as they roll down the screen.

Pulse takes all of that and changes everything.

In the center of the circles is a pulse that slowly moves from the inner circle to the outer, and you have to tap the dot once the “pulse” nears said dot.  The rhythm aspect of the game is surprisingly well done, and the dots seem to go right along with the song.

And while the concept is very interesting and a breath of fresh air, there are a lot of problems with Pulse that prevent it from being the greatest rhythm game out there.

For one, it’s extremely repetitive.  I can’t play this game for more than 20 minutes in a sitting, and generally, I can’t play more than two songs in a row.  And other than songs and playing along to some sort of campaign mode, there’s really nothing to play for.  No achievements, no leaderboards, no “star” system that rates your performance… the list goes on.

It looks pretty and all, but it’s the insides that count.


Graphics/UI: Pulse has an extremely clean UI that’s very appealing and very “indie”-like.  The graphics are also very clean and fits well with the theme; overall, I thought they (as in the developers) did a great job with the design.

Unique: I always love it when I see something unique in the App Store, and I love it even more that it’s a rhythm game.  In my mind, making a “unique” rhythm game is an extremely tough thing to do, what, with big monsters such as EA and Activision releasing their own, previously successful games onto the App Store.  If I rated Pulse based solely on uniqueness, it would be ranked in my top 5.


Repetitive: The songs are extremely repetitive, and with no real motive, you’re just playing for the sake of playing.  No achievements, no leaderboards, no “star” system (like I mentioned before)… it’s just extremely difficult to keep playing this game.  I’d rather be playing Guitar Hero and earning some stars while ranking high on the online leaderboards than play Pulse and receive no real reward for playing.

Difficulty: The songs get pretty difficult pretty fast, and while I’ve been able to play through expert on Guitar Hero with 5-star ratings, Pulse’s first song had me spinning my eyeballs and slightly panicking due to the sheer speed of the game.  And that’s only the first song; the songs following that were extremely difficult to follow, and I haven’t been able to receive more than a 70% on any of them.  For those that are interested in entering the rhythm genre, Pulse is, by far, not the best place to start.

I love Pulse: Volume One for one reason, and that’s because it’s unique.  Other than that, this is just another game with no real motive in playing, and I really don’t have an urge to play.  It needs a lot of improvements but has a lot of potential; hopefully the developers will improve upon it with an update or two because it would be quite saddening to see this concept go to waste.

Pulse: Volume One was developed by Cipher Prime Studios, and I played through version 1.1 on my iPad 2.  The price is $4.99.

Orions 2 Review: a Deep and Engaging, if Somewhat Derivative, CCG

Orions 2, published by Chillingo, plays like what would happen if a bunch of Magic: the Gathering cards somehow combined their DNA with a deck of Tarot cards and a Risk board-game, and then spliced in a dose of resource management mini-games on top of that. Although Orions 2 boasts some multi-faceted gameplay, with quite a few different modes and options, it is a collectible card game at its core… So as a caveat, obviously if that’s not your type of game, this probably isn’t for you.

Orions 2 features a campaign mode, which adds on a lot of upkeep and planning to the gameplay, in the form of managing resources, capturing new territories (through card battles), acquiring new cards for your deck (which contains limited quantities of each card, each use counting for one copy out of your stash), and ultimately trying to beat your CPU adversary (again, in a card battle). It’s fun, but it can be quite lengthy, and some of the resource management bogs down the speed of gameplay. Campaign mode is a nice option, but not the best way to learn the game. Thankfully, Orions 2 can be played in single-round sessions that focus solely on the card game aspect of the gameplay. These can be enjoyed either versus the CPU, or against human opponents either with pass-and-play games, or in online matches over the Game Center or Crystal networks. In the campaign mode, however, you fight for territories on a game board, with an added element of managing and investing mana points to acquire new cards for your deck.

If this makes the game sound a.) pretty complicated, b.) a little derivative, or c.) pretty damn fun in spite of those faults– well, that’s because Orions 2 is all of these things. Overall, Orions 2 does a good job of providing different methods of gameplay, and in having a solid game mechanic for the card-on-card combat. While it won’t win any awards for originality, and it is not without room for a few adjustments I’d love to see in an update, the good far outweighs the bad, and for fans of the genre it will probably be worth picking up.


Good Card/Game Design: A collectible card game is only as good as the design that goes into the cards it features (although to be technical, this one eschews collectibility, since it gives you all the cards when you purchase the game). And this is one area where I feel that Orions 2 gets it pretty well right. As someone who plays a good bit of Magic: The Gathering every now and then, I can say without a doubt that the card design owes a lot of inspiration to Magic. And this is not really a bad thing in my book.

Orion 2’s card battles are essentially creature-heavy slugfests, and all of the non-creature spells in the game are either enhancements for your creatures, ways to gain life or add various-colored mana (your resource for playing cards) to your supply, or ways to kill or weaken your opponent’s creatures. The card battle rules are fairly streamlined and simple: Your objective is to reduce the opponent to zero life; you lose if you are reduced to zero life. Each player can play one card per turn, as long as they have enough mana for it. The mana for that creature or spell is then taken away from the player’s mana pool. There is no ‘hand of cards,’ each player may play any one card from their deck during their turn, provided they have enough mana. Many creatures also have abilities, which come in two basic types. Active abilities may be used once each turn (and sometimes require mana or some other payment), whereas other creatures have passive abilities such as giving their owner health or mana each turn, healing ally creatures, etc. At the beginning of each turn, a player gains one mana of each color. Creatures are played onto the playing field, which has five slots for each player. Each creature occupies one slot, so the most either player can have at any time is five creatures. At the end of each turn, the player’s creatures that have been in play for at least one turn attack the creatures in the slots opposite to them. They assign damage according to their power, either to the enemy creature or the opponent if there is none, and damage permanently subtracts from enemy creature’s health total. If it reaches zero, the creature dies…. And that’s basically it.

Although this sounds simple, the cards are really well-designed, and all of them have an application (although as always, some are clearly on a higher power level than others). Games tend to fluctuate fairly regularly, and it’s possible to pull out a victory when you thought you would be crushed… Or to have the rug swept out from under you by the opponent’s clever maneuver. Overall, the gameplay encourages fluid analytical thinking in a fun way, and the cards are pretty well balanced overall, so it doesn’t feel like there are really any brokenly unbeatable cards.

Game Center: Yup, it’s got it. Oh yeah, and Crystal too… if anyone still uses that.

Universal App: Yay!

Online Capabilities: Without a doubt, the game mode that I keep coming back to is the online player-vs-player matches. I do have a couple gripes about the online mode, which I’ll save for the “Dislikes” section, but overall I’m very happy that they included it. Online play is what gives Orions 2 its replay value, and I’ve found that with a couple minutes patience, I can pretty much get a game going with someone at any time of the day or night.

Smooth User Interface: Overall, the UI of Orions 2 is easy to use and intuitive… although there is one slip-up (namely the placing of buildings on the minimap in campaign mode, which feels pretty clunky). The game uses a tap-and-drag mechanic for nearly every action, from deciding which slot to play a creature in, to activating your creatures’ abilities. If you need to re-read a card, you just double tap on it. This kind of simplicity in the controls lets them slip into the background where they belong, and allows you to focus on your strategizing.


Campaign Mode is a Little Clunky: I mistakenly tried to learn the game from playing the campaign mode, which can be a frustrating way to begin. There are just too many factors that are extraneous to the central card-game component, such as choosing which cards to buy for your deck, how many mana points to invest into building each turn, how many territories to try to claim each turn, how few cards you can get by on spending mana points on for your deck, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the option of the campaign mode included, because it really does challenge the player with a lot of different things to think about… but I find I don’t end up playing it much.

A Few Gripes with the Online Matches: These are all fairly minor, since I still really enjoy the online versus mode, despite a few flaws. I’m just going to put them in list form:

-To me, the biggest problem with the online mode, is I want to be able to use the decks that I’ve built to fight against human opponents. For each online match, the game assigns a random assortment of cards of each color for each player’s deck. While this adds a fun element of chance, and I think it should still be an option, I’d really like to be able to use my home-brewed creations for online matches. After all, it gets a little old only being able to play with user-created decks either in pass-and-play mode, or against a CPU opponent.

-Another quibble with the online matches, is that it feels that no bragging rights are really at stake, since the game doesn’t track win-loss records. I can see how the designers might have left this out on purpose, since not receiving a loss for a match is usually as simple as rebooting the app when you see that you are too far behind to pull out a win. But still, somehow I feel like I’m missing out on the glory when I crush an opponent, only to be rewarded with… well, nothing really.

-A third, slight problem with the online matches is that you only get one minute per turn. This is usually enough time, but there can be particularly tough decisions where you want to reread a few cards to decide what to play. And there is nothing more soul-crushing than having the timer run out on you, and therefor missing your chance to play a card that turn because you were reading cards and analyzing what was on the board.

-Lastly, although the game gives you the option to do draft games against an online opponent, I’ve never ever been able to find anyone else trying to match up for a draft match. But I suppose this isn’t really any fault of the game designers on this one… I just thought I’d mention that it was an option, so hopefully someone reads this and we can get a bit of a draft game playing community.

Lack of Graphical Panache: Overall, the look of Orions 2 is clean and well-designed. But it’s a little bland and unexciting. The artwork on the creatures and spells is fairly small, and while it’s not bad, you can tell they didn’t invest too heavily in getting top-notch illustrations. The menus and maps are also not going to cause any eyesores, but they’re not exactly what anyone would call graphically stunning.

The absolute bottom line is that Orions 2 provides an engaging and entertaining experience for fans of the collectible card-game genre. I do hope that they add more features to the online gameplay (most importantly being able to use user-created decks). But this is a really good title at the end of the day, and the solid game-play mechanics, creatively designed cards, and the carefully weighed balance among the power levels of the various cards all make this a winning choice in my book.

Orions 2 was developed by Chillingo Ltd. and I played through version 1.0 on my iPod Touch, 2nd gen. The price is $2.99.