Tag Archives: $4.99

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?


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.

Soccer Superstars 2011 Review: This is One Great Soccer Game

I feel like I’ve been playing a lot of Gamevil games recently; Air Penguin sucking up the “waiting” times, while Soccer Superstars 2011 has been sucking up the rest of my time.

And with good reason: Soccer Superstars 2011 may as well be the next, great sports game on the iPhone.  Before this, I’ve been playing Madden NFL 11—that’s right, 2011—on my iPhone, as it was the only sports game that really was enjoyable for me.  I love soccer as well, but all of the soccer games on the App Store are pretty outdated, starting with X2 Football 2010.

I do see some glaring issues with Soccer Superstars though.  So far, after 6 hours of play, it has crashed on me twice causing me to start over whatever game I was playing.  Along with that, Gamevil continues to apply the horrid, extremely small buttons in the UI along with the extremely small text.  On top of that, the controls are slightly off in that whenever I try to change direction, it takes about half a second to switch.  And when a defender is in front of you, that’s a bit too late, as the ball has already been stolen from you.

Restoring your condition after every game is a bit of a nuisance as well, on top of the whole “you look tired, I’m going to bench you” sort of thing that appears in the My League mode.

And while that looks like a large pile of bad things compared to a small pile of good things, Soccer Superstars 2011 is still, probably, one of the best soccer games to date.


Improved: I never played Soccer Superstars 2010 for a lot of reasons, starting with the controls and frustrating UI.  While Gamevil went on to fix the controls, by that time, the game had already been deleted from my phone and that was that.  While the controls here need a very slight improvement, it’s come a long way from the controls found in the first edition.  On top of that, there’s that it factor in here that wasn’t in the first one; I don’t feel compelled at all to delete this game.  In fact, this is probably my most played game on my phone as of this instance.

Content: The content here is endless, considering that in the My League mode—the mode I’ve been playing the most—you go from Year 1 to Year 2 to Year 3, etc.  There’s really no end to it, and it’s pretty realistic for a cartoony soccer game.  Each year is different, with you trying to win the championship at the end (kind of like winning the Super Bowl).  On top of that, there is the season mode, match play (some variant of online multiplayer), dramatic mode (solve missions and earn G points), and the exhibition mode.  For $4.99, you’re getting a boatload of content and lots and lots of “productive” hours.


Small annoyances: There are a lot of nitpicky annoyances in the league mode, especially the times when “Chance!” comes up on the screen.  You can switch from playing only when you have the ball or just watching the game unfold before you; the latter being the much better choice.  But it also comes with its problems, as there are times when those chances come up and you’re either offsides, someone else has the ball, or you are nowhere near the ball.  Other small annoyances include the offsides rule itself.  One time I was shooting the ball and it happened to hit one of my players; that player was “offsides”, and even though I was shooting and not passing the ball, it was still called as offsides.

Another annoyance is the clock.  I’m shooting the ball, it reflects off the goalkeeper, and right when I’m about to shoot the ball again, it says “Halftime”.  That has happened to me a numerous amount of times, and it does get pretty annoying.  Especially when you lose by one goal and know that it could have been a draw.

And yet another annoyance: stamina and “condition”.  I’m currently in Year 5 and I have to recover my condition every single time after a game.  And even though I recover my condition, it doesn’t really do much.  And it gets even more frustrating when your guy gets taken out 30 minutes into the game, and with no goals or attempts, your morale, popularity, reputation, etc. all go down because of it.  I really, REALLY hope Gamevil strongly considers removing this feature because 1) it’s useless and 2) it’s annoying.

UI: The text is too small, the buttons are too small, and the main menu is too confusing.  This has been a main problem with most Gamevil games, and while it’s a bit better in Soccer Superstars 2011, it still does bother at times.

Soccer Superstars is an extremely fun game.  I would go right on ahead and give it that coveted Must Have award, but there are those small, nitpicky annoyances in there that prevent me from doing so.  I’ve spent hours upon hours playing this game, and while a huge improvement over the previous edition, it still needs some work, especially on the whole stamina and condition thing.  But other than that, for $4.99, you’re getting at least 6 hours of simple, soccer fun.

Soccer Superstars was developed by Gamevil, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPhone 4.  The price is $4.99.

Fight Night Champion: A Decisive Knockout, Despite a Few Sloppy Punches

Although the App Store has been host to a handful of boxing games (and I’ve tried most of them if not all), until now I haven’t seen a title which translates the “sweet science” to the iOS platform in a satisfying way. And even though EA Sports’ “Fight Night Champion” isn’t quite perfect, it still manages to be a very enjoyable game, and one that proves that this genre is entirely possible within the unique set of challenges and development parameters which iOS gaming provides.

Previous boxing titles for iPhone have usually been Punchout-style, cartoony types of games whose gameplay revolved more on memorizing enemy patterns than on dynamic, real-time responses to the opponent’s attacks, and on executing well-timed combos and power shots.  When the emphasis has been placed on realism with other previous iOS boxing titles (which has been fairly rare), the  controls and enemy AI have been lackluster at best. And obviously, you can’t have a good fighting game without adequate controls and with computer opponents who possess all the cunning and savagery of a sock puppet. However, Fight Night rises far above the rest of the pack, by translating the robust control system of the console titles to iOS, allowing for a wide range of movement, blocking, and attacks.  This transition, from a dual-stick controller to the confines of a small touch-screen, presents its own set of challenges which the control system must compensate for; however the developers have done an admirable job in porting the Fight Night experience to the touch-screen. Players who have spent some time with a Fight Night title on a home console system will undoubtedly have an easier time picking up this game’s controls than will the uninitiated, but despite a moderate learning curve, these are controls which any user can master in a few sessions.

Basically, the controls work like this: The left and right half of your screen control each respective fist of your boxer. A tap will make your fighter throw a jab or a cross, either low or high depending on if you tap the top or bottom half of the screen. Hooks are initiated by swiping horizontally in the quadrant of the screen which corresponds to where you are trying to attack, whereas uppercuts are accomplished with a vertical swipe. Moving your fighter around the ring is done by tilting your iDevice in the corresponding direction. You block by holding both thumbs on either the upper or lower half of the screen, and lean into your blocks by sliding both thumbs in the direction you wish to lean. The leaning is a little awkward, and definitely takes some getting used to.  It also makes it a little unnecessarily hard to successfully parry your opponent’s attack, meaning that a superior offense will usually be your best defense. On the whole though, the controls work remarkably well, and accommodate a variety of possible boxing styles which you may wish to employ. Just don’t count on being able to reliably pull off parry/counterattack moves without a lot of practice (but don’t worry, you can still inflict some punishment.)


Controls That Work: This is really the number one requirement on this platform, especially for a fighting game. Although I wouldn’t call the controls exactly seamless, I believe the developers have done the best job possible in making the control scheme work on this platform. It takes a bit to get used to, but with just a little perseverance I was able to get into the swing of things and hold my own. After two or three fights I was putting combos together and sucker-punching my opponents with haymakers quite satisfyingly.

Dynamic Brawling: To me, the fun of Fight Night titles has always been that they entail concentration and endurance, along with the ability to react to your opponent in the moment. Although it’s possible to come out of the gates swinging and achieve quick knockouts in some matches, for the most part you’re going to have to withstand a few rounds toe-to-toe with another fighter. The constant back and forth of trying to avoid your enemy’s attacks while looking for their openings with varied attacks is simultaneously exhilarating and hypnotically relaxing. In my best, most intense fights, I find myself slipping into a sort of Zen state. This isn’t to say the game is any cake walk. Even on easy difficulty the enemy AI is nicely engaging, and the level of skill required ramps up appropriately on medium and hard.

Satisfyingly Visceral: Although Fight Night Champion is probably not going to end up being that one game you show off to all your friends because its graphics are so amazing, they’re still pretty good. Fighters get bruised and banged up progressively over the course of the fight, and the character models look adequately realistic but not awesomely beautiful in their level of detail. There are twenty boxers in all, along with the ability to create your own customized fighter. The eighteen fighters based on real-life boxers look enough like their actual counterparts that it shouldn’t upset any purists, and there are enough options on the character creation menu that you can… sort of get your boxer to look how you want. The sound is satisfying, with your harder shots producing a nice hearty thud on your opponent. The prerecorded fight commentary (voiced by the venerable Joe Tessitore) is a little bland, but there’s a good bit of variety to the commentator’s script, and you can always turn him off in the audio options if the play-by-play gets irksome after a while.


Janky Training Mode: Even as hard-hitting a game as this one (get it?) is not without its occasional missteps and sloppy shots. And the slipshod training mode, which the game puts you through before each and every fight in career mode, is probably the most egregious of the small handful of blemishes on an otherwise great boxing game. Rather than on the console versions of Fight Night, where your performance in rhythm-based mini-games dictates the stat boosts which your boxer receives for training, the training in Fight Night Champion on iOS is entirely menu-based. Essentially, you choose whether to focus on increasing your fighter’s power, speed, or a balanced mixture of the two attributes. Then you select whether to train normally, confidently, or aggressively. Essentially, if you train normally you will have a 100% success rate, but you will only gain small stat boosts from each session.  Confident training gives greater bonuses, but with more risk of failure (which will lower your fighter’s stats in the areas you were trying to improve). Aggressive training brings the greatest risks as well as the highest rewards.

So, what’s the problem with all this? Well, essentially all you have to do in order to always gain the highest boost possible is reboot the Fight Night app, without advancing to the next screen after you fail a training. Just rinse and repeat until you succeed. This makes it so there is essentially no reason to use the confident or normal training modes, as long as you’re willing to waste some time fiddling around with rebooting the app and going through the menus to return to your training session. I don’t know if I just have an amoral streak, wherein I’m compelled to juke the stats of any game which presents me the opportunity to do so… But I found this aspect of the game really annoying (since it wasted time I could have spent playing), and simultaneously unavoidable (since I’d be damned if I was going to accept subpar performances from my boxers). It’s a relatively small nitpick, if you look at the larger picture and how enjoyable the game is despite this.  But it seems to me that the developers should have either eschewed the training sessions altogether, or found a way to provide them with greater depth and not make them so easy to cheat on.

Limited Compatibility for Older Devices: Here’s another bummer: The game will not run, period, on first-generation devices. And on second-generation devices, like my iPod Touch, the game runs smoothly… But does not support head-to-head multiplayer. Like, at all. Frankly, I can understand why this was possible, since I’m pretty sure the processors of the older devices in question simply aren’t up to these tasks. I’m a little amazed that the game runs beautifully on my iPod Touch 2G, but I still wish I could take on my friends for some Bluetooth or Wifi matches. This, to me, is a significant gripe, but all things considered the game is still worth the asking price if you are looking for a technical, in-depth fighting game on your iOS device.

All things considered, Fight Night Champion is well worth your time and money, provided that you’re willing to adjust to the learning curve and you’re looking for a fighting game that rewards persistence and technique over lightning-fast blitzkrieg victories and ridiculous special moves. Personally, between this title and “Street Fighter IV,” my iOS fighting game itch is good and scratched for the time being.

Hunters Episode One HD Review: A Quite Enjoyable TBS

Hunters Episode One.

I mean, how epic does that sound?  On top of that, the pre-release screenshots looked killer, and I was more than excited to get my hands on this title.  And boy oh boy, I can’t say enough praise for Hunters Episode One.

It’s not without its flaws: the visuals can still do with some improvement, and the speed/framerate of the game is a bit slow even on the iPad 2.  I wish I could skip all the enemy actions, along with changing up the UI a little bit to be a bit brighter.

But the gameplay itself is fun.  You can’t really ask for much more in a game, and this is probably one of the few games that have proved worthy of my precious hours.


Just Plain Fun: I love strategy games: anything that has to do with challenging your mind.  Hunters Episode One does just that with around five different unit types, each with their own set of weapons/armor, and completing each mission is just a blast.  I honestly don’t have any words to explain why it’s fun: it just is.

Variety: There are so many items and armors that I doubt anyone will be able to buy even a quarter of what the game’s store has.  There are just so many items all with their ups and downs, and the possibilities are endless.  All of the missions are quite varied too, from protecting the reactors to finding artifacts and returning them to the base.

Visuals: I almost didn’t put this here since they’re not perfect, but you have to admit the lighting effect looks cool.  I’m not sure if that’s part of the image and doesn’t change, but even if it is, the artist sure has some skill.  The characters could use some more decorations in their armor and such, and choosing your own team color would be nice.  But these are all extra features; the ones right now should suffice.


GameCenter: Achievements and/or leaderboards anyone?  From a lot of the developers I’ve heard from, GameCenter does seem to boost some sales.  And it makes me a happy camper.  Just saying.

UI: The UI is a little dim, nothing too major.  It just seems like the buttons are “off-limits” when they’re that dim.

Skip enemy turns: This is probably one of the biggest features I would love to see implemented into this game.  Instead of waiting and seeing what your enemy is doing, it would be awesome to just skip that and see the results of the enemy’s turn (if that makes any sense).  Also, fast forwarding through all those unit movement animations would make each game a lot faster.  Right now it feels like I’m wasting precious time on what could be used for other things.

Hunters Episode One HD is far from perfect when it comes to features, but the gameplay is nearly perfect.  I love turn-based strategy games, and I’ve never poured so many hours into one iPad game than I did with Hunters Episode One HD.  Sure, there are a lot of games on the iPad I haven’t played.  But Hunters Episode One has captured my heart and there’s no doubting that.

Hunters Episode One HD was developed by Rodeo Games, and I played through version 1.03 on my iPad 2.  The price is $4.99 for the full version of the game and can be downloaded for free.

Updates: ‘Angry Birds Seasons’, ‘Real Racing 2’, and More

Weekdays are usually when updates start to trickle out, and I was thoroughly surprised when I checked what updates were available.

For starters, Angry Birds Seasons has been updated with 15 Valentine’s Day levels, new achievements, golden eggs (assumption from the little puzzle in the update list), and 3 secret levels.  And if you haven’t picked up Angry Birds Seasons yet, it’s definitely one that seems to be a nice investment for only $0.99.  This is the second update following the initial Christmas release, and with Easter coming up, I doubt Rovio Mobile is done updating.

As for Angry Birds, it’s been also updated with 15 brand new levels along with a new golden egg, more adventures in the Frontier Badlands, and a hidden clue found in the Angry Birds Rio Super Bowl commercial (now that’s a mouthful).

Real Racing 2 has also released a significant update with six new events, a tweaked Control E layout, multiplayer improvements including a change in rankings and multiplayer matchups, and other minor fixes and improvements.  And if you haven’t bought this racing game yet, it’s on sale for $4.99 until February 14th; I suggest you go on down and purchase before the sale ends.

And last but not least, Dungeon Defenders has been updated to include a new campaign mode and challenge, Hall of Heroes PvP competitive arena, Tavern Shop system, and in-app purchasing of Bank Mana.

These latest updates improve upon already great games, and if you haven’t picked up any one of them yet—again—I suggest you to do so in the sincerest way possible.