Tag Archives: Game Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have been warned.

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

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

Weird Worlds – Return to Infinite Space Review: Something like a roguelike in space?!

It occurred to me once that Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space would make a pretty cool addition to the iOS gaming scene. Happily, it must also have occurred to someone whose opinion actually matters, because Weird Worlds is now available for iOS exclusively for the iPad. And I’m calling it the first notable release of 2011~!!

Have you ever wondered how a roguelike might play out if, oh say … the dungeon were instead the black of space? And your rogue were replaced by a starship? If ponderings such as these keep you up at night — I never sleep at all, I spend so much time thinking about such things — then Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space may be just the answer you’ve been seeking.

Weird Worlds is a game of space exploration and survival, set in a randomly generated universe each time you play. Beginning the game, you are given the choice of three starships in which to make your explorations of Sector Prime: a Science Vessel, a Pirate Corvette or a Terran Frigate. You may also set parameters for your universe including map size, nebula mass and enemy strength. You are given a limited number of years in which to explore the created universe — 20 years on a Medium sized map — and must return to the Glory system within that time to report your findings, else suffer stiff fines for defaulting on your contract.

Depending upon your ship choice, your primary and secondary objectives will vary. The goal of science missions to to catalog new lifeforms and to map as much of Sector Prime as possible. As a pirate privateer, your goal is simply to grab anything of value you can find: technology, alien artifacts, lifeforms, weapons and even hostages. And as captain of a military frigate, you are tasked to make First Contact with alien races, to determine whether they are peaceful or pose a threat to Terran interests; as a secondary goal, obtain any technologies, artifacts or information which may be useful for military purposes.

Embarking from the Glory system, Sector Prime becomes your playground as you venture from system-to-system discovering new planets, new lifeforms and many exciting space treasures. Travel amongst the stars takes time, however, and so it is always important to mind the date that you might return to Glory in time (the only way to ensure a good endgame score!).

There is much to be found in Sector Prime. New weapons and shields bolster your combat abilities, while allies may join your fleet to give you an even greater edge in hostile situations. Improved scanners can help you to make better decisions as you plot your course through the system, while faster propulsion drives will help to reduce your transit time between worlds, allowing you to explore more of the sector before your deadline comes looming. Drones can repair your damaged ship or provide other benefits, and artifacts and captured lifeforms may be exchanged in trade with other species, sometimes at currency value and sometimes in 1:1 trades regardless of an item’s inherent value (the Klakar are suckers!).

Events occur randomly as you travel the systems. You may encounter other lifeforms in healthy exchange, engage them in deadly combat, or encounter terrorists who will rob you of your cargo. There’s no telling what may occur in the black of space, where good decision making is the only thing that separates the living from the dead.

Likes:

Bite-sized Spacefaring: Most space games are epic in scale, such that you may never see the end of the game, if the game even has an ending; many do not. A game of Weird Worlds will rarely last more than 30 minutes, making it ideal for quick bursts of quality spacefaring.

Random Encounters: There’s a lot to see and do in Sector Prime, and you’re not going to discover all the game has to offer in a single go, nor even in several. I think gamers will be pleasantly surprised by the amount of content there is to discover in the game on return sessions.

Variety: The different ship/mission types vary the goals of each game and change the way the game is played. Military missions favor an aggressive approach, while science missions had better avoid combat whenever possible. The objectives of your mission will motivate you to trade differently, and so prioritize your explorations in different ways. Combined with the many diverse random encounters to be had, Weird Worlds provides excellent replay value.

Visual and Audio Presentation: Weird Worlds is a great looking game. Space is pretty, and the game is full of original artwork. Ambient radio transmissions, interference and ship chatter help to set the mood.

Combat: Combat happens in real-time, putting you in control of your fleet and issuing orders to attack or retreat. During battle, the view shifts away from the starmap to a zoomed-in, tactical view of your ship and the opposing forces. Here you can plot the movement of your ships, target opposing vessels, launch fighters and fire your weapons. Ships may be boarded, destroyed or run away from. Hell, if you get desperate you can even ram enemies with your ships!

Do you remember Warpgate and how it was an awesomely impressive game in almost every conceivable way, except having combat that dragged the game headfirst into the muck and grime of Yoda’s swamp, and not just any part of the swamp, but the part where Yoda poops? Combat in Weird Worlds is nothing like that. In fact, Warpgate would have been a much better game had it simply aped Weird World’s combat wholesale. Yeah Freeverse, I’m talking to you. Look here and see real-time, tactical space combat done right. Do you see how it doesn’t suck? Do you see how it doesn’t bring down the entire game?!

Dislikes:

Small UI Elements: With the iPad’s big, beautiful display, there’s really no excuse for so many of the user-interface elements to be so frustratingly tiny. Every one of the game’s buttons — cargo and ship access, help/description icons, text buttons, close window buttons, etc. — is just too friggin’ small. They’re difficult to hit with any accuracy at all, so it’s lucky that buttons are usually (not always) spaced out enough that there’s nothing else to hit by mistake. Star systems can be difficult to select on the map, and you will often have to stab repeatedly at your destination before it will register for travel. Enlarging the sensitivity areas around systems would really help the game out. These issues really should be addressed by the developer at some point, so here’s to hoping …

A Little Rough Around the Edges: Having been ported from desktop operating systems, Weird Worlds is still a little rough around the edges. You will catch some of the tutorials referring to mouse clicks and movements rather than touch-interface controls, such as in the combat tutorial. I’ve also experienced some lag and unresponsiveness when dragging items between my cargo bay and the shop. The game suffers from occasional frame-rate drops and stutters; as the game does not require fast reflexes, this is usually not enough to hamper play, though it is fairly annoying. Hopefully these are issues that will be resolved in the game’s first update, whenever that comes.

Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space takes out a new lease on life on the iPad. The game has been around for more than five years now, and holds up incredibly well to the ravages of time. The game is every bit as fun as it ever was, and makes an ideal fit for the iPad. While many of the UI elements are too small to be comfortable, the touch-interface is functional and does work really well for a game like this one; hopefully the developers will work to improve the interface in updates. Spacefaring gamers should definitely find Weird Worlds a worthy addition to their gaming library, and fans of roguelikes should also find a lot to like in the game.

Weird Words: Return to Infinite Space is developed by Digital Eel and Astraware Limited, and is available exclusively for the iPad [$4.99]. Reviewed at version 1.00.000 on an iPad.

Queen’s Crown Review: A Zenonia Killer?

A funny thing happened to me while preparing to review Heroes Lore III. I fell in with a dethroned princess and the Grim Reaper, and found myself swept along on a most excellent adventure!

The kingdom of Scarbehold has fallen on tumultuous times. Dark forces have toppled the castle and slain the king. The kingdom’s knights are dead or scattered. The princess, Ann, has gone missing and is presumed killed in the attack on the castle. An ancient evil is on the rise.

Thus does Queen’s Crown begin, the latest Action RPG from Korean developer Com2Us. It was around this time last year the developer impressed us with The Chronicles of Inotia II: A Wanderer of Luone, and I truly hope this becomes an annual event, because Queen’s Crown is quite possibly the most brilliant Korean Action RPG of the year.

But that statement necessitates additional qualification as, given the sad state of KARPGs this year, it might not mean much. Zenonia 2 was much anticipated, but recycled far too much content from the first game to be of much interest when the game finally landed. Axion was beautiful, but played horribly. Itarus played better, but was utterly mediocre. SEED 2 was better than its predecessor, but that’s really not saying much. Maple Story was completely meh, and Chronicle of ZIC was flat-out horrible in every conceivable way. The cumulative result of so much disappointment was the condemnation of all my hopes and expectations for Korean Action RPGs, and their consignment to the darkest depths of the blackest abyss.

Imagine my surprise then in discovering Queen’s Crown, a game that not only rises above its recent peers, but which puts most other KARPGs to shame.

Players step into the role of princess Ann, having escaped the castle slaughter at the behest of her father, while he lived. Through a secret passage, in the guise of an attendant, Ann flees the carnage and takes up arms to reclaim her throne and to deliver her people from darkness. Shortly after escaping the castle, the Grim Reaper appears to offer guidance and promises to keep watch over her travels.

Likes:

Story & Characters: Of all the KARPGs I’ve played, Ann is by far my favorite protagonist. Her motivations for embarking upon her quest are sound, and she herself is quite endearing, rather than insufferable as are most KARPG heroes. The translation has some grammatical errors, but the story is well written overall, and the premise is one of the best I’ve seen in the genre. Ann is not the chosen one, and she’s not some foolish village child with grandiose aspirations to glory; she is a princess with duties to her kingdom and a great deal at stake.

Visual Presentation: The art direction for Queen’s Crown is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, favoring a cartoonish presentation with colorful backdrops and adorable sprites. I’m a big fan, and my only gripe is the game’s lack of support for the iPhone 4 Retina display.

Responsive Controls: Queen’s Crown enjoys one of the most responsive d-pads of any Action RPG I’ve played. Ann maneuvers easily and deliberately, and despite movement being limited to four directions, I’ve never felt the controls interfering with my enjoying the game. The action buttons are equally responsive. In short, Ann controls splendidly!

Combat: Ann has four weapons at her disposal at all times — sword, mace, spear and crossbow — and collects several magical spells through the course of the game. Each of the weapons has a special attack, utilized by charging the attack button. The sword may be swung full circle to attack enemies on all sides, the mace can be used in a devastating whirlwind attack, and the crossbow can rapid fire its remaining ammunition (Ann has unlimited bolts for her crossbow, but must occasionally reload). The spear’s special attack is a dash maneuver executed by double-tapping the d-pad.

Ann’s magic gauge replenishes slowly over time, requiring that spells be used strategically, but never putting the player at risk of running altogether dry of magic mid-dungeon. Magic is handled in a very balanced manner, without punishing the player for using their spells.

Gems discovered during the course of the game may be melded with items in various combinations to bestow additional bonuses and traits to attacks, and provide plenty of customization options.

Interface: Weapons and spells are easily swapped mid-combat by tapping icons in the screen’s upper corners, and without having to access the menu. The menus are thankfully touch-sensitive, and not dependent upon the d-pad for navigation as are so many KARPGs. While inventory icons are uncomfortably small, the menus are otherwise easy to manage and take full advantage of the iPhone’s input methods.

Quest System: The quest system is essentially the same as in any other KARPG — an NPC provides you a quest with a specific requirement, you complete that quest and return for reward. Most KARPGs use this system to artificially extend the length of the game by sending you out on pointless fetch or monster-slaying quests to level grind. It’s a practice I find despicable. In Queen’s Crown, however, my experience has been that quests are generally issued to move the story forward, with side-quests that don’t necessarily halt your progress (at least, not for long). I sincerely hope this trend holds true deeper into the game, but my initial impression is that quests are being handled properly, and not as a way of inflating the game length.

Little Details: Leave Ann standing around long enough and she’s whip out a flute to play or throw a blanket down on the ground for a moment’s repose. If you need time to finish reading the tips on the loading screen before they disappear, just tap the screen to put a hold on the load; tap the screen again to resume play.

One of my greatest gripes against Korean role-playing games ported from mobile phones is that the music and sound effects share a single sound channel, the music cutting out and restarting every time another sound — a sword swing, an impact, a spell casting — interrupts the channel. Queen’s Crown actually has separate sound channels, and provides separate volume controls for both the BGM and SFX.

It’s little details like these that show Com2Us’ dedication to quality game design, and with Korean developers having published so many lazy, horrid cell phone ports to the app store, it’s refreshing to receive a KARPG wish such attention to detail.

Dislikes:

Respawn Rates: Monsters respawn very quickly after being killed; this is both a blessing and a curse. With monsters constantly respawning, the completion of slaying quests is breezy, and level grinding is quick and easy. It does become difficult to clear a room, though, as those monsters first to fall will often have returned by the time to kill the last. There’s no time to dally, so you’d best move forward. And exploring the nooks and crannies of the maps practically guarantees that you will not only have to fight your way in, but then fight your way out again.

Old Tech.: Queen’s Crown does enjoy Game Center support, but otherwise seems stuck in the era of the iPhone 3GS, lacking newer features such as Retina display support, fast app switching, etc. The game does allow you to resume progress from where you left off if you tap the Home button or take a call, but it’s not quite as nicely handled as iOS 4 multitasking. I can only hope Com2Us will address these issues via update.

We’re only three days into December, and already the month is shaping up to be an incredible month for RPGs — Heroes Lore III is released, Aralon: Sword and Shadow has been submitted for approval, and Square Enix’s Action RPG masterpiece Secret of Mana is expected to release later in the month. Puzzle Quest 2 is currently unavailable in the app store, but has appeared in AppShopper listings which implies an impending release.

With so many balls on the field, Queen’s Crown I didn’t see coming. It blindsided me from left field, and I’m still in a daze. And now I am going to make a very bold statement, one that will surely incite controversy:

It is my considered opinion that Queen’s Crown is the best Korean RPG in the App Store. Zenonia is misguidedly considered an App Store classic, not because it’s all that great, but because it was the first game of its kind to grace the iPhone, and because it released at a time when iPhone gaming was still in its infancy, when titles were simply unpolished as a rule and developers were still attempting to find some footing with the device. Zenonia was a good game, but not stellar; it was and after many updates is still rather lacking in refinement, and frustrating to play.

Queen’s Crown is responsive and polished, attractive and fun, with a good story, endearing characters, and a really excellent combat system. By distributing attribute points on level up, mastering weapons and spells through prolonged use, and enhancing attacks via the gem grid, Ann can be customized in any number of ways — to be light on her feet, to be a hard hitter, with a focus in magic, as a ranged attacker, or as a jack-of-all-trades — allowing players to approach the game however they choose. There’s nothing here you wouldn’t have seen in other KARPGs, but no other KARPG has delivered the goods in such an enjoyable way. Yes — a resounding YES!! — Queen’s Crown is better than Zenonia.

Queen’s Crown is one of the year’s best surprises, one of the year’s best role-playing games, and one of the best Action RPGs yet released for iPhone. And despite the presence of Death himself, it is most definitely not a bogus journey. It will probably be buried this holiday season beneath a deluge of higher profile titles, but all precious gems must be unearthed before they can be cherished. I dearly hope that gamers will manage to dig this one up at some point.

If you’re looking for an RPG to tide you over until Aralon or Secret of Mana hit, Queen’s Crown is highly recommended.

Queen’s Crown [ $4.99 ] is developed by Com2Us. Reviewed at version 1.0.0 on an iPhone 4.


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Chop Chop Caveman Review: The Best Chop Chop Yet!

When developer Gamerizon released Chop Chop Ninja late last year, they had a hit on their hands. The unique action platformer offered a novel solution to the dilemma faced by most of its genre peers on the iPhone, eschewing virtual d-pads and buttons altogether in favor of a buttonless touch interface. And while the experience often devolved into a screen-tapping frenzy, it was nonetheless refreshing. Gamerizon was quick to follow-up on that game’s success, releasing the ninja spin-off Chop Chop Runner and the sports titles Chop Chop Tennis, Hockey and Soccer. In the last year, the Chop Chop franchise has enjoyed more than six million downloads worldwide!

And at long last, the Chop Chop franchise returns to its platforming roots in its newest, and perhaps greatest itineration — Chop Chop Caveman.

Likes:

Visual Presentation: Chop Chop Caveman looks fantastic, having the best art direction of the franchise. The game keeps with the series’ signature Powerpuff Girls-like look, but has perhaps the richest, most attractive color palette of any Chop Chop game thus far. The jungles and other environments are alive with color, vibrant and exciting, and a joy to behold. The titular caveman is adorable, as are all of his prehistoric nemeses, and the game has some really nice animations, especially when compared to the cardboard puppetry of Chop Chop Ninja. Add support for the iPhone 4’s Retina Display, and Chop Chop Caveman is a pretty game indeed!

Controls: Mechanically, Caveman’s controls are identical to those found in Chop Chop Ninja and should feel immediately familiar to anyone who played the earlier game. A great deal of refinement has been introduced to the experience, however. Overall, the controls just feel tighter and more responsive. The Caveman feels less floaty and easy to maneuver, and the game has been streamlined such that it feels more like playing a game, and less like a tap-tap storm. The experience of playing Chop Chop Caveman is just much smoother than its predecessor, and these relatively minor control adjustments make a world of difference in actually playing the game.

Replay Value: There are lots of reasons to come back to Chop Chop Caveman. In each of the game’s 20 stages there are pebbles, three large gems and a tasty vegetable to be found. High scores are also kept for each stage — based on completion time, pebbles collected, kills and meat eaten — providing incentive to return to completed stages to better your scores. The game features integration with both OpenFeint and Game Center, with acheivements and leaderboards.

Universal App: For $0.99, Chop Chop Caveman comes as a universal app playable both on iPhones and iPads. And because of the game’s buttonless interface, it plays equally well on all devices. I find myself preferring the iPad only because its larger screen allows me to enjoy the game’s gorgeous art assets all the more.

Story: Chop Chop Caveman is HUNGRY and needs meat!! It’s a simple premise, but cavemen are not known to have been the deepest of thinkers. This is a no-nonsense tale of a hungry caveman munching dinosaurs, and that’s all the motivation I need to have fun. What I enjoy most about the game is its lack of melodrama and pompous puffery. The game takes itself about as seriously as it ought to: not much.

Dislikes:

Whatever dislikes I leveled against Chop Chop Ninja have more or less been addressed in Chop Chop Caveman. Anything negative I could say against the game would be nothing more than nit-picking, and even then I find it difficult to complain.

Chop Chop Caveman may be the best prehistoric platformer since Bonk’s Adventure, and the best Chop Chop game yet. Despite its setting having moved backwards in time, the imperfections of Chop Chop Ninja have here been honed in the most forward-thinking manner, and while cavemen may be well-reputed for their rough demeanors, Chop Chop Caveman is as smooth as they come. I’ve been really enjoying the game, and I’m pretty sure you will too. You get a lot of thump for your buck in this one, and I have no problem calling it a …

Chop Chop Caveman is developed by Gamerizon, and available as a universal app for $0.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4 and iPad.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC Review: A new and welcome take on bullet-hell

Japanese developer Cave has become well-known in the app store for ports of its arcade bullet-hell shooters Dodonpachi Resurrection and Espgaluda II. For its third foray in Apple’s sea of apps, however, the company has produced its first native iPhone title: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. Go on, say that five times fast. While the title may be incomprehensible, the game is a new, iPhone-exclusive entry in Cave’s Mushihime-sama (Insect Princess) series of action titles previously appearing in arcades, and on the PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 in Japan.

Despite the apparent popularity of Cave’s two previous titles, I must admit that I was not overly impressed by either Espgaluda II or Dodonpachi Resurrection. While I am most definitely a fan of top-down shooters, the games just rubbed me the wrong way. And so I came to Mushihimesama BUG PANIC with a great deal of skepticism. To my great surprise, however, I have found myself thoroughly impressed by the game, and feel it to be Cave’s finest effort to-date on the iPhone.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC effectively blends the dual-stick shooter and bullet-hell genres into one highly entertaining game.

The giant insects of Shinju Forest are exhibiting strange, violent behavior. As the titular insect princess — the pink-haired hot-box, Reco — it is up to you, dear player, to put down the insect unrest using “seeds” (bombs). And while this may not be a politically sound method of quelling civil unrest in our current global climate, it certainly makes for good gaming!

Rather than spraying bullets as in most dual-stick shooters, the game’s right-stick is instead used to set trajectories for lobbing bombs at opponents. On paper, it sounds like an insignificant departure from the norm, but its effect on gameplay is huge and lends the game a feel all its own. By moving the targeting reticle onto foes, Reco may lock onto as many as three opponents at once, lobbing bombs when players release the attack button. The longer the player holds the attack button before releasing the bombs, the stronger the attack and the greater the blast. Releasing the attack quickly fires weak bombs with small explosions, while charging the attack gauge allows Reco to volley more powerful explosives — Cluster Seeds — capable of creating chain reaction blasts in additional foes nearby the target. Reco can also stock up to three Explosive Seeds, the blast from which can wipe out enemy bullets and do significant damage to enemies. To throw an Explosive Seed, simply charge the attack button even longer — while having seeds in stock — before releasing the attack.

Unable to spray bullets in a constant stream as most dual-stick protagonists, Reco must take into account the downtime between attacks, and attempt to maximize each strike by carefully lobbing her charges for greatest effect. Evasion becomes of paramount importance, as you simply cannot fire fast enough to wipe out your foes, and also because the game inherits much from its more traditional bullet-hell brethren. As a matter of habit, larger insects will spray a barrage of projectiles in your direction which must be avoided to have any hope of success.

Likes:

Presentation: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC draws upon games of the 16-bit era for presentation, and looks great doing it. While I might have preferred a cell-shaded approach to the visuals, the 16-bit sprites are well animated and detailed, and lend the game a certain mid-nineties charm reminiscent of some of the SNES’ best titles. The story is told via comic panels between stages, with excellent anime artwork.

Controls: The controls are smooth and responsive, and the bomb-lobbing mechanic works fantastically. Not only is it effective on its own, but it also allows Mushihimesama BUG PANIC to stand apart from the pack of dual-stick shooters already inhabiting the app store. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is at once very familiar and very different, and feels just fresh enough to be exciting while not requiring your to wrap your head around obtuse, unfamiliar gameplay.

Style: Mushihimesama BUG PANIC piles on the anime appeal, being cute enough for children, but charming and attractive enough to rope in adults as well. The game has an excellent sense of style, and reminds me in many ways of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite animated films.

Game Center: Despite its retro digs, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is clearly on the edge of iPhone gaming with leaderboards and achievements tied into Apple’s Game Center social gaming service.

Extras: Apart from the main story mode, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC includes unlockable timed and endless score trials, and a jigsaw puzzle mini-game for which pieces are unlocked by discovering hidden “kabutan” in the game’s story mode. If you can complete the puzzle, something special might happen …

Dislikes:

Aging Devices Need Not Apply: As with Cave’s other games, Mushihimesama BUG PANIC requires Apple’s newer hardward and will not run on older devices. According to Cave, the game will run on the iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd Generation and up (iOS 4.1 and up), and iPad devices (iOS 4.2 and up). Gamers still relying on the iPhone 3G, 1st or 2nd Gen iPod touch are out of luck.

In the unlikely event that I’ve been unclear, I will just come out and say it: I’ve been really enjoying Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing to dislike about the game. In fact, I’ve not even touched upon the numerous hidden areas to be found in each stage of the story mode, nor the manual targeting option that allows you to lob bombs willy-nilly without having specific targets. You can easily switch between lock-on and direct attack modes by tapping your attack gauge.

Cave has seemingly considered all details and has delivered a unique, original experience for the iPhone that should not be missed. Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is an exceptional game, walking the fine line between depth and accessibility, hardcore and casual.

Despite my initial reservations stemming from my impressions of Cave’s previous games, I have no qualms standing behind Mushihimesama BUG PANIC. It is easily among my favorite new app store releases.

Mushihimesama BUG PANIC is developed by Cave Co., Ltd. and available for $4.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 4 at version 1.0.0.