Tag Archives: GameCenter

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

NaturalMotion.

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.

Likes

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.

Dislikes

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.


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.

Likes

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.

Dislikes:

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.


Gears Review: Unique and Quite Enjoyable Ball-Roller

I’ve never been a fan of ball-rollers; they’re extremely frustrating, and I just never really saw the appeal in precision controlling.

Now let’s put Crescent Moon Games into the mix—the creators of arguably two of the best RPGs on iOS—and see if they’ve really reinvented the whole ball-rolling genre on the App Store.

Starting with the bare basics, Gears does basically what every ball-roller’s objective is: roll through the level hopping over obstacles and get to the end safely.  There are usually medals—as in this case—rewarded based on how well you completed the objective (time, how many coins collected, etc.).  Probably the best feature of Gears is its controls: spot on swipe controls that are absolutely brilliant.  The graphics are also not too shabby especially when playing on an iPad 2, and the environment feels like I’m actually inside some forbidden cave.

But Gears is far from perfect — yes, Gears does have its flaws.  For one, the tilt controls are absolutely horrendous; in fact, don’t even bother trying to make them work.  The calibration seems way off, and while it does mention that the game calibrates after the end of every level, you’ll have trouble even getting through the first one.

On top of that, for those that like to take in the environment and take as long as you want on any given level, too bad.  The time constraint does bother me a little since you must start the level over if you don’t finish, and it’s especially bothersome when the time expires right when I’m about to finish.  A new system of giving out trophies in which each one is based on how much time it takes you to finish would be a much better system, as it allows slow people to still advance into the later levels, albeit with lesser medals.

I’m not going to even get started on the fact that it doesn’t include GameCenter achievements.

But while Gears isn’t as perfect or as ideal as Crescent Moon’s past games, it’s still quite enjoyable and a thrill at times.  Getting through the levels does have its moments, and at $0.99, this is the definition of bargain.

Likes

Graphics: Crescent Moon Games has gotten this part down on their past two titles, and this is no different.  While I wasn’t overly impressed with the graphics on my iPhone 4, on the iPad 2, it was an entirely different story.  The graphics were absolutely phenomenal, and the detail was probably more than my eyes could handle.  I give props yet again to whoever does the graphics over at Crescent Moon Games because hey, they’re awesome.

Bargain: For $0.99, you’re getting a not too shabby game.  In fact, you’re getting a game that could as well be priced at $4.99, and I believe people would still buy it.  It’s universal, has GameCenter (although only leaderboards at the moment), and it contains some great content.

Swipe controls: The swipe controls are wonderful; in fact, they’re probably the best controls I’ve seen in a ball-roller.  It feels natural, it’s quick, and it’s comfortable.  Props to Crescent Moon Games for creating such a unique control scheme.

Dislikes

GameCenter: Achievements, anyone?  That’s what I absolutely love about GameCenter and any social platform for that matter.  But Gears’s lack of achievement is very noticeable, and I was actually quite disappointed.

Time constraint: I believe I’ve said everything needed to be said in the beginning of this review, but I’ll say it again: there are times when I just don’t feel like starting a level over.  Seems a bit brutal to me.  And hey, it would be nice to give me some more time to take in the beautiful surroundings.

Tilt controls: Ball rollers and tilting just seems so natural, and people like me actually like to tilt the ball.  But the tilt controls in this game are absolutely horrendous; I’ve never encountered such bad tilt controls.  I feel like I’m missing something in the options or anything, but scouring the entire game has produced no clues as to why these tilt controls are so bad.

Obviously I’m mixed concerning Gears.  On one hand, it’s beautiful, and the swipe controls work great.  It’s a bargain at $0.99 including the fact that it’s universal, and the game does have its shining moments.  Then there’s the other hand, which includes the fact that it doesn’t have GameCenter achievements, has terrible tilt controls, and that the time constraint does bother at times.  Ultimately, though, for $0.99, Gears is a game that’s too hard too pass up.  And considering Crescent Moon Games’s tendency to update its games, I would take a safe bet on this becoming great.

Gears was developed by Crescent Moon Games, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPhone 4 and iPad 2.  The price is $0.99.


‘Bird Zapper’ Free for Today Only

Bird Zapper by Namco has dropped down to the price of free for today and today only.

A fun little casual game, Bird Zapper was recently updated to include some Easter goodies such as bunnies, eggs, and a new powerup.  It’s universal and has GameCenter achievements, so there’s really no reason not to download.

I personally think that this is a great casual game, and the great thing about the App Store is that you can get these great games for paying absolutely nothing.  There are three gameplay modes included: Survivor, Blitz and Zen mode, and this game should last you at least throughout the day.

You should download the game with some urgency though, as it’s free for today only.

Real Racing 2 HD Review: Live your Childhood Dream

It’s in the movies, it’s in common culture; it’s everywhere: every kid wants to become some sort of driver some day.

Kids and adults, especially males, love cars.  That’s just the way the world revolves, and for me personally, driving a Lamborghini of any kind or a Ferrari would be a dream come true.

And I’m that much closer to reaching my dream, thanks to the efforts of Firemint and Real Racing 2 HD.

Packed with all of the features included in the iPhone version, I wouldn’t say it’s too huge of a difference.  One feature that was just released—HDMI output to play on your TV—is one that I haven’t tried out due to the fact that I don’t have an HDMI cord, but it’s one of the extra features included in this fullscreen iPad version.

Other than that, if you already have the iPhone/iPod touch version, you’re buying into the enlarged and absolutely gorgeous visuals.  It feels like I’m actually driving a car when in the cockpit view, and honestly, this is the most realistic racing will every get on the iPad.

Am I exaggerating?  Sure.  But this is one heck of a game that if you missed it on the smaller devices, the iPad version is the way to go.  The quality is unrivaled, the content is plenty, and for $9.99, I doubt anyone will be disappointed.

Likes

Graphics: One thing that makes the iPad the iPad is its larger screen, which brings about some crazy visuals.  The immersive environment really brings you into the game much more than any iPhone ever will, and it feels a lot more freer and open than the iPhone version.  As a stand alone iPad app — without comparing it to the iPhone app — this is the best looking iPad app to date.  Firemint always does a great job on its visuals, and Real Racing 2 HD is no exception.

Content: Looking for an iPad game to last you a good 10-15 hours?  Well here you go.  Easily even 20 hours if you’re into the whole achievement collecting business.

Controls: Fully-customizable controls topped with the fact that there are more options than I can count makes for quite a racing game.  There aren’t many games that can boast so many different options, and what I like about Firemint’s games is that they cater to my tastes and my “habits”.  There is no other company in the App Store that puts this much attention to even the smallest details, and the fully-customizable controls is a large reason why I absolutely love this game.

Dislikes

iPhone owners beware: For me personally, having already played through the entire iPhone version of the game, playing through the entire campaign didn’t have much appeal.  I still did it for reviewing purposes, but hey, it wasn’t as exhilarating as the first time.  For $9.99, you’re basically buying into the larger screen experience and the immersive environment it brings.  For one, you are definitely not buying any new features or content.

Real Racing 2 HD is unrivaled in the App Store.  There are no racing games like it, and if you’re even remotely into driving, then Real Racing 2 HD is for you.  While people who have already bought the game on the iPhone will have a hard time finding much appeal in this, people who haven’t bought the game yet should definitely check it out on the iPad.  And hey, bigger is better, right?

Real Racing 2 HD was developed by Firemint, and I played through version 1.1 on my iPad 2.  The price is $9.99.