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KRPG Cage Fight: Wild Frontier vs. Zenonia 3

I have said before and will say again, Wild Frontier is the best Korean role-playing game (KRPG) in the app store. Wild Frontier may not have the same name recognition as the Zenonia franchise, but it trumps those games in every conceivable way.

The recently released Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story has more of a buzz at the moment, standing upon the hype and legacy of two previous games, the release of the third having been drummed up pretty heavily, and the fact that Gamevil is very active in developing games for the iOS market. Meanwhile, Wild Frontier developer KTH has only one game in the app store — Wild Frontier — and little clout on which to gain footing.

Nonetheless, Wild Frontier is incredible. In this article, I pit Wild Frontier head-to-head against Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story in a number of important categories to prove once and for all which is the better game. Let’s rumble!


Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story

Zenonia 3 is the first Zenonia to support the iPhone 4 retina display, and it’s about damned time. The first two Zenonias were blurry, smudgy looking affairs that never lived up to the visual capabilities of even the pre-retina iPhones. No doubt, Zenonia 3 looks great. But the sprites and animations don’t do anything they didn’t do in previous Zenonias; there have been no refinements to the artistic presentation other than to ensure the game is of proper resolution for the device on which it runs. Enemies still poke around the environments in stilted fashion, and characters in story sections just don’t animate properly at all. Zenonia 3 is pretty, but it’s also pretty pedestrian.

Wild Frontier

Wild Frontier was the first KRPG to embrace retina quality graphics, and the sprites, backgrounds and animations are superb. Everything is full of color and of life, and animates smoothly. Enemies blink and twitch and look alive; your character actually moves his legs when he runs. In general, Wild Frontier’s sprites include more frames of animation than Zenonia’s sprites, and it really makes a difference. Add to this weather effects such as rain and lightning, and daylight cycles including dawn, day, dusk and night and Wild Frontier is one fantastic looking game.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Sound Design:

Zenonia 3 offers up some of the best music the series has yet seen, but its loops are still short and repetitive, and the sound design is overall fairly generic. None of the tunes really stick with you, and that’s actually a good thing — they’re so repetitive, it would become annoying if they did. In terms of instrumentation, the soundtrack is also comprised of pretty harsh sounding synthesizers.

Wild Frontier’s soundtrack is more subtle and emotive, often relaxing and more melodic than anything Zenonia has ever known. The game also makes more of an effort to simulate real instruments. The music is obviously synthesized, but strings sound plucked, string arrangements are epic, and the compositions are layered in thoughtful, compelling ways. Further, the musical sections are much longer than in Zenonia, making them much less repetitive over time. Wild Frontier is a melodic treat.

Winner: Wild Frontier


Zenonia’s story is one that we’ve played a million times, Divine forces battle Demonic forces, the Heavenly realm having fallen from grace, and humanity caught somewhere in between. Mixed in are the personal issues of our protagonist, which mostly amount to boy likes girls, but refuses to admit to liking girl, meanwhile being teased by his fairy companion: grade school romance and teasing, framed in a cliche struggle between good and evil.

Wild Frontier tells the story of a group of travelers having landed upon a new continent. The protagonist Chris is not an adventurer, having tagged along on the journey to follow after his girlfriend, Lamia, adventurer extraordinaire. Much as it pains her to do so, for his own protection and safety Lamia leaves Chris to pursue her adventures. With encouragement from some of his fellow travelers, Chris realizes that to win Lamia back he must become an adventurer himself, capable of surviving in this new land, and with the help of his friends and the Mokar natives he sets out to do just that. There are no demons, and the fate of the world does not hang in the balance. Wild Frontier plays out on a smaller, but altogether more compelling stage; it tells a story of relationships, self-realization, perseverance and personal growth. There is no other KRPG that tells a tale quite like it, nor as effectively. It’s a rare thing in KRPGs, but Wild Frontier’s story is actually worth experiencing.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Characters & NPCs:

Zenonia’s characters are occasionally endearing, but more often juvenile and irritating. They interact with each other not as adults, but as grade school students. NPCs in towns often approach Chael with their problems, most of which are trivial or stupid, and often refuse to offer information for reasons that are simply childish. By and large, Zenonia’s characters are one-dimensional and annoying.

Wild Frontier puts a greater emphasis on characterization. Characters have personalities and real-life problems. They also have real and adult motivations for their actions. Lamia cares about Chris, and that’s why she has to leave him; she doesn’t want him to get hurt chasing after her on adventures. Ben is a crotchety academic, and teaches the Mokars to mix potions and draw maps; he’s also older and requires more rest, and all of this factors into conversations he has with Chris throughout the game. Meanwhile, Roman sees the brighter side of life, and constantly offers Chris advice, assistance and encouragement. He’s an immensely helpful character, and serves to guide Chris on his path to become a self-sufficient adventurer. Greg is aloof and anti-social, and not because he’s an agent for evil, but simply because he can’t be bothered by other people. Meanwhile, the Mokars are consumed with local concerns — monsters threatening the village, missing persons, the need for supplies — but are generally friendly to the outsiders, just as you might expect people to be in a small, foreign town. The characters in Wild Frontier are fueled by their personalities, and are much more than simple mouthpieces intended to push players onward; they feel as if they really live in this world.

Winner: Wild Frontier

Character Classes:

Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story offers four character classes. The Sword Knight is a strength-based melee fighter, favoring heavy weapons and armor. The Shadow Hunter is an agile melee fighter, favoring lighter armaments and putting a greater emphasis on dealing damage through critical hits. The Mechanic Launcher is a long-range class favoring weapons, and the Nature Shaman is a long-range class favoring magic and totems.

Wild Frontier offers three variations of melee classes. The Warrior wields two-handed weapons for high damage, the Tanker is a defensive character favoring heavy armors, and the Scout is an agile fighter capable of dual-wielding small weapons and inflicting criticals. There are no ranged classes, and while there are class differences, Wild Frontiers classes generally approach combat in a similar fashion.

Clearly, Zenonia 3 offers a greater variety of character classes and approaches to combat.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story


Over the course of three games, the Zenonia franchise has made leaps and bounds in interface design. Zenonia 3 has one of the best in-game menu systems I’ve seen in any iOS role-playing game. The controls are easy to use and their positions and opacity may be customized to user preference, and the in-game menus used to manage your character, inventory, quests, etc. are slick, intuitive and easy to use. They also fully embrace the iPhone’s touch interface. Zenonia 3 is a big win for interface design.

Wild Frontier has pretty solid controls; the d-pad could be a touch more sensitive to input, but I really have no gripes against the game for control during play. The in-game menu for managing your character, however, relies on the d-pad and confirm/cancel buttons for navigation and manipulation, and ends up feeling pretty clunky. It’s a lot better than the menus in the first Zenonia, but not nearly so good as the menus in Zenonia 3.

Winner: Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story


Zenonia is well-known for its assinine fetch quests: kill 10 bats in the forest, collect 15 frog horns, find a document and bring it back, etc. While some of these quests serve to progress the storyline, many of them serve only to keep you in one place far longer than you should have to be there. I managed to reach level 15 in and around the first town in Zenonia 3, but found myself constantly being sent back into the Akun Temple area to battle level 3-5 enemies for fetch quests. When you’re level 15 sword knight is battling level 5 frog-people, you’ve been in one place too long. And yet the game kept giving me pointless things to do, liking buying a steak for a hungry child, or collecting flowers for another … Zenonia makes a habit of providing pointless quests as a method to artificially extend the completion time of the game. Further, it’s not always clear which quests are important to advancing the story, and which are filler, and so you just sort of do them all until you’re given permission to move on.

Wild Frontier categorizes quests as Main, Sub or Free. Main quests are those pertaining to the story, while Sub are side-quests you may perform to assist the NPCs you meet in towns. Free quests may be picked up daily from the job board in each town, and are short, repeatable and entirely optional quests that you may undertake for extra experience, when you’re headed that way anyway, or just when you’re bored and looking for something to do. The quests often make sense within the context of the setting, which makes them feel more worthwhile to undertake, and the game does a pretty good job of telling you exactly where you need to go and what you need to do, kill or collect to fulfill the quest requirements. More importantly, you always know which quests are important and which are extra, which allows you to more easily gauge and plot your progress through the game.

Winner: Wild Frontier


Zenonia is a grind-fest. It’s not uncommon to spend 30 minutes or an hour grinding to survive in one area, only to move to the next area — a transition of only a single screen — and to then be obliterated by new, significantly higher-level opponents. And so you spend yet another 30 minutes to an hour grinding to survive this area before moving on. And God forbid you skip through an area without grinding, because enemies two areas on from where you belong will flatten you. Zenonia forces players to grind for experience points constantly throughout the game (and then keeps you in one place too long with questing before forcing you to grind again?!), and the grind-fest eventually becomes a snooze-fest.

Wild Frontier encourages you to press on through the game, and discourages you from dallying too long in any one area. On first entering a new area, enemies will yield significant experience points. Level-up a few times, however, and enemies will give you only 1 experience point per kill — and that’s the game telling you it’s time to move on. Further, enemies are more powerful during the night than during the day, and will yield greater experience bounties. Grinding at night, you can quickly harvest an area and move on to the next. While Zenonia strives to keep you in one place far too long, Wild Frontier is constantly pressing you onward into new, unexplorered territory.

Winner: Wild Frontier


Enemies in Zenonia occasionally drop items. Some of them are useful, but I often find my inventory swelling with garbage that I never use, which I either cart around until the end game or sell off in the nearest town. When I’m actually seeking items, item drops occur only infrequently. No matter which way you cut it, it’s frustrating. Then there’s the mining: you need to carry a special pickax, which will eventually break on you. The act of mining is a constant tap-tap-tap of the action button to beat on rocks, and you have to tap it again every time you pick up an ore. Looting in Zenonia is tedious, time consuming and frustrating. It’s a chore to harvest or mine or items, and then it’s a chore to manage them in your inventory. Further, there is neither rhyme nor reason for most of what you find enemies carrying; to get flowers, you have to kill weird forest spiders?!

Wild Frontier does neat things with it’s looting mechanic. Downed enemies may be harvested for materials, and those materials are generally relevant to the enemy from which you take them — plant-based enemies yield leaves, wood and thorns; crabs yield shells and claws; mammals yield bones, leather and fur; etc. And these are not random item drops; every slain enemy lingers as a body on the field, and every body may be harvested for materials. These materials can then be used in rest areas to craft weapons and armaments, or to cook food, or may be sold off in the Mokar shops for coin. Mining ores from stones or foraging for items in the forest works just the same as looting bodies: you hold the button while Chris harvests materials — a process both simple and well animated — while the message display lists out your findings as they happen. Looting in Wild Frontier makes sense, serves a purchase, and is far less tedious than in Zenonia.

Winner: Wild Frontier

In-App Purchase:

Zenonia 3’s system of in-app purchase is one of the more draconian examples currently to be found in the app store. As anyone can tell you who has played either of the first two games, Origin of Life items are essential to successfully completing the game. When you die, the Origin of Life item allows you to resurrect in place without suffering the usual penalty for dying; resurrecting without an Origin of Life, you lose experience points and item durability, which ultimate leaves you nearer to death’s door than before you died the last time. In the first two Zenonias, the Origin of Life was pricey, but could be purchased using in-game currency. In Zenonia 3, the Origin of Life is only available for real-world currency via in-app purchase. And the game will flat-out steal them from you, such as in the Midgard Bridge quest where you have to raid the demon camp: your character should be roughly level 15-17 at this point in the game, and you’re without warning thrown up against level 47 demons who make short work of you. You’re supposed to find another way around, but the only way to realize you can’t win this fight is to walk into it and get killed, then being given the choice to use an Origin of Life or to resurrect at a penalty.

The Origin of Life is not the only item you can only get via in-app purchase in Zenonia 3. Examine scrolls, two-way portals and other important items must also be purchased with real money. So you pay for an Examine scroll, use it on an item only to find that the item is worthless to you — of lesser value than your current equipment — and … you’ve wasted your actual money.

As I said in my full review of Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story, “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.”

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier also includes items for in-app purchase, but those items are entirely optional. By consulting the Item Shop in each town, you can use real-world money to expand your inventory, add extra ability sockets to items, purchase scrolls to reset your stat and skill points, purchase extra runes or equipment sets, or an unlimited use taming kit. You can also purchase first-aid kits, similar in purpose to Zenonia’s Origin of Life.

Dying in Wild Frontier, however, does not incur the same penalties as in Zenonia. If killed in the field, you may opt to use a first-aid kit if you have one, or you can wake up in town with a deduction in gold. The game does not penalize your experience points or equipment durability, though, so does nothing to cripple your character in the way that Zenonia does.

The bottom line on IAP in Wild Frontier is that it is entirely optional, and not necessary to complete the game. A well-prepared adventurer can survive the game’s challenges, and an unprepared adventurer will wake up in town, where they can easily embark once more, better prepared for the opposition after a visit to the accessory shop (sells potions and other support items, based on in-game currency).

Zenonia is full of cheap deaths, encouraging and all but requiring that you use the in-app purchase system to by restorative items; Wild Frontier offers in-app purchases to enhance the game, but does not require them of them player.

Winner: Wild Frontier


At the time of this writing, Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story retails for $4.99 and carries with it the potential of spending a fortune via in-app purchase.

When I originally reviewed Wild Frontier, the game retailed for $0.99; at present, the game is FREE. In-app purchase is available, but entirely optional.

Winner: Wild Frontier


Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story definitely has some things going for it. My final impression is that it’s a highly entertaining game, derailed by a draconian system of in-app purchase and taken with a grain of salt. For better or worse, it is a Zenonia game, with all of the traditional Zenonia flaws. It does nothing to reinvigorate either the genre or the franchise. For all the good to be found in the game, flat storytelling and characterization, and an over dependence on experience grinding and assinine fetch quests are trademarks of the Zenonia name.

Meanwhile, Wild Frontier does so much right that it’s hard not to love it. The game offers a great story with a wonderful cast characters, a beautiful world to explore with flourishes such as weather and daylight cycles, fantastic art direction in both stills and animations, an enjoyable soundtrack and solid gameplay. It also takes many of the KRPG conventions which often prove problematic in other games, and turns them on their heads, making them all a part of the fun. What’s more, Wild Frontier is an incredible bargain.

There is no question in my mind that Wild Frontier is the better game, and by a long shot. Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story can be enjoyable and takes many steps in the right direction, but Gamevil still hasn’t done enough to improve the game over previous entries, and they really drag the game down with one of the worst in-app purchase systems since SEED 1.

See my original reviews for Wild Frontier and Zenonia 3: The Midgard Story.

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.

Air Penguin Review: Yet Another, Quite Exhilarating Bird Game

Air Penguin is just the latest App Store game to implement some sort of flying, bird creature; the latest game to hit the #1 paid App Store spot after the hits of both Angry Birds and Tiny Wings.  While at the time of this writing it has been dethroned—thanks to EA’s $0.99 sale on NBA Jam—there’s really no doubt in my mind that this deserves the #1 spot.

Air Penguin is in one word, fun.  There’s nothing too complicated about it, and like most casual games on the App Store, Air Penguin is extremely easy to learn but quite difficult to master.  Upon opening the app, you’ll be greeted with a simple tutorial: tilt left to move left, tilt right to move right, etc.

The point of the game is to reach the endpoint without falling into the water, precisely controlling the bird to collect little fishies along the way.

Packed with some cute, fun-loving artwork, Air Penguin is quite a winner in my eyes.


Artwork: Like I mentioned before, the artwork is quite appealing.  The universal, cartoon look of games in the App Store these days does get quite annoying, but hey, Gamevil usually does a great job in their presentation.

Gameplay: This has the “it” factor, especially for me, as I haven’t been hooked on a game since beating Puzzle Quest 2.  This game just has that fun factor—maybe caused by the “easy to jump into” factor, I don’t know—and I’ve been playing this for over an hour at a time.  The story mode and survival mode are equally enjoyable, and I don’t see this getting boring anytime soon.

GameCenter: 40 GameCenter achievements is nothing to scoff at, especially when earning most of these achievements is not too difficult.  It adds a lot of replay value to an already replay-heavy game, and for those that love collecting achievements, Air Penguin is a great game to look into.


Collecting fish: I guess the whole point of the game is to figure out ways to try and collect the fish, and I totally understand why they made it the way they did.  But still, collecting all the fish within any given level—yes, even the beginning levels—is a bit more difficult than I would like.  It should be easy, especially for beginners such as myself.  While this is by far not a huge deal at all, it’s always comfortable to collect all the fish instead of only two or three.

Controls: The controls feel a little off, with the tilt controls a bit too sensitive.  Some customizable interface would be nice, although the current setting shouldn’t bother too much. The high tilt sensitivity is noticeable, but nothing to get up in arms about.

Air Penguin is a fantastic casual game and one that will not disappoint.  As seen by it’s success, it’s quite literally the next Angry Birds.  It has gotten me hooked and playing for hours at a time—a feat that not many games can boast of—and quite honestly, I think this game is the best “bird” game out of the Big Three.

Update: Seems like Air Penguin does in fact have a customizable sensitivity option.  While accessing the sensitivity controls isn’t exactly convenient, it gets the job done.  I’ve updated the review accordingly, and of course, the review score has remained the same.

Air Penguin was developed by Gamevil, and I played through version 1.0 on my iPhone 4.  The price is $0.99.

Kami Retro Review: Puzzle-Platforming Perfection?

Kami Retro, by Gamevil and Paw Print Games, is a psychedelic-looking little game which combines aspects of platforming games like Mario and ‘find the exit’ games like Lemmings (this description of the game has been done to death, but it really is the best way to describe it). The result is an original, addictive puzzle/platformer which is high on fun but not without its hair-pullingly difficult moments.

Like many of the most financially successful titles for iOS to date, Kami Retro is one part “pick up and play,” mixed with one part “wait, just one more time.” The goal is to guide your hero to the exit of each stage, using various placeable stage elements, such as trampolines, bounce pads, giant fans, cannons, and the like. Each level essentially has two parts: you must first solve the puzzle by positioning the provided set-pieces in such a way that you can have your hero navigate the stage and reach the exit. Next, you must guide your avatar through the stage, performing increasingly precise jumps and turn-arounds in order to avoid the many environmental perils which stand between you and victory. Your avatar will automatically move forward on his own, so the player’s task is to make him jump or turn around at the appropriate moment. To make matters more difficult, each stage provides the player with four little dudes to guide to the exit, who spawn from the entrance point at regular intervals. This interval of time remains constant, even as the levels become increasingly complex and demand more and more precision, so by the later stages you can expect to be frantically flicking and tapping the screen as you try to guide as many of your heroes as possible towards the exit. In order to pass a stage, you must only reach the exit once, but in order to achieve the highest possible score (earning stars which go towards unlocking subsequent sets of levels), you must guide all four avatars to safety.

I feel like I should put it out there: I’m no wiz-kid at puzzle games, and I tend to get frustrated with them fairly easily, especially ones that have linear solutions. I can get down on something like Tetris or Bust-a-Move, where play skill boils down to a factor of reflexes, simple geometric reasoning, and endurance. That’s because in those games, there is no “getting stuck”– you just hold on for as long as you can, until you inevitably succumb to the unbeatable odds. But I can get pretty discouraged in games like Kami Retro and its ilk when I reach a level I’m unable to get past, because I don’t like the feeling of bottlenecking too much before I’ve beaten a game… And although Kami Retro provided me with a few frustrating moments, I found it to be very enjoyable altogether. The level of challenge is pretty intense (especially if you want to get a three star rating on each level, an achievement which I honestly think I’m never going to even attempt), but the game does a good job of holding your hand at just the right points, so you never feel truly lost.

All in all, despite not being exactly my usual cup of tea, this game did a good job of winning me over. There were moments when I got so frustrated I had to take a nice long break from the game, but usually the level I was stuck on would seem much more beatable when I came back to it. Although in the end I have a few quibbles, I really enjoyed the way in which Kami Retro combines geometric puzzle-solving gameplay with old-school side-scroller platform hopping action.


Wacky Aesthetics- Kami Retro looks like an acid-trip-homage to 8-bit gaming, with just enough of a modern flair to keep it from being boring or overly familiar. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of ‘cute’ games, but Kami Retro nails this look right on the head, with bright vibrant colors, goofy pixel art, and maybe just a few visual references to the world of gaming’s favorite Italian-American plumber.

Unique Blend of Gameplay- I really enjoyed the way that Kami Retro combines puzzle-solving gameplay with good old Mario-esque platform hopping. Each level must essentially be solved and then played through, and your jumping skills are equally important as your puzzle solving chops, in your quest to collect the bonus stars and reach the exit with as many of your four men as possible. Also, the game’s platforming element serves to somewhat relax the demand to solve each puzzle with 100% precision, since you can sometimes jump your way to victory despite not having built a very good structure for your character to bounce his way along. There were a few levels where I wasn’t able to find the “correct” solution, but I was still able to ham-fistedly navigate one man to the exit door and move on to the next stage thanks to my platforming pedigree.


Cramped Controls- Although the game’s swipe-based controls are adequate to the task, they become somewhat burdensome on the later levels. Sometimes you will tap a springboard or a fan when you’re trying to get your guy to jump or turn around, which nearly always leads to death (and potentially having to reset the object you may have moved). When you’re tasked with trying to control two dudes at once (as is often the case in some of the later stages of the game), it becomes especially hard to maintain the level of precision necessary to make all your jumps. To some degree, this is the point. The developers were obviously trying to make a challenging game, and in this they succeeded. And overall, it’s still very fun. But sometimes I felt that between the frantic pace of the later levels and the high level of precision demanded in some stages, I was claustrophobically and frantically swiping around the screen without being able to get much control over the characters.

Questionable Replay Value- Whether or not you will want to replay this game honestly depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you love going back and continually trying to perform the same task more and more precisely, you will probably find yourself compelled to try for a perfect three star rating on each stage. Personally, I was just happy to beat them all. While for the most part, I had a lot of fun with the game, in no way do I feel compelled to go back to some of the hardest stages and try to ace them. I was happy to get one guy to the exit door on some of these levels; I can’t really fathom the level of perfectionism it would take me to get all four guys to the exit and collect all the bonus stars. On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of thing some people go in for, and you probably know who you are.

In short, Kami Retro deserves the critical praise it’s been getting. It blends some quite familiar styles of gameplay into a distinctive little treat of a game, that’s great for short sessions. The amount of time you spend with this title might ultimately depend on the level of perfectionism you apply to your gaming, but it’s appealing enough to get the nod of recommendation to anyone with a fondness for puzzles, platformers, or just plain old 8-bit nostalgia.

Kami Retro was developed by Gamevil, and I played through version 1.1 on my iPod touch 2G.  The price is $0.99.