Tag Archives: John Kooistra

Blue Defense: Second Wave! Review: Brilliant!

When John Kooistra proposed to create a real-time strategy title for the iPhone, I wondered why he should waste his time. I thought, “If EA cannot — with all its infinite resources — create an RTS that works on the iPhone, who does this guy think he is?” And yet he went on to create Red Conquest, one of the best RTS titles on the device. When Kooistra told me he was working on an Action RPG in which the only enemies were squares, I thought, “That can’t possibly be fun. Kooistra has lost his mind.” And yet, FASTAR! is brilliantly entertaining. And when Kooistra told me he was working on a sequel to Blue Defense — his early app store classic, and a game that was already perfect — I thought, “What’s the point? How could he possibly make a game better than the original?” Having played that sequel, however, I stand corrected.

John Kooistra is a rare developer, the sort who constantly challenges and confounds my expectations for iPhone gaming and then consistently delivers upon all of his grand promises and seemingly impossible ideas. And with Blue Defense: Second Wave! he has done so again.

A bit of history: The original Blue Defense! was released mere months after the app store’s inaugural launch and became an instant classic. At that time, few independent releases could claim such polish or vision, and fewer still were so deftly executed. While most developers were struggling with the concept of a gaming device without physical buttons, attempting to shoehorn archaic control methods into a device ill-suited to joysticks, d-pads and action buttons, Kooistra embraced the iPhone’s unique input methods — the touch-screen and the accelerometer — and produced a shooter unlike any other that had come before it. Blue Defense! was an early standard-bearer for iPhone gaming, one of the first and best embodiments of the new gaming ideologies the device would come to represent. A few months later, the 2.0 update made it all even better. Blue Defense! was — and after nearly two years still is — perfect. In truth, few of the app store’s early games have weathered so well.

And now fast-forward to present day: Enter Blue Defense: Second Wave, the more perfect sequel to a game that was already perfect to begin with. Despite there having been nothing broken or wrong with the first game, Second Wave takes all of its predecessor’s successes and improves upon them anyway.

The basic premise remains the same. The blue planet and its six-billion-plus inhabitants are under genocidal attack by alien invaders. It is your job to defend the planet against overwhelming odds by tilting your device to aim the planet’s orbital defense turret. The turret fires a continuous stream of projectiles straight up, “up” being relative to the position of your device. In the first game, that was all you could do and it was enough. For Second Wave, however, the blue planet has re-upped its defenses.

As in Blue Defense, the game perspective shifts and zooms to reveal incoming waves of invaders from all sides of your planet, and players must still juggle their devices to aim the turret at targets. In addition to your primary defense turret, however, Second Wave introduces multi-touch turrets allowing you to split your bullet stream to deploy up to ten additional turrets to target multiple invaders. The catch is that the turrets all draw from the same shared pool of energy. While a single stream fires at devastating full strength, the power of each stream is divided by the total number of turrets deployed. Therefore, two turrets will fire at half power; ten turrets will fire at one-tenth the strength of a single, consolidated bullet stream. In defending the blue planet on all sides, players must constantly be wary of spreading themselves too thin. Additional turrets may be deployed simply by dragging fingers around the screen; double-tap to lock a turret in position, and tap a locked firing reticle again to clear it.

Also new is the planetary cannon, a limited use weapon capable of ruinous attacks against the enemy. To fire the planetary cannon, touch the blue planet and drag outward in the direction you wish to fire. Players begin the game with three charges. Additional charges are awarded during the course of play, but not so frequently that players can abuse them. The planetary cannon should be used sparingly and only in times of dire need, lest the planet be left defenseless when it needs the cannon most.

Blue Defense: Second Wave also boasts more content than its predecessor; nearly four times by Kooistra’s reckoning, including 24 enemy types, 64 levels, over 200 medals to earn and four separate game modes.

Classic mode offers infinite play, always beginning with the same three levels to ease players in, then scaling in difficulty as subsequent attack waves are randomly thrown at the planet. Quick Start is another infinite play mode, but allows players to immediately jump into heavy combat by selecting their beginning wave; in this mode players can build high scores more quickly. Gauntlet mode challenges players to survive against ordered waves, and Level Select allows players to jump into individual levels to earn medals for achievements or to play their favorite waves infinitely for high scores.

Those having followed the Blue vs. Red conflict — comprising the games Blue Defense, Blue Attack and Red Conquest — will be familiar with the longstanding conflict between these races. In Second Wave, however, the forces of green also enter the fray, joining the red armada in an effort to crush the blue world. The red and green armies are distinct in their attack patterns and tactics, with red favoring all-out assault and overwhelming odds, while the green armada generally attempts to divide your attention in order to flank you, or to block your attacks while allowing attack units to slip through their defensive front-line. In other words, Red is all about brute force, while Green is all about tactics, and you — dear Blue — will be frantic trying to fend off their onslaught, constantly adjusting your defenses to deal with the ever changing threat.

As a bottom-line, Blue Defense: Second Wave is all action, all of the time. It’s a game entirely unique, without peer on the app store nor anywhere else. It’s a game genius in execution, and perfectly suited to the device on which it resides. And with so much aping occurring on the app store, it’s something of an anomaly in that it is the perfect iPhone shooter, and yet has produced no notable copycat titles; if you’re not playing Blue Defense, then you’re not playing anything even remotely similar.

As a sequel, Blue Defense: Second Wave captures everything that was great about the first game, refines it, builds upon it, ups the ante manifold. As good a game as was the first, it will be hard to go back after playing Second Wave. And as for the competition, there’s nothing out there worth a glance. If you own an iPhone, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.

Blue Defense: Second Wave! is now available in the US iTunes store for $0.99.

Blue Defense: Second Wave! is developed by John Kooistra and Cat In A Box Games. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.

Fastar! Review: It’s Hip to be Square

When most gamers think of Action RPGs, they think of legendary tales, epic quests, expansive environments, deep dungeons, dark caverns, towering mountains, mystic forests, colorful characters and wild creatures, mythic beasts and maniacal villains, fantastic weapons and powerful magics … Fastar! — Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG! — has none of this. The game is an Action RPG in the sense that an action figure accessory is a legitimate firearm; it mimics the true form of the thing, but with little or no intention of living up to its inspiration.

So, let’s get a few things straight. Fastar, the latest title from John Kooistra and Cat-in-a-Box Games, is not an RPG, but an Action game that borrows some very light RPG conventions and wears them as regalia more than uniform. If you’ve come to the game expecting The Secret of Mana, then you’d best hold out a few more months until Square Enix delivers that classic to the app store. But if you’re of more flexible expectations, you will likely find Fastar to provide an entertaining, possibly addicting experience.

For most of Fastar, you will be running left-to-right battling squares of various colors and sizes. At times, you may find yourself running from right-to-left, but only if you’re running away, and that’s no good because your goal in Fastar is to complete the game as quickly as possible. Faster is not only an acronym for the full title of the game — Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG! — but also a play on the word “faster”, which is exactly what you’ll need to be if you want to stand a chance of topping Fastar’s global leader boards.

In order to expedite your journey, you have a gigantic sword with which to swat the many squares blocking your progress. You may swing the sword rapidly by tapping the screen in madcap fashion, or may lunge for extra damage. In each of the game’s several modes you can also select a single magical spell to carry into combat, except the Battlemage mode which allows you to carry two. Spells offer various benefits, allowing you to inflict damage directly upon the villainous squares, increase your running speed, teleport to the last visited village, heal yourself and more.

Defeating squares causes them to explode in a shower of loot, with larger squares yielding greater treasure. As you traverse the realms, you will pass through villages where accumulated wealth may be spent to restore your health, or to increase your attack or defense power. If you look carefully, the village inhabitants can be seen occupying themselves in a variety of ways in the background. It’s cute.

Beyond the safety of the silly-named villages, however, SQUARES! terrorize the surrounding countryside, flattening travelers and taking their pocket change, ruining the inter-village economy. These squares must be stopped! But lest you think all squares are the same, be warned that squares’ colors are indicative of their behavior. Green squares are timid and will avoid confrontation, grey squares are sedentary but powerful, and black squares are extremely aggressive. Know thy squares to better thine chances of survival. In the more difficult game modes, the squares may also cast the same magical spells available to your character; magical squares are quite nasty indeed.

Likes

Casual Gameplay: Fastar is easy to pick up, but hard to put down. The game is an excellent choice for short bursts of action, as well as longer, more difficult sessions when you have the time. Depending upon your choice of game mode, a single game can range from five to thirty minutes in length. Quitting mid-game will save your exact progress, making it simple to resume interrupted games later on.

Tight Controls: Fastar offers several control options, and the controls are very responsive. The action is fast, and playing the game just feels right.

Custom Appearance: Hair, skin, jacket, shirt and pants may be colored according to your whim, allowing you to customize your character’s appearance. Your character design will appear with your score on the leader boards!

Variety of Game Modes: Though each mode amounts to roughly the same, Fastar mixes things up enough to keep the game interesting. The game’s normal modes — Easy, Normal and Hard — offer standard runs at varying difficulty. Specialty modes such as Profit, Battlemage, No Excuses and Showdown enact specific rules, goals or limitations on gameplay. Challenge modes like Goliath, Sudden Death, Marathon and Arena impose extreme conditions upon you to test your skills. And the twelve color modes allow you to battle a series of like-colored squares, allowing you to practice against each enemy type and to master their traits.

Humor: Fastar is a game of strange and subtle humor. Battling nothing but squares is giggle-worthy on its own, but combine that with villages’ stupid names, their inhabitants’ ridiculous activities, the childishly misspelled spell names, and other similar touches and you’ll find plenty to laugh about. None of the humor reaches out an slaps you — some oblivious players may even miss the fact that the game is incredibly funny — but silliness abounds in the world of Fastar, and most should enjoy the title’s light-heartedness.

Dislikes

Shallow: Run to the right, kill squares, improve stats, run to the right, kill squares, improve stats, run to the right, kill squares, win. The game modes do help to alleviate the repetition, but there’s really not much to Fastar. The game’s shallow depth is entirely intentional. Still, gamers expecting another Kooistra classic may be somewhat taken aback by his latest effort, which bears little resemblance to his incredible previous efforts: Blue Defense, Blue Attack and Red Conquest.

Fastar! is not what most would expect of an Action RPG, nor is it what most would expect from Kooistra having played his previous app store releases — admittedly, the game left me scratching my head at first and it took me several plays to warm to it. Set aside such expectations, however, and Fastar reveals itself to be an excellent casual action game, well worth the paltry price of admission.

Fastar! – Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG is a game by John Kooistra and Cat-in-a-Box Games. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G. App Store Link: $0.99.

Fastar Details Unleashed

We yesterday revealed news of new projects by John Kooistra and Cat-in-a-Box Games. Today, Kooistra has released game footage and screenshots of the upcoming Action RPG Fastar — Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG!

The game is described as a pick-up-and-play Action RPG for when you really haven’t got the time for an Action RPG, and promises 24 game modes, global high scores lists, flashy magical spells, a variety of control schemes, and a guy on a unicycle. What? We’re not sure what that last one is about …

In the game, you — a guy with a sword and a bow tie — rush through an intentionally vague fantasy world battling villainous squares. Upon their demise, said squares erupt in a shower of coins with which you can upgrade your character. While it sounds bizarre, Kooistra has a great track record on the app store, and so I, for one, am very much looking forward to the title. Check out the trailer below to see violence perpetrated against squares. Faster! is set for release on July 30, and we’ll be reviewing the game as soon as we can get our hands on it.

Exclusive: Kooistra developing Blue Defense sequel, Red Conquest episode 3, and a new Action RPG

In an exclusive email exchange with NoDpad.com, John Kooistra — developer behind hit titles Blue Defense, Blue Attack and Red Conquest — let slip details on several upcoming projects from his development group Cat In A Box Games.

First up, Kooistra is just about ready to make a publicity push for a new title, Fastar! He describes Fastar! as “a quirky action RPG that requires you to slay your way through reams of coloured squares.” The title, Fastar, is an acronym for Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG! The game is due to be released “soon”, and Kooistra promises screens and video even sooner.

The second bit of news is that before releasing Red Conquest Episode 3, the team first plans to release a sequel to the acclaimed Blue Defense! As one of the app store’s better early releases, the game won me over instantly and has enjoyed a permanent place on my iPhone since. According to Kooistra, the release schedule remains undetermined. “It’s not done,” he says, “but development is pretty far along and it’s a substantial improvement in many respects on top of the rock-solid foundation of the original Blue Defense,” which he admits looks “pretty old” at this point.

Kooistra says even he has a hard time keeping his hands off of the development builds, and so good things seem to be afoot at Cat In A Box Games. As fans of Kooistra’s prior work, we’ll definitely do our utmost to keep up with new details on these titles as they emerge.

The original Blue Defense! Sequel coming soon.

Blue Defense! Review: This early gem hasn’t lost its sparkle

One of the iPhone’s earliest gems is still one of my personal favorites. John Kooistra’s Blue Defense! was first released to the App Store in November 2008. More than a year later and having received two sequels, the game that started it all still refuses to show its age.

In Blue Defense!, you are the planetary defense cannon tasked with defending your blue world against an endless onslaught of red attackers. The odds are against you from the start; your attackers come in droves from all sides, while you can only fire straight up. Luckily, “up” is relative. By rotating your device — often frantically — you can change “up”, effectively aiming your cannon in any direction you please. It’s a mechanic that works extremely well for the game, making brilliant use of the iPhone’s accelerometer as a primary gameplay mechanism and providing a gaming experience not dissimilar to playing a game on Nintendo’s Wii.

Also unique is the way in which the game progresses. You will begin the game with your device held in the standard vertical orientation, defending only a narrow swath of your planet’s surface. Following the first wave of attackers, the perspective zooms out, and you find yourself defending a wider area of your world. The perspective continues to pull out as you eliminate the enemy waves, and eventually changes altogether. You’ll soon flip your phone on its head to defend against attacking waves coming in from behind you, and then in a horizontal orientation to defend your sides, and eventually from all directions at once, forcing you to defend the full 360-degrees of your planetary surface.

As the swarm increases in numbers, resilience and firepower, you will find your device performing somersaults in your hands as you frantically attempt to defend the 6,000,000,000+ residents of your world from genocidal annihilation.

Likes:

Action: Blue Defense! plays like an arcade classic, the sort of game to which you might have lost a fortune in quarters back in the 1980s. It’s fast-paced, totally addictive, and offers one of the most frenetic gaming experiences on the iPhone. Of course, we’re lucky the game never hit the arcades. Just think of all the back injuries that would have ensued from having to juggle an arcade cabinet like a hot potato!

Variety: Blue Defense! includes a ton of levels, progressing in difficulty as you play but presented in a somewhat randomized fashion, ensuring that the game never plays the same twice. You’ll never quite know what wave you’ll be facing next, what enemies will comprise it or from what direction the assault will come.

Fluidity: No load times, no breaks, no hitches or hangups of any kind. Blue Defense! is nonstop action. New waves come quickly on the heels of their obliterated predecessors, and perspective shifts occur immediately to deal with incoming threats. The key to survival is most often the ability to quickly identify and deal with immediate threats, while merely managing incoming ships and projectiles from other directions until you’re better able to devote your full attention to blowing them out of your space.

Visuals: Simple neon shapes in empty space have never looked so good as they do in John Kooistra’s games. Blue Defense! is the very definition of visual simplicity, and yet manages to pop with visual style and flare. You’ll never find a more visually appealing game using only two colors.

Dislikes:

Handle with Care: Maintain a firm grasp on your device at all times. Do not play over puddles, pools or in the bathtub, nor over hard surfaces, chasms or lava pits. With your survival essentially dependent upon your own dexterity with your hands, playing Blue Defense! may put you into a situation in which you could easily drop your iPhone or iPod. I’ve never dropped my phone while playing, but I could totally see it happening. Just mind your hands while defending the world from destruction.

Blue Defense! is a game that distills the classic arcade experience to its most essential form, then places it in the palm of your hand. Though now more than a year old, I still haven’t played a single iPhone game that makes such demands upon my manual dexterity, nor that gives me the same adrenaline rush as a session of Blue Defense! Perfect for quick-play sessions, and great fun for longer periods of play, Blue Defense! is a game that no iPhone should be without.

But wait! There’s more! Blue Defense! 2.0 includes a level select mode that allows you to take on individual stages in one-off sessions to complete medal challenges. There’s also a Quick Start mode that allows you to choose your starting wave, from 1 to 100, in case you’d like to jump straight into heavier onslaughts.

For such a simple concept, Blue Defense! is a lot of game and well-worth the $0.99 price of admission. Since releasing Blue Defense!, developer John Kooistra has also released the sequels Blue Attack!, in which you take the fight back to the red home planet, and Red Conquest!, an innovative RTS game taking place in open space battlefields. Both games are worthy of their own reviews — surely to come in good time — and expand upon the glowing universe in which Blue and Red are constantly engaged in mortal struggle.

If some you’ve somehow overlooked Blue Defense!, or if you’re a new iPhone or iPod owner having not yet discovered this gem from the App Store’s past, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

musthave

Blue Defense! is developed by John Kooistra, and costs $0.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G.

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