Tag Archives: Plus+

Highborn Review: Standard gameplay, but then hilarity (and good writing) ensues.

Highborn is a strong game. Its mechanics are smooth, and the gameplay is well thought out and easy to learn. In fact, you’ll probably think it’s pretty similar to lots of other games of its genre. It reminds me of Advance Wars on the DS and Mechowars on iPhone/iPod Touch. The list could go on and on. There are a huge number of games just like Highborn.

But not really.

This is a funny game in a few ways, but mostly because it is in fact funny. It’s really funny. I mean, I have literally laughed out loud while playing this game.

At this point I suppose I depart from reviewing Highborn for a moment, but this is pertinent. One thing I’ve found lacking in many, if not most games on iOS devices, is good writing. I’ve seen some of the most shoddy, halfhearted, attempts at giving a game a story/backstory since days prior to the NES. In many cases, I’d rather they had not tried, and just tossed me into it as if I was playing some version of bricks.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’m sure it’s not because it’s too expensive to get a writer. As a writer, I can promise you, it’s not too expensive to get a writer. I am no stranger to writing cheap, and by cheap…I mean free.

No, it’s not a lack of hungry writers willing to sell their soul for a chance to ply their trade in a meaningful way. I actually think it’s because the app store is literally dominated by projects where the driving creative influence is from the programmers. And please, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a slam to the one-man/girl shops. In fact, I see some of the strongest writing out there on the app store coming from one-man/girl shops and some of the worst coming from the likes of EA, who seems to still care about iOS game development about as much as McDonald’s cares about making actual food.

Too many games on the app store still seem like tech demos with individual programmers or companies saying ‘look what I can do on the iPhone! Now, maybe I can get rich from this!’ There simply aren’t enough people (EA included) choosing iOS as a platform and then making something truly excellent for it by adding all the other touches; all the things that give a game true life and make us want to exist in that mental space instead of veg’ing or sleeping on the bus.

This is changing. Just look at the games we’ve reviewed lately and you can see that iOS is the future of gaming. The potential is there and ready to be embraced, but to do so, it takes a lot more than programming.

So, programmers and developers, get out there! Find yourself a writer. We want to work for you and I promise you, we all suck at haggling.

…which brings me back to Highborn…no really, it does.

As I said, the gameplay is excellent, but familiar and none too remarkable. Graphically, it’s a joy. Everything about the look of Highborn is beautifully simple, that simplicity being used to sculpt a unique and comical look for the game. I just love looking at it.

The writing is really clever and funny, with a myriad of pop culture references and jokes about other games. Perhaps the funniest thing is that the game world is self-aware. This breaking of the fourth wall provides such humor and cleverness that you forget that you have to do a lot of reading in this game. It’s totally worth it. Unlike most games you really feel like these pieces you move around the world are little people you know, with 3D personalities that bring comedy much like the joyful hilarity in the those games about the plumber with the mustache. Highborn could not be a better example of why games need good writing.

So in a nutshell…

Likes

Graphics: This game is beautiful and proves, once again, that gameplay and artistic design will win out every time over flash & pop noisy things that wow you instantly and are forgotten ten minutes later.

Writing: I love the voice this game has, and I love that I can point to this as a game with a voice. Smashing job!

Multiplayer: Excellent use of the Plus+ network for matchmaking and conducting your multiplayer games with your friends. It’s really a lot of fun, bogged down only by the fact that I don’t like Plus+ very much. If you do, it’ll be PERFECT.

Dislikes

Multiplayer: I’d really like them to use Game Center. I really hate having to have two, three, and four accounts for connected gaming on the iPhone. Apple’s put Game Center out there; reward them for it, USE IT.

Highborn is a really strong game and I highly recommend you give it a shot, even if your not a fan of turn based strategy games, or you’re tired of them. This is fresh, new, and seriously…how expensive is it really?

Highborn is developed by Jet Set Games and is available on the app store for $1.99. This review is based on version 1.1.2 and was played on my iPhone 4.  There is also a lite version available for free.


‘Strike Knight’ Released by Backflip Studios

The makers of Harbor Havoc 3D and the enormously popular Paper Toss have released their newest bowling game Strike Knight, a game that uses the freemium payment model made popular my ngmoco:) and others.  But this freemium model isn’t so bad, as the only in-app purchase so far is to remove ads.

That type of model would be somewhat familiar to Paper Toss, which was available for free along with an ad-free version that was available for $0.99.  For those that aren’t bothered too much by ads, the free version should sit quite close at home.

Strike Knight has been implemented with the Plus+ social network along with puck bowling physics, some sweet voiceovers, and a pass-and-play mode for up to 4 players.  For free, it’s hard not to try it out.

Flick Baseball Pro Review: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

After much anticipation and speculation, Flick Baseball Pro by Freeverse finally hit the App Store. An entry into their ever expanding Flick Sports library, Flick Baseball Pro is the perfect pick up and play baseball game for the iPod Touch and iPhone. Aimed at the more casual and mobile player, this game feels much more like an arcade game than an in-depth sports sim game. For those that enjoy sports games for the mere enjoyment of them, this is the baseball game to own.

The game takes a cue from Com2UsHomerun Battle 3D for its control scheme in both batting and pitching. Tilt the device to move your hot zone to line up with the pitch for success in batting. Line up the target into the strike zone for the perfect pitch.

But taking Homerun Battle 3D one step further, in Flick Baseball Pro you also run the bases and field the ball. If you are daring you can stretch a single into a double, or make a throw to get a runner. All of these actions are accomplished with a simple tap of the screen.

And if by chance you don’t enjoy one aspect of the game – fielding or batting – you have the option to skip that portion and it will be simulated for you. There seems to be an underlying player statistics that will control the outcome for you. In the few times I tested it, it seemed pretty accurate, meaning the AI didn’t kill my pitcher when I simulated a pitching half inning, nor did I just get three strike outs during my batting half inning.

Likes:

Controls: The controls could not be more simple. Tilt to position your “bat” while tracking the pitch, tap to swing at the appropriate time. Tilt to position your choice of pitch, tap to throw. When a runner gets involved in the action, a small diamond appears with each base activated by touch. This is easy to control either stealing an extra base or throwing to a base after fielding. Otherwise everything is pretty automatic. But the most important aspects of the game are controlled by the player. It is nice that this is not cluttered by having to field ordinary ground balls and the like.

An interesting addition is what I call the “Fly Ball Mini Game.” If your opponent hits a fly ball four moving gloves appear on the screen, you must tap the screen when they overlap to successfully catch the fly ball.

Game length options: The ability to choose between a 3 or a 9 inning game is perfect for any situation. This allows the player to squeeze in a game of baseball for any amount of free time available.

Season option: Want to bring home the trophy? Compete in a full season that includes playoffs. Still want to bring home the trophy but don’t have the time and or patience to play through the choice of 11, 33, 66 or the full 165 game season, no worries. Flick Baseball Pro has the option to simulate from 1 to 20 games at a time using the same formula as skipping a half inning.

Teams: The game comes with 34 teams, not surprising many are from actual baseball cities, but some international teams are included as well. The ability to customize a team is possible and you can build a team from the ground up with your own special abilities, choice of a name and uniform. Play a few seasons with them and before you know it you will have your very own dynasty.

Realism: Its always the small touches that make or break a game, and this particular aspect I really like. It lends a strategy to being in the field. As the game progresses and your pitcher throws more pitches his stamina decreases. Just as in real life, his strike zone is harder to hit. The tilt to aim mechanism will become harder to control and soon, as a manager, you will need to decide when to make a pitching change. Of course that is as simple as a few taps of the screen, but nonetheless this brings a sense of realism and strategy to the game that is welcome in a casual arcade sports game.

Plus Social Network: With the addition of the Plus network, leaderboards and unlockable achievements are available.

Dislikes:

Home vs Away Team: I seem to always be the away team in an exhibition single game. I am not sure if it is randomized and I happen to always be the away team or if it is set up that way. I don’t know why this really bothers me other than the home team has an advantage in having last at bat if they are behind in the score.

An additional title has also been released by Freeverse’s sister company Small Planet named Chevy Baseball.  It is a free lite version that keeps intact the core elements of gameplay but lacks the season mode and team customization. There are also only two unique teams to choose from in this version, aptly named the Camaros and the Silverados.

Sports games can run from extremely in depth as you would find on a console, to bare bones as you would find on a handheld. Flick Baseball Pro finds a suitable middle ground. It is not too complicated for a portable device, yet is not too simple either. If you like in depth 3D sports simulation games, this might not be the baseball title you are looking for. Flick Baseball Pro by Freeverse is the perfect pick up and play sports game that focuses on the fun aspects of the game without being too technical.

Flick Baseball Pro Version 1.0 by Freeverse was reviewed on an iPod Touch with OS 3.x. It is currently available at launch price of $2.99 in the app store.


My Take on ngmoco’s ‘We Rule’

A disclaimer that you should read before reading this: I refuse to be sucked into the world of Farmville; therefore, I have never played the game, I hear, has strapped down almost the entire population of Facebook.  So with that said, let’s move on to We Rule.

Ngmoco recently released We Rule for the iPhone and iPod Touch, a game similar to Tap Farm and other farm tycoon games made popular by Zynga’s Farmville on Facebook.  While it didn’t receive as much hype as Eliminate, an online first-person shooter, it was said to be the first freemium game from ngmoco to use the DLC model correctly (along with God Finger, not available in the US yet).

So I thought to myself, “Ehh, I’ll give this a shot.”  So I opened the App Store on my iPhone, installed the application, and launched a Farmville-esque game for the first time in my entire life.  And with that said, I was disappointed with the game and had fun with the game at the same time.

Here’s what had me frustrated: the online connection problems.  This thing is unable to connect to the server 1 out of every 2 times I fire up the game (50% for you percentage-oriented people), and of course like anyone, I got frustrated.  WiFi or 3G, doesn’t matter, it doesn’t connect to the server very well.  I was a bit enlightened though when they gave me 10 free mojo (things that make your plants grow instantly), saying sorry for all the server problems.  But still, the problem persists.

So moving on from server issues, I noticed that placing houses and objects was quite difficult for me, and the imaginary castle guards inside my kingdom castle seemed to scream, “WE NEED A GRID!!!”  And when I mean scream, I mean turned up the volume to 11.  Placing objects is so tricky, especially when you’re trying to place your petunias so precisely right next to each other, and it does start to get frustrating once the objects start refusing to go to the places you want it to go.

But still I was merciful with these problems and persevered and played through this horrendous mess, ultimately finding a bit of gold among the muck.  The freemium model works here, and the mojo isn’t necessary for your survival.  Here’s why:

  1. You receive 5 mojo for every time you level up.
  2. Free mojo from downloading apps and such.
  3. Plants will grow on their own, it just takes some time.

If you still don’t get it, here’s a simpler explanation: mojo is extra.  Buying mojo is totally extra, and even if you buy it, it doesn’t exactly help so much that you become the most powerful person in the We Rule world.  I thought ngmoco did a good job of finally stabilizing a once shaky DLC model, and freemium may actually be a good thing for the App Store and the iPhone gaming market.

So with all that said and done, what are my final thoughts on We Rule?  It’s a game that has potential.  I liked it, I’m still playing it to this day, and I’m used to being patient with the server.  I haven’t paid one penny for any mojo within the game, and I’m still prospering (somewhat) within my little group of friends.

I think that once ngmoco fixes ALL of the server issues and slight bugs within We Rule, it could become for the iPhone as Farmville was for Facebook.  It’s definitely got potential; execution just needs a bit of work.  I think ngmoco is starting to redeem itself in my eyes, and We Rule is just ngmoco’s first step to proving itself as a good, iPhone game developing company.

We Rule is totally free, and there’s also a version available for the iPad (that’s free too).

American McGee’s Crooked House Review: Challenging puzzles in twisted rooms

American McGee has a strong background in game development. He is perhaps best known for 2000’s American McGee’s Alice, his dark twist on Lewis Carroll’s classic stories Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. Following her adventures in Wonderland, Alice’s house burnt down, killing her family. Distraught, she attempted but failed to commit suicide, was rendered catatonic and institutionalized in an insane asylum for ten years before being summoned back to Wonderland by the White Rabbit. Wonderland, being a creation of Alice’s mind, has in the meantime become a macabre and twisted version of itself, tainted by Alice’s insanity. Creepy? Oh, yes. But not surprising, considering McGee’s background working on games in the Doom and Quake series. And in 2008, McGee’s Grimm began its episodic run, casting players as a dwarf so sickened by saccharine sweet fairy tales, than he endeavors to return the stories to their darker, original versions.

Through his China-based development studio Spicy Pony, McGee now continues his penchant for twisted tales on the iPhone with American McGee’s Crooked House, a game based on the nursery rhyme There was a Crooked Man.

There was a crooked man,
He went a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence beside a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat,
Which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together —
in a little crooked house.
But finally,
It was the crooked mouse,
First lost his crooked smile,
Weary of the crooked nonsense beside the crooked stile;
He shred the crooked cat,
He fled the crooked man,
And he might live forever —
If you help him in his plan.

In the game, the mouse’s plan is simple: Escape the crooked house. But as you might expect, this is easier said than done. Standing between the mouse and his freedom are an increasingly mischievous series of crooked puzzles.

Puzzling involves sliding blocks in order to make a path for your mouse to the exit of each level. This is accomplished using either tilt or swipe controls. All blocks move in the same direction, and so the difficulty comes in manipulating the blocks in such a way that they all fall into proper place. Environmental obstacles both help and hinder your progress. Throwing blocks into grinders destroys them, and striking your mouse with a block ends him in bloodiness. Each stage also has a time limit for completion; if not met, your mouse will be eviscerated by the house’s crooked cat.

It’s really no wonder the mouse is so keen on leaving the house, given the amount of death involved in residence. But we’ve not even begun to discuss the decor. Insects and eyeballs, fetuses and skulls, shrunken heads, jack’o’lanterns and other elements of the macabre adorn the halls, walls and rooms of the crooked house. That whole seriously twisted, demented fairy tale motif that American McGee has become known for is in full effect for Crooked House. So yeah, despite the game’s nursery rhyme roots, this is not a puzzler for the little kiddies.

Likes:

Dementia: If you’re at all familiar with the previous works of American McGee, you should already know whether or not Crooked House will appeal to you on an aesthetic level. While some people may be put off by the fetuses shoved into the walls, others will revel in the macabre, grotesqueness of the game. If this is your first encounter with the works of McGee, then you’re either in for a treat, or a rude awakening. If you dig Tim Burton’s general aesthetic, you’ll probably dig this too. Artistically, the game is twisted, gory and kind of freaky; I like it a lot.

Puzzling: Gore and shrunken heads aside, Crooked House offers up some good, logic-based puzzling. Some stages can be finished with ease, while others are insidiously tricky. And just when you’ve gotten comfortable, the game throws you curve balls, like reverse-sliding blocks that move opposite the direction you’d expect. Crooked House is more than just fetuses and good-looks; there’s enough substance to the game to please even the most discriminating of puzzle gamers.

Progression: Stages are unlocked in groups of three, with the next group unlocked when you’ve completed two of the previous groups three stages. This is a brilliant mechanic in that it allows you to progress, even if you get hung up on a particular level. You’ll never hit a wall playing Crooked House; you’ll never reach an insurmountable level that blocks access to the rest of the game. At certain points, you will also unlock new levels in other areas of the house; if you get stuck in or sick of the bookshelves, you can move on to the lab’s stages. The game also has a hint system accessible via the pause screen, to further prevent your getting stuck. No matter how difficult or unfair you think any particular level may be in Crooked House, you will never hit a point where the game prevents your moving forward.

All-in-all, it’s a very clever system that rewards players for successful puzzling, while keeping the game open and accessible to those who might struggle more than others. As someone who has completely given up on more linear “puzzle games” when they became just un-friggin’-fair — usually when stage completion depends more upon blind luck and chance, than on logic or puzzle solving (Angry Birds, I’m looking at you) — I really appreciate this kind of design.

Dislikes:

To be honest, there’s not much to dislike about American McGee’s Crooked House, unless you just don’t like logic puzzles. It’s a solid concept in a well-designed package. While the game’s grotesque aesthetic may put off some gamers, it will be a major selling point for others; it’s just a matter of personal taste, and I think it’s great.

I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, and have for the most part only seen American McGee’s work from a distance. I went hands-on with Alice once and enjoyed it, but as there was never a Mac version and the PS2 version was canceled, unfortunately was never able to dig into the game. I’m overjoyed then to see McGee branching out from the PC and into app store gaming, and hope to see more iPhone titles from the creative and twisted mind behind Alice and Grimm. While Crooked House is of much simpler concept and a less expansive game than its predecessors, it shares many thematic elements with McGee’s previous works and leaves me hopeful to see where the developer takes the platform next.

American McGee’s Crooked House may not be for everyone. But for those who can accept the perverse art-direction, it offers sound puzzling and a good challenge, and also supports the Plus+ social gaming platform. The game does a wonderful job of rewarding progress without sacrificing accessibility, challenges the player without resorting to cheap tactics or the whimsy of chance, and contains enough content to keep even the most avid puzzlers busy for some time to come.

American McGee’s Crooked House is developed by Spicy Pony and sells for $1.99. Reviewed on an iPhone 3G.