Social distance with Speed Dating for Ghosts

Speed Dating for Ghosts is a dating sim and visual novel in which you’re, as you might guess, a ghost.

I like Spooky Peter because of his name! Unlike most dating sims I’ve played in the past, Speed Dating for Ghosts doesn’t involve a long campaign in which you choose a single partner over the course of the game. In this game, you’ll end up on a date after a few minutes of playing. Afterwards, you can return to the speed dating location and choose to go on another date.

Speed Dating for Ghosts is definitely a little out there compared to similar games. It’s less about romance and more about companionship, loneliness, and self-discovery.

Plus in the DLC, you meet a dog! Oh, and you also meet a demon and the ghost of a vampire. Speed Dating for Ghosts was funny but frank about death, and I really enjoyed it. It’s available on PC, Switch, and iOS, and it was under $10 when I bought it on Switch. It looks like it’ $5.24 right now. I recommend it!

Super Mario Maker with friends

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Super Mario Maker was released Friday. As the release date approached, I really thought I could resist. I know I just don’t care to devote as much time to playing games as I once did, but I cracked pretty quickly on Friday and bought a copy. Even if I barely play it, it’s more than just a game. It’s a celebration of 30 years of Mario and the culture surrounding those games.

Super Mario Maker

I see it primarily as a social tool, so I designed my first level with friends. Here’s Anela, gem, and Antonio working on our level. We each took turns adding to it. The joy of Nintendo is how it brings people together and creates such rich culture around their properties. I knew gem would have fun with Super Mario Maker because we played it at SDCC this year, but what about Anela and Antonio? At least Antonio plays games and owns consoles, but I wasn’t confident Anela would have fun. However, they both did. Anela went crazy adding as many mushrooms as she could to her part of the level and then insisted I get those mushrooms when I played. Antonio and gem both set up traps in attempts to trick the players. There was a lot of laughter, so I think everybody had a great time. We’ve also been playing Super Mario 3D World. Like Super Mario Maker, even those who don’t play games often have had fun with it. Sure, Anela requests that we carry her through some parts, but she has as much fun, if not more, as the rest of us! Nintendo’s amazing at making their games accessible and enjoyable to people who don’t play games often.

Here’s our masterpiece – “Super cool friends Petanegemio.” It’s a majestic level! Okay, maybe not majestic, but I’ve played it a couple times, and I have fun when I do. Better than just enjoying some random Mario level, this one reminds me of my friends – Anela’s mushroom block maze, gem’s Money Zone of coins and trap (in which I totally fall in that video), and Antonio’s journey into the sky and trap (that I managed to avoid). It’s a masterpiece, at least to me.

“Mario Myths with Mr Miyamoto” helped push me into purchasing it. It’s such a simple video, but it helps accentuate the beauty of Nintendo and their games. It made me tear up just a little, especially the idea that it’s been 30 years since Super Mario Bros. Oh, and that hard hat Mario wears for Super Mario Maker. It’s so cute and representative of the game that’s a perfectly designed icon.

Super Mario Maker (and Super Mario 3D World and so many other Nintendo properties) are really works of art, beautifully created to bring people together accompanied by a soundtrack of their own laughter.

Thank you for the fun times Nintendo, Miyamoto, and all my friends who have played Mario with me!

Immerse Virtual Reality Headset

Note: This review was originally posted at Game Boyz.

Flying over Stormwind on Azeroth, piloting a Jaeger, running with dinosaurs, and tearing off the headset after getting scared are all new experiences I had with the Immerse Virtual Reality Headset. This headset uses your smartphone and side-by-side video to show 3D content. While there are some imperfections, it delivers a fun experience limited primarily by what 3D content is available. After playing with it for a week, I’m very excited for the future of VR.

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The headset

First, let’s look at the headset itself. The main body is plastic with a door that flips down. Inside is a bracket in which I placed my iPhone 6 before snapping it closed. There’s a small hole on the side so I can connect headphones, a strap to fit around my head, and foam where it fits against my face. The eyepieces can be adjusted left and right as well as forward and backward.

The 3D effect is generated due to half of the split screen video being shown to each eye. There’s a plastic divider that blocks the left eye from viewing the right side of the screen and vice versa. The slightly different angle in each half of the video is combined to create the 3D effect.

It’s fairly comfortable, but there are a few limitations due to the nature of the device. First, I’m unable to use my glasses in the headset. Luckily my eyesight isn’t too bad, so I could still enjoy it. I can’t say whether that’s good for my vision though, and I suspect it isn’t. Second, the screen divider didn’t quite touch the screen. This allowed each eye to get a slight peak at a sliver of the opposite side. When viewing 3D content, this creates a small, vertical strip on the very left and very right of your vision that’s incorrect. In addition, the quality of the image is limited by the resolution of your phone. Lastly, I wasn’t so sure about aspect ratios. When I viewed side-by-side 3D YouTube videos, the video itself is widescreen but split into two halves. Each of those halves is then not a normal video aspect ratio. While some videos still looked fine, some were obviously stretched.

Videos

I started my exploration by looking for 3D content on YouTube. This was accomplished by searching for “side-by-side 3D” or “sbs 3D.” A nice proof-of-concept was “World’s BesT SBS 3D POP OUT EffecTs EVER” that was filled with 3D effects. There were also a variety of trailers and even music videos.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a large catalog of 3D videos that were more than what I’d consider proofs-of-concept. Netflix does apparently have 3D content, at least from what I could tell doing a bit of research, but it doesn’t look like the iOS app is aware that someone could be using a device like this one. There was no 3D content on the Netflix iOS app. There are other choices for streaming video though, and pretty much every site had some appropriate videos. Of course, you can also just put your own videos on your phone. I was able to watch my own side-by-side 3D video files, and that was pretty cool! I just hope in the future that Netflix gives me the ability to watch them.

Apps

This is where I get most excited. These are all basically interactive films. Unlike the 3D video I discussed above in which the 3D consists of effects that seem to pop out, these videos allow you to look around by turning your head. It’s really cool.

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First, there’s DinoTrek VR Experience. In this experience, you’re tagging along dinosaurs – running away from predators, soaring through the air, and looking for food.

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Next, there are a couple neat videos in the Legendary VR app. First, I experienced (I used the word “watched” at first, but it’s more than watching) The Skies of Azeroth. Be sure to download it rather than selecting the “YouTube 360” option. This puts you on the back of a gryphon, flying over the human city of Stormwind in Warcraft’s world of Azeroth. Moving your head moves your vision, and you can look anywhere – behind you, below you, even at the gryphon itself.

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The Legendary VR app also has Pacific Rim Jaeger Pilot. As soon as it started, I couldn’t help but exclaim, well, let’s just pretend I said “fudge yeah” because I don’t want to cuss in this review. It was amazing – short but awesome. To be honest, yeah, it was mostly proof-of-concept. But please, please, give me more. If you haven’t wanted to pilot a Jaeger, Gundam, Evangelion, or some mecha suit, you must be nuts.

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Lastly, I’d like to mention Insidious Chapter 3. This VR experience corresponds to a film series with which I’m unfamiliar, but I can say that’s it horror. Less than thirty seconds into it I yelled “shoot” before pulling the headset off. Again, I cleaned up my language a bit. A VR headset certainly brings horror to the next level.

Final thoughts

While most of the 3D content floating on the web seems to be demonstrations, there is some really cool content. These 3D, 360 degree experiences are the exciting aspects in my opinion with regular 3D films being icing on the cake. I’m hoping that Netflix, my streaming service of choice, makes finding 3D content easier in the future. In the mean time, I’ll have to go hunting for my own 3D videos. Really, I just can’t wait to find more 360 degrees, immersive experiences. The ones I discussed above were so exciting, and I bet there are more great ones I haven’t yet found.

The Immerse Virtual Reality Headset is available for $39.99 from Sharper Image.

This review was based on a free review sample.

You can contact me at @TheUser on Twitter.

Papers, Please: Complicit in tyranny through paper-pushing

Papers, Please

Every day is exactly the same. “Papers, please.” She slides her papers to me – hopefully all of them. I look at her passport. I check the Entry Permit. I validate her Work Pass. I verify her Certificate of Vaccination. I compare the papers, looking for discrepancies. Just when I’m about to approve her for entrance to Arstotzka, I realize her Work Pass expires before her Entry Permit. She seems so sincere about it being a mistake that I’m torn; for her sake, I want to grant her entry, but I’ll get fined if I do, and I desperately need money. Putting my own well-being first, I could deny her entry.

Papers, Please

But if I’m going to think of myself, I could have her detained. I get a kickback when I detain people.

Papers, Please

Choices like this are the crux of Papers, Please by Lucas Pope. You’re awarded a job as an immigration inspector in the labor lottery. While the job starts simply with only a few pieces of information, the rules become more complex as political tensions grow.

Papers, Please

Do you look out for your self and family, uphold the ideals of Arstotzka, or work to undermine the totalitarian government? Papers, Please is filled with fascinating moral choices. Unlike most games that have choices that either don’t matter or are quite obvious, you’re presented here with ambiguous situations. Is it right to let a suspected sex trafficker into Arstotzka if his papers are in order? If he really is a sex trafficker and you grant him entry, you’re harming people. If you deny him entrance, you help people, but you get fined, and you desperately need money. And what if he’s not really a sex trafficker at all? It’s scary to me to think that real people have to make decisions like these every day. By playing Papers, Please, it gives you perspective on how one becomes so complicit under a corrupt government. The job seems so dull but can have vast impact. And as you mundanely follow your orders, just being a good citizen, you allow corruption to spread.

Papers, Please

While it sounds like such a simple game, Papers, Please has an exciting story with many endings. With so much ambiguity, I don’t even want to talk about the major story branches of the game, but there are some drastically different turns with a handful of successful (albeit very different) endings and a multitude of failures. After beating the game, you also unlock the endless mode, which didn’t interest me as much.

Papers, Please

Papers, Please has been one of my favorite games since I first played it. I sunk more than 40 hours into it and earned all the achievements. Writing about games isn’t very difficult, but writing about games I love is. It’s hard to do the great games justice. (Note the lack of a post on Portal.) However, it seems appropriate that my 100th published post on this site is about a game I truly love.

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Glory to Arstotzka.

Lifeline for iOS gets you texting with a stranded astronaut

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Lifeline is a piece of interactive fiction released on iPhone and Apple Watch recently by 3 Minute Games. It’s told entirely through incoming text messages from Taylor, an astronaut who crashes on a far away moon. You shape Taylor’s survival by choosing one of two replies whenever he or she (the game doesn’t specify) asks you a question. It tells a intriguing story through a very interesting method.

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Sometimes Taylor just wants to chat, but other times Taylor asks something more important. Once I was asked if a certain amount of radiation was safe. Taylor asked me to look it up. I did, and I gave my answer, helping Taylor to survive that night. Other times the choices are less significant. Taylor nervously jokes like a real person might, even acknowledging the absurdity, and sometimes just asks which way you think he or she should walk.

It takes Taylor real time to do things too, which helps makes the game feel like Taylor’s someone with whom you’re actually communicating. If Taylor says it’ll take an hour to walk somewhere, you’ll have to wait an hour to hear what happens. This isn’t like those terrible Facebook games that make you pay to boost through an artificial delay; these delays add to the story. In addition, there’s no in-app purchases, DLC, ads, or anything else unsavory. You simply buy the game for $2.99 and enjoy it.

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In addition to touching a notification to jump into the game, you can also choose a reply directly from the notifications and even from the lock screen. This isn’t always perfect, because if you missed a lot of messages from Taylor, only the most recent handful will be displayed. Your choices can sometimes be cut off too, but it’s still pretty neat to be able to do that. You can start there and if you need to click through, click through.

As a fan of both interaction fiction and sci-fi, this was pretty perfect for me. The story was more interesting than I expected as well. It was $2.99 well spent.

 

 

 

Groove Coaster, Taito’s iOS music game

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This piece was originally published as a review on Game Boyz on 8/7/2011.

Groove Coaster was released on the iOS last week, and I’ve had trouble staying away with it. Following in the footsteps of Space Invaders Infinity Gene, Groove Coaster is Taito’s newest offering. At only $2.99 it delivers a fantastic music experience that I highly recommend.

In Groove Coaster, your avatar follows along a set line. Icons on the line set to the music indicate when you should tap the screen. As the game progresses, the complexity increases as well. Besides regular tap notes, Groove Coaster introduces holds, sliding holds, flicks, and more. The game gets especially crazy and fun when a fast song is playing and the line begins to plummet into the screen, forcing you to pay attention to the music since the graphics are too simple to indicate depth. Interestingly, Groove Coaster also features notes called ad-libs. The game doesn’t penalize you for tapping if there’s no note near. Because of this, you’re free to tap along to the music even if there’s no icon. While doing this you can sometimes find hidden ad-lib notes! This system rewards paying attention to the music rather than just the screen.

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The simplistic graphics suit the game quite well. Groove Coaster features the same style as earlier iOS game, Space Invaders Infinity Gene (another awesome iOS game). Throughout the game, you can unlock additional skins to change the appearance, keeping the graphics simple but giving it a bit of flavor. The whole game has that HD retro look, even though it’s not a remake. It is, however, absolutely gorgeous. The music is exactly what you’d expect as well – electronic, techno, with a bit of pop and hip-hop. It’s the perfect blend. The soundtrack, by Taito houseband Zuntata, is available on iTunes already.

A variety of tracks are available in Groove Coaster, each with three difficulties. The game also features leaderboards and achievements. Additional avatars, skins, and items are available as DLC, but these seem overpriced to me. While another song for $0.99 isn’t terrible, items that provide a benefit for a single track just don’t seem worth it.

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The game is short and not very challenging, but I definitely don’t mean that as a negative. Taito doesn’t seem to be setting out to create a challenge or long game. Groove Coaster is a wonderful music experience. It’s definitely one of the “must plays” of the iOS, and at only $2.99 on the App Store, you should go grab it right now!

 

Peggle Blast for iOS is fun but flawed

peggle blast

This piece was originally published as a review on Game Boyz on 2/13/15. Each Game Boyz review is structured with sections for introduction, graphics, sound, gameplay, and conclusions.

Peggle Blast for iOS is the latest game in the Peggle series by Popcap, now owned by EA. Peggle was a minor addition to the Orange Box that ended up being a pretty big deal to me. The mechanics were simple, but it was so addicting and fun! I went on to play Peggle DS, which contained Peggle and Peggle Nights. There was even an addon to play Peggle within World of Warcraft. I skipped Peggle 2 because it wasn’t released on mobile platforms, but I was ready for more. I purchased the iOS port of the original Peggle as soon as it was released. I paid a flat price, and I received a game that I could play. It was a good deal. Peggle Blast, on the other hand, is completely free! Good deal? No, pretty bad deal actually. While I’d be more than happy to pay for a new Peggle, Peggle Blast does the typical microtransaction mechanics of having time-locked aspects that can be unlocked immediately for real money. You can buy power-ups for real money too, and it certainly feels like the game pushes you to use them. But I’ll get into that shortly.

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Graphics and Sound

The graphics and sound haven’t really been improved in Peggle Blast, but the series didn’t need improvement in this regard. Colors are bright, the Peggle Masters are cartoony, and the music supports the graphic style in its cheery way. It’s just fine in presentation.

Gameplay

Let’s start with the good, shall we? At it’s core, the gameplay is much the same as previous Peggle incarnations, and that’s a good thing. Line up shots, watch the ball bounce around pachinko-style, and use power-ups. Not everything is the same old same old though.

There are some new mechanics that are quite fun and add some new, interesting challenges to the game. One I particularly like is sludge-covered pegs. These halt the ball’s momentum. That can be bad if you don’t want your ball to stop, but it can also be used to control your shots. Another feature are eggs; some levels task you with breaking eggs open by hitting them multiple times. If the egg falls off the bottom of the screen before you break it open, you lose, but if it falls into the bucket, it’s saved. There are also levels in which you need to collect gems. These objectives add new life to the series. They’re a welcome addition and quite fun.

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Unfortunately, everything’s not great with the new Peggle. First, there are now lives, and I don’t mean the multiple balls you get per level. Each time you lose a level, you lose a life. Lives recharge, but if you run out of them, you can’t play until at least one recharges – or you purchase more. This can be pretty annoying, because it means that while I might be in the mood to play more Peggle Blast, I have to wait. On the other hand, I’m the type of person that always has a lot to do. I don’t really find myself bored, so it’s pretty easy for me to switch to another task.

Sadly, it gets worse. You have to wait for lives to charge, but you also have to wait hours to unlock a world after you complete the levels leading up to it. At least with lives you’re forced to wait only when you run out of lives by losing. By gating additional levels behind a time delay, Peggle Blast is punishing the player for completing levels. Again, you can pay money to skip the wait.

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Peggle Blast prompts you to spam your friends too, but I avoided that. There’s still one more problem though. You can purchase power-ups. Anyone familiar with the phrase “pay to win” probably understands the problem here. Peggle Blast is designed with being able to purchase power-ups in mind. The levels get insanely hard, and the difficulty in many later levels depend more on chance than skill. Peggle Blast is significantly more difficult than previous iterations of Peggle, and I have a feeling it’s because EA wants us spending money to overcome those challenges. One new mechanic I didn’t mention earlier were bombs. They need to be hit in a certain number of turns or the explode, causing you to lose unless you purchase additional time. And how about boss battles, in which you must score more points than the Peggle Master competing against you? It doesn’t sound too bad except for the fact that they’re basically multiple stages in one. If you lose on the final stage, you’ve lost the whole level and have to start again (or you have to pay for additional balls).

I was willing to watch video advertisements for power-ups, but I refused to spend any money on the game. That’s unfortunate for EA, because if the game didn’t have any pay to win features but simply had a static cost, I would have gladly purchased it. Yes, I had to let my lives recharge, and yes, I had to stop playing for hours (eight, I believe) each time I got to a new world. Some levels I played over and over, waiting for the lucky shot that would let me win. It took me a long time and many attempts, but I finally beat the last level. Well, let me save you some trouble: you don’t get anything for beating the game. I don’t mean no credits, and I don’t mean no cutscene. I mean nothing. After beating the final level, I was shown the level select screen. It didn’t even indicate that the last level was completed. Thinking it was a bug, I even beat it a second time. Nope, nothing registers. Thanks a lot.

Conclusion

EA has taken a great franchise and buried it in unfair difficulty to push microtransactions. It’s sad, considering Peggle Blast introduced new, enjoyable mechanics. To be fair, I did have some fun with it. I didn’t beat it for review purposes; I beat it because I enjoyed playing it. However, I put up with a lot to get that little bit of enjoyment out of it. I can’t recommend Peggle Blast, and it seriously hurt Popcap’s reputation with me.

I am MrDevee on Apple’s Game Center and @TheUser on Twitter.

Destroy villages and hoard gold as a dragon in the RTS, Hoard

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This piece was originally published as a review on Game Boyz on 5/31/11. Each Game Boyz review is structured with sections for introduction, graphics, sound, gameplay, and conclusions. Hoard was reviewed using two downloaded copied provided by Big Sandwich Games. The game got little-to-no attention but was quite fun!

Developer: Big Sandwich Games
Publisher: Big Sandwich Games

Features:
1 – 4 Players
Four game modes
Over 100 Steam achievements
Leaderboards

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Big Sandwich Games recently provided me with two copies of their awesome new game, Hoard. To understand Hoard, I’d like to consider an RTS game. Villages grow and become cities while farms increase in size to feed the villagers. Carts of gold travel along the roads. Castles rise, training knights to eliminate the dragons the terrorize the country. Now consider controlling the dragon.

Graphics

Hoard features a colorful, fantasy look. Maps look like they are placed on a wooden table. This drives a feeling of fun over realism. Multiple tilesets are included, giving you the ability to change the feel of the maps. The world is sparse and simple. While this makes the background a bit too plain, it makes aspects of the world you can engage really pop. While the graphics won’t win any awards, they set the tone and mood of the game well.

Your health and carrying capacity, two very important statistics, are prominently displayed over and under your dragon. This allows them to be seen easily at all times. Your fire-breath on the other hand, which is also an important statistic, is displayed at the top of the screen along with your dragon’s color and score. Because it’s out of the way, it’s hard to keep in mind. Of the three, it’s the least important to see at a glance, so I understand the decision, but I wish I could see it more easily. Keeping it out of the way, however, also keeps the interface uncluttered so you can keep a good view on the game.

Sound

The music and sound effects work very well in Hoard to set the mood. The music is simple yet exciting, giving that extra drive in competitive matches. The cheerful, light-hearted sound effects contrasts with the music wonderfully, reinforcing that the game is about fun even when you’re trying hard to win. I especially love it when the princesses call for help or cry out. It really adds that goofiness into the game.

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Gameplay

The goal in Hoard is simple – collect the largest amount of gold to win. The primary way to gain goal is to burn villages, farms, and gold carts and carry the gold back to your hoard. There is some strategy to this though. Letting towns and farms grow bigger will yield larger hauls. Do you want to destroy the towns quickly to maximize your gold early in a match, or do you want to let the towns grow a little, giving you more gold but sacrificing progression at the start of the match? It’s hard to decide.

In matches with multiple dragons, if you deal enough damage to villages without destroying them, they’ll become fearful of you. Once they reach this state, they will periodically bring carts of gold straight to your hoard. To keep them doing this, you’ll want to make sure no other dragon deals more damage to them, otherwise they will become fearful of the rival dragon instead of you!

Thieves will also visit your hoard, attempting to get away with your hard-earned (or hard-stolen, I suppose) gold. If you can get back to your hoard in time, you can kill them before they make it away. Mage towers will periodically rise in the land, attacking you with magic. Destroying them causes a gem to appear worth a large amount of gold. Similar to villages, if you leave the mage towers alone, they’l grow more powerful but will drop more gold. Letting them live can be quite the gamble, however, because too many can prove too much to handle. Another fun way to make gold is to kidnap princesses. Once you return to your hoard with a princess, you’ll have to keep those pesky knights away for a preset amount of time in order to collect your ransom.

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You can only hold a set amount of gold before needing to return to your hoard to drop it off. You also replenish HP when at your hoard. Gold also acts as experience; when you collect enough gold, you gain a level and can increase your stats. You have four stats that can be raised – speed, fire-breath, carrying capacity, and armor. What you raise first can really change how you play at the start of the match, leaving this a great example of the complexity of strategy inherent in the game.

Hoard features four different game modes. In the Treasure mode, which is the primary mode, you must collect the biggest hoard of gold to win. Princess Rush tasks you with kidnapping the most princesses. In Hoard (survival), HP doesn’t replenish. Instead, you’ll need to kidnap princesses to regain health while attempting to survive as long as possible. Finally, in Co-op you share a gold hoard with the other dragons! Hoard doesn’t have a campaign or story mode at all. All the modes are played in short skirmishes either alone, with AI-controlled dragons, or multiplayer!

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Hoard is a fantastic game because of the complex strategies available that have been boiled down into 10 minute chunks of gaming. Multiplayer is a great way to spice it up, but AI dragons provide fun when no one’s aound with whom to play. While it lacks any kind of campaign mode that can give that “ahh, I’ve beat the game” moment and feeling, it’s great because you can play as many rounds as you feel like playing, and it’s always a bit different. Similar to how multiplayer, arena-based first-person shooters contrast story-driven first-person shooters, Hoard fulfills the same relationship with story-driven real-time strategies. Hoard is a complex RTS dressed up as a tabletop, miniatures wargame and served in small portions. It’s $10 on Steam and definitely worth the pricetag.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth, a reverse tower defense (tower offense?)

Anomaly: Warzone Earth
This piece was originally published as a review on Game Boyz on 5/2/11. Each Game Boyz review is structured with sections for introduction, graphics, sound, gameplay, and conclusions. Games are scored on graphics, gameplay, sound, tilt, and overall, each on a 10-point scale. Anomaly: Warzone Earth was reviewed using a downloaded copy provided by 11 bit studios. I still find this game under-appreciated.

Features:
Single-player campaign and two assault modes
Steam Achievements
Steam Leaderboards
Steam Cloud
Controller Enabled

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a fantastic new game available on Steam for both PC and Mac. Provided to me by 11 bit studios, Anomaly is a tower defense game… of sorts. Perhaps it’s better to call it a reverse tower defense or a tower offense game. Or better yet, we could just call it a strategy game! In Anomaly, you see the layout of turrets in the level while controlling a line of assault vehicles. You strategize by planning the best route, deciding which vehicles to use and upgrade, and using special abilities. If you plan carefully, your units can destroy the turrets, get through the defense, and reach the end of the level!

Graphics

Anomaly looks great on my great on my PC. I’m running Windows 7 Professional on an Intel Core 2 Duo 64-bit 2.53 GHz processor with 6 GB RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT graphics card. Even with my less than stellar graphics card, the game ran fine on maximum video settings and looked fantastic. Everything looked clean and easy to see. Enemies are outlined in red and friendly units are outlined in blue. Simple health bars appear over units’ heads. On the left side of the screen, icons representing various abilities are present with the amount available appearing adjacent to them. An elegant tactical map screen can be pulled up at any time, and the unit upgrade and purchase screen is also sleek looking and simple to use. In the main menu screens, small amounts of the screen were cut off from the edges of my non-widescreen monitor. I could manage to read everything, so it wasn’t a terrible error. It’s also a known bug that 11 bit studios is fixing.

Sound

Like the graphics, the audio was also great, and I definitely don’t have any complaints. Both the music and sound effects were good. I enjoyed the dialogue quite a bit. Despite being a little cheesy, it was very fun. Sometimes holding the speed-up button, which speeds up the game for those stretches where you’re waiting for combat, caused dialogue to cut out. It was a minor annoyance, but I had to remember to stop holding the button if I was approaching a goal at which I expected dialogue.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Gameplay

As I mentioned previously, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a reverse tower-defense game. You control up to six vehicles and a commander. The vehicles travel along roads on set paths. Bringing up the tactical map pauses the game and allows you to control which direction the convoy will turn at each intersection. You can’t stop, reverse, or deviate from the path. The map shows the entire level, any power ups available to be picked up, and all enemies as well as your own units. Because different enemies have different types of weapons and ranges, it becomes very important to plan your route carefully on the map screen. For example, some enemies can only shoot directly in front of them. You’ll want to drive past these turrets rather than down streets heading straight toward them. Another trick is loop around repeatedly, slowly picking off enemies. You’re awarded money for destroying enemies, and you can also find minerals that are worth money. You can then spend your earnings on new units (up to six) or on upgrading your current vehicles.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth

Besides planning your route and upgrading, there’s another huge aspect to the strategy involved in Anomaly. Your commander doesn’t follow the set paths and can go anywhere. Unlike the vehicles, he deals no damage; rather, he deploys special abilities! You have a set number of each ability but can find more throughout the level with them usually appearing where some enemies were destroyed. When an ability is deployed, it lasts for a small amount of time. The first ability introduced is the Repair. Any friendly unit within the circle that appears is repaired as long as it’s within the circle. Next there’s the Smoke Screen, which lowers the accuracies of all enemies within the circle. Similar to the Smoke Screen, the Decoy will cause all enemies within the circle to target the decoy. (Using the Smoke Screen and the Decoy at the same time works quite well!) The final ability is the Airstrike, which drops a bomb on the current location. When the commander dies, he respawns at the same location after a short delay and is invulnerable for a couple seconds, letting you get back to safety.

The strategy involved comes from a few different aspects. First, you’ll want to plan a good route. Most likely you’ll be bringing the map up repeatedly throughout each level, adjusting your path as you go. Next, you’ll want to plan which units to use and which order to put them in your convoy. For example, I like to start with a high-armor unit, and I include two shield generating units in my convoy. These shield units provide shields around themselves and the two adjacent vehicles. You’ll also want to correctly use your commander’s abilities to help your vehicles survive. Finally, you’ll need to upgrade your units wisely. There are three difficulties available with which to challenge yourself. You’re awarded points for destroying enemies (more for destroying them without too much delay between kills) and having abilities at the end of the level. Each level has its own leaderboard, providing a lot of competition.

Let’s not forget the story! There is a reason for the vehicles to be fighting those turrets! An alien ship crashes in two spots on Earth, Baghdad and Tokyo. Strange domes, anomalies, appear over the crash sites, and appear to be some sort of shield. Inside these anomalies are the alien ships and turrets. After investigating, the military finds them quite aggressive and decide to neutralize the enemy. Before and during missions, characters talk, giving you some background on what’s happening. This is ample motivation to give a reason to the actions in the game and also provides some interesting twists along the way.

11 bit studios has made a fantastic game with Anomaly: Warzone Earth. It’s definitely a change to the tower defense genre. With a compelling story mode, achievements, leaderboards, and two assault modes, there’s plenty to do for people looking for high replay value. I find Anomaly: Warzone Earth incredibly cheap at $9.99 and worth every penny. If you’re interested in strategy games, I highly recommend you pick this one up and keep your eyes on 11 bit studios in the future!

Gemini Rue, the fantastic sci-fi noir adventure game

Gemini Rue
This piece was originally published as a review on Game Boyz on 2/23/11. Each Game Boyz review is structured with sections for introduction, graphics, sound, gameplay, and conclusions. Games are scored on graphics, gameplay, sound, tilt, and overall, each on a 10-point scale. Gemini Rue was reviewed using a downloaded copy provided by Wadjet Eye Games. I loved Gemini Rue when I first played it, and it’s still one of my favorite games.

Gemini Rue, formerly known as Boryokudan Rue, is a new PC game developed by Josh Nuernberger. Published and provided to me by Wadjet Eye Games and Dave Gilbert, Gemini Rue was a 2010 Independent Games Festival Student Showcase Winner. Nuernberger has created a wonderful point-and-click adventure game featuring a dark, sci-fi future.

The game’s neo-noir narrative takes players through a grim future in which trust should be withheld and the Boryokudan crime syndicate controls the Gemini system. The story kept me at the edge of my seat through the entire game. In fact, not being able to talk about the game while playing my review copy was almost painful! Gemini Rue explores the themes of individuality, identity, ethics, loyalty, and what it means to truly be who you are.

Gemini Rue

Graphics

Gemini Rue is absolutely gorgeous. As you can see in the screenshots included in the review, it has a retro-inspired look to it that adventure game fans should recognize. While not 3D or pushing anyone’s graphics card to its limits, it’s a stunning game that will leave most appreciators of retro game art with their mouths hanging open. Gemini Rue lets you explore beautifully detailed backdrops while discovering the truth of the world around you. You’re given a closer look at the characters when their detailed portraits appear during dialogue. Throughout the game, small cutscenes play out that are fascinating to watch. Not only do they push the narrative forward, but they also set the mood using well-placed, beautiful scenic views.

Sound

In a lot of games I play, there isn’t a lot to say about the sound. In this case, forgetting to talk about the sound would be leaving a large part of the review missing. The audio in Gemini Rue is amazing. The music always fits the action and story, reinforcing the desolate, dark atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are always clear and realistic, which helps the game feel more real and adds to the immersion. Voice-acting performances were done well. Even though Gemini Rue is an indie game, no corners were cut with the voice-acting. The lines are delivered in a natural way so they don’t feel forced. I could tell the sound was going to be great and a major part of my enjoyment of the game by the first scene during which the characters’ dialogue was delivered over the sound of Barracus’ rainfall.

Gemini Rue

Gameplay

Gemini Rue has two main playable characters. One is Azriel Odin, a former assassin searching for an old friend in the Gemini system. The other is a man known simply as Delta-Six, a patient in a strange facility that wipes the minds of its inmates. The narrative switches between the two characters throughout the game. Sometimes this happens as preset times, but you can also manually switch characters. This can give you a nice break if you’re stuck with one character. The stories seem far apart from each other, but the characters’ stories slowly come together, culminating in a fantastic and satisfying ending.

As the genre, point-and-click adventure, suggests, you use your mouse to control the game, clicking on various objects to explore the game. Left-clicking causes the character to walk to that point. Right-clicking on certain objects in the scene brings up the action menu, allowing you to choose which action to perform on that spot from the four action-verbs and inventory items in your possession. Clicking the eye allows you to examine something. The hand has you interact with or pick up an object. Using the mouth will have you talk to the target. Selecting the foot causes you to kick the object. The kicking action is interesting because I don’t recall seeing it any previous adventure games. While it’s similar to the hand action, it gives players a second way to interact with the world, which can lead to more involved puzzles. Gemini Rue forces you to use this action very early in the game, making sure you incorporate this less familiar action into your repertoire. Also in the action menu are any inventory items you have. Selecting one will attempt to use it on the spot you originally right-clicked. Right-clicking on an inventory item causes you to examine it. Lastly, double-clicking in the scene will use whichever action was last used, allowing you to save time if, for example, you want to examine many different objects.

I have two small complaints about the control system. First, to examine an inventory item, you have to bring up the menu by right-clicking on a targetable object in the game. Note that you can’t simply right-click anywhere. It seems strange that even though examining an object in my inventory has nothing to do with any item currently in the scene, I still have to choose one object in the scene arbitrarily to right-click on to be able to access my inventory menu. Another small complaint is that interacting with an object on the other side of the screen will sometimes cause the character to walk over to it and interact with it while other times will cause the character to say it’s too far away. Why the discrepancy? It seems like saying it’s too far away would be the best response if there’s some puzzle blocking the path, so this might be a pathing bug. These faults are minor and do not detract very seriously from the enjoyment of the game.

Gemini Rue

Gemini Rue also contains action sequences featuring shooting. It uses a fun system that rewards being patient and intelligent rather than having fast reflexes. It’s perfect for an adventure game and isn’t overused. Whenever a shooting sequence starts, your character will automatically get into a cover position. Using ‘a’ and ‘d’ causes the character to lean out of cover to the left or right. Pressing ‘space’ shoots, ‘s’ goes back into cover, ‘r’ reloads, and ‘w’ switches targets. Enemies will either shoot at your left or right out-of-cover positions. To successfully defeat enemies, you’ll want to lean out of cover on the opposite side of where your adversary is aiming to shoot at him. Pressing ‘control’ while out of cover will bring up a slowly filling meter. When the meter reaches a sufficient height, successfully shooting an opponent will instantly kill him with a headshot. This is a gamble because you’ll have to be out of cover for longer to wait for the meter to fill. Some people might not like action sequences in their normally slow-paced adventure games, but the characters in Gemini Rue will always get into cover automatically at the start and won’t take damage while in cover. Because of this, the player never needs to worry about being caught unaware. Shooting adds a bit of variety to the game, and let’s be honest: How could this neo-noir thriller be complete without some gunfights?

Gemini Rue

There are a few other scenes in the game that require gameplay other than normal point-and-click. Interacting with certain boxes allows you to push them around, ‘a’ and ‘d’ used to move them left and right, ‘w’ used to climb on top, and ‘s’ used to climb back down. Also, there are occasional puzzles regarding getting a computer or machine to do what you need it to do. These never distract from the story or take very long. They fit very well with the rest of Gemini Rue and, more importantly, would detract from the game if missing.

One aspect of the game is interacting with the environment – finding items you need and figuring out where to use them. You’ll also need to gather information, sometimes from notes found lying around or computer terminals. You need to think about what you know and what you need to know to reach that satisfying moment where the puzzle suddenly clicks in your head. You’ll also need to get a lot of information from other characters in the game. Dialogues have multiple choices that can lead to the same positive result, giving players more than one way to solve a dialogue puzzle. The dialogue is fascinating and continually adds to the narrative. No character feels needless or like filler content. In fact, Nuernberger does a fantastic job of making sure every scene, character, and bit of dialogue exists for a reason and continues to progress the narrative and enjoyment of the game.

Gemini Rue

Conclusion

Let’s get this out of the way: I love Gemini Rue. The narrative was gripping, friendly characters were likable, and supporting characters all seemed like they belonged in the world and evoked the correct emotional response. The dark, rain drenched neo-noir setting is perfect for the story being told. Scenes were beautiful, the music fit superbly, the voice-acting was believable, and the sound effects were realistic. Is a person simply the sum of all experiences and outside input or is there more to a person? Gemini Rue explores identity, ethics, and even free will. Like all great pieces of fiction, which Gemini Rue definitely is, it’ll leave you contemplating the questions it poses even if it doesn’t offer a concrete answer. Gemini Rue is available for purchase and download at WadjetEyeGames.com for $14.99, a very low price for what is now one of my favorite games. For those of you who are still unsure, there’s a demo available on that site as well. If you’re an adventure game fan or simply like the themes, setting, and story presented, you owe it to yourself to look into Gemini Rue!

Pixel Press Floors

[Updated on 1/30/15.]

Pixel Press Floors is an iOS and Android game that allows you to make your own platformer levels. I Kickstarted this around June of 2013 because of an interesting hook: you actually design by hand on paper and take a photograph of the paper to import it into the game.

There were a few hiccups, such as the Android version being significantly delayed. As an iOS user, this didn’t bother me. However, two others things did. First, the game changed from a paid game to a free game with in-app purchases. As someone who backed the game early, I got an account in the game that reflected this. Supposedly this would give me bonuses. I don’t know what those are. I thought I was supposed to be able to place enemies in my level (it’s normally an IAP), but I don’t see any option for that currently. [Update: I contacted the developer, and they fixed everything for me within a day. Great customer service!] The second, bigger problem is that the creation mode ended up being iPad only. That’s great if I owned an iPad, but I don’t.

Regardless, I finally had a chance to sit down and make some levels with gem’s iPad, and it was a ton of fun. I’m still annoyed about not being able to create on the iPhone, and I’m hoping they add it. As for the backer bonuses, I don’t know what the deal is there, but I just reached out to Pixel Press to find out.

As for making levels? Fun! You don’t get to change any of the physics or design your own sprites, but you still can set the layout of levels. Even though what initially piqued my interesting was designing on paper, I did the whole thing on the iPad. You can watch the video embedded above to see my level, appropriately named The Adventures of Peter. And hey, I published it around 1:30 today and it already has 77 plays!

If you like platformers, you might want to give this a try. As mentioned, it’s free. There are a ton of community-created levels, and you can search for mine as well.

Finished Gears of War 3

Yes, I’m behind, but I started 2015 by beating Gears of War 3. I really enjoyed it! I suppose there are going to be some minor spoilers here, but I won’t spoil the big points.

The opening of the game on the CNV Sovereign is cool because it’s nice to see the ship and Michaelson, leader of the COG Navy. He was a major character in the novels, but this was his first appearance in game. Unfortunately, I felt like major changes from the books were changed rapidly. Michaelson is only in the very beginning of the game, likely because people who didn’t read the books wouldn’t care about him. The former Chairman Prescott returns early in the game too with his MacGuffin. It makes sense from a story standpoint, and by the end of the game, it all makes sense, but it still feels weird.

From there the game progresses well. There are more characters that follow Marcus, which makes it more varies and interesting. Anya, Sam, and Jace are all major characters now too. There are floating gas barges that are pretty cool, but at one point you’re forced into combat using one. Similarly, you later control the guns on a submarine. I don’t play Gears of War to do these things. I feel like these levels are the modern equivalent to the “obligatory mine cart” level. I’m not sure what to call them, but I don’t want to take control of some larger contraption with a totally different feel.

Getting through some less-than-amazing parts get you to Anvil Gate, another major location from the novels, so I suppose it’s worth it. We also get to see Colonel Hoffman and Bernie, so that’s pretty cool too! Dom seems a little more reserved and depressed after the events of the second game, which makes for some interesting character development. He has a really amazing moment during the game. The Carmine in this game is a bit more badass too.

The end of Gears of War 2 had gameplay that differed a bit from the main game. It felt anti-climatic regarding gameplay even if the story itself was quite climatic. This wasn’t a problem in Gears 3. The last battles felt really climatic and awesome, which is one of the most important things in a game besides actually being fun.

Now I just have to resist the urge to spend money on Gears of War: Judgment until I beat some of the other games I own!

Spending Christmas with Diamond Trust of London

Diamond Trust of London Packaging

How did you spend your Christmas? I played some Diamond Trust of London, a game I funded on Kickstarter a few years ago and first wrote about in November of 2012. Sadly, I never played it until now. What really made me interested was the fact that it’s an indie DS game released on an actual cartridge. The game is about the diamond trade in Angola in 2000.

DTOL is a turn-based strategy game in which the two players choose their actions at the same time, and once they’ve made their decisions, the results are shown. The goal is to have the highest number of diamonds at the end. Each turn, you can move your agents to various regions, bid on diamonds, sell diamonds, and bribe opposing agents. If you bribe an agent with more money that your opponent pays them, you’ll get to see their planned actions and modify your own actions.

One thing that’s cool is that it only takes about 20 minutes to finish a game. You can change the AI difficulty or play against another person. It’s a pretty fun game, although I haven’t had a chance to play it against a human opponent. It’s really interesting that someone managed to release an independent game made by two people as a full retail release.

Offspring Fling!

offspring fling

Offspring Fling! is a cute puzzle platformer on Steam that I tried recently. It was very enjoyable, and just look at that art! What you can’t hear, because I’m not including it, is the great music.

offspring fling

When this mean looking dinosaur shows up, your babies scatter. It’s up to you to rescue them!

offspring fling

You can run and jump as well as pick up and fling your babies. As you carry more babies, you won’t be able to jump as the high. Each level tasks you with getting your babies to the door. Some of the stages definitely took some thinking, but I was never really stumped. You won’t find yourself losing repeatedly like in a platformer such as Super Meat Boy or N+, but you will have to think about the puzzles.

offspring fling

It’s a neat little game with adorable graphics. There are still extras to unlock if I choose to keep playing, but it only took me about four hours to beat the base game. It was definitely worth it.

Atom Zombie Smasher

atom zombie smasher

Atom Zombie Smasher is an interesting little real-time strategy game I played recently. You run a country’s military as it’s being overrun with zombies and must attempt to rescue civilians and fight back the infected.

atom zombie smasher

There’s sort of two main spheres of strategy. First, there’s the map of the country. It’s procedurally-generated, so the game’ll be a little different each time you play. To beat the game, you need a certain number of points, and one way you earn points is by controlling territory. Your map shows you what territories the zombies have taken and what territories you’ve fully cleaned. Each day, which is basically a level, has different soldiers available. You need to decide when to attack each territory considering the state of the board, how strong the enemies are, and what soldiers you have available.

atom zombie smasher

During a battle for a particular territory, you’ll have differents tools as your disposal with a variety of victory conditions. In this level, you can see purple infected, yellow civilians, and blue scientists. Scientists are basically currency for addition unlocks. Along the bottom, you’ll see the tools I have – a helicopter to rescue civilians, explosives, blockades, and snipers. What I really like is that you’re always given the option of trying a level again before continuing, even if you succeed. Sometimes I win but think I can do better.

You can set up games of varying lengths dependent on the number of points required for victory. A long campaign can be quite complicated, but you can also make a short campaign capable of being finished in under hour. It’s definitely a fun little game!

Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace for iOS | iPhone/iPod, Reviews, Action Games, Space Sims, Philipp Seifried, Bulkypix

Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace for iOS makes you a pilot, defending humanity against the space-faring dinosaur threat! The game’s developed by Philipp Seifried and published by BulkyPix. Dinosaurs are returning to take over the Earth using their spaceships, and players are tasked with stopping them! The game gives you control of Ace Ferrara as you engage in space combat and cartoon fun.

Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace contains great space combat adjusted with superb controls for a phone. It has a silly storyline that I enjoyed. It’s not so gripping that I was constantly hankering to find out what happened next, but it definitely entertained me and gave motivation to move forward into each next mission. Check out the trailer if you want to see more. If you decide you want to stop the Dino Menace, you can pick up the game for $3.99 on the iTunes Store.

via Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace for iOS | iPhone/iPod, Reviews, Action Games, Space Sims, Philipp Seifried, Bulkypix.

SQUIDS Odyssey for Wii U reviewed on Game Boyz

The SQUIDS franchise consisted of SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West for iOS, but now it’s getting bigger with the release of SQUIDS Odyssey, a downloadable title for the Wii U and 3DS by The Game Bakers. SQUIDS Odyssey is a port of the first two games with new, additional levels and content. You can read my previous reviews of SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West if you’d like, as much of them are still applicable. This review is based on the Wii U version. I suspect that the 3DS version is very similar, especially considering that the 3DS, like the Wii U, consists of one touchscreen and one normal screen…

SQUIDS was one of the first games for iOS about which I was truly excited, looking forward to sequels. The Wii U version didn’t let me down. It’s available on the Wii U eShop for $14.99. Not only is it fun, but it’s also very beautiful. While I’ve played the iOS games before, it was still great to jump back into the ocean-world of SQUIDS on my Wii U. This time I had the opportunity to let people watch me easily, which isn’t something I could do on my iPhone. I’d definitely recommend SQUIDS Odyssey to strategy fans who like light-hearted fun and will be waiting to see what The Game Bakers do with the series next.

via SQUIDS Odyssey for Wii U | iPhone/iPod, Wii U, Nintendo DS , DSI, Reviews, Strategy.

I have a new review of SQUIDS Odyssey up at Game Boyz. It’s my first console game review for the site actually.

The String Arcade, game music for string quartet

The String Arcade, game music for string quartet | Reviews, Rhythm

A couple weeks ago I reviewed The String Arcade for Game Boyz. The String Arcade is an album of music arranged for string quartet all based on songs from video games. It’s pretty cool, so I thought I’d share a link to my review here.

Creating a new variation on some classic video game music, the recently release album, The String Arcade, reimagines fifteen video game songs (seventeen if you buy the physical CD) arranged for string quartet. The album was arranged by Dren McDonald and Jason Poss. The proceeds go to the Alameda Music Project, an after-school music program starting in September that features strings, chorus, and percussion for children in grades K-5.

You can read more about The String Arcade on their website at TheStringArcade.com where you can also find links to purchase the album. The digital download is $9.99, and the CD is $11.99, which comes with the two bonus tracks – Tron Arcade Medley and Altered Beast Title Theme. Now I find myself wondering how I can find more string quartet music, because I loved The String Arcade. Any suggestions?

via The String Arcade, game music for string quartet | Reviews, Rhythm.

Tiny Death Star for Mobile Game Boyz review

Tiny Death Star

For such a simple game, I found Star Wars: Tiny Death Star to be quite enjoyable. Yes, I’m a Star Wars fan. I love the movies (well, I had my problems with the new trilogy of course), and I’ve read a number of the novels. I’m sure that contributed, because all of the little references are pretty fantastic. However, even if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan, you’ll probably find it entertaining. I started playing on an iPhone 4, and it was a little laggy at times as my Death Star got bigger, but after I switched to an iPhone 5S, I never had a problem. If you enjoyed Tiny Tower, I think you’ll also really like Tiny Death Star. It’s free, so you have nothing to lose but a little of your time!

via Tiny Death Star for Mobile | iPhone/iPod, Reviews, iPhone, Strategy.

It’s been over 18 weeks since my last post on Game Boyz, but I finally put something new on the site. I’ve been playing Star Wars: Tiny Death Star for a while now. Why not review it for Game Boyz?

I don’t know what’s going on with Game Boyz, by the way. Jamie posted a news story 13 weeks ago. Before that, I reviewed BANG! 5 weeks before that. Things were slowing down for a while, and they seemed to have stopped for a while. Now that I look, in the past year we’ve only had two posts that weren’t from me or Jamie. If I had waited another week to check, they would have been pushed past the one-year mark.

Anyways, Tiny Death Star has been a lot of fun. I have all the residential, retail, service, and food levels. I’m working on recreation now, and then I’ll finish with Imperial levels.

BANG! for iOS reviewed at Game Boyz

SpinVector S.p.A. brought the amazingly fun card game, BANG! to iOS recently, and I cant stop playing it. BANG! is a western-themed card game where players have different conditions they must meet to win. To win, youll need to figure out who everyone else is while progressing your own goals. With both single-player and online play, BANG! offers a lot.

via BANG! for iOS | iPhone/iPod, Reviews, Card games.

Thanks, Collin, for letting me know about BANG!’s iOS release. It’s great fun.

A pleasurable romp through Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp

JPBR1

Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp is a fantastic platformer available on Xbox Live Indie Games. The fantastic game recommendation site, Reccr, suggested I play it, and it was a great suggestion. (Reccr is no longer online, but it was created by Studio Hunty.) Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp is a simple platformer with quaint graphics. The game uses vertical level design, which is rare. More screenshots as well as a PC download link are available on the Ishisoft site.

The idea of the game is simple. After killing all the enemies by jumping on them, a door opens that lets you complete the level. You can also collect cups of tea (or some drink), which give an extra life when enough are collected. While the description sounds simple, the level design is incredibly varied and smart. Many levels are very original, and I can easily say it’s one of my favorite platformers.

The game is now available as a free PC download at the link I put in the opening paragraph. In addition, there’s a sequel, Johnny Platform Saves Christmas! I’m very tempted to go download it now, but holiday games are best played near their holidays. I’ll have to remember to play it in December, the best time of year.

JPBR2

As happens quite often with my extensive game collection, at some point I stopped playing Johnny Platform’s Biscuit Romp before beating it. Only recently did I pick it back up, and I managed to finish it. It’s truly a fantastic game.

Game Boyz: PinWar combines pinball and Pong in a fun two-player experience

PinWar is a competitive pinball game in which, rather than taking turns, two players (or a player and AI) control opposite sides of a table. Flippers exist at both ends, enabling each player to defend their drain and try to make the opponent let the ball through. BulkyPix seems to be marketing it as an evolution of pinball with two pinball games tables put together. You could also see it as an evolution of pong or breakout with flippers replacing paddles and new features added to the table. Regardless, PinWar uses many familiar mechanics in new ways… I’m a big fan of iterating on classic games, and PinWar does this well. While it borrows from many different games, it combines them in a unique way.

I gave the game a 7/10 on Game Boyz!

via PinWar for iOS | Reviews, Action/Horror.

Reset explores submissive relationships in a cyborg future

Lydia Neon’s Twine game, Reset, explores submissive relationships in a future where people have cyborg implants. I don’t have any firsthand experience with that type of relationship, but I found the game very interesting for both the relationship roles and the science fiction. The story is told through a simple webpage using Twine, which creates interactive stories. Check it out!

Reset by Lydia Neon

Amnesia: The Dark Descent – true horror and amazing game

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a horror game unlike most others I’ve previously played. It’s first-person, and you spend the vast majority of your time completely alone – no allies, no enemies. You spend your time interacting with the environment by exploring and solving puzzles. Sometimes you might have to hide from a monster, but the real conflict is internal as you battle to keep your own sanity.

Amnesia is a first-person adventure game that’s a little over two years old. The graphics and interface looks like it might be older, but once I tried the game, I found it worked very well. When you approach an item with which you can interact, a hand icon appears. You can move things or hold them by clicking on them. If they’re not an inventory item for use later but are able to be picked up, they’ll float in the center of the screen. You interact with everything in a similar way. For example, you don’t go through a door by running up to it and pressing the enter-key. Rather, you press the left mouse button and either pull or push (depending on the door). This leads to some interesting situations when running from a monster. I hear something, and my heart begins to beat faster. Is something near me? As I look around, I see something move in the corner. Now my heart’s racing, and I bolt for the door. When I reach it I use the left mouse button and push forward only to find that it’s a pull door! In my panic, I don’t realize this soon enough. The controls make the game feel very immersive.

Light and darkness plays a large part in the game. Being in the dark will slowly drive you insane, which, among other things, will make you hear things that aren’t real. This is particularly scary because then you can’t be sure whether something’s really there. Being in the dark drops your sanity, so you need to keep your lantern fueled or be able to light enough candles. Lantern oil and flint and tinder become very valuable resources. The screenshot above shows a look at a room while relatively sane.

This screenshot shows the same room with less sanity. Note that it can get a lot more distorted than this. Looking at monsters drives you insane, you have to be careful not to look for too long. You can hide in the dark from the monsters (but that drives you insane as well), but if it wants you dead, you’ll die. There really isn’t any fighting the monsters. Your best bet is to run as fast as you can, and if you’re cornered, to hide or attempt to distract it with the flesh of another. Fright and panic were two emotions that fought to be dominant in my body as I played the game.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of creepy imagery. Here’s a closer look at the pile of bodies from the last two screenshots. This was a relatively tame shot, which is why I chose to share it. There are other bodies that can be found, including anatomically correct, fully nude bodies. There are also limbs and even mangled torsos that can be found (and used as distractions for monsters). As you go insane, you’ll see other things as well. One room had metal cages hanging from the ceiling. When sane, they’re empty, but as your sanity drops, you begin to see bodies in them. It was particularly unnerving when I saw bodies in them after having previously seen them empty.

It has a really fascinating story. Your character,  Daniel, has purposely given himself amnesia and left himself with a letter telling him to kill Alexander. Daniel assures himself that Alexander deserves to die even if he doesn’t like it. The plot examines what it means to be good and evil as well as the concepts of fear and torture. It’s extremely fascinating but also frightening and disturbing. As I progressed through the game, I heard audio flashbacks and occasionally was given full, playable flashbacks in which Daniel’s past was examined. By the end you find his past troubled and complicated, and might question whether his actions were correct. Near the end of the game, you’re given a few choices. Morally they’re a little ambiguous, mirroring life.

The game suggests you play it in the dark with headphones. I didn’t do either of those things. However, the fact that I played without the brightness maxed meant I’m at least trying to play by the rules. There’s also the fact that I played it all the way through even though most people I know stopped playing after finding it too frightening. DLC, Justine, is also available. It provides a new story, but there’s no saving; When you die, you have to restart. I didn’t enjoy that, so I didn’t complete Justine. However, the base game is fantastic. If you like horror, you should absolutely try Amnesia: The Dark Descent. It could be the perfect game to play on Halloween!

Osmos


My friend Alex showed me Osmos over a year ago, but I never got around to playing it until a couple months ago. It’s available for Steam, iOS, and Android; I played it on Steam. Osmos is heavily physics-based and deals with orbits and mass. The idea is pretty simple. You want to get larger. Running into something smaller than you allows you to absorb it. If you run into something bigger, you get absorbed. You move by expelling mass in one direction, causing you to move in the opposite direction.

Osmos starts out very tranquil and relaxing. A lot of games begin with tutorials, but Osmos is almost lying to you by trying to be seen in this light. The later levels are incredibly difficult and can take a long time to complete (after many, many retries). Sometimes you have to act quickly to beat other “characters,” but sometimes you can take all the time you need. You unlock levels in groups, giving you choices that work well to act as breaks from other, more frustrating levels.

The graphics and audio are both absolutely fantastic. The game looks beautiful and detailed whether you’re viewing your surrounding closely or from afar. Depending on what you’re trying to do, sometimes you’ll want to zoom close for detailed control and other times you’ll want to zoom out to see the entire area. In addition, you can change the speed that the game runs. I found myself making very slight tweaks to my orbit and then speeding up time to see the results. The music remains tranquil throughout the game, even when the levels get stressful. It sometimes even seems to reflect the orbiting, repetitive nature of the game. Usually when you hear a game’s music described as repetitive, it’s a bad thing; It’s not bad in Osmos.

Different people might get stuck on different levels, but level F3C-3 was my final level and took me a long time to finish. The video above is the recording of my eventual completion of the level.

Thanks, Alex, for the great recommendation!

River City Ransom: My foray into the most buttkickingest game ever made

 
My girlfriend once told me about a game she loved from the NES, River City Ransom; she told me you ran around beating people up, but that it also had RPG elements in which your characters got more powerful. She enjoyed buying sushi and visiting saunas in the game. I had to try it out.
 
Knowing that I was waking up early to go to Disneyland with her the next day, I booted up the game on an emulator on my Palm despite it being late at night. (I also obtained an actual NES cartridge, not that any proceeds could actually reach anyone related to the game.)
 
I hold your city captive &
Ryan’s girlfriend hostage.
With my gangs of students &
evil bosses, nobody can stop
me now. Meet my demands – or
else! … P.S. Alex & Ryan if
you interfere, you’ll be in
for the fight of your lives!
… SLICK
 
Yes, that’s the introduction to the game. I don’t know what I would have thought of it if I was an adult when the game was released, but now I love it. Here’s a game that knows it’s a game. Could I survive SLICK’s gangs, defeat his bosses, and rescue Ryan’s girlfriend? I had to find out.
 
“[Intro][NES] River City Ransom” posted by YouTube user kad3t
 
Once the game actually starts, the amazing music begins. You can hear this starting at 0:25 in the video. The bit at 0:35 is so fun! Starting at Cross Town High School, I began to explore the world, beating up anyone who dared approach me. Were the men who ran up to me working for Slick? Were they partly responsible for kidnapping Ryan’s girlfriend? I didn’t care. I didn’t question. I punched.
 
As an enemy ran up to me, I began to pound him in his face until he fell.
 
“BARF!”
 
What a rewarding word to read.
 
Controls were simple. I was punching and kicking. I was picking things up, attacking with them or throwing them. I was jumping on walls and fences and running across them. And I did it all smoothly and easily with just two buttons. Perhaps one of the most fun discoveries was realizing that a fallen enemy was also a weapon. After defeating an enemy, I was treated to a bouncing coin, increasing my total money. At the start, I didn’t know the purpose of the currency.
 
After a couple screens I came across the first mall. I was presented with a variety of stores and purchasable goods – coffee, bagels, sushi, books, and more. Books taught different techniques, but what was engrossing was the delicious, delicious food. A little of this and I increase my punching ability. A little of that and I’m more agile. A little of this and… I regain health or increase my maximum health or something. (I later realized that how much my maximum health increased was partly tied to how depleted my current health was.) I was more than happy to go through trial and error to understand the economy. Different enemy types drop varying amount of money, and these can be used on the items in the malls. Eating items increases your stats, although I couldn’t find out which or by how much until I tried them. I could see this being annoying if money was scarce, but there were plenty of gangs of students and evil bosses to mug.
 
While River City Ransom looked fairly linear, I found it to be very open. I ran from area to area defeating such gangs as the Generic Dudes, the Jocks, the Frat Guys, and more. The bottom of the screen flashed. “BARF!” “Wham!” “Mamaaa!” Occasionally a bit of helpful text pointed me in the right direction, but I mostly encountered comical one-liners. These little snips of dialogue combined with the malls and shops to fully engross me. There was plenty to discover, including Merlin’s Mystery Shop, a secret shop hidden in a tunnel. Somehow this Merlin fellow managed to collect such powerful items as Excaliber and Zeus’ Wand. Did you know Zeus used a wand? I didn’t.
 
In the end, I reached Slick, who turned out to go by the name of Simon.
 
Thanks to ALEX & RYAN that
was the end of evil Simon!
The gangs returned to class
and became honor students.
Cyndi was rescued in time
to finish her shopping.
Yes… all was once again
peaceful in River City.
 
Clearly the problems of Ryan’s girlfriend being held hostage and the city being full of gangs of students had been solved. Nothing turns around gangs of students like a good whoopin’, and now River City High School and Cross Town High School must have much higher average GPAs and college admissions! Truly, I solved not only my problems, but I improved education as whole in our great nation!
 
In Japan, River City Ransom was part of the Kunio-kun series, which also includes Renegade, Super Dodge Ball, and Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge. I’ve tried Renegade, but it lacks the comedy, exploration, and food of River City Ransom, causing me to put it down shortly after starting. I’ve yet to try any of the other games in the series. There was a Game Boy Advance port, River City Ransom EX, that I enjoyed, adding more customization but removing the multiplayer. (I recommend the original NES version.) A sequel was announced for the Wii and PC, due out in 2011 or 2012, but I couldn’t find any additional information on it.
 
River City Ransom inspired more than just me. Scott Pilgrim makes heavy references to the game. Besides coins exploding out of defeated enemies and similar boss names and placement, “BARF!” is a bit of dialogue the two universes have in common. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game feels very heavily inspired by River City Ransom. There’s even a secret shop full of incredibly expensive items placed like Merlin’s Mystery Shop. One of the other Kunio-kun games, Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge, is obviously referenced by the band Crash and the Boys in the books and movie.
 
As I said earlier, I started playing River City Ransom the night before I was planning on waking early to go to Disneyland. I got two hours of sleep that night because I couldn’t put River City Ransom down. If you’re familiar with Disneyland, you might know that there’s a restroom at the front of Adventureland that you reach as soon as you enter from Main Street. When the rest of the group used the restroom there, I leaned on the fake rocks outside, getting a little extra time with River City Ransom on my Palm. I jokingly refer to that place as River City Rock to this day.
 
River City Ransom: Mugging gangs of students and eating sushi.
 
BARF!