Stitches deserves every present I can give him. If you don’t have Stitches at your campsite, you are incorrect.
Stitches deserves every present I can give him. If you don’t have Stitches at your campsite, you are incorrect.
I had to give my Harvest Fest invitation to Stitches – just like how I gave him the best-friend confection back in February. He’s clearly the best village.
Welcome to my neon dance club! I just love all the colors and lasers. Plus, I like K. K. Slider! I’d like to visit a place like this 🙂
gem came to visit, too. She didn’t intend to match me so exactly, but she chose most of the same items!
And here’s Stitches, my favorite villager; he’s ready to party with me!
Did you know you could have your own pizza place in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp? You can if you build it! At my Pocket Camp Pizza Place, we can bake two fresh pies for you a time and offer plenty of seating to enjoy the hot slices.
Ready for dessert? A sweet treat is always a good compliment to pizza. Just visit the other side of the campsite to sweet pies, cupcakes, ice cream, or candy!
I hate Boss Challenge events in Dragon Mania Legends. Most events have a refresh period of 6 hours or so – meaning you have certain objectives you have to complete every 6 hour period. That’s nice because even if I have to play 15 minutes, I don’t have to worry about it again for a while.
Boss Challenge has a 2 hour delay delay between each part, which is much more annoying. It’s also hard to know how much of a grace period you have. If you wait three hours, you’ve wasted an hour. If you waste too much time, you probably can’t finish.
Well, I finally finished one. Yes, I had to spend some gems at the end, but I never purchase gems with real money so I’ll consider this a win! I also never needed to interrupt my sleep or anything important during the day. I just tried to be more punctual about checking the event when I was able.
For Valentine’s Day, Nintendo gave each player one best-friend confection to give to their animal of choice in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. When you give it to an animal, that animal gives you a bell-jar bouquet with a note attached. There are three types you can get, but I didn’t think about what reward I wanted. I knew I had to give my best-friend confection to Stitches! He’s the best!
I had two EX Raids to do at the same time and didn’t get a response in the Discord for the second about a later group. I went anyways, and no one was going for a second round. I figured I might as well attempt it despite neither of the two accounts with me being 40. Turns out, this raid is incredibly easy. I had about half the time remaining!
I’ve been playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp recently. Is it time for a new hat, or can I wear my Happy New Year hat for a little longer? I realize I haven’t blogged here much in a while, and part of that is because I think I need to say something specific. Should I explain what Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is and review it before I start to write about it? No, I don’t want to do that. I just want to talk about the game. But if you want to add me as a friend, my ID is 2604 7697 654!
Also, this amuses me. These are my only two friends in the game that I actually know, and for a moment I wondered how my friend could be in two spots at the same time. It took me a second to realize that they just dressed similarly today. That’s gem on the left and Anela on the right. Nice fashion!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
When my friend Joe told me about Adult Swim’s new iOS game, Castle Doombad (developed by Grumpyface Studios), in February, I immediately bought it. I’m a fan of some of their previous games, so I was excited to play this new one. I don’t intend this post to be a formal review, so I’m not going to worry about going into too many details on the game. However, it’s a tower defense game in which you try to protect your captured princess from heroes. You can beat a stage by ensuring a hero never rescues the princess, but you can also crown a stage by keeping a hero from ever reaching her. You earn currency in the levels and can use it to purchase new traps or upgrade current ones. In addition, there are thirty tasks called “TO-DOOMS” that reward a second type of currency, used for powerful abilities.
Here you can see that I crowned every stage in the first chapter.
And here I crowned every stage in the second chapter.
I couldn’t leave the third chapter incomplete.
Every good game needs an endless mode, and of course, I played that too.
The Summer Slaycation update introduced a new chapter. In this one, there are two princesses you need to protect. I crowned every stage here too.
I had to ensure all my to-dooms were to-done.
If all the levels were complete, I didn’t really need to make my traps more powerful, but I did manage to unlock and upgrade every trap…
…which means that I earned every achievement.
Okay, Adult Swim, I’m ready for another update now.
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!
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.
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!
On March 16, I funded a location-aware iOS game called Monster Guru by Gimo Games on Kickstarter. Players are tasked with collecting and battling monsters, but the geolocation feature adds an extra twist.
The core of the exploring is the 1:1 movement of player and in game character. The map will initially have a “fog of war” over it, and as you walk through it new areas will be uncovered. What we’ve done is put in a non-GPS mode where after uncovering an area you can go back to that area without physically walking there. This makes the exploring still part of the moving around, but you’ll be able to play at home after having gone through different areas on the map.Last updated: Wednesday Feb 15, 12:52am EST
This sounded pretty fun to me!
With iOS 6, Apple is no longer using Google Maps but are using their own Apple Maps. There are reports of the 3D views being wavy and weird, certain landmarks missing, certain non-existent landmarks present, incorrect addresses or directions, and a lack of public transit. I haven’t checked any of these myself because I’m holding off on upgrading, but honestly, my guess is that Apple Maps likely works fine for most people in the US (assuming you don’t take public transit).
I forgot about Monster Guru.
Because Monster Guru was based heavily on API calls to the Maps application, the change from Google Maps to Apple Maps has severely hindered Monster Guru’s development. For now, I’ll continue to eagerly wait for my chance to reward real life exploration with monster battling!
The full update from Gimo Games follows:
SetbacksFriends!Thank you for your patience and support over the past few months. We’ve had some great progress along the way, but we have also had some setbacks. People have come and gone in Gimo, gotten married, moved, found new jobs, and started school again. The biggest setback however comes from the new maps in iOS 6.
Most complaints about the new maps have been from consumers, but I’ll add my complaint from the perspective of a developer. Apple maps are broken. Monster Guru pushes the maps on iOS to the limit. We are using the maps, overlays, annotations, transparency, gesture recognition like tap, hold, swipe, pinch all within Cocos2D. This was all working wonderfully on iOS 5. Apple didn’t change the API on the maps, but they changed the way they work underneath. This means we were able to build just fine on iOS 6, but when it actually ran it didn’t work at all. When we first ran it all it showed on screen was a vibrant pink color. Now we’ve rearranged some of the code and gotten it to actually display the map and function, but after scrolling or walking around for a few seconds it completely locks up.
We will fix it, but I don’t know how long it will take. Best case scenario, Apple releases iOS 6.1 tomorrow and it fixes it and everyone is happy. That probably isn’t going to happen though. Worst case scenario, we have to rewrite the whole map system, and that is the largest portion of the game. I’ve been digging through the maps trying to find out what systems aren’t working together nicely in iOS 6, but haven’t quite found it yet. We may have to end up simplifying the map a little to reduce the number of parts interacting, but I won’t dumb down the game. I feel like we can’t release a game that doesn’t work on the latest operating system, so we will fix it, and it will still be Monster Guru.
We will keep you posted along the way. In a few days I’ll put up a gameplay video with the beginning of the game so you can see how the game is played exactly, and that should answer most of the questions asked before. I wanted to get it out before, but this iOS 6 problem, compounded with work and school, have slowed down the progress. Don’t worry about the game not coming out or being dumbed down though; I will get this out to you guys. The core Gimo group will be here to finish the game no matter what. This game is my baby, and I can’t wait to get it out to you guys. Ask anything you want in the comments, or send us a message. We’ll be as transparent with you as we can.
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!
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
I got Amensia with the latest Humble Bundle. I heard it was pretty scary, and it definitely lives up to its reputation. It’s a first-person adventure game that came out about a year and nine months ago. It looked older than that to me in the way the interface works. 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 makes the game feel very immersive. The game revolves around solving puzzles… oh, and keeping your sanity.
Being the dark will slow 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 coming for you or not. Being in the dark drops your sanity, so you need to keep your lantern fueled or be able to light enough candles. When you see a monster, the longer you look at it, the more it drives you insane. 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 it.
It has a really fascinating story. Your character has purposely given himself amnesia and left himself with a letter telling him to kill someone. He assures himself that the person deserves to die even if he doesn’t like it. I can’t wait to find out more about the story.
The game suggests you play it in the dark with headphones. I don’t do either of those things. However, the fact that I’m playing without the brightness maxed out means I’m at least trying to play by the rules. There’s also the fact that I’m still playing even though most people I know gave up. I’m about 2/3 of the way through the game I think.
Grand Theft Auto
After playing the first GTA (and London), I tried GTA 2 once before jumping forward a number of years and playing GTA 4 and Chinatown Wars. I never beat any of the early games, so I picked up the classic pack on Steam. I tried playing the original, but I have to be honest, it doesn’t hold up. I like the core game type; I loved Chinatown Wars, for example. But the missions are just tedious. It’s all more of the same. The story isn’t very interesting. Worst of all, levels are very long, and alt-tabbing almost always will eventually lead to the game crashing. I even tried cheating by giving myself unlimited lives. That didn’t work because I didn’t have enough time to beat a level in one sitting, and like I said, alt-tabbing leads to crashing. I decided to write this one off. I won’t be returning to it.
Grand Theft Auto III
Instead, I’ll be playing GTA 3. It’s really telling that GTA 3 can be so ugly by today’s standards but still be so good. I don’t even think about it being old while I play it. It just feels like GTA 4. I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m only a handful of missions into the game – maybe around 10. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it later. For now, it’s definitely satisfying a third I’ve been having.
Lollipop Chainsaw is the one reason I’ve used a console recently. It’s Suda51’s latest game, and it’s an odd one. It’s about a cheerleader who’s also a zombie hunter. When her boyfriend gets bit, she cuts off his head with a chainsaw and takes it with him, allowing him to survive with magic. You hack and slash enemies sort of like Devil May Cry. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and I had a lot of fun with it. The claim to fame, beside being developed by Suda51 of course, is sex appeal. There’s a lot of talk about sex, and a lot of cussing. The sex is, honestly, not much worse than a bunch of B-horror movies anyways, and that’s the flavor the game seems to targeting. The over-abundant cussing just seems odd. Mad World had a lot of cussing, and it seemed appropriate. It doesn’t really feel appropriate here. There’s also a peculiar gameplay element. Control is removed every minute or so to show the player something. I understand the the game needs to let the player know what’s happening, but it should do it without taking the game away from me.
Worms Crazy Golf
Zynga Slots and Zynga Poker
Level hub in Super Mario World for SNES.
Level hubs are bad. Well, they’re usually bad anyways. If there’s no compelling reason for one to exist, it shouldn’t exist. Level hubs are the worlds you explore to find the actual levels. In a level, you have fun, progress the story and game, are taught new mechanics, and are tested on those mechanics. In the hub, you look for a level. Why? Menus work better than explorable hubs.
The Mario series has an interesting history with hubs. At first, there was no level hub at all. Finishing one level sent you on your way to the next. Super Mario Bros. 3 let you pick your level from the hub. You didn’t really explore. You couldn’t jump. You weren’t really in control of Mario, but you could pick your next level. There were multiple paths of levels, and sometimes things could block your path. Because you’d need to see the paths between levels and try to get to (or away from) the enemies blocking you, the level hub was important. Super Mario World was similar; it had multiple paths you could take. Levels that had multiple exits that would lead to different levels were clearly marked on the map. The hub also organized the levels and provided context. Again, the map had a purpose. Importantly, these hubs were not difficult to navigate and didn’t add a significant amount of time between levels.
Super Mario 64 changed all that. Peach’s castle was the level hub, and in it you controlled Mario the same way you would in any level. Certain paintings in the castle allowed you to enter levels through them. In this way, the game rewarded (and required) exploration of the castle. Was this good? I loved Super Mario 64 when it came out, and I’m still quite fond of it. It’s hard to decide whether this was a bad decision. There are a few things that Nintendo did to keep the hub from being terrible. First, the game mechanics functioned the same way. If you enjoyed controlling Mario in a level, at least you could potentially get the same enjoyment out of the hub. I enjoyed controlling Mario and remember playing in the castle itself. Second, most levels weren’t hidden. You could clearly see where a level was based on the doors, and the doors were even marked, letting you know how many stars you needed to unlock it. Third, after obtaining a star, Mario would come back out of the painting, standing right in front of it. This is great because the majority of the time you need to go right back into the same painting for another star. Of course, that also emphasizes a problem. If I’m usually going to jump right back into the painting, why even take me out of it in the first place? I’m going to go ahead and declare the hub bad. My best guess is that at the time it was new and interesting to have an explorable hub world, and it made Mario’s adventure seem grand. We were still at a time where all video game urban legends weren’t immediately debunked by the Internet, which made the hub feel like a mysterious place worth exploring. We were also new to 3D platformers; the hub gave gamers a chance to get used to controlling Mario, and the developers must not have thought of making the courtyard a one-time introductory level. Hindsight is 20-20. The hub is bad.
Nintendo thought we still needed hubs in Super Mario Galaxy. It’s practically amazing how terrible the hub is in that game. Not only was it a waste of time when what you really wanted to do was get to a level, but it was also confusing and hard to navigate. Things got a lot better in Super Mario Galaxy 2. The level select screen is very close to that of Super Mario Bros. 3. It has multiple worlds consisting of different levels, this time called galaxies, and a star select screen after that like the one found in Super Mario 64 or the first Galaxy. However, it seemed Nintendo couldn’t shake the terrible idea all the way. Perhaps young gamers like a non-threatening place to play as Mario. I don’t really believe that to be a worthy reason, but I can only assume that Nintendo has some sort of logic, however flawed. Whatever the reason, there is still a spaceship that Mario uses. After beating a level, Mario once again appears on his ship. What is there to do on the ship? There are plenty of NPCs with whom to speak, but there is little incentive to do so. Yes, there are times where there’s a reward, but this could be awarded to the player in a better way (such as the mini-game at the end of levels in Super Mario Bros. 3). In actuality, every time I get back to Mario’s ship, I run forward for a second to jump onto the button that brings up the level select map. Why put me on the boring spaceship hub if what I want to do every time is get back to playing Mario? And no Nintendo, that’s not an invitation to put more crap on the spaceship next time. It’s a request that you list what we want to do in your game and take out everything that isn’t on that list. Putting me back on the ship just to make me jump on the button is pretty similar to putting me in front of a painting just to make me jump back into it.
Nintendo’s not the only offender. Sonic Adventure had an awful hub world that was incredibly time-consuming. Finding a level shouldn’t take a long time. Despite the bad hub, I did finish Sonic Adventure. I wasn’t as angry at hub worlds back then, and I had a lot more time on my hands. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to play it again. Luckily, it seemed Sega had learned. In Sonic Adventure 2 it was much easier to find levels, and in Sonic Heroes it did away with all hubs and went back to stages and acts. Fantastic! While Sonic Heroes was buggy, I greatly appreciated how they mapped out the game. There were a lot of faults with the Sonic series at that time, but Sega learned from their mistakes. And then there was Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). What were they thinking? The hub world was back in full force, and it was absolutely terrible. It was the first game I purchased for PS3, and it was a big mistake. I never have picked it back up again after my first day with it. Sonic Unleashed on 360 was a lot more fun, but still suffered from the bad hub world. Trying to figure out where the next level was got so bad that I gave up. While I haven’t yet, I plan on trying it on Wii because that version, or so I hear, doesn’t have the hub. (If any game developers are reading this, note that I’m giving up better graphics and achievements for playability.)
Blue mission marker in Grand Theft Auto III for Steam.
How about open-world games? Well, Grand Theft Auto does it very well, but it’s not really the same. Finding missions take place in a city that, for now, let’s call the hub. The missions take place in the exact same city. It’s seamless. Because the levels exist as part of the hub, I wouldn’t really call it a hub. There are fun things to do in the city, making it a part of the game proper. Of course, you can skip the city a bit and take a taxi to any mission on your map. And how do you pick your destination? With a menu. Infamous and Infamous 2’s cities are much like GTA’s. They contain levels, which make them like hubs, but they’re alive and fun. No More Heroes looks similar but is actually very different. There’s a city in which you can drive, but none of the actual game takes place in the city. This makes NMH’s city a hub, and a terrible one at that. Whether this was good design or not is debatable because Suda 51 has made the argument that this was a critique of open-world games. If he’s critiquing Grand Theft Auto though, then my previous statements about GTA would stand as my counter-argument.
Level select in Cut the Rope for iPhone.
Many iPhone games use a grid to represent levels. Level select screens have multiple pages, and each page has a grid of levels that each have three objectives or stars. Of course, far less than every game use this system, but I see a level select screen similar to this often enough to feel it’s work mentioning. This isn’t a hub, and this is close to what I’m advocating. However, you can’t deny that this looks very dry. In fact, I say we look once again at Nintendo. Quite often they get it exactly right. They don’t use multiple pages; they use multiple worlds, such as the different islands in Super Mario World. Instead of stars representing levels, arranged in a grid, Super Mario World featured dots set up to reflect the world they represented. You could maneuver through the hub quickly and effectively, yet it still conveyed the idea behind that set of levels. It looked fun, but most importantly, let you get back to the actual fun quickly.
There can be reasons to include a hub or world map, but it needs to be done properly. It should be unobtrusive and add to the game.
Thank you, Super Mario World, for getting it right.