Tag Archives: iOS

Review: Slayaway Camp

IMG_1980Another mobile game? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Slayaway Camp suckered me in by promising me piles and piles of puzzles, all with the theme of being goofy eighties slasher movies, and I’m pleased to say that it did not lie.

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Just like that Game Boy game where you moved the boxes around! You know…the one with the boxes!

Underneath all the blood and guts lies a very classic slide-the-block-around puzzle, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before, though I can’t seem to actually think of the names of any that I’ve really played and enjoyed.  Things start off relatively simple, with you having to navigate your killer through little mazes in order to pick off all the victims and then slide into the exit, but things get surprisingly complex the deeper you get into the game.

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JUST CLOWNIN’ AROUND!

You’ll soon find yourself having to deal with fires, pits, police, cats, victim escape doors, teleporters, and many more tools, traps, and obstacles, which turn these little maps into really complicated procedures. Things can get pretty nasty in the later levels especially, but there’s a rewind button that lets you avoid having to redo whole levels from scratch, as well as a built in hint system to exploit if you need it. You’ll have to spend a little gold for a hint, or a bit more cash if you want to be shown a full solution, but don’t worry, it just uses regular old earned-in-game currency and not some kind of awful special dollars that you have to pay real money for. Or you can just blow all your gold on unlocking new killers and kill animations, all of which are entirely cosmetic and optional.

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Even space isn’t safe from your wrath!

All of this takes place across ten “videotapes”, the game’s version of chapters, each with a different theme and killer, ranging from a summer camp, a theme park, high school, and even outer space. Each tape has around 10-13 normal levels and 3-5 “deleted scenes” bonus challenge levels that open up after you’ve completed a tape, for a combined total of almost 200 levels. That’s a hell of a lot of puzzles for only $2. It’s not the most mind-blowing gaming experience, even by mobile standards, but it’s a solid bit of fun with a pretty huge amount of content for its humble price (and It’s also available on Android and PC too).

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Review: Last Voyage

FullSizeRenderLast Voyage is the previous game by Nightgate creators Semidome. Like Nightgate, it offers a selection of beautifully bizarre abstract and minimalist puzzles, along with some non-puzzle flying sequences. Last Voyage approaches things a bit differently though, with each chapter being made of entirely different sets of mini-games, and with a noticeably heavier emphasis on the abstract part.

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Just press that red bit over there.

One set of puzzles require you to move pieces around to form various shapes, while another is a showcase of strange touchscreen sensory puzzles where you have to do things like trace your finger around a field, looking for the right spot to make a red bar fill up to the right length (seen above). Another set makes use of your phone’s motion sensors to have you guide a little ball through some treacherous mazes like those old Labyrinth games (anyone remember those?).

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Look, I told you, just press the red bit.

The variety and visual design of these puzzle segments is pretty impressive (and much like Nightgate, they’re much more impressive in motion and with the nice ambient music playing). You will never be playing enough of one puzzle type to get tired of it, and there is an amazing level of inventiveness on display in the puzzle designs, especially when you realize what simple shapes and objects they’re using to create these levels.

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You’re the white dot. Touch the spinning triangles and die instantly.

The only place you see a chapter’s theme reused is in the questionable flying chapters, which are a bit of a black mark on an otherwise very enjoyable game. The first person view flying chapters are simple enough, but the top-down view ones are not so fun. As seen above, you control a small dot that’s moving very quickly across a screen that is zoomed in very closely. Along the way you’ll find many spinning and moving shapes that kill you instantly and with your speed and the camera view, with the idea being that quick reflexes will keep you alive. Instead, what it really comes down to is dying over and over again until you memorize the location of every obstacle, because there’s just no time to react quickly enough otherwise, no matter how fast you are.

These parts were more than a little bit frustrating, and felt particularly out of place in what is otherwise a relaxing little puzzle journey that you can try to decipher at your own pace. On the plus side, you have the option to skip chapters if you don’t want to deal with that, but personally, I don’t like the idea of skipping content that I paid money to experience (I WORKED HARD FOR THOSE 2 AMERICAN DOLLARS!). Overall I think it still contained enough of a unique and fun experience to be worth it though. Looking back, Nightgate seems to have already learned from the mistakes here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of weird little game these guys come up with next.

 

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Review: Monument Valley 2

IMG_1921.PNGMonument Valley was an amazingly well designed little puzzle game for mobile devices back in 2014. Its use of mind-twisting M.C. Escher-style environments, combined with a really beautiful minimalist art style and impressively effective touchscreen controls, made for one of the most memorable gaming experiences on a phone. For better or worse, Monument Valley 2 is very much the same.

On the plus side, Monument Valley 2 shares all the strengths of the first one, with fun, relaxing little levels that have a kind of virtual toy puzzle box feel to them. It’s great to spin these little rooms around, trying to find all the different little movable pieces and figuring out how they all work together to form a path for you to escape through.

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The hardest part of writing about these games is narrowing down which beautiful screenshot to show.

Yes, the gameplay is still very solid, though also like the first one, the main campaign is a bit too easy. The really mind-bendingly tricky puzzles didn’t come in until the expansion levels, and in my opinion, many of the best levels were to be found there. Hopefully this one will add some new, more challenging levels again someday too. It’s also incredibly short. You can blow through this thing in two hours, and you can’t help but feel a little disappointed that it’s over so quickly.

These are minor issues though, that don’t really take away from the fact that it’s another masterfully crafted game. I suppose my only real regret is that it’s a little too similar to the first one. The game kind of teases you with the new mechanic of controlling two characters at once, which make for a few extra special levels, but then quickly returns to a single character again for the majority of the game. Why would you introduce this exciting new mechanic only to take it away so quickly? Again, maybe we’ll see some of these new mechanics used a little more in a future expansion, but who knows?

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Just twist that thing and go over there. No, the other thing. It’s fine.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is still a great little game that I would recommend to just about anyone. It’s definitely a work of gaming art. I just feel like there was a really big missed opportunity here, for them to have turned this into something that felt as exceptional as the first one did at the time, by just adding a few new twists to the puzzle solving. Instead this is merely another “more of the same” sequel, but…more of the same of an exceptional game is still well above average.

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Review: Nightgate

6808304_largerI don’t play very many mobile games (nothing against them, I just have so many other platforms I’ve already got too many games for), but every once in a while an impressive one suddenly leaps out of the shadows and bites me. Nightgate is one such unexpected nibbler. I had never heard of the game, but there it was as the ‘Free App Of The Week’, a feature on my phone that I habitually check, despite the fact that there had never been a single worthwhile looking game offered on it before. I almost passed this one over too, dismissing it as something that looked like some businessman’s PowerPoint presentation gone horribly wrong.

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Sales are down this quarter. Time to shift some paradigms.

At the last moment this cryptic description caught my eye though: ‘In the year 2398, a network of intelligent computers known as Nightgate, is the last remaining life form on Earth.’ Uh oh, is this a cyberpunk game? Well, now I have to try it!

And so I jacked into the Nightgate, where I found myself in the form of a little touch-controlled dot, navigating through a bizarre environment that seemed to be part Tron, part old-timey vector arcade game.

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Screenshots really don’t do it justice. It’s much more vibrant and alive when in motion.

As it turns out, Nightgate is fascinating hybrid of platforming and puzzling, where you must touch and/or connect all the nodes which can be arranged in a complex manner that requires a little thinking, or simply guarded by nefarious looking security programs that will test your dodge reflex.

The soundtrack is also a very fitting and relaxing bit of ambient retrowave that helps sell the idea that you’re floating through what people in the seventies/eighties probably thought cyberspace would look like.

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HACK THE PLANET!

By the end of the 50 bite-sized levels, the game had left such a good impression on me that I immediately went and bought a few more mobile games by the same people (and I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking up that soundtrack too).

So if you’re ever in the market for some relaxing and beautifully designed micro-bursts of cyber-adventuring, log into the NIGHTGATE!

 

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When is a game not a game?

999 the novel

One game I forgot to mention in yesterday’s article on my rediscovery of mobile gaming was 999: The Novel – although it’s debatable whether it should be called a game at all.

I’ve been interested in trying out the games in the Zero Escape series for a while. Zero Time Dilemma, the third game, came out for the 3DS earlier this year to glowing reviews, and the second game, Virtue’s Last Reward, went on sale in the eShop at about the same time. I promptly snapped it up, but I wanted to start the series off at the beginning, with the clunkily titled 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Unfortunately, this DS game is fairly tricky to get hold of (and expensive, too), but I found out that there’s also an iOS version.

However, the iOS version is a bit different. The DS game is billed as a ‘visual novel adventure’, where you explore a sinking ship as part of a sadistic game organised by the mysterious Zero. At several points you have to solve puzzles to escape rooms, and every now and then you have to decide which door to take, with the story changing according to your choices.

The iOS game keeps all the same dialogue and door choices, but it completely strips out the puzzles – instead the screen just goes black and says something like “They were able to solve the puzzle and open the door”. So essentially, the whole ‘game’ is just clicking through dialogue and choosing one of two or three doors at about five points.

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I’m used to playing visual novels like the Ace Attorney series, where essentially you’re just looking for the right line of dialogue to proceed, or the right object to present. But as I discovered when writing this article about the J.B. Harold games, in Japan this series would more likely be considered as an ‘adventure game’. Over there, visual novels are pretty much what the name implies – novels with pictures, and very little in the way of interaction.

So 999: The Novel on iOS is a visual novel in the strict sense – writing and pictures and not much else. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it at first.

Without any interaction other than the odd door choice, the writing is forced to hold up on its own – and quite often it comes across as a bit clunky. The storytelling has an unfortunate penchant for melodrama, and quite often characters will annoyingly repeat themselves, or parrot what someone else has just said. Frequently, people will launch into long and bizarre anecdotes that seemingly have little connection with anything else, like the time someone eagerly describes a series of crystal experiments. I also felt the loss of the puzzles – it felt like my agency had been taken away.

But having said that, I did start getting into it after a while. After getting my first ‘bad’ ending, I became curious as to how things would have turned out if I’d gone another way, and I found myself getting more and more into the story. Eventually, I saw all of the endings the game had to offer, including the so-called ‘true’ ending. The story gets more and more ludicrous as the game goes on, but the characters are likeable, and I enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of revelations.

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But is it really a game? I found myself pondering this after I’d finished it. The only interaction is limited to five or so choices, so calling it a ‘game’ is really pushing the definition. But then again, there is a metagame in the sense that working out which routes offer the better endings is part of the challenge. More to the point, it felt like a game thanks to the graphic style and, well, clunky dialogue, to be honest. Nothing tells you that you’re playing a game more than making apologies on behalf of the designers for lacklustre writing. It’s a sad fact that as gamers, we’re willing to overlook cheesy scripts because they’re pretty much the norm for our genre – just look at Uncharted. And just last night while playing Bayonetta 2, a critically lauded game, I found myself wilfully disregarding the dreadful acting of that irritating squirrel character, not to mention the sometimes painful script. Often, playing games feels like watching your own child act in a school play – you’re willing to forgive their lack of finesse just because you want them to succeed.

So yes, 999 doesn’t have the best script in the world, but at least it has an interesting story. And it just about qualifies as a game, in my opinion. But it did make me wonder what the minimum amount of interaction would be for a piece of digital entertainment to qualify as a game. If you only made one choice, would it still be a game? If all you were doing was tapping through dialogue without making any choices at all, would that still be a game?

I’d probably say ‘no’ for the above two options, but that also made me wonder what threshold 999: The Novel had to cross for it to become a game in my mind. Is five choices the minimum needed for it to feel like a game? What if it only had four choices? Or three?

My mind flies back to the legendary Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, an April Fool gag perpetrated by the editors of Your Sinclair. The ‘game’ involved holding down one button to make your character mow the lawn – and that was it. It elicited howls of laughter from the youthful me at the time.

But is it a game? Unequivocally, I’d say yes. But if something as simple as that can be considered a game, then surely anything could?

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The great mobile gaming snub: who will remember poor old Bubble Ducky?

I can remember people laughing at cell phone games.  And its not really that long ago that people in the west laughed at Square-Enix releasing a Final Fantasy game in Japan exclusively for mobiles.  It goes to the fickleness of consumers and the games media proper that it was not long until they were celebrating mobile games and hailing them as the market to watch. Fickle industry aside, mobile games are now big business (for a select few). But for such a large segment of the videogame market, it is amazing how little is documented about mobile games.  Sure, we all will remember Flappy Bird for its moment in the sun, and Plants Vs Zombies because in some ways it was the first mobile game to really connect with traditional players; but what about the others, the older games that were released between mobile gaming milestones Snake and Wordjong?  There are a lot of them, and I’d hazard a guess that they’ll be lost to the annals of time, as we move from fashion to fashion, ditching these expendable pieces of entertainment for the new hotness for the price of little more (and more often less) than a free-to-play microtransaction.

Personally I’ve never been one to indulge in mobile games, mainly because I don’t find myself in a situation where I absolutely need to play a game, but only have my phone handy.  Even in the toilet.  But I there have been a few instances where, just by absolute chance, I’ve happened upon a little mobile game that took my fancy.  In most cases they failed to hold my attention, and just as soon as I’d downloaded them, they were deleted from my phone never to be seen again.  But one game, more than a decade ago bucked that trend, and still remains to this day the mobile game I’ve spent the most time with.  That little game was Digital Chocolate’s simple colour matching puzzler, Bubble Ducky.

Bubble Ducky

Now I’m under absolutely no delusion that Bubble Ducky was a great game.  It brought absolutely nothing new to the video game table, and in most ways, was inferior to just about every other portable puzzler that has caught, but more importantly held, my attention over the years.  But it was simple enough to pick up and play, but deep enough to be more than something I played once and ditched.  It played into my slightly obsessive personality, as many puzzlers want to do, and ate at me until I had cleared the screen of bubbles and (to use an American term) beaten the game.  Best of all it disguised a pretty severe degree of difficulty with a bright and colourful aesthetic that was charming, and if I’m honest, brightened my days in a lot of cases.  So, no, it wasn’t a great game, but it was one that was impeccably designed to be fit for purpose, that is being a game that is designed to be consumed in bite sized chunks at times when you’ve got nothing you’d rather be doing than passing the time.

Bubble Ducky is the only mobile game I’ve really ever spent significant amounts of time with.  Not because I have an in-principle or snobbish aversion to them, but more because I don’t have the place in my daily routine where a mobile game would come in handy.  But they are out there, and people are obviously consuming them at a rate of knots.  I hate to think how many mobile games have been released since Bubble Ducky, most of which have probably gone unnoticed.  I’ve written about the revisionist history of videogames where the press and enthusiasts are curating a version of the industry that they think is worthy of being remembered, and therefore perpetuating a false version of events.  Mobile games are likely to fall into this camp, and while many of these games aren’t masterpieces, it is a legitimate part of our pastime and one that we shouldn’t let fade into history.  After all there are seemingly countless parts of the internet covering the obscure and terrible corners of console and PC games of yore, and while enthusiasts like to discount its legitimacy, mobile games are still a tangible part of this industry we call videogames.

There are some great sources for mobile games, so for more in-depth and ongoing analysis of the mobile games market:

Pocketgamer.biz – Mobile Games industry news – www.pocketgamer.biz/

Pocket Tactics the home of proper games on iPad, iPhone and Android

Pocketgamer.com News and Reviews from the world of mobile and portable gaming

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