Category Archives: Android

Why Nostalgia Can Be A Dangerous Thing

Nostalgia is awesome, it allows long-time videogame fans such as myself to go back and play through some excellent retro games. Take Earthbound as a recent example of nostalgia working in my favor. Game companies like Nintendo have been making millions off of gamers’ nostalgia for retro games. It’s one of the main reasons why the Virtual Console has been such an international hit, because people always hold certain vintage games in a certain light because of the nostalgia associated. This article isn’t about the pros of nostalgia though, no instead this article looks at how certain publishers are using nostalgia to cash in, when in fact their product is actually garbage. Case in point…

Say hello to Contra: Evolution, which is a complete reworking of the original NES classic by Punchbox and Konami. This is a perfect example of a publisher simply cashing in on players’ nostalgia of one of the best NES games ever released. This game is absolutely horrible as it is, yet looks awesome and is currently one of the highest selling apps on Apple’s App Store. It has sold well over 2 million units already, since being released in late June. So what gives?

For one thing, Konami knows if they price this thing at $0.99 people will buy it based purely on nostalgia, and that’s exactly what people are doing. The comments say it all.

“This game plays like complete crap, but for a buck why the F not.”

“I can’t even survive the first minute, but come on its an NES classic!”

Doesn't this look awesome?  Shame it plays so awful that you won't want to play for more than five seconds after purchasing it.
Doesn’t this look awesome? Shame it plays so awful that you won’t want to play for more than five seconds after purchasing it.

The list of comments like these go on and on for pages. So what kind of a message are gamers telling publishers when they purchase games like this? Well for one, that there’s no real point to put any effort into making a videogame based on an existing property. To make matters worse the in-app purchases are a complete joke. You can pay real-world money to purchase extra lives, continues, and even weapons. I mean, really?!?! What’s sickening is that the game is making millions for Konami!

Don’t think for a minute it’s just Konami either, oh no, all the big console and PC publishers have learned that people buying these games are completely clueless. Capcom released an all but unplayable version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, EA released Battlefield 3: Aftershock which just might be the worst app ever released on the App Store, and the list goes on and on. So why are these smart AAA publishers doing this, because people are buying these dollar games like wildfire, which constantly pushes them to the top of the charts and as a result gives these companies no incentive whatsoever to try and make better products. In the end, they’re using our very memories of these classic experiences, or famed franchises against us.

As awesome as it sounds to play a classic game completely remastered, without having proper and precise controls there’s no way these games can hold a candle to their original versions, however people overlook these “minor inconveniences” thanks to the incredibly low asking price. This is one of the major reasons why dedicated portable gaming devices like the 3DS have been so successful, because publishers know they have to put a thoughtful product out there or no one will pay $40 or more for it. Dedicated gamers know this, and as a result are playing significantly better games.

At the end of the day people are to blame for what’s currently happening to the mobile gaming market, and I fear that one day this could spread to the rest of the industry. Once prices go low enough, and people start buying games without even thinking about what they’re buying, publishers stop caring about releasing a quality product. As it is now, I’ll gladly go buy Contra Rebirth on the Wii eShop for a few bucks more, knowing at the very least I’m getting a much better product in the end.

N.O.V.A. 3 Review

N.O.V.A. 3 (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-12
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: May 31, 2012

Played on ASUS Transformer Pad TF300 w/Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
Sampled on HTC Rezound running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: N.O.V.A. 3, with its technical polish, is unsurprisingly the most explicit installment of Gameloft’s sci-fi franchise. Kal Wardin swears, the combat is more visceral, and there are suggestive themes. The game overall is the most ‘mature’ of the series.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal; participated in several online (wi-fi) competitive matches.

Our old A.I. friend Yelena has beckoned N.O.V.A. hero Kal Wardin back to Earth. He doesn’t know what for on the way in, but it doesn’t take long for him to discover that Volterites have assaulted his home planet. Why? There’s supposed to be a ceasefire between humanity and the alien race. That matters not however, as Kal quickly joins a ragtag N.O.V.A. team working to repel the invasion. He ultimately learns that the humans have done something very foolish, and Prometheus steps in to force our hero into his final mission. Let’s just say things don’t look good for humans or Volterites.

The Great:

Eye-popping! When N.O.V.A. 3’s teaser trailers emerged, everyone agreed that Gameloft was once again raising the bar for visual polish in a mobile game. That’s what N3 has done. Our Executive Director Jarrod and I agree that the game could easily pass as a first-generation Xbox 360 or PS3 title. It’s not exactly shocking given the ongoing technological evolution of mobile devices, but I don’t think anyone anticipated a game like N3 arriving so soon. I can only imagine what it looks like first-hand on the iPad’s retina display. Yet no matter your device, the N.O.V.A. and Volterite models, environments, and effects are second-to-none. N.O.V.A. 3 is in the top three prettiest mobile games.

The Good:

+ The cast. Kal Wardin, Yelena, Prometheus, and a couple newcomers come together to deliver the most enjoyable and emotional plot in this sci-fi series. I cared more about each than in the previous two installments. That’s always good.

+ The weapons. Kal’s arsenal is fun to play with. I’m sad that the dual-wield pistols and auto-shotgun were given the boot, but the rest of Wardin’s toys are entertaining.

+ More skills, again. Melee has been inexplicably removed, but at least replaced and supplemented with ‘slow motion’ and ‘repel’ abilities. Thus, you can either send enemies flying (a la Jean Grey), or enter what is unaffectionately known as bullet time. Both are fun and useful, along with the mainstay freeze power.

+ Piloting a mech. It’s more or less identical to doing so in N.O.V.A. 2, except flashier.

+ Grenades. I’m often unimpressed with the results of explosives in games, especially shooters. Yet N.O.V.A. 3 makes every grenade toss a wonderful anticipation of a loud and pretty boom, not to mention a dramatic scattering of any Volterites caught in the blast.

+ Flamethrower! OK, I suppose I can forgive the omission of an auto-shotgun. It may not arrive until later in the campaign, but you can’t help but smile while burning Volterites to a crisp.

The So-So:

+/- Gyroscope controls. N.O.V.A. 3 is the first mobile game where I’ve given gyro control a spin. It’s an aid and a pain at the same time. Gyro doesn’t replace a second analog stick, but still allows you to not have to swipe across the screen to aim in battle. However, it can easily disorient you when enemies move around around a lot. You can only twist a tablet so far, thus trying to move, fire and use the gyro function in a way that feels natural is next to impossible. Where’s my Android gamepad?

+/- Voice acting. The voices sound great; the script is written well, and the dialogue is convincing. It’s too bad then, that the mouth syncing is hit-or-miss. You should never see a character’s mouth still moving when his/her lines are finished being spoken.

+/- Multiplayer. The overall structure is very well-done. There’s a healthy selection of enjoyable maps; you can customize your warrior to a great degree; you can participate in tournaments; the modes you expect are there, etc. The big problems are lag and players infrequently joining matches in progress. Lag isn’t prevalent in every match I’ve played, but very noticeable when it occurs. I wish that those who pay for 3G or 4G service could take advantage of that for online play. It’s also not fun to be consistently outnumbered…

The Bad:

–  Let me customize! I don’t understand why Gameloft’s older Modern Combat 3 allows you to choose where to place every input icon, and choose the size of each, but N.O.V.A. 3 doesn’t. You can shift everything but the reload function, which is the most important to be able to! This isn’t so bad for smartphone users, but you must completely move your hand on a 10.1″ tablet to manually replenish your weapon’s magazine. That’s unintuitive.

– Ending. I’m disappointed with how lazy Gameloft is with concluding its games. After a brief final scene after defeating the last boss, N3 abruptly ends. No closing cutscene that clarifies plot elements, nothing. I’m interested in knowing what happened to these characters, and likely never will. This is worse than the pre-DLC Mass Effect 3!

– Renting weapons, seriously? It’s very strange that the sci-fi weapons are only accessible from the in-game store. You can’t acquire them by eliminating enemies. It’s further disconcerting that it isn’t a permanent purchase. I bought a fun, new gun the moment I had a chance, and it was gone the following mission. Eh?…

– Aiming on a jeep. I thought there was something horribly wrong with my game while manning a jeep during the second mission. I even restarted it multiple times. Several minutes later, I finally discovered that shifting your reticule around normally requires swiping from one side of the screen to the other. Well, that’s plain stupid. Does this affect phones too? I don’t know.

The Ugly:

Bugs galore! It’s very unfortunate that N3 looks so good and is fun, but filled to the brim with bugs. You name a glitch, and it’s probably able to happen. I fell through floors. Key game events failed to trigger. The game force-closed. The Volterites would stop moving. I would stop being able to move. And I’m sure others encountered glitches that I haven’t. I don’t know who was responsible for the game’s testing, but I strongly question the job they did for this experience. I hope Gameloft releases a big patch job soon.

The Lowdown:

Since its teaser trailers released, I rooted for N.O.V.A. 3 to be the best of the best in mobile gaming. In the looks department, Gameloft’s product has virtually no equal. Yet in so many areas, N3 reminds you that videogames will always be imperfect. To what extent is up to the developer and its QA staff, and the extent to which this title takes you out of the experience is discouraging. Of course Gameloft can issue updates in the future, and I believe they will. For now, Kal Wardin’s final mission may be fun romp, but it may leave you feeling a tad irked when all is said and done.

Final Score: 7/10

N.O.V.A. 2 Review

N.O.V.A. 2 (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-8
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99 ($4.99 through Gameloft’s website)
Release Date: December 16, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: If your child plays Halo, there’s no reason he/she can’t play N.O.V.A. as well. The violence and content overall is much milder.

Review Basis: Finished campaign onNormal; participated in an online (wi-fi) competitive match.

N.O.V.A. 2 is a sequel to N.O.V.A., or Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance. Six years have passed since Kal Wardin faced off with the Xenos aliens and encountered the Judges, and now humanity is at each other’s throats in a bloody civil war. You have the Terran Orbitals on one side, and the Human-Volterite Alliance on the other. Wardin tried to leave his N.O.V.A. service [again], but is thrust into the middle of this conflict when the peaceful planet of Scorpius that he retired to is attacked by the Volterites.

The Great:

Combat variety. Wardin of course fights most of this war on-foot, but also mans a jeep turret, pilots a giant mech, drives a speed bike (a la Star Wars), and has access to much more weaponry than the original N.O.V.A. provided. Kal has dual-wield pistols, a submachine gun, pump-action and auto-shotguns, grenade and rocket launchers, a slew of Volterite weapons, and explosives. You really can’t be bored using N.O.V.A. 2’s toys. Of course I’m partial to the auto-shotgun and always will be, and Kal’s didn’t disappoint.

The Good:

+ Much-improved visuals. Like the transition from Modern Combat: Sandstorm to Black Pegasus, N2’s improvement over N.O.V.A. is striking with its jump in polygons and overall greater detail.

+ The cast. I appreciated Kal’s personality much more than last time. His lines before sounded awkward, as though his voice actor was altogether uninterested. He offers more emotion and substance here, and it helps his relationship with Yelena. Neither is perfect, but the communication isn’t ever really annoying.

+ Upgrades. It’s pitiful how few hidden credits I found in the campaign, but I enjoyed using them nonetheless to improve Kal’s abilities and weapon attributes.

+ More skills. The freeze ability returns, but the same icon on the touch screen eventually can be switched to a disc attack. It’s fun to get up-close-and-personal to your enemies and issue an insta-kill. You simply have to be careful the opposite doesn’t happen.

+ Piloting a mech. (I wanted to offer more detail.) One mission places you in the body of a metal beast, sort of like an AT-AT. You get to fire a chain gun, let rockets loose, and cause a mess of chaos. Destroy the environment, other mechs, and a bunch of hostile ground troops. Very enjoyable!

+ Enemy AI. It’s fascinating, and somewhat sad, that N.O.V.A. offers fairly intelligent enemies. This is a mobile game with much more limited technology mind you. They try to dodge when it makes sense, band together, and use cover in a moderately wise fashion. I’m quite impressed.

The So-So:

+-  Music. It does the job, but is forgettable. The main menu theme is catchy though.

+- Multiplayer. Accuse me of not experiencing it enough by participating in only one match, but I could do nothing more. Just a few people were online, as obviously fans are playing N.O.V.A. 3 now, and I was lucky to even do that. It was a decent match. Nothing exciting, but I managed to land some kills.

The Bad:

–  Poor optimization. N.O.V.A 2 never played smoothly for me. I’m again sure iDevice users don’t experience this, and I still don’t know if other Android gamers do, but the game lagged and stuttered considerably across the board. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience, but it certainly doesn’t add to it.

– Driving a speed bike. (I wanted to offer more detail.) A number of times you drive a speed bike. That’s not so bad; you tilt your mobile device to steer, and it works well enough. What I hated was shooting a gun at the same time. Why they decided to place the fire icon squarely in front of your view is beyond me. Plus, it’s not automatic, so you have to tap a million times. I died quite a bit. Not enjoyable…

– No level select? It’s not unreasonable to expect access to each level individually as you finish them, right? Apparently N.O.V.A. 2 thinks it is. After I finished the campaign, only starting a new game altogether was available.

– Too much! A virtual stick, fire icon, reload, weapon-switch, special ability, grenade, jump, pause; all these inputs are on your screen simultaneously. I don’t care if you’re playing on a smartphone or tablet; that’s a little much to keep track of all at once.

The Ugly:

Kill that b******! You hear this line over and over from the enemy. I was tired of it after a handful of times, and it didn’t stop there. Videogame dialogue overkill, to say the least.

The Lowdown:

It’s nice to see N.O.V.A. take on more of its own personality with this sequel, despite how obvious the franchise mimics Halo. Kal and Yelena are more enjoyable, and the offensive arsenal is exquisite. The story isn’t exactly riveting, but Gameloft has quite the above average shooter here. That’s impressive considering their AAA Modern Combat series. Maintaining two quality 3D FPS properties at once can’t be easy.

Final Score: 8/10

 

And while you wait for Justin to finish N.O.V.A. 3 on his Android tablet, please enjoy the trailers below for the game, straight from Gameloft!

E3 2012 – Ubisoft E3 Trailers Including Watch Dogs!

Let’s get the ball started with something you might not expect…

You Shape Fitness Evolved 2013 – Looks as promising as ever.

Rabbids Land – Another really wacky Rabbids game.

Rayman Legends – Since I adored Origins I’m certainly looking forward to this one. Might just pick up the Wii U release as well.

Just Dance 4 – I’ve always preferred Dance Central myself.

ZombiU – I’ve got a wide assortment of trailers for you to check out below. Hands-down the most intriguing Wii U launch title from a third party.

Ubisoft’s Wii U Line-up – Not much to say about this except they’ve got some really solid titles lined up for the Wii U, more so than even Nintendo themselves.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist – I can’t wait for this one. Loved Conviction so I’ll be all over this one.

Far Cry 3 – This isn’t the trailer you were all hoping for :-P

Assassin’s Creed III – This is likely the one everyone came here to check out…before Watch Dogs was announced.

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation – An exclusive Assassin’s Creed for the Vita, yes please!

Watch Dogs – This is my Game of E3 2012, no question about it. It was a surprise announcement that looks incredible, and gameplay that intrigues as much as it impresses. Well done Ubisoft, well done indeed.

Best conference of E3, and some of the best software shown at the show as well. My hat’s off to you Ubisoft.

iOS and Android get a new Final Fantasy

Some time ago, Square-Enix filed a trademark for the title “Final Fantasy Dimenions.” Now we finally know what that means. The Japanese site which just went live earlier has revealed that the game is for iOS and will be released in the summer as part of the series’ 25th anniversary. Special thanks to Siliconera for the information! Below is a statement from Square-Enix:

“Drawing upon the roots of the series with such features as beautiful 2D pixel art, job-driven character growth, additional scenarios in which to inherit the jobs of your adventuring companions, and a classic story of light, darkness, and crystals, Final Fantasy Dimensions delivers the best of Final Fantasy, retro and fresh alike, directly to your smartphone.”

So far, it’s assumed that Dimensions is a re-release or remake of Final Fantasy Legends, an episodic mobile game. This is very similar to how Final Fantasy IV: The After Years got its start, as well. Below is the official press release from Square-Enix.

SQUARE ENIX TO SHOWCASE POWERFUL AND DIVERSE LINEUP
AT E3 2012

Range of Titles Includes HITMAN: ABSOLUTION, TOMB RAIDER, Quantum Conundrum,
25 Years of FINAL FANTASY and More

LOS ANGELES (May 30, 2012) — Square Enix, Inc., the publishers of SQUARE ENIX® interactive entertainment products in the Americas, today announced its title lineup for E3 2012. With one of the most powerful and diverse lineups in company history, Square Enix will show off classic franchises and original titles with exclusive footage and hands-on demos including the return of Agent 47™ in HITMAN®: ABSOLUTION™, the engaging puzzle gameplay of Quantum Conundrum™, the open world action of Sleeping Dogs™, and a number of innovative mobile titles.

“At this year’s E3, Square Enix will have one of the most comprehensive and diverse portfolios of titles available in its history,” said Yoichi Wada, president and representative director of Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd. “Our mission is to entertain and engage a wide range of consumers with the best possible interactive experiences.”

“From fantasy worlds filled with some of the industry’s most identifiable characters to innovative, original content, the lineup from Square Enix at this year’s E3 is one of the strongest in the industry,” said Mike Fischer, president and chief executive officer of Square Enix, Inc.

To get a first-hand look at upcoming games from Square Enix, please visit booth 1647 in the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center. E3 attendees will be able to experience exclusive theater presentations for Quantum Conundrum, Sleeping Dogs and HITMAN: ABSOLUTION, and preview and play the following Square Enix titles:

HD Consoles and PC Lineup

Quantum Conundrum
Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation®Network for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft
Developer: Airtight Games
ESRB: E (Everyone)
Available: June 21 for Windows PC, Summer for PlayStation 3 system and Xbox 360
From the mind of PORTAL™ co-creator Kim Swift, Quantum Conundrum features engaging puzzle gameplay with the introduction of the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device (IDS), an invention that gives players the ability to shift to and from various dimensions, manipulating the world around them in order to solve puzzles of ever-increasing difficulty.

American Mensa Academy™
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, Android
Available: July
American Mensa Academy is a brain training game that will give player’s minds the ultimate cerebral workout. Created in direct collaboration with Mensa, American Mensa Academy is packed with 100+ replayable levels of fun and stimulating mini-games and challenges for everyone, plus for those really looking to test their grey matter, there is a rigorous test designed to calculate your Mensa score, directly inspired by questions faced by those attempting to join the renowned global high IQ society.

Sleeping Dogs
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 system, Windows PC
Developer: United Front Games
ESRB: Rating Pending (RP)
Available: August 14
Sleeping Dogs catapults players into the role of undercover cop Wei Shen, tasked with taking down one of the world’s most fearsome criminal organizations from the inside — the Hong Kong Triads. As players explore the bustling and crowded Hong Kong island, through its neon-lit side streets and sprawling street markets, an incredible story unfolds of loyalty and betrayal where Wei begins to question his own motives as he is sucked in deeper than he could ever imagine.

HITMAN: ABSOLUTION
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 system, Windows PC
Developer: IO INTERACTIVE (Square Enix Group)
ESRB: RP (Rating Pending)
Available: November 20
HITMAN: ABSOLUTION follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted — and now hunted by the police — he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world.

Gameglobe™
Platform: Online browser
Developer: Hapti.co (Square Enix Group)
Available: 2012
Gameglobe is a unique browser-based experience that allows players free access to endless game worlds and creative possibilities, all in HD quality. Players can choose to either create their own game or simply play the multitude of levels available at launch.

TOMB RAIDER®
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 system, Windows PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Square Enix Group)
ESRB: RP (Rating Pending)
Available: Q1 2013
Armed with only the raw instincts and physical ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, TOMB RAIDER delivers an intense and gritty story into the origins of Lara Croft and her ascent from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor.

Handheld and Mobile Lineup

DARIUSBURST™ SECOND PROLOGUE™
Platform: iOS
Available: Now
The shooting game hit has arrived! This stunning 3D iPhone game adapts elements from both the critically-acclaimed PlayStation Portable and arcade editions of DARIUSBURST, adding silky smooth touch screen controls and a host of exclusive new features. Climb aboard your sleek Silverhawk fighter and defend your home planet Darius against monstrous fishlike invaders!

RAYSTORM™
Platform: iOS
Available: June
The classic 1996 arcade shooter is back! After a brutal war with rebellious colony planets, Earth is on the brink of destruction. It’s up to you to take control of the experimental R-GRAY fighter and bring the fight to the enemy! To succeed in your mission you’ll need lightning-fast reflexes, advanced weaponry, and no small amount of luck!

GUARDIAN CROSS™
Platform: iOS, Android
Available: July (iOS), TBD (Android)
A creature-based card game that features a fully unique battle system in which players take on the role of “tamers” who capture, raise, and control powerful beasts known as “Guardians.” In addition to quests to unlock the secret of why the Guardians have woken after a millennium of slumber, other features include a coliseum system that allows players to challenge other tamers from around the world in head-to-head combat.

THEATRHYTHM™ FINAL FANTASY®
Developer: Square Enix/indieszero Co., Ltd.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS™ system
ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10 or older)
Available: July 3
The first FINAL FANTASY rhythm game, THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY features more than 70 musical scores spanning entire 25 years of the franchise’s history. THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY features music from key events, lush field themes and decisive battle arrangements.

HEROES OF RUIN™
Developer: n-Space
Platform: Nintendo 3DS system
ESRB: T (Teen)
Available: July 17
HEROES OF RUIN challenges players to carve their own adventure, either venturing alone or joining forces with other heroes through seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op multiplayer. Players will enter an ever-changing world where danger waits around every corner. Heroes can explore and fight through wild, varied and dynamic environments, discovering new layouts and routes each time they play.

KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance]
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo 3DS system
ESRB: E10+ (Everyone 10 or older)
Available: July 31
Celebrating the franchise’s 10th anniversary, KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance] features a spectacular story that promises to be a fun backdrop to the colorful cast of Disney characters making their 3D debut on a handheld title. In addition to brand new worlds, KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance] will also feature never before seen gameplay elements.

DEMONS’ SCORE™
Platform: iOS, Android
Available: Summer
Demons’ Score is a breakbeat action game that seamlessly fuses music and battles. The Unreal Engine 3 is used to deliver thrilling touch-based gameplay through a mind-blowing fusion of stunning graphics and music created by hit songwriters.

FINAL FANTASY® DIMENSIONS™
Platform: iOS, Andriod
Available: Summer
Drawing upon the roots of the series with such features as beautiful 2D pixel art, job-driven character growth, additional scenarios in which to inherit the jobs of your adventuring companions, and a classic story of light, darkness, and crystals, FINAL FANTASY DIMENSIONS delivers the best of FINAL FANTASY, retro and fresh alike, directly to your smartphone.

KooZac™
Platforms: iOS, Android
Available: Summer
KooZac, the award-winning number puzzler is coming to iOS and Android. Previously released online, the game has been played over 15 million times across 135 countries. KooZac offers three ways to play with the overall objective of positioning the falling blocks on top of each other to make a target number.

Motley Blocks™
Platforms: iOS, Android
Available: Summer
Motley Blocks is a fast-paced, 3D puzzle game. Drag your finger across the screen to connect blocks of the same color as they rotate in a cyclonic pattern. Release your touch to send the blocks to the center of the cyclone and reveal a fun image. Use power-ups to help complete harder levels. In addition to solving puzzles, make your own in the level creator and share them with friends!

Qwirkle™
Platforms: iOS, Android
Available: Summer
Qwirkle is a matching game requiring tactical maneuvers and well-planned strategy. Earn points by building rows and columns of tiles that share a common shape or color. Use power-ups and add an additional layer of strategy to the game! Play with multiple friends asynchronously in classic or arcade modes.

SolaRola™
Platforms: iOS, Android
Available: Summer
SolaRola stars Wiz and Waz, the game’s blob-like gung-ho duo, tasked with bouncing across a number of challenging planets with the ultimate aim of saving the galaxy. Using whatever comes to hand, the daring pairing must thwart the plans of their nemesis, Ping the Unmerciless who has kidnapped the six guardians of SolaRola’s universe. With each planet inhabited by all manner of enemies and hazards, the player must navigate Wiz and Waz across a number of ill-positioned obstacles including rocks, slime, bombs and trampolines.

Shadowgun: The Leftover Review

Shadowgun: The Leftover (v1.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Madfinger
[Apple] Release Date: December 21, 2011
[Android] Release Date: January 30, 2012

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Note: Please read our full review for the original Shadowgun to learn the core details of the game. This follow-up covers the enhancements featured in The Leftover expansion.

Review Basis: Finished on Normal difficulty.

If you haven’t played or finished Shadowgun, don’t worry I won’t spoil anything. Just don’t take that to mean that the game’s story is some Pulitzer work. The Leftover picks up exactly where Shadowgun ends, seeing as Mr. Slade isn’t quite done with his mission. John has to…you know, leave? Trusty S.A.R.A. is fully aware of our bald friend’s situation, and most happy to lead him to the exit.

The Great:

Better than Shadowgun. The Leftover isn’t a giant improvement over the main campaign, but brings upgrades to the table. Four additional levels, a new weapon, original enemy type, fresh environment interaction, and soundtrack come with Madfinger’s. It’s also more fun, and I wish Shadowgun played this way in the first place.

The Good:

+ Affects Shadowgun campaign. I didn’t play Shadowgun before The Leftover was released for Android, and that’s probably a good thing. TL adds a roll function, camera shaking and bullet trails that wouldn’t have been there to spice up the action had I been an earlier customer. Where’s the ability to run though?

+ Over or under. Madfinger added finger-swiping to slide under and hop over obstacles in the environment.

+ New riffs. The music is the same rock motif, but it’s nice to hear new stuff.

+ Ends quicker. TL is a better experience than Shadowgun, but I’m glad it didn’t last longer. I was bored with the main game by the time I finished it, and I didn’t want that to be how I felt in the end about The Leftover.

+ Still fantastic visuals. Subtle improvements all-around make an already-impressive looker even better-looking.

The So-So:

+- Not exactly devastating. The plasma rifle is a neat toy; it looks and sounds cool. However, it doesn’t rip enemies apart like you’d hope. So much for that technology.

The Bad:

Overlapping inputs. With the plasma rifle providing a fifth weapon, it was occasionally a pain to select it. This probably doesn’t apply to tablet users, but I shouldn’t be compelled to move the action inputs around just because I’m playing on a phone. I liked where my main functions were, and shouldn’t be punished for that.

Why bother asking? You make a seemingly important decision after defeating the final boss of Shadowgun. Yet I think all it affects is the very brief conversation that ensues. When The Leftover ends, I couldn’t tell you what else that choice may have influenced.

The Ugly:

Still lags… I no longer expect the more sophisticated Android games to perform well on my Thunderbolt, which is sad. It’s a powerful device, so I don’t understand this problem.

The Lowdown:

It’s great that Android and iOS make it so easy for app developers to push out updates to their paying customers, but why not release Shadowgun without the need for a Leftover? I think it would’ve been a better product overall. I do understand Deadzone, the game’s upcoming multiplayer component, being released independently, but perhaps I’m alone here. Still, I don’t want to come off as having hated John Slade’s adventure; I didn’t. It’s a quality game that demolishes most efforts out there for Android and iOS gaming. If you’re a shooter aficionado, Shadowgun and its expansion would be a great investment.

Average Score Scale: 7.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s better than Shadowgun.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: It may be better, but it’s not that exciting either.

Are Hardcore Gamers Ready to Embrace iOS and Android Gaming?

Something extremely interesting happened last week that made me question if Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms will ever be taken serious by hardcore gamers unless major changes are made. Every analyst in the planet is saying that dedicated portable gaming devices like the 3DS and Vita will be completely replaced by iPhones and Droids. These same people are also saying that tablets like the iPad will eventually replace console gaming, because inevitably they, along with smart TVs, will come with console-like technology built-in. That’s fine and dandy, but the events of last week have now made me question whether hardcore gamers actually want to use these devices over their Xboxs, Wiis and PlayStations, not to mention 3DSs and Vitas. Take a look at the following trailer.

Honestly tell me that doesn’t sound like an incredible concept. This is every hardcore iOS/Android gamer’s fantasy, isn’t it? A true hardcore experience being developed by people who know what it means to create a hardcore game. What’s not to like about that? Well, how about the platform it’s being developed for? After two weeks on Kickstarter Republique failed to capture the interest of the hardcore crowd, which seems all but impossible given how excellent the game looks.

On the Kickstarter message boards, the number one question being asked to the game’s developer, Camouflaj was “why are you releasing this on a phone and not on PC and Mac?” Realizing the Kickstarter deadline was quickly approaching the developer announced a PC/Mac version of the game in hopes of reaching their $500,000 goal. I’ll be honest; it’s not looking good. Republique has made almost $150,000 and has 11 days to go, that’s not much time to reach the $500,000 milestone.

The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is the best hardware running Android right now, notice the lack of buttons...

Whatever happens with this Kickstarter it begs asking, are there enough hardcore gamers using iPhones and Droids to support the expenses hardcore games cost to develop? Even if there are, do these people even want these types of games on their mobile devices? To be fair Republique was only being made for the iPhone, which further limits the user base, but it’s still a fair question. The whole purpose behind Republique was to answer whether hardcore gamers were looking for top tier console-like experiences on their phone. The answer appears to be…no. Is it really that simple though?

Virtually every hardcore gamer out there has an iPhone or an Android smartphone if they’re old enough. For some reason the two seem to go hand in hand, but the problem isn’t one of userbase, it’s one of hardware limitations. Believe me when I say the hardcore gamers out there would love to be able to use their mobile devices to have experiences that match what’s offered on the 3DS and Vita. The problem is that without a d-pad, analog sticks, or actual buttons, there’s just no way to match the control these dedicated portable gaming devices have. So why would the hardcore community band together for one interesting-looking game on the iPhone, when it’s the iPhone itself that’s the problem.

Likely the world's most popular smartphone, the iPhone 4S is just like the Razr Maxx, where are the buttons?

Moving forward more analysts will say traditional gaming is dead, but I’d like to think that until these companies allow controllers or some other input devices to be used, the hardcore will never fully support these platforms. While there have been some incredible hits on both iOS and Android, the devices these operating systems are on need to be redesigned with the gamer in mind if they truly want be taken serious by the hardcore gaming community.

What’s your take on this? I’d love to hear what you think of mobile gaming today and where it’s going in the future. Do you think Apple, Google, and the others will eventually cater to the hardcore gamer in all of us by releasing controllers for their set-top boxes or are we going to have to make do with simplistic games for the rest of eternity? Remember the scary truth, the casual userbase is far greater than the hardcore so we might be fighting a losing battle…

Shadowgun Review

Shadowgun (v1.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Madfinger
Google Play Price: $5.25
Apple Store Price: $2.99
[Apple] Release Date: September 28, 2011
[Android] Release Date: October 26, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Shadowgun stars a sarcastic and occasionally potty-mouthed galactic bounty hunter. You shoot to kill genetically-engineered enemies in this third-person shooter, but the violence isn’t as pronounced as Gears of War or Call of Duty. Shadowgun is relatively mild compared to most of today’s popular shooters.

Plays Like: Gears of War, and any other third-person shooter that features cover.

Review Basis: Finished the game on Normal difficulty.

It’s a good thing Shadowgun is playable now, because none of us will be around in its year 2350 era of evil governments ruling the denizens of space and terrestrial bodies. John Slade, a galactic mercenary and protagonist of epic baldness, is contracted by the shady Toltech Corporation to capture one Dr. Edgar Simon. The former employee of the trans-galactic entity and renowned geneticist is wanted. Why? Well you’re not told of course, but Slade doesn’t care about anything but payday. Kindly bring the mad scientist out of hiding, and nevermind that the gentleman hiring you looks like a cross between Shredder and Baraka.

The Great:

This looks….great! If Modern Combat 3 is the visual benchmark for FPS titles, and Infinity Blade for RPGs on mobile devices, then Shadowgun is the same for third-person shooters. Powered by the Unity engine on iOS and Android platforms, Madfinger put together an amazing-looking product. John Slade looks like a perfect fit for the COGs, if you ignore his lack of tank armor, and the environments overflow with detail. The opening cinematic is especially striking, reminding me of the quality of Dead Space. If you like games that show off your phone or tablet’s horsepower, Shadowgun will do that.

The Good:

+ Set-piece bosses. You face off against a number of giant mechanical bosses. They’re appropriately challenging (meaning they hurt), and fun to eliminate.

+ Boomstick. Forget realism; whacking foes from yards away with your auto-shotty is a plus in my book.

+ S.A.R.A. Finish the analogy: Master Chief is to Cortana, as John Slade is to _____. If you answered S.A.R.A., have yourself a cookie. Anyway, I can’t believe Slade’s robotic mission support never annoyed me. She doesn’t speak too much or too little, and actually has a cool personality, occasionally even mimicking Slade’s wit. Madfinger designed a great companion for this ride.

+ Interaction. Piggy-backing the previous item, though Slade and S.A.R.A.’s relationship doesn’t avoid missteps, I thoroughly enjoyed their back-and-forth banter.

+ Hacking. Various weapon crates and locked door panels require you to watch the game highlight any of nine symbols in a random order and length on the input pad. You repeat it, and move on. It’s nothing extravagant, but a healthy distraction from all the fighting.

+ Cover. It works mostly well. When Slade approaches a barrier designated for cover, he auto-snaps to it. You can then pop out for some shots, or slide along left or right. Some cover degrades from enemy fire as well, forcing you to make another move.

+ Hidden cards. Shadowgun tucks away over 20 symbols that resemble the game’s app icon. Each unlocks relevant information about the campaign, which is interesting to glance at.

The So-So:

+- Music. Madfinger employs a handful of guitar-laden tracks to attempt to keep the action entertaining. It’s successful initially, but I was sick of hearing the same material the further I progressed.

+- No melee? Gears of War fans I’m sure would agree that the chainsaw bayonet spoils gamers. Such fun… With Shadowgun being so similar, it’s somewhat disappointing that you can’t even whack a guy with your gun.

+- Controls. They generally work well, but sometimes you’ll fumble looking around or something when your finger slips or is on the wrong part of the screen. Thankfully your gun always shoots, and shooting is fun.

+- Enemy tactics. At the beginning it appears that Slade’s opposition works to flank and out-muscle you, but it’s clear over time that Simon’s minions rely on generic path-finding that at times provokes odd decision-making. Why would a guy I’m shooting from a distance suddenly run right up to the other side of the barrier I’m using? They’re not completely stupid, but not smart either.

The Bad:

– Stuttering. I’ve learned it’s not necessarily your device’s fault when a game doesn’t run smoothly on it. I’ll probably never know for sure, but sadly Shadowgun was never silky on my Thunderbolt when blasting away Dr. Simon’s legion. Hiccups even occurred moving around. This tends to be discouraging, but I still enjoyed the game in spite.

– We meet again… Maybe I’m picky, but I think Shadowgun could’ve spared more enemy types, or at least balanced the encounter frequency. It wasn’t long before I started to wonder if our mad scientist’s army enlisted mostly Psycho Mantis wannabes, and I think it did. Yes you also battle tickers, grenade-launching space suits, and others, but they’re uncommon in comparison.

– Return to sender, please! Shadowgun didn’t seem interested in weapon variety. You start with a standard-issue SMG, and eventually acquire a shotgun, grenade launcher and rocket launcher. These instruments reside in distinct treasure chest-looking crates too, and the number of duplicates made me sad. Why bother leaving these all over the place when ammo is already aplenty? Think of it like opening one of your most anticipated games as a present on your birthday, only to do it again at Christmas. Um…

– Take a bullet, will ya?! It’s stupid that Shadowgun requires your targeting reticule to be red before an enemy receives damage. In other words, if you point at a creep and the reticule isn’t red, cover or no cover, damage won’t be done. Stupid, no? And worse, often half or more of your SMG clip is needed to down a single enemy.

The Ugly:

Final boss. If you learn the quick way to kill him like I did, after several tries that is, it’s not so frustrating. Otherwise, the battle is frustrating. The ending is also a purposeful cliffhanger that encourages you to play The Leftover expansion included, and plain uninteresting altogether. After about four or five hours, I was ready to put the game away.

The Lowdown:

Shadowgun’s problems damage the experience for me; I won’t lie. Of course you may not encounter everything I did either, which I would be happy for. Yet regardless of what issues affect who, Madfinger still produced a very good third-person shooter for phones and tablets that probably knows no equal right now. The action maintains your attention well enough, and Unity really makes the game beautiful on whatever your screen may be. The price is acceptable on both platforms, so by all means invest on the one you have.

Average Score Scale: 7.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 7.5/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: Shadowgun doesn’t lag on your device.

AirAttack HD Review

AirAttack HD (v1.3) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter (plane)
Developer: Art In Games
Google Play Price: $2.99
Apple Store Price: $.99
[Apple] Update Date: November 30, 2011
[Android] Update Date: July 28, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: AirAttack HD is a fighter plane shooter that tasks you with destroying aerial and terrestrial targets. You witness explosions left and right, but nothing that should harm a child.

Plays Like: Other plane/space shooters.

 

Review Basis: Finished the game on Easy andNormal difficulties.

AirAttack HD sounds awfully generic, but don’t let its unexciting name fool you. AA HD is one of the most polished, frantically fun and memorable smartphone/tablet plane shooters. Despite a completely non-existent story, you battle sky and land enemies in a fictional Nazi Germany WWII era, and the action happily keeps you on your toes.

The Great:

The orchestrated music. It isn’t often that a game’s sole standout attribute is its music, but I was enthralled by AirAttack HD’s the moments the menu theme began to play. The sound quality is amazing, and to this day I’m dumbfounded that a mobile game can bring audio like it to the table. The track list isn’t extensive, but what pours in through your earbuds as you’re playing sticks in the mind. The material is exactly fitting for an action game or movie. Art in Games’ efforts are commendable.

The Good:

+ Very challenging. No gamer wants to see ‘Game Over’ on his/her screen, but to avoid that here you must focus on hostiles in the air and on the ground across the eight missions that span four sets of ‘Operations’ (Green Fox, White Storm, Dark Sand, and Red Sea). Numerous enemy projectile types and the ominous bodies of unfriendly vessels constantly threaten your well-being, and dodging both is a must. You’ll pay the price for carelessness.

+ Work of art. Art In Games lives up to its group’s name with the visual presentation AirAttack HD brings. The action never slowed on my phone, a pleasant surprise, and I’ve no complains about what I saw. The environment terrain varies across the different missions; there are many enemy plane types; every boss is unique; the physics are perfectly convincing; there’s real-time shadowing; etc. This mobile title serves the eye candy.

+ Boss fights. Each stage sends you a unique major foe, and they’re all fun to fight. It’s a mix of logical and bizarre. You start off destroying a castle stronghold, and meet others later on such as a gigantic destroyer boat, a secret mech, and more.

+ Constant fire. The game fires your main weapon constantly; I appreciate that.

+ Two planes. Before each mission begins, you choose between the standard fighter and one that can switch between bullet fire and using a flamethrower. That’s quite a startling difference, but the options are welcome and shake up the gameplay a little bit.

+ Interesting upgrades. At pre-determined points of each mission, a giant aerial store swoops in to sell weapon upgrades and specials. You can soup up your main gun(s), purchase an auto-turret, equip a lightning beam, and more. It all costs money that can be tough to acquire, but it’s a guilty pleasure to possess a fully tricked-out fighter plane.

+ New Game+. AirAttack HD strangely doesn’t tell you that it can be replayed with all your purchased upgrades. Yet I figured out that if you play again on the same difficulty that you just finished, your upgrades and high score are preserved. It’s pretty sweet because the enemy basically takes a pounding at that point.

The So-So:

+- Finger obstruction. This may not be an issue if you play AA HD on a tablet, but I think it’s cheap to lose a life simply because you couldn’t see an enemy projectile or craft about to hit because your finger was in the way.

+- Distinguishing pickups. A Help section educates you about the different facets of the action, and the different pickups that appear after creating chaos. However, not only do most people not bother with those things, but its organization doesn’t encourage a proper study of the information. Why not give just a simple tutorial mission that explains the money, weapon upgrade and other awards left behind?

+- Dropping bombs. You can drop a bomb by double-tapping the screen, but it’s not consistent. There’s an independent icon in the bottom-left that’s specifically for it, but that amounts to nothing more than a distraction. Given that the majority of your cash is acquired by exploding ground structures, you’d want a reliable input method while still concentrating upon dodging enemies and attacking them.

The Bad:

– Too short! You might encounter a handful of Game Over screens because games like AirAttack HD don’t highlight your skills. However, that’s no substitute for a game to have an appropriate length. You can finish all four Operations within two or three hours, and less than an hour on New Game+. Art In Games didn’t commit a egregious offense with this, but an additional Operation or two, or even another mode would’ve been nice.

The Lowdown:

Regardless of your platform and associated cost, you can enjoy a very well-put-together plane shooter on your iOS or Android phone/tablet. I think the effort we see that AIG put into AirAttack HD is a step or two above most mobile games. Sure, it’s not very long and you can struggle controlling the game a bit, but those flaws are bunk considering the grand scheme. So if you’re tired of all the first-person shooters this generation, why don’t you hop into the cockpit of AirAttack HD and blow something up?

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.0/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s short, lacks a story, and not always easy to handle. Regardless, AirAttack HD is great fun.

Angry Birds Has Now Invaded Space!!!

This is likely going to be the biggest release of the entire year, yes bigger than Call of Duty, at least in terms of units sold.  The original Angry Birds has sold over 450 million units since it was originally released.  Angry Birds Space is now available on Apple’s App Store for both Mac and iOS devices, PC, and it’s also available on the Android Marketplace.

There’s little doubt this will be one of the biggest games of the entire year, and either Justin or I will get a review out for this bad boy shortly.  As of writing this news piece Angry Birds Space is already the number one selling paid app on the iPhone and on the iPad, and number two on the Mac App Store behind Mac OS X Lion, but I’m certain Lion will be dethroned within the hour.

Which format are you going to download it on?  I’ve already downloaded it three times on the three platforms I just mentioned.  :)  Let the fun begin!

Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips Review

Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips (v1.15) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation (airport)
Developer: Lemon Team
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $.99
[Apple] Release Date: December 17, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 23, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips is a sequel to the November 2010 Airport Mania: First Flight. There isn’t a reason for moms and dads to be concerned regarding this experience. A young gamer might struggle with its micromanagement requirements, but that’s the only conceivable obstacle for minors to play.

Review Basis: Achieved Perfect scores on all but one stage in areas 1 through 9. Finished a handful of stages in the final area.

Mobile gaming has exposed a fascinating, never-before-considered willingness in yours truly to play certain types of titles. Robo Defense drew me in to tower defense, Modern Combat has helped me enjoy touch screen-only first-person shooters, and then there’s Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips. If it was suggested prior to fall 2011 that I would play a simulator…an airport simulator, forget about actually taking pleasure in it, I would’ve likely worn one of those “Are you for real?” kind of looks. Nonetheless, it has happened, and I’m not ashamed in the least to admit that both concepts were indeed fulfilled.

The Great:

Addictive challenge. It’s never easy in game design to provide the perfect challenge and motivate the player to return. Lemon Team’s Wild Trips succeeds with flying colors on both fronts. Across ten pleasantly unique landscapes, you act as an air traffic control operator, with the goal of communicating to cutesy planes when and where to land, approach a drop-off/pick-up gate, receive any necessary service (fuel, repairs, luggage), and finally take off again. Every leg of an individual plane’s journey is intended to add points to your overall score, and achieving a Perfect on every stage is no cakewalk. It’s a fun and frantic experience that anyone with a quick brain and finger can appreciate.

The Good:

+ Adorable. You can call me a sap or question my masculinity, but I’ve no problem praising the adorable presentation of Airport Mania 2. Each plane bears a cute set of eyes, a nose (the actual vehicle’s), and a grinning mouth. Each landscape is also beautiful: rich in color, appropriate detail, and distinct plane type designs. There’s not a reason to complain about how the game looks.

+ Audio package. You probably won’t hum the stage themes away from the game, but they’re appropriate and encourage you along. The sound effects especially cracked me up at times. You’ll hear all kinds of planes singing ‘doo doo doo’ melodies throughout the game, and varying intonations help the noise not become too repetitive. And for you American gamers that love their country, wait until you play the airborne airport!

+ Interesting awards. It’s neat to be recognized for quickly landing planes carrying a pregnant woman, impatient old-timer, organ transplant, or even the stinkin’ President of theUnited States! The colorful ribbons that represent each good deed don’t do anything but sit on your personal profile wall, but each instance is at least tracked. You’re also acknowledged for maintaining maximum color multipliers on all your gates upon finishing a stage, amongst other tasks worthy of note.

+ Upgrades. Each major airport comes with several stages to conquer, and you’re encouraged to score high in every one. If you don’t, the money available to spend on improvements to your airport is more limited, as it’s directly tied to how you previously performed. Amenities like a VIP layover, faster gate(s), improved gas station, serving refreshments, showing a movie, and more, greatly increase your chances of nailing consecutive Perfects over time.

+ Child’s play. Like most other casual iOS or Android games that require only the touch of your finger, AM2: Wild Trips tasks you with tapping a plane, then tapping where you want it to go. That’s all there is to it.

The So-So:

+- The color palettes. Four different sets of plane color palettes are available to choose. The problem is that while they’re overall distinguishable on the menu screen, they aren’t so much in the heat of chaotic traffic control. I think a default primary color scheme would’ve been best. Let the player customize the colors if it was his/her desire.

The Bad:

– Selection difficulty. With a squadron of planes on the ground, it’s likely that in wanting to move them around quickly that you’ll have occasional difficulty pinpointing them. It’s especially problematic when all your gates, layover spots and service stations are occupied. It usually doesn’t mean the difference between a Supreme or Perfect score, but can be frustrating. Taking extra-long might make some of your customers a bit unhappy!

– What radar? I’ve read in every article I’ve scoured for Airport Mania 2 that there’s radar that forewarns you about what plane color is coming next. You know, like Tetris. Now I know about the obvious radar-looking partial circle in the upper-left side of the screen, but someone will have to educate me on just how it’s ‘cluing me in’. If the blue, yellow and orange lines are some kind of code, I haven’t deciphered it. It hasn’t been helpful yet.

The Ugly:

Having your progress wiped. Lemon Team committed a terrible blunder issuing one of their recent updates to the game. Many customers, possibly everyone, who downloaded it without a second thought became victim of the ol’ memory wipe. Every last bit of progress you made vanished in an instant, with no means of recovery. I recall having achieved Perfect scores on at least every stage through area 5 at that point. Justin wasn’t happy, and this is partially the reason he lost interest in finishing the final area.

The Lowdown:

Despite my Airport Mania 2: Wild Trips progress being nullified in mere seconds, I’m not about to contest that the game deserves low marks as a result. It was a mistake, and I’m blessed that something worse didn’t happen. It was painful to be on the receiving end, but life goes on. Despite the flaws of this air traffic control simulator, it’s a wonderfully-entertaining game that sells I believe at under value. It’s content-appropriate for anyone, and brings a balanced challenge that you don’t encounter often. If managing a handful of airplanes across a vast array of environments sounds interesting to you, by all means drop $.99 on Airport Mania 2.

Average Score Scale: 9.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.0/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: You experience little to no trouble selecting planes and/or you understand the radar’s signaling.

Dead Space Review

Dead Space (v1.1.35) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Developer: Iron Monkey/EA
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99
[Apple] Release Date: January 25, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 16, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Dead Space, for iOS and Android devices, is a violence and space monster-filled sci-fi title that bridges the original Dead Space and its proper console sequel. Though mobile games aren’t rated, I recommend keeping this out of the hands of minors.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal difficulty, and most of New Game + as of this writing. Unlocked the majority of the achievements.

Dead Space for iOS/Android devices falls into the uncommon category of legitimate entry into the canon of a major franchise on a mobile platform. As Codename: Vandal, an engineer on the Sprawl, you must fight a Necromorph infestation by any means necessary after being duped into unleashing them on the space station in the first place. Dead Space is a must for those who love the series’ action, as it retains most of the gameplay elements that we’ve become familiar with and enjoy.

The Great:

Legitimate Dead Space. A Dead Space for mobile device has to be watered down, right? Wrong. To an extent that’s true, but not to the degree that you might think. Sure, the production values obviously aren’t as high as the console counterpart(s), and much of the atmosphere is lost on a smaller platform. However, the same HUD-less and Necromorph-filled sci-fi carnage is available for your smartphone or tablet.

The Good:

+ Looks and plays part. Conveying a horror atmosphere as we’re used to on a 40″ or more HDTV with surround sound doesn’t quite translate to a mobile adaptation. Hence, Dead Space goes the route of ‘make you jump’ scares, and it does so well, with freakish creatures that pop out of various places, or simply play dead to catch you off-guard. There’s blood most everywhere you turn, and lots of chopped up bodies. DS isn’t for the faint of heart or squeamish, but appeals to those who enjoy the thrill of massacring an army of space monsters. The detail is impressive, and Vandal especially bears a fond resemblance to our friend Isaac Clarke. Enjoy battling through long stretches of corridor, research and medical laboratories, zero-gravity areas, and much more.

+ Fun equipment. Dead Space I believe struck gold with its concept of turning mining and engineering tools into weapons to strategically dismember the Necromorph horde. Our favorites, like the plasma cutter, ripper, and line gun return. They’re unique, bear secondary firing modes (tilt your device), and upgradeable just like in the console games. It’s a happy moment when you stumble upon a Power Node or two, in order that your toys and suit can be improved in various ways.

+ Controls. Dead Space plays with virtual controls, like most other smartphone and tablet action games. Iron Monkey’s design is particularly great. Instead of a movement stick, you control Vandal by sliding your finger up-and-down and cross the character’s body. By tapping the screen real estate next to Vandal’s body, you pull up the currently equipped tool, where you can then fire, send out a stasis wave, reload, or perform various melee attacks. It’s not perfect, but pretty close to as good as it’ll be.

+ Perfect timing. I clocked in at a hair under five hours to complete the overall mission. That certainly sounds short, but you won’t want it to last longer.

+ Checking it twice. It isn’t enough to finish Dead Space once. If you do on Normal difficulty, its New Game + counterpart opens, in addition to Hard. So, you can either take on the tougher challenge, or restart with all your weapons and upgrades from the get-go.

+ Character interaction. Tyler Radikov and Director Tiedemann accompany you by radio throughout Vandal’s mission. Their interactions with our hero aren’t ground-breaking, but aid in guiding you from point A to B and one objective to the next. There’s a lot of frustration and desperation on the Sprawl, and it all comes out during the conversations.

The So-So:

+- Necromorphs’ appearance. The sounds that Vandal’s enemies emit are much creepier and scarier than how they look…by a longshot. I’m not sure if it’s a low poly-count, lack of clear textures…or what, but the Necromorphs in this mobile device adaptation don’t look all that frightening.

+- The ending. The original Dead Space at least tried to end with a cliffhanger for Isaac Clarke, possibly inducing some unwanted personal business for the player at the same time. I can’t say that about Vandal. Dead Space’s conclusion is an all-around disappointment. I don’t like it when it feels like I enjoyed no ultimate reward for my hours invested in the game experience.

The Bad:

– Audio glitches. I encountered instances of the music cutting out, hearing no voice when a character was speaking, no sound upon firing one of Vandal’s weapons, and so forth. This may have been isolated to my Thunderbolt, but that doesn’t give Dead Space an excuse to not operate properly.

– Lag. Similar to the game’s occasional audio problems, I noticed a trend of skipping in the action, regardless of what I was doing. Most instances lasted nanoseconds, which is forgivable, but sporadically I also experienced significant lag when intense battle was taking place.

The Ugly:

Why does Vandal climb atop the trams? Several times during the campaign you must travel from one section of the Sprawl to another via a tram system. That’s fine and logical, but I didn’t understand why Vandal never made it inside one of them…you know, to be safe(r). Instead, you’re thrown into a roof battle with a militia of Necromorphs that randomly make their way to Vandal’s position. It seems as though the game insisted that you fight the creatures on a moving platform, and a tram top was the only idea for this.

The Lowdown:

It’s extremely cool that Dead Space so closely resembles its console brethren, and yet asks for less than 1/6 of the normal retail cost. If you’re a fan that owns a compatible smartphone or tablet, $6.99 shouldn’t be painful in the least to experience the game. Yes, it isn’t as graceful compared to playing with a traditional controller, but Iron Monkey’s project is still one fun game. Why would you pass up slicing and dicing some Necromorphs on the go?

Average Score Scale: 8.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8.5/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s Dead Space on a mobile device: very fun and faithful.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: The game especially doesn’t perform well on your device.

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation Review

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation (v1.0.1) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1-12
Genre: FPS
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $6.99
[Apple] Release Date: October 27, 2011
[Android] Release Date: December 19, 2011

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Modern Combat 3 is the third entry in Gameloft’s popular shooter series on smartphones and tablets. Like Sandstorm and Black Pegasus before it, Fallen Nation brings plenty of war, blood, profanity, and utter chaos.

Review Basis: Finished campaign on Normal; achieved rank 12 within online competitive community as of this writing.

Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation continues the franchise’s trend of not attempting in the slightest to differentiate from the Call of Duty or Battlefield experience. You wouldn’t be crazy to call it Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3-lite, because FN resembles Activision/Infinity Ward’s and EA’s products in basically every way. War has reached the United States in the campaign, and the online multiplayer might as well be Call of Duty or Battlefield sans a standard controller.

The Great:

Gets better with age. Gameloft arguably produces the best first-person shooter experience for smartphones and tablets. Other great experiences exist, but I don’t think any come as close to reproducing console franchises as Modern Combat does. The series has also crazy improved since Sandstorm, which released almost 2.5 years ago. If you played every Modern Combat in succession over the next 30 days, you might wonder if the same company was responsible for each. Fallen Nation is great, and only those who refuse to play a shooter with touch controls should avoid it.

The Good:

+ An in-your-face campaign. The KPR (Korean/Pakistani/Russian) Allianceis fed up with the United States’ supposed imperialism. In retaliation, they cripple the country’s cyber and communications grid, and go to town on various major cities (sorry Chicago!). As a member of Phantom Unit, it’s fun to respond across a number of domestic and international destinations. The cinematic presentation also doesn’t disappoint. Either way, MC3 doesn’t skimp on throwing you into one gunfight after another.

+ Sprinting. Modern Combat’s addition of a sprint concept is welcome. Players likely felt like they were moving at a snail’s pace in Fallen Nation’s predecessors. But does the function improve or hinder things? That probably depends on how you’ve customized the inputs. It can be challenging to change your direction while holding the sprint icon, as the other finger occupies the virtual joystick. Then take further into account the pain of tapping the crouch icon, which sends you sliding [into what’s hopefully cover], and there’s a lot of potential multi-tasking to do here.

+ Visuals. I thought the disparity between Sandstorm and Black Pegasus was substantial, and it’s even greater between BP and Fallen Nation. It’s all thanks to the massive 1.37gb package you must download prior to playing. What comes in it are graphics and artwork that might make you wonder if you’re playing an Xbox 360 or PS3 game. I kid you not. The weapons look amazing, and reloading them equally so. The chaos is very convincing. The soldiers enjoy more attention to detail and higher poly-counts, and the environments look unbelievably real for being in a game that you play on a mobile device.

+ Online play. There are a few things I unimpressed with about Modern Combat 3’s online support, which I’ll cover later, but there’s more to be happy with. The modes FPS lovers know and enjoy are present; six appropriately-sized maps provide settings for battle, and there’s much more customization offered. You can have six custom weapon/equipment/skill load-outs over time, and just about everything you do in a match nets experience points. Of course, you won’t bulldoze opponents if you’re hopping online for the first time, but most view the growing pains as worth it.

+ Mission variety. There’s plenty of on-foot fighting, but you man the guns of an AC-130 (definitely not familiar), blast a helicopter turret, breach and clear the buildings of a Korean village, and much more.

+ Realism. It’s refreshing to play a shooter, especially one depicting modern war, that doesn’t feel like an arcade game. Enemies usually don’t require more than three bullets to fall. Often one or two does the trick, and I appreciate that, even on Normal difficulty.

The So-So:

+- Music. I didn’t know that various forms of rock turned into the latest and greatest audio motif for a war first-person shooter. There are other genres, and I wouldn’t have minded hearing them.

The Bad:

–  Shut up! I think the cursing is pitifully excessive, and it annoyed me especially that your fellow soldiers never shut up! They’re a bunch of drama queens because they shout about absolutely everything, and then some. Yes, I know we’re under fire for the fifteenth time. You wouldn’t need cover-fire if you were with me! I understand that there’s a lot of shouting in the heat of battle, but this war took it to ridiculous levels.

– Online multiplayer. First of all, why can’t I play online through my 4G data connection? Plenty of other Android titles allow that, but not a multiplayer-intensive shooter? Being restricted to a wi-fi signal is plain dumb. Two, it doesn’t bode well for those who don’t mindlessly unload their cash that all the unlockables can be bought with real money. Furthermore, you don’t have immediate access to a new toy you unlock; it must be subsequently purchased with in-game currency. That I think prolongs unnecessarily the sense of accomplishment, seeing as how challenging it can be to compete to begin with. It’s also pretty lame that occasionally the server fails to record your actions in a given match or two, thus things reset when you leave the game to what they had been previously. Well, talk about a waste of time!

The Ugly:

1.37gb of required extra data?! Why Gameloft didn’t support 3G/4G connections for this is beyond my comprehension. Acquiring that much data using a wi-fi signal, and from a server that proves unreliable, is a real hassle. It took not just a few hours for the package to come down the pipeline for me, but several restarts of the download process altogether. You can’t even restart a download from where it previously left off. Not good.

The Lowdown:

I believe Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation is Gameloft’s most impressive product to date. You can tell they worked very hard on the project, and especially listened to fan feedback. While this won’t convince naysayers of playing a FPS with touch controls to hop on board, everyone else can enjoy what is an excellent game. Fallen Nation also proves that mobile gaming is inching ever closer to supplying the same quality of experience currently only available on consoles and PC. To play a game like this for $6.99 was unheard of just a few years ago. If you love shooters, Modern Combat 3 won’t disappoint.

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: It’s not original, but one of the best mobile FPS titles.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: You angrily struggle with the touch screen-only controls.

Game Dev Story Review

Game Dev Story (v1.0.7) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Kairosoft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $2.50
Release Date: October 9, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: If your child gamer isn’t interested in micromanagement-type games, then he/she should stay away from Game Dev Story. Kairosoft’s videogame development company sim is all about that, and much fun for those willing to learn the ins and outs.

Review Basis: Reached 20-year time-limit with my company [Disciples]; released 64 games, with 44 inducted into the Hall of Fame; sold 799,097,617 total units; top-seller ‘7 Wonders 2′ sold 42,964,820 units; garnered $1.33 billion of profit (uh-oh, Occupy won’t be too happy with me); won 14 Best Design, 14 Best Music, 0 Worst Game, 12 Overall Runner-up and 1 [Overall] Grand Prize awards; attracted record 86,408 Gamedex attendees; acquired 26% of console market share

If in real life, opening and maintaining a videogame development company isn’t in the cards for you, then Game Dev Story can still help you experience the dream. Armed with $500,000, and conveniently avoiding all the bureaucracy, you have 20 years to turn a four-employee start-up with a name of your choosing into a dominant empire. Can you churn out enough successful PC releases to eventually become the king console maker?

The Great:

The whole experience. Initial decision-making can intimidating, but the rewards (profit, more fans, awards, etc.) of your risks and further understanding, are very satisfying. Begin with four lackeys, then expand to six, and finish with an elite eight on the payroll.

The Good:

+ So much to do, but do whatever. Game Dev Story does away with number-crunching, and instead focuses on having you just tell the company what to do. Train your employees. Level-up their skills. Take on a cost-free contract to create some art, mini-games, etc. Or if you go the game-making route: choose the platform (console or handheld) to develop for, pick the employee who will specifically handle each significant milestone (proposal/gameplay, graphics, music) of the development and watch the goofy chaos unfold. You decide how to handle the capital, who to hire or fire, what genre and type of game to create, if and with what to advertise, and much more.

+ Nods to the industry. Ever dreamed of developing for the Super IES? How about the Playdion? Did you know the ‘Game-Box’ actually won the most market share? Will your company attend the Gamedex convention? Will your staff work extra-long hours on some Dead Bull? Might you release a 64-bit, blu-ray disc console before Sonny even does? Interested in having your products’ names appear on the moon? All this and more can be done by your company.

+ Goofy, fun atmosphere. GDS doesn’t mirror the life-affecting seriousness of the industry we know, and no one would play if that was the case. So as your people work, icons frequently appear above their heads to denote what element of the game has improved (fun, creativity, graphics & sound). They even ‘catch on fire’ when something is especially taken to the next level. Just about everything positive results in an ‘event’ that shows the team as all smiles. And wait until you see your fans line up at their local stores before your game even releases due to the sheer anticipation.

The So-So:

+-  Music and effects. Your company operates in three different buildings if it lasts the game’s 20-year time-limit. Each brings a unique tune that plays in the background. The sound effects from the ‘goofy, fun atmosphere’ mentioned above, however, stay the same for the duration. It’s all OK to listen to, but you’ll likely either tune them out eventually like I did, or mute the game altogether.

The Bad:

– Another blackout? Apparently Kairosoft didn’t want your company backing up its data. Thus I observed what I believe was too many ‘blackouts’ in the middle of a development cycle. It boils down to the project losing some quality across the board, and they always conveniently take place at the tail end of things, rendering you no time to recover. You can’t delay a release; it’s only possible to cancel outright.

–  Loss of challenge. Game Dev Story excellently provides goals to strive for, but it doesn’t last the entire time. Between year 12 and 15, there wasn’t really anything new for me to conquer. Every game I put out was the top-seller and profited big time, and my console (Prophecy) sold around 18 million units when all was said and done. I could’ve engineered a handheld, but it was pointless. Several years of wash, rinse, repeat isn’t the best way to end a game.

The Ugly:

Inconsistent results. It’s strange when a [competitor’s] game wins both the Worst Game award ($300k penalty) from the Global Game Awards, and the Grand Prize ($1M award) in the same year. I also determined that the critic scores your games receive once released had a random element to them. I only managed to win one set of perfect 10/10 scores, despite releasing a ton of games with high quality overall. The single one that did, 7 Wonders 2, was my only Grand Prize winner. Everything else between 37 and 39 was a habitual runner-up. How does a game that regularly tops the sales charts not win the Grand Prize? These instances, among others, remind you that Game Dev Story is flawed.

The Lowdown:

Game Dev Story leaves behind the real stresses of game development to allow us to enjoy what’s meant to be enjoyed in the process. If you want to create your own Final Fantasy, do so. If you’re the goofy type and want to experiment with a genre and type that nobody in their right mind would probably play, have at it. The possibilities of what can be done are more or less endless, and it’s up to you to make the decisions. For $2.50, enjoy an innocent sprite-driven simulation where you can spend several hours investing $500,000, and eventually explode it into $500,000,000 with your products.

Average Score Scale: 8.5 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8.5/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: GDS has sucked two or more 20-year cycles out of you.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: You prefer more depth to the micromanagement formula.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem Review

Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem (v3.2.8) (Android/iOS)
Players: 1
Genre: [Superhero] Action
Developer: Gameloft
Marketplace/Apple Store Price: $4.99
Release Date: September 1, 2010

Game played on HTC Thunderbolt running Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread)

Parent Talk: Spider-Man is arguably the most child-friendly superhero. The comics are loved by millions; the movies are revered, and the universe’s merchandise can be found everywhere. Total Mayhem adds to it as one of the web-head’s many videogames.

Review Basis: Completed the story on Normal; acquired most of the art gallery pieces; unlocked the Black Suit.

The subtitle Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem carries is no exaggeration. Several foes of the web slinger were inmates of the Triskelion, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s maximum security, superhuman prison. That is, until a freak incident blows the place wide-open, letting Sandman, Rhino, Electro, Venom, Doctor Octopus (Doc Ock) and Green Goblin loose. It’s up to Peter Parker to return these adversaries to their cells, and stop a sinister plot brewing in Manhattan.

The Great:

All Spider-Man, none of the gimmicks. Forget pizza delivery, hearing Tobey Macguire and Kirsten Dunst, and space-time continuum nonsense. Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem highlights everything that makes our red and blue friend special. Incredible agility, mesmerizing hand-and-foot combat, web-slinging, wall crawling, boss butt-kicking…Gameloft captures it all and then some. This Android/iOS game proves that you don’t need powerful electronics to be sucked in to the Spider-Man universe.

The Good:

+ Combos galore. Spider-Man is equipped with 20 different ways to beat down his foes. A fast kick (think Street Fighter’s Chun Li], a flurry of punches, playing web rodeo…it’s all executed with three distinct touch inputs. Repetition of these skills is inevitable, but overwhelming one crowd of baddies after another with Parker’s arsenal is a treat for beat’em-up enthusiasts.

+ Visuals. Total Mayhem isn’t really cel-shaded, but still plays like a comic book come to life. Of course this mobile game isn’t decorated with intricate detail, but Spidey’s Manhattan under siege, along with well-animated battle, makes Gameloft’s efforts among the best I’ve seen on a smartphone. I can only imagine the benefit of iPhone’s retina display.

+ Voice acting. Spider-Man voice acting is well-known as a mix of seriousness and cheese, but mostly cheese. Total Mayhem doesn’t disappoint. Some of Parker’s lines are groan-inducing, but that’s just his personality. The bosses impressively sound their part too, but I could’ve done without the dozens of tied-up Manhattan citizens’ cries. Hearing “Help!” every few seconds isn’t the most effective way to motivate a rescue.

+ Bosses. Per the villain list provided earlier, clearly Total Mayhem doesn’t squelch on the boss encounters. No Spider-Man game ever really has, and the six unique battles our hero must win here are memorable and provide just the right challenge. You can’t merely mash the punch and web attack inputs to achieve victory. Sandman, all the way to Green Goblin, must each be exposed according to their individual weaknesses. It’s fun.

+ Replay incentive. Total Mayhem does its best to convince you not to leave by rewarding the fully-functional black suit, Ultimate difficulty, and a number of other extras. A Boss Rush mode, picture gallery (photos can be snapped during boss fights), and art gallery are additionally available for the player’s pleasure. Plus, it’s highly unlikely to find all the hidden art in one playthrough, so by all means return for that.

+ Audio package. The level themes won’t necessarily come to mind away from the game, but fit the experience well. The sound effects also fittingly emphasize Spidey’s hand and foot blows, in addition to his other abilities.

The So-So:

+-  Spider-sense. A Spider-Man videogame is obligated to provide the hero’s trademark ability to detect a looming threat. Total Mayhem is no exception, but here it’s unfortunately not always helpful. Usually it does a fine job of preventing a sucker punch, or other sneak attack of sorts. However, too often the animation that Spider-sense sends Peter into doesn’t clear an enemy’s size, or what’s meant to be avoided altogether. It results in unfair damage, but thankfully is easily overcome.

The Bad:

–  No Manhattan playground. This is purely a personal nitpick, not a legitimate knock. It’s asking a lot for a mobile Spider-Man game to open Manhattan for random web-slinging. Still, I think Total Mayhem teases the possibility a little too much with the aerial travel that you actually do in this adventure. It’s perfectly forgivable, but who doesn’t want it?

–  ‘Upgrading’. In each stage, green and red orbs can be collected to replenish health and upgrade Spidey’s battle attributes respectively. In light of the latter, I could never discern the fruits of pouring thousands of orbs into Parker’s strength, defense and special categories. I’m sure they were there, as I can’t imagine the game would waste your time, but what did my investments return?

The Ugly:

Battling Rhino. Defeating Spider-Man’s Juggernaut was the toughest thing for me to do. He wasn’t difficult per se, just a little cheap. I couldn’t figure out why his charge attacks connected with me despite visibly jumping high enough to clear Pointy Nose’s hulking frame. I retried the skirmish about six or seven times before finally discovering the path to Rhino’s demise, but even the revelation didn’t make victory easy to come by.

The Lowdown:

Spider-Man videogames usually, and understandably, generate more skepticism than hype. Young gamers that don’t know any better and unquenchable fans of the franchise are happy to support just about every release. Yet no one can deny that Peter Parker has struggled to star in a masterful game. Well, I’m confident that Ultimate Spider-Man: Total Mayhem doesn’t bear that stigma. I believe that finally, and on the Android/iOS platforms of all things, we have a Spidey game to be proud of. Well-done Gameloft.

Average Score Scale: 9 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.5/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: Simply a fantastic game, and one of the universe’s best.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: If you insist on enjoying open-Manhattan web-slinging.