Title: Kingdom Rush Frontiers
Maker: Ironhide Game Studio
Publisher: Armor Games
Probably what freemium should be
At 99 cents, Frontiers technically isn’t a freemium game, but that extra dollar provides so much value over the average shovelware garbage that’s capsizing the app store, that it’s hard to not advocate for it. That’s not to say the game is perfect, because it’s far from even being great. What that dollar gives you is a reasonable difficulty curve, normal cool-down periods, and completely optional in-app purchases. This provides a game that helps kill time as you calmly wait in a doctors office before jamming the keys into the ignition to race back to work afterwards.
Oh right, and it’s a tower defense. No surprises, it’s simply one that’s better than most, but probably not better than Pixeljunk’s.
Review: 3 stars (out of 5)
Memory: Turn the sound off
Yeah the game is brutal. Anyone who starts it up already knows this so there’s not much to complain about there. But the extent of what that means is a bit overwhelming even if you’re prepared for it. The world is a complete mystery when you start out, and the things that will kill you and help you are constantly surprising. There’s immediate needs, fire & food, but quickly things turn to science. And here is where the biggest initial complaint comes in. Do develop technology you need to build a “Science Machine”, to build one of these guys, you need a lump of gold. Gold is not that easy to come by, so the first 30 minutes of every game you play is a desperate scramble to find some of this resource. Once you’ve found it, there’s usually ample amounts, but trying to stumble upon it is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game.
But it keeps you coming back. Even with nothing to show for it, you keep exploring the beautiful and insane world. Masochism can be fun.
It’s encouraging to realize that a game that was crafted for a short play experience, could be designed so well as to have you coming back for more. Crimson Shroud’s New Game+ is one of these rarities: unlocking new locations, providing new weapons and dialogue, in addition to the obligatory second ending. The system is also deep enough to have little tricks, which are only made apparent after extended play. For example, rolling the dice for everything begins to bog down the experience, but then you realize you can “tilt” the dice off of the screen and into your inventory. Small feature, but adds a late game differentiator. The best part however is that the difficult truly hits it’s sweet spot. The normal difficulty keeps you thinking, but NG+ actually has you planning and using the entire range of tools at your disposal. You can still grind it out, but you’ll have to utilize item manipulation.
Title: Real Racing 3
I’m not sure if I can actually be upset with Real Racing 3. It’s not like it promised me something that it couldn’t deliver, it’s just that within the confines of a free game, you really don’t have many options. The app, with the a zoomed in fat white car, sat on my iPhone for months, and it was a long bus ride to the airport (after my PSP had died), that I finally gave it a chance. Graphically is where it does the most right. It looks somewhere between the PS2 and the PS3, nothing to be sad about for an iOS game. And the setup isn’t bad, but it becomes obvious almost immeidately the path it’s going to walk you down. The first few races aren’t difficult, and as long as you’re paying attention you can win easily. This allows you to afford your first upgrades (courtesy of easy money and upgrade tokens). Repeat in the next races, which ratchet up the difficult a little bit more (but not enough that you’ll lose), and the process begins again. Eventually it will get to the point that instant gratificatoin is removed, and the only way to progress without massive amounts of time is by spending real money. There’s nothing wrong with this model (you know it’s coming when you download the game), it’s just that it takes all sense of achievment out of it. Still, if you need a solid free game, you could do a lot worse.
That said, it didn’t save it from being deleted after 25 minutes.
Title: Shin Megami Tensei 4
A pretty veneer for nonexistent changes
When I began “4”, it was my intention to see the latest Shin Megami Tensei through to the end. And as I’ve come close to completing the game, again I find that my desire to see it through isn’t strong enough. There are definite reasons for this: the characters exist only to serve as mirrors, and the difficulty curve that was captivating at the beginning, starts to fall apart mid-way through (especially if you put in extra time outside the main quest). And yet, those problems exist in many great games. So where does it really stumble? And here again, it goes back to that simple A,B,C choice. Technically, there are more than three endings, but in reality they all fall in the same Law, Neutral, and Chaos silos that have framed many (but not all) of the SMT games before it. So as soon as you realize what path you’re on, the illusion disappears, and it becomes the same old grind.
So where does that leave the game? Well, it’s gorgeous (especially the dungeon perspective), it’s creative, it has a decent degree of freedom, and like most SMT games, it allows you the option to do as much or as little as you want. It’s not a bad game by any means, and considering I spent over 30+ hours in the world, there must be something captivating. However, this is not a side project, not a Persona game, but one of the “4” core games, and it deserves better. The previous game in the main series was Nocturne, which came out nearly a decade ago, and from a technical level “4” is a strong improvement, but from a story and emotional level, it’s a rather large retrograde.
Review: 3 Stars (out of 5)
Memory: The Hunter’s Bar background music
Soul Sacrifice is a weird game. By weird, I don’t mean “Japanese”, or that the technical execution is strange, I mean that it’s bizarre. The first 15 minutes, which should pull you into the game, are borderline repulsive. They’re out of place ugly (for a game that for the most part is beautiful), there’s no context (for a game with rich lore), and you’re companion, a talking book, is a huge burst of Evil Dead when it seemed to going the more serious route. After an hour or two however, you start to get into it. The actual narration of the story is moving, as you find yourself nudged in the direction of evil regardless of what you’d like to do. There’s small annoyances that seem obvious- you have to go to the main screen for every little tweak and adjustment, and the story, although solid, is literally read to you in the slowest imaginable way (the narration speed could have easily been doubled). But you keep playing, so that’s a good place to start.
Faster Than Light (FTL) has the addictive charm that eats up 5 hours before you even realize it. Like all games of that nature, it’s about understanding the rules, finding them and turning them to your advantage. But even when you realize this, and you’ll become aware of the system that underpins the game quickly, FTL has so much charm that it hardly matters. It’s not a particularly large game, but there’s enough replay value that you’ll keep giving it one more shot until it’s 4 am and you’re still wide awake.
Title: Thomas Was Alone
Maker: Mike Bithell
Cost: Humble Indie Bundle 8
Feeling it for quadrilaterals
I’ve been sitting on the Thomas Was Alone Review for awhile, because I’m not quite sure how I felt about the game. Full disclosure: I read several reviews for TWA, and I remember everyone praising the music, the narrator, and the fact it brings personality to little colored rectangles. And while that’s all true for awhile, pretty soon the narrator starts to grate ( I don’t know if you can call it self-importance, but he sure seems pretty proud of the job he’s doing), the music veers so hard into Explosions in the Sky that it’s shameless, and all you’re really left with from those first positive impressions, is the fact that you’re having feelings for these little rectangles. But really, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Graphically it’s more than serviceable, because while it’s simple, it’s exactly what it needs to be, clean. The platforming controls feel good, but the action itself isn’t all that satisfying. Often the action breaks down into trial and error puzzle solving, instead of actual platforming. However, this isn’t to take away what from what’s been created, as the platforming gracefully ties in the personalities and abilities of each specific block. This gives more life to small quadrilaterals, than the characters that exist in games with budgets a hundred times larger.
Conclusion: You have to pay tribute for what’s been created. Even if it’s not bringing gaming bliss, it’s laid out a pretty good road map for bringing any character to life.
Review: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: The square that tries to drown herself