Title: Super Mario Run
I never understood the beauty of Super Mario Run until I played it with my daughter.
My first impression two years ago was that it was cute and serviceable enough to distract me from my crippling jetlag. This time around, when my daughter saw the instantly recognizable Mario icon in my phone, I understood why it exists- it is impressively simple. You push the screen and Mario (or flavor of your choice) jumps. That’s it.
It’s virtually impossible to die on the first level, and given Mario’s self-propulsion, you don’t even need to press forward. As a result, you set your own personal goals. My daughter played the first stage over and over, each time getting a few more coins. Eventually she felt brave enough to venture out into harder courses, only to come back again to the first level. Aesthetically, it seems to borrow the most from Super Mario World (my personal favorite visually), but the mechanics are a grab-bag, even digging into black sheep like Super Mario Bros 2.
The game is not unique in its simplicity, but it’s also Mario, and there’s something that bridges a lot of gaps as a result of that.
Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Title: Infinity Blade 2
Maker: Chair Entertainment and Epic Games
Cost: Free from iOS Anniversary (Normally $6.99)
Faded in the Rinse and Repeat
I had fun playing the first Infinity Blade. There were a lot of flaws but it wore them on its sleeve. Repetition was necessary because you’re immortal… ah, clever. And the controls for battles were simple yet effective, at a time when it seemed like only endless runners had made an effective use of the touch-screen. Even the story, which was still needlessly complex, worked out ok because it was so understated. A few lines here or there, odd reveals abound, and you’re left with something that your mind could fill in.
Infinity Blade 2 is none of those things. Err I take that back, it’s all of those things, which is why it’s disappointing. It’s the same graphics, the same mechanics, just more of it. The first games graphics were impressive because of when it was released and the unique art design. The second is a complete recycle of these. The dialogue that was enjoyable in small doses becomes schlock in long monologues. It’s only after people keep talking that you realize how little you care about any of the characters. If they had kept their mouths shut maybe they could have fooled me. What is perhaps the most unforgivable is that low-hanging fruit like rebalancing the magic system, and improving the grinding level system, remain bizarrely untouched.
The battles are still fun, if growing tired (again recycled), and the secrets that reveal themselves on multiple play-throughs remains an incredibly fresh mechanic that is executed on a high level. Murdering giant secret bosses was literally the only thing that kept me coming back after the short story runs to completion. In the end, it’s a incredibly safe game that’s unable to realize why the first was such a success.
Review: 2 stars (out of 5)
Memory: Accidentally stumbling on a secret boss early and being decimated in seconds.
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
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: Joe Danger Touch
Maker: Hello Games
Cost: Free for iTunes 5th Anniversary (Normally $2.99)
…Wait, what am I supposed to do again?
The first thing I notice about Joe Danger is that the levels are perfectly short. They tapped into the right attention spans for a mobile game. The second thing I notice is that it’s boring. Not as bad as some other iOS games I’ve been playing lately, but boring enough I wonder why this ever became a successful series. Maybe it’s big brother counterparts do a better job of keeping you vested.
It’s not for lack of content. For a mobile game this thing is pretty huge, and trying to get perfect scores will require multiple replays. But that’s the problem, monotonous memorization doesn’t make a game fun. It rarely feels about execution. Instead, you memorize the levels enough to mechanically swipe your way through. There’s a point system here as well, but it’s buried deep. I do hold out the faint hope that digging deep enough into the point system might make a rewarding experience in and of itself (like good ol’ Tony Hawk 2).
The best part of playing Joe Danger is that its micro levels make you wonder why no major publisher has done a Wario Ware ripoff for the iOS. SquareEnix, you need some cash right?
Rating: 2 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: “Jooooe Danger!”
Title: Robot Unicorn Attack 2
Maker: Spiritonin Media Games
Publisher: Adult Swim
Cost: Free to Play
I still don’t fully understand why Adult Swim is publishing video games. It’s cool, and I get that their target audience crosses over, but whenever I see it I’m always surprised that resources go to game publishing. I remember the previews for the first RUA: neon colors, intentionally ridiculous music, and still I never picked it up. But on a whim I decided to download the sequel. It’s a simple game but they make the smart decision to expand it by allowing you to unlock different play-styles as the game progresses. Graphically, it’s a combination of the minutely beautiful and broad ugliness, which really is very “Adult Swim”. For a free to play its genuinely fun, even if another endless runner is redundant by this point in time.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
Memory: The theme song, of course
Title: Ridiculous Fishing – A Tale of Redemption
Duck, Weave, and Reverse
I’ve written a little about the clever reversal of objectives that Ridiculous Fishing employs. This alone makes it a solid title. Throw in some charming graphics, a progression system that works (i.e. doesn’t require you to grind – the blight of iOS), and what’s left is a genuine classic. For Vlambeer, it’s a bit like striking gold. It succeeds despite everything against it, and has propelled the company to the mainstream success it deserves (see the term “Vlambeered” to learn a bit more about their difficulties).
It’s a thin game that’s only going to buy you a few hours. But all of it is enjoyable, and non of it is padding, so what else could you want from your phone?
Review: 4 stars (out of 5)
Memory: The ending (there is one)
Ridiculous Fishing isn’t a fishing simulator…obviously, or I wouldn’t have downloaded it. You grab a hundred fish at once and then blast them with a shotgun. What is amazing is a very simple concept that you almost never see, objective reversal. When you’re going down you dodge the fish and when your coming up you grab the fish. It’s the same movement, but opposite goals. Its simple and brilliant in how effective it is. Sometimes you become so focused that you confuse the two, smacking into the first fish you see when you should be moving around it. The potential application for this type of mechanic is phenomenal .. just have to find a way to go beyond the now obvious dodge/hit polarization.
Title: Punch Quest
Maker: RocketCat Games
Cost: Free (and $3 for a must have upgrade if you like it)
The best five minutes of your lunch break
It’s been popular to rip on jet pack joyride for awhile now. But pound for pound, it’s 99 cents provided my more fun than any other iPad game I’ve played. It was arcade action, for someone who doesn’t typically like arcade games. But this isn’t about Jetpack, this is about Punch Quest.
I mention Jetpack, because a first instinct is that it plays very similar (if not unabashedly ripping it off). And it’s true, on a base level of fast twitch reactions, there is a lot in common. Yet for better or worse, Punch Quest is a deeper game with room left over for multiple play-styles.
Because it is free to play, the in-game currency holds much greater sway, as the in-game purchases actually have a tremendous effect on how the game plays. This adds depth while sacrificing accessibility. And while it generally follows that the more expensive moves (there’s no going back once you get thunder punch) outmatch the earlier ones, this isn’t always the case. In addition there are two distinct play styles that can be used: one of run and gun (punch), and another of tactically moving forward with the use of block.
As great as the game is, it’s not without it’s problems. Because of the way block is setup, it’s basically impossible to have a play style that combines fast gameplay with strategic blocking. Either you choose a control scheme that makes it difficult to use (but preventing it’s accidental use), or one that is easy but will frustrate you by activating when you don’t want it. Additionally, the art style is great, but it leaves you wanting more: more enemy types, more bonus levels, more variety of path types.
And finally the game currency is distorted. Not fubar, but it does detract. It’s a free game and need to make money, but even after buying the paid upgrade “punchos doubler” (a must if you like the game), it still takes a massive amount of time to buy even one “ultra” item, or unlock the Spartan Mode.
Punch Quest is the best iOS game I’ve played in the last six months. It will undoubtedly (and unfairly) always remain in the shadow of Jet Pack Joyride, even though it’s a genuinely great game in it’s own right.
Review: 4 stars (our of 5)
Memory: The first time you get to the laser raptor level.