Not from lack of games. In that department, I’m actually drowning. I should rather say my gaming writing well is running dry. I haven’t played games in so long! LIIIIIFE. WHY HAST THOU FLOODED ME!? It’s a great thing, really, but seriously, the best gaming experience I’ve had in the past week was playing Fruit Ninja in the bathroom at work. How do you guys do it? How do you carve out time to prioritize games in your life? Teach me your ways!
In lieu of being able to talk at length about one or more games, I’ll just highlight some flash/mobile games that I’ve gotten a chance to check out in the past little while:
Disclaimer: I’m not an iPhone hater, but I do have an Android phone, so all the app links are to the Google Play store. ALSO! Lots of these cost money, but there are really awesome free apps everyday in the Amazon App Store so be sure to check that to pick up some of these for free, like I did!
Pixel Dungeon – My brother put me on to this game a while back (for the subtitle of this site, “Gaming without your brother,” he certainly does come up a lot . . .). It’s a randomly generated dungeon crawler; find the next set of stairs down, go down the stairs, try to find the ultimate artifact, the Amulet of Yendor.
It’s still in beta, but that also means it’s free for the moment! There’s 20 levels at the moment, with more coming in the next update says the dev. It’s difficult! Which makes it fun, but there is perma-death which is heartbreaking. Three classes (warrior, rogue, mage), potions and enemies and weapons and armor and items – all the needed elements for a fun action RPG. And the pixel art . . . gets me right in the nostalgia every time. Well done pixel art is my jam.
Candy box ! – Automated ASCII art?! Get out of town! The key in this game is to just wait until you have more than two options. Then it becomes seriously exciting/addicting because you wonder “WHAT COULD HAPPEN NEXT!?” You can also “save” which is nice for a browser-based game. Shoutout to friend and reader Susan for putting me on to this super fun game.
Robot Unicorn Attack – Super old, but I figure it’s mildly relevant because RUA 2 just came out, AND, I really am playing this game a lot. Something about endless runners . . . I just want to beat my old high score! I would’ve been hopeless in the 80s, all those arcades around. I also can’t try RUA 2 until I feel like I’ve sufficiently used the original app approximately $2 worth (for the app, free online though). Anyway, an oldie but a goodie!
Continuity 2 – Another oldie but goodie that again my brother put me on to. I had never heard of it, but this a puzzle game I can really get behind. You move around tiles that are snapshots of the actual level to facilitate the character you’re controlling to be able to move through, collecting the key to the last door, as well other little tokens. ALL AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Three factors rank your level success: time taken to complete, how many tokens collected, and . . . moves maybe? I forget, and to find out and tell me how stupid I am, download Continuity 2!
Osmos HD – This game. YEESH this game. I mean that in the best possible way. It’s so good! So addicting! Such a great soundtrack! So hard for me! In general, the object of every level is to become the biggest cannibalistic blob. You can only absorb blobs you’re bigger than, and you die by bumping into blobs bigger than you, which then absorb you. There are some different types of blobs that attract things, and move faster. A cool mechanic is being able to slow down time in the level which gives you a little bit of reaction time buffer. And fo’ real, the soundtrack. Dat soundtrack. Check out the game!
Temple Run 2 – I wasn’t going to include this game because I am a little embarrassed that I play it so often instead of playing some of the other critically acclaimed games in my library, but what can I say? I just love unlocking stuff and endlessly running (virtually that is, never in real life. Have you seen me?) It’s a good game! If you want something mindless that’s easy to play while you’re going to the bathroom at work, this would be my top recommendation.
I enjoy these games that have depth, that I can spend an hour or more on (equivalent to how much time I would spend playing a console or PC game) but can do out and about, away from my TV or monitor. Ya hoo for the increasing caliber of mobile gaming!
What about you guys, what games do you love on your phone, or tablet, or browser? Let me know in the comments!
When I read the synopsis of Splice in the back of the PAX program, with the rest of the PAX10 games (ten indie games at PAX, highlighted by industry experts for how awesome they are), I was pretty sure it was going to be over my head. But I had made a goal to try and play all ten PAX10 games before the doors of the convention center closed two days later. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to play all ten games (I couldn’t find six of them whatsoever, so that’s on you, PAX), but I did get a chance to try out Splice and pick up a coupon code so I could buy it on the cheap after PAX, which I did.
Splice was made by Cipher Prime Studios and is currently available in the iTunes app store as well as on Steam for Mac and PC. The marketing copy boasts over seventy levels, and the company also offers a deluxe edition that comes with the soundtrack. That was my first tip off about the music. Just like Catch-22, in the exhibition hall at PAX I couldn’t hear the soundtrack but when a game starts offering their soundtrack along with the game, not as an afterthought months later, you know it’s going to be a good soundtrack.
I didn’t get to talk much to the Cipher Prime guys at the booth because some “big wig” who “voted for their game to be in the PAX10” or something lame like that walked up right when I did. Sheesh. The nerve, huh? /sarcasm. Anyway, I pieced together a little bit of the game play, got stuck on the seventh strand of the first sequence, congratulated them on the game, and left. I finally got around to buying, installing, and playing the game last night.
As for the actual game play, all the player has to do is move around microbial units (sure, that’s what we’re gonna call them) to fit in the frame that the level provides. But when you move one microbe, it effects where the others are and they move as well. You have a limited number of splices, or moves, to get all the microbes to match the shape of the frame. In later levels, microbes get special actions, such as splitting in two to make more microbes, and other actions that are harder to explain. I heard one YouTube reviewer compare the sequences to worlds in a platformer, and the individual strands of Splice to levels in a platformer. So when I say sequences and strands in the rest of this, think of it like that. Strands are levels essentially, and they’re grouped into sequences, which are pretty much only there for organizational purposes. The funniest phrase of this paragraph is “all the player has to do,” because for its simple objective, I found Splice stupidly hard.
My previous admission about how terrible I am at puzzlers still stands. So it shouldn’t be surprising when I got stuck on the same strand of the same sequence two weeks after I played it at PAX. I eventually got it on my own, but it took me so long, it wasn’t even gratifying. I was still shaking my head, like “Man, how could I have figured that out faster?” I got stuck again on sequence two, strand three but not wanting to waste more time (which is how I always view beating my head against puzzles, i.e. as a waste of time), I googled a solution. Thankfully (for my pride, anyway) the reviewer explained some more mechanics of the game so I didn’t have to watch the full solution; I realized the solution now that I understood what the new microbes actually did.
I stopped my brief run through at sequence three, strand five. Like all puzzle games I play, it might be awhile before I actually finish this one because I am impatient and apparently an idiot. I recognize the deliberate choice to go minimalist on the game play by not explaining how to play the game, but at the same time, players get nothing to go on . . . For as much as I love progressive gaming, the lazy, puzzler-handicap in me shakes its head at setting up gamers to fail. And it’s more than others. Limbo, for instance, explains nothing. But it’s such a familiar backdrop (i.e. platformer) we instinctively figured out what to do. Splice is breaking boundaries all over the place, so our frame of reference is limited, if not gone entirely for those of us who don’t play puzzle games often enough. I think at the end of the day however, I’d rather developers assume I’m too smart than assume I’m too stupid. This rant is just because I’m mad that I’m really bad at this game.
Far and away though, this has got to be one of the most beautiful indie games I’ve ever played. There isn’t a ton to go on visually throughout the game, it’s true, but again the minimalist art style and controls, as well as a superb soundtrack (officially called Flight of Angels) that I’m going to buy off of Bandcamp in just a few minutes, creates an ephemeral place in which to ragequit. Ahh, how pleasant.
If you like puzzle games, you will love Splice and you should definitely spring the $10 to buy it. It’s only $4 for the iPad, and I don’t see anything telling me that it has any fewer levels, so if you have an iPad, save some dough and buy it in the app store. If you don’t like puzzle games, I think this is still a beautiful enough game that if you like being challenged in non-puzzle games, you’ll appreciate the experience in Splice. Just wait until it goes on sale.
I should’ve posted this yesterday but I realized if I get into the habit of daily posts, I’ll be beating myself up to maintain that and I don’t want to sink into gaming as a chore again. So I paced myself, played another one of the PAX10 (ten of the best indie games shown at PAX, chosen by a panel of industry experts) called Containment, and had a fairly good time doing it. Good, not great.
I happened to wander by the Bootsnake Games booth in between waiting in line for panels. It was on the sixth floor and not in the hubbub of the AAA title company booths on the fourth floor, which I preferred. I set out at the beginning of the weekend to make sure I played all the PAX10 games (which didn’t happen), but I saw this booth fairly early in the weekend and confidently stood behind someone else playing a demo to listen to an explanation of the game (I did in fact play the game a few days ago, have no fear).
Containment is a zombie puzzler, where you manipulate people in four classes (primarily designated by four different colors) to surround a zombie in the four cardinal directions. Once a zombie is surrounded on all four sides by one color (e.g. all pink, all green, all blue, or all orange) the colored characters kill the zombie and more characters slide down from the top of the screen to fill in the spaces that were just occupied by the zombies and the attacking characters. You can swap characters from any spot on the grid to strategically place a character. Don’t be fooled though, it’s not a turn-based game. As I sat for the first few seconds pondering what I wanted to do first, a zombie ate the character next to it and turned it into a zombie as well (the primary zombie movement mechanism – infecting others). You can surround groups of zombies with one color of character to defeat them as well, and edges of the count as the color of character you’re using, automatically. Defeating all the zombies in a grid before another zombie can crawl it’s way in advances you to the next grid and through the game.
Different classes drop different items. Surrounding zombies with all pink doctors will sometimes mean these pink ladies drop a hazmat suit item that protects three horizontally adjacent characters of your choice to be protected and to act as character color wildcards, still swappable anywhere on the grid. Surrounding zombies with all green soldiers will occasionally net you a grenade to blow up a cluster of people, whether zombies or friendlies. Blue groups killing zombies will sometimes drop a sniper shot to take out one zombie outright (there are varying classes of zombies that are harder to kill as the game progresses), and orange characters that kill a zombie or group of zombies sometimes drop a Molotov cocktail that will burn a cluster of zombies and allies without discretion.
As I said, one of the first game play features I noticed was that it’s not turn-based. Zombies don’t want for you to strategize before munching on your citizens. Initially I thought this was clever because it forces players to think and act quickly, which isn’t always the case for the puzzle genre. Later in the game though, I realized more and more that I was approaching levels with a brute force approach because I felt time was more important than finesse. It’s a fine line to be sure, and one that might be praised by some and criticized by others. I vacillated between the two, as I said.
Another strength to the game were the characters. While the animation was clean and neat, but nothing special, the characters you move on the grid to surround and kill zombies had some really clever short lines of dialogue, and the voice actors did a good job in their brief appearances.
Now to reference the title, and my easily contained excitement for the game. I was impressed that the team at Bootsnake Games bothered to put in a story at all, and the exposition that rolled onto the screen in between zombie grids had some funny one liners every so often. However, overall it was your standard zombie tale, without novelty. Also, I couldn’t imagine a more boring font. I’m no typographer so I don’t want to purger myself but the font of the story was something like Helvetica or Arial. Seriously? I would’ve preferred the cliche zombie font over reading three acts with five levels a piece entirely in the plainest sans serif font available. A small detail, you’d think, but from the time the first bit of plot was scrolling off of the screen and to the next grid, I was already bored of reading it the exposition in such a boring font.
Overall, the game was a little easy. I didn’t die once until sometime in the middle of the second act. In Bootsnake’s defense, I only played through the campaign mode. There is also a survival mode that I would bet gets pretty difficult. Additionally, there is no penalty for incurring collateral damage. In fact, killing more of your allies unlocks Steam achievements. I think an easy way to up the difficulty would be to penalize players for avoidable friendly fire. Without that penalty, I was dropping grenades, warheads, and Molotov cocktails willy nilly, just to get a few zombies.
Update: I just jumped into Survival mode for a few rounds to double check, and not be a lazy/crappy reviewer, and you do get ranked on how many civilians you kill per round. Having said that, I wasn’t too careful about it, and I got an “A” in the first three rounds so . . . maybe it’s still not that hard.
And again in the game’s defense, there is the company itself, Bootsnake Games. I said it once and I’ll say it again – the nicest people go to PAX. I listened to one of the people working the booth explain the game and gently guide the PAX attendee playing the game to make better choices. Another booth worker came up to me to answer the rest of my questions, invite me to try it out on the iPad, and convince me to buy it for $3 there at the booth. Supporting the indie devs! My favorite pastime.
The game is available on Steam for the PC (which is how I played my copy when I got home from PAX) and it’s in the Apple App store. For $2, I would recommend giving it a shot on the iPad, just because it is generally fun and I bet you can get more traction out of the survival mode than I got in the few hours it took me to complete the campaign. For $5 on the PC right now . . . sure, I recommend it too, so long as $5 is chump change to you (right now, $5 is a day of food for me so Containment wouldn’t be a priority. Catch-22 would be, just for reference). Like I said, I just love giving independent developers all of my money.
Any zombie games you guys have totally loved? I usually try to avoid the genre, but this was a pleasant introduction. Leave suggestions for me in the comments!
Quick post before my next review, I just wanted to celebrate the great advice I got at PAX about posting to other outlets – I got published! http://venturebeat.com/2012/09/10/more-fun-playing-catch-22-than-reading-catch-22/
Bitmob.com was a suggestion from Chris Kohler actually (that wasn’t even a joke, I swear I will stop saying his name) that I had never heard of before. Community writers populate the website with content and editors of the site go through and pick their favorites of the day to put on the front page. They’re also partnered with VentureBeat which has a sub-community/page called GamesBeat that gets the same features. SO! I’m on two sites! I’ll save you the time of reading it by saying the content is nothing new, but they did edit the beginning a bit for clarity, which is a really good point for me to take away (i.e. always making descriptions and set ups as clear as possible). Anyway, again, just wanted to share for a minute. It’s probably a lot less important than I’m making it, but at the same time, it feels pretty gratifying, since I’ve applied to about a dozen jobs and haven’t even heard back from any of them, that’s how far away from achieving my goal I feel. So this is a small victory, in the small bout of failure I’ve been in. Woot!
Bottom line: if you want to get published about games stuff, try bitmob.com! I’m in such a good mood, I won’t even pretend to keep this to myself.
I’m working on using really catchy titles so people are outraged and want to read, and then really the entire premise of my post is opposite to the perceived stance of the title. Slimey, huh?
A few weeks ago my brother and sister-in-law sent me an old iPod Touch they had lying around and weren’t using any more. For someone as poor as me and as obsessed with gadgets and toys as I am, I was incredibly grateful and excited, despite it being a second generation iPod Touch that can only support iOS 4.2. I immediately downloaded apps I had played and loved before (Temple Run, Fruit Ninja) and downloaded the big name social games that people were playing (Words with Friends, Draw Something). And as I started playing these games, I started thinking a lot about casual gaming, and thus felt prompted to rant about it here.
Flashback: last Christmas, my parents got rooted Nooks with Android ported onto them so they could use them as tablets and not just e-readers. The backstory is that while both of my parents are savvy and intelligent, computers and technology in general aren’t really their thing. So, we thought this would keep them current and be useful for different things they like to do. Neither of my parents has ever really approved of any of their kids gaming, so when my mom started trying out Angry Birds on Christmas day, it was kind of surprising that she was enjoying herself.
Jump back to the present, where I find out my mom has graduated from Angry Birds and now plays Draw Something. We’ve been playing for a few dozen turns now and every time I see a push notification telling me that she’s sent me a drawing, I get excited. My brother articulated it well by pointing out the excitement comes from the fact that she gets it. I don’t mean to belittle her intelligence (my mom is a smart, smart cookie), but there’s a learning curve to touchscreens and gaming and she seems to have picked it right up.
The next milestone was that she had never played Words with Friends, but is a Scrabble champion and avid reader so I assumed she’d love to play the game. The catch was that she has always had my brother help her download apps (they live near each other; I am far away). Throwing caution to the wind, I told her via Facebook Messages that she should get the app and shortly thereafter she messaged me back and asked if it was the Zynga one. A few minutes later, I had a request from her to start our first game. Of course, I also received two other requests a few seconds afterwards, because she wasn’t sure if the other request had gone through, but these small steps were awesome to see.
Hey, Laurie, what’s the point? Great question! The point is that gaming is awesome. All gaming, is awesome. And I say death to the casual gamer because there should not be any kind of label on what kind of gamer you are. You know how many hours I’ve put into Bejeweled? TOO MANY. But you know how many hours I’ve also put into the entire Zelda series and the entire Final Fantasy series, and Team Fortress 2 and the Grand Theft Auto series and the Mass Effect series and many others? A LOT. I say too many hours into Bejeweled just because it’s not my favorite game but sometimes I want to veg out and play something really simple, and for that I turn to my casual games.
Also, the label “casual gamer” detracts those who might be looking to get back into gaming. As people get older, unfortunately we just game less (although it might be a bell curve, because I gamed less during college, but have graduated and am going to town on gaming, but will probably game less once I get real responsibilities in life). If you played a lot of video games when you were younger, you know the label of “casual” is like the black spot, so you think “I used to game, but don’t any more” because no one wants to have to tell gamers “Oh, I game only every so often when I can.” That doesn’t deserve a label! That deserves a pat on the back to acknowledge the commitment to gaming even when free time is sparse. Good on ya, mate! We shouldn’t put you down, we should prop you up and let you know you’re welcome as a gamer and we don’t look at anything else like frequency of gaming; we only look at the fact that you game!
And finally, casual games bring people together in much better ways than more labor and time intensive games ever could, and that is undisputed fact. And isn’t that the goal? For the rest of non-gaming society to realize that gaming isn’t a waste of time and it isn’t the ultimate evil that turns your kids lazy or homicidal – it’s just an outlet that can be really challenging and really engaging and really cathartic and really special and most of all, really fun? So if my mom has started to realize that (and to her credit, she probably already did to an extent. My dad was the one who really hated video games) through her Sudoku, Mahjong, and Draw Something apps, then god bless those casual games.
There’s probably much more that could be said about this, but these are the main points I wanted to highlight. Based on some rumblings in the comments when I mentioned casual gaming in a previous post, I think I have some reader support behind me, but for those of you who can’t stand casual games or casual gamers, leave a comment! I love the discussion and would be ecstatic to hear more from you.