Aug 31, 2010

Sinister Planet

Sinister Planet is an arcade shooter with a Market description that lumps it in with "Defender, Sinistar, Galaga, Asteroids, and R-Type". More accurately I'd say it's like Bosconian. It is a 2D top down shooter that places you in a sand box with the mission of collecting gems while surviving. I say "sand box" because, while the play area is bigger than my screen, it does have boundaries that I can bump into. Gems are found in asteroids and as asteroids are blown apart you'll be breaking them into smaller and smaller pieces, a la Asteroids (the arcade game) until eventually a gem is revealed. Unlike Asteroids, colliding with an asteroid doesn't cause your ship to blow, but instead you bound off of it. The game features several enemy types and one type actively seeks out capture of these gems before you can get them in order to mutant into a more ferocious opponent.

The game's graphics are good and feature opponents that look like they came right out of Galaxian. Who knows... maybe they did? The audio is adequate with basic firing sounds and such. The controls are purely touch screen based which is a bummer for those of us with keyboards. I guess I need to get used to more and more games ignoring my keyboard given how few Android phones include them. For me, it's a gaming necessity. On the screen you get the usual virtual DPad and fire button. You can fly your ship in any direction and the physics of slowing down and turning seem to be reasonably well emulated. You do have a choice of having the fire button in the upper right or lower right, but that's just cosmetic... tapping anywhere on the right side of the screen fires regardless of the position in which the button is displayed.

Your goal is primarily to collect gems and a gem counter is included in the upper left of the screen along with a power meter (shields) and radar. One you (or the enemy) gets all of the gems you move on to the next wave and have the opportunity to buy power ups such as a better laser cannon, better engines, ...etc with the money collected from gems as well as gold.

Issues? One issue I did have with the game is twice it ceased to load for me. It would get stuck on the startup screen. Granted I didn't wait half an hour, but I did try and wait it out. My ultimate solution was to go into Settings... Manage Apps... Apps and clear the game's data. That brought it back although the well done tutorial also game with that.

Sinister Planet isn't anything new. It's a good, old 2D arcade shoot 'em up just as advertised. And it does its job well. It would be nice to have better control than a touch screen can offer... perhaps accelerometer based control? The game also feels a bit too quiet when I play it. Other than that it's done very well and I do have to tip my hat to it as one of the better arcade shooters on the Android platform that I've enjoyed. 4/5 stars.

Aug 28, 2010

4 Player Reactor

As developers start to look outside of the box of traditional joystick/mouse/keyboard game development innovative titles that take better advantage of a Smart Phone's unique attributes are released. 4 Player Reactor takes advantage of the 'play anywhere' nature of such devices. The game itself is simple. Many minigames which rely on either quick thinking and/or speedy reactions which ultimately lead you to press a button on the touch screen when a given condition is true. Some examples include clicking when a color's name is displayed in said color, identifiying when a sad face appears on a screen packed with smileys, simple math like comparing the number of triangles to the number of rectangles in quantities of less then ten, or challenges as basic as clicking when the screen turns white.

The graphics of this game won't amaze nor will the audio delight, but that's not the objective. This is the type of game you'd slap down on the table in a noisy restaurant before a meal for some good, quick fun. The game does feature a one player mode for practicing, but really... would that be any fun? I'd tend to avoid practice as if you're tuned up on the game and kicking everyone else's derriere then you probably won't be much fun to play against. So, the bigger question with this game is how often do you think you'll have people to play against and situations in which to play.

I'm very happy to see innovative titles such as this one on the Android that provide a more social gaming experience. My only issue with the game actually has nothing to do with the game itself, but rather the medium. This game will be much better on an Android tablet as those make it to retailer's shelves. Four people hovering around a 4 inch screen is a tad crowded. Put this game on a 10 inch screen and that would be a marked improvement. Granted when that happens I'll want more sophisticated challenges that involved more than just a single button press. 4/5 stars for an innovative game that does its job well. Also note that the '2 Player Reactor' version is a Market freebie. Sample video of the game follows:

Aug 27, 2010

Current Games On Sale

Several noteworthy game sales going on...

Shopper's Paradise (25% off) [Awesome Android Apps] - $2.99
XGalaxy 2 [Design2Code] - $1.29
Backbreaker Football (50% off) [NautralMotionGames Ltd] - $1.49
The Movie Game [UMAI Development] - .99 Pounds or about $1.60
Critical Altitude 3D ($2 off) [Burning Bear Development] - $.99
Super Boom Boom [GAMEVIL Inc.] - $.99

Hungry Shark (reviewed this past week) is also on sale, but I can't see for how much. I've already bought it and the current Market software won't show me prices on purchased apps.

Panzer Panic 1.1

Handy Game's Panzer Panic was reviewed back in January. It quickly became one of my favorite games on my Droid and is among very few that, once installed, continuously made the cut whenever I had to dump games to free up memory so that I could try out new games. Today, roughly 8 months later, an update has finally been released.

The big change in the game seems to be that, in solo mode, instead of your tanks being on the left and the enemy on the right the your tanks are in the middle and the enemy comes from all directions. Little arrows point the way to encroaching tanks. The game may also have added some powerups as I got a 'speed boost' powerup in my first play after the update and I don't remember anything other than 'new tank' and 'repair' powerups from before. I'm not sure I think this is a huge change... it did make the game a tad easier as on my first play I made it to level 10 and I think my previous high, after countless plays, was level 8. The game is still a 5/5 for me although I admit sometimes the controls can be frustrating as the twitch nature of the game make touches that don't have the desired effect not good.

The other biggie, and I was surprised by this, is that it DOES let me move the app to the SD card now saving about 4.5 meg of space from the phone's internal memory. I'm surprised HandyGames can't be bothered to post what this update is all about... especially the latter feature as, unlike with new game installs, you do have to manually choose to move the game to the SD card.

HandyGames makes some great games and has consistently high quality from infeCCT to IQ Knights and they're back on my radar with some other Android releases that I was unaware of until recently. There are so many great Android games coming out that it's hard to keep up. My biggest problem with Handy has been that once a game is released they rarely update it. Could this update be a sign of change?

Aug 26, 2010

Glyder 2

Glu Mobile has taken an interesting tact with their recent Android game releases. First Super KO Boxing 2 and now Glyder 2 have been released with both a paid version and a free, full, ad supported version. Any guesses which versions are garnering more downloads? In fact it's entertaining reading some of the paid comments for Super KO Boxing 2 where people feel gypped because they think their paid game is now free as if Glu has done something wrong when they are just ignorant of the situation. I'd be interested in any information on how this method of game 'sales' is working out, but I have to think reasonably well given that they came back for more. Back to the review...

Glyder 2 is a pretty game in which you pilot a gal named Eryn with 'wings' collecting diamonds and other jewels in a variety of settings. Much like Super KO Boxing 2, for a free, albeit ad supported, game this is excellent and that alone should be enough reason to check it out. The controls are the usual tilt and rotate to control your direction and, as you glide, you have both an altitude and speed meter to contend with. You can easily pick up speed by diving. Your wings drop back and you soar downward. How do you gain altitude while gliding? Easy... there are several 'thermals' that force air upwars indicated by upward pointing arrows on the screen. Fly on in and get caught within the vortex to soar high once again.

The game includes 7 different, unlockable areas in which to play and also, as you collect stuff, you'll be able to upgrade Eryn's equipment. The graphics are good, audio enchanting, and controls reasonably responsive. There are times when I feel like I'm crawling along despite knowing exactly where I want to go and wish I could hit the 'speed' button to get there, but the game isn't about speed. It's about control... balancing your speed gained from dives with the need to get to your intended target jewels.

I'll admit that this kind of game doesn't do much for me. I'm not really into racing games nor the 'run around and collect stuff' games. This title clearly falls into the latter category. They get old, fast for yours truly. But this game is pretty enough that it makes a good demo as well as a good game for the kids (not that there aren't any adults that this style of play will appeal to). It's also quite a relaxing game to play almost to the point of being entrancing. If the 'collect the gems' style has any interest to you then you should be all over this one, but the reality is that it's worth a go just because of the free, full version. 5/5 stars for a game that is so well done that I can overlook my personal disinterest in the title.

QR Code for Glyder 2 (Free):

Aug 25, 2010

Backbreaker Football Sale

Backbreaker Football is on sale until Sunday at 50% off (or $1.49). I don't know the 'reason' for the sale given that it's week 3 of the NFL's preseason and opening week of the regular season would have made more thematic sense, but at $1.49 I'll bite even though I own it on my iPod Touch. It also now supports Froyo's App2SD feature.

Edit: I'm a bit surprised by this, but the game only takes up about 600k of internal memory now that it installed most of its data to the SD card. This game is a must have for football fans with it's new small footprint.


As I annouced a few days ago, GalCon is now available on the Android platform and, being a fan of the game from my iPod Touch days, that made me pretty happy. So far I've reviewed three similar games available in the Android Market with GalaxIR Star being the most recent and best.

To recap (only necessary if you are completely unfamiliar with this type of game) these games put a galaxy of planets on your Android's display. Each planet produces military units at a rate based on it's size... bigger has more resources and thus produces faster. You're goal is to take your fleets and conquer your opponent's fleets for complete galactic domination. The game is played in real time and thus many call it a "real time Risk".

Now that GalCon is here, do competitors need to quake in fear? GalCon is nice and IS the best of the bunch. It's professionally done and that shows as soon as the title screen loads. In contrast to GalaxIR Star, it has some neat graphical effects such as ships travelling around planets instead of through them. Necessary? Probably not... in fact you could argue that space is three dimensional so going 'through' them takes advantage of that.

GalCon offers ten skill levels all neatly displayed with basic emblems (instead of a drop down list). It also features five modes of play in single-player mode as well as multi-player support. The five modes are Classic, Vacuum (conquer as fast as possible with no opposition), Stealth (can't see planet strengths), Beast (the enemy is everywhere right from the beginning), and 3-Way (2 opponents instead of 1). GalaxIR actually has many of these modes available just in different places such as 3-Way being a choice of the number of opponents (and actually GalaxIR let's you play 4-Way) instead of a mode of play and Stealth being one of the harder difficulty levels.

Conclusions? After revisiting GalaxIR Star I was quite surprised how well it holds its own to GalCon... I really thought I'd be blown away by GalCon's greatness. It's also about a dollar cheaper if that matters to you. Unless I was a die hard GalCon fan I'd probably stick with GalaxIR Star if I already owned it... then again if I was a die hard (and I am) I'd want both just for some of the things (like 4-Way) that GalaxIR Star brings to the table. Once the dust settles, however, GalCon is the best GalCon by a nose and it earns a 5/5 star rating along with that.

Aug 24, 2010

Hungry Shark

Hungry Shark is a game that is almost therapeutic to me. I often criticize games in which I feel like there's little challenge such that the games can go on and on. That's somewhat true of this game if you stay close to the surface where food is plentiful, but yet it's such fun swimming around gobbling up other fish and the occasional swimmer. The feeling reminds me of the feeling I get in games where I'm charged with placing TNT and blowing up a building. It's such fun hitting the detonate button and seeing the structure topple.

Hungry Shark is a game that made the jump from the iPhone many moons ago and that has a simple premise. You are a shark with an insatiable appetite gobbling everything in sight. You use the accelerometer to guide your shark around and get a certain amount of boost to catch the fishies that try and swim away (activate by touching the screen anywhere). When you aren't busy eating you are gettting hungrier and hungrier until you either a) do eat again or b) die. While swimming and munching is fun I do realize that the thrill might wear off at some point. So there's more... there are lone swimmers, flocks of birds, ...etc to eat. The game is VERY cute as you gobble down a bird while the rest of the flock takes flight by displaying expressions such as (in this case) "in flight snack" and there's a lot of that going on while you play. But there's more... buried along the bottom are 10 treasures worth lots of points that you have to find. And as you dive there are other dangers. Some of the fish such as the jellyfish fight back and then there are mines to avoid.

The graphics rock and the audio is awesome. The underwater sounds playing throughout add so much to this game that other developers should take note of the ambiance that such fine audio introduces. The game has a 'work of art' feel to it even when you're gobbling down a swimmer, hear her scream, and see the water around her turn blood red. Ok, I'm getting sadistic, but even so it's so well down that it's just beautiful. And the controls feel good too. Easy twists and turns of your phone give you full control of your fish.

The game isn't complex. It doesn't, at all, give me that adrenaline rich feeling a fast paced shooter might, but instead feels very relaxing to play despite all of the 'death' in the game. But a shark has to eat, right? Plus it has that air of deep sea exploration although that's pretty light in this game. Now if only there was a way for me to eat that guy in the boat... he looks tasty (Edit: In the video they show that happening... I just have not been able to do it.). 5/5 stars for a game in which I would not change a thing.

Note: The screen shot and video are from the developer's website and are of the iPhone version, but represent the Android version of the game reasonably well.

Aug 23, 2010

Antigen: Outbreak

Antigen: Outbreak is a neat little combination of an arcade game and a puzzle game. The story is that you're an antibody and are traveling through an organism. Enemy viruses (is that a word?) are travelling through the body, too, and it's your job to fight them off. The core mechanic of the game is that your antibody is a square with four 'patterns' on each of its edges. Each virus also has one of those patterns on a side. You then have to rotate to the correct position so that you can attach to an enemy and destroy it. All in all a pretty neat, little idea.

The game is very well done. The antibody and virus cells all have cartoony (is that a word?) style faces on them. Everything is smoothly animated and the game has a nice techno beat going in the background and some well done cue sounds whenever something of significance happens on screen making for some of the best audio I've heard in an Android game. The controls are, likewise, well done. You have a choice of using a DPad or the accelerometer for movemement, but the accelerometer worked so well that I never bothered with the DPad. On the right side of the screen are two rotate buttons for clockwise and counter clockwise rotation. All you need to do is move near an enemy and your antibody automatically locks on for the kill.

The game includes two modes: a story mode and an arcade mode. It also includes four skill levels, leader boards, and achievements. All of the pieces to make a grade A title are here. It takes a bit of practice to get use to having two rotation controls... initially I tried to be lazy and just use one. Mastering both pretty clearly will make you a superior player. That also creates a 'want' for me and that's a 'flip' button to quickly spin around 180 degrees. This would especially be nice in the harder modes where you rotate 45 degrees at a time instead of 90 degrees.

I also wish the game was more challenging. I found myself being able to ramp up to the Extreme difficulty level in arcade mode and still play for many minutes without dying and having to quit instead (as this was for test purposes as I was curious how hard 'Extreme' mode would be). I would have expected Extreme mode to mean 'dead in 60 seconds [or less]'.

The developer is also generous enough to provide a free 'Antigen' version to give you a taste of the game, but be assured that the full Antigen: Outbreak version of this game is good enough to make it into your collection. I think Story Mode is the better mode of the two given the difficulty issue, but even so it's still a lot of fun to play. 4.5/5 stars. Check out the video below to see the game in action.

PRESS RELEASE - Wattpad Adds New Features to eReader Android App

Edit: This being a gaming blog I was most interested in the second sentence in this press release. I really believe that within 2 years (maybe sooner) the Android will surpass the iPhone with respect to game development unless Apple makes some serious policy changes regarding openness. I suspect they'll be too arrogant to do the latter in time to 'save' themselves.

Wattpad, the world’s largest ebook community, has recently updated its Android App. In the last quarter, the Android was the fastest growing app for Wattpad, surpassing both iPhone/iPad/iPod and BlackBerry downloads.

With the launch of several Android tablets as well as the growing number of Wattpad users who use Android devices to share and read original fiction, Wattpad continues to focus on this area of growth and has added several new features.

Writers and readers can save any story for off line reading, access new categories of select content and view ebooks in a wider range of styles. The Wattpad community can take advantage of all the social networking capabilities that connect readers with their favorite authors.

“Wattpad has already firmly established itself as one of the leading ebook apps for all mobile devices, including iPhone and BlackBerry,” explains Allen Lau, CEO and co-founder of Wattpad. “As readers continue to utilize their mobile devices not only to connect with friends but to read fiction, the Wattpad Android app combines these capabilities, providing a reading experience that is uniquely adapted for Android users.”

The Wattpad Android App has been optimized for tablet display, for a richer ereading experience. The app works on all Android devices including the Archos 5 Internet tablet, as well as Verizon’s Motorola Droid X, Sprint’s HTC EVO™ 4G and the Google Nexus One.

Aug 22, 2010

GalCon is in the building!

Much to the chagrin of its competitors, GalCon has arrived on Android and it looks great! Look for a full review soon including details on why it's the best GalCon out there...

And on another note, my iPod Touch, after 18 months, now has a near dead battery in it making it a slave to my electrical outlet. I am not ever buying another device that doesn't let me change its battery for my personal use. The idea of a disposable $200 device is a joke no matter how good the hardware, firmware, and/or what games come out for it... Yes, I know I can send it in or buy some bulky, external battery pack. And to think I was considering the purchase of an iPad as an eReader, game player... etc a couple months ago.

Aug 20, 2010

QB Attack Deluxe Football

One of the biggest thrills for a reviewer in my humble opinion is coming across that surprise gem of a game. It's usually not a big market title as we all of high hopes for those, but rather from some small, unknown publisher perhaps even releasing a first game. This game hit that mark for me.

If you read my review on a regular basis you'll know I love sports games. Well, I love most games as long as they are good, but good sports games get special recognition. I'd really like to see a full, quality football game make if over to the Android and I'm sure that'll happen with the momentum the platform is getting. In the meantime, this game has taken some of the bite out of that need. QB Attack put you in the role of a quarterback having to deliver pinpoint passes to your receivers. The game's display is top down and you're given three receivers each with randomly generated routes which is an interesting and good choice. I had a similar game from Simbsoft on my Windows phone a few years back, but because it ran the same plays/routes it was easy to master. Random routes takes that away. Once you hike the ball two defenders come rushing in to apply pressure. You then touch to throw the ball. Your receivers are visually presented as bulls eye targets and you score points based on the distance of the throw and how close to the center of the bulls eye you deliver the pass. The game features three skill levels which basically shrink the size of your receivers making completions far more difficult. During a game you get 5 incomplete passes before the game is over.

The graphics are basic with red dots for the defense as they rush in and a basic, but adequate football field. The audio is even simpler with a pling sound of varying pitch depending on where in a receiver's bulls eye you've completed the pass. And the controls work great with a simple tap on the touch screen to fire a pass or move your quarterback.

This game isn't perfect... don't get me wrong. And I think my review score will be higher than that of other sites, but since pulling this game down last night I have to have played this game a hundred times. I'm hooked and am not bored yet. For $1.49 that's an entertainment deal. I do think they could take a look at HomeRun Battle 3D and learn a few things, though. First, some nice audio would be nice... crowds cheering... chants... and a nice intro musical number. Second, some sort of bonus system. It would be great if I could earn bonus balls and perhaps even pump up my score and my quarterback akin to HomeRun Battle's system. But if being a quarterback has any appeal whatsoever to you then you will want need to check this game out. It's not sophisticated, but it IS whole lot of fun and that's what is most important to me! 4.5/5 stars.

Update: Other things that would be great to see include leader boards (something I forgot in my review - my current high on easy is a little over 3800) and making the game a bit more like football. Have each pass score a few points, but also assist in marching down the field eventually leading to a touchdown which is worth big points. Fewer passes needed for a touchdown = more points (make longer passes have more benefit). The game has a lot of untapped potential.

Aug 19, 2010

Lava Ball 3D

Lava Ball 3D from Exit 4 Gaming is a take on the ever popular Labyrinth genre of games in which you roll a ball through a maze. These games are popular now because they make great use of the accelerometer found on today's mobile devices. Lava Ball 3D tries to take this formula and turn it up a notch. Does it succeed?

First there's the title screen. From here you can choose a level on which to play and from 4 modes of play: Arcade, Hardcore, Preview and Practice. I don't really like the layout of this screen as it's less than intuitive, but the game does provide access to a help screen that explains how to use it via the Menu button standard on most (all?) Android phones. In a nutshell, clicking on the mode toggles it, but swiping on a level selects among those... inconsistent. But that's a petty issue if the game is good.

Jumping into the game reveals levels that consist of platforms containing many crystals that have to be collected before the time limit expires (unless you are in Practice/Preview modes which aren't really meant for serious play). The platform is suspended above a lava pit that swirls actively below. If you get rolling too quickly then you're likely to hurl yourself over the edge and ahhhhhhhh! all the way down. The graphics are good, but sound non-existent other than that fatal plunge into the abyss. The problem with the game, and something that could probably have been rectified easily with a calibration option, is that center for the ball (i.e. so that the ball stays roughly still) is not when I have my Droid flat... it's actually tilted a bit away from me and to the right. I've tried starting the game with my Android in a variety of positions, but there's apparently no calibration detection at the beginning of a level like some games use. This is not a deal breaker, but it does make me feel like a bit of a drunken' sailor when I'm playing the game and does cost the game half a star in my review.

In playing the game, the levels are certainly challenging, but not impossible. The game includes 30 levels, but the developers are active in adding to and improving the game. Hopefully the controls will be among those improvements. The levels also seem to include variety despite the somewhat bland color palette used across them. I also think it's nice that despite the fact that the Practice and Preview modes aren't for play they do serve a valid purpose... in order to do well you'll need to explore a level so you know where to go to pick up all of the crystals fast. You're not going to beat the clock cruising around willy nilly as the levels aren't simple.

All in all this is quite a good 'advanced labyrinth' style of game. A non-annoying musical score during play... perhaps something that intensifies with the timer would be nice as would a fix for my control issue, but behind this there's some solid fun to be had. 4/5 stars.

Aug 17, 2010


iBomber is a port of the iPhone version of the game that the developer proudly proclaims as having over 2 million downloads. So, if you're interested in this game make sure you have an iPhone/iPod Touch first because the Android version is horrible. It's as if the developer feels that we should be grateful to have a few table scraps to play with. We know better, though... there are many, great games available for our device of choice.

First, I found it amusing that the instructions in the intro tutorial read:

"The plane always moves at the same speed. Touch the screen to move faster."

What?? If it always moves at the same speed then.... ??? And it's this kind of care that was given to the entire port bar perhaps the nice musical score that accompanies the game.

The graphics are jerky, the controls aren't very good, and it's just not the same, fun game that I enjoy on my iPod Touch. In fact, I'd say that the comment about 2 million downloads as if this is the same, quality title is downright deceptive given how poor this port is. 1/5 stars and a half @ssed review for a half @ssed game. And at a price of over US $4 this is just plain highway robbery. Stay away!

Black Plague

In case you're wondering where the regular reviews are... I've been dog sick for many days and today took a turn for the worse. Unfortunately, the lack of posts is like the black plague for a blog. The plus is it gives me a chance to pull down and play many games. The minus is it's hard to get motivated to do work such as write reviews or my regular job not to mention it made for a lousy vacation.

One interesting item I see in the Market now is an Atari 2600 emulator. That was actually an idea I had for bringing to Android once I get done with some current projects (my goal is to start doing some mobile development soon). I'm a bit surprised at the lack of reception... I thought it would sell a thousand copies overnight and have success like its NES, SNES, and Genesis counterparts. I guess I was wrong.

Aug 12, 2010

New Pet Peeve

My old pet peeve was waiting in lines and/or traffic.

My new pet peeve is Android Market games that use the name of a highly successful game in order to attract attention to an app that is a piece of crap. Today I saw Civilization and Pitfall, among others, and my intuition tells me that 3 seconds of my time is too high a cost for these.

This all made me wonder... Apple could, as a strategy, as dishonest as it may be, hire these people to pollute the Android Market with this waste in a solid effort to discredit its usefulness. I don't honestly think that's happening, but I do believe these people do the latter. There really needs to be a way to block certain developers so that I don't have to see their junk on my Android.

Aug 11, 2010

Sheep Slinger

It was in the shower this morning that I had a revelation. The game I had tried out last night (Sheep Slinger) had a major flaw... you could just play and play and play with no fear of death. What kind of witty analogy would I use? Space Invaders without bombs? Pac Man without ghosts? But first, back to Sheep Slinger...

Sheep Slinger is a simple game that actually borrows the whole sling shot concept from games like Steel Shot, but instead gives you two slings (lower left and right). It then keep everything on the screen, throws in some barn yard animals and some funky Deliverance style banjo music for a twisted take on the shoot 'em up genre. In Sheep Slinger you have flying pings scrolling across your screen while sheep voluntarily sacrifice themselves as ammo for your slings. The sheep hop on your slings and you just have to pull back and release in an attempt to pick off the flying, purple pigs from the sky.

The graphics are decent and the sound good, assuming you don't dislike banjo music as I do. The controls are perfect and use the touch screen well. The scrolling is smooth and the game includes basic instructions, but omits such information as what it takes to beat the bosses... what the number along the bottom of the screen is that the boss seems to be reducing. What does everyone astute enough to recognize the need for instructions also think their game can be summarized in 8 words or less? Less rules = good. Missing rules = bad.

But the core problem with this game is that it's way too easy in addition to being repetitive. The repetitive nature makes me classify it as more of an arcade game which means it needs to be hard, or, at least, a way to make it hard (i.e. difficulty levels). My shower revelation was incorrect... you're trying to meet a quota to get past the current level and on to the next level. However, when you're firing at the pigs you're in no danger (other than the need to accumulate a certain number of hits) and I had little difficulty in killing the bosses... at least early on (I admittedly got bored pretty quickly). This is another game that shows that the developers are competent and talented programmers, but that needs more in the realms of game design. Maybe if you're looking for something really easy and cute for the kids this is right on target, but for gamers that want to be challenged this is a miss even at the low cost of a buck. Having to say that makes me sad because the game is really quite well executed. 3/5 stars.

Aug 10, 2010

Crush the Castle by Namco

Note: Crush the Castle is temporarily on sale for $.99 down from $4.99.

When I reviewed a game called Steel Shot in May I was completely unaware that a game called Angry Birds was topping the charts on the iPhone. Since then I've tried Angry Birds and while Angry Birds is a far more polished title in the same genre my core criticism of the game remains for both. Crush the Castle is yet another game of this type.

In Crush the Castle there are castles stacked high and filled wth nobles. You are equipped with a trebuchet and hurl rocks at the castles as you attempt to knock off all of the residents. The game features many kingdoms each with many castles and you're goal is to bring them all to their knees in as few shots as possible to maximize your reward. Each castle first shows you the castle and then scrolls on over to your trebuchet. It's all touch screen from there... tap to release and trebuchet's arm and tap again to fire your payload. You then spectate as the rocks fly and meet or miss their intended target. As nobles are crushed they bleed red, but there's no animation... only screams of death. The nobles themselves wobble like chess pieces.

The graphics are decent as is the sound, but nothing spectacular. The controls work although the sling shot in Steel Shot (and Angry Birds) is much easier to work with than the trebuchet. That said, this game does nothing to cure my feeling that this is like archery with the caveat that before taking the shot I am spun in a circle after being blind folded. Actually I think this game makes me appreciate the sling shot in Steel Shot.

Crush the Castle is nice in that it features additional types of ammo as the game progresses such as '3 rocks that split in the air' (cool) and 'bigger rocks' (not so cool). All in all, while I can't say that I'm a fan of this type of game there are aparently countless fans. And if you buy one I'd say it's a pick 'em between this and Steel Shot until Namco ups the price back to $4.99 and then it's Steel Shot all the way. 3/5 stars.

80s Arcade

I love the arcade classics from the 80s and 80s Arcade brings 33 of them to your Android phone for $2.99. Sound awesome? Well, it's only ok. First, I question the licensing of the games... is this legal? I seriously doubt 3D Studio has the rights to distribute the 33 original 'roms' that allow these games to be perfectly emulated for the low price of $2.99. But as I'm not certain of the I'll give them the benefit of the doubt (especially as I've purchased many of these games countless times over so I do own the right to use the 'roms'). Second, note the restriction on the controls and the fact that if you don't have a keyboard on your phone you'll need to use their Zeemote software. Again, I didn't test with the software that allows a WiiMote to be used with Android and maybe it works with that too, but if not then that stinks. It would be nice to standardize on one external joystick program instead of having six.

But the big issue is sound... it's delayed and in some cases horribly static-ey. For example, in Frogger I see my frog complete a jump and only then do I hear it hop. I have a hard time thinking a phone with a 500+ MHz CPU in it can't handle this when Dave Spicer was doing this on a 233 MHz PC 15 years ago. Still the games are fun and certainly playable even if the sound is messed up and there are some great here. Missing are Pac Man, Galaxian, and Galaga. At first I thought it might be a legal issue and fear of Namco, but Rally X is here so who knows? 3/5 stars for an average emulation job.

Aug 4, 2010

Game News

How about some bulk game news, today?

First we've got FastFoot-Challenge (trailer above). It uses your phone's GPS to create a real world game where a player (Player X) has to avoid 2-6 other players for 25-60 minutes. The other players (called Runners) get an update of Player X's location every 6 minutes and can voice chat as they use team work for find Player X. The press release is here. (And it appears to be free)

Next, we have Don't Forget the Lyrics... a new rhythm game that has you following the bouncing ball to tap your way through songs and filling in the missing words in a game show format (it's based on a game show hosted by comedian Wayne Brady whom I've not heard of). I also can't seem to find it in the Market, yet, so I presume it's "coming soon".

You want more? How about Wonton Drop (pictured on the right) which is a game designed by a couple (he does the coding... she does the artwork) from Vancouver, BC. This is their first game and it's a bit of a Kaboom! style game... wontons are falling and you have to catch them in the pot, but watch out for the falling Android robots... catch them and you'll lose a life. It's their first crack at a game and they are looking for feedback. I tried it and one thing I liked was the scoring... a point for every catch and minus a point for every miss. My first score was 37. Oh, and it, too, is free.

I'll be at Gen Con in Indianapolis for the next few days... hopefully I'll be able to sneak a review in here and there during the trip.

Android 2.2

If you've got a Motorola Droid you can now update to Android 2.2 (code name FroYo, although I tend to think all the food related code names are pretty silly) by downloading and installed the update direct from Googles servers. How so? Click here for details. I've seen several similar announcements for other models so if you're still waiting hopefully it won't be too much longer for you. So, how does the upgrade stack up?

First, speed. Yes, I think it is a little snappier. I had heard 2x to 5x faster because of the new Java engine. Don't expect a 'day and night' difference. One of my tests was with Homerun Battle 3D as I hoped the speed improvements would eliminate some of the lag in certain games. Initially performance was awesome. In fact I set a new record of consecutive Home Runs... 12 vs 5, but now things aren't too different so it was probably mostly because of the reboot and clearing out the running apps. App switching is a bit smoother and it's certainly not worse, but don't be thinking you're going to see a 5x speed increase.

Next, moving apps to the SD card... my biggest complaint has been rectified with 2.2. Or has it? Nope. Moving apps to the SD basically seems to mean Google provides some library support for moving a part of the game's data over to the SD card. For example, Crusade of Destiny is a 19 MB game... move it over to the SD card and it STILL consumes 7 MB of precious internal memory. I'm glad it can shed the 12 MB, but a) apps that offload lots of data to the SD card already such as Homerun Battle 3D will not benefit and b) it's still quite limited by the comparatively small internal storage of the Android. I had hopes of being able to download ALL of the apps I've paid for. No such luck and I feel that this had been sadly misrepresented in the media.

Flash support? It's there... had to download the .apk file from an external site (and it's a beta 3), but I just tried it on a favorite Flash game of mine. Everything is smooth except firing making the game unplayable, but it's impressive to hear the audio and see the animation as that's all very smooth.

All in all I'm a bit disappointed. Obviously it didn't cost me and I haven't lost anything with the upgrade (that I've noticed), but it's not the 'download a new phone' that it was advertised as being.

Aug 3, 2010

Tank Recon 3D

I was browsing the Market a few days ago and stumbled across this new game. And then it dawned on me how the old Atari arcade classic Battlezone is really quite under represented. Most people apparently prefer to fly a plane instead of driving a tank (Or is it that most developers prefer to write air based games? The world may never know.).

Tank Recon 3D is a tank game in 3D. It sports two modes of play: survival and mission. Survival mode isn't too dissimilar from the aforementioned arcade classic Battlezone. You cruise around in your tank killing as many enemy tanks as you can before being killed yourself. In Battlezone you have lives (each equating to taking a hit) whereas in this game you have a health meter and can pick up 'repairs' as in most first person shooters. Mission mode features three skill levels and gives you an objective making the game a bit more of a story than the "kill or be killed" of survival mode, but it's the same game with respect to controls and all. And the missions, even on Normal mode, are not pushovers. The first one has you knocking out communication towers and it's nice to have this additional option beyond survival mode as it's actually pretty satisfying to see one of those towers fall.

The graphics are good. Tanks explode into pieces with nice, fiery explosions before their parts disappear into the dirt. Scrolling is smooth and while the mountain landscape doesn't offer much to look at other than enemies and dead enemies what is there looks nice. Audio? Well, the game is almost eerily quiet. The only sound it makes is that of firing shells at your enemy. In fact it kind of puzzles me that the graphics are as good as they are when the audio is as non-existent as it is. I'd, at least, expect a nice little musical number on the title screen and the rumble of my tank as I move. Controls are all touch screen based... a familiar virtual DPad for movement, a fire button, and another fire button for launching one of your limited supply of guided missiles. There's no option to use a real DPad that I can see, and that might have been nice.

At US $4.99 this is one of the higher priced titles... a premium game if you will. This is a game that does so many things so well that I'd like to give it 5/5, but with the lack of decent audio and just the one environment (that is also kind of bland) I'd say 4.5/5. Also, how great would networked multiplayer support be? If you want an arcade oriented tank combat game then this suffices nicely. It's a fun game to play. A video of the game from the developer follows although, if you look closely, you'll see it's the Blackberry version of the game [and it's got a nice soundtrack]: