Category Archives: Recommendations

Tiny Towers Review (iOS)

iTunes Link

The new hot sim game on the iOS platform is a mix between Game Dev Story and The Sims with it’s retro art style and addictive gameplay. From iOS developer NimbleBit who people might know as the developer of Pocket Frogs or Dizzypad, have finally hit it big with a perfect mobile game in the simulation genre. They have nailed the delicate balance for a freemium game, providing the option for a quick build out with the purchase of the valuable in game currency of ‘bux’ but also dolling it out in a non frustrating fashion over time.

The aim of the game is to build up your tower with a variety of residential, commercial and retail levels. The great thing about this concept is there is a lot of variety with the different types of stores you can build. You can build either a retail, food, service, recreation or creative level and it will randomly pop up a shop once the construction period is over. For example the retail stores I have are a game, bike and record store and for food stores I have a vegan and froyo store. Now to staff these stores you have to build residential levels, when people move in you can assign them jobs but each person has different strengths in each type of field. Each person also has a dream job and when you match a person to their dream job you get 3 extra bux, which you can spend to speed up processes in the game. The micro management comes in the optimisation of putting the best employees for the job which gives you discounts on the inventory costs.

Bux can be spent to quickly construct a level, instantly fill up an apartment space or restock a shop’s inventory. The only thing I didn’t think was reasonable was the cost of 1 bux to move a level but it’s not that much of a problem. The other currency, coins, are used to purchase inventory and levels. Coins are received from selling items at the stores or by trading in bux, i.e. 50 bux for 100,000 coins. If you want efficiency tips for getting the most bux and coins out of the game read Maurice Tan’s article at Destructoid.com.

Unlike some other sim games, there is a limit to how much of the currency you can accumulate when you are not playing the game. Because the inventory at the shops will deplete this neatly brings about the need constantly check the game to see if an item is out of stock (there is a notification option to help you with this that is not on by default). The other smart aspect of the game is limiting the boredom factor by alway giving you something to do. There is one elevator which you control by moving it to a visitor’s desired level and usually you just get some coins for doing this. But every so often there is a VIP that arrives which do things like knock off some construction time or a celeb who makes everything sell faster on the floor you drop them off at. There are also missions that pop up to find a certain person in your tower in exchange for an extra bux. The elevator is also the way you populate your residential apartments but it can get frustrating in later levels because the drop off level is random.


The pleasant music and sound effects mixed with the vibrant retro graphics make this game such a joy to play. Tiny Towers by NimbleBit is the next best sim game to come out for the iOS platform since Game Dev Story. It makes the developer a prime acquisition target for casual mobile developer hungry companies such as Zynga or EA but I hope they stay independent and churn out more sim games in the same way Kairosoft has with the their games.

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Free iOS App of the Day – geoDefense

itunes Link

I remember playing the heck out of this game when it came out back in 2009. It’s a fairly traditional tower defense game but the draw is the vector graphics and unique range of weapons. It can also be pretty tough and chaotic at higher difficulties making it an addictive game. Like Geometry Wars you will see colourful bits flying all over the place giving it a very satisfying feel and something interesting to look at while you wait for your towers to defeat a wave. Definitely worth picking up as this is one of those games that rarely goes free (first time if I’m not mistaken). If you like this also pick up the sequel geoDefense Swarm ($1.99) which switches the playing field to a hex layout making it more tactical and tough.

Valkyria Chronicles Review

Developer – Sega

Publisher – Sega

Release Date – October 31 2008

Valkyria Chronicles was one of the few Japanese RPG’s in the past 5 years that actually felt new and innovative pushing forward the genre. It’s mix of turn based and real time combat with an underlying RPG component defied past conventions. Add to this an unique watercolour style art style and an involving story playing out between missions, we get a complete package for any JRPG enthusiast.

The key to the game is the fun tactical combat which feels fresh and makes you actually look forward to the combat. A problem with many RPG’s is that the combat is tedious and repetitive, this isn’t the case here with the various options you have to complete a mission. The combat starts of like a typical tactical RPG where you place down your chosen units for a mission on a 2D map and you are given a certain amount of action points that you can use to move units. But the twist is that once you choose to move a unit it switches to a 3D view and you can actively control it. You have a metre that indicates how much you can move and you get one combat or item use per turn but you are free to move anywhere or take cover.

The weapons in the games are all early 1900’s based weapons like rifles, snipers, and machine guns and the way they work is that you chose a point to aim and accuracy is determined by distance. The only thing I would add is the ability to move your weapon as you shoot like a third person shooter. The game quite often varies up the tactics so you have to make full use of your squad of scouts, shock troopers, snipers, lancers, medics and tanks. They also add new environmental elements that mix up the situation as you progress.

The first thing that quickly becomes apparent when playing this game is the amount of story, the ratio of story to gameplay is quite high but not overly different to other RPGs. I guess I’m starting to get sick of watching dialogue scenes as I get older and will often just read the text instead of waiting for the voice acting to finish (same problem in Mass Effect and Dragon Age). But I do like the animation scenes which are high quality Anime scenes and do a good job of visualising the world in greater detail. The story also doesn’t refrain from pulling any punches and deals with some more mature themes appropriate to a war setting.

The game is around 30-40 hours depending on whether you want to  play the side or skirmish missions. I’m sorry to see the series go to the PSP with two sequels already out but I’m looking forward to what Sega do next in terms of action RPG’s as they have had a good track record with this and the Yakuza series.

Free iOS App of the Day – Legendary Wars & Imaginary Range

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/imaginary-range/id429362380?mt=8

Released by the massive Japanese RPG developer, Square Enix, Imaginary Range is a free interactive comic interspersing art, story and music with minigames.  The project was overseen by Motomu Toriyama, director of FF13, scenario/story by Souki Tsukishima, the author of the novel Emeth: Ningyo–tsukai no Shima, with the art by Toshiyuki Itahana who was the character designer for the FF Chronicles games.

Square Enix have already released some interesting well done games on the iOS devices, like Chaos Rings and Song Summoner, as well re-releasing Final Fantasy 1-3. Imaginary Range is different in that it take advantage of the strengths of the system instead of emulating a console experience. The first mini game is a Flight Control derivative where you guide missiles at an enemy and direct helicopters to the landing pad.

It is an universal app but there is a HD version if you want a higher resolution for your iPad.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/legendary-wars/id413423472?mt=8

Free for the day to bring attention to their newly released 99c iPad version. A high quality action RPG game similar to PvZ but evolving on the concept with direct control over units. Haven’t had the time to play much of this yet but there is already a lot of praise for this game on the internet. Better yet it is done by an independent team, Liv Games, consisting of eight members developing games for iOS devices.

Uncharted 2 Review

Developer – Naughty Dog

Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date – October 13 2009

Building on a promising first game in the series the talented people at Naughty Dog have done what is the norm in video games, which is to make a sequel that in every way outshines the first. The first game was well received because of the great animation, graphics and characters but it was lacking in gameplay (and some might say fun) down to the frustrating gun combat and the bullet soaking enemies. Now with the sequel they have mostly fixed this and added solid multiplayer and co-op modes to the mix in addition to even more wonderful graphics and animation. Uncharted 2 is a complete package and rightfully deserves all the accolades it received in 2009, it is an amazing game that convincingly combines everything I like about video games.

It is still rare to see a well produced story in video games that you actually care about and the key has been the likability of the characters which benefit from great voice acting and motion capture work. It’s all about the character you play Nathan Drake, although this time there is less Sully, as you follow his enthusiasm to find the mythical city of Shambhala and the lost treasure of the Cintamani Stone. Nathan Drake is just a fun character to play as and control, he’s not a buffed up super soldier, he’s just a geeky treasure hunter getting caught up with the wrong people who want to exploit his knowledge and skills.

With Uncharted 2 I can see how all Naughty Dog’s experience in the past, such as the Jak and Daxter games on the PS2, has helped them created the visual style of the game. The environments are all varied and vibrant with bright colours and a surreal high contrast look. The character models are a perfect blend between realism and the animated style although the eyes are noticeable weird as they constantly shine. The focus on excellent animation tricks the mind into engrossing you in every scene, as I was more excited watching the cut scenes than playing the game.

The gameplay, shooting and platforming, are vastly superior to the first with much more interesting environments to traverse and figure out while having access to a nice array of weaponry. I think the third person shooting is quite good and definitely deserves to be the focus in multiplayer. The puzzles and climbing are a logical evolution of what was innovated with Tomb Raider back in the day but it still could be improved. Maybe a mix between Assassin’s Creed freeform climbing and the highly specific climbing routes in Uncharted 2 could lead to more challenging puzzles.

It took me 12 hours on the hard difficulty to finish the game, although it has taken me months to actually do this. The thing that was holding me back was since the game is linear, I have no problems just finishing a chapter every now and then savouring the experience. Play the game for the experience, story and stunning graphics before the next game in the series comes out and changes up the formula. The third game is set to be released at the end of the year (around November 1st) and is probably going to be the last in the series if Naughty Dog’s past history is anything to go by.

Heavy Rain Review (PS3)

DeveloperQuantic Dream

Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date – 24 February 2010

Heavy Rain is ambitious project brought to us by Paris based video game development studio, Quantic Dream, who developed the cult classic Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit. Improving on the unique control system and gameplay from Indigo Prophecy they add motion control (via the six axis or move controller) to the mix with much improved graphics and motion capture. While it is still a game, and shares many familiar gaming elements, it is best seen as an interactive drama. You are making frequent decisions controlling and directing your experience in a way that has rarely been done in video games.

I probably had a different sort of experience playing this game than most people since I already had the main plot point revealed to me unintentionally (the identity of the killer). It was still a fun experience but I could imagine it would’ve been much more exciting if I went into it fresh, as I could clearly see the ways the developer tries to cheaply confuse and surprise the player. Despite this I still blasted through the game in two sittings, around 10 hours in total, which is something I rarely do. I was definitely drawn into the story and couldn’t put it down like a good movie or TV series.

The story itself surrounds a series of murders in the US, in the state of Philadelphia, where for the past couple years someone has drowned kids in rainwater during the notoriously rainy fall season. It is a thriller story of the kidnap and murder kind with horror elements comparable to a mix between the movies Saw and Seven. You play as a four characters a FBI agent, one of the victim’s father, a journalist and a private investigator all working to solve the case. This sort of premise fits very well for a game as you switch from scene to scene between these people not having to worry about the in betweens while getting a highly crafted experience.

One aspect of the game that people should know, and I don’t remember being talked much about around release, are the survival horror elements of the game. If you can’t handle these sort of situations in movies you will definitely not be able to handle it in the game as you actually have to do the actions directly via button presses. While you aren’t going to see anything too gruesome the implied pain and suffering can be hard to handle. One example is the clichéd how far can you go situation where your faith is tested by having to chop off a finger. While you can choose to not do most of these trials there are some you are forced to do.

Like I said before the game play is unconventional with the way you move your character the hardest thing to get a grip on. To move you have to hold down R2 and move the left stick which gives you a larger than normal turning radius but the game is designed to not need pixel perfect movement. Left stick by itself controls your head and the right stick is used for interacting with objects. For example to open a door you do a half circle with the right stick or flick in a direction to turn on a light. When it comes to conversations you’ll see floating words above you with a corresponding button press and there are some cool effects when you have to make a quick decision. For action scenes you have to follow the on-screen prompts but don’t have to hit it correctly to continue as it adapts on the fly. I liked the way all this is handled giving me a unique experience expanding on the QTE element that is present in so many games. I didn’t find myself wanting to have more direct control as it was so expertly crafted keeping me trigger ready and engaged as the plot unfolds.

The only downside of the game is the English voice acting which is very poor and has been infamously ridiculed since them. But don’t let that deter you from the game as I find it part of the charm reminding me it is a French perspective on American culture. It is also strange (but deliberate) in the look of the world including items ranging from typewriters, a crazy sci-fi device used for investigations by the FBI agent mixed with mundane normal objects.

I finished the game with everyone alive and some scenes missed out because of the decisions I made. To see ever scene and ending you would have to play through the game multiple times which is probably why it was suggested, by lead designer David Cage, that you play the game just once. But if you are curious you can go back to each chapter and see how situations might play out differently. This is the type of game you have to experience and have in your collection as it is so unique in vision successfully melding video games and film. Why bother playing another shooter when you have the chance to play a game that expands the medium and serve as an example for the capabilities of story telling in video games.

Completed Games – Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

Developer – Criterion Games

Publisher – Electronic Arts

Release Date – 16 November 2010

Not really completed but I’ve gone as far as I can go, which always happens with racing games. I hit a point where the races become too hard for me taking me 5-10 tries to place in a race. I’ve finished around 80% of the races and sometime in the future I might come back and finish the rest. Now on to what I think about the actual game.

I like the Need for Speed series but I don’t pick up every game in the series, especially now that NFS is more of a brand rather than an indicator of the style of racing gameplay. With NFS Hot Pursuit EA tasked one of their subsidiaries Criterion Games, known for their Burnout series of games, to bring their innovative take on the racing game genre to the NFS franchise. The end result is a game that predictably feels like a mix between the original cops and robbers style of NFS and Burnout.

If you don’t know how a Burnout game play all you need to know is that speed and crashes are emphasised with a very light weight drifty feel to the cars. Criterion Games also excel in integrating a social aspect to their games, this time they create a Facebook style wall and have leader boards for individual races. In terms of game modes it sticks mostly to the standard racing game race varieties with time trials, standard races and duels. My favourite race type is one Burnout fans will be familiar with where you have to takedown as many opponent vehicles as you can.

In NFS HP all vehicles have gadgets that can be used to slow down or take out other racers. As a cop you can call in a police roadblock, road spikes, a police helicopter which drops down road spikes, and an EMP. As a racer you also have spikes and EMP along with a radar jammer and nitrous boost. The gadgets are a great addition to game and takes your mind off how little finesse is needed to control the cars. The main tip you need to master when driving is the use of boosts and building up boost through drifting. You will want to boost uphill and boost out of corners. Also going into corners at full speed and ebreaking at the right point is also another thing you will need to master if you want to get gold in every race.

I really enjoyed the robust online modes and levelling system which were reminiscent of Burnout Paradise’s online races, another racing game I surprisingly played a lot online with. Criterion’s dedication to downloadable content also is evident here with plenty of new cars and races available in the time since it launched.

I didn’t need to buy the game at launch but I’m glad I did. I think I’ve spent close to 40 hours with the game not even finishing it and I will still enjoy periodically playing online. If you haven’t picked it up yet go ahead and pick it up for whatever discounted price it is at now.

 

Free IOS App of the Day – Drop7

ITUNES LINK

One of the early puzzle games on the IOS platform that gained critical praise for it’s fresh take on the falling block puzzle genre. Developer Area Code was recently bought by Facebook gaming giant Zynga and so the game has been re-released as Drop7 by zynga with a free ad supported version as well as a paid ad-free version. However right now the ad-free version is currently free for a limited time and anyone who hasn’t picked it up should definitely give it a go. It is a universal app and works great on any compatible Apple device.

The old version of Drop7 when updated to the latest version will give you the choice to download the ad-free version of the new app. But for some reason it directs you to the ad-supported version. So even if you already own Drop7 download the new version just in case. The only noticeable difference with the release is a higher resolution which makes it look better on an iPad.

Completed Games – Halo 3

Developer – Bungie

Publisher – Microsoft

Release Date – September 25 2007

This is the first Halo game I played on consoles, I didn’t own an original Xbox, but I did played through the first Halo and partway through the second on the PC. I remember really enjoying the first Halo because of the dynamic combat and enemy AI but it wasn’t enough for me to pick up an Xbox. Now even though I’ve had an XBOX 360 for years I didn’t really consider picking Halo 3 up until now. It is a testament to the quality of the game that it holds up pretty well now over 3 years later.

I had a lot of fun playing through the single player campaign twice, once co-op and one time by myself, as it so much different and unique from other FPS games that have become so popular nowadays. I have to say I prefer the futuristic weaponry and the more gamey style when compared to the more realistic setting of COD and Battlefield. I don’t know why it took so long to get back into Halo but I’m now excited to play through the two other Halo games that have come out since, ODST and Reach. I’m even more excited to hear about what Bungie are going to do with their next new IP they are developing which is being published by Activision.

The pacing and interweaving of story and gameplay is what I liked the most along with the variety of strategies you could employ in each firefight. It’s great being an ultimate super soldier instead of just being a normal soldier and I like how it justifies the use of advanced weaponry and armor in the game.

I am slightly disappointed with how you can’t have a single player campaign going on at the same time as a co-op campaign without overwriting the current in mission save. Other than that I think co-op is one the great strengths of Halo that has become so important in other games since then. I haven’t tried multiplayer and probably won’t until I pick up Halo Reach as I could imagine the type of the people who are still play Halo 3 absolutely destroying me.

Stacking Review (XBLA, PSN)

Developer – Double Fine Productions

Publisher – THQ

Release Date – February 8 2011

Double Fine Productions, developer of the critically acclaimed Psychonauts, after their last full retail game Brutal Legend announced their next four games would be smaller downloadable titles. Their first was Costume Quest a cute halloween themed adventure/RPG game helmed not but studio founder Tim Schafer but lead animator Tasha Harris. The second is Stacking an adventure/puzzle game by lead animator Lee Petty who has created a unique take on the adventure game genre.

The draw of the game is that the puzzles are done but utilising different stacking dolls where each one has a special ability such as clearing a path, seducing men, passing wind or punching the lights out of other dolls. You start off as the smallest of dolls and you can stack into others which are one size larger. The game is divided into separated open environments with dolls all over the place minding their own business. The puzzles all have multiple solutions which range from the obvious to obscure but the doll you need for at least one of the solutions will be nearby so it is fairly easy to figure at least one solution out. The cool thing about this game is that it encourages imaginative thinking with the various solutions and keeps track of everything you do. It is perfect for completionists as it tracks everything, it will tell you how many different solutions there are and even give you the option of hints if you are stumped. It also keeps track of dialogue, unique dolls and something called hijinks which are cheeky things you can do to other dolls for you to find out.

Like other Double Fine games it is humorous but the best way to describe the game is that it has a lot of charm. The humour is with the different dolls and abilities with the charm coming from the silent film style music and art style. The story is about a baron who has enslaved a family of dolls except for the smallest who then goes on a journey to rescue his family. It is a simple story which has a lengthy and unskippable (unbearable for some people) initial setup which in my eyes only turns away players (especially when it is free for Playstation Plus members). The rest of the game is pure adventure game fun with the only other flaws being the strange camera and depth of field which keeps things far away blurry. This gave me headaches if I played for long periods (rarely happens for me in games).

It’s out now on XBLA and the PSN network, I subscribed for a 3 month membership to Playstation Plus (for AUD$20) to get it free along with a bunch of other games (get the excellent Shatter if you haven’t as well). I think this is the best way to get it if you have a PS3 as you almost get the full value of the subscription with just this game. It is important to note that access to the PS+ free games disappear if you don’t resubscribe but shouldn’t be a problem if you finish the game before the 3 months is up.