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Mobile Tomb Raider Lara Croft GO feels lovely

Jun 18 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]294301:59143:0[/embed] At first glance, Lara Croft GO bears a strikingly close resemblance to Square Enix Montréal's first effort. It echoes the quiet, clean aesthetic of Hitman GO, while featuring similar turn-based puzzle design, but pushes the concepts further. Fresh elements like verticality quite literally add new dimensions to the experience, and go a long way to making this feel like a legitimate Tomb Raider. The characters are no longer static figurines, as the designers felt it wouldn't be natural for Lara, a character known for her athleticism, to be portrayed in such a rigid fashion. So while our heroine is still navigating an on-rails obstacle course, she's fully animated, looking very much at home as she climbs and scrambles around ancient, subterranean ruins. Perspective is also used to great effect, with the isometric camera allowing the developers to add little flourishes like a silhouetted beetle crawling along a tree branch in the foreground, or see a bridge appear in the distance when Lara toggles a switch. Square Enix Montréal is also keen on avoiding unnecessary hand-holding. The title's 40 levels (which are quite a bit larger than those found in Hitman GO) are based around trial and error. With each stage now divided into segments with checkpoints, new mechanics can be introduced and then used in rather sophisticated ways in short order without a loss of progress.  One example of this is terrain that will fall away when walked over or climbed across twice. Shortly after being introduced to this by falling to my death, I was using it to evade an enemy. Knowing a certain surface would crumble away, I used it to lay a trap for the giant lizard nipping at my heels.  Not all of the obstacles I saw were quite that compelling, though. While it was a rush to see an Indiana Jones-style boulder trap, the turn-based nature of the game makes this sort of scene less compelling than if were to play out in real time. Still, what I've witnessed thus far has me eager to see what else awaits in the full game. Lara Croft GO is coming to iOS and Android devices sometime later this year.
Lara Croft GO photo
Small in scale, but no less impressive
Square Enix Montréal possesses a genuine talent for artfully distilling series down to their essence. In 2014, the developer released Hitman GO, a turn-based deconstruction of IO Interactive's stealth franchise, w...

Disney Infinity Star Wars photo
Check and check
If you're making a Star Wars game with pilotable ships, I'm going to want to zip around Hoth in a snowspeeder and tie knots around some AT-ATs. I'll also want to shoot down a bunch of TIE Fighters on my path to destroy the De...

Downwell has a simple premise but it's damn fun

Mar 06 // Darren Nakamura
In the well, there is an assortment of enemies to shoot. In the first area, frogs hop, bats fly, and spike-shelled snails climb up the walls. Some of the foes can be stomped, but the more dangerous ones must either be shot or avoided. So there's a lot of shooting involved, and the shooting serves a dual purpose: keeping from falling and defeating enemies. However, there's also a drawback. Platforms can be fired through, but most of the blocks are destructible. Fire too much and the nearest safe landing will disintegrate, leaving the player to plummet into unknown territory. Still, there are reasons to destroy blocks. Nestled inside some blocks (and all enemies) are gems, which also serve a dual purpose. Collected gems can be spent at any of the randomly-occurring shops that line the well. Here, the player can restore or increase health or increase the magazine size on the gun boots. The more interesting function for gems is a system wherein a steady gem income will result in more powerful shots to be fired. What falls out of that is a constant risk/reward assessment, where the player can opt to advance downward quickly, chaining together gems to keep the power shots fueled. Another approach is to take it more methodically, carefully dispatching enemies to avoid taking damage, but at the cost of reduced firepower. The impressive thing is that both are equally valid philosophies, though I found the most success with a hybrid of the two. Downwell is releasing for PC and mobile platforms. I tried it on both, and while the controller and the big screen were ideal, it only took a little bit of time to get used to playing it on an iPhone. The big pitfall with the mobile version is that a lot of the action to keep an eye on is at the bottom of the screen, precisely where the controls -- and therefore the player's thumbs -- are set up. That said, the mobile version still worked well enough to dig into. Perhaps ironically for a game about a semi-chaotic descent down a well, Downwell is built on a solid foundation. Like other recent lo-fi games, it focuses on gameplay, and it really nails it. I had a ton of fun playing, so much that developer Ojiro Fumoto commented on how long I stayed at his booth. The PAX weekend is still young and there is still a lot to see, but I can imagine going back just to get a few more rounds of Downwell in.
Downwell at PAX East photo
Three-button bliss
A glance at Downwell's tricolor palette in still shots doesn't really do it justice. Watching it in motion gives a better idea what it does, but not until actually playing it does it all click. It is built around a simple mec...


You’ll play Skullduggery greedily, whether fast or slow

Sep 10 // Brett Makedonski
Two things are certain in this world -- death and taxes. Skullduggery staunchly enforces the idea that even in the former, the latter’s still an inevitability. Dammit, maybe Wes Snipes was onto something, even if he’s spending some time in the clink as a result. Skullduggery’s titular skull (maybe he has a name; let’s call him Johnny Rotten because that sounds punk rock as H-E-double hockey sticks) is out to collect taxes in the afterlife, and even the post-alive like to keep what’s rightfully theirs. Rock, flag, eagle, and all. That’s where the flicking comes into play. Well, actually, that’s the whole game (pay attention!) Three-quarters action with maybe one-quarter puzzler dashed in, Skullduggery requires the player to constantly send Rotten flying through levels in search of more and more to claim in the name of the undead IRS. Each level features three artifacts that typically aren’t completely obvious as to where they are, and judging by my time with the demo, will get continually more difficult -- both with regard to skill required to obtain, and cleverness with which they’re hidden. The artifacts, just like the three objectives presented in each level, aren’t necessary for advancement, however. They’re just there for a sense of fulfillment. (Have you been the best little tax collector you can be? By the way, Rotten -- working for the man isn’t very punk rock.) Just getting through the levels might prove challenging at times; definitely in the instance of the boss that I encountered. Facing a skull about 30 times the size of my suddenly harmless-looking Rotten (so many skulls, it’s like an Affliction shirt up in here!) I was given no choice but to run away. Run away quickly, that is. This is where one of Skullyduggery’s more nuanced and handy mechanics come into play. While in the air, you can tap and hold the screen to slow down time considerably, giving temporary faux-pause to more selectively line up your next move. For a game that’s seemingly centered on the premise of speed and greed, this facet significantly changes the approach you’ll take to Skullduggery, as you now find yourself seamlessly shifting between quick and slow play. Given more time to analyze any given situation, the wise decision’s just a well-placed flick ahead, but gah, there’s more gold in that offshoot, and I can definitely snag it quick before this giant skull smashes me, right? Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. But you’ll probably try. That’s because Skullduggery makes everything look so easy, so attainable -- even when crushing defeat is imminent. Who knows what damned you to an eternity of tax collecting, but your greed just damned you to the welcome mat of the after-afterlife. Change your fortunes by playing it slow and carefully considering your flicks next time. Things might work out better that way. But, whatever happens, never stop flicking.
Skullduggery preview photo
Turns out tax collectin’ is more fun than tax payin’
Flick, flick, flick. That’s all you’ll be doing in Skullduggery. Flicking to collect treasure. Flicking to outrun bosses. Flicking to line up stealthy headshots on unsuspecting enemies. You can play the game howe...

Mistwalker's new RPG is unlike anything we've seen before

Sep 07 // Kyle MacGregor
Terra Battle is an upcoming strategy role-playing game for mobile and tablet devices, but it doesn't bear much resemblance to Final Fantasy Tactics and the like. Actually, the battlefield looks more like a chessboard than anything, which Sakaguchi tells us is by design. It takes inspiration from shogi, a popular board game, otherwise known as Japanese chess and the general's game. One way of playing shogi involves capturing stones by flanking them on both sides, a concept developer Mistwalker is incorporating as the centerpiece of Terra Battle's combat system. In order to attack enemies in Terra Battle, players will need to make quick and purposeful finger-swipes to position their units on the battlefield. However, since characters cannot fight alone, players will need to bump into and corral their allies into formations around monsters. That's the only way to vanquish your foes and emerge victorious.  [embed]280518:55533:0[/embed] In some small way, Mistwalker is also taking notes from Puzzle & Dragons. Sakaguchi told us a story about how we went drinking one night with the team behind GungHo Online's incredibly successful mobile game, and how it helped spur him to create Terra Battle. Sakaguchi gleaned insights on how to build an experience for a vertical screen from swapping stories with these folks. The conversations helped him address challenges like how to condense a rewarding experience into something easily enjoyed here and there while on the go. These types of problems seem to genuinely excite Sakaguchi, who wishes to use his forays into the mobile world to explore new ideas in the medium. Part of that involves a more fluid development process, where, unlike console games, the developers can continue to add content long after the game first ships. Mistwalker is using a "download starter" model with Terra Battle, which means the developer plans to add new content upon the achievement of certain milestones. These upgrades include new music courtesy of famed composer Nobuo Uematsu, co-op and versus battle modes, and even a console game based on the world and characters in Terra Battle. Mistwalker seems concerned with the stigma attached to mobile games, and hopes to ensure Terra Battle is not overly simplistic. Something we were more anxious about was how the developer plans to monetize the game. Terra Battle will be free-to-play and uses a stamina mechanic that limits the number of battles players can engage in quick succession. Energy regenerates over time, but impatient players will always have the option to pay. This shouldn't be overly alarming, as the title is designed to be played in short spurts, but it's something to keep in mind. Sakaguchi assured us players will never feel forced to part with their money. We were excited by what we saw of Terra Battle and are eager to give this unique take on tactical role-playing games a try when it arrives on iOS and Android devices this October.
Mistwalker's new RPG photo
Terra Battle is something else
Hironobu Sakaguchi is best known as the creator of Final Fantasy; a man responsible for some of the most influential and well-respected role-playing games of our time. His sprawling worlds and epic adventures have touched mil...

Go on a sniping rampage in Hitman Sniper

Jun 13 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Your objective in the game is to take out a target on any given level. In the one I was playing, I was able to take my target out the second the sniper scope came up to my face at the start of the level. Sure you can just shoot your target right there and then, but you’d be missing the point. Really what you’re trying to do is kill as many bad guys as possible in creative ways to score as many points as you can. Hitman Sniper is emphasizing competitive play through a leaderboard system. You’ll see in real time as you’ve scored more points/money than your friends, and you’ll also see as they pass you up.  So you’ll need to get creative with how you kill others, as the more creative the kill the more points you get. Thankfully creative killing is something that Hitman has always been good at. One example involved me shooting at the front of a parked car. This set off the car alarm, which caused two nearby guards to come investigate the noise. One was near the car already, and another guard was a couple of stories above in the house, looking down to see the fuss. As soon as that guard leaned over the railing, I shot out the glass that was a part of the railing, and this caused him to fall over and land right on top of the guard on the ground. Double kill!  What you’ll have to be careful of is that the main target will eventually start to notice that his guards are going missing. Plus, other guards can potentially find the dead bodies if they’re simply just taken out where they stand. Eventually this will scare the main target, causing him to flee the scene and you’ll fail the mission. It starts off with how much do you really want to risk, but as you replay scenarios and understand the layouts better you’ll find yourself really cleaning up house. There will be multiple goals and missions you can take on a level too, so it’s not always going to be same thing if you don’t want it to be.  Along with your main sniper you’ll be able to equip perks and the like. A couple I saw included a super sonic round which removed the need for lead time, and another that made my bolt-action rifle fire rounds off like a semi-automatic. You’ll be able to earn a variety of perks, plus improvements and additions to the rifle itself. And that in turn will help in scoring more points in the game.  The developers behind are looking to have a variety of locations available for players, and they’re looking to develop the game along with the community. If there’s a demand for classic hits, or say certain places from around the world the team will work something out.  Hitman Sniper will be out this fall, and it will be a free-to-play title. Players will be able to unlock everything without ever having to pay, but those that just want to get to the good stuff as fast as possible will have the option to put some money down.  Nothing too complicated, but it’s easily going to be one of those games I will enjoy playing while on a flight or looking to pass the time. 
Hitman photo
A fun, simple little game in the Hitman universe
Square hasn’t been afraid to use the Hitman IP in fun and creative ways. Hitman GO was a critical success for doing something unique, and while Hitman Sniper isn’t on that same scale, it is still at least a ton of fun.

Platformer Narcissus aims to bring back the arcade experience

Jun 02 // Beccy Caine
The aptly-named platformer sees you playing as two characters simultaneously: inverted sprites taking different paths to the same goal. The controls are simple: the up and down keys control the black and white sprites respectively, resulting in a game that can be played either alone or locally with a friend. This, says Johansson, was a conscious design choice: "I decided I wanted to build a game that was easier to play with a friend than alone, but still possible either way. Arcade machines provide such fantastic physically social experiences, and I didn't feel that there was enough modern games that catered to this." The idea is beautiful in its simplicity. Being able to just sit down and play with a friend without the need for an internet connection or a spare controller was remarkably refreshing, even if the resulting banter (insults questioning each other's competence) was the same. A few days later, having completed all available levels with a partner, I sat down with the game again. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to play it alone, and while it lacked the camaraderie of the co-op experience, the new element added to the gameplay and the resulting challenge was just as satisfying. [embed]273781:54148:0[/embed] Make no mistake: though the controls may be simple, the level design ensures that this is not an easy game. If keeping track of both sprites wasn’t already enough of a challenge, later levels see the implementation of various mechanics designed to ruin your progress and/or friendship, such as ramps to boost your jump, bridges that you’ll phase through if the color doesn’t correspond to your own, switches that change your direction, and spikes that result in instant death. Just one mistake by either character sends you right back to the beginning of the level, which makes for a testing co-op experience. Even the most patient of players will begin to resent their partner for repeated mistakes, as I quickly learnt. (Thanks, "friends.") The build presented at EGX Rezzed comprised twenty-five levels, which are all available to play as a Flash game, but consequent builds have shown off the full fifty levels that will make up the final release. There are also three difficulty modes, determined by the pace of the sprites, for those in need of an extra challenge. It’s worth noting that the timer is cumulative across all levels rather than being reset each time, making each death a crucial error for those attempting a speedrun. (Johansson states that it will take two people an average of 150 minutes to complete the game.) No discussion of Narcissus would be complete without at least a brief mention of Afr0turf’s soundtrack (which is already available on Soundcloud), composed of five 8-bit tracks that had me leaving my poor sprites to jump to their doom in an endless cycle of failure just so I could listen to the music uninterrupted. The title track 'Uno,' for example, starts as an slow, ethereal tune that quickly transforms into an upbeat, almost frantic accompaniment that complements the gameplay perfectly, especially in later levels or on the harder difficulties. Any fans of chiptune music should definitely check this out. In short, I played many fantastic games at EGX Rezzed this year, but it was the game I only got five minutes with as the show was closing that stuck with me the most. Johansson has produced a unique, multi-faceted game offering two different but equally appealing experiences well worth your time. And maybe an upvote on Greenlight, too.
Narcissus preview photo
Or, how I learned to hate my friends again
Narcissus, or so the myth goes, was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Renowned for his beauty, but also for being somewhat of an ass, he was lured to a pool of water by goddess of divine retribution Ne...

Extrasolar does exoplanet exploration, but it is more than meets the eye

Apr 22 // Darren Nakamura
Extrasolar (Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC)Developer: Lazy 8 StudiosReleased: February 18, 2014 One of the draws of Extrasolar is its attention to scientific detail. It takes place on a world that could plausibly exist, orbiting Epsilon Eridani, the closest star with a known planet orbiting it. The development team consists of several science advisers in addition to traditional game designers. The world itself is fictional, but it behaves as a real planet would. It has a set day/night cycle that does not match our own. It has two moons, each with its own orbit and resulting phases. It has water and islands, and our rover's journey begins on one particular island called Artocos. On the surface, Extrasolar is as advertised. Most of the active playing involves scheduling a path for a rover, choosing its direction and basic lighting options, and taking a photo. The servers take in all of the variables (position, direction, time of day, et cetera) and produce a high resolution image. Indeed, every picture in this post is taken from my profile, and no photos taken by other players are identical. [embed]273615:53539:0[/embed] However, right from the beginning, Extrasolar makes it clear that it is not as cut and dried as it outwardly admits. Upon activating an account, the player is initially denied access, with the head of the fictional space exploration company XRI citing a large volume of volunteers and a shortage of available rovers. Shortly afterward, an email shows up from an unknown hacker who gets you into the program. This hacker's motivations are unclear at the outset, but it sets the stage for Extrasolar being something more than just a browser-based photo simulator. There is a narrative coursing through the entire experience, and it is divided into two threads: what they want you to know and what they do not want you to know. What is really special about the narrative is that it transcends the browser, presenting information via live action video, audio files, PDF, and email. The result is an experience that facilitates the suspension of disbelief. Rather than pretending to physically be on another planet, the player only has to pretend that he is sitting at his computer, directing a rover and uncovering secrets as the story unfolds. It feels more real than almost anything else out there. One thing that some players might not be able to get over is the pricing structure. Extrasolar is free to play, but it does not exploit that as severely as many other games in that space. For free, the player can schedule two photos ahead, has to wait four hours for each photo, and has limited uses for the panorama and infrared options. For a one-time purchase at ten dollars, the wait for each picture is reduced to one hour and the player is given unlimited uses of the options. Even more money can go toward a type of season pass, which covers future missions off Artocos Island. Outside of those payment options, there are no microtransactions or other sinister money-grubbing tactics. It makes sense to treat the free version as a sort of demo (though one could technically play through the story entirely without paying), and to buy it if the demo pleases. For me, it has been an immensely cool experience. Of all the games I got to see at PAX East, Extrasolar is one of the few that has invaded my psyche so completely. I make sure to schedule photos before I go to sleep, and I check them right when I wake up. Heck, I am playing the game right now, eagerly looking forward to what my next photo will turn up, and what revelations will arise from that within its hidden narrative.
Extrasolar photo
Come for the control of a rover on an alien planet, stay for the [REDACTED]
When I was talking to one of the developers of Extrasolar on the show floor at PAX East, I said something that I now regret. "This looks like something I would really like, but might not appeal to a ton of other people." He r...

LEGO Minifigures Online is an MMO that anyone can jump into

Mar 27 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]272482:53141:0[/embed] Yes, accessibility's the crux of LEGO Minifigures Online, and that permeates both the gameplay and the places you'll find it. Available on both PC and Android/iOS devices, it features crossplay capabilities so that anyone can pick up wherever they left off at any time. While it's easy to find a device to pick up and jump into LEGO Minifigures Online, it's just as simple to actually play. Most of the gameplay is assigned to left-clicking or tapping the screen. This includes walking, attacking, and building. A few odds and ends are assigned to other buttons, but there's nothing overwhelming to be found here. Don't think for a second that its simplicity is a hindrance, though. No, this game boasts some seriously entertaining gameplay for those who are willing to give it a try. Sectioned off into different worlds, players go on raids in parties of up to four people. The area that we were shown was pirate-themed, but the developers made mention of a medieval setting as well as a few others. The titular characters -- that is, the Minifigures -- are put on center stage, as they're the real focal point here. LEGO Minifigures Online promises to feature a cast of around 100 at game's launch. If the selection we were shown is any indication, they'll be incredibly varied. A few that we saw were an ice skater, a sky diver, a paintballer, a motorcyclist, and a fairy. Their appearances weren't their only defining characteristics, though. Each character has two attacks that are uniquely their own. Some are direct, others are area-of-effect, and usually they work well in conjunction with one another. Apart from this, each character can be leveled up to level ten through a shared pool of experience points. In theory, if you want to dash one right up to the level cap, you can, but at the expense of the progress of others. Most of the fun in LEGO Minifigures Online comes from simply unlocking new characters. There are a host of ways to do this in-game, such as beating bosses, earning achievements, and finding them in the wild. However, Funcom plans to also insert downloadable codes in packs of Minifigures at retail, meaning that each new toy bought comes with a tangible and digital version. As for the questing, the raid we were taken on wasn't overly difficult, but could prove a bit challenging at times. It focused a lot on areas full of new enemies with the occasional objective. Surprisingly, building wasn't as central of a theme as expected. It was more about combat and collecting. By the end, we were fighting a kraken -- a multi-tiered boss that was actually somewhat thought-provoking. At first impression, LEGO Minifigures Online is a title that most anyone can have fun with. I don't know if those expecting a true MMO experience will be able to look to this as a long-term fix, but going into it with an action-game mindset may help. Actually, in a lot of ways it might remind you of Traveller's Tale LEGO games, and there's nothing wrong with that.
LEGO Minifigures preview photo
Regardless of age
Let's face it: massively multiplayer online games can be intimidating for some people. Between the incredibly nuanced systems that some titles tout, and the tales of time and dedication required to "properly" play a game, it'...

Mobile slot machine RPG Slot Revolution has strong hooks

Oct 02 // Dale North
You know that feeling you get playing a slot machine in a Las Vegas casino? That feeling that the odds are totally against you but you keep spinning anyway because it's loud and flashy and exciting? Slot Revolution nails that feeling, especially when you hit a reel match that has the slots going nuts with bonus spins. You get that same giddy 'holy crap, I won!' feeling. So it has that going for it. But I'm also weak to those mobile RPGs that invite you for daily plays. Slot Revolution is not unlike Gung Ho's super popular iOS game Puzzle & Dragons in that respect. In fact, if you pull out the matching puzzle play and replace it with three-reel slot play, you'll have the right idea about Slot Revolution.  After picking a hero from the three available classes -- Warrior, Ranger, or Wizard -- you'll pick from a list of quests to head off to a dungeon to explore. Each step in the dungeon requires a slot machine spin, with reel results determining the results of that move. For example, a spin that reveals coins adds to your total bank. Healing potions and other items are acquired in the same way. But if an enemy face shows up on any reel, you'll be drawn into a first-person battle where your spins will determine attack type and strength. Spinning to reveal a bunch of sword clusters and you can be sure you'll hit the enemy hard. Skulls are bad, as you'll receive hits. Much like a real slot machine, you'll have to pray that luck is on your side when your health bar gets low. It's possible to spin to reveal potions, but it's better to go into battle with some already equipped.  Win and you'll level up, as well as earn more gold and weapons. A crafting system has it so that your weapons can also be leveled to create entirely new, more powerful creations. Your freshly leveled character will come up as a potential friend for other online players, letting them use you in battle, again, like Puzzle & Dragons. Of course, with this being a free-to-play game, you're encouraged to buy potions instead of earning them during these heated battles. And if you happen to die in battle, you can use purchased keys to come back to life. Slot Revolution regularly calls out to your wallet, not unlike a real slot machine. But, as with this game's other competitors, it's possible to play without spending a single cent. You might die more often, and you probably won't level as quickly, but you can still play and enjoy.  I'm not sure how long I'll continue to play Slot Revolution, but I'm hooked for now. Just like with Puzzle & Dragons, I've vowed not to spend a dime. For me, over any level or stat, that's how you truly win at these games.
Slots-a-plenty photo
Spin to win!
I tried Konami's latest money eater this morning. Their iOS, Android, and Kindle title, Slot Revolution, doesn't have the best name. It doesn't do a good job of describing this free-to-play slot machine-based dungeon crawling RPG, but I could tell that it had role-playing roots from the screenshots, so I gave it a spin. A spin, folks. 

The offensive leads to the defensive in Toy Rush

Aug 31 // Brett Makedonski
These cards can probably be considered the crux of Toy Rush. The random packs give you different forces, traps, and occasionally, a rare (and very powerful) creature. These are now in your arsenal to complete the other levels. But, they serve a greater purpose, too. Apart from being used in single-player, they are also available permanently in your base for multiplayer. It feels like Uber structured Toy Rush so that everything eventually centers around multiplayer play. It wasn't on display at the show, but it seems that multiplayer will make the player strike a balance between defending their base and attacking their opponent's. I was under the impression that it might benefit the player to pay attention to taking care of home instead of being overly aggressive. While only a bit of the game was shown at PAX Prime, it was obvious that Toy Rush is shaping up to be a fun and competent title. The developers told me that they're developing for both iOS and Android, but they haven't decided which one they're going to release first. Regardless, Uber's attempt at a tower defense game looks like it's on track to do just fine.
Toy Rush preview photo
It's just so damn adorable
One of the cutest-looking games that I saw at PAX Prime was Uber Entertainment's Toy Rush. Don't let the cuteness deceive you, though. Toy Rush is shaping up to be a surprisingly deep and fun title.  The developers...

Preview: Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded

Jun 14 // Fraser Brown
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded (Android, iOS, PC [Previewed], Mac)Developer: Replay GamesPublisher: Replay GamesReleased: June, 2013 Redesigned by series creator Al Lowe and adventure game veteran Josh Mandel, Reloaded still feels very much like a product of its time, or the original's time, I should say. It's all puns, knowing winks, and leisure suits, but it also has its fair share of alterations and modern design elements, bringing Mr. Laffer stumbling into the 21st Century.  For those uninitiated in the world of Leisure Suit Larry, the entire series follows the exploits and misadventures of the sleazy, desperate, player-in-training, Larry Laffer, as he tries to very hard to sleep with women who are significantly brighter than he is. It's a softporn adventure series, with lots of laughs and no sex; adult in comedy but not exactly explicit.  The core of the original remains pretty much intact, with Larry exploring the city of Lost Wages, chatting up disinterested women and solving puzzles. The locations and the women are all the same, apart from one new lassie chosen during the Kickstarter, and the puzzles remain the same in spirit, if not in execution. The most notable difference between the original and this remake is how damn pretty the game now looks. Lavish 16:9 hand drawn backgrounds bring Lost Wages to life, while the animated cast -- both old and new -- are full of character and dialogue both witty and cheeky. Jan Rabson reprises his role as the down-on-his-luck protagonist, while Brad Venable takes on the role of the ever-present narrator, detailing every pathetic action the hopeless lothario makes. The fourth-wall-breaking exchanged between Larry and the sarcastic narrator were the highlights of the game, frequently bringing me to uncontrolled bouts of tear-inducing laughter. Frankly, it was the comedy and not the puzzles that made the original great, and Reloaded doesn't miss a beat. Not a minute goes by without slapstick physical sequences, visual gags, or eye-rolling puns and innuendo. With all the extra dialogue and excellent comedic timing of the voice actors, this may very well be the funniest the series has ever been.  Almost every interaction has a unique, ridiculous response. Larry can attempt to look at, talk to, and pick up everything -- and when he does, the narrator is there to make fun of him. Being a Leisure Suit Larry game, he can also sniff and lick any object, as well as pull down his zipper. The attention to detail is simply astounding, with interaction responses changing if you've already attempted a different interaction on the same object. I challenge anyone not to make poor Larry lick everything in sight. With archaic parsing being swapped for far simpler controls (there are default actions mapped to the mouse keys and an action bar at the top of the screen), there's no reason not to explore the whole game like an inquisitive pervert.  As an added bonus, the infamous death scenes from the original have returned sans their unfortunate, progress-halting outcomes. Killing off the protagonist over and over again was a nasty trick employed by many an adventure game creator back in the '80s and '90s, artificially lengthening their games with unfair, impossible to predict obstacles. These deaths have now been turned into gags and Easter eggs, with Larry being immediately resurrected and plonked right back to where he was before his untimely demise. This time around I actually sought these scenes out, rather than worrying that a fatal, game-ending death was just around the corner.  While many of the puzzles have changed, making them less obtuse and infuriating, some of the flaws of the original -- bog standard flaws for the genre back then -- are still very much present. There's absolutely no guidance, with Larry merely being told to find a place to crash and a woman to sleep with before the whole city of Lost Wages is opened up, and there's a huge amount of pixel hunting to do across these many, varied environments. Money is again a necessity, with Larry being required to make several purchases to solve puzzles. Thus, the luckless sexventurer must embark on many games of chance, which might not sit well with those who are more familiar with adventure games that have a foundation of logic and reason. Being at the mercy of lady luck sort of stings. Have no doubts, you'll be doing a lot of scumsaving in Reloaded.  For all its flaws, Reloaded seems to be exactly what Replay Games promised and what the Kickstarter backers wanted. It is both a faithful remake and an improvement on an already greatly loved adventure game. After the Al Lowe-less, embarrassingly terrible Box Office Bust and Magna Cum Laude, I think we deserve this. 
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The softporn adventure returns
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded - Land of the Lounge Lizards -- my, that's a big title -- threw some nostalgia my way immediately. Just as in the original '87 version of the game and its '91 VGA remake, Reloaded begins...

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Assassin's Creed IV's companion app is pretty rad


Earn money on the go
Jun 10
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Did you play the Outer Ops missions in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker? It was a little meta-game thing that let you send your soldiers to take on various conflicts around the world. It was a risk/reward system, as you could g...
Plants vs. Zombies 2 photo
Plants vs. Zombies 2

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is about eating the best taco ever


It's About Time is literally about time
Jun 10
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
So remember in the first Plants vs. Zombies when you randomly found a taco? Crazy Dave immediately bought it off of you for 1,000 coins, and then he pocketed the taco to eat later. Well in Plants vs. Zombies 2, Crazy Dave fin...

Smaller is better: Hands-on with the 7-inch Wikipad

Apr 02 // Dale North
This newer, smaller unit is instantly more appealing to me as an on-the-go gamer. It's size makes more sense at 7-inches. Of course, the slide-on/slide-off controller adds more depth and width to its tablet-only dimensions, but it unit isn't huge, either. It could easily fit in a smaller messenger bag or a bigger purse, while the 10-inch could never do that. It's one thing to be told what you're getting for the $249 asking price -- an Android Jelly Bean 4.1 tablet with 16GB of memory and a SD card slot for expansion -- but it's another to hold it and see and feel its gaming potential. While I still think we have a way to go before the Android mobile gaming scene is as healthy and robust as Apple's, it's getting there with new offerings piling on daily. This 7-inch looks like the perfect way to jump into any of the newer offerings. I got to try out a few titles on the 7-inch Wikipad to test its gaming potential. The super light, easy to grip controllers felt too spaced out at first, coming from holding smaller gaming controllers that keep hands close together. But it didn't take more than a minute or two to get used to it, and the hand feel is sufficiently comfortable. And light -- this thing is so light that it's almost unbelievable. This will surely go a long way towards comfort, though we'll wait to make a full call on this until we have more time to spend with it. As for the controls, the twin analog sticks are quality parts with nice movement, though the face buttons felt a bit light and cheap in comparison. Also, the d-pad is a floating-type pad, which will either float your boat or sink your ship depending on which camp you're in. Still, all of the included controls do the trick. There's 12 controls in all, making for a really nice way to make your Android titles infinitely more playable.  Of course, if you're not wanting to game, or would rather do more tablet-y things like reading or browsing, the 7" tablet pulls right out of the controller. It's a solid feeling tablet with nice rear rubber grips for your holding comfort. Smart design has controls and inputs -- the camera, volume rocker, power switch, headphone port and more -- on the top edge of the tablet, so when it docks you're able to access every included feature. The Wikipad's Tegra 3 processor did a nice job of pushing out quality visuals to the unit's 1,280 x 800 IPS screen, showing me that while you're not getting blow-your-face-off good graphics on this tablet, it'll still hold its own with anything out there currently.  We hope to put the 7-inch Wikipad through its paces in the coming weeks with a proper review. For now, know that the smaller size and massive price cut make this device way more attractive as a gaming unit than its predecessor. 
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Wikipad shrinks in size and price
We met with the Wikipad folks during GDC last week to get our hands and eyes on the newly shrunken Wikipad, coming down from the original 10-inch size to a more manageable (and more affordable) 7-inch version. At 10...

Three titles and 30,000 polygons later with Real Racing 3

Feb 18 // Keith Swiader
Real Racing 3 (iOS [previewed], Android)Developer: FiremonkeysPublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease Date: February 28, 2013 It's kind of a cross between ghost data and real-time multiplayer There's no real-time multiplayer in Real Racing 3; instead, you'll be racing and potentially besting the records of both your friends and random drivers worldwide. Real Racing 3's Time-Shifted Multiplayer works like this: you compete in a race, the game records your time and racing style from that race, that record then gets uploaded to Real Racing 3's servers and it appears on the devices of racers across the world for them to beat, with your avatar displayed above the vehicle.  "With ghost racing, it's a bit dry," programmer Ptolemy Oebrin said to Destructoid during a hands-on event. "It's just one time and there's usually nobody else on the track. You're just trying to beat the time and that's it." "The other alternative is real-time multiplayer where they're actually driving, but then you have to organize for them to be there, and that can be a pain. So we tried to combine the two by recording and uploading your friends' statistics to our server, and we can have our A.I. act like them and you're in the race with them. So it's kind of a cross between ghost data and real-time multiplayer." The recorded data won't be allowed to follow a simple, pre-determined line, though, as is the case with typical ghost racing. Statistically, the game will match the other players' time, but Oebrin explains that knocking them off the track and crashing into them will ultimately have a negative effect on their time, allowing you to overtake them. Linking Real Racing 3 with your Facebook or iOS' GameCenter will allow the game to pull in the data of your friends, at which point their avatars will pop up on events where they've bested you. If you happen to return the favor, they'll receive a push-notification on their device telling them so. It's a constant struggle for first place in Real Racing 3, one which will seemingly provide endless replay value for enthusiasts. "It's more personal than a simple ghost," Oebrin said. It's astounding to know that Real Racing 3 runs on mobile hardware The cars in which you'll be racing in Real Racing 3 are made up of 30,000 polygons, Oebrin said, which is roughly six times the amount that was found in Real Racing 2, and the same polygon count found in games on current-generation consoles. This attention to detail is prominently shown when in-game and panning around the cars off the track, as everything from the treads on the tires to the in-vehicle cockpit view are extremely detailed. It's astounding to know that Real Racing 3 runs on mobile hardware. These extreme details also come into play when the vehicles take damage, and a vast amount of it will negatively impact the car's performance. While you can go a few races with a smashed headlight, taking a head-on crash into a wall could prove to be less than useful when taking your machine out in another race. You'll need to regularly repair your vehicle in order to keep it in tip-top condition, as having extravagant damage can lead to decreased acceleration time or less-than-stellar brakes. In addition to physical damage, services including oil changes and brake repairs will also need to take place to ensure you're getting every ounce of possible horsepower out of your ride. These services will take longer to complete, but they also take longer to build up when compared to the constant physical damage your car will endure. During repairs, you can either leave your vehicle in the shop and continue to race with another ride -- if the repair happens to require a long time -- or you can pay a little more for insta-repair.  Unlike past entries, Real Racing 3 is a free-to-play title, though those willing to shell out the real-world cash can pay for faster upgrades and things of that ilk -- the usual method found in "freemium" titles. You don't need to pay a dime to get that Shelby Mustang, it's just going to take a little while to obtain the old-fashioned way with in-game currency. Real Racing 3 will see a worldwide release on Apple's App Store, Google's Play Store, and Amazon Marketplace on February 28. It will run on iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up and the most recent Android devices, though Firemonkeys didn't confirm exactly which. 
Real Racing 3 preview photo
Firemonkeys talks Time-Shifted Multiplayer and the horsepower behind the game
Firemonkeys' Real Racing series is synonymous with mobile racing games, and the studio is poised for the worldwide release of the third installment, Real Racing 3, on iOS and Android devices later this month. Real Racing 3 wi...

Preview: Leviathan: Warships had me go down with the ship

Feb 12 // Fraser Brown
Leviathan: Warships (Mac, PC, iOS, Android)Developer: Pieces InteractivePublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: TBD 2013MSRP: $19.99 (PC) There's war on the high seas -- at least, I think it's war. I'm not particularly certain what's really going on in Leviathan's somewhat ill-defined setting. There are multiple factions -- only one playable during the event -- and they all have their own quirks and styles, but I don't have the foggiest idea why they are blowing each other up. After a quick presentation on the importance of cross-platform play and how Pieces and Paradox are trying to open up games to everyone, I got to sit down in front of a PC and actually attempt to play the thing, specifically a 1 vs 1 multiplayer match. It's not as simple as just jumping into a battle, however -- not if you want to survive. There's planning to be done, and if nothing else, I do love a spot of management. Fleet sizes are based on a points system rather than just a set number of ships, so two "large fleets" might actually have a different number of ships, but one side may have more guns and fewer vessels, while the other might have a veritable armada, with each ship only holding a small supply of armaments. Not only can guns of all shapes and sizes, from rocket launchers to beam cannons, be placed on a ship's hard points, beneficial mods like shields and cloaks can also be attached. While all weapons and mods can be slotted onto any class of vessel, some work better with certain ships. The hulking, great big Dreadnaught, for instance, is slow moving and will likely spend most of its time quite far back from the front line, so it makes more sense to give it heavy-hitting, long-range weapons, while the quick Scout benefits from things like the cloak and close-range guns. There are a vast array of options, and that's before you even start augmenting the hull of the ships. So I could have probably done with a bit more time to figure out what the hell does what, but that was not a luxury I had. I hastily fitted out my fleet with the coolest-looking toys, and jumped into my first multiplayer match. I made a fatal error straight away. I mistook the fluffy black edges of the tiny map for fog of war, and sailed right into the abyss. Apparently that causes ships damage, and before I knew what I was even doing, two of my vessels were in dire straits. Oh well, a lesson well learned. Battles are broken up into two kinds of phases. I started off by assigning orders to my individual ships using the convenient radial menu during the planning phase, which brought up all potential actions, from using my various guns, to commanding my ship where to go and what direction to face in. After that, the action phase begins, and I saw my little toy armada slowly make its way across the azure battlefield. Unfortunately, the action phase was absurdly short. It lasted for only 10 seconds, and then the planning phase began anew. This works well during actual combat, as tweaks and changes are necessary to react to enemy attacks and movements, but it made actually getting to the combat incredibly arduous. Finally, I spotted my dreaded foe, and promptly launched a barrage of rockets from my Dreadnaught. These did bugger all damage, lamentably, as my opponent had opted to shield the side of his ship in anticipation of my assault. Shields can be applied to the port, starboard, stern, and bow of the ship, but cannot be activated all at once. My faster ships had weapons on their bows, so I made them rush to engage the enemy head on. My lumbering Dreadnaught was all about the broadside attacks, however, as I had fixed most of my heavy hitting cannons on its port side, so I slowly had to reposition it. Turning a ship is painfully slow, which may be quite realistic, but it's not much fun in a game where the action phase is measured in a handful of seconds.  All guns are limited by a maximum, and often minimum range, so positioning is of the utmost importance. My opponent understood this far better than I, and jumped me with a sneak attack from the stern of my slow Dreadnaught. As he got in close, I realized that I had not added a single close-range weapon to my titan, and despite its stalwart hull, there was little I could do to rid me of the pesky smaller ship harassing me.  My other vessels had managed to dispatch one enemy ship with their front-mounted beam weapons, but were close to blowing up themselves. I cursed my earlier error of sending them to the edge of the world. By the end of the next action phase I was down to one ship, and about all I could do was use my shields.  As my final craft sank to the bottom of the ocean, my last thought was how I wished I'd spent more time building my fleet. Every gun counts, and you have to be ready for whatever your enemy might throw at you. Leviathan's draw will likely be its asynchronous cross-platform multiplayer, despite it also providing single-player challenges. While these battles may drag on a bit, as players wait for their opponents and allies to make a move, one can play as many matches as they want against a myriad of human opponents. This will certainly be convenient for those playing on a tablet, as they could quickly make their moves while on the bus, during a lunch break, or, more than likely, while sitting on the loo. I'm not sold on the PC side of things, unfortunately. PC players will be getting a nearly identical experience but paying significantly more than their tablet brethren, and the asynchronous play coupled with the short length of the battles seems more tailored for those playing on mobile platforms like the iPad. 
Leviathan preview photo
Burn the ocean on Mac, PC, and tablets
I'm such a big fan of nautical combat that I continued to play Assassin's Creed III -- a game that bored me beyond belief within the first two hours -- just for the ship missions. So when Leviathan: Warships was announced jus...

The next Magicka is coming to tablets, and it's fun

Feb 05 // Fraser Brown
[embed]243975:46749[/embed] Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet (Android, iOS)Developer: LudosityPublisher: Paradox InteractiveRelease: Q1, 2013MSRP: $1.99 The core Magicka experience of combining and experimenting with often highly destructive spells while in a four-player party has been left completely intact in this tablet spin-off. At first glance, it certainly doesn't look very much like its predecessor, with the somewhat uninspired 2D cartoon aesthetic and lack of levels ripe for exploration, but it very quickly starts to feel exceedingly similar. After running through the single-player tutorial, I quickly got to grips with the touch controls, and actually found firing off spells and combining them to create new, more potent, arcane weapons of mass destruction to actually be slightly more intuitive than in the original game. The seven base spells are one short of the PC forebear. The arcane spell is no longer present, but has actually just been combined with the life spell. So, if you want to annihilate a foe with a toasty beam of fire, you select the fire spell, then the life spell, and voilà -- you've melted a monster. All of these spells are presented as large, obvious buttons at the bottom of the screen. Pressing one adds that spell to your wizard's spell combo, shown just above the character, and by touching anywhere else on the screen the spell is activated. And by activated I mean that it usually kills something. Frequently a friend. Select the fire and earth spells, and both of those icons will appear above your character, so you always know what's in your immediate loadout. Upon completing a level, the psychopathic wizards are awarded coins which can in turn be spent on items such as new staffs, robes, scrolls, and even familiars. The item descriptions are appropriately amusing and irreverent, and sometimes lampoon other games. I couldn't help but want the grisly chainsaw staff wielded by hairy men who like to kill things. Gears of War could probably do with an injection of magic. With my new double staff (sticking two staffs together is the tried-and-tested method for making things more awesome) and weird-looking froggy familiar, I joined my three companions in a co-op level. All levels can be played with chums and feature two difficulty levels. When asked which difficulty we'd like to choose, I immediately said "hard." I mean, we play games for a living, surely we could handle it. We were beset by all manner of beasties the moment we started, and within 10 seconds, I was a red smear on the ground. Freshly resurrected by another player, I opted for a more cautious approach. Another writer decided to act as the healer, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. 15 seconds later our healer was dead because I threw a flaming rock at his face.  Not only has team-killing returned in Wizards of the Square Tablet, if anything it's going to be a lot more common. For every monster slain, there was a sheepish apology as yet another wizard was frozen, set on fire, electrocuted, or pelted with rocks by an ally. The small, linear areas mean that there will rarely be a time when players aren't getting in each other's way. This is very much a feature, rather than poor level design. That said, the three levels I played through (including the tutorial) were rather lackluster. They were just straight, unobstructed paths with nothing in front or behind other than more enemies. These wandering, ravenous, blood-thirsty horrors are rather splendid, though, and do go a long way to make up for the slightly ho-hum areas. They all look a bit dorky and kooky, until they open their jaws and devour a hapless wizard or squash them under a large boot. Likewise, the wizards themselves have some great designs once some of the more outrageous robes have been unlocked. I'm still not sold on the overall look, but within it I found plenty to like. Getting from one level to another requires traversing the overworld map. Here I saw more branching paths, though it seemed more like a pretense of openness, as it's still quite linear in practice. However, the levels (represented as wee nodes) can be repeated to try and get higher scores, play with more people, or attempt a different difficulty. These friend-slaying, monster-exploding, staff-waving adventures are about 5-10 minutes long, and so don't present a real time-sink. This is definitely something to be played with on the bus, or, indeed, between summoning demons or stirring cauldrons.  Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet will be maintained, unfortunately, through micro-transactions. It seems to be the sad truth of many tablet games that folk simply don't see the point in paying traditional prices for a title they may only play between what are perceived as more robust experiences. It looks like you'll be able to spend real cash to get currency to spend in the shop, so hopefully the micro-transactions will merely exist to speed up the process of kitting one's wizard out in all the latest fashions. No word yet on how the cost of such things, though. The latest Magicka romp releases in a few weeks, so keep your eyes open for the release date -- no doubt we'll have it soon. I was pleasantly surprised by my hands-on time with Wizards of the Square Tablet, and while I don't see it gripping people in the same way that the original has, I suspect that it will be a welcome experience in Magicka fans' tablet library.
Magicka preview photo
A great way to lose friends using good old-fashioned magic
When Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester revealed the company's plans to expand into cross-platform multiplayer experiences last week at the Paradox Convention, I was extremely interested to see what the Swedish publisher ...

Hands-on with the Wikipad, gaming tablet extraordinaire

Oct 03 // Steven Hansen
When I was first handed the tablet, it was sans controller dock and immediately I was a bit impressed. At 1.23 pounds (560 grams) and with a thickness of just .34 inches (8.6 mm), this thing is preposterously svelte and less of burden than some of the books I take with me to read on the train. And all of this is in spite of the mind boggling amount of tech crammed into the thing. Additionally, a raised, rectangular lip on the back of the tablet used to guide it into the controller dock doubles as added grip for just an extra hint of security when you’re holding your expensive toy. In the dock, you obviously lose some of that impressive portability, though it isn’t particularly bulky and could quite reasonably fit in most sort of travel bags should your intent be gaming all day, every day. The controller doesn’t add all that much weight and it’s nicely balanced. It’s also ergonomically comfortable. Aside from affording traditional controls, it also usurps the tablet’s built-in speaker with an admirable speaker bar at the bottom. The first game I loaded up was Max Payne Mobile and, well, it played just how would expect it to play with a standard control scheme. It was instantly familiar. I was also surprised by how well Max Payne Mobile looked on the Wikipad's gorgeous 10.1" screen. Much to my shame, I never finished the first Max Payne because of how it controlled on PS2. I dealt with Max’s seeming inability to walk in a straight line until I got to the hallucinatory bit in which you have to walk a thin blood trail without falling off into the dark abyss. After 45 minutes (plus some time adjusting my TV settings just to be able to make out the trail) off falling to my death, I quit, which is unfortunate because I love the noir style. I suppose I should’ve just picked it up on PC long ago, but this is another nice alternative. After shooting enough people in the head in slow motion, I checked out a first-person zombie shooter developed specifically for Android devices, Dead Trigger. Again, it played just like any console first-person shooter. Perhaps most impressive, thanks to the Wikipad’s considerable tech, I was able to play through Dead Trigger without quitting Max Payne Mobile, which I jumped right back into without leaving Dead Trigger, from the point I had left off (ankle deep in dead guys). Indeed, at the peak, I had four games running simultaneously, including Riptide GP (a wave runner racing game) and the adorable platformer Cordy. I’ve played the latter on a smart phone and definitely prefer the button input; I don’t exactly like playing platformers with a keyboard, let alone a touch screen. Beyond the gaming focus, there are just a lot of really neat little things this Android Jellybean tablet does. You can drag and drop six icons to remain docked at the bottom of the screen for easy access, while you can swipe between navigation pages in a full circle rather than having to move all the way to the right and then back to the left or vice versa. There is also an easily accessible portal for all the different game storefronts where you can easily see what PlayStation Mobile, NVIDIA’s Tegra Zone, Google Play, or “several upcoming unannounced platforms” have to offer. There are a few other neat bits that stood out to me. Because of the raised lip on the back of the tablet, laying it on a hard, flat surface gives you wonderful acoustics as the sound produced by the speakers bounce back up. The sound filled a big, high-ceiling room rather impressively just 70 percent of the maximum volume. The prongs on the power cord are reversible, allowing you to squeeze it in an outlet at whichever orientation saves you those precious extra outlets. On top of that, a pack of interchangeable prongs for international travel will be offered (and if you’re buying a fancy tablet, I assume you also go on international business trips, so that should save you some headache). The Wikipad’s mantra is “Work hard. Game hard,” and it lives up to it. Set at $499, it’s on the pricier side of things and in direct competition with the juggernaut known as the iPad. That being said, if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably go with the former, though its ultimate success -- and the heights it can reach from there -- is going to be contingent on how well it sells out the gate. With its partnerships and wonderful hardware, it could just be something special. Any interested parties can pre-order through GameStop leading up to its October 31, Halloween release.
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Tablets are pretty awesome pieces of technology. They still sort of make me feel like I’m in the future -- just another step closer to Minority Report. Plus, as someone who frequently ends up lugging around a not-so-por...

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Let me preface this by saying that I'm not 100% sure if there are already Pokemon-like games available on iOS or Android devices. I'd love to be told differently, but for now I'll tell you about ngmoco's Monster Tracker, the ...

E3: Final Fantasy Dimensions is old-school Final Fantasy

Jun 08 // Steven Hansen
Dimensions stars Sol, an older gent by the name of Aigis, blue-haired Sarah, and towheaded Dusk. After some catastrophic thing seems to have gone down and arguments have arisen, the group finds itself on a classic Final Fantasy overworld. Before the view shifts, however, a mysterious, fairy-looking lass wanders into the frame where the party had just been and looks over the scene. She even had the classic “???” for her name in the dialogue box. Once out on the world map, I booked it towards the nearest town. Puzzlingly, the podunk town was entirely comprised of octogenarians with a strangely slang dialect; the first person I talked to said, “You know why them dragons be all in a tizzy? It’s cause o’ that poison th’ Empire done used.” Another NPC later informed me that the town was made up of elderly people because all the young folks took off. Probably because of how the old people speak. The game has three options for movement. A fixed touch-based directional pad is available, but the build I played was set to use a d-pad that simply shows up anywhere on the screen you click, disappearing if out of use for a while. You can either tap each direction individually, or, more fluidly, slide and hold your finger in the direction you want to go. It’s large enough that is sort of obscures the screen if you click towards the center, and occasionally I would accidentally bring it up when trying to interact with the environment. It is translucent, however, and I did eventually get a bit more comfortable using it; that said, talking with moving NPCs was something of a trial. After buying a bit of armor, I went back to the world map and into a classic Final Fantasy-style cave to get through the encapsulating mountains. The build I played pitted Sol as the warrior, Aigis as the monk, Dusk as the white mage, and Sarah as the red mage. All the roles I expected the characters would be in. Thankfully, it also had all of the jobs and abilities unlocked and mastered, so I was able to check out the thief, red mage, black mage, summoner, and jobless classes as well. Jobless allows you to use all available armor or weapons. In battle, the characters wear the standard accoutrements associated with their respective class, though they wore unique garb during dialogue scenes and in town. Speaking of battles, the game uses an ATB system, is turn-based, and features random battles. All classic Final Fantasy fare. There was a myriad of job-dependent abilities -- Aigis, in particular, had some impressive monk skills, given that I had access to high-level moves. The brief bits of music I heard were good, the enemy design featured the interesting reimagining and adaptations of pre-existing Final Fantasy beasts and the game played well. Provided you don’t mind the old-school style, Final Fantasy Dimensions could be a plenty good entry in the series. It could even be great, if the story and characters are any good.
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Final Fantasy XIII or Final Fantasy XIII-2 not doing it for you? Is Final Fantasy VI still your favorite game in the series? Or perhaps you insist that Final Fantasy V’s job system is still the best thing in the world? ...

E3: Motley Blocks, a puzzle game that I love to hate

Jun 07 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Motley Blocks (iOS, Android)Developer:Publisher: Square EnixRelease: TBA Every level sees an assortment of different colored blocks rotating around the screen and the goal is to clear the map of all the blocks by tracing a line over blocks of a certain color. Once you remove your finger, all the blocks that got hit will be cleared. The bigger your combo string is, the bigger the score you'll earn. So imagine you're stringing together all the blue blocks. There is no limitation to how you can string the blocks, unless you hit a block that isn't blue. Do that and your string is broken and you have to move on to the next set of blocks flying about. Confused? Okay, imagine Fruit Ninja, but instead of all the fruits getting thrown up from the bottom of the screen, they're rotating around the screen like satellites rotate around Earth. Now, instead of slicing the fruits, you need to connect all the bananas you can see on the screen. Fuck up and hit an apple or something, and your string gets broken. It's like that, but with colored blocks, basically. It sounds really simple, yet so very addicting. At best I was able to get a string of 40 blocks. When the developer played through the game, he strung together around 400 blocks and got a score of two million. Seeing the developer show off just made me want to play more and try to top him. The challenge comes in with the time limit in place. You have to clear all the blocks before time runs out, and clearing all the blocks will reveal a hidden image in the background. You'll also be able to create levels/challenges yourself, which can be shared with other players. There's going to be a free version of Motley Blocks, where only four colors will be available. The full version will include all the colors under the rainbow, plus even blocks with different textures. Motley Blocks will be out soon for iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and with the possibility of Windows Phone 7 and PC versions too.
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There are a handful of mobile games that I will always go back to. Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, Angry Birds Space -- basically puzzle games. It's not because I love them, but rather that I love to hate them. They're simple l...

Penny Arcade's Rain-Slick 3 reboots the series

Apr 12 // Darren Nakamura
The most obvious difference in the transition from Hothead to Zeboyd is in the graphical style. Where previous entries in the series attempted to emulate Mike Krahulik's art in a three-dimensional world, Rain-Slick 3 features Zeboyd's signature Final Fantasy VI-esque pixel art. As in their previous efforts, the environments and character art are about what one would expect from a big budget title twenty years ago, and I mean that in a good way. The next big change is in the battle system. In earlier episodes, combat featured a time element where more powerful abilities became available depending on how long a character waited before acting. Rain-Slick 3 is pretty strictly turn-based, although Zeboyd's take on the old formula feels familiar despite existing in an entirely different battle engine than previous episodes. Characters begin battles with zero mana, and accrue one point every turn. Thus, after a few turns of vanilla attacks, characters can use more powerful abilities. One slight bummer for fans of the series is that the protagonist from the previous games, who the developers referred to as "man or woman with the rake," will not appear in the third episode of the series. As an upside, there will be many more playable characters in Rain-Slick 3 than have been in the other episodes, with Anne-Claire appearing as the third party member in the PAX demo.  As for the man (or woman) with the rake, his (or her) absence will be explained through the narrative, for those curious. Speaking of the storytelling, Jerry Holkins's writing is just as present in this entry, if not more so than in the previous two. The dialogue between characters is great, and the tongue-in-cheek enemy design is hilarious. One of the coolest elements of the demo is what Holkins refers to as "world building." Each enemy type has a few lines of flavor text associated with it, which serves to really flesh out what would normally be a relatively standard RPG battle. In one instance, I found myself fighting a barbershop quartet, and each member's unique flavor text imparted a bit of personality to him, despite the fact that they all essentially behaved the same as one another. The demo ended just as it was introducing the class mechanic. It appears to be akin to the job system found in games like Final Fantasy V or Tactics, where each character can equip different classes in order to gain different sets of abilities. Unlike the job system in those games, characters in Rain-Slick 3 can equip multiple classes at one time. Fans of the On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series have a lot to look forward to in the third episode. Although the manner of exploration and battle is substantially different, it maintains the narrative feel of the series. Zeboyd expects to release Rain-Slick 3 some time this summer, on Xbox Live Indie Games, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
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It's difficult to believe that it has been nearly four years since the last game in the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series released. Many were heartbroken to hear that the original plan of four episodes would be cut...

Preview: A quick look at DragonCraft

Mar 14 // Abel Girmay
Skyfall (iPhone, iPad, Android)Developer: NgmocoPublisher: NgmocoRelease: 2012 Though not terribly involved, the world of DragonCraft does have a story behind it. Dragons have attacked the land of Terra Vael, and things look pretty bad for humanity. Your father was a great commander who fought and died defending your people from the dragons, leaving you to take up his mantle as humanity's leader. From here, players are introduced to side characters, who will ease you into DragonCraft's various mechanics. The first character we ran into in our demo was Hereward, your father's old adviser. Hereward acts as a guide through DragonCraft's city building mechanics. Building in DragonCraft is pretty straightforward: provided you have the resources, players need only touch a spot on the map to place a predetermined structure. At Hereward's suggestion, we first built barracks and an armory to start building up our troops, followed by a couple of meat shops to keep the soldiers fed. If you do find your building resources running low, you can hop out into the world and go collect more supplies. You can also conquer new territories and towns, but those areas will repopulate with enemies, requiring players to jump back in -- if even for a few minutes -- to protect their newer settlements. As one of the lighter mechanics in the game, city building really lends DragonCraft to the five-minutes-at-a-time style of play. Once you leave the friendly towns for the wilderness of Terra Vael, you'll find plenty of things to sink your time into, particularly the game's combat. Combat in DragonCraft is turn based, almost reminiscent of Advance Wars. The battle system works with class-based units (eighteen in total) that you unlock and improve as you go. Each unit type has its strengths and weakness with a traditional rock-paper-scissors balance, so success is contingent on your ability to determine which units will work best against enemies troops and dragons. Dragons also play a large role in combat. You can risk killing a dragon with a standard weapon, which may not earn you a scale, or you can kill a dragon with a rarer dragon spear, which will always guarantee a scale. Killing a dragon nets you dragon scales, and earning five dragon scales converts them into dragon eggs that you can hatch. Hatching takes time, but the process can be quickened by applying rare dragon crystals. You can find more crystals scattered around the world, but if you find yourself running low, dragon crystals can be purchased with real-world money. Once you have a dragon in you army, they act as your first attack in every encounter, softening enemies up for the rest of your units and larger boss characters. You unfortunately can't use them beyond the initial attack, except for later in the game with you unlock dragon-only skirmishes. Outside of single-player, your leveled army and dragons can be used in multiplayer for PvP and PvE matches. Multiplayer wasn't demoed, but Ngmoco is already planning a good amount of content for it. Apart from PvP and co-op dungeon raids, DragonCraft will have run events -- typically a week each -- allowing players and friends to collect new and rarer dragons for a limited time. Like Skyfall, DragonCraft in open beta for Android users, with an iOS release to be announced at a later date. If you have an Android device, go ahead and give DragonCraft a fair shake.
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Fantasy fans with Androids and iPhones have a lot to look forward to this year, courtesy of Ngmoco. Just this past GDC, we had the opportunity to look at two promising fantasy RPGs, Skyfall and DragonCraft. Whereas the former...

Preview: Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2

Mar 13 // Conrad Zimmerman
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 (Android, iOS, PC, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade)Developer: Sonic TeamPublisher: SEGARelease: May 16, 2012 Players still won't have total freedom to explore the game as Tails this time either, but some allowances are being made to make playing with the pair a little easier. The screen will zoom out to some degree when they are apart, then rubber-band the player lagging behind forward to the player in front. As Sega described it to me, levels are being designed which takes this mechanic into account for the purpose of cooperative speed-running, whereby two players can work together to collect all secrets in a level while constantly moving forward to the end of the stage for a fast time. Tails brings a few new abilities to the game as well. He can pair up with Sonic to perform special moves together. This includes Tails' signature flight ability, which allows him to grab Sonic in mid-air and carry him a short distance in any direction. While on the ground, the pair will roll together to do massive damage, necessary to eliminate some larger enemies. The physics are also more of a return to form, with Sonic properly maintaining his momentum during jumps and spins, as well as gaining momentum on hills without player interference. As such, I didn't have any problems adjusting to the controls and it feels much more like a proper Sonic game than what I've seen in the last decade. Sega promises that they have more to reveal, including some new features and abilities, but the game is promising. It's a little hard to imagine Sonic fans still managing get their hopes up about the series by this point -- particularly when every single release just results in a barrage of complaining. Maybe having that enthusiasm up is where they've gone wrong all along. What I played today, I enjoyed but didn't feel like a revelation. It felt like a solid Sonic the Hedgehog game. Things seem to be going along the right track, leaving me cautiously optimistic that this will at least turn out to be a fun title.
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I haven't committed much time to playing a Sonic the Hedgehog game since its first sequel, which would normally make me feel somewhat disqualified to talk about what the blue hedgehog is up to in modern days. But playing Soni...

Preview: Skyfall is big fantasy in a handheld package

Mar 12 // Abel Girmay
Skyfall (iPhone, iPad, Android)Developer: Ngmoco)Publisher: Ngmoco)Release: 2012 Exploration is a big part of Skyfall, an RPG staple that mobile games have been limited in representing. The world of Skyfall is sizable, offering dungeons to raid, crafting ingredients to discover, and quest to complete. From a top down view, players move across a grid based map encountering enemies, dungeons, and new towns as they go. If you have previously visited a location, it can be fast traveled to by simply taping on the grid you want to go to. It's a clever system that fits well with mobile, letting players cut down on travel time and get straight to where they need to be. Combat is equally streamlined, but still carries depth in its own right. The core of Skyfall's combat is its combat bar. Functional similar to the kickoff meter of Madden, Skyfall's combat bar has players tap on the bar just as a narrow gauge hits the right spot. Hit the generously large green areas and you land a hit. If you manage to hit the narrow sliver of red, though, and you land a critical hit. The combat bar also adjusts for different weapons and classes. In this demo, my rouge had no problem landing regular and occasional critical with melee weapons, but switching to the bow made landing criticals tougher as the red area was much more narrow. When using a mage, rather than having the critical in the center, the combat bar will actually have breaks in between, making standard and critical hits that much more challenging. If you find combat getting to difficult though, you can always enlist the help of a friend for co-op play. Co-op play in Skyfall works very differently then what you would expect. In fact, calling it co-op is a bit misleading. You can enlist another player to help you raid a dungeon or what have you, but the second player isn't actually playing alongside you. Rather, you just have that player's character to control. In practice, it feels more like having another party member than co-op. That doesn't mean it isn't a useful feature though. With a co-op partner, players can explore new, tougher areas, and some dungeons require that you have a teammate for a chance of success. In my demo, my rouge character fared well against most enemies solo, but having a mage as backup against a dragon proved helpful as party members can give useful buffs and offer extra attack power. It's an interesting way to approach co-op, and while players who lend out their characters currently don't get anything out of it, Ngmoco is experimenting with different reward systems. Since this is a free to play game, players do have the option to just buy their rewards. Without getting too crazy with micro-transactions, Ngmoco is monetizing Skyfall in a pretty clever way. As you adventure in the world, players can come across keys that open chests scattered across the land. With varying degrees of rarity, players can choose to either open chests with keys they've acquired or purchase keys with real world currency. The chests themselves have a nice trading card feel to them to, as you don't know exactly what items you'll be getting, just their level of rarity. If you're the type who's strongly opposed to buying in-game items, that works to. Players have to option to pick chest locks, so be sure to invest in related skills as you level up. Even at its beta stage, there's plenty good to find in Skyfall. If any of the above statements catch your attention, go head and hop into the Android beta, it's free after all. Skyfall will be coming at a later date to iOS users, but iPhone and iPad owners should definitely still keep this one on their radar.
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Role-playing games have had a long and prosperous history in video and tabletop gaming, but haven't quite repeated this success on mobile and tablet devices. From the minds at Ngmoco comes Skyfall, a free-to-play social RPG ...

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Marble games like Kororinpa are interesting but seemingly few and far between.  Developer NORDISK FILM has announced to us that their physics-based puzzle game The Marbians will be releasing on July 29th for Android and...

Preview: Madden NFL 12 for mobile devices

Jul 13 // Steven Hansen
Madden 12 (iOS) (Android, iTouch, iPhone, iPad [Previewed]) Developer: EA Sports Publisher: Electronic Arts To be released: August, 2011 With Madden 12 for mobile platforms, EA’s intent is to capture both hardcore and casual Madden fan, thus there are two different gameplay modes. Classic Mode builds off of the general gameplay formula from last year’s game. The majority of the controls are mapped to button presses, while you’re afforded a stopwatch button that will allow you to slow time to make decisions. Arcade Mode is the more accessible of the two, focusing on a lot of swiping and tilting motions, employing the touch screen and accelerometer, receptively. While slowing time may seem like a feature that should be relegated to the more “casual” Arcade Mode, it actually ended up being a necessity during the regular gameplay, partly because there’s a bit of action going on off screen you can’t directly see and partly because the controls can be a bit imprecise. While on offense, it’s almost necessary to slow down time in order to find an open receiver, whose level of openness is denoted by the color of their name on the screen (green being wide open, red being covered, yellow resting in between). The playbooks have been expanding from last year’s iteration with the intention of better reflecting a team’s tendencies, as opposed to having every team play from the same generic playbook. One other neat play calling feature is the player’s ability to call a custom audible at the line of scrimmage; after calling an audible, you can actually draw up your own route with the touch screen. While I was told special attention was paid to hits in the game, collisions still felt oddly hollow in my brief hands on, as players seemed to just run into each other, prompting a repetitive “hitting sound” over and over. The game offers an Exhibition mode, meant for quick sessions, as well as a full Season mode, allowing you to go in-depth into the NFL season and manage your roster. There is also a Playoff mode, which will allow you to play out last season’s playoffs, and I was told that it would be updated to reflect the playoff scenario of the upcoming 2011-2012 season after the season ends, which is nice. In addition to these single-player offerings, the game allows head-to-head competition via Bluetooth. The game also taps into EA’s new Origin service, allowing in-game achievements (like intercepting four passes in a game) to be posted directly to your status updates. One interesting thing to note is that the game offers two leaderboards. The first is the leaderboard containing your friends, which tracks all of your (and their) wins and losses (not just head-to-head play) and allows for sorting by day, week, month, and year. The second, rather interesting leaderboard is a larger affair. When you start the game, you’re prompted to select your favorite team. Every victory you earn in the game goes as a point to your team, and all 32 teams’ collective totals will be prominently displayed on this leaderboard. It’s a neat addition and could lead to some people playing obsessively to bolster their favorite team’s score, unless their team is terrible, with no fan base and looking at their paltry collection of wins makes them depressed. For example, Jacksonville Jaguar fans -- finally selling out your home games last season isn’t enough to keep you from relocating to L.A. The feature in the game I was actually most excited for, I didn’t get to see. Last year’s game saw an addition post launch called “Vintage Voltage Football,” which plays like those old tabletop electronic football games, where you set your pieces on the field before each snap and then let them go at it. Vintage Voltage will be included in Madden 12, and honestly seems like a more appropriate use of the device. The mobile version of Madden 12 is said to be aimed toward hardcore and casual Madden fans alike, yet, despite my (unhealthy) obsession with football and my love/hate relationship with the series, I just can’t see myself actually wanting to play it. That being said, I’m sure the market is there, and there seem to have been enough noticeable improvements to warrant a purchase by anyone who loved or enjoyed the last iteration.
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Like I mentioned in my FIFA 12 iOS preview, I had not really used an iPad until EA’s Summer Showcase, so playing the mobile version of Madden 12 was an interesting experience to say the least. For those who played last ...

Hands-on: High Flyer Death Defyer

Apr 12 // Sherilynn Macale
High Flyer Death Defyer (iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, iPad [Previewed]) Developer: Game Mechanic Studios Publisher: Game Mechanic Studios To Be Released: Summer 2011 HFDD is a primarily tilt-based mobile game that relies on the sensitivity of your device to steer you left or right, send you nose-diving through the environment, or slow you down for more maneuverability in order to avoid obstacles. A simple tap to the screen deploys your jetpack and will allow you to fly safely upon floating platforms. Activate your jetpack too late and it will overheat and explode! But for those of you lucky enough to land healthy and whole, these platforms will act as checkpoints while you progress through the highly explorative world of HFDD. But why do you need checkpoints? HFDD isn’t some bubblegum candy game where you’re happily prancing through the air while tra-la-la-ing through one level to the next. You’re probably going to die! While thorough details concerning the storyline are pending announcement closer to the predicted release date (sometime in Summer 2011), President and Creative Director, Jason Alejandre, was still able to let this little tidbit slip.   “We can’t tell you much about the plot of the game at this point, as we’ll be revealing more about the plot, characters, and world of HFDD over the coming months. All I can really say is that our protagonist -- a treasure hunting member of the Death Defyer squad -- starts out as a bit of an anti-hero looking for fortune, sort of like Han Solo, but ends up discovering something much larger and far more sinister. The details of the plot -- and the sinister force -- will be unveiled soon.” Alejandre mentioned three different worlds in HFDD, each containing 10 different levels. In the level I was able to explore during WonderCon, I found myself barrel rolling past menacing red propellers that threatened to chop me into delicious little pieces of man-flesh (though a simple swipe across the screen was enough to twirl me out of harm’s reach.) I also steered myself through blue stealth rings which, at the time, I mistook for “power ups”, but was later able to clear up with Alejandre. “The stealth rings are really there to protect you from detection by the bad guys and, from a gameplay perspective, to get players to fully explore each level, instead of just nose diving straight to the bottom. So they aren’t exactly power ups, per say. But, in addition to the O-shaped stealth rings you saw, there are harder-to-find D-shaped rings that take players down an alternate path for extra treasures, challenges, and replayability.” Being the sort of player who enjoys exploring and searching out those little hidden Easter eggs or glitches that you can only find by veering off the predicted path, it was cool to hear that Game Mechanic Studious had sorted out this little detail and catered to my particular audience. After getting a taste of the game for myself, Alejandre showed me a quick animated preview of a mechanical beast perched atop a floating rock, amused when I immediately began firing off questions about the monster, asking about its origins, how he plans to incorporate it into the game, and what its purpose within the story would be. Is it there to help us in the game? Are there more of them? Alejandre replied with, “The mechanically-augmented beast is indeed your ally, and he’ll help your hero in navigating the world, escaping bad guys and advancing the plot, but I can’t reveal any more than that for now. We’ll have more announcements about the ally beast -- as well as other huge monsters and the roles they will play -- closer to launch.” Navigation in HFDD is incredibly simple and responsive, and the controls are easy enough to pick up and execute. Meaning your grandma will probably even get a kick out of it. Speaking of sharing, I did inquire for us social game types about whether or not we’d be able to compete with friends via leaderboards or social media networks, etc. To which Alejandre replied, “We’re exploring every possible option for scores and leaderboard tracking and will integrate those wherever appropriate. We really want to encourage players to challenge their friends and other Death Defyers through the social channels, so you can post your fastest time and be like, “Beat that!” Or if you earn a really tough trophy, be all, “Can you do it?!” We like that community feel, and want it to be more present in mobile gaming.” After only two months of development (including art direction, level design, controls, and engineering), High Flyer Death Defyer is already shaping up to be something uniquely special. While certain parts of the game definitely remind me of flight navigation favorites like Star Fox or Jak & Daxter, there’s just enough originality to make this title distinct. I was surprised by the level of detail they had put into the smallest of animations. For example, I was fortunate enough to be able to view one of the supposed many death animations when HFDD glitched for a moment (something I’m sure they’ll be working the kinks out of during further development). I’m looking forward to seeing how they integrate social media into the game (as this is definitely a huge part of mobile gaming nowadays.) I'm also looking forward to discovering more about who our protagonist is running from, what sort of cool treasures he might collect, and what other awesome equipment and allies he might run into during his adventures (if any). High Flyer Death Defyer should be available via iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android, with a release date aimed for Summer 2011. There’s no announcement on a final price point yet, but it will be competitively priced as they are eager to get the game into as many hands as possible. With that said, does HFDD look like your cup of tea? What do you hope to see out of this game? Sherilynn "Cheri" Macale is a freelance journalist and illustrator who can't exactly decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life and so does absolutely everything. Harass and prod her via Twitter, check out the badassery on her Website, and leave a friendly message on her Facebook.
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Afraid of heights? Can’t climb down a ladder to save your life? Would you rather eat dirt than step one foot into a roller coaster? Well suck it up, buddy. This game isn’t for the weak of heart. In Higher ...

Word Fighter brilliantly mixes Boggle and Street Fighter

Mar 10 // Nick Chester
The easiest way to describe Word Fighter is that it's a mixture of Boggle and Puzzle Fighter. Feel Every Yummy describes it as "Street Fighter meets Words With Friends," which is just as accurate. Each player gets identical 5x5 sets of word tiles, the goal to drag a finger across the letters to create words. The better the word -- based on variables like length and letter value -- the more powerful an attack you'll launch on your opponent. Throw in power ups like attack multipliers or letter shufflers, and you've got a set up for some heated word battles. The mode I played utilized the big iPad surface for a real-time multiplayer battle against another human player. But Feel Every Yummy plan to incorporate turn-based multiplayer as well, along with cross platform play -- someone playing on the iPhone version of the game could battle someone on an Android phone, for instance. Feel Every Yummy is currently planning on launching the game with six characters, each with their own set of abilities and powers. In this early version, the word fighters available were obviously influenced by Capcom's Street Fighter. But Gian tells me that could change before launch. In fact, the entire look and theme of the game could make a complete 180 depending on who they're trying to target as the audience. As Gian puts it, it's possible the Street Fighter aesthetic may skew too hardcore; it might not appeal to players who generally gravitate towards word games. It's all about finding that happy medium, he says, seeing what works best on the market without sacrificing style and gameplay. He's open to suggestions -- a conversation with Tara and Max had them all discussing everything from pretty princesses to female authors. (My money's on Stephanie Meyer to knock out J.K. Rowling in the third round, if you must know.) What may be most impressive about the game is that Feel Every Yummy is a tiny team of only two. Gian was a web designer who left his job at AOL not long ago to start the studio with his friend, Kris Zabala. It was a big risk: Zabala hadn't written a single line of Objective C before starting the company, learning iOS programming as they went along. The fruits of their labor are already impressive, a simple idea that both looks and works well. If you're at PAX East this week, you can check it out for yourself: Gian will be roaming around the show floor with a build of the game, looking for everyone and anyone to give it a try. "We're looking to get as much feedback and input as we can while we're still early into development," he tells me. Word Fighter is scheduled for release on Android and iOS this summer.
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When I first met Gian Cruz -- one half of developer Feel Every Yummy -- he was sitting indian style on the floor of the Moscone convention center during Game Developers Conference. He had just finished showing an early versio...


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