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Lara Croft GO captures the essence of pure Tomb Raider

Aug 08 // Brett Makedonski
Lara Croft GO fits soundly into that latter category by more than just name alone. Despite being a mobile title, it nicely captures the spirit of the very first Tomb Raider games. Donning her classic outfit, Lara works through level after level in search of an artifact. Puzzle-solving and exploration are earmarks, just as they had been all those years ago. However, the mobile format is what makes GO distinct. Rather than continuous action, this game is turn-based which places a greater emphasis on thinking before moving. A rudimentary example might be a pair of snakes that are facing opposite directions. You always have to attack from the side or back, lest they strike and kill you first. There's only one path that allows for the correct order of operations; the others just leave you dead. But, even when Lara Croft GO deals out frustration, it doesn't negate progress. This is the mobile crowd, after all -- a group that might not have the patience to have its time wasted. Checkpoints come frequently and everything is ever-so bite-sized. On a micro-level, the scale of each section is obviously intentional. Routon says that the studio knows who it's developing for. Despite Lara Croft GO allowing for minimal time investments, Square Enix Montreal is seeing a more encouraging trend. "People intend to play for five minutes, and they end up playing for an hour or more," Routon comments. "We tell playtesters they can leave, but they say they want to finish this puzzle first. I guess that's not a bad thing." [embed]297421:59880:0[/embed] It really doesn't come as a surprise that people don't want to put Lara Croft GO down. It elegantly encapsulates what makes Tomb Raider work, and boils it down to its purest form. Swipe, swipe, swiping on the screen is so simple, yet it doesn't feel cheap to lead Lara on an adventure in this fashion. Helping production values are the strong aesthetic and the narrative told only through gameplay details. Although it's in the mobile market, Square Enix Montreal prices its titles more traditionally. GO will be available on August 27, but the cost is unknown right now (Hitman Go released at $4.99). Once invested, this game is fully playable at any speed; there are no energy meters to temper progress. Routon confirmed that there will be microtransactions of some sort, but their nature will be puzzle solutions for those who are struggling. In a wasteland of freemium games, this price model is commendable. More commendable, however, is the way that Square Enix Montreal boldly gets back to the roots of Tomb Raider. Series veterans will rediscover a Lara Croft that they know and love in a format that's undiscovered to them. Fitting, seeing as Tomb Raider should be all about discovery.
Lara Croft GO preview photo
Swipe right
Antoine Routon grinned. "We have people knocking down our door saying 'Can you do our game too?'" Routon's the lead programmer at Square Enix Montreal -- the publisher's studio that's dedicated to mobile titles. Square Enix h...

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...

Donut County is a feel-good physics toy with flashes of Katamari Damacy

May 26 // Jordan Devore
Creator Ben Esposito describes his game as a "whimsical physics toy," and that's apt. A racoon chucks donuts from an airship and also rides a scooter, sometimes. Objects and animals topple when you trip them (and you will trip them). Puzzles feel organic, not forced. [embed]292754:58669:0[/embed] Early on, you'll discover that consuming fire and corn will cause popcorn to shoot back out of the hole (which you can then eat, obviously). Later, nabbing two rabbits results in lil babies spilling out of the pit. Another level involves interrupting an ant picnic with fireworks. The more I played, the more I didn't want to stop. The hungry hole is one of those mechanics that instantly makes sense but never seems to lose its energy or appeal. It just feels right. I wish I could've beaten the whole game in one sitting, right then and there, but this was only a preview. Donut County wont be ready for PC, Mac, and iOS until later this year. I'll be waiting. [embed]292754:58668:0[/embed]
Donut County photo
Unwinding: The Video Game
In Katamari Damacy, you roll up stuff. Small stuff, to start. Then cars, ships, buildings, mountains and, eventually, entire worlds. In Donut County, you slide an insatiable hole around to help it eat anything it can fit inside its maw. The more the hole consumes, the bigger it becomes. Where does it end up? How big can the hole grow? I'm not sure. But damn do I want to find out.

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...

Super Meat Boy Forever is harder than the original

Aug 29 // Kyle MacGregor
The experience is akin to driving a car with faulty breaks. It puts players behind the wheel and requires they avoid any and all hazards placed in their path. One's agency extends only to jumping and ducking, the latter of which allows our protagonist to fall more quickly than usual and slide beneath low-hanging obstacles. The new constraints make for a far more difficult game, part of which can also be attributed to the title's randomly-generated levels. Stages are essentially playlists made up of pre-designed challenges Team Meat refers to as "chunks" placed on shuffle. Well, sort of. The configuration in which these hurdles appear isn't entirely without order. Chunks are ordered into three difficulty tiers, ensuring for a progressively more challenging experience. Though the title is designed for smartphones and tablet devices, it's also coming to PC, and programmer Tommy Refenes stresses Super Meat Boy Forever is far from another disposable mobile game. Players can expect a similar amount of content as what's found in Super Meat Boy, complete with a myriad of new environments and challenging bosses to surmount. Rest assured, it isn't just styled after the existing Xbox 360 and PC game. I'm convinced Forever will be a far tougher nut to crack than was its predecessor. After an extensive amount of time with a particularly challenging build of the game Team Meat put together just to test the press, I only managed to complete a handful of levels and eventually succumbed to a dark world stage that Refenes admitted even he has yet to conquer. Despite the extreme difficulty, I couldn't help but smile throughout the demo. Super Meat Boy Forever looks and feels amazing. It's the kind of game you can pick up for two minutes only to discover hours have gone by. 'Just one more try' never seems to be enough. Super Meat Boy Forever is targeted for a 2015 release, and Refenes says it will be "affordable."
Meat Boy Forever photo
Team Meat's new auto-runner is just brutal
Team Meat's new project Super Meat Boy Forever made its first appearance today at PAX Prime in Seattle -- and it makes the original game look like a cakewalk by comparison. The newly revealed title is an a...

That BioShock teaser was an iOS port and it plays well (sort of)

Aug 04 // Steven Hansen
Now that Apple has gone ahead with some controller support, you can play BioShock with any compatible unit. I did so as I waded through the intro (and waded through freezing plane crash water), but I figured playing with the touch controls might prove a bit more informative. Not everyone has one of those pricey controllers.   After getting through the lengthy establishing bits and exposition and finding a plumber's discarded wrench, I finally got to smash some Splicer faces. Virtual joysticks will appear wherever you rest either thumb. I still managed to drift too far off sometimes, but I only felt mildly hampered. I moved less smoothly than I might with a controller, but it worked well. It's an option, anyway, leaving you stuck between it and expensive controllers.  The interface is pretty slick. On the right side, there's a big virtual button to use either your equipped weapon or plasmid (no dual wielding yet, remember). You can also switch between plasmids and weapons and search through trash cans for cigarettes and bodies for money. It all works well enough, retooled as it is. The problem with the touch controls comes in combat. You might adapt and get better at them. You might already be better at them than I am. But I had some difficulty in my right thumb being needed to both a) line up the shooting reticle and b) tap the big old "shoot" button. That bit of time in between is troublesome. If this were all puzzle solving, exploration, and Pipe Mania hacking, the touch controls would be a completely viable option for the iOS port. However, in the hour I played, I struggled shooting things accurately, which is a big deal for a shooter. I killed things good, thanks in part to some bullet magnetism that took shots over the shoulder and counted them a couple inches left or right, but the precise tactility of first-person shooting is lost here. It just feels a little less good when the game rewards you for being in the vicinity. It's a necessary change, though, because otherwise you would line up shots and lose them in the split second you stopped aiming to tap "kill," assuming you didn't move the reticle in that motion. Good thing targets are generally running at you, too, because keeping up with lateral movement isn't easy.  The port is novel (it's on my phone!), it's perfunctory, it's a reminder that BioShock was pretty cool, and with a controller you can basically match the original experience. The touch controls work about as well as they could, but can't overcome losing the precision in first-person shooting.
BiOShock photo
BiOShock
That BioShock teaser from 2K? It's not a new BioShock game. It's the first one, but on Apple devices. Hence the apple in the tease. Clever. Who called it? This is basically a full port of the PC version of BioShock,...

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.

Candy Crush studio's next game, Bubble Witch Saga 2

May 22 // Dale North
Bubble Witch Saga 2 is a bubble shooter, like Taito's Bubble Bobble, or popular mobile game Snood. King says that they wanted take advantage of the ripe market as well as create a bubble shooter with new gameplay elements. There's every type of match-three game out there now, but not much in the way of bubble shooters. I got a good look at the upcoming title during a recent King studio visit. Playable in both portrait and landscape mode, shooting bubbles at the play board requires only a tap. Aiming is done by holding and sliding a finger, with a release sending the bubble flying. The primary goal is to match three or more bubbles to clear them from the game board, with the hopes of clearing the entire board with the allotted number of bubbles.  Beyond this mode, a couple more additions mix up the standard action. Rescue maps have you shooting bubbles that surround captured animals to free them. In Wheel Mode, rather than clearing the top row of bubbles, you'll shoot at a formation that spins from the force of your shots. With the latter, you'll try to aim your shots to control the spin and take out the bubbles surrounding a captured ghost, with the goal of freeing it. This is a new new...spin on the old formula, and requires some patience at first. King has taken the bubble shooter and applied their own tried and true mobile games formula, so expect the same leveling structure as Candy Crush or Farm Heroes Saga as well as the same dedication to regular content updates. Also expect the same time-based play limitations and prompts selling you additional turns (in this case, five more bubble shots) as their other titles. For the latter point, it should be noted that I was able to complete more than 20 levels without needing to have to buy turns. Bubble Witch Saga 2 is easy to get into, but after the first dozen levels I found that you really have to be strategy minded to clear the maps using only the allotted shots. Simply matching colors isn't going to cut it -- I had to maximize every shot to make each one count. Strategies like aiming from the top and using bouncing trick shots helped a bit. I felt I would have had a bit easier of a time with a longer bounce trajectory line, but even that wouldn't have made some of the later levels (beyond level 50) any easier. The later maps are huge and their challenge level is pretty high. King says that a worldwide launch for Bubble Witch Saga 2 is planned, and that we should see it very soon on mobile platforms as well as Facebook.
 photo
Burst your bubble
What's next for the studio that bagged mountains of cash on games like Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga? It's Bubble Witch Saga 2. I never knew there was a first game, but seeing as how the Facebook page for Bubble ...

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...

The Perils of Man brings an adventure across time to iOS

Mar 26 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]272436:53128:0[/embed] Developed by IF Games, The Perils of Man takes players on an adventure through time as Ana Eberling, who must uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of her father and other members of her family. While exploring her family mansion, she uncovers a secret lab possessing technology for time travel. Following clues left behind by her father, she travels to various areas in the past looking for answers. During your adventure, you'll collect clues, interact with the environment, and talk with NPC characters to uncover the mystery. With lead writer and designer for 1954: Alcatraz Gene Mocsy providing the story, IF Games wanted to illustrate the narrative's density while at the same time giving players the opportunity to find solutions to puzzles and other obstacles. "We wanted to convey depth and richness for the dialog," said producer Nathan Ornick. "There's a number of opportunities for investigation, and more dialog trees open up revealing more about the characters, and it shows just how much depth is there for interaction." Initially, players will explore the family mansion, using wits and other neat tricks to solve the mystery but, eventually, Ana and her clockwork bird companion will travel back in time to such locations as Chicago, London, and the South China Sea. With every new location, the investigation changes up and interactions with characters become more difficult, as Ana's modern-day personality doesn't necessarily mesh well with others in the past. The developers of The Perils of Man were keen on creating a game that was rich in story content, but also one that is accessible and intuitive to control. IF Games went with iOS, as it can provide both. "We knew this would be a game we wanted to release onto mobiles first -- it's been designed from the bottom up for touch interface," said Ornick. "The interface fits for point-and-click-style games, but also the way you interact with this narrative game. It's very much like a story book." I fancy myself an admirer of the adventure genre, and this title seems to channel much of the charm and magic from the past. One of the benefits of this adventure game renaissance we're in now is that we're seeing a lot of talent return to the genre, and The Perils of Man looks to be another charming, fun title for devotees of the genre. Currently, a demo of The Perils of Man is out now on the App Store for the iPad. The full game, clocking in at around 10-12 hours of length, is expected for release sometime this summer for the iPad and other Apple devices.
The Perils of Man photo
LucasArts veteran Bill Tiller brings new adventure title to mobile
The adventure genre has seen a bit of an upswing in recent times. With Telltale Games and Double Fine's recent efforts helping to revitalize the genre, a new generation of gamers are experiencing a type of game that was once ...

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...

Terraria looks lovely on iOS, plays pretty solid

Jun 11 // Steven Hansen
I'm not sure how Terraria's core audience will feel about this reduction in time, but I loved it. The game is clearly being re-tooled with aware of the mobile mindset and I don't think the game suffers for allowing you to chop down trees a bit more quickly. A touchscreen joystick mapped to the bottom left handles locomotion. There is also an auto-jump for smaller ledges, though holding up on the joystick will elicit a higher jump should you want or need more control. Interaction is handled either by taps and holds on screen, or with the aid of a sort of universal action button mapped on the bottom left, which will automatically activate things like tools and weapons to work on objects in your vicinity. While mining deep in the earth I found the action button a little lacking, as it kept leaving forehead-high blocks in my path that I'd then have to manually clear by selecting them on screen before I could progress -- but otherwise it handled well, though I didn't do much combat. As a sidenote, Terraria is coming is Vita soon, too. Sony's portable might be better suited for the game, but I suppose if you don't have a Vita and need Terraria everywhere, then iOS could prove a decent option.
Terraria iOS photo
Just in case you need to mine on the go...and don't have a Vita
Indie, exploration-based Terraria has developed quite a following since its release and now it's making its way to iOS courtesy of 505 games, which handled its recent console release. Ideally, 505 would have liked all three (...

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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...

Deus Ex: The Fall is a full-fledged experience

Jun 07 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Deus Ex: The Fall (Android, iOS)Developer: N-fusion, Square Enix Mobile EuropePublisher: Square EnixRelease: TBA (Android) / Summer 2013 (iOS) Storywise, The Fall picks up immediately after the events of the Deus Ex: Icarus Effect novel and continues the story of Ben Saxon, which is also taking place shortly after the attack on Sarif Industries during Human Revolution. Ben is part of the Tyrants initially, but doesn't stick with group for too long when he learns that they lied and tricked him into joining. Ben breaks away from them and hides out in Costa Rica to maintain a low cover. He's a cybernetically enhanced soldier though, and soon has to come out of hiding to find some neuropozyne as his body is rejecting the cyber implants. From here, Ben learns that there's a global shortage of the vital drug, and will go about unraveling the conspiracy surrounding all this that threatens the world over. [embed]255403:48955:0[/embed] The story should take you about five hours to complete from start to finish. Of course, this is a Deus Ex game and you'll want to replay thanks to all the options presented. You can play through the game action hero-like, or be a pacifistic throughout the entire thing and not kill a single person ever. Plus there's dialogue choices that opens and closes different paths of the branching story. There's up to 29 different weapons to find, with plenty of upgrades and attachments that can be placed on them. Plus of course you can upgrade Ben's skills, improving his combat, hacking, or stealth abilities. The inventory and store have been combined for mobile, so you can buy weapons, Praxis, and ammo whenever you want. While you will earn in-game credits, you can also spend real cash to accelerate your progress in purchasing weapons and the sort. That said, you never have to spend any cash outside the initial purchase of the game, and performing three playthroughs of the story (that features new game plus mode) will get you everything the game has to offer. As for the controls, given the limitations of touch screens. Movement happens via dual virtual thumbsticks (the virtual sticks can be shown or hidden) or you can use single and/or double tap to move through your environment. Tapping against walls will put you into cover, vaulting over objects replaces jumping, and you can either manually aim or tap to lock-on to targets to fire your weapons. Plus the takedowns -- lethal and non-lethal -- are all streamlined into the experience. Moving Ben around felt great, and the controls were very tight. At the end of the day, would I prefer a controller to play? Yes, of course, for any game. But for once I didn't mind using touch based inputs in an experience like this. The Fall really feels like it's capturing what we've come to expect out of the Deus Ex series. It looks great for being a mobile title (all things considered) and I was quite happy with the controls. The one thing that bugs me though is that you can't pick up a body after you've downed someone. Bodies will disappear after a while (GoldenEye 64 style), but guards and cameras can still see a body until it of course has finally vanished. I should note that this is the first installment of course, and the story will continue. Whether that means this is going to be episodic or a sequel will take place on a different platform remains to be seen though, as the developers were strictly focused on just talking about The Fall. Otherwise, this will be a nice treat for players on the mobile platform. I do hope the 3DS and PlayStation Vita will one day see The Fall as well. It would be great on those platforms, but I do also understand the reason for focusing on the mobile sector for now, as it reaches a humongous new userbase. 
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Built from the ground up to be a true Deus Ex game
Deus Ex: The Fall is a the next entry to the much loved series, heading for iOS this summer, with an Android version coming sometime there after. This may not be what you asked for, but don't write it off either. Mobile games...

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: Borderlands Legends

Oct 26 // Steven Hansen
Borderlands Legends (iOS) Developer: 2k China Publisher: 2k Games Release: October 31, 2012 2k Games is riding the Borderlands popularity dune buggy, and what better way to continue to cash in and grow the brand than with an iOS title? Seriously, if you have any idea, leave them in the comments section. Until then, you get an iOS title coming from 2K China, which worked under the supervision of Gearbox to ensure that Borderlands Legends feels like a Borderlands game despite the drastic departure in genre. As you no doubt have gathered from looking at this article’s accompanying images, Borderlands Legends is not a first-person shooter in the vein of the series’ first two titles, though it does hark back to the original game quite often. For one, it has you play as the four characters from the first -- Lilith, Mordecai, and the two boring ones. And I mean it has you play as all four simultaneously, because Legends is isometric and more akin to real-time strategy than solo, first-person shooter play. Which is fine because I still struggle trying to play first-person shooters on tablets. Legends sets you off on randomly generated, objective-based missions in either a distinctly indoor region or a distinctly outdoor region. More diversity shows up in the randomly generated levels and various positioning of cover and other impediments. Each screen of the level throws waves of familiar enemies at you -- skags, psycho bandits, butt-vulnerable spider ants, and so on -- and you don’t necessarily know how long a level is going to last, though you can be sure missions will end with some sort of decidedly more climactic encounter, like boss fights against the Skag Rider, Crimson Lance Devastator, or Hellhound (a Cthulhu-ish kin of the first game’s tentacled Vault monster). Occasionally, there will be objectives on top of killing all of the things, like keeping safe a precocious Claptrap or collecting magazine crates during the fight (a stipulation that I failed to notice while I was busy killing the Crimson Lance Devastator). The gameplay is simple enough. You can tap and drag any of your four team members to situate them on the cozy battlefield -- you get a defense bonus if you nestle them next to cover, too. You can also tap your characters and then tap an enemy, causing them to take aim at said enemy and kill them with reckless abandon. It’s simple enough and mostly works, save for a few instances of my puppets not going exactly where I wanted and instead wandering about a bit haplessly, often running around cover as opposed to behind it, though this less than elegant management never put me at too much of a disadvantage. Action skills are also making a return, this time in threes. While you begin with one action skill unlocked, accruing enough skill points can unlock two additional action skills that just might prove helpful on the battlefield, while you can also invest skill points in your typical, more passive abilities like ones that increase health or damage output. Tapping any of the characters opens up a small dialog where you can choose between one of their three action skills to use. Additionally, the characters each have their own utility (Brick’s repairs shields, Mordecai’s grants more damage) that can be use on the character themselves or on one of their teammates for brief fits of advantage. It would not be Borderlands without the ability to buy more and more absurd weapons, and Legends offers on that front as well. I only collected money during my shooty bits, but in transition screens between one set of enemy waves and another, I was frequently whisked away to Marcus’ shop where I could buy new gear. In Legends, the four party characters are restricted to the types of weapons they excelled with in the first game, so the shop does well to order weapons based on who you’re buying for at any given moment, and there are easy to use comparisons between what you have equipped and what the shop is offering. The desire to tinker with equips and find that gun that has just a couple more points of stats -- those sweet, sweet green arrows! -- remains strong, and there are thousands of randomly generated weapons of varying rarity. While you’ll likely have all of your characters fully upgraded around level 35, enemies will continue to scale proportional to your level. Couple this with randomly generated levels and missions and you can theoretically play Borderlands Legends for ages, or at least until you get tired of slaughtering waves of things. The missions are contextualized with brief paragraphs telling you what to do, but they’re largely in disconnect and there’s no canonical link between Legends and the two console titles. I enjoyed the almost clerical bits of outfitting my homies with the best equipment, and navigating through touch-based menus is a lot easier than dealing with the console games’ UI, but the idea of slaughtering wave after wave doesn’t have too much appeal to me. I suppose that in short bursts it could prove a decent distraction for big Borderlands fans, though you’ll likely want to turn the sound off to avoid repeated, shrill death screams. I also sort of appreciate the fact that Legends won’t be employing any sort of micro transactions; it launches next week for $4.99 on iPhone and $6.99 on iPad.
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I'm tappin', I'm tappin'
If you followed Destructoid at all last month, you know that the site was pretty collectively excited about Borderlands 2. Of course, in the fast cars, loose joysticks world of videogames, a month ago is practically forever a...

Preview: Wizardlings

Oct 25 // Dale North
When an enemy (or multiple enemies) pop out of the shadows, a battle kicks off. This is a turn-based encounter that makes use of your spellbook. With the treasures and supplies found during exploration, you're able to use the spellbook to combine them to create magic spells that can be used in battle. In battle, brewing up a spell is as easy as touching one of the icons at the base of the battle screen. If you have enough resources, the spell is created. Another tap puts the spell to use. These are all based on elements, giving the battle system a rock-paper-scissors kind of feel. Finding more wands through exploration gives you access to more spell types, letting you take on even more monsters. These supplies, like ingredients and gems, are finite sources, so you'll want to go into battle stocked up, which means that you'll want to poke all of the little dark tiles. I realize that this doesn't sound very exciting on paper, but it is fun randomly finding treasures and enemies. Along with these found supplies you'll also uncover things like armor and accessories during exploration. Like any good RPG, you can equip and customize your character with them. All of my enemy encounters were more entertaining than challenging, but I could see that changing as the game progresses. Too easy? Maybe, but this is a casual game. And it could be that tapping dark tiles to make them light might not engage more hardcore gamers. If that's the case, this game probably won't satisfy your RPG itch. But, if you go in looking for something cute and simple, you'll have a good time with Wizardlings. Either way, I'll say that this game features what are probably the cutest enemies in an RPG ever. Overall, Wizardlings is very cute game with its deformed characters, cuddly-mean baddies, and vibrant world art. The floating land masses and their strong colors seemed to pop right off the iPad I was using to test out the game.  Wizardlings is a free-to-play iOS title, which means that there's a pay element built in. Mind you, that was never apparent in the time I spent with the game. What it boils down to is that uou can pay to acquire more resources instead of hunting them down. Square Enix tells us that everything you can buy can also be found, which is nice to hear. Wizardlings is available for iOS now on the App Store. Square Enix says that it will come to other mobile devices soon. 
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A cute, casual, tap movement RPG
I had a chance to check out Square Enix's casual iOS (and soon Android) RPG Wizardlings at New York Comic-Con a week or so back. It's a cute little title that has your hero or heroine moving to lift the darkness and push back...

TGS: Rockman Xover is, at worst, inoffensive

Sep 21 // Conrad Zimmerman
The gameplay demo of Rockman Xover here on the show floor is a single stage, challenging Storm Eagle. The stage consists of two sections, just like the standard Mega Man formula of a stage with light enemies followed by a boss encounter. But where one would normally find a lengthy series of platforms, ladders and deadly spikes, Xover has a simple, forced scrolling stage. Moving from the left side of the screen, the new Reploid OVER-1 runs along on his own. He can be made to jump and shoot his buster by tapping on buttons in the corner of the screen as enemies approach from the right. The buster charges automatically and can destroy as many as three enemies at a time when fully charged. A Giga Crush ability is present as well, acting like a smart bomb which eliminates all onscreen enemies at once, and slowly charges as enemies are killed.  Upon reaching the end of the forced-scrolling section, the boss encounter begins and the game moves to a very simple turn-based combat system. The only actions available to me in my fight with Storm Eagle were to fire the buster or to fire a charged shot. Every hit (to either side) increased the charge meter, which could contain up to three shots which did about triple the damage.  Is it thrilling? Well, no. The demo was such that I couldn't possibly screw it up. Enemies dealt no damage during the running section and it was mathematically impossible for Storm Eagle to deal enough damage to OVER-1 to destroy him. The combat is, at least insofar as the demo would show, very shallow. There was no blocking, no dodging, nothing really to do at all. So, why am I not enraged with the fire of a thousand suns? There are two reasons. First, it's a mobile game. I'm not saying we should make excuses for phone games being crappy, but this is a representation of traditional Mega Man gameplay and I think using autorun and turn-based mechanics to represent that on a platform otherwise not conducive to the demands of the traditional design is a novel way to do so. The other bit is that I haven't seen enough to make a real value judgment. My demo included no additional characters besides OVER-1 and Storm Eagle (and Mets and Batton Bones in the autorun segment). The collection and use of cards seen in the trailer was nowhere to be found, nor any of the "rock, paper, scissors" style of enemy resistances which are a core staple of the franchise. So, there's a lot I still don't know and it would be foolish of me to dismiss it out of hand simply because of the property it's associated with, let alone become enraged because they're not treating the property I love the way I think they should. I guess I'd just rather they kept trying new things because the old ones haven't been working too well for me lately. Xover is a new thing and one which has some potential to be a neat little game, though until I see more of its elements it's impossible to know exactly how much. I guess I just don't see what there is to be angry about.
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The Mega Man fan community seems to have their knickers all in a twist over Rockman Xover, Capcom's latest iOS adventure for OVER-1. At least, that's the impression I get from Tony Ponce, and I don't know a greater superfan, ...

TGS: Professor Layton's iOS debut isn't what you'd expect

Sep 20 // Allistair Pinsof
For better or worse, Level-5 is choosing to make an original Layton game for iOS rather than port one from the DS. This may be a bit misleading, however, since Mystery Room began as its own series in 2009, only to be rebranded as a Layton game. Nevertheless, the game is sticking close to what the series does well with a European art style, a soothing jazz soundtrack, and puzzles that are way too tough to solve in a language you don’t understand. Instead of following Hershel Layton, Mystery Room follows his sons and their apprentice (whom you choose out of two possible choices). The puzzles also seem to take a different approach. The demo contained a lengthy explanation of a murder scene followed by an interactive set where you turn and zoom in a camera to pick-up clues. This all feels like a natural adoption of iOS’s touch controls, but it’s kind of gimmicky and not nearly as engaging as a good riddle. It’s kind of too CSI: Layton Edition for my taste. Once you’ve gathered enough clues, you must decide which of the three suspects is guilty. I couldn’t follow the Japanese text, but I chose the fat, old lady because this is a Layton game. Naturally, I was correct. Mystery Room looks pretty sharp, but you won’t mistake it for a main entry Layton game, especially the upcoming 3DS that look stunning (previews to come!). The game lacks that warm, hand-drawn look and the style and sound of the game feels closer to late ‘70s (if that makes any sense). Maybe it’s a good thing that Level-5 is trying to branch off and make something new in the Layton universe with its iOS debut, but it’s hard to get too excited when we have much better-looking, better-playing Layton games on the way for 3DS. Mystery Room will be available for download September 21 in Japan, but there are currently no plans for a US release.
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The idea of developers dedicating resources to mobile versions of franchises is something I’ve long been against, but have slowly been warming up to. So, they might as well make something good. Layton Brothers: Myster...

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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 ...

Preview: Horn could be an admirable game

Jun 30 // Steven Hansen
[embed]230232:44197[/embed] Horn (iPad [previewed], iPhone) Developer: Phosphor Games Studio Publisher: Zynga Release: TBA 2012 Horn’s set up isn’t too dissimilar from a host of games that have been released. You wake up as an amnesiac, some bad stuff has gone down, and it’s up to you to fix it. In this instance, you wake up in your village after a thousand of years have passed and things are cursed, which has led to everything being turned into monsters. Of course, this won’t do, so you (Horn) set out to get things back to normal. Along with you on the journey is the decapitated head of a rock monster who is your reluctant guide that stays strapped to your waist, peppering you with a healthy mix of insults and aid. He could be a pretty cool guy and give the game a nice bit of charm and levity. In addition to this grumbling associate, the general art direction is what stood out to me most about Horn. The run down aesthetic looks less traditional medieval, which I find a bit dull as a setting, and more fantastical. I sort of sensed a dash of ICO and Enslaved, both of which are wonderful games to draw cues from. Speaking of Enslaved, the most direct parallel I saw to it was the enemy design. The enemies I fought appeared to be golems of sort, yet they were adorned with rusty metal armor, almost making them look like cutesy versions of Enslaved's robots. Their weak, azure, glowing magic underbellies sort of reminded me of electricity, as well. Unnecessary comparisons aside, the game looks pretty cool and is well served by some impressive technical work that make everything really pop on the iPad’s lovely screen. The bit of the game I played was brief, consisting of a couple of fights and some mild exploration. You move Horn around by touching bits on the floor you want him to move towards and by more contextual movements like swiping left or right to have him jump a gap or up to pull himself up onto a ledge. Battles will take place against one enemy at a time, with a sort of auto z-lock. When you encounter an enemy, your movement is restricted to a circular path around that enemy. Tapping left or right on the bottom corners of the screen causes Horn to dodge roll left or right in order to either evade enemy attacks (there is also a block button) or reposition himself in front of an enemies weak spot. The sword mechanics are still being tweaked so they were a little less one to one in my hands-on time, but you swipe the screen to slash your enemies appropriately. The first enemy I fought had a weak point hidden in his chest under some armor while the second had a weak point dangling dangerously from his tail, exposed, but required some deft dodge rolling to get into position to hit it. There are also going to be some giant boss fights -- the end of my demo was teased with the enormous golem from the above trailer waking up like me, most days (begrudgingly). The team doesn’t seem to be limiting itself in scope, though it remains to be seen how far they’ll push the platform. At the very least, they’re promising a “console length” single-player component (citing the more and more commonplace 8-10 hour average). While I’ve not played Infinity Blade (I barely own a competent computer, let alone a smart phone), the obvious comparison wasn’t lost on me, and so I asked Sineni about what sets their game apart. With Horn, Sineni is promising more puzzles and exploration, allowing you to play the game at your own pace, as opposed to Infinity Blade’s more linear, combat-focused structure. Accordingly, they’re still trying to strike a balance between glowing icons informing you of how to progress and letting the game be somewhat old school and let players wander about. If you think of Horn as a sort of “baby’s first action/adventure game,” I particularly dig it. As people who have grown up or with or are otherwise familiar with games, we forget that the barrier to entry to some of our favorite titles is sometimes high. Trying to do the whole gaming thing can be daunting for outsiders. Sure, we were largely thrown to the wolves, started without training wheels, or pushed into the deep end and told to sink or swim, but I’m not opposed to letting others get their feet wet in the shallow end a bit, splashing about and enjoying themselves. The game seems pretty sincere. That being said, if Horn lives up to its billing and promises -- the exploration, puzzle solving, potentially cool little narrative, etc. -- it could also prove a nice, surprisingly deep adventure for even the biggest anti-mobile gaming curmudgeon. Here’s hoping. We don’t have to wait too much longer to find out, as it’ll be releasing “soon.”
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So, there certainly was a reaction to the newly announced Horn when Jim posted a little clip a few days ago in which the game was shown off and Phosphor Games’ Chip Sineni made some innocent claims about the mobile and ...

Dragon Fantasy II pays proper homage to SNES RPGs

Jun 15 // Steven Hansen
Dragon Fantasy II (PC, iPad [previewed], iPhone) Developer: Muteki Corporation Publisher: Muteki Corporation Release: Fall 2012 Dragon Fantasy sees the coalescence of main characters from the first game’s story. The four are now partied up and facing greater threats still. While I haven’t played the first game (yet), I’m pretty interested in the characters I was shown, particularly Ogden. In his youth (prior to the events of Dragon Fantasy), Ogden was the prototypical teenaged RPG hero who saves the world. And then, nothing. He lived an otherwise uneventful and uninteresting life, balding and getting fat until the kingdom once again fell into the throes of terror. The first game is based on an old, washed-up knight’s attempts to recapture his former glory, which is an interesting premise in and of itself. The bump up to SNES levels has paid off in what I’ve seen of Dragon Fantasy II, which looks great. One of the homes I wandered into had gorgeous tiger skin rug splayed out on the floor, the image of which has stuck with me, for whatever reason. In terms of narrative, Rippon says heavy inspiration was drawn from Earthbound (or Mother), with respect to presenting a serious story with kooky characters and quirkiness. The team is also working on a cool 3D overworld, more akin to something like the PS1 Final Fantasy games. This dramatic change also promises to have some cool wrinkles in store, including Skies of Arcadia inspired ship battles -- though these ships will likely be anchored by gravity on the waters. Of course, the team isn’t simply bumping everything up to SNES standards and doling out more of the same. While the first game’s combat system was a Dragon Quest-styled first-person affair, the combat system is being completely reworked this time around as a blend of real time and turn-based systems. Enemies patrol environments in real time. Engaging them pits your party against them in the classic turn-based style (no ATB). Your other party members will square up against the enemy or enemies you’ve engaged and you duke it out. However, enemies in the vicinity can also get in on the commotion, creating a balance of trying to end battles efficiently before you get overwhelmed by nosy snoops joining the fray mid battle. Accordingly, you can run from battles, but successfully running merely gets you out of your current engagement; you still have to actively run away from the enemies from which you’re fleeing. Additionally, there will be cooperative and competitive multiplayer. You can join a friend’s party, either bringing your own iteration of one of the party characters, or using your friend’s. Rippon said they’ve got it working with two players, but they should be able to get full, four-player cooperative parties going. Should you and a friend want to use the same character, Rippon says they’re considering allowing duplicates and simply ignoring the paradoxical clones as far as the story goes. While cooperative multiplayer in a turn-based RPG seems dull, all player characters can run around independently of each other. In the same way monsters can run in mid battle, you can get into an encounter all on your lonesome while gallivanting around and your friends can, if necessary, run to your aid while it’s going on, which sounds neat to me. Another nice addition is the competitive arena mode, in which you take your story party, as you’ve trained them, and pit them against others. Reminds me of playing Golden Sun’s head-to-head mode and I love Golden Sun, so I’m down. The first Dragon Fantasy was true to its NES roots in its visual style and Dragon Quest-esque combat. Though there are a lot of retro, pixel-based games floating about, Dragon Fantasy, in terms of color breadth and music, was actually close to accurate to what the NES could actually display -- and it looks brilliant despite this concerted restriction. That is the level of care going into the series, demonstrating the team’s care to do right by the games’ inspirations. That being said, the team is not intentionally hamstringing itself. Great strides have been made to address some of the complaints levied against old-school RPGs. Two of the streamlined combat additions have me particularly excited. First, your party will give a good old boot stomp to encountered enemies that are laughably below your level, as opposed to wasting your time by putting you into a meaningless battle. While we’ve seen similar mechanics in more recent RPGs, like Persona 3, which has comparatively weak enemies naturally run from you in terror, there are still plenty of RPGs without such a system, so seeing it in implemented in an old-school RPG is rather cool. Additionally, there is a sort of fast battle system, not too dissimilar to Persona’s rush mode, which sends everyone doing basic attacks while simultaneously speeding up actions and animations. In Dragon Fantasy II, mashing the attack button -- as RPG gamers are (seemingly unwittingly) apt to do in most encounters, anyways -- leads to your party attacking with great gusto, rapidly winding up the less interesting and less strategic battles you just want to power through. I’m digging what I’ve seen from Dragon Fantasy II and I’m excited to play catch up and check out the first game, which reminded me how good NES titles can look. Interesting characters, a thoughtful aesthetic, great music, and a new spin on classic gameplay are more than enough to pique my interest. If you’re also interested, you can check out the first game or visit Adam at PAX Prime and get a firsthand look at Dragon Fantasy II for yourself.
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Indie game developers Adam Rippon and Bryan Sawler began working on what would ultimately become last year’s Dragon Fantasy in the mid '90s when they were in high school. The two met in an IRC chatroom, joined forces, a...

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...

E3: The Act looks delightful

Jun 06 // Steven Hansen
[embed]228869:43945[/embed] The Act (iOS [previewed], Mac)Developer: React EntertainmentPublisher: Electronic Arts / ChillingoRelease: June 2012The only gameplay component to The Act is swiping left or right on your device (or moving a mouse left or right on a Mac). You could have a big, stupid conversation about whether or not it’s even a videogame. It’s not being presented as a game per se, but “game” is shorter than “interactive hand-drawn comedy.” The first situation I played was a Casablanca-esque dream sequence that Edgar falls into while working, in which the goal is to woo the “woman of Edgar’s dreams.” Edgar leans on a piano nearby and you have to get Sylvia’s attention. Swiping to the right prompts Edgar to make advances that get more and more overt -- and, eventually, obnoxious -- while swiping left will scale back. The key to the situation was not being too obnoxious (surprise!), letting her subtly notice you, and then showing interest. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it was fun to see the interplay between the characters, as well as some of Edgar’s more buffoonish actions if you push too far right too quickly. The visuals are incredibly smooth; the result of over 230,000 hand-drawn frames is gorgeous, classic animation and features a distinct sense of style that I’m in love with. Additionally, the music and sound effects react with what’s going on, and surprisingly, it helps get you involved. The jazzy score and lack of voiced dialogue are classy. The second bit I played was a balancing act between persuading Edgar’s grouchy, short, bushy-haired boss back into the window of the building and trying to get his narcoleptic brother back to work so the boss wouldn’t rail him for sleeping on the job. I’m told the gameplay does become more nuanced and challenging as the game progresses, sometimes necessitating quick flicks in either direction. Still, there isn’t any more to it than that -- not even up and down. If you’ve read this far, though, you likely have accepted this and are here for the original presentation of classic style. The Act is set to clock in at one to two hours, and is being released in eight different languages at the end of this month. I will find a way to play it, somehow.
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A lot of you may not be interested in The Act, React Entertainment’s interactive, hand-drawn comedy that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Dragon’s Lair. But I am currently lamenting the fact that I do not own ...

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...

Take a quick look at Saltsman's new Hunger Games app

Mar 22 // Chris Carter
Girl on Fire features Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence in the film), the star of the Hunger Games trilogy, and archer extraordinaire. This teaser takes place right before the film, and shows off a little bit of Katniss' hunting skills and physical prowess as she is illegally hunting for food for her family, who live in District 12 -- a slum-like mining community. For those who aren't in the know (you will be come tomorrow, when everyone is talking about it), Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian society, where the Government (seated at the Capitol) runs a competition called "The Hunger Games", which pits children aged 12-18 against each other in mortal combat for wealth and glory (kind of like Battle Royale, but more fleshed out and spanning three novels). So what in the world is the actual game like? Well, in the same vein of Canabalt, it's also a "runner" game, although I wouldn't put it in the "endless" category, as there is a clear finale. As a result, the game's longevity suffers a hit, as part of the fun of Canabalt was constantly playing it and experiencing new sights and sounds -- Girl on Fire is pretty much the same every time. Despite the repetition, the game is still really enjoyable (especially since it's free!). Unlike most runner titles, there are two planes to switch between, which can be done with a swipe of your finger. Katniss will have to strike down tracker jackers with her bow, which can be initialized by tapping the screen in the proper direction. As you can clearly see, the controls are extremely simple, and lend themselves well the touch interface. As Katniss progresses through the forest, and eventually back to her home, enemies get tougher, and start to shoot projectiles and don shields that protect them from her arrows. When enemies start to shoot at you, the game gets much more interesting, as the player has to strike a balance between switching planes and shooting down the trackers, creating a decent puzzle-like conundrum that isn't usually found in runner games. The score, while not as catchy as Canabalt's music, is still impressive, and adds to the atmosphere of the game in a big way. It also fits the decidedly 16-bit visuals, which Saltsman succeeded in capturing quite well. So what are you waiting for? Hunger Games: Girl on Fire is free, and is out on iOS today -- the film is out tomorrow.
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Indie legend and Canabalt creator Adam Saltsman has been hard at work with his latest iOS gig -- a teaser game for the upcoming Hunger Games film. Saltsman claims that the advantage of a "teaser game" is the ab...


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