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Review: Star Wars Pinball

Feb 26 // Brett Zeidler
Star Wars Pinball (Google Play, iOS, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Zen StudiosPublisher: Zen StudiosReleased: February 26, 2013MSRP: $9.99 (XBLA and PSN), $2.99 per table (Mac App Store), $1.99 per table (Apple App Store and Google Play)  At first glance, The Empire Strikes Back looks empty. There's a few lanes on the sides, a couple of ramps, and a big, flat platform in the center of the table that takes up most of the real estate. The player doesn't know it yet, but that giant, empty platform is where all the action is going to happen. Once the player hits two barricades ("Star" and "Wars") in the dead center of the table, a flap opens up right above the flippers that, when the ball is locked inside of it, starts the player's choice of one of five Empire Strikes Back scenes (this table's version of missions). Depending on their choice, various 3D models will appear on the platform and finally bring some life to the table. The coolest example has an AT-AT walking across the platform where the player needs to help the snowspeeder bring it down. Each mission has two parts, and should time run out (or some other misfortune occurs), a checkpoint is created at the start of the second part of the mission. This a new and, believe me, entirely welcome addition for aspiring pinball wizards such as myself. Empire also introduces a new mini-game that actually takes you completely out of the table and into a first-person mode where you control Luke Skywalker himself. There's what I like to call a micro-loop behind those "Star Wars" barricades mentioned earlier; going through it enough times to spell "Training" and locking the ball in the center slot starts up the mini-game. Featuring the scene from A New Hope where Luke learns to use the force on the Millenium Falcon for the first time, the player uses the plunger and flipper buttons to reflect blaster fire. It's pretty cool, but it feels slightly out of place even in a fantasy pinball table. The next table is probably the one everyone is most excited for: Boba Fett. Once everyone saw him in the original films, Boba Fett stole the show and became one of the most popular Star Wars characters. I can see the same thing happening here. Fett's table is centered around the concept of playing as the bounty hunter himself, where the player must receive either Empire missions from Darth Vader or missions from Jabba the Hutt, earn respect for doing so, and defeat each of his bounty hunter rivals. It doesn't matter which missions you do, as they give the player a choice of five missions that are exactly the same and only offer more points and respect (all you have to do is hit every single lane). The higher they go, the less time the player gets to finish the mission. Experiencing the rare moment of hitting every lane in rapid succession and locking the ball/bounty onto Slave I truly makes one feel like the most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy. It's moments like these that will make the Boba Fett table the obvious fan-favorite and most rewarding of the three tables. Boba Fett features set pieces from his two short appearances in the films, such as Vader on his imperial ship (representing the left half of the table), Jabba's Palace (the right half), the sarlacc pit (which the ball can actually fall into), and Han Solo in carbon freeze hovering above said pit. The ramps and lanes are inspired by pieces of Fett's suit that will make even his biggest fans truly pleased with the love and care put into the creation of his table. The Clone Wars table is the dark horse of the three. Going in, I wasn't expecting much. Upon first firing it up, Clone Wars is the only table that has the classic intro text scroll. I thought was a really cool touch, especially as it was read by an announcer who also happens to narrate the entire game. This is by far the busiest table, with lanes and ramps stacked on top of each other on just about every visible inch of real estate, invoking a cramped, claustrophobic, and hasty feeling while playing the table. It's this quality of sheer fastness that makes one initially think it would be the most challenging of the bunch, but that turns out to not be the case at all. Clone Wars practically throws points at you, letting the player easily get five to ten million points just in the first handful of minutes alone, and it's not a demanding task to get far beyond that within a short amount of time. After spending so much time on Empire Strikes Back and Boba Fett (tables that will certainly put your pinball wizardry to the test), dominating a table for a change was a nice break from the difficulty of the other two tables, and seeing a new palette of colors was a refreshing change of scenery. Each table is chock full of beautiful art, character cameos, and tracks pulled straight from the films' soundtracks. These first three tables are a bold and equally stellar introduction to Star Wars Pinball, and they'll keep you more than busy until Zen Studios drops the next batch. At about $10, this is a bit more expensive per table compared to the usual $10 for four tables, but the package is certainly worth the asking price. If you're not a fan of Star Wars, but love pinball (or vice versa), Star Wars Pinball will make you a fan. Zen Studios has created the most interesting and content-rich tables yet, with their obvious love of the source material piercing through each of the fantastically crafted tables.
Star Wars Pinball review photo
The Force is strong with this one
It's been a couple years since Zen Studios first took on the Marvel license and subsequently released expertly crafted tables centered around the biggest characters and story arcs in the comic book giant's vast library. Each ...

The best and worst games of 2013: January May Cry

Feb 01 // Jordan Devore
A New Beginning: Final Cut The German-language version -- which was the original -- is meant to be better, but alas I know about ten words in German so I really cannot confirm or deny this. It does strike me that the worst aspects of the game are due to the terrible effort made by the translation team and English-speaking voice actors, though.  If you are truly desperate for good puzzles and sumptuous art, then you could do worse than play A New Beginning, but I found it impossible to look past the many issues and really enjoy the few things it manages to do right. There are too many superior adventure games to count, and it's not even one of the better games with an environmental message.  Read the full A New Beginning: Final Cut review The Sims 3: Seasons Each of these features adds a nice layer of depth to the game, but they really don't add a lot of new gameplay. There isn't any new career to follow, there aren't any exciting new public lots, and while playing, I pretty much just goofed around waiting for the seasons to change. If you find yourself playing The Sims 3 a lot anyway, then Seasons will add something to the experience. If you are waiting for a new expansion to make you get back into playing The Sims 3, however, skip Seasons and wait for the next one. Read the full The Sims 3: Seasons review Forge All in all, Forge is quite enjoyable. At the same time, I did find myself struggling to want to continue playing. I'm not sure if maybe it's that the game is more of a shooter than I expected, or how it lacks that progression and stat growth, or if it is just because it's incomplete. When I do play, I enjoy Forge, but I wish that I was playing an MMORPG with the same gameplay setup instead. In the end, unless you're someone heavy into shooters who is looking for something different yet familiar, or are into MMOs for the PvP mainly, then it would be worth waiting for the game that will be "forged" a few months down the road. Read the full Forge review Gunman Clive (3DS) Gunman Clive can be pretty tough. In your average oppressive 2D action game, a motivating, beat-driven soundtrack can really help you push through the process of replaying a level for the tenth time. When Gunman Clive's soundtrack goes for old west authenticity instead of platformer euphoria, it can make the more challenging parts of the game feel less like a battle and more like a grind.  That said, the game is still a steal at $2. Fans of 2D action platformers need to check it out. If Hörberg Productions is ever graced with the opportunity to develop a mainline Mega Man game, I'm confident that fans of the series would be happy with the results. Read the full Gunman Clive review Anarchy Reigns Despite some issues, brawler fans should find everything they're looking for with Anarchy Reigns. It's ridiculous, it's fun, and it's packed with enough content to last you a long while, so long as you don't get tired of beating dudes up over and over. The budget pricing of $29.99 makes this decision even easier. Read the full Anarchy Reigns review Joe Danger Touch Like Rayman Jungle Run, Joe Danger Touch really "gets it" when it comes to iOS gaming. You don't need to 100% replicate console experiences, and "simplified" doesn't have to always mean "dumbed down." All in all, Hello Games did a great job bringing the Joe Danger franchise to your pocket, and I highly recommend it to anyone -- former fan or not. Read the full Joe Danger Touch review Seduce Me However, taken simply as it is, as a game where solving puzzles leads to porn, it's near the forefront of its field, particularly among non-Japanese games. It does make an effort to provide more than naughty pictures, including cursory character development and some semblance of a narrative. It's pretty and technically sound. While slightly anemic in content, it's titillating when it needs to be, and is at times even fun to play - I wouldn't mind playing the card games with real-life friends (minus the sex). And frankly, for a porn game, that's sometimes all one needs. Read the full Seduce Me review Fire Pro Wrestling Fire Pro Wrestling on Xbox Live Arcade is the most basic of wrestling games. Flat, featureless, and simplistic, it is devoid of any redeeming qualities found elsewhere such as replay value or fun. What could have been a cool, cartoon-y version of a classic franchise is but a wasted shell of its former self. Read the full Fire Pro Wrestling review Final Fantasy All the Bravest Final Fantasy All the Bravest is not really a game. It's a cash delivery system, with you playing as the courier, your money the cargo, and Square Enix the unpaying recipient. After years of trying to monetize videogames, Square Enix has now moved on to monetizing customers themselves. It's cut out the irritating middle man that is the videogame, and found a way to simply get people to hand over money in exchange for nothing. That is what All the Bravest is. It's nothing. It's air. It's a thought. You're buying a concept in order to keep buying concepts. Read the full Final Fantasy All the Bravest review DmC: Devil May Cry There is an argument to be made that, when judged alongside the rest of the series, DmC is a bad Devil May Cry game. The suggestion may be debatable, but there's a potential case to be made. It's more streamlined, it's not as challenging, and ultimately it has stripped away what a significant portion of the fanbase love most of the series. However, even if one sides with the argument that this is a bad Devil May Cry game, that does not preclude it from being deemed a terrific videogame on its own merits, and in my estimation, that's exactly what DmC: Devil May Cry is. Read the full DmC review Kinect Party Kinect Party is a fantastic game in the right scenario. If you often have guests over your house, especially family or children, then this is definitely something to check out. It’s hard for anyone to dislike a game in which you build a castle and promptly turn into a dragon to destroy it. However, I find that this isn’t the best thing to suit lone gamers like myself. I do love pretending to be trapped inside a jello mold with my dog every once in a while, but that can get old. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good game -- it certainly is for what it aims to achieve -- but Kinect Party is best played with others! Read the full Kinect Party review AirMech (beta) If you're even remotely interested in MOBAs or RTSs, then you'll be doing yourself a great favor by downloading AirMech and firing it up. It succeeds in building on the solid foundation laid by Herzog Zwei over 20 years ago, while simultaneously feeling modern and fresh. Now, I need to get back to the game so I can eventually buy a UFO that transforms into a giant mechanical spider. Abductions here I come!   Read the full AirMech review  Krunch It isn't perfect, as certain level design elements are a bit jarring and the lack of a quick-restart level option can make five seconds feel like forever. That being said, Krunch is a title that is sure to please anyone who stayed up late completing the Skyscraper Warp Zone in Super Meat Boy or ripped their hair out completing the Veni Vidi Vici room in VVVVVV. Fellow masochists, rejoice! Read the full Krunch review Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch If you're a lover of games that require you to put in before you get out, and you recall the glory days of the Eastern RPG, where experience points were the lifeblood and the grind was king, you have literally no decent excuse for not finding a way to play Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. A classic of the modern age, built entirely from classics of the past, it's advised you get comfortable, cancel all your plans, and prepare to enjoy a game that will dominate your life for the next few months.  Read the full Ni no Kuni review The Cave All told, The Cave is a morbid, humorous romp filled with life lessons which should be apparent already to all but the total sociopath. While there are some niggling issues with overall polish, it's a fun time for fans of adventure games that should set you to giggling and, hopefully, feeling just a little bit guilty about that glee. Read the full The Cave review Borderlands 2: Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt Enjoying Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is about managing expectations, about knowing what you want out of Borderlands 2’s constantly expanding menu -- its strong suits are the subtle twists on combat and enemy behavior, exploration, farming, and a hidden raid boss that costs almost 100 Eridium to spawn. Its narrative and mission structures are too loose and shambolic, though, and implemented with the same lack of care that led the designers to include a tribe of mind-controlled “savages” throwing spears at each other as the campaign’s principle enemy. Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is, like each of the game’s expansions, more Borderlands 2 at its core, but it’s a shallow version of it, without any of the main game’s self-awareness or charm. Read the full Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt review Strike Suit Zero When the final, sadly unsatisfying mission came to a close I was ready to put down SSZ. Replayability is offered in the form of scores, medals, and some unlockable ship bonuses you may not have been able to grab when first attempting the missions, but I'd had my fill. I would be happy to get in a thousand more dogfights, but I'm done with protecting and escorting my UNE chums. It's rare that a game knows when to call it quits, but that's the situation here. It's not so long that it outstays its welcome, but not so short that it fails to show off all its promise. The ending, or at least the one that I got (there are two different ones), implies the possibility of a sequel, and I couldn't be happier with that prospect. With better targeting, and less mentally sub-normal allies, I could very well find myself in Heaven. Until then, Strike Suit Zero will undoubtedly help you scratch that space combat sim itch you must have by now. Read the full Strike Suit Zero review Corpse Party: Book of Shadows Fans of Corpse Party would do well to pick up the second installment. The first game left a lot of unanswered questions and Book of Shadows does an admirable job at answering them. I've enjoyed spending time with these characters, even if it is the worst day of their lives. As for the uninitiated, well, they might want to consider expanding their horizons. But seriously, play the first before tackling this one. It's not like PlayStation Portable or Vita owners have been spoiled for choice when it comes to quality software as of late. Visual novels may be niche, but just about anyone can enjoy a good horror story. If you can get past the insipid gameplay, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows provides a pleasurable and haunting narrative that's well worth experiencing. Read the full Book of Shadows review Westerado The soundtrack goes perfectly with the detailed, sun-soaked pixel art visuals that tap into one's nostalgia, while also creating a surprisingly authentic western look. Westerado's a very animated game, never staying still for a moment. The protagonist's poncho constantly waves away, chickens never stop pecking at invisible seeds, and dried out weeds endlessly dance in the ceaseless wind. Even if you are put off by the plethora of bugs, it's free and accessible at the click of a button. You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out at least once. No doubt you'll find yourself checking it out again and again, as I have been. Drape that knackered old poncho over your shoulders, roll up that cigarette, and strap on a rusty six-shooter -- it's time to hunt down a real bastard. Read the full Westerado review Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (iOS) Although outsourcing to Tag Games was probably a smart business move, I can't help but think how picture-perfect Clash of Heroes would have turned out if Capybara had done it themselves. With a lot of polish in terms of the controls through a future update, this could be one of the finest games on the App Store. Otherwise, just stick to the other incredible versions if possible. Read the full Clash of Heroes review DJMAX Technika Tune DJMAX Technika Tune offers a smooth, enjoyably frustrating experience rooted in precisely-tuned gameplay fundamentals. It's presented attractively, with a level of engagement that relies on mechanics rather than sentiment and effectively transcends one's taste in music, which in the case of the arguably exotic track listing would present the highest initial barrier to entry. It may not be especially generous with the extras and fluff, but gets it all right where it counts the most, with the added bonus of making the PS Vita's touch gimmicks useful and relevant to play. Read the full DJMAX Technika Tune review Boob Wars: Big Breasts vs. Flat Chests Even playing devil's advocate and writing this from the perspective of somebody who might be into these games, Boob Wars isn't good. By the standards of those who want to masturbate themselves silly over violent cartoon sex, we're looking at something sub-par, lifeless, and cynical. To offend a regular bypasser is one thing, but this feels offensive to even the target audience. Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe this truly is the game fans have been waiting for. I don't claim to speak for them, and nor would I, but all I can say is, if you want to get off with cartoons, there's much better out there. I can give you the links later. You really don't need to waste your time with this brainless, gormless, depressing little exercise in grisly misery.  All that said ... the soundtrack's pretty good. Read the full Boob Wars review Kentucky Route Zero Kentucky Route Zero evokes the feeling of old ghost stories told around a campfire. There's the familiarity of friends and family around a warm, man-made fire, but with it comes the unnerving tale of the strange and unusual. Kentucky Route Zero is beautifully bizarre and perfectly poignant, and most of all, deserves your attention. Read the full Kentucky Route Zero review Fire Emblem: Awakening While Fire Emblem: Awakening may not turn the notch up to 11, it's everything that's right about strategy RPGs. Whatever options you choose to go with at the beginning of the game, it's either one of the most accessible strategy games to date, or one of the most difficult. It's a brilliant design that will pay dividends for Nintendo in the long run, as it will convert plenty of new fans. If you've been itching to get into a Fire Emblem game, this is a great place to start. If you've been playing them all along, you'll feel right at home. Read the full Fire Emblem: Awakening review Skulls of the Shogun While Skulls of the Shogun does a great job of offering a decent amount of units, there's no inherent "wow" factor when it comes to gameplay. Although the traditional grid is tossed in favor of a circular movement shadow, it still feels about the same as the genre always has, minus the game's visual and vocal charm. I wasn't enamored by Skulls of the Shogun, but I enjoyed my time with it. If you can find local friends that enjoy a good asynchronous strategy game (think local Advance Wars), you might get a bit more mileage out of this one. Read the full Skulls of the Shogun review Ikachan (3DS eShop) I appreciate that Nicalis is trying to share more of Pixel's catalog -- such as this, the foundation for his later works -- but asking us to part with $5 for what amounts to a concept project is a little too tough to swallow. Ikachan is a marvelous introduction to a much larger, more ambitious game. But that's all it is: an introduction. If you are willing to accept that, you'll happily enjoy the short time you spend in its watery world. Read the full Ikachan review Puddle Fans of LocoRoco or those hurting for games to play on their Wii U will probably dig it, so long as they have the patience to rev it up a little bit. It's still a neat little puzzler for sure, but it needs a bit more tweaking for me to wholly recommend it. If you've always been on the edge in terms of buying this game, this release should tip you, as it's the definitive version. Read the full Puddle review Antichamber Antichamber is a perfect example of how a player learns to play videogames. There’s no gameplay tutorial, no loading screen tips (or loading screens, for that matter), just good ole' fashioned learn-as-you-play information aided by the in-game advice. There’s never a reference of mouse or keyboard, outside of the main lobby area. Antichamber is a unique and delightful first-person puzzle game that relies a bit too much on the wrong kind of puzzles. The plot is intentionally vague and some players may completely ignore it, but it hardly detracts from the overall experience. Antichamber looks great, is confusing in all the right ways, and may change the way people approach not only videogame puzzles, but real life obstacles as well. Read the full Antichamber review Euro Truck Simulator 2 A far cry from some of the more technical and unforgiving sims on the market, Euro Truck is as welcoming as it is authentic, forgiving while still prepared to reprimand those who fail. It's one of the best jumping points anybody curious about sims could have, and for everybody else, it's still just a damn fine experience in its own right.  It may sound like a joke that so many people are piling glowing praise on a trucking sim, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 is the real deal.  Read the full Euro Truck Simulator 2 review Everything else Destructoid reviewed: Razer Sabertooth The customizability of this controller and the fantastic performance of its buttons and sticks would definitely appeal to professional and competitive gamers, but I fear that the $79.99 MSRP will prevent some from jumping in. That would be a shame as the d-pad and face buttons alone were enough to win me over. I'd love to see a version of this controller that drops the customization and OLED screen for a lower price point.  Read the full Sabertooth review ROCCAT Isku FX Is the FX worth the extra $10 over the Isku (or even other keyboards)? I'm going to have to say no, because the new keys simply aren't worth the additional cost. Even beyond the fact that both keyboards are oddly expensive for not being mechanical, I feel that it might have been smarter to just re-release the Isku to include multicolored key lighting instead of making an even more expensive version. Read the full Isku FX review The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia The book contains so much Skyward Sword that, if you don't like it in some capacity, you may be disappointed. If you have no appreciation of the retro titles as well, the impact may be diminished, especially the portions involving Miyamoto and Aonuma. Even still, Hyrule Historia is a great read. I learned some things both old and new, and I got to enjoy some beautiful art. Read the full Hyrule Historia review
January 2013 reviews photo
Review round-up: The games of January 2013
I'm not sure what it's like from the outside looking in, but as someone who's directly involved with covering games and has to be thinking about them on a daily basis, January was one hell of an action-packed month. We kicked...

Review: Final Fantasy All the Bravest

Jan 13 // Jim Sterling
Final Fantasy All the Bravest (iOS)Developer: Square EnixPublisher: Square EnixReleased: January 17, 2013MSRP: $3.99, $3.99, $3.99, $3.99, $1.99, $2.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99, $0.99 Final Fantasy All the Bravest promises the return of the Active Time Battle system, boasts combat parties of up to forty heroes plucked from the series' history, and seduces fans with its nostalgic graphics and music. All the Bravest is not, however, the reminiscent tour de force it could have been. It is, instead, an exercise in providing as little entertainment as possible for the maximum financial return. It is an idea of a videogame, expecting money from consumers in exchange for memories they could have had by watching YouTube videos. Gameplay is practically non-existent, the software merely a conduit through which you directly deposit your dollars into Square Enix's bank account. It's a service that you both work for and pay for, while the company in charge does nothing but rake in the loot.  The game is essentially a series of "battles" in which all you need to do is wipe your finger across the screen. Swiping or tapping on a party member causes it to launch an attack, after which a timer appears above its head to indicate when it can attack again. To win a battle, you rub furiously at the screen until the monsters are dead, then move onto the next fight. No thought required, no strategy, no alternative methods of attack. You rub, rinse, and repeat, until everything is dead. Along the way, you level up, gain items to boost attacks, acquire new heroes, and earn Gil, but everything is handled automatically, allowing you to continue rubbing with brainless abandon. [embed]242519:46378[/embed] Every three hours (in real-time), you can activate a "Fever" mode which eliminates the "Active Time" portion of the battle and allows characters to attack freely. This equates to more rubbing, requiring no extra thought or impetus from the player.  That, literally, is Final Fantasy All the Bravest. That is the gameplay, described in its entirety. You smear your hand across your iOS device's screen until you hear the victory theme, then do it again. And again. And again. And again. Square Enix honestly could have eliminated the swiping process to make characters attack automatically, and it would have equated to the same experience, albeit with less wrist strain. Something is wrong when you could remove any form of player input without it negatively impacting your game.  Of course, All the Bravest does not exist to be played. That's not the goal. The goal is for its publisher to make more money beyond the $3.99 asking price. You see, in order to get a party that will decently stand up to the game's boss monsters, you're expected to spend more real-world cash to acquire powerful heroes. Spending $0.99 allows you to summon a famous hero from the Final Fantasy series, selected at random. This hero will then join the party and launch attacks the same way as any other character. Being randomized, players looking for a particular character will need to spend anywhere up to 35 dollars in order to get the right one.  Everything in the game is carefully designed to pressure you into buying things. The boss "difficulty" spikes are used to convince you that you really need a new hero. The inability to directly control the battle places the emphasis on purchasing more power rather than developing skills or tactics to surpass an obstacle. When you die, your party revives by one character every three minutes, in a bid to bore you into purchasing an instant-revival item. Despite being sold on nostalgia, the truly memorable Final Fantasy content is locked behind expansion packs, each costing a further $3.99. Make no mistake -- Final Fantasy All the Bravest did not come about through lazy design. While the mindless battles may look like the result of a total lack of effort, it was a coldly calculated, meticulously developed system crafted to draw out your wallet. It's as intricately designed a game as any other Final Fantasy installment -- the design simply wasn't used to enhance the gameplay this time around.  In a way, I'm almost impressed. This is a game that you don't really play while it demands money for no good reason. The nerve, the sheer rotten gall of that is almost laudable. Despicable, intellectually offensive, and grotesque, most certainly -- but still deviously magnificent. What really hammers it home is the fact that, during the course of the game, you acquire masses and masses of Gil -- in-game currency that has absolutely no in-game use. It's almost as if Square Enix is gleefully mocking its users by showering them with useless coins as it vacuums up the real ones. Final Fantasy All the Bravest is not really a game. It's a cash delivery system, with you playing as the courier, your money the cargo, and Square Enix the unpaying recipient. After years of trying to monetize videogames, Square Enix has now moved on to monetizing customers themselves. It's cut out the irritating middle man that is the videogame, and found a way to simply get people to hand over money in exchange for nothing. That is what All the Bravest is. It's nothing. It's air. It's a thought. You're buying a concept in order to keep buying concepts.  Final Fantasy All the Bravest is fucking disgusting.
All the Bravest reviewed! photo
All the Basest
Final Fantasy is close to being the Star Wars of the videogame industry, and not in a positive way. Square Enix, the George Lucas of this particularly scenario, has done a fine job exploiting its brand to almost damaging prop...

Review: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: 10 Year Anniversary

Dec 11 // Chris Carter
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City: 10 Year Anniversary (iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 4], Android)Developer: Rockstar NorthPublisher: Rockstar GamesReleased: December 6, 2012MSRP: $4.99 Yep, Vice City is back. This new mobile version still features the same sexy 1980s veneer, and still features the wise-cracking mob scumbag Tommy Vercetti (Ray Liotta). Visually, the game has been updated a bit, and the new look suits the neon and bright pastel veneer quite well. Draw-distance issues while driving aside, the new lighting effects and smoothed-out engine really allow the game to pop like it never has before. Like the scheme used in the mobile version of GTA III, the controls for Vice City are a little better than you would expect, but still have the standard touch-precision issues. Movement is done by way of a virtual analog stick that appears wherever you put your left thumb. While it might sound great on paper, I've had instances numerous times where I've attempted to run away, only to have the d-pad shift to another spot on-screen. Outside of movement though -- and barring one unfortunate virtual button placement (the handbrake is near the "exit vehicle button," which can make for some funny mission failures) -- everything pretty much works how you'd want it to, with on-screen buttons for each potential action. Considering everything except the movement button can be sized and placed anywhere on the screen, you should be able to find a comfortable medium. Although there is controller support on the Android version of the game, the iOS version (which was reviewed here) had no such feature -- so if you're on an Apple device, you'll have to settle for touch controls. Smaller bonuses are included in the mobile package, such as the ability to autosave (with iCloud save support on iOS devices), the aforementioned customizable layout, a tap-to-shoot targeting system, and the ability to create your own custom radio station using your iTunes playlist. The tap-to-shoot scheme takes some getting used to, but it does work, and everything else also works as advertised. Outside of these ancillary additions to the anniversary version, by far the best addition is the Mission Retry function that debuted in Chinatown Wars, and was cemented by The Ballad of Gay Tony. Straight-up, I think it's a required function that should be in every GTA going forward. Nothing is worse than failing a mission a few seconds away from victory, only to start over at the hospital and have to find your way to the mission marker again. It absolutely killed the pacing in earlier games, and this addition alone is a great reason to visit Vice City again. As far as the core game goes, everything is intact. The soundtrack, the quirky Rockstar charm, the Scarface-influenced setting -- it's all here. I really enjoyed replaying some of my favorite missions from the PS2 classic, and even rediscovered a few new scenarios that I didn't experience originally. To be clear, there's nothing new content wise in this version, but the sheer scale of the GTA games makes it easy to come across a feeling of freshness. Although the game does show signs of aging even with the updated engine, fans of open-world games should still be able to enjoy Vice City with an open mind ten years later. If you hate GTA games because you feel like they're too "bland," Vice City is your gateway drug. It oozes more charm than pretty much any game in the series outside of possibly San Andreas (provided you're a fan of hip-hop culture for that entry), and the smaller scale of the city makes it a much more manageable affair. If you're curious about the franchise, this is a great starting point before GTA V hits next year.
GTA: Vice City review photo
Wanna be startin' somethin'
All this Grand Theft Auto anniversary talk makes me feel old. It feels like just yesterday I was listening to Michael Jackson, swerving around as Tommy Vercetti, and taking in the sights of Rockstar's faux-Miami setting. I th...

Apple finally announces the iPhone 5, available Sept 21

Sep 12 // Dale North
The iPhone 5 battery is slightly improved with 8 hours of talk time, even on an LTE connection. You'll get 10 hours on a WiFi connection only. The camera is an eight megapixel, 3,264 x 2,448 backside-illuminated sensor with a f/2.4 aperture, not unlike that of the iPhone 4S. The front-facing camera isn't as good, but it does 720p video now. A brand new dock connector debuts with the iPhone 5, making all of your current accessories useless. Maybe. It features a smaller, reversible plug that they're calling Lightning. There will be an adapter to use older accessories, but it's pretty bulky looking.  [via Engadget]
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[Update: Pricing, date added.] No one on this planet was surprised when Apple announced the iPhone 5 today at their press conference in San Francisco. Still, the world has been waiting on details, and now we have them for you...

Review: Super Hexagon

Sep 10 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Super Hexagon (iOS)Developer: DistractionwarePublisher: DistractionwareRelease: September 5, 2012MSRP: $2.99 What makes Super Hexagon such an addictive experience is its simplicity. You control a little triangle that's stationed within the center of the screen. Touching the right side of your screen will move the triangle clockwise, and the left side of the screen moves you counter-clockwise. Tapping the screen will move the triangle ever so slightly, while holding down on the screen will see the shape moving at top speeds. Controls are very responsive, and they need to be as walls in the shape of geometric patterns are constantly advancing toward the center of the level. Levels are randomly generated, while specific pattern configurations are repeated at different points with each replay. The overall goal is to last as long as possible without getting crushed between two walls while you're zig-zagging your way through the endless maze. And I'm not joking when I say you might feel pain around your forehead. Shapes will be moving in one way, while the entire level could be spinning in another direction, all while you have to be aware of every potential threat coming at you from every direction. [embed]234664:45006[/embed] The premise sounds simple enough but I wouldn't doubt it if you hear "Game Over" at least a dozen times before you finally last longer than five seconds. You will die, a lot. The difficulty here isn't in that the game is abusing you, but more that your own abilities are being put to the test. Super Hexagon is about testing your reflexes, reaction speed, memorization, and your instincts, pushing them beyond your self imposed limitations. Colors are constantly changing in the levels, all while the geometric shapes pulse to the wonderful soundtrack by Chipzel. The music picks up at different parts of the track, so you'll get to hear something different instead of restarting from the beginning every time. A big deal in my book, as hearing the same track restart over and over with the retry of a level does get extremely annoying over time in other games.  Restarting a level will become norm, as Super Hexagon isn't kidding around. The lowest difficulty is Hard, going up to Harder, then Hardest. While levels are indefinite, you can technically pass each stage if you last for a full minute. Passing the minute mark rewards you by unlocking even higher difficulties, such as Hardester. This level of masochism will make sense to those that have experienced VVVVVV, the breakout hit by Terry Cavanagh. Super Hexagon is Terry's latest creation, which started life as a hastily put together project during a 48-hour game jam. Terry has since expanded on the original Hexagon, creating a far more enjoyable experience for the iOS, with PC, Mac and maybe even Android versions to come down the line. Super Hexagon is a simple, engaging game, perfect for the mobile experience. You'll go in thinking you'll play a short game, but soon find yourself repeating the same level at least a couple of dozen times, quickly jabbing at the screen to restart after cursing loudly from the ridiculous mistake you just made. Each play through is worth it though, as just breaking your own personal record by a second will give you a level of satisfaction you wouldn't expect to feel. Simply put, Super Hexagon is one of the best mobile gaming experiences I've had this year.
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Your brain will vomit rainbows
Super Hexagon is a game that makes your eyeballs feel like they're being forcibly twisted against your will while still in their sockets. It is a game that makes your brain feel like it's being torn up and stitched back toget...

Phosphor talks Horn, mobile gaming, and touch controls

Aug 15 // Jim Sterling
Horn tells the tale of a young boy (called Horn, duh) who wakes up in a devastated and barely recognizable dystopian version of his home world. Living creatures have been replaced by the Pygon -- undying mechanical constructs that view their previous fleshy mortality as a curse. Our hero carries a decapitated Pygon's head around with him, and the two share much mean-spiritied banter as Horn attempts to undo whatever happened to the world.  With the apocalyptic imagery and mono-horned protagonist, there are more than a few visual shades of ICO to the whole thing. Audiences have been quick to point this out.  "We are big fans of Team ICO’s work, and like everyone we can’t wait for The Last Guardian," confessed Chip Sineni. "The antlers in Horn’s character design actually came pretty late in development -- originally we had a envisioned a 'wolf mane style' headgear, but he looked too much like a killer of animals, and that idea involved into the antler helmet he has now, which is a traditional headgear of his village.   "All of that was independent of the gameplay design though. The inspiration for Horn's gameplay just came from our love of action adventure games -- Zelda, Uncharted, Tomb Raider, even older stuff like Soul Reaver -- there just aren’t solid games like that on mobile." I've played some Horn already, and the named influences are very prevalent, especially Zelda. While players don't have a huge amount of 1:1 control over the hero, Horn is not on rails. Instead, players navigate the world using a point-and-click interface, while combat is focused on dodging around opponents and slashing at their weak spots.  "Something exciting about touch devices is that there is still room for innovation in controls," shared the director. "Like if you are making an FPS, there isn’t a lot you can do -- there are great standards with controllers or mouse and keyboards so you don’t really think about changing how you input. "As much as everyone here at Phosphor is a big gamer, we all have lots of friends and loved ones that just are excluded from some of the cooler aspects of gaming. While anyone can pick up and play stuff like Angry Birds or Draw with Friends, most people simply can’t participate in AAA games. They not only don’t have the system, they don’t have the finger memory or coordination required to play, and it makes these types of games exclusive to a select group. ICO is a great example -- the story, characters, world, and relationship between the characters is this amazing, poetic thing everyone should experience, but you can’t tell somebody who isn’t a gamer to pick it up because it has some of the most hardcore platforming around -- the last levels in particular are very hard.  They will never be able to experience it because of the requirements to play it. Forum posters clamor for Roger Ebert to acknowledge how great a game like ICO is, but he can’t even play it. "With Dark Meadow we really wanted to make it easy for anyone to navigate around via just click on nodes, and Horn is a big evolution from that," he continued. "Basically you just click anywhere on the ground you want to go, and the character will go there. Swipe anywhere and you will look around. It is about as easy as we can make it and still allow for free movement. Whenever you do a context sensitive interaction, like a ledge grab or sidle, we just automatically change how you interact, similar to Uncharted or Enslaved. Once you get into combat, we do an automatic 'Z targeting' like strafe circle around enemies so your swipes can be used for swords instead of looking around. It took us a lot of prototypes to get down the system to be as seamless and intuitive as possible without a lot of button fumbling." Personally, I've often found touch controls to be no more easy to grasp than buttons, which at least provide tactile feedback. I like touch interfaces, but they can be damn difficult to pull off in all but the simplest and most streamlined of games. Many gamers have similar concerns, and the most vocal have outright slammed the entire idea of touch input.  "I love physical controls, and I love touch controls done right," responded Chip, addressing such concerns. "You don’t have to pick one or the other, and one isn’t going to 'win' -- they both are appropriate for different experiences. Touch controls are a really great way to engage a new audience that might be uncomfortable with physical controllers, and are also really great for playing while laying down on a couch or in bed, which is where many people game. Physical controls are great for precision, manually managing a lot of different potential actions on a character, and rewarding players who are really skilled. "They are both awesome and lead to different kinds of game experiences. I've been playing games non-stop since the 2600, and I'm just excited there are all these options and more people than ever playing games. Games are now this huge thing that everyone gets and participates in -- it is no longer a fringe 'nerd' thing, celebrities Tweet what they are playing, etc. People no longer look at you like they don’t understand what you are talking about when you say you play games. The Wii started that, and touch devices have taken the torch with taking games to the masses." The trouble is, however, that hardcore gamers -- the sort that appreciate storytelling in their games and tend to veer more toward the "games are art" sentiment -- seem yet to largely embrace mobile gaming, and as such I often fear that the work going into games like Dark Meadow or Horn is wasted. Dark Meadow had a fantastic antagonist who deserved to be remembered, but I have a feeling he will disappear into obscurity. Does Phosphor not feel that it's playing to an empty room at times?  "It is hard to say," Sineni admitted. "There is way more overlap in who plays games on mobile and other systems than what forum posters would lead you to believe, and that audience is already looking for deeper experiences. We had over one million downloads for Dark Meadow, so it is really cool to us that so many people got to experience our little creation. If we instead released it on XBLA or something, we'd probably have like under 250k or so downloads, so we are just happy more people have the opportunity to play it. "But there is definitely a lot of room for mobile to be recognized as a true game platform. We submitted Dark Meadow to the AIAS for 'Character Performance' and really, we didn’t think we’d beat stuff like Portal, we just wanted to get nominated. But we instead got nominated for 'Mobile Game of the Year,' which is of course a huge honor, but shows that mobile games are still put in their own little corner. I don’t think a mobile game was nominated for anything except that category, and it might be some time still before the industry just considers them as 'proper games; like PC and console. But we aren't really worried about labels or recognition or whatever, we just want to make cool games that people enjoy playing." For some, mobile gaming will never deserve that recognition, but Chip believes such people have their blinkers on.  "People can be a bit narrow-minded in their view of the future hardware for gaming. There is no reason to think that the eventual future console won’t be a tablet or phone that can be hooked up to your TV and has a standard controller you use. That is exactly what I would do if I was Microsoft or Sony -- make some kick-ass tablet that you can take anywhere in bed or on the road, but hook it up for that full experience.   "You can already see an 'early version' of this with Tegra or Onlive where a controller hooks up to the tablet and the device displays on a TV. I realize it would be hard to get power and battery life in a tablet for a true Next-Gen console, but they could start with it being a bit thicker and heavy and make it slim over time. Also there is no reason for future consoles to be static hardware experiences locked into 7 year cycles. Both Apple and PCs have shown consumers understand their hardware gets outdated and they can upgrade if they want. And actually if cloud gaming takes that over, it doesn’t even matter about power- you could have a crazy supercomputer render graphics no consumer PC could even render, but pipe it to your phone that then goes on your TV." With Dark Meadow already out and Horn due in the near future, it seems Phosphor is quite happy in the mobile space. Does that mean it's abandoned the realm of console and PC? Nope. It has some stuff in the works for the bigger boys.  "We love consoles and PCs. In fact, we are making a non-core Wii U title for a large publisher right now, and PC in particular is a very exciting space," replied the director. "How many times has PC gaming been declared dead, only to rise stronger? The diversity of successful games on PC is awesome. You've got your perennial stuff from Valve and Blizzard, you've got your console AAA games on PC, and then you also have all these oddities that shouldn’t be doing well but are -- stuff like League of Legends on the free side, stuff like Minecraft in this whole other direction. We are still working on a much bigger 'core' project that we have discussed before, we still can’t talk more about it at this time, but all of this is very interesting time to us." That "other" project is undoubtedly Awakened, a game we've extensively spoken to Phosphor about in the past. If anything, the studio's success on iOS can only help to fuel the success of titles like that in the console and PC arena, and I think that's ultimately the key to making everybody happy. In the meantime, I'm enjoying what Phosphor's putting out for phones and tablets, and I think it's pointing to very good things for future, larger projects down the road. 
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While many "hardcore" gamers continue to look down on mobile gaming, there are a number of studios who view it as a legitimate gaming platform, capable of the kind of "AAA" experiences we're used to. Phosphor Games is one of ...

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Microsoft has today announced Xbox Smart Glass, a new bit of tech that will "transform the devices you already own and love." Smart Glass is, essentially, a feature that allows all your entertainment systems to communicate an...

New Alien Confidential & Rocket Fox games, comics coming

Mar 06 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
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As we revealed last month, Namco Bandai is using its new ShiftyLook website to release comics based on "dormant" IPs. It was also hinted at, but some of these dormant IPs are being brought back as games as well! The next comi...

A starter's guide to Robot Entertainment's Hero Academy

Jan 13 // Maurice Tan
The Basics First off, how does Hero Academy work? There is a 9x5 field of squares where the goal is to destroy the opponent's crystal (or crystals) or to destroy all of your foe's available units, while not suffering the same fate yourself. You can perform five actions per turn, which can consist of moving a unit, summoning a unit, upgrading a unit with an item, using an item, or performing an attack. At any time before you submit your actions for the turn, you can press the Action Point circle in the bottom-left to reset all your actions. There's no limit to how often you use this feature, so use it as much as you want. On the game board you'll see special squares called Premium Squares that are indicated by a red sword, a blue shield, and a purple crystal. As long as a unit is standing on top of one of these tiles, it receives a special bonus. The sword (Offense Boost) adds 100 damage to a unit, the shield (Defense Boost) increases the Physical defense by 20%, and the crystal (Assault Boost) adds 300 damage to any attack on an opponent's crystal. You need to stay on these squares to get the bonus, so don't move to one and then move onwards thinking you have gained a buff. If your unit is knocked out during the opponent's turn, it will remain on the ground as a corpse until the end of your own turn. Some of the Dark Elves units can use any incapacitated units, regardless of who owned them, to summon minions from their corpses or to eat them for a buff. If that poses a problem, you can simply wipe an incapacitated unit from the field by moving a unit on top of it or by using a special item that destroys corpses in a 3x3 grid -- just remember it will cost you another precious Action Point to clear these corpses. The main idea behind most basic strategies is to use the Premium Squares to your advantage, maneuver your units in a tactically beneficial way, get rid of enemy units before they become too powerful, and deal damage to your opponent's crystals when you can get away with it. With a turn-based system, no way to look at what your opponent has in store, units with different types of attacks and attack ranges, and only five actions to perform each turn, it can quickly become very challenging to anticipate how the next round will go. After a game or two, however, you'll get the hang of the basics soon enough. Managing your "hand" In the bottom-left of the screen you see a door with a number below it. Consider this to be your "deck" if you were playing a card game. Whenever you summon a unit from your "hand" or use an item, you'll receive new units and items (called "tiles" in this game) from your deck after you submit your turn. You can't see what new tiles you'll receive the next round, so random luck can play a role in how a match progresses. In the unfortunate event you end up with a hand without units when you are in desperate need of them, you can use an Action Point to move a currently useless item onto the door icon and put it back in your deck. After submitting your turn, you might get a better item or unit in return. Or you might not. If you do swap something, your opponent will get a "Swapped a tile!" message to indicate that you did. You have to keep in mind that you have a limited amount of units and items in your deck, though. If the door counter reaches zero near the end of a match, and if your hand contains no more units and is no longer full, there's no point in trading back an item in the hopes of getting a unit in return. You'll just get that same item back from your deck. This also means that your opponent might run out of units at some point. This is where you have to be really careful. Just because you ran out of units and your opponent is no longer summoning units to the field, that doesn't mean he or she has actually run out of units. A good tactic is to keep a unit in reserve to lure your opponent in right at the end, and then summon the unit to destroy his (potentially) last few units in a quick surprise strike. Damage types, equipment, and information Some units will deal Physical damage while others deal Magical damage. When you use the ? button in the top-right corner to get information about a unit, you can check out the unit's health state and resistances. Alternatively, you can take a closer look at the details of some consumable items that deal direct damage, or equipment items that can boost Health Points, Damage output, Physical resistance, and Magical Resistance. As you might expect, 40% Physical resistance does nothing to make a Magical attack hurt any less. Try to keep this in mind when you use Action Points to move a unit back to a Defense Boost tile in order to keep it safe from harm, because if it is likely to be hit by Magical attacks in the next round it won't do you any good. You can also simply tap and hold down a finger on the field to get a direct display of unit health and equipped items on top of all the units. Tapping on your opponent's portrait will show you how many tiles he has left, both in his hand and in his deck combined, indicated by a "reinforcements" counter. If this counter drops below 7, that means that all remaining tiles are now in the opponent's hand. If your foe is no longer summoning units at this point, while you have a clear unit advantage, he or she might be out of units. If the game is still pretty even, however, your opponent might be saving up a last-ditched surprise attack. Chatting, and resigning a game, and doing a rematch The Chat button in the top-right corner is hard to miss and works like texting. So far I've only met friendly and helpful people in games. If you're wondering about anything or if an enemy move made no sense to you in terms of damage, don't hesitate to ask your opponent for information or advice -- they will probably won't mind answering your question. If all is lost, then you can choose to resign instead of dragging the game on for an extra few hopeless turns. The resign option is somewhat hidden away under the gear icon on the top-left of the screen so you don't accidentally tap it. After resigning a game, it can happen that instead of getting the Rematch button to appear you'll only see the Submit Turn button. If that happens and you do want a rematch, just back out to your list of games after resigning, load up the resigned game again, then tap the Rematch button that should now be there in the bottom-right. It's faster than manually inviting the same person to a new game. Teams: The Council The typical human fantasy team, The Council is pretty straightforward to use and it's the one race you get for free. Let's look at the units and items you'll use by playing The Council. Units: Knight  Health: 1200 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 1 Damage: 200 Physical Physical resistance: 20% Magical resistance: 0% The Knight is your tank. Unless you have to, you're better off putting him on a purple crystal square to support the attack of other units on the enemy crystal than to use him as an attacker. With 1200 HP and 20% Physical resistance, he'll easily survive an entire round of standard physical attacks. Because his attacks also knock back an enemy unit by one tile, he is a waste of Action Points when using him on the offensive unless you target an enemy unit that can't be knocked back any further. When beefed up with a Helmet and a Shield item, the Knight is a pain in the ass to get rid of a crystal Assault Boost square, so by all means put him there. Archer Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 3 Damage: 300 Physical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Archer's 300 damage and 3-tile attack range make her a very strong and mobile unit to kill enemy units or do hit & run attacks on the enemy crystal -- especially when she's beefed up with a Sword item and you have another unit on a crystal Assault Boost square. It also makes her an easy target if any of your opponents has ever lost a game to a pesky Archer. Her weakness comes from melee, where she only deals 50% damage. Keeping her in proximity to a sword square can help you dish out a large amount of damage to an opponent who is gradually moving his offensive line forwards, although most people seem to know they shouldn't end a turn 3 tiles away from your nearest sword square if there is an Archer nearby. If you can lure a stronger unit in range by sacrificing a weaker unit of your own, though, it can be worth doing so. Wizard Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 2 Damage: 200 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Wizard might look like a secondary target if you're facing him due to his 2-tile attack range and relative weakness -- and sometimes he should be -- but his chain lightning attack can become devastating if you aren't careful with your unit placement. The lightning attack jumps to two other targets and the targets it jumps to is random, but it appears to consistently go to the same targets within one turn. Resetting your Action Points to try and reach other targets from the same spot has no effect. The second target will receive 75% damage while the tertiary target only receives 50% damage. One of the worst scenarios to be in is when you face a Wizard who has been beefed up, and who is supported by a unit holding the ground of a purple crystal square. This allows the Wizard to deal easy damage to your crystal(s) whenever you have units surrounding it. It also forces you to fan out and either kill the wizard, or kill the unit holding the purple Assault Boost square. Being forced to choose isn't the best position to be in, especially if you have to use one or two Action Points to reach either target and can't kill any of them in one turn. If there happens to be a beefed up Knight on a crystal square and killing the Wizard doesn't allow you to wipe him from the field in the same turn, you're in for a world of pain if your opponent can resurrect the Wizard again the next turn. Cleric Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 2 Damage: 200 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Cleric is your trusty healer who heals damage and resurrected incapacitated units. Her heals and revives are a bit stronger than the Dark Elf equivalent -- the Priestess -- but she can't heal from 3 tiles away like her counterpart. Like any unit, you can use her as an attacker if you have to, but she's better off behind the front line as a support character you can move in quickly to resurrect a unit. If you can, keep her within healing range of a unit who is likely to die the next round. That way you can, for instance, resurrect a powerful unit who wasn't wiped from the field entirely and give it four Action Points to deal four attacks, or you can heal it for one extra Action Point while leaving three points available to deal damage. Ninja (Super Unit) Health: 800 Movement range: 3 Attack range: 2 Damage: 200 Physical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Ninja is The Council's super unit, meaning you won't see him appear in your hand very often. He acts like a more mobile Knight who also has a ranged attack, but he also has a special ability that lets him trade places with any unit on the field. This doesn't only allow him to move to other side of the field almost instantly, but also lets you trade a low-health unit to the back so it can heal up in safety. Another special ability is that he does twice his regular damage when doing a melee attack. At the moment this isn't in the unit's description because of a text bug, so if you've been playing Hero Academy and wondering why he does so much damage, there is your answer. The Ninja starts out with one sword and gains another one if you give him a Runemetal Sword item. Although the Sword does add 100 Power to his base attacks (and thus +200 damage if you do a melee attack), the Ninja's dual-wielding on the field is purely an aesthetic effect. He will do double melee damage regardless of the amount of swords he is holding. This is a unit that you'll have to try out a couple of times for yourself to get the hang of him, but he makes for an imposing figure on the field and is insanely powerful up close, so expect your opponent to try and take him out as soon as possible. Items: Runemetal (Sword) The Sword item increases a unit's Power by 50%. That means it increases the unit's damage output regardless of whether it does Physical or Magical damage. How best to use this can depend on a couple of factors. If you have 3 Action Points left to deal damage, it doesn't matter if you give a unit a Sword and let it attack twice or if you just let it attack three times in a row. If you do give the unit a Sword in one round that means you don't have to use an Action Point to equip the unit in the next round. Of course, your opponent will see your unit become more of a threat, and prioritize it for demolition. Dragonscale (Shield) The Shield adds 20% Physical resistance to any unit. Stacks well with the Knight if you are facing Physical attackers. Shining Helm The Helm adds 20% Magical resistance and 10% max hitpoints to any unit. Easy, isn't it? The Shield, Sword, and Helm items stack on top of each other, but you can't give a unit two items of the same type. The individual items don't stack. Revive Potion Heal any unit for 1000 hitpoints, or revives a unit. Save this for when you really need to heal or revive a beefed-up frontline attacker. Supercharge (scroll) Using the Supercharge on a unit will triple its damage output for one attack, acting as a temporary item that disappears after an attack -- so you can't stack them. The Supercharged unit will also attack with a flashy animation to rub it in some more. This can be a killer surprise move against an opponent's unit or super unit that had been gradually beefed up over a number of rounds, or to deal some heavy damage on a crystal. Try to combine it with a unit like the Ninja who can quickly get to an Offense Boost square to do even more damage, but be careful not to leave your attacking unit defenseless at the end of the turn. You should always be wary of an incoming Supercharge attack if your opponent is moving units in a way that doesn't make much sense when they can't kill your unit without a Supercharge. Inferno Deals 350 Magical damage in a 3x3 area and wipes any incapacitated units from the field that are caught in the blast. Inferno is a good way to get rid of strong units who would otherwise be resurrected during your opponent's turn, if you can't or don't want to risk moving on top of their corpses with a unit. Teams: Dark Elves The Dark Elves are an in-app purchase ($0.99 at the time of writing) and have a very different play style than The Council. First and foremost, it's because of their life leech ability that lets them heal by doing damage, reducing the need to spend Action Points on healing actions. Besides that, their units all have abilities that distinguish them from their human counterparts. Void Monk Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 1 Damage: 200 Physical Physical resistance: 20% Magical resistance: 20% The Void Monk is basically a weaker Knight with some good default resistance out of the box. He's not beefy enough to use as a tank, and not strong enough to use as a primary attacker without some upgrades. However, his attacks will also hit units and crystals in the squares next to and behind your target, which makes him a bit of a close range area-of-attack unit. There tends to be a unit next to an enemy crystal most of the time, so the Void Monk can be useful to deal bonus damage to a crystal when you're on the offensive. Impaler Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 2 Damage: 300 Physical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% A bit of a weird unit, the Impaler pulls an enemy one tile closer -- a bit like a reverse Knight knockback. With 300 Physical damage, she is one of the major damage dealers for the Dark Elves. She's also good at pulling an enemy from a Premium Square if you need to. For example, if an enemy is trying to hold a Defense Boost square, you can pull it off it and then pummel it with melee hits. Alternatively, you can pull an enemy from an Offense Boost square, move onto it yourself, and use the damage bonus to both kill the enemy unit and heal yourself in the process. Necromancer Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 3 Damage: 200 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Necromancer's range can become very annoying when he has a sword item power up, because he'll be able to knock out many units with just three Action Points. Because of his long range, it's easy to try and stay away from him when you are facing a Necromancer. Doing so also means you'll have a hard time to kill him in one turn, so you have to wage the pros and cons when trying to deal with him before he gets upgraded too much. What's worse, he can summon a Phantom minion out of a corpse to keep the other person from resurrecting that unit. These Phantoms only have 200 hitpoints and deal 100 damage so they aren't a major threat, but they will always tempt you to waste Action Points on killing them. Sometimes you can get a free kill on one of these Phantoms if you are on the defensive; otherwise they are most often best ignored in favor of more dangerous targets. Phantom (Summoned minion) Health: 200 Movement range: 3 Attack range: 1 Damage: 100 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 10% Like described above, the Phantom is not much of an attacker but more of a distraction support unit. Worth pointing out is that you can't give him any equipment items, so don't expect to do any surprise attacks with a Sword-wielding Phantom. What you can do, however, is put him on the crystal Assault Boost squares. It will take a typical Magical damage dealer two Action Points to kill him, thanks to his 10% Magical resistance, and the wastefulness of the act might keep an opponent from actually getting rid of your Phantom. You can use that to your advantage to deal some extra damage to the enemy crystal if your opponent is indecisive. Priestess Health: 800 Movement range: 2 Attack range: 2 Damage: 200 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 0% The Dark Elves healer can heal and resurrect from 3 tiles away so you can keep her a bit further to the back if you want to. When the Priestess attacks, she also weakens the target's damage output but only for one action. So if one of your units is weakened, only its first attack will do less damage and after that it will clear the effect on your unit. Some players will try to avoid using a weakened unit because they think it is permanently weakened and therefore useless, so try to use that to your advantage until they figure out how to get rid of the effect. Wraith (Super Unit) Health: 650 Movement range: 3 Attack range: 1 Damage: 250 Magical Physical resistance: 0% Magical resistance: 10% The Wraith is another really weird unit, but a very powerful one if used correctly (or if you are lucky with circumstances). He starts off weak, but his movement range makes him very mobile for hit and run attacks. The key to using the Wraith is to make him eat corpses which increases his maximum hit points and damage output, and his Magical attacks make him a good Knight and Archer killer. After eating 3 corpses, the Wraith will no longer get benefits from eating corpses but you can still consume them to clear them from the field. If you are unlucky and the enemy keeps a close formation well away from your Wraith, it can be hard for him to eat corpses. When you keep him away from the enemy, it takes too many Action Points to eat a corpse and get back to safety. You can try to lure the enemy in, but in many cases it's as much a matter of luck as it is a matter of facing an inexperienced opponent. Another tactic is to summon him on top of any corpse on the field, which is also not listed in the unit's description. Once you do beef him up with corpses and some equipment, he can become a fearsome powerhouse. Try to kill him while he is weak. Items: Soul Harvest This deals 100 Magical damage of damage to enemies and crystals in a 3x3 grid, but more importantly it increases the maximum health of all your own units and revives your units even if they are outside of the 3x3 area of effect. Basically, it drains health to give it to your own units. Soul Harvest is very useful when you are out of Priestesses and when your opponent thinks you won't have any way to resurrect your most powerful unit that just got killed. Resurrecting a powerful unit this way allows it to go on a damage rampage for another turn, and heal itself in the process through the Dark Elves life leech effect. I couldn't figure out the exact formula for the amount of hitpoints it adds to your units in return for the damage it deals, because I haven't been able to test out all the variations yet. However, 80 damage gives you 10 extra hitpoints and 780 damage gives you 45 hitpoints. You're not likely to deal a lot more damage than 800 (400 on a crystal if you have a unit on an Assault Square and 4x100 to 4 units in the area), so don't expect this item to give you a huge amount of extra hitpoints. The extra bit does help a lot, as it may now cost an opponent one extra Action Point to kill one of your units. Soulstone Adds 10% max health and double the life leech effect, making a strong unit more self-reliant as long as it keeps doing damage. It also makes your opponent's life a little more difficult when he or she has to do the math for the possible amount of life leech health restoration in a next round or two. Mana Vial Heals a unit for 1000 hitpoints, like The Council's Revive Potion, but instead of reviving a unit it adds 50 hitpoints to a unit's maximum health. That doesn't sound like a whole lot, but it can add up as you beef up units and it makes a 800 hitpoint unit survive four 200 damage attacks. It's easy to forget about the Mana Vial because it shows up to the left of a unit when you tap and hold the screen. Try to use that to your advantage if your opponent is doing a lot of attacks that never actually wipe your units from the field. He or she might not be using the ? button to check on the actual health of units. Runemetal (Sword) The sword item increases a unit's Power by 50%. It's the same item The Council has access to. Shining Helm The helm adds 20% Magical resistance and 10% max hitpoints to any unit. The same one as The Council's item. The Dark Elves don't have a Dragonscale shield for Physical resistance, but instead they use the Soulstone and Mana Vial for extra hitpoints, plus the life leech effect to keep their health up. A Dark Elf unit can have all four of these items as equipment at the same time. Supercharge (scroll) Using the Supercharge on a unit will triple its damage output for one attack, and is once again the same item The Council has access to. Try it out with a Wraith to free up an Action Point to eat a corpse in one turn, or pull an enemy off an Offense Boost square with your Impaler and move on top of it yourself before using the Supercharge and moving to safety again. It hurts. General strategies I wish I could give you some advanced strategies, but the truth is I'm not very good at Hero Academy. In fact I'm pretty awful. The best advice I can give you at the moment is to check the above details for a better idea on how to use any one unit, and then use that knowledge when combining units in a tactical encounter. There are still some general things to keep in mind that might help you get started, though. If you end up with a field that only has one crystal, it is worth sacrificing a unit to deal as much damage to that crystal as you can. In these maps, it can become a fight for the Assault Squares (the purple crystal tiles) while long-range damage dealers harass the enemy crystal. When you are nearing a counter of 10 or below in your "deck," start thinking ahead towards the last couple of turns. You might run out of units to summon pretty soon, so don't sacrifice them unless you can trade a weaker unit for a stronger enemy unit in one turn. If you only have one unit on the field and five items in your hand, just keep that unit to the back, beef it up, and trade useless items in the hope you'll get some more units. When both players have seemingly run out of units, it can also be very helpful to have a surprise Ninja to pull out of your hat. Because the Ninja is also a very powerful melee damage dealer, you might instead want to use him in the mid-game to tip the balance in your favor and clear the field of enemy units. Alternatively, use him to deal heavy damage to a crystal and then teleport the hell out of there. After a couple of rounds -- especially if you lose them -- you will have had a lot of "if only I had done this" moments. Remember those moments and learn from them. It sounds like the most basic of advice, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to be tempted to try something else when you know you shouldn't. One of the main reasons why I'm still terrible at the game is that I keep trying out different tactics instead of learning from my mistakes. Sometimes you learn something new from it. Sometimes you don't. Try to stick with the lessons you learned when you were beaten in the harshest possible way. You also have to get a feel for the early, mid, and end-game sections of a match. In the early game, you and your opponent are still trying to set up and position their forces. If you are lucky, your opponent will get only a few units in his hand at first, and tries to attack you. In that case you might be able to get a few easy kills and use the momentum in the mid-game. The mid-game is more about beefed up units that can singlehandedly win the game if you aren't careful. It can be hard to anticipate which unit is going to be your downfall, and even harder to know how much distance you should keep. Distance means safety, but it also means it becomes hard to knock out one unit and remove its corpse. The mid-game almost always features some healers, so removing those corpses becomes important. If you don't, you might spend 5 Action Points on a knock-out only to have your opponent resurrect and heal that unit in the next round. What's worse, it leaves you with 5 wasted Action Points and a unit in a potentially more vulnerable position. This is also the stage in the game where you can use your Ninja to teleport and clear out a lot of enemy units, as both players will likely each have 3-4 units on the field. The end-game is all about planning ahead and positioning. You'll want to kill as many units as possible while incurring as little damage as possible, even if that means doing one attack and backing off to a Defense Boost tile. Another tactic is to go straight for the crystals throughout the entire game, but the investment of Action Points in crystal damage means you can't use those points to deal damage to units. In the end it all depends on the type of player you are facing, and a good amount of luck. Luck doesn't make or break the game, however, so if you think the enemy is having a few turns of bad luck in his hand then go for the kill before he pulls out the big guns. Finally, always keep the Action Points in mind at all time. Calculate if an enemy can kill you, while accounting for possible damage boosts from items, in the amount of Action Points available. You can't anticipate every possible move, but simply doing the math for the most likely moves can save you from losing a unit that would've survived it if it was just one tile further to the back.
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Hero Academy is my new digital crack but it currently only has a tutorial consisting of screenshots and text, and no way to try out a game against an AI opponent. This might make some players a bit wary of trying it out for t...

Review: Infinity Blade II

Dec 02 // Jim Sterling
Infinity Blade II (iOS)Developer: ChAIR EntertainmentPublisher: Epic GamesReleased: November 01, 2011MSRP: $6.99 The first Infinity Blade had a story that was merely hinted at, shrouded in mystery and vague allusions. This time, there is a lot more meat to the plot, but despite fully voiced cutscenes and a cast of actual characters, much is still left to the player's imagination. Infinity Blade II picks up where the first game left off, with the God King defeated and the hero in possession of his titular sword. To go literally any further than that would be to spoil things, but rest assured that things get very shadowy, very quickly.  Cutscenes are now voiced in English, rather than the invented language of ChAIR's fantasy/sci-fi universe. In some ways, this leads to a disappointing loss of mystery, as familiar voices lead to a less exotic and alien world. Nevertheless, the acting is impressively strong, and one particular character (who shall remain nameless) is performed with such delicious pompousness that it makes up for any letdown that might be felt. In any case, there's still plenty of oddness to go around, fake languages or not.  ChAIR has evolved the gameplay to provide a very recognizable base, but expanded in every single way. Infinity Blade II presents another series of one-on-one duels against increasingly challenging monsters, with players blocking, parrying and dodging until breaking the enemy and fighting back with elegant touch-based swipes. This time around, however, the minions of the Deathless have taken off their gloves and put up some real resistance, with punishing new attacks and varied patterns that make them far harder to predict.  [embed]217089:41944[/embed] The player's defense tactics have been given a bit more balance to ensure that players that safe, familiar routines cannot be depended on. If players dodge too much, the hero can become exhausted and grow far less effective. Opponents will also frequently attack with fists and shields so parrying is no longer completely trustworthy, and many attacks can also break through shields to stop anybody planning to "turtle" their way to victory. The penalty for sticking to one tactic is ever-present, and an impressive job has been done of ensuring that each battle feels less formulaic and more dynamic. Tougher creatures are not afraid to feint at times, perhaps raising a sword and tricking the player into parrying, only to surprise with a sneaky boot to the face. These moments test the player's ability to break free of instinct and muscle memory, yet again keeping would-be heroes on their toes.  The more intense combat is appreciated, but it doesn't come without its share of fresh grievances. For one, the difficulty spikes can become quite a surprise once the first "real" boss has been defeated, and the need to grind increases exponentially as a result. Enemies do far greater damage than usual, even with decent armor, and it's not long before they get access to powerful elemental weapons that sap one's life swiftly. Not to mention, the shield becomes practically useless in the latter stages of the game, as almost every single enemy will attack through it and do major damage. This wouldn't be problem if it didn't happen so quickly, encouraging players early on to start a whole new game while retaining their character progress, just so they can be strong enough the second time around.  Fortunately, players do still keep all their equipment, levels, and boosted skills upon death, respawning into a new "Bloodline" to begin each quest anew. After all, nobody is expected to beat Infinity Blade's bosses on the first encounter, with a potentially infinite cycle of death keeping players going until they're strong enough to conquer the latest challenge. Instead of simply going through a palace and defeating the God King, players must this time go through a castle with multiple paths, taking down over four major Deathless before rescuing a "man" known as the Worker of Secrets. As it was with everybody's favorite God King, the defeat of any one of these Deathless is accompanied by a sense of jubilant satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment, especially if it's one that's put you in the ground several times running.  Outside of combat, there is now a ridiculous amount of new equipment to find, alongside old favorites like the Holiday Helm and Ladyfinger. As before, each piece of equipment collects experience points which are drained into the player characters' XP pool, allowing him to level up until the equipped item is "Mastered" and can gather no more. The balance between collecting powerful gear while collecting experience points remains, and with so much more stuff to grab, dedicated gamers will take a damn long time before having a hero at maximum capacity.  Weapons are now split into three types, with the familiar sword and shield being joined by dual blades and heavy weapons. Dual blades attack more swiftly, allowing for greater combos, and allow the player to duck incoming attacks rather than block them. Heavy weapons include axes and maces, and deal huge amounts of damage. Players won't be able to dodge with heavy weaponry, but can block attacks in multiple directions to better stagger the opponent. Gear now comes with various shaped slots that can be fitted with gems, because we need even more loot to gather. Gems possess extra perks, such as improved item drops, elemental damage, or greater defense bonuses, and can fit into any slot of the corresponding shape. They can also be removed from discarded weapons at the cost of gold.  The inventory has been given a slight overhaul, with items now split into better category menus for easier browsing. More powerful items are bought with in-game gold, which can be purchased for real-world money or earned honestly throughout the course of battle. New "supply" items, such as health regen potions and prize wheels, provide a little more aid and can -- if bought for a very high price -- make the boss fights far less difficult. As if that wasn't enough, there are new locked chests that can be opened by finding keys in the game world. It's a small addition, but the fact it was tossed in just to make things interesting speaks volumes about how serious ChAIR took this sequel.  At first glance, those unfamiliar with the game will think Infinity Blade II is more of the same, but the sheer level of improvements made to every facet of the game is quite staggering. ChAIR could have likely released little more than a glorified Infinity Blade with a few cosmetic changes and gotten away with it, but Infinity Blade II has expanded and deepened to a laudable degree. Battles are tougher, exploration feels less linear, and new items to discover make a game that feels much more like a role-playing adventure then ever before. Few console sequels could claim such consistent and thorough improvement, let alone an iOS one.  Of course, no Infinity Blade II review could be complete without a mention of the graphics, which are more gorgeous than ever. When not played on an iPhone 4-S, it has to be said that the animation can get a little choppy, but rarely does it take away from just how beautiful everything looks. The only time the framerate truly aggravates is when the obnoxious Game Center pop-up welcomes you back to the game in the middle of a fight and completely throws the timing off, otherwise I had few issues on a humble iPod Touch 3G. Infinity Blade's delightfully bleak artistic style has returned in full force, with a series of wonderfully decrepit environments and a selection of monsters that range from intimidating to utterly bizarre. Weapons and armor are a sight to behold as well, coming in a variety of weird and often ridiculous fashions. It takes a real man to roll up to an immortal demi-god wearing only a metal Santa mask and a loincloth, but players can do it if they so desire.  Gamers who were not sold on the original's "Punch Out!!! with swords" gameplay will likely remain unimpressed with Infinity Blade II, but fans are sure to be completely thrilled by the amount of upgrades and improvements on offer, not to mention the developments of its increasingly enigmatic story. The sudden upshot in difficulty can take one by surprise, but the flexibility allowed when restarting Bloodlines means that it's never a real issue. Otherwise, this is the same kind of great combat found in last year's title, but with absolutely everything ramped up to magnificent degrees. If Infinity Blade was proof that mobile games could be taken seriously, then Infinity Blade II is that very same proof biting any and all detractors on the genitals.
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When our future selves look back on the time mobile gaming truly earned its place in this industry, there is no doubt that Infinity Blade will be seen as the first major turning point. Its critical acclaim and commercial succ...

Talking to Women about Videogames: Going mainstream

Oct 25 // Jonathan Holmes
Probably the most common reason why people want tech and gaming to gain acceptance is the desire to be accepted. Most people want to be normal, to be one of the gang/herd/team, to avoid stigmatization and ostracization, and to gain a breezy, criticism-free, friction-less life. When gaming rubs up against the mainstream media and culture, there tends to be a lot of friction, which leaves fans of videogames feeling burned. That friction often comes in the form of shaming fans of videogames by calling them immature or "stunted." That's part of why it's so easy to sell the Xbox 360 to teenagers as something more "grown up" than the Wii console. Teenagers hate being thought of as kids anyway, so the last thing they want is "kid-friendly" game console. Move up a few years and the pattern continues. I know quite a few people in their mid-20s who bought a PS3 because it was more "adult" than their "teen-bait" Xbox 360. I know even more people traded in their PS3s for Wiis once they hit their 30s. They've decided to "move on from bachelorhood, spending hours gaming alone in their basements," and to start families where they still game but only a couple of times a week and only as a brood.  Come to think of it, a few of those people have kids who are just turning 10 and 11, and naturally, those kids are now begging to "upgrade" their Wii to Xbox 360 or a PS3 this Christmas. With that, the cycle starts again. Though all their choices are different, all these people are running from the same thing: the idea that there is something "age inappropriate" about the games they're playing. Generally speaking, you don't see that kind of age-connected stigma to Apple products, or any stigma at all for that matter. Apple products (and the games people play on them) are more or less considered to be universally appealing and "appropriate" regardless of your age, gender, or cultural background. The crafting of that brand was no small feat, but once you have that brand reputation, it's very easy to start a "blockbuster" chain reaction. When everyone thinks that everyone is supposed to like something, then everybody suddenly wants one. That's why so many ads brag that their film is the "#1 movie in America." Once people hear that something is #1, they feel that it must be the best. Otherwise, why would everyone go and see it, right? The more people believe that the movie is #1, the more people will see it, which will lead to more people's thinking it's worth seeing, and so forth. That's just as true for phones and computers and videogame consoles as it is for movies. That's why companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft fight so hard for mainstream acceptance. They want that built-in mind share because that's where the money is. If they can convince people that they can become better human beings by associating with their products, then they can pretty much write their own checks. It's especially interesting to me when this plan backfires, when people strongly do not want tech and videogames to go mass market. There are people who hate how Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony have all had their moments where they were beloved by the mainstream. Isn't that weird? Why do they care? My guess is that they have fallen into the trap of counter-conformity and have come to believe that the stigma carried by their respective interests is actually a badge of honor. It makes sense that if you're mocked by the majority for your interests on a regular basis, then you'll eventually come to hate the majority. If you've come to hate the majority, then of course you're going to want hate what the majority loves and further embrace the things that caused you to be shunned in the first place. Is that how hipsters are born? I'm not sure, but I can tell you what I've observed.  With videogame hipsters, there seems to be a solid progression. At first, budding hipsters looks to separate themselves from the mainstream by shunning games with mass market appeal like Mario and Angry Birds. From there, they often develop a hatred of Halo, Call of Duty, and Resident Evil, and they instead choose to embrace only small indie titles or obscure classics. From there, I've seen gaming hipsters go full circle into loving Mario again or reject all conventional games for text adventures or games that are made on a strictly non-profit basis. One thing I have never seen is a gaming hipster who wasn't missing out on some great games due to his obsession with keeping up his image. As for me, I'll admit that I have an agenda of my own. I hate it whenever anyone says that something worthwhile is only appropriate for people of a certain age, gender, or other demographic. It's not because of how I think their opinion may reflect on me but rather how their opinion limits them from appreciating something that deserves respect. When you say something is a chick flick, a kiddie game, or butt-rock, it implies that the thing in question is not truly worthwhile.  That's why I am quick to point out to people who say that videogames are just for "boys" or "nerds" that they too enjoy videogames. I'll remind them that, at the very least, they must have enjoyed a game of PC Solitaire and then work from there. Again, I'm not here to establish that it's OK to be a "gamer." In fact, there is nothing I'd like more than to show both "gamers" and "non-gamers" that those brands shouldn't exist. Your level of interest in videogames should rightfully have nothing to do with how you define yourself. Once it does, you'll inevitably fall into the trap of either being a blockbuster chaser or a first-class hipster. What matters is tossing out your preconceived notions and biases and honestly looking at the world around you. To do otherwise is to shortchange yourself out of really... living. I don't mean to sound judgmental or to have overly high expectations. I know that videogame culture as a whole is currently dominated by products made to sell death, darkness, and war (with some occasional bouts of nostalgia and dancing). Based on that that, I understand why so many people assume that games aren't for them, which in turn leads to game publishers and developers to not even bother trying to make games for people who don't already like what gaming has to offer.. It's an ugly pattern that keeps gaming and society as a whole from reaching its full potential. That's why I'm happy that Steve Jobs worked so hard to show the world that technology (and the videogame industry that's associated with it) is potentially for everybody. It's not because he helped me to feel like less of a nerd. It's because it's just... true. Technology is for everyone! Everything is potential for everyone, as long as we are willing to keep an open mind and to not limit our options. Apple may have used some trendy tricks and slick marketing to show the world that truth, but if that's what it takes for our current model of human evolution to get with the program, then so be it.  OK, enough out of me. What do you think? Does it matter to you what the mainstream thinks of technology and videogames? When was the last time you said, "You dun be a gamer now gurl"? Please tell me it was today. If not, it's not too late. Turn to the person closest to you, let the words out, and make that change. Past Episodes: Talking to Women about Videogames: 3DS 2nd nub panic Talking to Women about Videogames: Gears 3 isn't perfect? Talking to Women about Videogames: Sexy vs. sexist? Talking to Women about Videogames: What makes you want? TtWaV teaser: Sony's online sucks now? Talking to Women about Videogames: I'm not a real gamer? Talking to Women about Videogames: Fear for the future
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[Talking to Women about Videogames is a series where Jonathan Holmes talks to different people who are women about the biggest videogame news of the week for some reason.] Steve Jobs spent countless hours working t...

Apple announces the iPhone 4S

Oct 04 // Dale North
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You've heard plenty of rumors over the past few months, I'm sure. That's all over for awhile, as Apple has just announced the iPhone 4S at their Let's Talk About iPhone press conference today. Here's the skinny: The 4S has th...

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The Blocks Cometh, a really cool iOS game that features Mr. Destructoid, had its first full update today since launching, adding a wad of fresh content and four new playable characters. One of those characters, I am quite ple...

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Apple was ballsy enough to hold their yearly Worldwide Developers Conference opposite E3. I mean, they're Apple -- they can do whatever they want and they're still going to rake in the money. And with the announcement of iOS ...

Call of Duty: Elite to enhance the multiplayer experience

May 31 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Elite will be available through the web and within the game on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. We were shown a very slick, quick and easy-to-use page that's broken up into four sections: Career, Connect, Compete and Improve. I also got a quick preview of the Elite mobile app (the iPhone version, specifically), which will be a streamlined version of all that the web and console versions will offer. Career Players will get to see an overview of critical game stats, recent performances, win/loss ratio, XP, personal bests, weapon performances, leaderboards and more, all in the Career section. You can easily compare your performances against anyone simply by typing in their username. You will also have access to "heat" maps, with a timeline that shows you where every kill/death took place along with the weapon used. Connect Connect gives you easy access to other players and lets you find specific gametypes that you want to try. You can look for your favorite playlists, see who else likes the specific gametype you're looking at and make matches happen. Your friends list is integrated into the website to speed up the process, too. Connect goes even further than that, as you can find groups of people who share similar interests. There's a search bar on the page and, for instance, you can type in "Destructoid," which will instantly connect you with other gamers who are into Destructoid as well. If a group doesn't exist already, then you can easily create it yourself. Group pages will have leaderboards just for the members of that group, including stats (like the collective hours played), and you can even leave comments on the group like a Facebook fan page. The final feature that Beachhead showed off for Connect was the theater section. Here, you can see staff picks, most viewed, most liked or recent videos users have created in Modern Warfare 3. Compete This is the official tournament section driven by Beachhead. The developers will have a consistently updated program guide that users can participate in to win prizes. One example given was a screenshot contest, where you'll be able to share a screenshot and the best one will win some kind of prize. For the most part, participating will net you in-game badges, but real prizes on offer include an iPad. Elite will include robust support for private clans that can be integrated into the game, too. More information on that will be made available later, but for now, know that you'll be able to organize tournaments and set up clashes like group-vs.-group, clan-vs.-clan, and intra-clan tournaments. Improve The final section is exactly what it sounds like. Improve goes deep into the experience and should be able to help you become better at Call of Duty online. You'll get to view top-down images of any map marked up with starting points, objectives and the general flow that a mode can take. Weapons, attachments, killstreaks, perks -- it all gets broken down, allowing the player to study the pros and cons of everything. Improve will even provide video guides, which are way more useful than printed strategy guides. Final thoughts: Activision strongly believes that this is the next step in online gaming, and feels that this will really enrich the Call of Duty multiplayer experience. The company is committed to making sure it gets the premium membership right, and it will be interesting to see what they pull off in that regard. I'm really curious to see how much Activision is going to charge for this service. If it ends up being less than $30 a year, well, that's great. So far, the last two Call of Duty games have each released two map packs at $15 a pop. The Elite program will get you all the downloadable maps plus the full service features. The question, though, is if the Elite service will be worth it when compared to the free offerings. I'm also curious as to whether you get to hang on to the maps once your Elite service has run out. What's your take on the whole thing? Do you see yourself using Elite?
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The rumors of Activision charging additional fees for Call of Duty online multiplayer have been pretty persistent for the better part of the past year. Even when Activision has stated multiple times that they won't be c...

Ten iPhone games you really should play

Jan 04 // Jim Sterling
Mega JumpGet Set GamesFree Mega Jump is, by far, my most played handheld game of the forever. Doodle Jump may be the more famous "jump" game, but Mega Jump's quality in terms of gameplay, visuals, sound and depth far outshines the indie mobile darling.  The aim of the game is to keep a little monster airborne by tilting the screen and allowing it to grab coins. Each coin propels him further, and if you miss your mark, the little creature will fall to his (presumed) death. There are all manner of cool power-ups, such as the magnet, which draws coins towards you, and the fireball, which propels you upward at a high speed.  Coins are converted to Mega Points at the end of each round, which can be used to buy new characters, and there are ten levels to unlock. Even with just one endless level, this would be a compelling time-sink of a game, but with the extra unlocks and features, this is one of the most robust experiences around, and it costs nothing. Mega Jump is a standard-bearer for mobile gaming.  Knight's RushChillingo/MoreGames$0.99 (on sale!) I can sell this game to you with a simple equation: Castle Crashers + Angry Birds guys = Unquestionable Win.  That is basically what this game is. A scrolling hack n' slash game which lets you take one of three awesomely designed knights into the field to cross swords with other awesomely designed knights. The art style in Knight's Rush is utterly fantastic, and the brawling gameplay is as tight as you can hope for. Throw in a range of customizable special skills and perks, and you've got a significantly rewarding title in your hands.  If you're a fan of old school beat 'em ups or you just want to kill some stuff, you can't go far wrong with Knight's Rush.  Tilt to LiveOne Man Left$2.99 If you follow iOS gaming with any degree of depth, you'll have heard of Tilt to Live by now. It's with good reason, as Tilt to Live is one of the purest mobile gaming experiences you'll get on your iThing. The name pretty much says it all -- you tilt in order to live. Red dots continuously spawn on the screen and your job is to move your iPhone around and avoid them. One touch and you're out. Various weapons pop up to help clear dots, but this is a challenging little title that you won't simply discard after five minutes.  There are several game modes to keep things interesting, but the main mode is more than enough. There are few games that feel completely at home on the iPhone, but Tilt to Live is one of them. I'm not sure if I'd like to see it on any other system.  Infinity BladeChair Entertainment/Epic Games$5.99 Infinity Blade was one of my top games of 2010, and I don't just mean in the iPhone category -- it was in my top ten across all platforms. This game is just that good, as Chair Entertainment took what could easily have been a mere tech demo and made something with surprising depth and compelling combat.  The aim of the game is to dodge, block and parry the attacks of various ugly monsters on your way to defeating the God King. Simple touching and swiping allows the player to deftly avoid enemy attacks and return fire with their own. In a way, it's a series of QTE events, but Chair have done the impossible and made such a thing not only fun, but thoroughly engrossing.  Infinity Blade typifies the "one more go" mentality, where it's impossible to simply play for five minutes and put it down. You'll stick around despite your intentions of brevity, especially once you defeat the God King for the first time and earn a sense of euphoria that most games just don't provide anymore. If you think beating that bastard once will be enough, you're wrong -- you'll keep fighting tougher God Kings in a desperate effort to regain that victory high.  This is a game that needs to be on the frontpage of your iPhone screen at all times.  Fruit NinjaHalfbrick Studios$0.99 We at Destructoid have a lot of love for Halfbrick, so it's a good thing that their games are pretty damn good. Fruit Ninja is one of those titles that sit right at home on a mobile phone, and can be enjoyed by absolutely anybody, wherever they happen to be.  Perfect for those five minute gaps where you have nothing to do, Fruit Ninja is a simple game in which you swipe the screen to cut bits of fruit in half. You have to avoid bombs and you lose a life if any fruit escapes the taste of steel. Easy concept, but it can get surprisingly tricky.  Since launch, Fruit Ninja has added online multiplayer and unlockable extras, as well as a few new modes. For a measly buck, you'll get more than your fair share of fun out of this.  N.O.V.AGameloft$4.99 Although there is now a sequel to this game, I still have to recommend the first game just because the controls are a little tighter and better placed. For my money, no game has quite nailed a touchscreen first-person-shooter experience like N.O.V.A, not even its own followup. The controls are nearly perfect, the gameplay is solid, and it looks rather nice.  Okay, so it's basically Halo on an iPhone, but where else are you going to get Halo on an iPhone? Microsoft sure as Hell isn't going to do it, so it may as well be a third party with a close approximation. N.O.V.A 2 is by no means a bad game (I quite like it), but I recommend getting the original title first and only picking up the second if you really loved it. In any case, there's no better FPS on iOS right now. In fact, there probably isn't a better FPS on any handheld device. GodVilleMikhail PlatovFree It's billed as the world's first "zero player game" and that's more than just a pretentious attempt to be smug. See, the hero of the game is a person you have no direct control over. In fact, you don't even see what he does. You read the diary entries detailing his exploits, as he completes quests, fights monsters, and earns equipment.  The catch is that he's a rampantly zealous believer in you, his own personal God. In order to keep him fighting, you need to show him signs of your existence, because only an idiot would go out and do things in the name of a deity they've never interacted with. You have the option to reward or punish him, and your decision to do either will affect his personality. You can also send him personal text messages, though whether he understands what you say is another matter.  GodVille is an incredibly charming game that demands imagination on the part of the player but very little else. Its silly humor and community input makes this well worth the money. Oh wait, it's absolutely free! Pix n' Love RushBulkypix$0.99 One of the most stylish games on the iPhone, Pix n' Love Rush is a visual treat that evokes memories of such games as Geometry Wars and Space Invaders Extreme. Unlike those titles, Pix n' Love is a platformer game in which you collect coins within increasingly challenging levels so that the cute player character can buy some cake.  It boasts tricky gameplay, wonderful aesthetics and is easily among the top platformers on the iOS. If you've got a respect for classic arcade games, this modern take on a venerable style of play will keep you thoroughly entertained.  Gravity GuyMiniclip SA$0.99 Due to the simplicity of the interface, there are many "Runner" games to be found on the iPhone, games where protagonists move of their own accord and players have to jump, dodge and attack to avoid obstacles. While a lot of them are good, few are quite so inventive, challenging and slick as Gravity Guy.  As the name implies, the central gimmick of this game is gravity. Tapping the screen reverses the gravity of the game world, basically causing the player to switch from the ground to the ceiling, and vice versa. This little twist on an established genre creates a completely different experience, one that can be pretty damn hard. Timing is crucial, and players will need both a keen eye and quick fingers to get through. Fortunately, Miniclip was kind enough to put checkpoints in! Gravity Guy is one of the very best Runner games on the market. It has neat graphics, a strong sense of character and gameplay that is both simple and incredibly stressful -- in a good way.  Game Dev StoryKairosoft Inc.$3.99 Really, what can be said about Game Dev Story that hasn't been said in iTunes reviews, on Twitter, and across the pages of this very blog? It's become a tired cliche to call a mobile game "addictive", but if one game deserves such a description, it would be Kairosoft's life-leeching little wonder.  Game Dev Story is a game about making games, a simulation that places you in charge of your own software studio. You choose the direction of the game and influence the areas in which to sink development time. You advertise, you support different consoles, and you attempt earn high review scores while raking in as much profit as possible.  Strangely, despite the things becoming quite easy once you've had a number one hit and start making mad bank, the game gets no less compelling. In fact, the sheer success of your games becomes addictive in its own right. Now I know why Bobby Kotick does it.  No mobile game should keep me awake until the early hours of the morning, but Game Dev Story has accomplished it. It's the best four bucks you'll spend. 
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Since I've ramped up my coverage of iOS games on Destructoid, I've had a lot of iPhone/iPod users asking me for recommendations. There's a ton of great ones out there, some of which rival console games in terms of how engross...

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Many of you will have learned by now that I've started to become quite a spokesman for mobile gaming this past year. I think it's important, and I've been frustrated that I haven't been able to cover it properly. Hence, App ...

Review: Infinity Blade

Dec 09 // Nick Chester
Infinity Blade (iPhone, iPod, iPad [Reviewed])Developer: ChairPublisher: Epic GamesReleased: December 9, 2010Price: $5.99 Infinity Blade puts players in the role of an unnamed knight determined with besting the ominous and powerful God-King, a mysterious emperor that evidently sits on a throne all day waiting for warriors to challenge his dominion. Okay, make that “knights,” plural -- Infinity Blade’s “story” (if you could call it that) unfolds across the span of hundreds of years, with players working through “Bloodlines.” As the game begins, you’ll step into the armor of a low level fighter, working your way from the gates of the castle to the throne room, besting guards -- warriors, assassins, massive trolls -- in the process. Your first fight with the God-King will end in  your execution -- you simply aren’t equipped to conquer the formidable monarch. At this point, the game will fast forward some 20 years ahead, where you’ll begin the next “Bloodline” as the son of the fallen warrior, determined to exact retribution for your father’s death. This second time you will fail, as you will the third, fourth… you get the idea. Infinity Blade is a game that’s all about character progression, as your stats and armor will carry over from bloodline to bloodline as you repeatedly try to crush the seemingly unstoppable king. Within the first 20 minutes, you’ll have essentially seen everything the game has to offer to you in terms of what you’ll be doing and in what order you’ll be doing it. Fortunately, Chair has built an enjoyable, addictive gameplay mechanics into Infinity Blade. Married with the role-playing game-like character development, Infinity Blade manages to sidestep what could have been a monotonous catastrophe. Unlike the Epic Citadel demo, movement throughout the God-King’s fortress is extremely limited. Points appear on the screen indicate where you can move, and simply tapping the screen will take you in that direction. You can look around freely, finding out-of-sight loot, but that’s as much freedom as you're given. While much of the loot (in the form of sacks of coins or item-carrying treasure chests) is mostly randomized throughout each bloodline, the movement through the citadel isn't really. After a few plays, where you’ll go and your movement choices become second nature. As you move through the environment, you’ll invariably be met with enemy resistance, and that’s when the real meat of Infinity Blade rears its head -- the combat. Battle can easily be described as a more freeform version of Nintendo’s Punch-Out!!. You’ll tap the sides of the game screen to dodge left or right, or hold an on-screen shield icon to block incoming attacks. Slashing with your weapon is done with the swipe of a finger, the direction of which will result in a different angle of attack. If your first inclination is the swipe wildly on the screen, don’t bother, as enemies will simply block your attacks. Instead, it’s about finding patterns, swiping when there’s an opening, or even matching timing and slash directions to successfully parry an attack. Unlike Punch-Out!!, however, the characters you’ll encounter don’t hold to the same kind of patterns as Nintendo’s pugilists. The characters you’ll face are each unique in their own ways, be it in their armor or weapon of choice, but Infinity Blade doesn’t have its Bald Bull. Instead, you’ll be faced with “classes” of characters, each which have their own attack approaches, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, the larger troll-like characters tend to be slower and more powerful. Instead of mirroring Punch-Out!!’s puzzle-like pattern battles, you’ll have to reply more on quick thinking and reflexes as opposed to memorization. While the combat isn’t particular deep, it is extremely satisfying, thanks to extensive player progression and items. As you complete battles you’ll win experience points, and as you level up you can increase various skills, like strength or speed. You’ll also be able to find and equip a substantial amount of unique armor and weapons which you can “master” in the game through usage. Some items will even grant you with magic abilities, which can be activated and cast by drawing a symbol on the screen with your finger. Because battles are designed to be quick, punch experiences, leveling up and earning news items becomes almost like a drug; it’s easy to get wrapped up in an addictive “just one more battle” rhythm. It doesn’t make that much sense to harp on how wonderful Infinity Blade looks, because that much is obvious. It’s some jaw-dropping stuff, for sure. View the screenshots scattered about this review and know that your eyes are not playing tricks on you -- the Unreal Engine is doing this on your iDevice, and it isn’t even breaking a sweat. If you’re looking for a game to rub in the faces of your Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7 owning buddies, look no further than Infinity Blade. Thankfully, Infinity Blade doesn’t rest on its good looks. Sure, it’s not a massive, open-world, but instead a tightly guided series of intense battles coupled with some seriously addictive character progression. As a showpiece for the power of your iDevice, Infinity Blade is a no-brainer. Bonus: despite its repetitive nature, there’s a great game under the hood, one that's easy to recommend.
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Earlier this year, when Epic Games revealed Epic Citadel -- a tech demo for its Unreal Engine running on Apple’s mobile iOS -- heads turned. It was a technically impressive piece of software, demonstrating some truly in...

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We knew it was only a matter of time, and now it's finally here. Well, kinda. Final Fantasy proper, on the iPhone. A full-fledged RPG in your pocket. And no, Vay did not count. Wow, it looks really great! A new Square Enix t...

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A couple weeks ago, I excitedly dropped the news that I was going to be a zombified character in Panda Cake’s new iPhone game Pocket Zombie (yay, self-promotion!). At the time of the post, an early version of the game w...

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We've been hearing about it forever now. It's the next "worst kept secret." It's Apple's new big-assed iPhone looking thing, called the iPad, and it was just announced by Steve Jobs at Apple's conference in San Francisco. A "...

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Apple's "It's Only Rock and Roll" event wrapped up this morning, and quite a bit of gaming news came out of it. No Apple tablet, though. We've broken down the gaming news for you here:Apple is pushing the iPod Touch...







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