2009/07/13 [iphone]   Mecho Wars
Version Reviewed: 1.53
Mecho Wars is a straight up Advance Wars clone with only a few minor changes and simplifications to the formula. The only twist is that every 20 turns or so, the water freezes for a few turns and ground units can walk over it. A few of the units have altered stats from Advance Wars, and the rock-paper-scissors format has been simplified down to air-infantry-heavy.
Most of the 20 mission campaign is an extended tutorial, introducing the familiar Advance Wars style cast of units each mission (minus a couple units). Beginners will enjoy it, while more experienced players may consider it a waste of time. The AI is dumber than usual, and won't even bother to pick off your infantry as they capture everything in sight. Most maps are played out using the same strategy, so don't expect any surprises or creative challenges. The campaign missions tend to drag on needlessly because you need to capture every enemy HQ long after it's obvious you've bested the map. Mecho Wars is currently being ported to the PSP, DS, and Wii, where hopefully the developers will spend some time on a campaign that isn't a long tutorial, as well as some more units to add depth to the game.
There are 20 skirmish maps aimed at novice to intermediate players which can be played in HQ capture or elimination mode. A couple of these skirmish maps are identical to the campaign maps. The original maps are well designed and if you liked the campaign they offer about the same experience and difficulty level.
The multiplayer, being a Wars clone, is fairly balanced, but it's simplified to the point where not a lot of strategies can be made, especially with the simpler than Advance Wars depth. For example, there's no anti-air sea unit to ward off air units, like the AW Cruiser. For the $1 price point though you can't go wrong if you're looking for some multiplayer action.
I felt the playing tiles were a little too small for my fingers, and I don't exactly have big hands - it's easy to fudge a position and there's no way to zoom the map. This game might be best played with a third party stylus. I also don't like how the UI is not touch sensitive - you have to touch Stay every time to end a movement instead of just being able to click on the just-moved units position, and you have to touch Attack every time to be able to hit a target. There's further inefficiency between every player turn where you have to sit through scrolling lists of whose turn it is, environment changes, and then city/factory income ping animations. There's also no option to speed up or skip the movement animations. All of this unnecessary time wasting adds up and makes for an unsatisfying experience to anyone used to better designed UIs and faster paced TBS games.
The art design is full of otherworldly colors and strange alien creatures. It's a neat concept, but my eyes began to grow weary of the unnatural palette. Maybe a martian would feel more at home playing this game. The games sound effects are well done, and the ambient music is repetitive but listenable while playing. Plot and characters are pretty much nonexistent.
Strategic Depth: Low. Simpler than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low. The campaign is for beginners only, and the AI is extra stupid.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above Average.
2009/06/15 [iphone/CEL]  UniWar
Version Reviewed: 1.06
UniWar is a wargame-lite style TBS game like Advance Wars, with a heavy emphasis on base capturing and unit building. There are 3 playable races (Sapiens, Titans, Khraleans) with 8 fairly similar units per race - not a whole lot of strategic depth. Apparently the multiplayer is popular although from my single player experiences I can't see it being very balanced. First of all, each race has a specialized unit that can take control of an infantry unit from one of the opposing races, but not the other. This means certain race matchups clearly favor one race, presumably because the game is balanced around a 3 player free for all with each race, which seems like an odd choice. A quick browse of the official forums confirmed my suspicions that the game is far from balanced and the ladder is full of cheaters.
The 21 mission campaign is a mixed bag. On Hard mode the developers make up for the AIs weaknesses by giving it far more funds per turn than you, which means you'll often be swarmed by a large and aggressive enemy force. The difficulty is inconsistent, with a few missions like 4 and 19 being nastier than the rest, and a few of them being 5 minute easy. The 1.06 patch makes the campaign far more difficult than it was at launch, probably as an unintended side effect of multiplayer balancing or AI improvements.
Most of the mission strategies are fairly simple, involving massing one or two unit types or rushing to capture neutral factories, but you still need to have strong general tactics on top of that to get the upper hand. Almost every mission is completed by capturing all bases on the map, which can lead to some boring clean up duty when the doomed CPU refuses to give up. Also a minor annoyance is that you can't auto-skip the 5 second wait countdown after ending your turn (there is a button to skip it, but you have to press it every time). However I did like the UI's efficiency - touching a unit or hex is usually context sensitive, and the game auto-rests your units if you leave them unused. This means less endless menu touching and faster gaming.
The graphics are well done with good animations. The game looks clean and easy to read even with dozens of units on the screen at once. The music is forgettable and the sound effects are average. As for plot and characters? There literally isn't any besides endless hostility between the Terran, Protoss, and Zerg.. er.. you know what I mean.
If you want a quick portable tactics experience $3 is not a bad price for the 21 campaign maps.
Strategic Depth: Low. It's even an even simpler wargame-lite than Advance Wars.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to moderate. The 3 difficulty modes should appeal to most players.
Overall Score: 6/10. Above average.
2010/06/02 [iphone]   Highborn
Version Reviewed: 1.00
Highborn is a Fantasy strategy/tactical TBS game
. There's no unit growth/changes between missions which is unusual for a fantasy turn based game. There are both generic and hero units in this game, with the heroes sporting a unique spell that can be used on the overhead screen. A number of cooldown limited combat spells can be cast before any encounter, most of which are damage or buffs. Recruiting during the mission is done by capturing buildings. If you lose the building you lose the unit, and if you lose the unit but not the building you'll get a new unit after a few turns. Monolith structures can be captured for new combat spells, and towers that can be captured for support attacks during combat between units. Towers tend to be overpowered and trying to fight while being hit by one is a death sentence for generic units and dangerous for heroes as well, so taking control of them is very important.
While there are only 8 campaign missions, each mission is large and unique with its own plot, dialogue and scripted events. The difficulty of the game is low to intermediate - don't expect a challenge here if you're experienced. You can't undo movement or attack commands, which might slip up beginners, but you can quicksave if needed. There's not a whole lot of strategic variety, just move through the map capturing buildings and slaying whatever enemies show up, then finishing off the mission boss. The 8 missions manage to stay entertaining, but I'd hope to see some variety in later missions other than point A to B slaughter. Additional missions will be added with a future patch to the game.
The UI is mostly context sensitive allowing you to tap to move, attack, and capture, although it requires a quick, precise double tap to pull off. Unfortunately there's no way to skip movement and combat animations, which makes the game unnecessarily slow. Units move along the map at a plodding pace for no particular reason. In addition you have to click off whether you want to use a combat spell in every fight, when it would have been more efficient to have the spell selection during the overhead screen directly before combat instead. And there's no reason to split the common 'wait' command into what's called "hold position" and "hold action" in this game. Maybe they can do something with that "Useless Slider" in the options menu in a future patch, because the game could use a whole lot more speed-up options that are standard in most turn based games.
With those game slowdown issues in mind, it's fair to say the multiplayer is far slower than it needs to be. It's best played one or two turns a day, instead of in a single (very long) sitting. Towers are overpowered with high damage, infinite support attacks, the nonsensical ability to support itself when being attacked, and frequently respawning mage recruits. Trying to fight while being hit by tower support is more or less suicide, so if someone grabs a tower they pretty much own the area around it. There are a couple of maps available but I don't see the multiplayer being much more than a casual diversion in its current state.
The game has a wry and goofy sense of humor. Conversations and unit descriptions are full of jokes making fun of RPG culture and history, frequently breaking the fourth wall to do so. Sometimes it's corny, sometimes it's chuckleworthy, but it's more entertaining than another turgid medieval politics fantasy plot. The humor provides a good motivation to play even if you find the difficulty too low.
Graphics are well done, especially the map and building tiles which have lots of detail for such a small screen. The 3d battle cutscenes are good although you'll probably get tired of looking at them by the end of the campaign. Sound effects tend to follow the humor of the game with cartoonish sounds and corny trumpet fanfare.
At $5 this is one of the pricier iPhone titles, but it's worth a purchase if you can overlook the slow pace of the game. Highborn would make for a good full featured console/PC game if the developers added more content and fixed the UI issues and lack of options.
Strategic Depth: Mid-low. Spells, recruit, and tower capturing add some depth to the game, but it's fairly basic overall.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to intermediate. Not a challenging game but still entertaining.
Overall Score: 7/10. Good for a $5 game.