Thursday, September 2, 2010

iPod Game Micro Reviews, Part I

A friend who is entering the world of iPod Touch soon asked me what games she should get. I decided to put together a list, and figured that, while I was at it, I might as well publish it. I'd love to do more micro-reviews of iPod games, as well as an analysis of my iPod usage (which is kind of obsessive regarding game deals), and a discussion of how Android completely sucks for games. Plus, I'm calling this "Part I" because I'm being optimistic and hoping to do more of them. :)

Keep in mind that patience can yield many of these apps for discount/free. I'll discuss my strategy for app hunting in a later post. The prices quoted are on Aug. 2nd, 2010. I'm not sure if some of them are on sale at the time, so they could end up higher.

(all scores are out of 10)

Classics: Ok, so it's hard to have a "classic" on such a young medium, but these are a few games that you really should pick up to be considered part of the iOS masses.

Flight Control - 7. Everyone's seen it, but this is the original, and it's still quite fun. They've added new layouts and a multiplayer mode I've yet to try, which adds some replay value to this $0.99 game. It's a simple high-score game, but it shows off the touch screen nicely and is easy to pick up and play.

Paper Toss - 8. Fabulous free game - almost good enough to not be worth upgrading to the "World Tour" version, which really doesn't offer a lot more content outside of new skins. The game is simple - toss paper into a trashcan while fighting the evil fan. It's great fun though, and easy to pick up and flick away for even just 30 seconds sometimes.

All-in-1 Gamebox - 8. Ok, it's not a "classic", but it's a great deal, and it wouldn't fit in any other category. Basically, it's 35 games (and counting) for $0.99. A lot of the games are crap, as you'd expect, but there are a few gems in there that I think easily make the entry price worth it. A great deal if you just want to check out a ton of cheap games. Perhaps some day I'll do 35 single-sentence nano-reviews of them, assigning each a value out of 10 cents. :)

Puzzlers: Puzzles are a great genre for the iDevice. They can often be played in short spurts and the touch interface is often perfect. I have a lot of puzzle games - here are some of my favorites.

Geared - 8. It starts out slow, but this $0.99 game is a great example of lots of content for a clever puzzle mechanic in a nice package. Once you get into it, it gets quite tricky! Nice interface, simple but effective graphics, and over 100 puzzles makes it a no-brainer. At least until you start playing. Ha!

Zen Bound - 9. Zen Bound is a very clever game that is an absolute joy to play. It's $2.99, but well worth it in my opinion for the fabulous graphics and style and the simple but compelling gameplay. Can get a little repetitive in the long run, but this is one of those games you can show to friends to show what your iDevice can do. I haven't played the sequel so I can't speak for it.

Bejeweled 2 - 9. It's crack. We all know it. But it doesn't matter, does it? This version includes the ultra-addictive Bejeweled Blitz, complete with Facebook integration. $2.99 is a lot cheaper than bag of cocaine, and just as addictive!

Theseus - 8. This one is for the real intellectuals out there. Or perhaps I'm just dim, I don't know, but these puzzles give me fits. Tons and tons of content for $1.99, this one will challenge you with it's simple rules but fiendish and complex mazes. Interface is slick, undoing is extremely intelligent, and just generally a high quality puzzler.

Hellsing's Fire - 8. A clever puzzle game with an entertaining pseudo-story and solid presentation, Hellsing's fire offers lots of maps with randomly-generated puzzles involving careful, ordered placement of exploding torches to vanquish foes. Graphics are strong and the overall experience is very good. However, some issues hold it back: random generation of puzzles lacks the cleverness of hand-crafted ones, and lack of a precision placing method can be frustrating. Still, a fun game and hard to argue for $0.99.

Physics Puzzles: See? I told you there are a lot of puzzles. So many that I had to split them up. Actually, on my iPod, I have them further divided into regular physics puzzles and "smash" physics puzzles!

Angry Birds - 10. This is quite possibly the best deal in iTunes. For $0.99, you get a great physics puzzle game with tons of content, loads of charm, great polish, and regular updates for more levels. Every iOS device should have this game. My only complaints are one - they should let you skip levels occasionally, some are quite hard and can get you stuck, and two - you should be told how many points are needed to get 3-stars. Nitpicks, to be sure.

Auditorium - 9. Yes, this is the same Auditorium that made waves in the indie PC world a year or two ago. Only here, you get the first chapter for free and pay a mere $2.97 to get the whole rest of the game. It is a beautiful, atmospheric, and clever game that everyone should play. So why only a 9/10? There's a subtle blip in the looping that drives me nuts and really hurts the experience for me. Some people might not notice (it's in the PC version too, so if you didn't notice there you'll be fine), but for me it's a significant flaw. Still, check it out!

Ragdoll Blaster 2 - 10. This one is right up there with Angry Birds in my book. It loses some value points for being more expensive ($2.99), but gains them back with fabulous style, solid physics, and some extremely clever and varied level designs (far surpassing Angry Birds in that regard). The levels do go by quickly, so even though there are 130 of them you can get through the game without too much time, but going back and trying to perfect your scores can add a lot of replay value. Definitely worth grabbing in my book.

Music Games: Come on - it's an iPod. Gotta have some music games!

Thumpies - 9. I really enjoy this game. I'm not sure if it's the creepy style or the slick original tunes, but the game is just plain fun. The interface is a little different and involves playing drums when eery floating heads fall onto them. Yeah, it's weird, but I love it, and for $2.99 I'd call it a solid deal.

Beat It! - 7. I like the concept of this game, but ultimately I feel that the execution could have gone a little smoother. The idea is that you train your ear to listen and pick out beats, and then key them in to a simple drum machine. Very clever, but somehow the execution feels somehow repetitive and a little uncompelling to me. That said, it's worth checking out the free version to see if it appeals to you. (Strangely, this appears to not be available in the US any more...did Michael Jackson's zombie sue??)

Rock Band - 9. A little pricey at $6.99 (haha, listen to's 10 times that on the consoles!), the game includes a large library of music and some solid gameplay as you'd expect. It's almost cliché, but for good reason. One major issue keeping it from getting a 10 - the lack of horizontal orientation support. Yes, I know it'd be harder to see in front of you, but I have fat thumbs, okay? It's a little narrow to be doing a two-thumbed rhumba with precision. Still, loads of fun to be had.

Leaf Trombone - 8. Ask my wife what the most annoying game ever is and she'll immediately point to this one. It's marvelous - I absolutely love it. For $0.99 you get a trombone simulator, complete with all of the intonation problems a beginner 'boner will have. Plus, it has a nasally reed sound, to make it extra annoying. Great fun, really! Only drawback is that all songs are user-created. There's some great stuff in the library, but it takes some looking, and the browsing system is pretty weak. Also, the multiplayer, while clever, ultimately bored me.

Melodica - 8. While it isn't a game, and isn't loaded with features, this extremely simple and intuitive music-creation app is mesmerizing and can be played by anyone, regardless of musical aptitude. I got it for free, but I imagine it's normally $0.99, which is worth it if you enjoy making trancey mixes.

Action Games: I'm using this as a sort of catch-all for a variety of games that I didn't want to make individual genres for. In general, expect timing and reflexes to be important here. And potentially big explosions.

Tilt to Live - 9. Perhaps the current champion of tilt-controlled gameplay, Tilt to Live feels more precise than you would expect. It's a simple "dodge all the stuff trying to kill you" game, but it has a fantastic style, good sense of humor, clever designs, and enough gameplay variety and achievements to justify its $2.99 price tag.

Impossible Game - 8. This little $0.99 game isn't going to win awards for depth of content, but its simple premise and good presentation make it a lot of fun. Plus, if you're obsessive, you can try to do insane things like beat the game without dying. Replay value is a little low, even for $0.99, but it's a fun ride while it lasts. If you're a gamer-masochist.

Defense: Those who know me well probably know about my tower defense fetish. It love these games, and there are a few gems in the iTunes store I'd like to share.

Pro Zombie Soccer - 9. Not a tower defense game, but defense none the less, Pro Zombie Soccer manages to combine clever level design, fun mechanics, and some excellent humor into a zombie game that actually doesn't feel derivative at all, which is saying something. Not cheap at $2.99, but a fun experience that stays compelling as you progress, even if replay value is somewhat limited.

Space Station: Frontier - 8. If you liked Harvest: Massive Encounter or The Space Game, you'll feel right at home with this one. It's almost a clone of The Space Game, though has an upgrade system that allows you to power up your various stats and weapons. It can be pretty difficult, but it has a nice interface, solid graphics, and is generally a fun experience for $1.99 if you enjoy the genre.

Besiegement - 8. I really want to give this one a 9 or a 10, but I can't shake the fact that, in general, the game is just a bit too easy. I lost on a few levels, but unless there's a hidden "hard" mode I haven't unlocked, this game is just weak compared to some more hardcore TDs. That said, at $0.99, the game is a blast. Presentation is a little amateur, but I can forgive it for the fun, polished TD experience. A variety of towers, lots of upgrades, accurate placement, speed up buttons, health bars - all the essentials are there and well done. It's not the best TD on the market, but it's solid, especially if you want a more casual experience than some of the other kick-your-ass TDs I'm about to discuss.

geoDefense and geoDefense Swarm - 9. these will get in and tear you to pieces. The Easy levels are generally doable, but expect to spend multiple attempts on the normal and hard levels, if you ever get through them. I really enjoy the Geometry Wars style and the simple but clear tower designs. Both games are $1.99, and the difference is just mazing (Swarm) vs. non-mazing (original). Pick your poison, or grab them both. Each offers 30+ challenging levels, plus downloadable content.

Save Sylva - 9. I've only had this one for a few days, but I'm really enjoying it, in a truly masochistic way. The game blatantly rips its style off of Pixeljunk Monsters, but fortunately it expands on the gameplay offering a number of new ideas (including moveable effect areas and clever upgrade paths for tower specialization). Maybe I'm just having a brain block so far, but the normal mode on even early levels is kicking me around, and I've only beaten one hard mode. I'm loving it for $1.99, but non-pain-loving gamers might be turned off by the difficulty.

And yikes...I kinda just kept going with these. I forced myself to stop after the tower defense games, though I'm only maybe halfway through the solid games I wanted to discuss. More genres and games to come later!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Review: Inception

I should probably start off my saying that before Inception, Christopher Nolan was already one of my favorite writer/directors. Having seen only four of his movies (the lesser-known but intriguing Following, the fantastic Memento, and of course his famed renditions of my favorite super hero, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), I was already enamored with his style and his storytelling. I'm thrilled to say that Inception has only solidified my adoration of Mr. Nolan.

I do want to say that I think people need to go into the movie with the right expectations. I do not consider this movie to be primarily a philosophical movie - while it deals with some philosophy elements, I much prefer to think of it as a psychological action thriller. It has a really cool plot, a clever and mostly-believable mythology, some great acting, and a few really cool characters. Many of the critiques I've seen are that the philosophy isn't all that great - and as long as you're not expecting it to be then it won't be a problem.

Is the movie perfect? Not at all. There are a few major plot holes and occasionally characters act kinda dumb. There's too much gun-fighting that feels out of place and unneeded. Perhaps most annoying, at least to those of us who notice, for a movie so obsessed with timing there are cases where it falls into the stereotypical "let's have 10 seconds take 60 seconds of screen time" thing that irks me.

All that said, I was enthralled throughout the entire movie. While not earth-shattering philosophy, it does engage your mind throughout and feels much more interactive than most movies just because of how twisted and deep the mythology is. It's a sci-fi movie that isn't entirely believable, but it just doesn't matter - it's pretty to look at, has a great plot, and is beautifully executed.

Also, I have to say, I have tremendous respect for Leonardo DiCaprio, who turned himself from teen pop idol doing bad movies to a consistently excellent actor in his adult years. Ellen Page is also one of my favorite young actors of today and she does a fine job in this movie as well, as does the rest of the cast.

This might sound like a very vague review that says almost nothing about the movie, and that's very intentional - I don't want to give anything away. I managed to walk into the movie knowing almost nothing about the plot (a feat I also pulled off with The Matrix) and I'm much happier for it. So, if you like cerebral action movies, or Christopher Nolan, or really just movies in general, go see it. Go into it expecting a fun, intriguing story that isn't a dissertation on existentialism and I think you'll really enjoy it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

CellCraft is Out!

Just a quick announcement for my 10s of readers, about 3 of which won't have heard this from the other social sites I've posted this to, but...

CellCraft is out! W00t!

You can play it online at Kongregate, or you can go to the Official CellCraft Website to download a free copy for yourself or to host at your own website.

Even more amazing, the game has been ridonkulously well received, going toe-to-toe with some incredibly good, non-educational games on these gaming websites. It's so exciting to see everyone's reactions to it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some initial thoughts on the iPod Touch

Oi...February? Really? That was my last post? How sad. Well, I just got back from an amazing vacation in the Dominican Republic, and I've started up a more professional blog (Pec's Games), plus we've finished CellCraft (awaiting sponsorship terms before release) and I'm looking at a new, unannounced game project. So, lots going on.

Oh, I also got an iPod Touch in March, and wanted to do a little ranting and raving.

First off, this is a slick piece of hardware. It runs very smoothly, the touch screen is beautiful and responsive, and in terms of a portable media device it works absolutely fantastically. The games are surprisingly good (I'm rarely picking up my DS these days) and have nailed a pricing scheme that has caused me to spend more on games than I had originally intended. Had all games been in the $5 - $10 range, I probably would have bought 1 or 2. But at $1 - $2 (with tons of free ones if you're diligent), well, let's just say I think I have a problem.

Which brings me to...

Rant number one: Limits to pages of apps. Why do we need an arbitrary maximum, especially one as small as 11 pages (meaning only 176 apps, including the default ones, plus 4 at the bottom for 180 total)? I hit this maximum within a few weeks of owning the iPod. I suppose some readers will point out that this isn't really reasonable, and that I clearly have a problem if I hit 11 pages that quickly. To be fair, they weren't full - I was using pages to sort types of apps and genres of games. Which leads into...

Rant number two: Lack of ability to organize apps on the iPod. Even with the limit of 180 apps, you have no way to categorize, label, or do any legitimate sorting of apps. I attempted to use the pages as a sort method, but this cut down on the number of apps I could use. Admittedly, this will be somewhat fixed with the next version of iOS, which will allow you to put apps, up to 16 at a time, into folders. This will certainly help, and will drastically increase the maximum number of apps to over 2000, but would it really kill them to just add a vertical scroll to pages so we're not constrained to 16 each?

Rant number three: Lack of ability to organize apps in iTunes. As much as rant number two annoys me, this one really kills me. I don't have much of a problem trading apps in and out of my active rotation on my device, as long as I have a good way to track which games I want to put back in. But no - iTunes somehow gives you even fewer sorting options than the iPod itself. In fact, all you can do is change the sort order of the giant list, or search by name. No categories, folders, labels...nothing. I can (somewhat) understand limited options on the device, but in iTunes, a full-fledged OSX app with all the bells and whistles? It's just ridiculous.

Rant number four: The iTunes store is just plain stupid. I can't help but feel that no one at Apple has ever made a purchase from in their life. Because surely if they had, they would understand the benefits of labels, recommendations, flexible searches, and, above everything else, user scores. Yes yes, they have user scores, but they're hidden, especially in the iTunes version of the store. For reasons beyond my understanding, you can't view any user scores when browsing the app store in iTunes (but even more inexplicably you can when browsing with the iPod app store). The "most popular" lists are useless, and there's no way to sort by highest user rating (which is the single most common sort I use when shopping online for things). It is embarrassingly bad design and functionality from a company who prides itself on those two things above everything else.

My best guess is that the app store popularity took Apple entirely by surprise. It seems like many of their tools were written expecting to have maybe 1000 apps available. Instead, we have many times more than that and tools that seem entirely incapable of helping the user sift through the crap to find the gems. I have to rely on external game review sites (of which there are surprisingly few decent ones - SlideToPlay being the only one I really use much thanks to their excellent genre sort/filter options). But this would only explain an initial oversight - why updates haven't been made since then I don't know. Perhaps they can't climb over the mountains of money in their offices to get to the keyboard to make some changes.

In any case, I do love my iPod Touch - it is an amazing device with a fantastic collection of software. I just wish they could make a few simple, and entirely reasonable, adjustments to really make the experience much better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do I get a discount if he's colicky?

I feel that this one is self-explanatory:

Not only did I get a double take at the announcement of a sale of babies, but reading on there's actually no clarification to contradict my first interpretation. Their entire stock of babies is up to 50% off!? Well, gosh - I think I'll just get two then!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Movie Review: Ink

Recently, my wife and I settled down for a movie night. Not wanting to head out, we booted up the 360 and loaded Netflix to see what I had in the queue. This one movie, Ink, stood out as an unknown but fairly highly rated film (with a surprising consistency of 3.4 / 5.0 on Netflix and 6.8 / 10.0 on It wasn't rated on Metacritic since the movie was never actually released by a publisher. Apparently no one wanted the script, but the director decided to go for it anyway. With glowing written reviews, we decided to brave the unknown and check it out.

Sadly, I now worry that my wife won't trust me to pick out movies she hasn't heard of any more.

First off, it's excruciatingly, painfully obvious that this was a low-budget movie. Most of this comes from terrible cinematography and some extremely weak acting. There were a few genuinely good special effects and character designs (mostly with the villains in the movie - the heroes seemed to wear whatever they had in their closets at home), but these were often obscured immediately by shoddy work elsewhere. This was all slightly surprising since the opening of the movie was rather solid, with an excellent opening 2 minutes and a perfectly reasonable plot setup following. But then things went downhill very quickly.

The general idea behind the movie is that there are two factions of beings who provide dreams to people - the Storytellers (good dreams) and the Incubi (nightmares). They are apparently at odds with eachother, rather than working in any sort of symbiosis. There are also other beings who are part of neither side, and the titular character is one of these. He steals the...soul, I guess...of a girl in her sleep in order to try to become an Incubus. The plot then follows Ink as he attempts to reach his final goal, all the while the Storytellers track him down and try to stop him.

There's an additional side plot about the girl's father, who has become a workaholic and isn't really a part of her life any more. It's some nice family drama to add to the story I suppose, though isn't necessarily all that believable. Which brings us to the truly damning quality of this movie: the writing is weak.

When you're going to tout your movie as the great screenplay that no one was willing to pick up but you decided to make anyway, you had better have some great dialog and a truly compelling and original plot. Instead, the dialog is often silly, characters are shallow and at times completely undeveloped, and the plot left neither my wife nor I surprised, or even really guessing (confused, but obscurity doesn't substitute for clever plot development). For a film with extremely low production values, the entire experience rests on acting and writing, and sadly those just aren't solid here either.

A quick bit of credit does go to the blind Pathfinder character. While his introduction was over-acted and poorly written (with the actor sounding like he was being naughty by saying a few swear words), the character himself had a few funny lines and was genuinely fairly interesting. Also, I recall the music being decent throughout, so good job to the composer.

In any case, it's clear that the writer wanted to have the next Matrix movie (complete with alternate dimensions, a modern good/evil mythology, lots of special effects, multiple fight scenes, etc.), but unfortunately it really doesn't get even close. I've been going back and re-reading reviews written of the movie trying to figure out what people saw in this movie, and I still don't understand it. If anyone has seen it and would like to leave a comment explaining why I'm wrong, please do. But as it stands, I can't give it better than a 4/10. If you like low-budget cult-classic movies, you can download it (apparently it's big on the torrents and the film-makers are cool with it) or stream it if you want, but definitely don't spend money on this movie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The LHC has nothing in WinXP

I just saw this confirmation message while using Windows XP:

I fear that if I hit "yes" the universe will implode.

This came as a result of accidentally dragging my recycling bin icon to the quick-launch bar. Attempting to remove the link yielded this window. I suppose it makes sense, but the lack of any indication that the first one is a link is rather confusing.