Need a hit of MMO healing nostalgia? Try Little Healer

healerI’ve been downloading a lot of mobile games lately, mostly because there have been quite a few anticipated releases. However, there was one little free game that caught me off guard last week that is worth discussing — Little Healer.

The concept here is that you’re the sole healer for a 15-person raid that’s tackling a series of bosses. You don’t see the bosses at all or even your party — in true MMO healing fashion, all you can see are the health/status bars of your raid (along with your mana bar and the boss health bar).

You get a choice of four skills (healing, buffing, cleansing). There’s also a limited talent tree. And that’s it.

It’s an incredibly difficult game, let me tell you. Might not seem that hard after the first fight or two, but it ramps up fast. Knowing which spells to bring to a fight and how to use them is essential, and I still can’t crack the fifth encounter.

As someone who has healed in MMOs extensively in the past, I have to say that this is eerily spot-on with the juggling, stress, mana management, and battlefield triage. It feels unfair in a way that healing sometimes does, where no one else in your group is dealing with the pressure that you are, and if you mess up there goes the raid.

Anyway, interesting download to pass on today!

Fallout Shelter is kind of… pretty awesome, really

vaultI’m more than a little worried about the fate of Vault 255.

Despite growing to provide more infrastructure and supporting a pair of explorers that are looting the wasteland, the vault is dying from a lack of resources. To make matters worse, we just delivered our first child, and I’m starting to wonder if she’ll even live to see adulthood.

Make no mistake, Fallout Shelter is a tricky little resource builder game that actually has fail states (unlike many of the more modern tower/city builders/tapper titles on mobile).

So last night during its Fallout 4 presentation, Bethesda revealed that it also made a mobile tie-in game called Fallout Shelter — and it was going to release it to the iOS app store that night. Post-apocalyptic vault builder? It’s like they made this game just for me.

After playing with it a bit last night and this morning, my initial assessment is cautiously excited and quite entertained. The concept is that you’re the overseer of one of Fallout’s iconic vaults, charged with building it up while maintaining a tricky balance of resources and exploration.

For starters, the production values in Fallout Shelter are really well done. Even though it’s seen from a side cutaway perspective, the rooms are 3D, the art is spot-on with the franchise, and the vault dwellers even have full conversations with each other. There’s some substantial strategic depth here, as illustrated by the 21 pages of help tips.

But as I indicated, it’s not a game that’s going to hold your hand. Growth has to be handled slowly and carefully, because it’s incredibly easy to tip the balance between having resources and finding that your dwellers are starving to death, the power is shutting off, and there’s no water left. Plus all of the fires and raider invasions and whatnot.

There’s an element of risk in sending explorers out to gather more goods or to speed up production of resources, both of which could end in disaster or success.

What I’m liking is that the place feels a lot more alive than your standard tower builder. Stuff happens in the vault — babies are made, radroaches burrow up, and objectives, when completed, will shower you with rewards.

Anyway, that was a nice little surprise to get last night, and I’m hoping that it’ll hold up over time. The challenge is there, but I’ve yet to find the success.

iPhone: Knights of Pen & Paper 2 review

pp2For a couple of years now I’ve been a huge fan of a weird little mobile game called Knights of Pen & Paper. It’s a turn-based RPG in which you form a party and go on various quests and level up, with the twist that your party are roleplayers sitting around a table while a visible GM provides flavor text and runs the campaign. KoPP didn’t have the most engaging combat system or even the best spelling/grammar, but it made up for it with the variety of classes, the quirky humor (which was forever lampooning RPG tropes and geek culture), and the adorable pixel art.

Knights of Pen & Paper spawned a new edition (the +1 edition) and a Halloween DLC pack. I have yet to beat it all, but I’m still gamely plugging away at it.

So naturally I flipped my lid when Knights of Pen & Paper II came out a week or so ago. Let me tell you, if I have had my phone out since then, it’s probably to be playing this. Super addictive.

In my opinion, KoPP2 takes the formula of the first game and then vastly improves on it, starting with higher resolution pixel graphics (which I approve of except in the case of the character art — I actually prefer the original game’s look). Then there are tons more choices, particularly with character builds. This time around you can pick a combo of the player (jock, goth, exchange student, etc.), race (dwarf, elf, human), and class (warlock, paladin, etc.), each of which has their own strengths and utility. For example, I found a three-handed sword in my travels that had great stats, but could only be wielded by someone with three hand slots (which right now is the jock). So I rolled up a jock paladin just to use this awesome sword.

The story, such as it is, has the players investigating a land in turmoil after a “Paper Knight” from the second edition is causing havoc in a first edition world. Mostly, it’s just a good excuse to engage in countless battles against the weirdos of the world, including Fowlbears and algebraic formulas.

There is a lot of criticism being leveled against KoPP2 right now on the forums for being short and somewhat buggy. That may be, but it’s also so much more engaging than the first game. I love the added options to investigate areas for bonus loot, the occasional choices, the use of a three-stat system for die rolls, and especially the synergy. There is a ton of synergy going on between classes and gear, and a careful player can set up devastating combos.

For example, my thief throws out a multi-target fan of knives as one of her skills. But that will hit for double if the target has a debuff on it, so my thief and paladin both have skills that hit multiple mobs with debuffs. Then I gave my thief trinkets with more status effects, so she’s hitting double and causing burns and wounds. It’s awesome.

Combat is a lot smoother here too, especially as skill icons have been moved to the main screen instead of hidden in a menu. The first game more or less encouraged you to use AoEs extensively, which made every encounter identical. Now there are more valid skill choices, especially with combos and depending on the situation, and the fights seem to go faster. I like how much the choices of gear and weapons come into play, because you can really customize a character in a way you couldn’t in the first game.

While multi-room dungeons were sort of present in the first game, they are more prominent here. You basically choose a room to move to and experience an encounter (fight, treasure, trap, or something else). The trick is that you can’t rest while you’re in the dungeon, which can make it tough to beat if you don’t have healers and energy renewers.

Another cool addition with KoPP2 are the monthly “Modern Dungeon” magazines that can be accessed from the menu. Right now May’s magazine offers a read on the undead, but more importantly, some trinkets, a class, and a player that can be unlocked for with in-game gold. I’m anxious to see how the monthly magazines help to expand the game.

KoPP2 may be silly and irreverant, but it continues to do a fun job of recreating a weird tabletop roleplaying experience on the phone. I definitely recommend it.

3 new iPhone games I’m playing

I’m always a little excited for Wednesday night, as that’s when Apple releases its new apps and games onto the store. Around 11pm, I’ll check Touch Arcade to see the full list of notable new games and pick up one or two if the price is right and it looks up my alley. Some weeks, I pass on the new offerings until I see reviews.

I did grab an astounding three games this past week and have quick impressions on each:

protoProto Raider

Wow, talk about induced nostalgia… I don’t think any PC gamer who grew up in the ASCII-riddled landscape of the 80s can look at the above picture and not get a weird dose of the feels. And yet it’s a competely new creation that cleverly uses a retro look.

Your character will run continuously in one direction and you can only make him jump. The goal is to get the key, get the three chests on each level, and get to the exit without dying. That requires you to figure out the platforming puzzle elements of the room and what all of the symbols mean (at first my eyes went cross-eyed, but it’s easy enough to suss out). Great soundtrack and a charming approach — not to mention devilish difficulty — make it a fun, if temporary, fling.

Dungeon Hunter 5

I’m still only in the early fiddling-around-with-it stage on this, but I think it’s a solid title so far. Dungeon Hunter is the mobile market’s answer to Diablo — a bit simpler and on a smaller screen, but satisfying if you like action RPGs with lots of loot explosions and button mashing. This title appears to have some multiplayer component and free-to-play trappings (for good and ill). I’m impressed with the visuals if nothing else.

Card Crawl

Since getting Card Crawl, I probably have played about 50 or so rounds of this dungeon-themed solitaire card game. It hits the right spot of being both tough but not too tough and valuing both strategy and luck.

The goal is to burn through all 54 cards that the dealer is throwing at you, some of which are beneficial (swords, shields, potions) and some are harmful (enemies). You can only hold three items at a time (one in each hand and one in reserve) and you have to deal with three of the four cards a dealer throws down before he deals more. So there’s a lot of decision making going on — what cards to keep, what to trade for coins, and how to deal with the onslaught of monsters without dying. The goal is twofold: to get to the end of the game without dying and to take as many coins with you as possible when you do. Coins can then be spent to buy special ability cards for future games.

It’s just really well-done — nothing deep, but challenging. I think this could be the type of game that will stay on my phone for random odd play sessions for a long time to come.

Craft the World on iPad review

craftMy latest tablet obsession has been Craft the World, a title that I snagged after reading a positive review that made the game look up my alley.  It’s been out for a while on PC and ony recently made the jump to iPad, but if my first couple of days of playing it are any indication, it could be a keeper!

Craft the World is a blend of other successful sandbox titles, most notably Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress.  Actually, the fact that it’s a less complicated Dwarf Fortress was a huge plus for me (I’ve always wanted to get into DF but lacked the time to take a five-year course in understanding its mechanisms).

You get dumped out into a world with a single Dwarf and are tasked with ensuring his (and, eventually, his companions’) survival.  This is done by three primary activities: gathering resources, fighting critters, and building stuff.  The cool thing here is that instead of controlling just one character who manually does all of this stuff, you get to order a whole herd of Dwarves around, RTS-style, by queuing up activities for them to do.  Want a tree chopped down?  Poke the tree and a Dwarf will get to it, sooner or later.  Want a tunnel carved out?  Just make an outline and it’ll get done.  Does that sheep need to die?  Give it the finger of doom.

I think the RTS feel of Craft the World is what makes it more relaxing and enjoyable for me.  I have some measure of control, but I also get to watch little virtual dudes do their stuff on their own.  Making the bigger decisions and leaving the combat and gathering to the peons is my style, anyway.

There’s always something going on in this game, too.  When the day cycles to night, everything gets darker and skeletons and zombies come out to attack.  There are also portals that open up every 45-60 minutes that send an invasion that must be defeated (initially by Dwarves, and later on with automated defenses).  Meanwhile, a shelter for the Dwarves must be built, their needs (sleep, food, safety) must be attended, and always, always crafting must be done.

I guess you can’t get away with not crafting when it’s in the title, although this is the least interesting part of the game to me.  In theory, it’s pretty cool to turn all of those resources into tables and armor and houses, but Craft the World’s crafting interface is kind of clunky.  I’m really not thrilled with having to drag individual resources over to a pattern the first time you have to make something (what does that add to the experience, really?  I have the resources, just make it already.).  Fortunately, successive crafting attempts don’t require this.

Even with a small world, CTW’s games go on a long, long time.  Progress is made gradually and there a lot of recipes and crafting tiers to progress through.  Some resources — such as animals, trees, bushes, and wheat — natrually replenish, but rocks and earth do not, so I’m a little concerned about running out of ore at some point in the future.

Anyway, I’m passing on a recommendation to check this out if you are interested in a more casual and colorful version of Dwarf Fortress (with less, but not no, death).  My biggest caveat is that the iPad version is $10, which is kind of pricey for an app, but I felt it was worth it.

My 10 favorite geeky things of 2014 #8: iPhone 6

iphoneGetting a new smartphone after a few years with my trusty iPhone 4 was both a major event and a non-event.  It was an incremental upgrade with new technology, much needed but the iPhone 6 is more or less fulfilling the same function as my old 4.

However, I’m including it on this list because I’m glad I finally made the plunge.  Having a phone that actually works with some speed is wonderful, not to mention having more memory, Siri, an LTE connection, and other fancy tools.  Plus, an extra .7 inch of screen real estate has made Kindle reading and other activities easier.

Yes, part of me wishes that I could break out of the Apple ecosystem, although I’d be trading that for Google’s or Amazon’s and what’s the difference when it’s all big unfeeling corporations anyway?  But I know how Apple works on my mobile devices, at least, and appreciate the sleek design and apps that I’ve already paid for.

Blunt edge living: Upgrading to the iPhone 6

i6As we have firmly established on this blog, Syp is not a bleeding-edge or even cutting-edge tech geek.  I’m more like a blunt edge, living off of the scraps, pity, and discounts of those who have gone before me.  My desktop computer is at least four years old, my laptop three.  And until last week, I had been using an iPhone 4 (no, not a 4s) from several years ago.

Phone and tablet-wise, I’m pretty embedded into the Apple ecosystem with paid apps and familiarity, so I didn’t want to shake things up.  But I knew that the time had come for an upgrade.  Last year, I almost got a 5c but walked out of the store after having gone through most of the purchase process.  I felt like my old iPhone 4 still had some life left in it and I could wait until the next iteration.

I’m glad I did, because the 6 is a very good jump up.  It’s a really nice size increase (1.2″ more real estate), not to mention a much sleeker profile, better battery, and much, much better camera.  Lately, my 4 had gotten so slow that loading up the camera could take up to 30 seconds.

I’ve been slowly getting used to this new device and learning some of the quirks that other iPhone users have known for years now.  Like Siri.  Siri was not on the 4, and I really like composing texts with her, much faster than thumb-typing.  The speed increase is terrific, and while I didn’t splurge on the largest memory size, I did go from 32 gigs to 64.  That feels like an enormous amount of breathing room compared to how tightly I had been budgeting space for videos, music, and apps before.  I’m sure I’ll fill it up soon enough.

Does the fingerprint unlock thing weird anyone else out?  I mean, it’s convenient, but I am kind of wondering if Apple is sending all of these thumbprints to law enforcement agencies and/or bounty hunters.

Having the larger screen real estate will help with several apps that were previously annoying to use on a smaller screen.  I might even be semi-retiring my iPad mini (first generation) to being our kitchen music player.  My old iPhone 4 is now my wife’s backup, since she didn’t want to upgrade hers but wouldn’t mind having a standby in case she damages hers.  I like getting the most use out of old gadgets if at all possible.