Mobile game recommendation: Dungeon Warfare

It’s been a while since I’ve experienced an iPhone game that got me super-excited, but such a title happened this past week and I wanted to share it: Dungeon Warfare.

Dungeon Warfare is a mash-up of a few types of games. First and foremost, it’s a tower defense game (waves of mobs come that you have to kill before they reach your portal). But there’s a bit of Dungeon Keeper in it (since you’re running your own dungeon) and a much different feel to it. Probably the coolest part is that you can set up traps to ping-pong off each other, mousetrap-style, setting of chains of destructive glory that ripple through the oncoming waves.

Everything about this game is spot-on perfect. The pixel art works great and keeps the gore from being more than abstract, the sound effects (traps and screams) lend weight to the gameplay, and the whole interface is a dream to work with. I love how the game super-slows down when you’re placing a trap — although it doesn’t stop entirely.

There’s a lot of strategy with the different stages, especially since you can’t keep plopping down the same one type of trap, as traps become more and more expensive when you’re overusing a single type. You can even handicap yourself on stages (giving yourself only one life or allowing the mobs to regenerate health) in order to get more XP. The leveling mechanic also works well, allowing you to beef up your traps, dungeon bonuses, and consumables.

I think this was a Steam game first, but it just came out on iOS last week and I’ve been rocking it ever since. It’s brutally fun and could well be my new favorite tower defense game. Wiping out waves of heroes never gets old.

Tales from the Borderlands is officially my favorite Telltale game to date

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Let me tell you, Telltale Games keeps impressing me with each new title that it pumps out. OK, so some aren’t as good as others (Walking Dead Season 2 definitely fell short of the perfection of Season 1), but I have thoroughly enjoyed devouring titles like The Wolf Among Us and the three Walking Dead entries (including 400 days).

What these games lack in actual challenging mechanics (very little puzzle solving, overdependence on quicktime events) are more than made up for with agonizing decisions, great characters, high production values, and storytelling that sucks me in to a degree that I thought only books could do.

So when I say that Tales from the Borderlands is officially my favorite of the Telltale library to date, I want to impress upon you that this is a game that’s gone above and beyond the already high standards that have been set by its predecessors. I promised myself that I would fully complete all five episodes on my phone before talking about it, and now that I have, I’m here to spread the word and make a few more converts.

Seriously. Play this game. You shan’t regret it.

What I like about the Telltale team is a willingness to take unorthodox IPs and whip them into an adventure game series. Wolf Among Us was a surprise in taking us into the comic book universe of the Fables, and now with TFTB, we have an adventure game that’s spawned from a rather madcap scifi shooter series. And the thing is, it may be the best Borderlands product out there.

So what do we have here? Tales from the Borderlands is the story of two characters on the planet Pandora: Rhys, a company man who is trying to jump ahead in the ranks, and Fiona, a con artist who’s attempting to score big. Their paths cross early, thanks to an unfolding plot device of a key that can open up one of the planet’s mythical treasure vaults. Soon, crazy adventures are happening left and right as the two assemble a wide entourage that includes Rhys’ best friend, a child-like robot, a shield-using assassin, gangsters, and more.

As with the other Telltale games (from Walking Dead on), the bulk of the interactive story is selecting action and dialogue choices — on a limited time frame — as they come up, not knowing how these decisions will impact the future of the game. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but sometimes the smallest action can have strong ramifications down the road. I thought it was quite brilliant that what you assumed to be a disposable combat robot turned out to be a creature that had feelings — and grudges based on how you treated it in the past.

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Above and beyond the usual Telltale format, Tales from the Borderlands experiments with a few new features (Rhys has a cybernetic eye and Fiona can swipe cash to spend on odds and ends) and crafts a surprisingly deep and involved story that can be, in turns, funny, touching, sad, and action-packed. The opening credits for each episode are little masterpieces of the medium, turning an Indiana Jones-like tale into something larger than life.

This game is weird. Really weird. I didn’t know much about the Borderlands universe, but I certainly learned a lot from this game — and I like it. It’s part Firefly, part western, part Mass Effect, part Dune, part a lot of things and also a bit of its own creation. You almost don’t blink twice after a while at some of the crazy crap that goes down, including finding a guy’s face (!) to use for a con, talking to a holographic entity that has taken up residence in Rhys’ head, or suddenly becoming a death race celebrity.

It’s also one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever encountered. I really didn’t want the game to end because I was often laughing way too hard at all of the quips and funny little moments. There are great running gags (Rhys’ horrible tie and everyone’s reaction to it is one) and snarky asides that make you feel like you’re watching a well-crafted movie. Being able to direct what some of the characters say helps you delude yourself that you’re just as funny as the game’s writers.

Funny and weird, weird and funny. You fire off a pistol in an office-slash-corporate museum to hit the flank of a giant unicorn statue… and it bleeds. And your character is really taken aback at the fact that this is a bleeding statue and wondering why it’s a bleeding statue and it’s funnier the more nobody answers the question of WHY IT IS A BLEEDING STATUE. It’s just part and parcel of the greatness of this game.

I also want to give props to the title’s best action sequence (spoiler here but I can’t help but comment on it) — a huge Matrix-like shootout… in which all of the participants use imaginary finger guns. You just won’t see this in any other game, ever.

Finally, for all of its weird humor, TFTB left me feeling deeply affectionate for its cast of characters. Unlike Wolf Among Us or Walking Dead, this isn’t a dour game where everyone ends up dying (although there are a few unscheduled demises). It’s an upbeat adventure starring a crazy bunch of lovable misfits who might have just found their best friends — and that includes the love between two robots.

If you’ve played it, you know how awesome this game is. And if you haven’t, I just hope that I’ve convinced you to give it a try. Trust me — you need the laughs.

Fallout Shelter just turned into a kind of awesome game

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Recently I reinstalled Fallout Shelter onto my phone and I discovered something surprising: It had actually turned into a real game.

I mean, it was always an above-par base builder with a little more interactivity than your standard time-gated builders, but the decision to take some of the action outside of the shelter and into the wasteland was a terrific move. Sometimes you just want to leave home so you don’t feel so claustrophobic, you know?

The new quests and exploration events aren’t super-involved, but they are a lot better than I would have thought. Parties can now explore various structures, fighting, looting, and questing their way through them. There are even storylines to follow, and I am getting a kick out of seeing my party banter as they shoot up packs of ghouls and radroaches. Plus, the art has that retro-futuristic Fallout feel, so even the environments are fun to discover.

This one change has really made Fallout Shelter far more compelling than it used to be (and again, it wasn’t a bad game to start with). The other night one of my explorers found a cabin where a girl greeted us and warned us that her ma and pa were biters. Sure enough, in the basement were two feral ghouls looking for a meal, which felt like a classic little Fallout tale.

I kind of want more. I kind of want to see a full Fallout game done with this 2-D art. But for now I’ll just take pleasure in seeing what else is out there in the wasteland to discover.

Tiny Tower, five years later

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Last week, Nimblebit announced that it was giving its old classic Tiny Tower a major update for its fifth anniversary. This was personally fortuitous, as I had just returned to Tiny Tower to start anew. Having a beefy update with lots of quality-of-life features is extremely welcome.

Ever since Tiny Tower released five years ago, I have been playing one of Nimblebit’s pixelart games in some form. First it was Tiny Tower, then Pocket Planes, then Nimble Quest, then Pocket Trains, then Tiny Death Star, and most recently, Tiny Tower Vegas. And while each of those games has its charms, there’s something about the original Tiny Tower that makes it my favorite of the bunch.

It just hits the spot as a mobile game. It fits the vertical phone format well, has a metric ton of personality, can be played for mere minutes at a time if need be, and has a satisfying economic loop. I love looking at all of the details worked into each floor, even if they all are just set dressing.

I easily recall playing Tiny Tower in that first year late at night on mission trip or on a plane while going to visit my in-laws. The addition of costumes and missions have helped somewhat since then, and I think my wife probably got even more into the game than I ever have (hey, she maxed out her tower, a feat I have ever yet to accomplish).

Sure, I have a few suggestions that I wish would happen. The game needs more than three music tracks, for starters, and it would be great if the Bitbook posts would flash across the tower screen instead of making you go through the menu system to read what the bitzens are saying. But for the most part, it’s a terrific game and it looks like there are a lot of new floors and ways to customize a tower to come.

Can’t wait for the update to come out — and I really hope that Nimblebit has another game in that universe cooking.

Civilization fans, you gotta try SuperTribes

supertribesIt’s been a while since I’ve come to you with a strong mobile game recommendation, so hold on to your butts, because here it is. You got to pick up and try SuperTribes.

I saw some buzz circulating about this game last Friday, and when I took a peek, I thought the art was cute and the price (free) attractive. So why not?

Within a half-hour, I was absolutely grooving on this game. Heck, within 10 minutes. There’s no tutorial but if I can figure everything out within minutes, so can you.

Basically, SuperTribes is a pared-down Civilization clone that eschews huge, drawn-out games for a more accelerated and streamlined experience. You pick a tribe (there are four free ones and a fifth that’s the game’s sole IAP — for $0.99), each of which sports a different look and starting skill, customize a game (just the number of computer opponents and difficulty level), and then get going. Maps are always the same overall size and are randomly generated.

What changes the game here is that you start with 30 turns, no more, no less. Once you run out of turns, the game is over and that is that. So it’s very rare that you’ll end up conquering the world (although it can happen); instead, the goal is to grow the best civilization you can in that time frame and get the highest score (and there are many ways to boost a score).

Three design choices help SuperTribes be way better than it has any right to be. First, it’s got a really attractive art design that’s meant to play holding your phone normally instead of landscape. Two, it’s quite intuitive, with the more complex Civ features taken away or restructured to fit a time-limited game. Three, start-to-finish it’s never boring or requires tons of micromanagement. It’s a perfect mobile title for that.

Your currency is resources, which are used to build new units, roads, structures, and purchase tech advances (there are around 20 of those). Cities generate resources, so you want to build those up by increasing their population (through fishing, farming, mining, etc.). Every time a city levels up, you get a choice between two helpful features (such as an explorer who will uncover a chunk of the map or another +1 to resource generation). So every turn you can send your units to explore and spend resources to advance your civ the way you like.

Growing your empire is handled in an interesting fashion, too. You can’t create settlers and spawn a hundred towns. No, you have to find unclaimed villages and plop a unit on them for a turn, then they’re yours. Capturing an enemy city is pretty much the same, as long as you can get rid of its defensive unit (if any). You can only have one unit per square and there are only about a dozen or less types of units (from swordsmen to knights to ships), each with their own pros and cons. If you accomplish certain tasks — claim enough cities or defeat enough units — you’ll be given a free super-structure (think Civ’s wonders) that will not just help your empire but contribute greatly to the final score.

Interacting with other civs is streamlined as well. No diplomacy here: Most civs start off somewhat neutral to you (usually they’ll give you a free tech advance when first encountered), but sooner or later everyone starts fighting. There are no treaties, no suing for peace, nothing other than either trying to ignore them, turtle up, or go on the offensive. Happily, combat is pretty simple and the “only one unit to a square” rule makes Civ’s stacking a thing that doesn’t happen here.

I’ve played several games so far and can say that they usually last about 15-20 minutes each. Perfect for a quick break. The turn limit strangely works in its favor, encouraging the player to be more bold and not get too attached to a civilization, its towns, or its armies. Use it or lose it, really. Seriously, check it out and prepare to be charmed!

6 tips and tricks for Dungeon Boss

Got to say, Dungeon Boss has me well and hooked less than a week after picking it up for the first time. It’s hit this sweet spot with casual gameplay, collectables, dungeon running, looting, and a not-that-annoying business model.

I’ve slowly and gradually been picking up on a few tactics and strategies along the way, and wanted to pass them along to anyone else who’s playing.

(1) Click on sparklies in the background

Every so often when you’re running a dungeon you’ll see that a background item — a gate, vase, rock, what have you — is subtly sparkling. If you click on it before you move on to the next screen, you’ll get a bit of treasure. Usually it’s gold, but sometimes it’s an extra stamina point.

(2) Work on the three ways of leveling up your characters

Every character has three lanes of progression. The first is XP, as characters can level up to your overall level, allowing you to buy new levels of their skills and basic attacks. The second is to collect hero tokens to eventually give them a new star level, which exponentially increases that character’s power. And the third is to collect “evos” (the little blobby guys you sometimes see in dungeons) to ascend the character two more times for additional skills.

(3) Create a core team

There’s a lot of synergy going on between characters, and once you have more than five or six, you’ll want to start investing your time and money into a core team that synergizes well together. That core team should also be used to protect your dungeon, since those will be the characters you’ll have leveled up the most.

Every day I make sure to run dungeons that award tokens for my core team’s heroes. The easy way to do that is to open up the hero screen and click on the question mark next to their leveling bar. That opens up a panel with quick ports to dungeon levels with unclaimed daily tokens.

(4) Don’t spend gold on portal summons!

You will really need gold for skill training, which gets expensive as you level and get more characters. Besides, you can get one or two easy free summons every day just by logging in and doing quests. The gem and hero scroll summons are way better anyway.

Oh, and once you get your dungeon, make sure to empty your coffers a couple of times a day! You also complete a quest for doing that.

(5) Get friends — and use them

Friends in this game are actually really useful (and I’m “syppi” if you want to add me). Each friend gives you the ability to use their designated hero once a day in a dungeon run — it’s like an extra summons that not only helps you with a boss, but gives you 30 honor scrolls for using them. I try to use all of my friends’ summons every day to stock up on those scrolls.

(6) Read up on your heroes

The hero screens are incredibly useful fonts of information with lots of tooltips if you click on things. Finding out the nuances of each hero and how they work with other heroes is a key in creating an unstoppable team. Plus, the artwork and flavor text is often amusing.

My new iPhone obsession: Dungeon Boss

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The past week has found me really digging into a new iPhone title that was highlighted on the app store: Dungeon Boss. I hadn’t heard much about it beforehand, but now that I’ve clocked a few days of it under my belt, I’m really grooving on it as a “few spare minutes here and there” kind of game.

Dungeon Boss challenges you to collect a team of heroes and continually run very linear dungeons with (as the stilted title implies) bosses at the end. The game is a cycle: You run dungeons to get hero tokens to unlock new characters, and the new characters run dungeons. Each hero has a set of skills and traits that make them good in certain situations and with other characters, so there’s a strategy in assembling the right team for any specific run. In easy runs, there’s an auto button to have characters default attack their way through, but in most challenging dungeons I have to be handling the whole run to use abilities at certain times and focus firing on certain mobs.

The aesthetic is quite blocky, sort of a colorful Minecraft/Trove thing, with old school video game sound effects. It’s a free-to-play title, so there’s some of the trappings of that model — energy meter, a cheeky but noticeable push to buy some faster advancement. But it’s also pretty fun to play as completely free, because the challenge is to both unlock heroes and continually improve the ones you have.

Anyway, it’s a cute little RPGish thing with a few social elements (I like how you can use friends’ heroes as special summons in your runs, as well as set up your own dungeon for PvP battles) and a good style. Check it out!