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.

Tiny Tower Vegas review

tinyDuring my recent trip to PAX Prime in Seattle, I really only played two games on my own: a few short sessions of Star Trek Online and the brand-new Nimblebit title, Tiny Tower Vegas.

I’m a hopeless sucker for Nimblebit games, even though I know that I like them in bursts and then abandon them after a while.  For the period of time in which I am into them, they’re really relaxing, cute, somewhat mindless experiences that fill five minutes here and there.

Tiny Tower Vegas came out this past month and at first glance is pretty much just a Vegas-themed reskin of the classic Tiny Tower formula (which has already been redone as Tiny Death Star).  However, once I dug into it, I found that the devs did a great job both refining what came before and adding some improvements that make it more interactive and immersive.

TTV looks awesome, especially if you (like me) love pixel art.  The little floors are far more detailed and animated than before (I like watching the boxing match on the King Klub floor) and there are options to customize the lobby, elevator, and roof look.  Do you like my new Police Box elevator?  TARDIS away!

With the Vegas theme comes a new type of floor: casino games.  These function as businesses, but also contain one of three minigames (slots, poker, blackjack).  You use your occasionally-earned chips to play these in the hopes of getting a bux payout, which comes more often than not.  Bux pour in far faster and in greater numbers before, so I feel okay using them to speed up stocking and to save them up for cosmetic customization.

While floors are earned more slowly than before (I’ve been playing almost two weeks and only have 12 floors), there’s one terrific change with them: no more apartment levels.  Now you can staff your businesses with applicants in the lobby, each of which whom will tell you if you’ve got a dream job for them.  Apartments have been replaced by suites that are money makers in a different way.  If you ferry bitzens up to them, they’ll stay a certain length of time and then pay you on the way out.

The whole package feels more polished and generous than before, although it does still hang on the stock-wait to sell-restock grind.  I just like that it has more personality and actually showed thoughtfulness in how features were added, changed, and removed.  A good example of iteration.

Battleheart: Legacy will rock your mobile world

blI don’t want to be premature, but I think that Battleheart: Legacy might just be the best mobile game of the year.  It’s at least sucked me in, prompting me to play it for several hours so far with no signs of stopping.  Highly recommended, is what I’m saying.

Battleheart: Legacy is the sort-of sequel to Battleheart, an RPG squad combat simulator that came out several years ago.  Instead of just updating the graphics and whatnot, B:L went a slightly different route by making a single-character RPG in which you acquire and complete quests while clearing out various levels around a world map.

The production values here are top-notch.  B:L loads and plays beautifully, with very attractive graphics, good music, and an easy-to-understand interface.  Combat happens in real-time, with your character auto-attacking while you choose targets, position, and special skills.

The challenge is to clear each stage without dying (dying dings you gold, which is needed for skills and gear).  You get five full health potions per stage, but that’s it.  If you use them all up on the first few screens, chances are that you’re not going to make it all of the way through.  It can be pretty tough at times, which makes strategic fighting more important than wading in and just swinging away.

There are two things that elevate Battleheart: Legacy to “must have” status.  The first is that the quests and dialogue are surprisingly involved.  Your choice of moods and responses can make a big difference in how a quest proceeds.  Sometimes quests end up changing your options of progression later on, allowing you to be quite virtuous or dastardly evil.

But the really addictive factor is the multi-classing.  Your character starts with a sword and a single skill.  When you level up, you get three stat points to distribute.  You can buy into any of your unlocked classes (which start at five and go up as you discover more through quests) as long as you meet the stat prerequisites.  So choosing where you allocate your stat points makes a big difference as to which class trainer opens up the next skill for you to buy.

This means that you can be pulling in skills from a wide range of classes if desired — or you could just invest in one class and pursue it to its ultimate ability.  Your character gets eight active and eight passive skill slots, creating opportunities to fiddle with your build for the next zone challenge.

I started out as a fighter, pulling in skills from the Knight to get a shield.  Soon I found the Bard and went in deep there, getting skills to heal and charm enemies to fight for me.  Around level 9, I discovered the necromancer tower, found a skull that made me go on a murderous rampage against mages, and unlocked the necro trainer.  Now I’ve transitioned into mage armor, a wicked staff, and the ability to raise skeletons — all while retaining the skills from my other classes.  It makes hitting a new level really exciting, let me tell you.  And the replay value?  I can’t imagine.  I’m already thinking that I want to be a ninja next time around.

Dream Quest

dqIf you pride yourself on appreciating quality gameplay above lackluster aesthetics, then have I got a game for you: Dream Quest.

I was fishing around for a new game to play on my iPad and saw that a bunch of folks over on the Touch Arcade forums were chatting this title up something fierce.  Almost to a T, all of them said the same thing: If you can get past the looks, this is an incredibly addictive roguelike.

I’ll say the same.  It’s certainly no looker, although one could argue that its stick-figure crudeness might be part of its charm.  But the core gameplay is really interesting.

You start out by picking one of four classes to explore a dungeon, tile by tile.  There are enemies, there are buffs, and there are little houses that offer up encounters and shops.  You try to survive as long as possible, hopefully beat the boss, and progress to the next level.

The combat system is a rudimentary card battle system, where you draw a few cards from your deck and play them to your advantage.  This is where all of the classes really feel different: the Wizard uses more mana cards and spells, the Thief is big on chain attacks, and so on.  Combat goes pretty fast, especially since you have a “play all” button to facilitate your attacks.

So far, it sounds pretty boring and traditional, but here is where Dream Quest starts to get different.  First, you have to know that there’s no way for you to beat the first level when you’re starting out.  You have a weak deck, you have low HP, and you’re going to get creamed.  So the point isn’t to win, but to strengthen your character as much as possible during that run and then to fill out achievements that give you lasting bonuses for future runs.  For example, after your first death, you get an achievement that awards you a choice of a starting talent for every new run.  After a few games, I got achievements that boosted my starting health, gave me a bit of gold at the beginning, etc.

Eventually you’ll be unlocking achievements that give you new classes, more cards, card upgrades, and all sorts of crude art wonders that should provide a fighting chance to make it further and further through the dungeon.  That, on top of the increasing number of options that the card battles present, offer an evolving game.

Anyway, it was $3 and I felt it was well-spent and wanted to share it with y’all.  I had a half-hour this morning to play a game, and instead of logging onto an MMO, I chose Dream Quest.  I imagine that says something.