Try It Tuesday: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp

I don’t get Animal Crossing. Never have, probably never will.

If you were anywhere on mobile last week, you probably saw that Nintendo finally released its long-awaited Animal Crossing Pocket Camp as a free-to-play title. It quickly became THE hot game download of the week, and roped me in out of curiosity more than an actual desire to play it.

I never really connected with this series. I played the original on Gamecube back in the day, spending more time puzzling out why any of this was supposed to be enjoyable than actually enjoying it. It was a glorified task simulator with sickeningly cutesie graphics and some very bossy animals. I messed around with it for a few days, changed the Gamecube clock to make different stuff happen in-game, and quickly moved on.

But perhaps, I thought, this time would be different? Everyone seems to go bananas for this series, and when you lay out some of its features on paper, they line up pretty closely to game elements that I enjoy. Housing. Life simulation. Um… a laid-back mellow vibe. I guess that’s it.

From what I can tell, Pocket Camp is a pretty bare-bones version of Animal Crossing (which wasn’t THAT deep to begin with) coupled with an online element and F2P microtrans. You are sort of building up a campsite — which has a large wooden floor and no walls, for some reason — and to make best friends with animals by throwing gifts at them left and right. In reality, the animals are a fence, turning your useless apples and cod into useful crafting “rewards” like cotton and perfume. Then you craft items to attract more animals, pretty up your campsite, make money, and… yeah, that’s about all I see there. The game does hint at being able to throw parties and do some other things with amenities, but to tell the truth, it kind of lost me after the second session.

There’s just not enough meat on the bones here. I’ll go through grind and do silly activities if I feel like they’re worthwhile to progression, but here it just all feels like meaningless busywork. After one round of shaking down trees for fruit, catching bugs, and fishing, I could see the future of doing this a million times and not finding that terribly compelling. I wasn’t thrilled with how many transition screens existed and how many times I had to keep clicking on prompts to make things happen, such as visiting friends’ campsites and crafting.

Another significant issue is that, like with previous versions, I really cannot get into the art design. The human characters in particular look like creepy Raggedy Ann dolls that scream to me that this game is meant for those ages six and under.

In the end, Pocket Camp made me yearn for a game that did a lot of this just way, way better — Stardew Valley. There is a lot of points of comparison between the two, but Stardew’s pixelart is easier to get into, its farming system offers a great core gameplay loop, and there’s a far bigger town full of residents to get involved with. Now why isn’t THAT on mobile already?

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Try-It Tuesday: Divinity Original Sin 2

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

Shoutout today to @Lord_Dolvic, who graciously gifted me a copy of this game earlier this month. It’s been on my short list of “must play soon,” but vacation and work kept conspiring against me, and I wanted to block off a nice chunk of time for my first session or two. This past weekend I got it, and so here it goes!

I guess this game is the most recent sequel of one of my old cult favorite RPGs, 2002’s Divine Divinity. There was a Divinity Original Sin 1 a year or two back, but that passed me by (as do so many CRPGs these days, alas) and I didn’t hear many people playing it. But this one? It was getting smothered in kudos after its launch, and when I read some of these and listened to word-of-mouth on it, I knew I wanted to give it a try. Basically, it’s a nearly-anything-goes fantasy RPG that truly encourages character roleplay. I’m down for that, so let’s get started!

I heard two pieces of advice for this game: to pick one of the origin characters so as to be treated to a deeper character story, and to pick “pet pal” so that you can talk to animals. Thus, I’m going with Lohse for this playthrough. She’s a former musician and entertainer who’s also plagued with some sort of dark spirit that’s trying to take over. I decided to make her a Conjurer so that I could whip up some pets. I also got the opportunity to pick her musical instrument (I went with the lute-like oud).

The story begins with Lohse waking up on a prison ship, where she’s on her way to an island where they keep spellcasters. She’s got a nice anti-magic collar (which doesn’t seem to stop magic casting in combat, I noticed) and a pocket full of resentment and jocularity.

The moment I knew I was going to like this game was the moment that it let me equip a bucket as a helmet. Yes, this is my sort of setting.

So Lohse explores the ship and meets several other colorful prisoners as well as her captors. There’s a brutally murdered prisoner about, but the “mystery” is solved rather quickly and the whole place becomes a rather impressive staging ground for a sea assault by a giant death squid-thing.

Pet pal perk totally paying off so far! I literally cannot wait until I find more animals to chat up. So far I’ve found one sheep, two dogs, and one somewhat blind cat.

It really is a rather slick game, from what I’ve seen so far. I didn’t have a hard time getting the hang of it, and the turn-based combat was as clear and intuitive as I could have asked for. Lots of options for varied development, so I am concentrating on my summoning abilities and some one-handed weapon fighting.

After the events of the ship, Lohse washes up on shore, because you can’t have an RPG where this doesn’t happen! Happily, the bucket is intact (I did ditch it a little later because it was dragging my initiative down). I wandered about this somewhat nice island where I met back up with my former cellmates, forming a full party in record time. There was also a little kid who totally freaked out when he used a magic mirror on me and said that I was a thing wearing a human shell, which is somewhat disconcerting.

I took my time and leisurely explored the first half of the island before heading into the ghetto. Some interesting encounters, and I’m starting to get a feel for the world and its backstory. Generally I’m trying to be a good person, but I didn’t hesitate in stealing an enforcer’s camp and killing her when she stepped in to say something. On the flip side, I did save an Elf, which I’m sure I’ll come to regret greatly later on.

Great start so far, and I’m feeling quite interesting in the format and story of this game. Feels like there’s a ton to do, so a bit at a time until I get the hang of it!

Try It Tuesday: Iron Marines

Even though I’m trying to penny-pinch in anticipation of a vacation next month, I had to loosen my purse strings to buy this game. I’m totally owning that purse strings comment, too. Real men carry around velvet bags of gold doubloons with impunity.

Anyway. This week’s try-it game is Iron Marines, a mobile RTS from the makers of the incredibly awesome Kingdom Rush tower defense trilogy. This studio’s art style and accessible, addictive gameplay made Iron Marines a must-buy sight unseen, and I have no regrets over its purchase.

So instead of being strictly a TD title, Iron Marines is best likened to a slick mobile edition of Starcraft… with a hint of tower defense. It’s basically Terrans vs. Zerg, although obviously named differently. You can pretend it’s Starship Troopers if that helps you get through the day.

You play the part of the human forces landing on a hostile alien world and take part in a campaign to establish a stronghold and yadda yadda yadda. It’s just an excuse to blast bug-things en masse with all of the technology that the human race has to offer.

Even though the Starcraft comparisons are inevitable, it’s not exactly the same game. Everything’s more streamlined, so base-building is merely upgrading your main structure and deciding what defenses to build. You can only have a handful of squads out at a time, too, so no building up an overwhelming force and then getting into fights.

In fact, being outmanned (such as it is) is a big part of the game — the aliens have vastly more numbers on their side, and if you’re not careful you can get overrun quickly. But by being daring and smart, you might be able to push forward, take over their bases, and slowly expand your resource base.

On your side, you have the choice of different types of units, such as squads of snipers or big flamethrower mechs. You also get a tougher hero unit with a pair of useful skills, a mobile tower that can be dropped down for a limited-time assistance every 30 seconds, and whatever defenses you build up around your base. Making the best decisions for the situation is a key part to living or dying.

It’s just a fun game, period. The art is more cheery than Starcraft and keeps the Kingdom Rush-style alive and kicking (I like the little sound clips that the units have, especially the heroes). It’s just enough complexity for a mobile game, with touch-and-drag being a majority of what you end up doing during a game as you maneuver units around the map.

If I had any complaints, one might be that the map is too small and can only be enlarged a little bit — even on a tablet. I wish I could zoom in more to see what’s going on. Also, I’m worried that the 14 missions and 10 spec ops missions might not be that much content overall. I did replay the Kingdom Rush games like crazy, so I’m keeping an eye out for replayability here. Finally, I’m not crazy about the fact that this is a premium-priced game WITH in-app purchases (buffs and additional hero units past the three or four you are allocated).

Anyway, I have a feeling this is going on my regular mobile play rotation and will be there for a while to come. Perfect for vacation travel, even!

Try-It Tuesday: West of Loathing

For about a decade now, there’s been this under-the-radar browser MMO operating called Kingdom of Loathing. I’ve played and wrote about it several times, but basically it’s a multiplayer fantasy world filled with stick figures, hand-drawn items, and 80% of the world’s stockpile of puns. KoL developed a reputation as a really funny and often surprisingly clever RPG that walks on the surreal side and utilizes a “reincarnation” system to encourage players to start over numerous times.

This month, the small team behind Kingdom of Loathing finally rolled out a spin-off single-player RPG called West of Loathing, and I can say that from about a week of playing it, it might be the best entertainment you’ll consume all summer. The setting and premise is couched in western tropes — you’re an antsy adventurer who is looking to make his or her fame and fortune in the wild west. Except that this west is not so much historically accurate as it is bizarre, gonzo, and as goofy as it wants to be.

West of Loathing obviously exists in the same universe as KoL, with the same stats, currency (meat), art style, and so on. But there are differences, solo play notwithstanding. You move around in areas with WASD (versus KoL’s menu system) and the combat is more tactical and interesting. It’s also more of an open world RPG like what you’d find with Fallout or Skyrim, so exploring different locations and gradually opening up the landscape is a major part of your progress.

I referred to Kingdom of Loathing as “clever” and “funny,” and both of these attributes are in full effect in this spin-off. If I’m not laughing at some hideously bad pun, activating “stupid walking,” or rolling my eyes as I’m reading plaque after plaque in the “Shaggy Dog Cavern,” I’m finding myself stymied by various puzzles and secrets that are sprinkled everywhere. Trying to subdue one gang in a hat factory, I had to figure out how to spot each of the five members’ hiding tells without getting any wrong. I don’t know when the last time a game made me play hide and go seek, but there we are.

The game is not afraid to break the fourth wall repeatedly, especially to chide you or question your decisions. There’s a running gag about the spittoons in this game and how I (and most other players, I’d reckon) keep digging around in their muck like the trained RPG players we are without really considering how disgusting this is. Well, the game certainly goes to great lengths to call the player out on this. I loved it.

The combat took a little bit to get used to, but it’s actually pretty engaging. WoL uses a simple turn-based system between your team and enemies, but your characters can employ actions that don’t immediately end your turn (like downing a health flask) and ones that do. Getting the most out of every turn and downing enemies fast is key. My character is a Snake Oiler, so I toss out venomous snakes and drink the medicine I make from them while firing away with my toilet scum-encrusted six-shooter to give the enemies “stench” damage and poison them.

Once I got going in this game, it started to suck up the hours. It really is those “one more turn” (or “one more location”) types of experiences that end up making you blink at the clock and wonder if it really is 2:00 a.m. already. And I should probably give the soundtrack, a cheeky Western tribute, some praise as well for giving the game a great audio atmosphere.

For just $11, this was a purchase that was well worth it… and now it’s making me want to play Kingdom of Loathing all over again.

Try-It Tuesday: Galaxy of Pen and Paper

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

I am a massive fan of the “Pen and Paper” game series that so far has churned out the two Knights games. My frothy excitement overflowed when I saw that there was a sci-fi installment coming, and this past week, Galaxy of Pen and Paper finally arrived. I’ve been getting very little else done since.

If you’re not familiar with these games, the conceit is that you’re controlling a party of real RPG gamers sitting at a table with a GM who leads you through various missions. It’s part meta and part in-universe and extremely jokey all the way through, and I haven’t seen much else like it. The little conversations your guys have as they go on missions and comment on the various ridiculous RPG tropes are awesome, perhaps more so for the ever-so-slightly off English writing (the team is from Brazil, so maybe that explains it?). There are main campaign missions as well as randomly generated ones, and while combat is the meat-and-potatoes, there’s some actual (albeit brief) role-playing involved.

Galaxy of Pen and Paper doesn’t change up the formula so much as expand and improve upon it. It’s obviously sci-fi instead of fantasy themed this time around, which means a lot of Star Trek, Star Wars, Hitchhiker’s Guide, Doctor Who, Akira, and other references peppered throughout. One big change is that combat takes place on a horizontal field this time instead of the top-and-bottom fighting of its predecessors (probably to allow the game to show off your characters more). There is also a space portion with some ship combat, although it’s not quite as engaging.

I had a hard time getting going at first, since I kept getting dissatisfied with my party and skill choices. Plus, at the start you only get a handful of characters and classes. More classes are unlocked as you play, but it was a little disappointing not to be able to customize the looks of my characters.

Eventually I got into the groove and found that there’s a lot of depth here. Each character can equip four skills total — both active and passive — but can unlock many more. So there’s a lot of choice involved in how you build your party and some obvious synergies between characters.

The pen-and-paper motif and the cheeky humor easily keeps me entertained. It might be fluff, but it’s fluff that elevates these games above the ocean of other RPGs out there. This game, like the others, is ideal for pick-up-and-play quick sessions, although the much more packed screen (forced landscape this time) makes it cramped on an iphone — I ended up playing it on my tablet instead.

Here’s hoping that it remains entertaining, has a good amount of content, and is popular enough to encourage the devs to bring us some updates!

Try-It Tuesday: Kingdoms and Castles

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

While it seems like the Steam release that everyone is playing this week is Yonder, I went in another direction and picked up the interesting-looking Kingdoms and Castles. I am always a sucker for a good building sim, as they’re relaxing and gratifying on a different level than what I get in MMOs.

So what is this? Kingdoms and Castles is a streamlined — perhaps a wee too much — kingdom sim where you plant down a castle center and start building up a town to support your eventual Fortress of Doom. There’s absolutely no tutorial (why?), but it’s pretty straight-forward and after a couple of false starts, I found my groove.

Getting all of the production lines set up to harvest and bake food, cut down trees for wood, and hew rocks from the quarry is essential, as is creating a balanced village that has enough housing, amenities, and support structures to keep your peasants content. Seasons and years pass, everything grows, and I was always saving up the next round of resources for much-needed projects. It felt like I never had enough and had to prioritize what I wanted to build and how much I could support, which is actually good. Interesting choices and all of that.

Like the gameplay itself, the graphics are somewhat simple and functional. Everything looks like Legos and Fisher-Price, and I kept going back and forth on whether I liked it or if it could have used more detail. I think the latter. It’s colorful and does the job, but there comes a point when your minimalistic desires start to make everything too abstract instead of creating a visual reference for players to identify and bond with.

As your kingdom grows, threats emerge from inside and out. There are always plagues, fires, starvation, and discontent to deal with, but even if you have a fully happy and safe population, dragons, ogres, and vikings might show up to ruin the day. This is why it’s essential to have a decked-out castle with attack towers and troops and walls and moats, although making all of these takes a LOT of time and resources.

For $10, I felt like Kingdoms and Castles had good value as a casual building sim. I wouldn’t mind seeing the devs patch in more variety and even some better graphics, but it kept me entertained for a few hours and I’ll be leaving it on my desktop for future sessions. Oh! I’d love to see this on tablet. Man it would be sweet on tablet. Oh well…

Try-It Tuesday: Missile Cards

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

It’s been a while since I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a new mobile game, and happily this happened last week. I saw some strong buzz for a Steam game that just launched on iOS, and I splurged on the $3 price to pick it up.

So the game is called Missile Cards, if you couldn’t make out the tiny font in the graphic up there, and the best way to describe it is “Missile Command: The Card Game.” You know Missile Command? That really old arcade game that taught John Connor the futility of humanity’s future before the T-1000 tried to shoot him in the face? It’s a bizarre concept that really works well, and it’s well and gotten me hooked.

Missile Cards puts you in charge of defending a planet under bombardment from comets, nukes, and other terrible threats. If you can eliminate all of the threats without dying, then you win the game, but chances are you’re going to lose, and maybe lose quickly if you end up drawing bad cards.

During each turn of the round-based game, you can (generally) perform just one action as a conveyor belt brings cards across the screen. Threat cards get played automatically and put a Bad Thing on the heads-up display, such as a comet crashing down on one of your sub-bases or your main base. But you can prep weapons to attack (these need two or three turns to ready), charge up weapons faster with batteries, prep tractor beams (which suck in currency from destroyed threats that can be spent on permanent upgrades), and play other helpful cards. Your sub-bases can only take one hit before being destroyed (and if they’re hit again, game over) and your main base has hit points that absorb a certain amount of damage. The lower a threat falls on the screen, the more points it’s worth when destroyed… and that’s pretty much the gist of it.

The simple design and flow of play hides a lot of strategy, particularly as you’re trying to plan out three or four moves ahead of time. The conveyor belt doesn’t stop pushing cards across, and you want to grab and use helpful cards before they get tossed back into the deck, but you also need to eliminate threats. Some games are pretty much over at the start, but by thinking ahead, using the bare minimum response needed to destroy threats (each threat has a hit point count), and sometimes sacrificing sub-bases, you can have a fighting chance.

I love that each game is only about five minutes long and lets you make progress on missions (think achievements) and currency collection so that even a failure helps you out in the long run. There are different stages with more difficult challenges, but you don’t have to progress until you’re ready. I also really dig a simplified deck building mechanic at play that allows you to buy special cards and equip whichever ones you think are the most beneficial.

Anyway, a fun and addictive little game that I recommend to you… and I think will stay on my phone for a long time to come.