By Doug Goldring on Sat, 12/03/2011
Aaaaand…we’re back (yes, I know, never start a sentence, let alone a paragraph, let alone an entire article with a conjunction like and, but, or or…oh well, guess the article is already off to a rollicking start, so let’s just get back to it.) For those of you who are just joining us, Let’s Play is an opportunity for me to fill all of you, our dear readers, in on a handful of the latest iOS games, which I have been enjoying lately. Some of these were provided by the developers for me to check out, while others were purchased by me. Many of them, however, are completely free…which is always my favorite kind of game.
Originally, I planned this edition to look at Halloween themed games, but I was a little slow putting it together. Which is why we are just getting to it now, after Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, I have been enjoying a number of Halloween themed games, many of which were real Thrillers, and some of them made the final cut in this article. So, put your gaming hats on and we will jump right in to check out a few Halloween games as well as a number of others, all of which I think you will really enjoy. As always, these will be presented in alphabetical order.
Aces Hearts: I have always been a card game aficionado. This love affair with the deck of 52 dates back to my grandfather, who taught me card games like gin rummy, solitaire, and poker as a child on the beaches of Cape Cod. Still, it was not until I started college that I discovered the game of Hearts. My freshman year in college, we used to have marathon Hearts tournaments, which often only ended when someone had to leave the table to drag themselves to an 8:00 AM class. Like so many card games, the rules of Hearts can be deceptively simple. All you have to do is play your cards so that you do not claim any hearts…unless you are trying to “shoot the moon” in which case you may try to win them all. A heart is worth one point, the Queen of Spades is worth a whopping 13. Shoot the moon, however, by winning the Queen of Spades and all thirteen hearts, and not only will you earn zero points, but you will also send a whopping 26 points to each of your opponents. In some variations, the Jack of Diamonds will also be worth minus ten points. The first player to reach the maximum points wins. I though Concrete Software did a spectacular job with this one. The graphics and animation were extremely smooth, giving the game almost exactly the same feel as a real deck of cards. I did find the characters in the computer controlled hands to be a bit of a distraction. They were just not developed enough. I wish concrete Software had given the other characters a bit more backstory and character. It would have been more fun if these characters had been provided with unique personalities which would affect their gameplay. For that matter, it would have been even better if you could have ignored these characters altogether and played against real live opponents either via pass and play or over the Internet. Nonetheless, the game also features fantastic control over the options in the game, including the winning score, difficulty, and other rules. I absolutely love Hearts, and I thought the graphics, animation, and settings in this version make this the best electronic Hearts game I have played. Though I did think as good as it was, it could have been even better with a few minor tweaks.
Amazing Breaker HD: This is a fascinating twist on the catapult genre, which was largely popularized by Angry Birds. In this one, however, instead of launching birds, you will be hurling different kinds of bombs. Likewise, instead of destroying pigs in their homes, your job is to destroy floating, intricately designed ice sculptures. There is not much in the way of a back story behind this game, so I cannot tell you what exactly your problem is with these ice designs, only that they are beautifully drawn. It seems almost a shame to destroy them…though that is exactly what you must do. The bombs themselves may not have quite the same personality as those chafed avians. Still, you will find quite a few familiar friends amongst these explosives. There are standard bombs which will just fire and explode, as well as a splitter which splits into three powerful explosives when you tap the screen. Additionally, you will find a few new tools your arsenal, including a ghost bomb, which will pass through anything in its path until it runs out of momentum and explodes; and the helicopter bomb, which will drop a string of explosives before running out of momentum and detonating the entire strand. This is a spectacular and beautifully drawn game. My only complaint was that it seemedawfully crashy. Often, it would crash at the end of every level, forcing you to replay the same level again and again. That minor quibble aside, however, this is a fantastic addition to the catapult genre.
Amazing Breaker HD is available in the iTunes App Store from Dekovir, Inc. for $1.99. An iPhone/iPod Touch version is also available for $0.99.
Bike Baron: When I was younger…much younger…there was a terrific game on the original Nintendo console called Excitebike. It was a great dirt bike/obstacle course motorcycle racing game. Since then, I have seen many attempts to copy that terrific game, but nothing has really come close to the original. Until now. Bike Barons is the first game I have ever played which really captures the excitement and adrenaline from the original Excitebike…and it even has a course editor for extra kicks. This one features a series of obstacle courses. All you have to do is direct your bike through the ramps, loops, and jumps and make it to the finish line in one piece. Beat the clock, collect coins, and perform other stunts to unlock hidden bonus levels. just be careful not to crash…on the other hand, go ahead and crash a few times. Send your bike and rider flying through the air. The crashes in this game are some of the best animation I have seen in any iPad game I have ever played.
DragonVale: This is another one of what we can call “not Doug’s favorite genre”. I have never really been a fan of these simulation games in which you build your own theme park, community, city, zoo, army, whatever. So, I was reluctant to do much with DragonVale. Still, I have been corresponding with the guys behind Backflip Studios for years, and raved about many of theirs games. So, I felt I at least owed them a look. What I found really surprised me. I actually found myself enjoying the progress through the game as I developed various dragon habitats and bred a variety of unique dragons. I did get frustrated by the fact that (at least early in the game) it can be difficult to amass money, gems, and food – all of which are available in massive quantities as in app purchases. I am proud to say that I made it to the end of the game without spending a single penny…but it was really not easy, especially early-on. One frustration I did have with the game is that some of the rarer dragon breed randomly. So, it may take many attempts, and a lot of waiting with little other action to finally breed those dragons. Still, if you like simulation games…or even if you don’t…you will want to check out this one, with its unique look at dragons and dragon breeding.
DragonVale is available as a universal Free download from Backflip Studios in the iTunes App Store. Additional resources are available as in-app purchases.
DreamLand HD: It is no secret to my regular readers (if such a thing exists) that I am a huge fan of puzzle games. More specifically, hidden object puzzle games. I am afraid, however, this may be one of the most difficult genres to develop, as I have seen more than my fair share of poorly pasted together games. Sure, there are a few really attractive games which just give you a random screen filled with a list of objects to find. That works fine for some, but the truly great ones try to tell a story while guiding you from one puzzle to the next. This can create an incredible challenge as there must be legitimate, in-game reasons for the puzzles to exist. All too often these games can devolve into a storyline with a group of unrelated puzzles strung together with no real in-game purpose. When it works, though, these games can be entertaining, challenging, and beautifully produced. Dreamland is exactly one such a game. The plot is one of the best I have seen from this genre, involving a haunted theme park, which is truly spooky. What impressed me the most was the degree to which the puzzles tied into the plot. Unlike too many games in this genre, the puzzles were not stand-alone sections which bore little relationship to the plot. Instead, they were intricately woven into the plot as one puzzle guided you to the next, often overlapping as items found in one would be required to complete another. As a result, it was not uncommon in the game to have multiple puzzles ongoing at several different locations. My only complaint, was that there were some times when you simply did not seem to have enough information to figure out where to go or what to do next. Fortunately, the in-game hint system is always close at hand to help guide you along your way. DreamLand is one of the few hidden object games I have ever played (and I have played them all) which truly integrates the puzzles into the plot of the game, creating a strong storyline with a seamless flow. That alone makes this hidden object game well worth the price of admission. A well told story, and intricately designed puzzles only add to the fun.
Hills of Glory: WWII Premium HD: This game starts with your worst nightmare….no, not the one with your Mother-In-Law…the one where you are off fighting in a war. You are separated from your platoon. Alone. And surrounded. The enemy is swarming. That is where we pick up the action. You, alone with the few recruits you could muster, and a single gun truck. Get ready because the enemy is coming…en masse. This is the ultimate tower defense game, told through a variety of different campaigns. Don’t let the enemy army reach your position. What really sets this game apart, other than the morbidly dark storyline, are the in-game controls, which involve swiping the screen in different patterns in order to access various weapons. The better you do, the more money you can earn, allowing you to upgrade your team, giving you bigger and more powerful weapons. This is a truly unique tower defense game which was challenging, enjoyable…and just a little disturbing,
Hills of Glory: WWII Premium HD is available from Bulkypix in the iTunes App Store for $5.99. A free version is also available.
SteamBirds Survival HD: Following hot on the heels of Hills of Glory is another alternate reality World War II game. In this one, the Allies are losing the war…badly. The Axis powers have taken to the skies, and it is up to you to hold of the enemy armada. Wave after wave of enemy planes are coming for you in this turn based strategy game. All you have to do is stay on the offensive and take out as many planes as possible before all of your craft are sent crashing to the ground. You will have an arsenal of eight different planes to use in your assault, each with different weapons and abilities (not to mention weaknesses) ; and watch for other power ups dropped by the planes you shoot down. Those will all come in handy as you fly through a whopping 64 different levels. This turn-based strategy battle game (that is a real mouthful) is a growing genre on the iPad, which I have really enjoyed. Steambirds Survival HD is among the best conceived games in this genre...or anywhere else on the iPad, for that matter.
Sprinkle: Wow. It is not every day you come across a truly original puzzle game. So, I was pretty excited to check out Sprinkle, the game of fighting fires. You are a fireman, on Saturn’s Moon Titan (a largely irrelevant fact). The inhabitants of the moon live peacefully in small straw huts. Suddenly, space tourists send debris and asteroids crashing to the surface, lighting several blazes and threatening the safety of the villagers and their homes. Now, it is time for you to leap into action. You control the height and angle of the water cannon, spraying water to douse the blazes. Along the way, you will encounter numerous obstacles which must be overcome in order to attack the fire, including sliding blocks, buttons, and various forms of difficult terrain. I was incredibly impressed by the originality behind this game. Even more impressive, though, were the physics within the game, which created an incredibly realistic water flow and fire. This is one of the best physics games I have encountered on the iPad.
Zombie Highway: I said earlier that I am not a real fan of driving games. I am, however, a huge fan of killing zombies. Still, I was a bit leery of Zombie Highway, and whether it would just be another cheap Zombie killing trick. It wasn’t. In fact, the game works incredibly well. The basic premise almost does not really matter, but here it is in a nutshell. The apocalypse is upon us. The only living creatures left are you and the other passengers in your car (you can choose from four different cars in the game, each of which has various strengths and weaknesses). Your goal is to get out of Dodge by driving your car down the endless highway. Making things more difficult are the maze of overturned cars clogging the road. Hiding amongst these cars, of course, are vicious, brain eating Zombies, who want nothing more than to add your car to the pileup and suck your brains out through the open window (actual brain sucking is not shown). They do this by leaping onto the sides of your car, and attempting to tip you or steer you into a crash. You have two options to fight back. First, you can use your weapons (there are plenty to be unlocked along the way). With limited ammunition, however, that is not always the best option. Your second option is to scrape your car against one of the broken down vehicles, knocking off those Zombie killers. See how far you can get in each of the increasingly more difficult courses. Then, go online and compare your scores to some of the best drivers around.
Zombie Pirate Robot Attack: I think the name says it all. The only way to improve this game would be to toss in a few Ninjas. This is a truly unique tower defense game, in which (you guessed it) zombies, robots, and pirates will be attacking you from all angles as you defend your position in the center of the screen. Use your guns and your whits to defend against the onslaught of attackers. The game was almost as fun as the name.