By Eric Pankoke on Tue, 04/30/2013
I’ve never been much for online gaming. I’ve not wandered the countryside of Britannia nor visited the realms of Azeroth. Even when Star Wars — one of my all time favorites — went multiplayer online, I couldn’t bring myself to join the dark side. As I get more and more engrossed in mobile gaming, however, I’ve come to appreciate the concept of multiplayer causal gaming. Developers have managed to find a way to let me play against other humans and still fulfill my desire to be a solitary game player.
In fact, I’m finding myself spending more time engaged in multiplayer battles within a few games rather than the many pages of high quality apps that fill my iPad. As a result, when the fine folks at iPhone Life asked if I would consider sharing my views in a semi-regular column on the state of gaming, I decided the perfect topic for my first installment would be “online games for people who hate online games.”
Each game in this roundup has its own traits that suck me in, but nearly all of them share a couple of characteristics that make their online elements easier to swallow. The first is that I don’t have to chat or get to know the other players. I have nothing against socializing, but that’s what card and board games at the kitchen table are for. When I’m gaming on an electronic device, it’s all about the game. The second thing that appeals to me is that with the exception of The Respawnables, I can get in, take my turn and get out. If the other player is responsive and we can go back and forth for a few rounds great, otherwise we each take our turn when we have the time and the game is over when it’s over. Finally, I don’t have to pay a monthly subscription fee or feel like I have to dump big bucks into the game every hour or two to get the latest and greatest stuff.
Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, let’s move on to the individual games.
1. Mini Golf MatchUp (Free with In-app Purchases)
Of the online games I’m playing right now, this is probably my favorite. I’ve always been a fan of mini golf anyway, and unlike the real thing, I can actually win at this one. You connect with the community using Facebook, Twitter, or SMS. Then you can use your contacts or the Random Buddy feature to hook up with a player. You also have the option to rematch anyone you’ve already played. A course is five holes, and you take turns playing until each person has cleared the course. The winner is the one with the highest score. When you win you can post a brag on your selected media source. If you win you also earn coins you can use to play certain courses or to buy an undo if you don’t like the shot you made (the first undo on a given hole is free).
The courses are well designed and more importantly quite entertaining. In addition to simply racking up the scores, you’ll always have three mini-goals to achieve, many of which require certain courses and several of which even coerce you into sabotaging your shots. You’ll often have to find a decent balance between completing your goals and winning a game. Of course, if you want to earn enough stars to unlock certain courses without paying for them, you’ll have to be diligent about the goals. That’s part of what makes the game so much fun. Oh, and did I mention that as long as you hit the hole the ball goes in? You don’t have to worry about any bounce-outs in this game. If you decide to take this one for a spin, look up Rustysabre.
2. Foursies - 4 in a Row with a Twist! (Free with In-app Purchases)
If you’ve played the famous Milton Bradley game Connect Four, you know what this is all about. The crash course for those of you who haven’t is: try and line up four of your markers in a row either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. You take turns until someone wins or you’ve filled up the board and there are no moves left. The trick to Foursies is that you are playing on four separate boards in the same game, and you must win on two of them to be victorious overall. I wasn’t sure that this game would interest me given the potentially long nature of a game with wait time between turns, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Granted Foursies is not nearly as flashy as Mini Golf Matchup nor is there much action like in the next game I’m going to talk about, but it’s actually a nice change of pace.
Like Mini Golf MatchUp you can have several games going on at once. If you turn on notifications, which is probably a smart thing to do, the game will be sure to tell you when it’s your turn to move again. The main downside to Foursies is that the reward system outside of the pure joy of winning a game isn’t that great. There are no leader boards to compete in or achievements to earn. You do get a coin for every move you make and some extra coins when you win, but all that’s good for is buying different types of markers to use when playing. Still, if you’re looking for something that’s not a puzzle game and less like an arcade than many online games, Foursies is a good choice. Just like Mini Golf MatchUp, if you decide to give this a go look for RustySabre.
3. Respawnables (Free with In-app Purchases)
This one caught me completely off guard. I never really even got into first/third person shooters until I became an iOS gamer, and the only time I really engaged in multiplayer was way back at an Xbox party with friends where I spent more time dying than actually playing Halo. What the developers of Respawnables have done is actually make a third person shooter that is fun and accessible even to those that don’t normally play this sort of game. I still do my fair share of dying, but I’ve also managed to score a number of kills and even made it to the first spot in a melee a couple of times. I like the fact that the games are limited to five players, and more importantly you don’t have to have the biggest and best equipment in order to be successful.
The controls are pretty simple, though I do occasionally find myself tripping up while attempting to rotate my view. And sometimes I accidentally using my special gadget when I was just trying to look somewhere else or fire my weapon. Whether you win or lose you gain experience, which ultimately allows you to level up, opening possibilities to purchase equipment and upgrade skills. There also are “missions” to complete that earn you experience and money. If you decide you just want to cause some carnage, you can select "Free For All" or "Team Vs" from the multi-player menu. I don’t have much to compare this game against feature-wise, but to me it’s a well rounded package that’s great for folks new to the genre, but should still give veterans something to sink their teeth into.
There are a couple more games I thought I’d throw out at you before I wrap this up. Bookworm Heroes (Free with In-app Purchase) takes the old Bookworm spelling game, adds a slight RPG element to it and makes it multiplayer. The result is a fun way to beef up your spelling skills and trounce your opponent at the same time. You can use money you earn to hire literary figures and cool pets. Watching the combat is quite entertaining. Plus, if you spell a really exotic word you can brag to all your friends about it on Facebook.
In Bubble Galaxy with Buddies ($1.99 ad-free; Free with ads; Both have In-app Purchases), you try to clear away a continually descending collection of bubbles by launching more bubbles into it to match three or more of the same color. Each opponent plays three rounds in a single game, and the higher score wins. There are daily missions to try and achieve, and like most of these games you can have multiple matches going on at the same time. The one thing I don’t like about this game is that there will come a time when you are basically forced to buy some in-game currency via in-app purchases if you want to keep playing. I’m not necessarily as against the concept of IAP as I used to be, but it should be a choice I make when I’m ready, not something forced on me by limitations of the game.
I’m not about to suggest that indulging in these games will turn you into an online junkie, and frankly that’s not my goal. I still prefer the solitary life in most cases, and I actually wish some offerings like Bookworm Heroes had a single player mode. However, in some cases you need more – or at least different – challenges than computer AI can provide. For cases like that I’d recommend any offering on this list. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself cycling through your online selections each time you start a gaming session before you jump into your solo efforts.