Posts by: Kelsey Rinella

Review: Corto Maltese Secrets of Venice

The artist who drew this gets my respect--the window, the light--just lovely.

In Venice, drugstore stockrooms apparently have golems. Theft of prescription medications was getting out of hand, I guess.

Corto Maltese Secrets of Venice (a title which appears to have undergone a colectomy) brings legendary comic book character Corto Maltese to iDevices everywhere! At least, they tell me he’s legendary–I’d never heard of him before, but he seems to visit exotic locations and delve into ancient secrets while being at least moderately competent, so I’m basically thinking of him as a sort of Mediterranean Tintin or Indiana Jones. The game seems to aim at the familiar adventure genre, with lovely hidden object scenes and a variety of basic puzzles interspersed with some largely linear plot, but comes at it from a perspective which leaves the whole affair feeling not entirely comfortably foreign.

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Review: Pentaction Medieval


Everything you need to know, nicely presented on a single page. Well, everything except how you got yourself into this horrible position.

“Pentaction” is an awkward mouthful of a title. Descriptive, though: the relations between the five mobile units are the heart of this game that plays like a twist on Stratego. Your opponent’s pawns on the other side of the board are unknown to you — until you attack one or it attacks you, revealing its strength. Reveal your opponent’s helpless king piece and you win.

It plays fast and bloody–three minutes is usually enough to reduce both sides to a few units and one to a captured king. These boardgame-style units are lovingly rendered as wooden pieces with identities stamped on with primitive printing technology, which helps to sell the medieval theme if you can get past the fact that you’re interacting with their high-resolution images on the most technologically advanced device you’ve ever owned. Pentaction represents a departure for Hunted Cow, a simple boardgame reminiscent of Stratego rather than any sort of conflict simulation.

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Strategy Game of the Year 2014

Your nearest emergency exit may be behind you.

Your nearest emergency exit may be behind you.

If you find yourself disillusioned with Kickstarter, blame FTL. Many of us hit the jackpot on our very first pull of that one-armed bandit, and have been pulling and pulling since with only a sore arm and tragic updates to show for it. In 2012, the PC version of the game made “roguelike” a household world (also “rougelike”, spelling being the challenge that it is), but it didn’t just reintroduce a once-ubiquitous game type. Instead, it executed that with a spacefaring setting, a utilitarian, understated style, and clever writing. Also, it’s charmingly open about kicking players in the crotch.

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Review: FRAMED

A dark alley.

One of the more interesting rotations in the game. If I were a better geek, I could make a clever reference to mathematical transformations here, and those few of you who got it would feel special.

Her knock said she expected to be welcome anywhere, she didn’t need to be boorish about it. I give a doll a thorough once-over when she first walks in, but she was short enough it was more like a half-over. Not a real deep thinker, but if I looked and moved like she did, maybe I wouldn’t bother so much about my brain, either. Guess it’s good for my work I look like I do.

FRAMED looks like a graphic novel adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett yarn, with motion that looks just uncanny enough to seem like brilliant animation rather than merely adequate motion capture. You rearrange (and, occasionally, rotate) the frames of each page, altering the story in order to escape with a briefcase. There’s a touch of variety to the plot and gameplay injected by introducing different playable characters, but the MacGuffin remains the same throughout. Also, developers Loveshack credit the Australian government during the opening. That’s not really relevant, I just thought it was groovy.

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Review: Pair Solitaire

Cards, yo.

Simple, understated, classy–the standard 52-card deck is basically how I aim to dress.

Pair Solitaire is a fresh replacement for the Klondike most of us learned as children and now only play when counting flowers on the wall and watching Captain Kangaroo grows stale. The concept is remarkably simple: line up all 52 cards, and then you can remove a card which matches a card not adjacent, but two away from it, either in suit or rank. It requires careful planning to remove as many cards as possible.

The card designs are attractive and the interface handles portrait and landscape equally well, and, while I prefer most games on the iPad, PS works nicely at the smaller phone size. Even better, though unlocking the full version will run you a buck, this only unlocks different card faces and a daily challenge, and removes ads I hadn’t even noticed in the gameplay-complete free version.

Now that I have satisfied Thumper’s dad, that’s everything good I can say about the game. It will find an audience among those who would otherwise be playing Klondike, but this is Pocket Tactics–if you’re coming here at all, you can do better.

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RPG of the Year 2014

The power of dreams.

The power of dreams.

Owen has asked me to explain our pick for the best RPG of 2014 because he respects our exemplary audience enough not to want to inflict upon them his amateur poetry. I sympathize; many of the most impressive games of the year rely upon high-class presentation, while this particular game’s presentation is about as classy as a nose-picking contest on America’s Next Top Hobo. When I put that way, it doesn’t sound likely to inspire verse, but at Pocket Tactics we are moved by a nontraditional muse.

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Review: Stalag 17

Game in progress.

If you think of the jailbreak plan as an order in a restaurant, it’s not hard to imagine a retheme to short-order cookery. I used to work for a short, tyrannical, yet very popular chef.

Stalag 17 is a tense game about escaping from a German POW camp in WWII. It evokes a sense of very limited power and the psychological impact of unpredictable inspections which can cost you all the time and preparation sunk into maximizing a crucial opportunity. Oddly, it’s a hand management game in which you start with only two cards in hand, and your ability to draw more cards is offset by the high cost of being caught with much in it. I ended up feeling like I was locked in a closet and my joy at the key in my hand was tempered by the occasional scrabbling sounds coming from the other side of the door.

Tabletop blockbuster Love Letter has amply demonstrated that it’s possible to make hand management work even with a maximum hand size of one card, but it makes players highly dependent on options for improving that hand. Stalag’s problem is that it feels like it learnt too well the lesson that catch-up mechanisms need to be weak in order to allow the advantage of skill to matter. That’s true, but in a game with some randomness and a relatively low skill ceiling, advantages often come from luck. As a result, the fact that most of your options for improving a terrible hand come with substantial costs feels disempowering. Thematically, that’s perfect–one expects escaping from a POW camp to be terribly difficult and involve a great deal of influence from factors beyond your control. It also means that Stalag is ideally suited for the sort of brief “filler” role in which a strong experience can compensate for limited depth.

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