Lara Croft GO adapts the puzzle structure of Pocket Tactics darling Hitman GO to the Tomb Raider setting. Replacing the delightfully unexpected boardgame aesthetic of the earlier game are far more varied, visually appealing backgrounds and artful animations.
It’s a step away from what might have seemed like a defining trait of this new franchise, and at first might seem like a poor fit for the discrete, turn-based actions in the game, but it also allows for more cinematic moments without which the “Lara Croft” moniker might feel superfluous. The puzzles are generally well-designed and satisfying, if not extremely difficult, but there are surprisingly few of them. “Always leave them wanting more” may be good advice, it’s entirely possible to take that advice too far.
I always preferred folders in school. Three-ring binders seemed needlessly baroque, loud, and treacherous (I must have been pinched by one once, and have ever after been prejudiced against the entire race, like my grandfather who would never buy a Japanese car after being wounded on Guadalcanal). But there was one product I was ashamed to find utterly alluring: the Trapper Keeper.
I had a roommate in college who played this card constantly.
When Card Hunter debuted on PC to rave reviews, I deployed the wisdom of experience and waited to get into it until the likely iPad release. I can’t claim to have been burned by a gem as radiant as FTL, but the iPad app is dramatically preferable to me. With a game as respectful of pen-and-paper RPGs as Card Hunter, I feared the abandonment of my characters and their hard-earned +1 Swords of Microtransacting. The name of its iPad counterpart, “Loot & Legends”, only helps reinforce that decision, with the game’s distinctive take on loot sitting right up front, like a big-haired nuisance at a theater. Only, in this case, the loot mechanic is so welcome one has to imagine that one has been forced to attend the opera to make the metaphor work. Also that the big hair blocks sound completely and somehow manages to play For a Few Dollars More on the back of it.
Kindo offers alternate color schemes. This one could be called the “Don’t keep your spouse awake with bright lights as you play ‘one more game’ until 1am.”
Sometimes I see someone execute a solution so perfectly that I am gulled into thinking it simple, like Pelé scoring with a bicycle kick. Only after a few painful falls onto my head or back do I come to realize how much skill went into that shot, and how many ways it could have gone wrong. Other times, I see a solution and consider ways to improve upon it, and realizing why each of those would fail makes the original solution seem ever more impressive. Kindo is a strategy game as at home on the iPhone as the iPad, and executes that so well that it illuminates how hard it is.
It’s easy to think about the limitations of a small screen, but consider also that people don’t want to pay much for games, which largely rules out a substantial art budget. A minimalist aesthetic helps address both issues, keeping the interface from feeling crowded with detail. Phones (or perhaps their users) also aren’t well-suited to long rules explanations, so the rules must be as simple as possible–chess would never have made it as an iPhone game. Finally, the game has to suit distracted players in play sessions of highly variable duration, often very brief ones indeed. There are several elements of Kindo which suit it extremely well to this situation, but the one which tells us most about the game is this: positive feedback.
My love for hexagons is warring with my distaste for ambiguous iconography. Which of these is “undo”?
SettleForge inverts the fashionable trend of taking an existing, complex game and refining a single subsystem into a polished, clear, but flavorless pursuit. At its core, it resembles a single-player Suburbia: you lay hexagonal tiles which represent pieces of a settlement, with each new game offering specific goals which can improve your score. But, where Suburbia adopts that modern aesthetic of clean simplicity and has been scrubbed until it is almost entirely free of the contamination of theme, Settleforge crams in narrative everywhere it can, and adds some mechanisms to complicate decision-making. The presentation is so old-school in its opposition to that antiseptic ideal that I find myself imagining an ashtray next to the iPad.
I confess, most stories I encounter in video games hold little interest for me, and I rarely give them much attention in my reviews. In this case, though, I find the set-up cleverer than most. You’ve been chosen to lead your war-torn country back to prosperity; nothing very exciting there. But the advisor who selected you pretended you had a magic power which plays much the role of the divine right of kings in uniting the people. So part of the challenge is that you have to rule wisely enough not to make people suspect they’ve been had (and they’ll periodically check via special objectives). There’s no need to present an interesting moral problem which echoes Plato’s noble lie in order to explain the motivation for building your towns, but developers Andreas Mank and Jochen Balzer did, briefly enough and well enough to enhance the game rather than waste the player’s time. That level of craftsmanship and inspiration is difficult to maintain throughout a project, though.
Some early bugs, like this poorly positioned window which obscured 2/5 of the data, have been quickly addressed by the developers. Banana & Co., I tip my monocle to you.
Very briefly, Coup is free-to-play Diplomacy in a bottle. Banana & Co have adapted the highly successful tabletop card game into a beautiful app with some fetching (and all-new) art, and have responded to user feedback very quickly, but “free-to-play” is to “game” as “venomous” is to “puppy” around here. A dash of “pay-to-win” before the dreaded “free-to-play” makes that venom lethal. Contrariwise, when you’re indulging in paranoia, scheming, and (simulated) assassination, you’re basically role-playing a fictional villain anyway, and lethally venomous puppies mix adorable and badass in an endearingly batty way.
iNigma’s Kingsport Festival advertises itself with the tagline, “Why choose the lesser evil?”, which nicely reflects the game. You play as an eschatological cult leader in a Lovecraftian universe, attempting to summon an Elder One to rule the planet with a distinct lack of benevolence. So yes, pretty darn evil. It’s also an appropriation of an old joke which doesn’t work all that well in this context. The game translates a board game of the same name which itself borrowed very heavily from Kingsburg, a well-regarded Euro. Like the joke, there’s very little about the result which is original, and the new expectations created by the digital format create requirements it fails to satisfy.
Kevin Spacey turns in a surprisingly chilling performance as the voice of a grasshopper who runs a protection racket.
In 2001, Zendo turned science into a boardgame, but wrapped it in a mystical Buddhist theme. Ento, first entry into the iOS space from Omino Games, eschews the competitive element for a pure puzzle, and returns the theme to the more natural fit of science. It takes the form of a rather stilted correspondence between Charles and Alfred. Poor Alfred has to try and deduce whatever rule of taxonomy Charles has in mind by sending him collections of insects and getting back a simple thumbs up or down on whether they follow the rule. Naturally, this requires sending lots of insects, so, basically, it’s a postal worker’s misery simulator.