Posts by: Mike Nowak

Review: 868-HACK

calm


So young and happy and full of possibilities.

There’s a colloquialism amongst some fans of the kinds of games that Michael Brough, creator of 868-HACK, releases: Brough-like. It’s playful but perhaps a little disingenuous. While it can be a matter of pride to have your games classified under their own unique umbrella, that simplification does disservice to the spectrum of genres through which Michael Brough works. There’s great variety and it’s impossible to summarize the whole oeuvre into one genre but, and with a big underlined but, if we were to use this label at least once in our lives we’d use it here because 868-HACK is probably the most Brough-like game yet and it’s spectacular.

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Tiberium Snores: freemium Command & Conquer bores the App Store

Spare a thought for poor Nowak. Whenever some vaguely interesting freemium monstrosity shows up in limited Canadian release, I oblige him to throw himself right into its maw. I’m going to sic him on that awful-looking Ghostbusters game next. — Owen
Where's like, the tanks and stuff?

Everyone’s favorite part of C&C: mineral harvesting. That is your favorite part, right?

Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances is a new entry in the once-great C&C RTS series, but as with most such large publisher related-by-name-only freemium releases it plays exactly as you’d imagine. Yes, that bad. It’s available in Canada right now in what the developer would consider a small market soft release but what I, as a Canadian App Store user, would consider a punishment for some unspecified national crime. It was released as a browser game last year, but EA apparently felt unfulfilled knowing that there was more suffering they could inflict upon the world.

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Mine your business: Ionage is a new vein of tower defense

Attack or mine resources… by attacking.

Owen might be at war with tower defense games, but having spent a little time with the alpha of Android TD Ionage, I think it might be worth a truce.

Ionage puts you at the helm of an orbital asteroid mining platform, onto which you can place turrets, or towers, some of which can be defensive but beyond that superficial influence, Ionage really does play more like an RTS than a stock TD game. The main differentiator is that instead of simply defending against a mindless onslaught of random enemies, here you’re building an orbital platform with the goal of supplanting any competing platforms. Your opponent is an equal, able to expand just as you do, competing for the few extra resources you can mine from nearby asteroids. The conflict is more direct and more strategic as a result.

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Down but not out: Partia keeps on improving

Make haist to helpe me.

Maybe I didn’t have the best of times with Partia when I reviewed it back in December [it did lead to PT's first front page animated gif - ed.], but I did honestly hope that it would do well enough to warrant upgrading as the foundation that it was built on was solid. There aren’t many RPGs of that style on iOS except for a couple of old console ports, one of which is – how should I say this?  - Squaresoft priced, and there’s no chance that Partia’s spiritual antecedent, Nintendo’s Fire Emblem, is going to legally grace the App Store anytime soon. Partia is the closest we have to something new along those lines.

The good news is that Partia did reach number one on the RPG charts. The bad news is that it was in Angola, with a total of one sale. Sales in larger markets have been OK and developer Imago is being very open about their numbers on their weblog, revealing a grand tally somewhere north of 1500 copies. Imago’s Dustin K tells me that it is not nearly enough to be profitable, and this will likely delay further development, but as it is a personal passion project he assures me development will likely resume and a much improved Partia 2 should come one day.

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Belated IGF notes: rymdkapsel and 7 Grand Steps

The reactor is heavily cubed.

We mentioned the Independent Games Festival finalists last week but there’s a more couple games that deserve elaboration. The first is rymdkapsel. Maybe Owen didn’t mention it because he couldn’t spell it. [I never learned to read! - ed.] An honourary mention for IGF’s “Excellence in Design”, Martin Jonasson’s rymdkapsel is a self-described slow, meditative strategy game wherein you manage a space station. The abstracted isometric flat-colour style, reminiscent of Mobigame’s Edge, is wonderful and ends up looking like something on a Star Trek: The Next Generation LCARS display. That appeals.

These monoliths are influenced from SimEarth, right?

I contacted Martin Jonasson and he provided the attached screenshots but couldn’t promise a release date. He told me “it’ll be as soon as I can make it” which I’ll loosely interpret as “sometime within this quarter, maybe.” We’ll have more word as its release nears. His latest teaser video is embedded below.

7 Grand Steps, an IGF honourary mention for narrative, is hard to classify. It’s a game in which you craft the story, and history, of a family across the ages by moving characters along a mechanical coin operated wheel. A demo is currently available for Mac and PC. When asked about a potential tablet release, which I think would befit the game’s interface, the developer said “if the game is successful on Windows and Macintosh, we will pursue iOS and Android ports.”

Turtle Power: TurtleStrike announced for iOS and Android

Turtles and bombs and missiles and I don’t know what’s going on.

We honestly don’t have much to go on here apart from the marketing copy on their site but the Czech developers of TurtleStrike claim to be very avid gamers looking to make something that would satisfy the most persnickety of players. They also claim to be very angry.

That rage has generated all the right sell points though: simultaneous turn-based (much like RoboRally, or the previously mentioned Clairvoyance, TurtleStrike has both players decide their actions at the same time); free to play but not unbalanced towards IAP purchasers; tiered ranking system; multi-platform; and tournaments with cash prizes. Sound good to me. We’ve placed the developer on our radar and hopefully there’ll be something more substantial to say before their early 2013 release.

As an aside, the devs have a pinterest of “Great Mobile Tabletop Games” that is quite extensive and targeted straight at our hearts.

Review: Partia

Just going to sit here for a while.

Partia’s credits screen tells you everything you need to understand the game. It’s developed by a small team with a negligible budget, sometimes sourcing free pixel art and music from the internet. “Credits” is spelled wrong (since resolved in an update, but first impressions…) in an unnecessarily lo-fi font. And, most importantly, there’s a thank you directed to “Shouzou Kaga and his team”. If you have to hit Wikipedia to figure out who that is then I can tell you outright that Partia is not targeted at you.

Shouzou Kaga was the creator of Nintendo’s premier strategy RPG series: Fire Emblem. Familiarity with those games is taken for granted in Partia. There is no guide or tutorial to the system here, something that Fire Emblem – the eighth game in a series – had. In Partia I struggled to figure out how to equip armour, and had it not been for the big “You got a key” popping up on the screen after felling a foe I likely never would have opened that door or treasure chest. The UI is often unclear and clumsy, but if you have the slightest sense for game design conventions of the 16-bit era you can manage. But that’s the problem with Partia: why should you?

Partia UI

Partia is an exercise in emulation. All the parts of Fire Emblem are there: the permadeath, the near identical classes, actions, and equipment, and the story of a continent in conflict. But rather than feeling nostalgic, Partia feels retrograde. The interface was designed around an imitation of a two-button controller which, on portrait view, takes up a third of the screen real estate. You can use touch but it’s no less clunky. In battle, to move and attack an enemy you have to tap the screen (be it map or menu) about eight times. Then you watch a quick battle animation, watch the life points tick away, and you’re done with that character for the turn. Now repeat this a dozen times for every other unit on the battle field. Worse yet, the numerous bugs in the interface sometimes force you to quit out. Since the game only allows one save in battle, and only if you manually “suspend” the game, you can often lose your progress half way through a chapter. Having to repeat all the above, multiple times, is tiring.

This tediousness underlies all aspects of Partia. The player phase is a constant one-by-one confirming of every character’s actions. The enemy phase is a slow cycle through every enemy combatant, the majority of which don’t do anything. Indeed, for most battles the enemies stand still unless specifically required to by the plot. Most often they only attack your characters after you move them into their range. This can lead to some hilariously boring situations. In one chapter you start with your party spread across several houses, two of which have treasure chests, while some bandits attack from the outside. Rather than having an army carrying keys, which are a waste of an item slot, I brought one thief with a single key (thieves’ keys aren’t wasted after using them). Being the completionist, I wanted those chests but I ignored them at the start as I used my army to kill all the bandits save for one straggler: an archer. I placed my most evasive unit close to it and for ten turns straight that archer attacked the same soldier, missing every time, while I moved my thief around the map to get everything. Every other unit stood still.

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That situation typifies the AI. Unless you are outnumbered by strong units you never feel threatened. Any chapter can be won by simply exploiting the AI via careful positioning of your best fighters. There is never the sense that you’re making tactical decisions against a canny opponent. Sometimes the game will throw a surprise your way by popping up a whole slew of mages in front of your army unexpectedly and you might suffer casualties then, but it always feels like a cheap shot. When they do die they die for good – a Fire Emblem staple – but even then it’s hard to care unless it was a strong unit. The tale meanders around so much it’s hard to keep track of the setting and its people. All the characters are so peripheral they might as well be nameless.

It’s hard to fault Partia for its ambition: it is clearly a labour of love done on a shoestring budget by a tiny team in Waterloo, Ontario. Perhaps if their Kickstarter campaign had succeeded they might have had more time and money to smooth out the rough edges. The foundation that they built is good and with more love given to its interface and AI, it can be a nice game by the time Partia 3 comes. But even at its best it won’t be anything but a tribute band version of Fire Emblem. A Fire Emblem fan would be better off waiting for the real thing this February on the 3DS, and if you’re somehow a Fire Emblem fan without a Nintendo device, or just want something to carry on your phone, Partia is the closest you will find on iOS. Still, why see “Duran Duran Duran” when you can see “Duran Duran”? Despite the convenience, nostalgia could never be satiated by an imitation.

SCORE

1 out of 5

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