I have added Button Mash Games to my list of developers whose work I should always check out. Their only other release was 2011’s Forbidden Island, so I might well forget all about them by the time I have the opportunity to make good on that desire, but their digital translation of Forbidden Desert (henceforth FD) is very nearly perfect. An uncharitable player might point out that this is a cooperative game with no information possessed by some players but hidden from others, which simplifies the programming task immensely. Doubtless this is accurate–I really wouldn’t bother playing online even if the option were present, and there’s no AI to write. But FD does so many things not just adequately, but exceptionally, that I find myself feeling like it’s the best Match.com profile I’ve ever seen. They just get me, you know?
Pascal Bestebroer, the mind behind tiny indie studio OrangePixel is known for tight, finely-balanced action games that actually play well on a smartphone. His Metal Slug-inspired shooter Gunslugs is a better mobile experience than the official ports (and Dot Emu did a great job with those!), and Heroes of Loot is more of a spiritual successor to the original Gauntlet than any of the recent sequels, albeit without multiplayer co-op.
Nonetheless, OrangePixel games have been an odd fit for me, like listening to a mixtape created by an audiophile friend with different taste in music from my own. Like many Pocket Tactics readers, twitchy mobile games aren’t my jam. Interestingly enough, contemplative turn-based strategy isn’t Bestebroer’s thing, but he created one anyway, and designed Space Grunts to be a turn-based roguelike that feels like a dynamic shooter.
I have a fascination with games that attempt to extract the critical strategic elements from real-time games and present them in a turn-based format, like Sean O’Connor’s squadron space shooter Critical Mass (sadly Windows only) and fighting game distillation Yomi. As a “turn-based action game,” Space Grunts raises two distinct questions: first, can this game capture shooter mechanics in a turn-based format, and second, is the result a winning combination?
I’m not much of a sports guy, but if I had to pick a favorite sport it would be baseball. In fact, up until a few years ago I was rather a hardcore fan, attending many games each season and listening to the local nine on the radio every single day. It got to the point where our African Grey started mimicking the between-inning commercial jingles.
Something happened in the last 5 years or so, however, where sitting through a 3+ hour baseball game became akin to visiting the dentist. It’s not the game as much as it is the downtime. Thus, when I heard of Mike Fitzgerald‘s take on baseball that would allow complete games to finish in 5-10 minutes, I was intrigued. It didn’t take long for me to snatch up the cardboard version and discover that I loved it.
Now Baseball Highlights 2045 is available on iPad and Android tablets. I’ve already spoiled that I love the underlying game, but does the app do the cardboard version justice? No more spoilers, you’ll have to jump past the break to figure that out.
David Sirlin makes interesting games. They might not be mainstream bestsellers but he manages to produce titles that seem simple on the surface but contain a depth of strategic options. He, and his company, are probably most known for the card-based fighting game Yomi but he also produces a unique hybrid deck-building/fighting game called Puzzle Strike which has just been released for iOS and Steam.
Puzzle Strike is set in Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike gaming universe and uses the same characters that appear in all of his titles. Each of his games (Yomi, Flash Duel and Puzzle Strike) have tabletop, browser and, with the exception of Flash Duel, iOS versions. The company’s previous iOS release, Yomi, did a very good job of recreating the tabletop version of the game on the tablet so it remains to see how well this new game translates from the tabletop to the iPad and iPhone.
Tsuro first came to my attention in my local game shop, as a group of gamers stroked their chins around an arrestingly beautiful abstract. It’s as though Go and Chess had a child. Seeing the game a few years later in Target surprised me–it’s not often that a brain-burning gamer’s game shows up on mass market shelves. It turns out that Tsuro is equally well-suited to quick, casual play, because of the simplicity of the rules and the difficulty of foreseeing the consequences of your actions. Though the adaptation treats its cardboard source material with great respect, going so far as to have you open a digital recreation of the box to start a game, it’s included several marvelous enhancements and an interface which doesn’t allow the limitations of the physical world to get in the way.
When I first heard about The Westport Independent, I thought “Great! Lucas Pope’s fleshed out that newspaper-editing jam game.” It took me a moment to wrap my head around the fact that this wasn’t an expanded version of The Republia Times, and a great many other reviewers have compared The Westport Independent to Pope’s smash hit, Papers Please.
Double Zero One Zero seem proud of that influence: they credit Pope as an inspiration, and the game’s art is cold-war retro-pixelated in a way that invites comparisons, though the extremely restrained palate of The Westport Independent is one of the first hints that this game will go in a completely different direction from the frenetic desperation of Pope’s political games.
TIS-100P, from developer Zachtronics of SpaceChem fame, offers similarly neuron-stretching puzzles without the overly friendly graphical interface. This game simulates finding an old computer and becoming obsessed with teaching yourself to program in its assembly-like language with strict memory limits, right down to recommending you print out a physical copy of its manual. There’s a sort of video-gamey plot revealed through reading bugged sectors, involving a portal to another dimension or a cold-war era AI or something, but it’s about as important as the story in Destiny at launch, so don’t worry about it. What matters here are the puzzles, which deliver the joy of solving low-level coding problems without the annoyance of deadlines, grades, or co-workers.
One day the fearless genre blenders of game design will run out of raw materials to recombine. On that day gaming will either die or be reborn anew but, until then, we can have an awful lot of fun with genre-mixing titles like Crashlands.