iOS Reviews

Review: Bicolor

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SPOILER: Pull that 4 left, left, up, right, and you can erase everything by moving each 3 horizontally in a really satisfying motion.

That 4, crucially, lets you draw in white. Bicolor is basically just a puzzle version of white crayon apologetics.

There was a period during which I hated Bicolor. It’s a simple puzzle game, involving drawing and erasing lines on a grid. While the concept won’t raise your heart rate, it’s not quite like anything I’ve played before, and it gratifyingly forces you to break the glass to use cognitive tools you rarely have to employ elsewhere.

But it commits one of the cardinal sins of the puzzle genre: massive difficulty spikes. For two days, I was completely stuck on a level which prior experience had left me entirely unprepared to solve. Indeed, it almost seems as though part of the problem is that there’s so little to learn–beyond the basic insight that squares with only one connection are bad, every level presents a new challenge, and most of them are over quickly and leave you feeling like there were probably lots of other options.

Those concerns are real, and genuinely frustrating. However, the very freedom Bicolor provides allows it to subtly offer beautiful solutions to levels which can be completed with less holistically elegant bumbling about. Discovering one of these solutions feels like earning an achievement, but without the manipulative increase in a meaningless number. It’s just a wink from the level designer, which is strangely satisfying in a world so full of explicit rewards. It also so thoroughly engaged me on one evening that I didn’t notice the time until after three in the morning.

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Review: Battle Fleet 2

Fernando hears the guns.

Fernando hears the guns.

The current vogue for turn-based high-seas naval combat games (see Pacific Fleet, Atlantic Fleet, and Naval Tactics) is a curious phenomenon that I suspect is a symptom of our collective unease with drone warfare, but I’ll save that for the day when War is Boring gives me a chance to write a column. It also might just be that battleships with 16″ diameter guns are terrifyingly cool. I’ll buy that, too.

As a rule, I prefer turn-based games with a vehement, old-timey prejudice. But I also accept that doing naval combat in neat, pre-ordered turns distorts the simulation a bit. A gruesome struggle of life and death becomes a badminton match played with high explosive shuttlecocks. The successful naval combat sim, then, is one that re-injects drama and excitement back into the proceedings.

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Review: Mister Beam

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Puzzles provide a merciful break from pretty much everything else.

Puzzles provide a merciful break from pretty much everything else.

Mister Beam advises the player that this is a game “[b]est played in the dark”.

There might be a couple of reasons behind that counsel. First, Mister Beam is a game about crashing around in an ancient temple looking for priceless artifacts, so perhaps Mister Beam is trying to help you hide your shame about plundering the cultural heritage of a proud native people. Secondly, Mister Beam is quite a lovely game, visually, and its nifty lighting effects are somewhat niftier when viewed in a dark room.

So that’s two good reasons to play Mister Beam as suggested. Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll give you about ten reasons not to play it at all.

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Review: Haste

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Also, "ne" is such a rubbish word that even autocorrect tried to persuade me it wasn't real.

W, T…where’s an F when you need one? Seriously, how often are games iPhone-only these days?

Haste is about as unoriginal as games get without being mere clones of other games. It involves connecting adjacent letters in a matrix into words, much like Boggle, but with score bonuses like those from Scrabble. Each game lasts only 90 seconds, and it is only playable online against another player. Well, sort of–therein lies the most engaging issue raised by Haste. I’ve never had difficulty finding an opponent within seconds, which means that either Haste is a massive underground hit, or it features AI opponents deliberately presented as humans.

I’d normally use this paragraph to go into more detail about the game, but there’s nothing under Haste’s toga. Online-only Boggle plus Scrabble scoring in 90 seconds is all there is to it. That familiarity and simplicity need not be viewed as a pure negative–those are exactly the qualities which ensure that it has appeal for the older, peripheral gamers who represent one of the greatest opportunities for growing the gaming audience. The AI opponents have names like “Marcia” and “Sharon”, so developer Lachlan Potts appears to have this demographic in mind.

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Review(s): The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, and Blackwell Convergence

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"Yeah, take that Monique! And you too Future Device Which I Assume Can Hear, and Understand, Me!"

“Yeah, take that Monique! And you too Future Device Which I Assume Can Hear and Understand Me!”

The Blackwell games are jazzy slices of paranormal New York biography, punctuated with the beats of a ’50s P.I. procedural. Wadjet Eye Games’ functionally traditional point-and-click series is unabashedly heart-on-sleeve with its tale of a reluctant medium coming into her own as the latest bearer of the Blackwell family legacy. Which is ghosts, by the way.

Rosangela, like her aunt and grandmother before her, is meant to find wayward spirits unaware of–or unwilling to accept–their own demise. She then works to shuttle them off to the afterlife, either by forcing them to confront the unreality of their own ghost-ness, or by basically tricking them into walking towards the light.

Rosa does this with the help of a blue-suited, wise-crackin’ Depression-era spirit guide named Joey Mallone, for goodness’ sake. Really. These are serious tales. Really.

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Review: Star Traders 4X Empires

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let's talk spice rates!

Blah blah space battle, et cetera et cetera orbital weapons platforms. Come on, let’s talk spice rates!

Star Traders 4X rounds all the requisite space-strategy bases for a game of its nomenclature; you find new systems, colonize them, strip them of natural resources and, in turn, funnel those resources into a burgeoning military-industrial complex. But, when it comes to mining the human drama which rests on the success or failure of this empire-building, the Trese Brothers’ latest isn’t as sure-footed.

Star Traders is a game where the fate of an entire system can rest on cooperation between three–often petty–groups of intergalactic merchants stranded in a remote stretch of the universe. These factions can either be an economic triumvirate fueling your conquest of the galaxy, or a perpetually warring band of toddlers who can’t be bothered to call off their trade embargoes, assassins’ contracts, and solar wars when a xenos fleet is steamrolling their holdings. To these traders, such grudges are just part of their (shockingly short-sighted) business, and to you–the overlord meant to keep all things balanced–they’re just another semi-obscured mechanic or cryptic maths modification among many, many others.

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Review: Civilization Revolution 2

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History repeats itself.

History repeats itself.

Did you hear that there’s a new Blu-Ray special edition of The Life Aquatic coming out? I already own the film, but I’m very happy to buy it twice to get a Wes Anderson commentary track and some Seu Jorge bossa nova Bowie music videos.

The new discs will come in a package called The Life Aquatic: Criterion Collection Special Edition. It will not be called The Life Aquatic 2. Because that would be silly.

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Review: Desert Fox — The Battle of El Alamein

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The game will try to warn you away from dumb decisions. Whether you heed those warnings is up to you.

The game will try to warn you away from dumb decisions. Whether you heed those warnings is up to you.

Editor’s note: Our reviews of Shenandoah’s two previous titles were written by dyed-in-the-wool wargamers who eat Eisenhower-Os for breakfast and pad around the house in Tiger tank slippers. But Shenandoah have long claimed that their wargames aren’t just for grognards — non-wargamers who appreciate a strategy experience should love them, too. I decided to put that claim to the test by assigning Desert Fox to FNG Jacob Tierney, who’s about to tell you that he isn’t a wargamer.

–Owen

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