With 21 Days’ persnickety controls, you should get used to seeing this screen a lot.
iPhone edition, $0.99.
21 Days is a daring game design that I really wanted to like, but its doesn’t quite have the chops to back up its ambition. In 21 Days you’re a bank robber in prison, betrayed by your partner during a heist and desperate for revenge. No sooner have you arrived in prison than you have the good fortune to fall in with some felons plotting to escape – in the titular number of days.
21 Days plays from a top-down perspective, and you draw paths for protagonist Sam Cooper to follow. The name of the game is escape, and that escape entails studying the movement patterns of guards and drawing Sam paths to avoid them. It’s attempting to be Splinter Cell crossed with Flight Control, but it’s never as exciting as that sounds.
Studying the movement of guards and coming up with a plan to evade them is pretty exciting in open 3D areas like the ones in console and PC games like Far Cry 3 and Hitman – in 21 Days it’s just a bit tedious. The environments aren’t particularly interesting and there’s few wrinkles in the base gameplay mechanics, so you ultimately just spend a lot of time waiting and staring at the screen.
Between levels there’s some substantial story exposition, but the writing is clunky at best. The game’s greatest asset is the wonderful art. The character portraits have an elongated quality that makes them look a bit like finger puppets – a clever visual reference for a game played on a touchscreen.
2 out of 5
Governor of Poker 2
You can buy hats with your winnings – that’s my blue sombrero there at the top.
iPhone edition, $3.99 - iPad edition, $4.99
Governor of Poker 2 is a curious blend of poker sim and real estate tycoon game that takes place in an alternate history 19th-century Texas where the governor has banned poker. The governor has agreed to lift his restriction, if only someone will prove to him that poker is a game of skill and not chance – that’s where you come in.
As a mustachioed combination of Simón Bolívar and Doyle Brunson, you must travel from town to town throughout Texas, winning poker tournaments and liberating each burg from the poker ban. How is it that these towns are hosting poker tourneys while poker is banned? Who cares. Playing Governor of Poker 2 for the plot is like ordering the fish at a steakhouse. Play Governor of Poker for the poker.
As a Texas hold ‘em sim, it’s solid – if awfully forgiving. I’m a half-way decent poker player at best, and I’ve won most of the tournaments I entered in GoP2. The AI doesn’t seem to be designed to win, as much as it is to lose gracefully. And it does that well – AI players with big stacks of chips will attempt to bully you out of hands, and players that have lost big pots will go on tilt, complete with cartoon steam coming out of their ears.
This is no hardcore simulation, but it’s fun and there’s a meta-layer where you use your winnings to buy up all the property in each town, earning a bit of income from each house. It feels a bit tacked on, but it does give the game a nice sense of progression. Having properties to buy gives you something to do with all that money you’re winning, besides just throwing it back into the middle of the table for the next tournament.
The game suffers from a mild case of PC port-itis as well: the occasional slowdown, the inability to access menus while the dealer animation is playing. There’s also an IAP currency – a bit cheeky for a paid app - but I ignored it and was no worse for it. Despite the many flaws, I couldn’t help but have fun with the game – it’s greater than the sum of its parts. Plus, I own Amarillo, which I should probably go visit now.
4 out of 5
The Case of the Missing Fun.
iOS Universal, $0.99
Writer Rumble is so much fun in concept: some of the greatest writers in history are pitted gainst one another in a fighting game. Beneath the hugely charming concept and nicely realized art and characterizations, the game itself is pedestrian and dull.
Your writers fight by spelling words from a grid of random letters – longer words make for bigger attacks. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before in other word games, and Writer Rumble’s implementation is a bit dry. There’s no combos or special tiles, just a handful of special abilities – many of which are so trivial you’ll never be tempted to use. The optimal strategy in both the head-to-head multiplayer and the single-player “survival” mode is to spam as many three-letter words as you can – I can’t imagine that Poe or Austen or would approve.
Despite the wonderfully appealing setup, there’s far better word games on the App Store, both for multiplayer and single-player. It seems that the lesson here is “don’t judge an app by it’s icon”.
2 out of 5