Out Now: Encapsulated Edition14 Oct 2016 1
We’re starting something new this week: from now on, I’ll be getting my greasy meathooks on all of the week’s most promising new releases and providing “first look” capsule reviews of them. My judgments shall be underinformed and premature, but hopefully amusing, maybe even actually helpful.
Mushroom Wars 2
Mushroom Wars 2 takes Galcon’s mechanics and adds in multiple base types and superpowers. Oh, and cute but extremely serious fungal people killing each other in staggering numbers. There are four unnamed factions in the game: let’s call them Original Goombas, ‘Shroom Zombies, OMG Girls!?!, and Fungi from Yuggoth. Each faction has with their own superpowers but they’re otherwise mechanically identical. Mushroom Wars 2 is also one of the first games to take advantage of iOS 10’s game subscription feature, a shift away from the series’ previously typical FTP monetization. What does a subscription get you? Unlimited ranked multiplayer - which Zillion Whales emphasize is “fair” and “competitive,” presumably in contrast to pay-to-win elements in previous Mushroom Wars games. Perhaps they should change their name to Zillion Minnows? Unranked multiplayer with friends is free, and there’s a single player campaign with oddly dire cinematics you can buy a chapter at a time.
I understand if you're leery of the subscription model, but it’s presented as IAP with straightforward terms, so you can try your hand at capping mushrooms on iOS without worrying about trial periods or recurring payments.
Forget the time-traveling hot tub, this game features a dubious shower that takes your unqualified idiot of a protagonist back in time to reclaim historical accomplishments stolen by the machine’s inventor. This one’s very much in the vein of Monkey Island and Space Quest, just with Keanu Reaves’ slack-jawed Ted chasing an evil Dr. Brown through “history” worthy of Peabody and Sherman. The basic tropes here are worn smooth through their use over the decades, and the early puzzles are obvious, but the writing is really funny and the voice acting is top drawer.
The Man from Hmmbridge
Unfair comparison time! It's immediately clear that The Man from Hmmbridge has lower production values than Infamous Machine, the other adventure-game release this week: the art is less detailed, the animations are thrifty, and there’s no voice acting. At the same time, there’s a distinct charm to the digital art: its strong outlines and flat fills remind me a little of ligne claire. Also, the protagonist, who looks like a young Julie Andrews, at least has the virtue of not being a bumbling white guy who somehow saves the day and gets the girl anyway (yawn!). As for fundamentals… I'm still not sure - the writing, though always lucid feels a little flat, as do the puzzles (Peeking Peacock is a Swedish developer, so that could be a cultural/translation issues). Still, Hmmbridge has a pleasant whiff of Laura Bow to it, and there’s always a chance that the lonely goatherd will turn out to be Yul Brynner in disguise.
Moveless Chess looks like it should be called wizard’s chess, with its hooded protagonist, somehow-opulent pixelated burgundy UI, and renfair soundtrack. But this isn’t Battle Chess or chess with spells layered on top, it’s a clever and unusual chess puzzle game. For a series of increasingly complex starting scenarios, you polymorph your pieces into different ones instead of moving them. The computer moves normally, and you have a limited supply of AP for your transformations (better pieces cost more), so this game simultaneously stays deeply faithful to the core of what makes chess, well, chess, and puts a dramatic spin on the game. If you like chess puzzles, you owe it to yourself to try Moveless Chess, but if you’re looking for something more like Regicide, you won’t find it here.
Really Bad Chess
Genre things come in pairs this week, and Really Bad Chess is the other chess meat. It has none of the visual appeal of Moveless Chess, encourages you to use undos then offers to sell you more as IAP, and plays like a really stripped down version of Chesh. But is it really bad? Well, if you want to play chess with randomized pieces and don’t plan on undoing your moves, it’s a free twist on the classic, and I suppose you could consider it a lite version of Chesh, if you’re not sure about taking the plunge on that one.
Really Bad Chess is free on iOS, with extra features and undos available as IAP.
Red7 is a deceptively simple, quick-playing card game: it looks a lot like Uno, consisting only of numbered card in ROYGBIV colors (BTW, in case you’ve ever wondered why “indigo” is in there between blue and violet, it’s all because Isaac Newton was obsessed with the theological importance of the number seven). What makes Red7 interesting is that every card represents a rule for winning the game as well as a color and a number. On your turn, you can chose to play a card to the “canvas” to change the rule and/or one to your “palette” for scoring purposes. The trick is that you must be winning (according to the current rule) by the end of your turn or you’re out. The app is straightforward and pretty, with color swatches on the side of the screen and a big watercolor splash corresponding to the current rule’s color in the center of the play area. There are three levels of AI and a number of optional rules, but there’s only pass-and-play multiplayer, and the app description is a bit disingenuous about that, listing multiplayer and pass-and-play as separate bullet points. I guess you could say that networked play is the “indigo” of this app.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones expansion
If you know what “Aleppo” means, you know why the release of This War of Mine’s expansion The Little Ones is about as geopolitically relevant as games get. I actually got in less play time with this one than most of the other new releases, but it was enough to confirm that The Little Ones will, in fact, rip your still-beating heart from your chest, grind it to a fine paste with it’s mortar and pestle of hunger and illness, and then dash it to the floor. I may have to wait until my bulk order of Kleenex arrives before digging deeper.
Underworld: Blood Wars
Did you know that they made another World of Darkness Underworld movie? Apparently it came out back in January, but now there’s a tie-in CCG. I was still feeling good after CCG week (I hadn’t yet played The Little Ones) when I put aside my better judgment and gave this one a try. The game’s melee and ranged combat model is workable, but the design and theme is incompetent: did you know that a human “Anti-Lycan Protester” can beat the crap out of your average blood-frenzied vampire or raging werewolf and out-shoot Selene? Worse, the whole thing is terminally hampered by aggressive monetization. Want to open that free pack you got? You’ll have to wait for hours or pay for the privilege. My goal is to find things that you’ll want to play, but this one is worth a word of caution: avoid at all costs. Then again, the Touch Arcade forum seems to like this one, so what do I know?