Pocket Takes: Sporos, PokerTower, and Majesty: The Northern Expansion,01 Apr 2013 0
In this edition of our Pocket Takes capsule reviews, Kelsey grows spores in puzzler Sporos ("the easiest game to learn" he's ever played), folds a poker hand against an orc in RPG/poker hybrid PokerTower, and builds a fantasy kingdom without breaking a sweat in deconstructed RTS Majesty: The Northern Expansion.
All three reviews await you after the jump.
AppXplore's simple but attractive spatial relations puzzler is distinctive for its ability to wring a very large number of puzzles out of a quite simple premise. You place 1-4 spores on an irregular shape in a hexagonal grid. Each of these spreads as far as it can reach along one to three axes (and the game previews where each will spread before you place it). That's pretty much all there is to it--the Experimental section adds spaces which redirect the spread, but this adds relatively little complexity.
Not only is the setup very simple, most of the levels are pretty easy, especially for the first fifty or so. As a result, Sporos is probably the easiest game to learn I've ever encountered. A small number of intuitively appealing heuristics are adequate to complete most of the levels in less than 20 seconds. However, there are definite moments of frustration and puzzlement to be had in a minority of the levels, and even the levels which come easily are calmly satisfying, much like easy logic proofs. My first impression of the game was that there just isn't enough here to be worth one's attention, but I've come to see it as an almost meditative experience quite different from anything else on my iPad. My perception of value also changed substantially after I finished the first 100 levels and 100 more showed up. Then it happened again, and again.
Because it's so easy to pick up, Sporos is also highly inviting for children. Young kids won't have much hope with the more difficult levels, but mine have clearly been enchanted by the neon look and pleasing feel of moving the spores around. If you're at all interested, there's a free trial.
3 out of 5
iOS Universal edition: Sporos, $0.99
PokerTower adapts the basic format of SpellTower, in which a Tetris-like board fills up with letters which you can eliminate by making words from adjacent tiles. By transposing the structure into poker, developer Raphael Blanchet avoids punishing players with less expansive vocabularies, but this design fails to adapt adequately to the ways that switch changes the dynamics of play. There's a buggy mode which gestures at integrating RPG elements, but attempts it so minimally that it doesn't overcome the basically boring gameplay.
In high school, rather than writing a book report about some nautical classic, I made a game about combat in the age of sail. Unfortunately, my rules virtually guaranteed that both ships would be dismasted and completely immobile at extremely long range, and the interesting decisions I'd built into close combat and boarding never came into play. Poker Tower commits a similar error. The strategy gets interesting only when you have to plan carefully to arrange high-value hands, especially consecutively. Unfortunately, the selection of poker as a theme means that there's no way to have a board large enough to allow much long-range planning without making it essentially impossible to lose, because the cards combine so freely. Instead, it becomes paramount to avoid a U-shaped arrangement of cards, even if that means repetitively making low-scoring hands.
All it would take to push players into taking more risks would be some sort of punishment for making lots of bad hands, like Bejeweled's poker mode does. I dig the classic aesthetic, but SpellTower+Poker+10000000 is a promising idea which turns out not to work very well.
Today's lesson in game design: don't hide the fun.
1 out of 5
iPhone edition: PokerTower, $0.99
Majesty: The Northern Expansion
I went into Majesty: The Northern Expansion (henceforth MNE) completely prepared to hate it. User reviews suggested that it was excessively difficult in order to force players into purchasing temporary cheats. Perhaps because of my very low expectations, I came away quite pleasantly surprised with its formula, which is basically an RTS without direct control of the units.
The tower defense genre is in some ways a further extension of this basic idea: take Warcraft, strip away anything but building guard towers, and make a game out of just that. MNE occupies a middle ground--build orders and upgrades form the bulk of the game, and there are some limited but crucial ways of interacting directly with units (chiefly setting goals and casting spells). As a result, though there's much less micro-management than is common in RTS games, there's definitely something to be gained from being attentive to your units.
MNE is set in a fairly well-executed generic fantasy world which does the job of evoking the right expectations and looking pretty good. I was disappointed with the opacity of the interface (which favors icons over labels and which is not explained by the woefully inadequate tutorial) and some imprecision in building placement, but it works well enough after you get used to it. Knowing of the temptation to buy cheats, I'll never play it on anything but the easiest difficulty level, but that's challenging enough to let what's interesting about the game shine through.
3 out of 5
iOS Universal edition: Majesty: The Northern Expansion, $2.99
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