sage-solitaire_1004646445_ipad_01.jpgThis turned out to be another jam-packed week of new releases.

Narrowing the list down to just 12 titles proved to be a bit tough, but here are some of this week’s most promising new iOS releases.

First off we have Sage Solitaire, a simple and fun new solitaire variation by SpellTower creator Zach Gage. Combining elements of solitaire and poker, the game is played using 51 cards laid out in a three by three grid of stacks of cards of varying quantities. Players are trying to clear the stacks by forming traditional poker hands using cards from the face up cards in at least two of the three rows. Different hands are worth different points, as are the bonuses for clearing certain stacks. If you cannot make a valid move, you have two opportunities to trash a card, each of which gets regenerated if a subsequent valid match is made. This coupled with the multi-row requirement rule makes for some interesting strategical gameplay. The ‘single deck’ base game is free, but two additional gameplay modes, ‘Dual-Deck’ and ‘Fifteens’ are unlockable via a single $2.99 IAP. The Fifteens mode is neat in that it also allows players, in lieu of a standard poker hand, to play cards with a total face value of 15 to remove them, possibly allowing you to get out of a sticky situation. If you enjoy solitaire games, then you should most definitely at least check out the free base version of Sage Solitaire.

breakneck_973784199_ipad_02.jpgBreakneck is a visually captivating endless 3D futuristic craft racer where you are trying to out run your alien pursuers as your glide across beautifully textured and detailed terrain avoiding obstacles. To me this is everything that last month’s Race The Sun was shooting for, but Pik Pok Games have just executed it better and are offering it in an appealing free-to-play package. High speed endless gameplay with some very nice visuals…count me in.

Sketch Breaker is FDG’s latest puzzle game. It is a sort of different, more casual take on the classic brickbreaker, where players are trying to bust up colorful paintings instead of walls of bricks. To do so, players swipe to draw a paddle under flying magic balls, getting them to bounce back into the painting, removing a small chunk of paint and taking on its color. Hit the same color three times in a row and you unleash a more powerful explosion. Various imps are hidden within the painting and when freed, they act as your standard powerups like ball multipliers and shields to keep the ball from falling off the bottom of the screen, etc.

bullet-boy_899606169_ipad_01.jpgKongregate’s latest free-to-play offering is a cannon-hopping puzzle game called Bullet Boy. You are Bullet Boy, a daredevil of a kid whose high-flying antics probably keep his parents up at night. Players tap or tap-hold-release to cause Bullet Boy to jump from barrel, avoiding birds and other obstacles and successfully navigating the maze like array of barrels to the end of the aerial course before the tornado catches up with him. Careful timing and a sense of urgency will keep you on your toes and require some quick thinking. If you ever played a game released on iOS back in 2012 called Cannon Cat, then you’ll be instantly familiar with the gameplay, however Bullet Boy really cranks up the polish, action and difficulty compared to that game and offers a more modern, challenging and engaging experience that is worth checking out.

walking-dead-road-to-survival_969316884_ipad_01The Walking Dead: Road to Survival is an interesting new RPG game brought to us by Scopely along with Skybound, IUGO and Robert Kirkman himself. Set in the Walking Dead comic book universe just before the take back of Woodbury from the The Governor, the game is based on an all-new story from award-winning Walking Dead writer Jay Bonansinga and features some very nice comic book style art. A mashup of genres and mechanics that work well together, players collect characters and build and upgrade a team of survivors, customizing things like power, weapons and skills. During the narrative portions of the game, players will be presented with decisions and forking paths, and their choices will have a direct effect on the game. You also get to build and fortify your own base and a simple turn-based combat system is used when fighting walkers (and other survivors) as you try to complete missions. I’m not usually into these types of games and/or my interest fades fairly quickly, but for me the storyline and beautiful comic artwork makes this a more engaging experience than some of other games of this ilk.

ski-safari-2_952555810_ipad_04At first glance or from the screenshots alone, it may not look like not much has changed from the original for Ski Safari 2, however once you start playing you quickly see all the enhancements and upgrades that have gone into the game to make this a sequel that is very much worth owning. First, for the uninitiated, Ski Safari 2 is an absolutely insane endless racer where you are a skier or snowboarder hurtling down a mountain, off cliffs and through caves, trying to outrun an avalanche and riding on the backs of yeti, penguins, birds, snowmobiles and more. One of the first changes you’ll notice is that you can now choose either a boy or girl character and the camera is a little closer to the action, so everything doesn’t look so distant. In addition to the usual backflip, you can now pull of tricks while in the air by swiping. There are three different worlds to unlock, each with their own versions of the animals and creatures, adding some fun variety. You can unlock new costumes and better equipment and new to the sequel is a really fun local multiplayer mode for up to four players (each on their own device) where players compete to either collect 200 rings the fastest or participate in a tug of war battle where you are trying to be the fastest to pull off a rolling set of goals. If you successfully complete a goal before your competitors, you steal a point from the other players, the first to five wins. And to make it even more fun, you can pick up Mario-style powerups like walls, screen flippers, giant snowballs, coin magnets and more which allow you to either mess with the other players or help you achieve the gold faster. Even if you own the original, I highly recommend picking this one up as well, Sleepy Z Studios has done a masterful job of taking over the reins.

embers-journey_1016749791_ipad_01.jpgEmber’s Journey is a dark new atmospheric platformer, where you trying to navigate through maze-like levels using just your memory and the little bit of light surrounding the block-shaped hero, Ember. Dragging on one side of the screen controls Ember’s movement while tapping on the other side causes him to jump. As you can only see a tiny bit of the pitch black world around you at a time, each of the game’s 76 levels will require a good deal of trial and error as you make it a little further and remember the safe path.

Tiny Empire is a new 16-bit medieval-themed puzzle game which has players utilizing the familiar Angry Bird’s catapult mechanic to lob cannonballs at orcs, while avoiding accidentally taking out their own soldiers. This aspect in particular makes for a nice challenge rather than just simply trying to blow everything up. Careful aim and a steady hand will be required if you want to land three stars on each level.

And for the kids…

my-little-pony-rarity-takes_1017353772_ipad_02.jpgPlayDate Digital is back with another of their My Little Pony interactive storybooks. My Little Pony: Rarity Takes Manehattan recreates the adventure from episode 8 of season 4 of the My Little Pony – Friendship Is Magic animated series. “The biggest fashion contest of the year is about to kick off in the bustling metropolis of Manehattan, and it’s Rarity’s chance to shine. Rarity has the exciting opportunity to take the fashion capital of Equestria by storm with her most fabulous designs, while bringing along her best friends for the show, and some sightseeing! But when a big-city pony takes advantage of Rarity’s big heart, her dreams could be in jeopardy, along with her friendships!” The app not only tries to help kids learn how to read, but also teach them a valuable lesson about gratitude, kindness and friendship. Once again, the app features great voice work and narration, interactive elements and Sight words practice. My girls were already quite familiar with the story from the animated series, and loved going through it in book form. My younger daughter especially liked the Dress Up special feature where you can dress up any of the Mane 6 ponies and take their picture.

That’ll bring us to the higher priced titles of the week…

calvino-noir_921527450_ipad_01.jpgSet in Europe (Germany I think) during the 1930s, Calvino Noir is a film noir stealth adventure game where you control several characters who have “become unwillingly entangled in a revolutionist plot”, trying to save their criminally run city from complete destruction. The game has an almost cinematic feel with nice visuals, score and voice work. You tap to tap to move and position characters, interact with other, pick up items, distract others and explore your surroundings. The three characters fighting the corruption are Wilt, a Brit and former military ‘scrambler’ good at stealing things, Arno, a weapons expert and Siska, a mysterious foreign female. While trying to pull off tasks, you can hide as well as toggle on and off a running mode which helps you remain stealthy and avoid capture from guards. There are checkpoints along the way in case you die so you can restart from certain points. Calvino Noir’s story is told over three acts, the first of which is included in the initial app purchase, the others (according to the app description) must be unlocked via IAP. I haven’t reached the second act yet, so I’m not sure of the cost of this, but so far I’ve been enjoying the experience.

whispering-willows_950823223_ipad_02.jpgWhispering Willows is the iOS port of an award-winning PC/console hand-drawn, 2D platformer from Night Light Interactive. The game follows a young girl named Elena Elkhorn as she sets out on a dangerous journey to the Willows Mansion find her missing father. A gift from her father, Elena wears a magical amulet which grants her the ability to “astral project her spirit into a ghostly-realm and communicate with the dead”. This is the really neat hook of this game, where by the amulet glows to alert you of the presence of spirits and by possessing people and objects you can navigate to areas Elena would not ordinarily be able to reach, or open doors so that she can pass through previously blocked areas. It becomes a neat puzzly aspect of the game. There are very Xbox-reminiscent on-screen virtual controls, but the game will also work with most wireless bluetooth controllers. Whispering Willows is a well-produced puzzle platformer and I’m happy to see it make its way to a new audience on iOS. The app is on sale for $4.99 (50% off) for launch until September 9th.

lara-croft-go_971304016_ipad_02.jpgFinally, that brings us to Lara Croft GO, SQUARE ENIX’s HIGHLY anticipated Lara Croft puzzle game and spiritual successor to the spectacular Hitman GO. In case you missed it every other time I’ve said it, I loved Hitman GO and so needless to say I’ve been eagerly awaiting this game’s release. It’s Lara Croft like you’ve never seen her before; ditching the usual puzzle platformer style of the classic Lara Croft games for a turn-based puzzle game may not have been an obvious choice, but boy does it work well. In each beautifully illustrated level of the game you must help Lara navigate from her starting point, safely to the exit. Along the way she’ll face human-sized snakes and spiders, lizards, spikes, moving platforms and more. Like a perfect dance you’ll have to carefully plan out each and every step, as creatures can only be attacked from the sides (unless you have a projectile weapon or a torch) and some spaces can only be stepped on twice before they crumble away. New elements are introduced at a nice pace as you progress through the game, meaning there is always some new creature or mechanic you’ll have to factor in. Plus there are loads of hidden objects you can find/ tap on throughout the game to unlock new outfits for Lara to wear. Puzzle difficulty will vary by player and their train of thought, but I never found myself so completely stuck that I felt the need to purchase the $4.99 hint system IAP (this a great way to offer hints to avoid people immediately giving up on a level and relying on the hints). I’m not sure of the exact puzzle count, but between the puzzles and finding all of hidden objects the game should offer a good several hours of gameplay. Overall, I think I found Hitman GO to be a slightly more challenging game, but that in no way takes away from what the talented team at Square Enix Montréal have been able to accomplish with Lara Croft GO. This is easily another must-have title for all iOS device owners.

Phew…and I think that will do it for this week.

Go to the second page of this post to watch the trailers for these games.