However, before we get into the paid releases, lets start with a few free-to-play titles, beginning with Halfbrick Studios’ latest publishing effort, Dan The Man. Recreating the look and feel of an NES-era platformer, the game combines both classic platforming with over-the-top brawling as players make their way through 12 stages of action-packed gameplay helping the titular hero Dan, as he tries to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend Josie. Produced by StudioJOHO, the game has a 7 episode web series that acts as a prequel to the main action. These are essentially play-throughs of non-existent stages 1 – 7 of Dan The Man and the app starts at Stage 8. It’s a little confusing, but the setup of the game is that you are playing the final cliffhanger. Dan The Man is well-made, with a great retro feel and a fun, energetic flow to it. Definitely worth checking out.
Next up is Pirates War – The Dice King, after a successful beta run earlier this year, they game is now available in wide release. This debut title from the team at Idiocracy, inc is an entertaining digital board game of sorts which combines elements of monopoly and a card game in which players are going around a board collecting pirate captains, ships and people to help construct their own pirate crew. It’s a swashbuckling adventure through the islands of Tiakoke acquiring lands, as you collect taxes from your territories and battle other pirates. Pirates, ships and crew can all be upgraded and the 80+ pirate characters have differing skills which can come in handy; allowing for some strategic gameplay. There us a solo mode or you can battle it out with other pirates online in real-time match-ups. To top it off, there is some great cell-shaded art. I enjoyed this when I played in the beta, I haven’t had a chance to check out the final release yet, but I suspect it’ll be pretty popular.
The final two “freebies” I wanted to highlight are free to try, but the full experiences will cost you money. First, for the kids there is Toca TV. Entering into a new market for Toca Boca, the app is part imaginative play app, part video subscription service. Aimed at kids ages 5 to 9, Toca TV offers children an excellently curated supply of age-appropriate streaming video content across a wide variety of subjects including crafty DIY, fun science videos, gaming videos and even original content, some of which is exclusive to the service. The super easy to use interface allows kids to save their favorite videos, search for videos and you can have multiple profiles so each child can save their own favorite stuff. My daughters love the video selections and have no problems finding all sorts of content to enjoy. Somehow the team at Toca Boca seems perfectly tuned into exactly what kids like. Plus, since all of the content is hand curated, parents don’t need to worry about questionably inappropriate videos occasionally slipping in like I’ve seen with YouTube Kids. There is also a whole other part to the app where kids can record their own videos with all sorts of silly real-time augmented reality overlays. You can try the app for free 3 times and subscriptions start at $4.99 per month with slight discounts for six month ($24.99) and twelve month ($39.99) commitments.
Then for the adults there is Adam Wolfe: Dark Detective Mystery Game. A hybrid of episodic narrative first-person adventure and hidden object game, players are dropped into the well-worn shoes of Adam Wolfe, a San Francisco paranormal investigator who is haunted by his past and the mysterious disappearance of his sister two years prior. When Wolfe is contacted by his old buddy on the SFPD to assist with a strange case where people are going missing, he soon finds himself struggling with both figurative and literal demons. Search crime scenes, gather clues, chase down dangerous suspects and try to stay alive in this neo-noir psychological thriller. The game features some stunning cinematic visuals. With the free app download you can play a portion of episode one as a demo. It is a different take on the hidden object genre and the beautiful graphics coupled with the interesting storyline really held my interest. If you want to play the whole thing then it’ll cost you $3.99, otherwise you can unlock all episodes (1 to 4) via an $11.99 IAP. The first two episodes are available immediately with the remaining two launching on Oct 23rd and Nov 4th respectively.
From the studio behind the delightfully retro endless RPG Slayin comes Treasure Buster. It is a pixel art roguelike dungeon crawler that employs a slingshot mechanic where you flight your hero around like a pinball bouncing off walls and other obstacles while slamming into enemies to attack and treasures to loot them. While the core gameplay remains the same, players can select one of six unique heroes, each with differing stats and abilities. There are both endless and arcade gameplay modes depending on your play-style and there is a nice chiptunes soundtrack.
The Secret Elevator is a creepy sort of first-person puzzle adventure game where you are making your way through dark hallways interacting with objects and making decisions as you try to discover what’s going on. Dark and spooky, this one is probably best experienced with a pair of headphones and the lights off.
A one-touch physics puzzle/arcade game, in Cognition players are trying to control a pair of cogs (named Click and Cogsworth) which are constantly rotating around one another; one is always moving while the other stands still. The premise is that you are inside an Inventor’s mind, trying to help him recover his memories and “bring him back to reality”. When you tap the screen it will freeze the currently rotating cog, causing the other cog to start rotating instead. It becomes this odd rhythmic movement style where you need to time taps to get the cogs to move in the desired direction. If the moving cog hits something, it will shift gears (pun intended) and start rotating in the opposite direction. Your goal in each of the game’s 45 had-crafted levels is to collect all of the fragments and reach the end as quickly as possible without getting crushed, squashed or otherwise delayed. Should Cogsworth or Click get hurt, the game automatically rewinds a bit to give you another go, but the clock never stops. Mastering the controls takes some practice, but it’s a fun little game with great cartoony art and it has a nice sense of urgency that drives you forward as you race against the clock to earn all of the stars.
If, like me, you were a big fan of the game Lemmings, then you’ll probably enjoy the game Inklings!. Obviously inspired by that classic game, you trying to guide a certain percentage of the mindlessly meandering ball-like Inklings to a goal by applying a catalog of abilities to them, like flipping gravity, mining, suicide bombers and more. Levels play out on some nice artistic backdrops that often play into the level itself. While the inklings themselves are perhaps not as charming as the Lemmings that inspired them, this game did hit my nostalgic sensibility and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to save these little Inkling creatures who seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that they need saving. If you loved Lemmings, then this one is pretty easy to recommend, but please note that it is iPad-only.
That Dragon, Cancer is a beautiful, brave and emotional narrative experience created by Ryan and Amy green to tell the story of their third son Joel and his 4-year fight against cancer. Originally the couple hoped it would show the world a miracle…their son beating the odds and surviving, but unfortunately Joel didn’t get his miracle, but the story that the “game” presents is still one of hope, imagination, inspiration and raw human emotion. Told through beautifully rendered polygon graphics and a series of poetic vignettes, the Greens don’t hold anything back showing the ups and downs of this intense journey. It beautifully honors their son, opening people’s eyes to the usually private struggles that they and other families went through or are going through right now. You are more of a participant than an observer, even taking on the role of the dad (Ryan), Joel and others at points. That Dragon, Cancer would have worked almost as well as an animated film, but in this adventure game style, you feel like you are on this emotional journey with the Greens, hearing their inner thoughts, personal conversations, bargaining with God, and fighting for Joel every step of the way. The app makes excellent use of sound and perspective to craft a very memorable and heart-felt experience. Cancer is one of those brutal diseases which, at this point, has pretty much affected everyone in some way or another, whether it be a relative, friend, co-worker or some other individual in your life, in some way Cancer has cut too many lives short. This is a very moving journey and one that as a parent of young girls I found particularly rough to get through at times, but one that I am glad that I experienced and hopeful that I will never have to actually experience in my own life as well. That Dragon, Cancer is a beautiful piece of art and testament by loving parents to their lost child.
Finally I’ll wrap things up with another fantastic PC port by Klei Entertainment (Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition). Invisible, Inc. is a rather engaging turn-based strategy game set in the year 2074, when corporations rule the world with brutal efficiency. Your rebel organization was hit hard and suffered casualties and now your agents are on the run. You must take control of Invisible’s remaining agents and guide them on stealth missions to infiltrate government facilities, avoid alerting the guards and steal valuable intel, supplies and money in order to topple the oppressive system. The game moves in turns and once you have used your action points to move and position your agents, the enemy moves their patrolling guards. The longer you take to complete your mission, the higher the security threat climbs, and the more likely you are to be discovered. You can temporarily get the jump on guards and knock them out, but when they wake, they’ll be upset, alert and on the hunt. Avoid detection and complete your objectives by hacking terminals, turning off cameras and breaking into firewalls using a powerful AI program called Incognita. The game has an awesome theme and the controls and interface are intuitively designed. Even at the “easiest” difficulty, Invisible, Inc. puts up a nice challenge and randomly generated levels gives the game great replayability. If you own an iPad and enjoy turn-based strategy games, I highly recommend this one for both its production values and gameplay.
And that’ll do it for this week…enjoy!