This turned out to be a pretty jam-packed week of new releases, with a number of digital card games, an original party game, the return of a talented indie development duo, a stellar iOS port, some ghosts of PAX EAST past and a new title in a popular franchise which debuts on mobile before the usual Nintendo handheld.
Kicking off the week is Noodlecake’s latest publishing effort, Leap On!. It’s a quick-action, leaderboard-driven survival game in which players hold their finger on the screen to allow a yo-yo-like ball to swing around the center of the screen as it propels itself away from (and then back toward) a black mass in the center of the screen. The goal is to strike the scattered white circles or the various powerups to earn points and multipliers whilst avoiding the black shapes. The game is fast playing and ripe for that one-more-try mentality. This is a fun little time waster that is sure to both entertain and frustrate you (in a good way).
It’s been a long time coming, but this week finally saw the worldwide release of Eternal Card Game. I first got a peek at this one at PAX East a couple of years back and now, after an extensive soft launch, the game is finally ready for prime time. Dire Wolf Digital (Lanterns: The Harvest Festival). Eternal is a strategy card game set in an original universe which blends elements of “spells and swords, six-guns, subterfuge and sorcery”. It seems heavily inspired by games like Magic and Hearthstone, with players fielding cards and attacking in order to drive their opponent’s health down to zero to win. As one would expect, a lot of the usual CCG card abilities make an appearance like Battlecry, Enrage and Taunt, albeit using a different nomenclature. Instead of Hearthstone’s steadily increasing pool of mana, to field cards Eternal takes a more Magic approach in which players must play special mana cards to increase their total pool, making a balanced starting hand much more essential. Also when units are attacked, if their entire health is not depleted on a single turn, they return back to their full health on that player’s next turn, making it impossible to just whittle away at those health-heavy foes until they are gone and requiring a much different strategy than perhaps you’d use on Hearthstone. When a player’s units are being attacked, they will not automatically block attackers with their units, instead, the player is given the option to assign their units to individual attackers and if a unit blocks on one turn, that same unit may not be used in an attack on the next. While, as you can see, the game does borrow heavily from other titles in this increasingly popular genre, Eternal does add some of its own gameplay elements, giving it its own unique strategy and style and it is certainly worth a look. The game is super polished and entirely, completely and truly free. Every card (and every game mode) in Eternal can be earned or unlocked without ever paying a cent!
Next up is Wagers of War, which offers a fresh take on a classic card game. One of the earliest card games that many of us learn as kids is “War”. It is mind-numbingly simple; each player starts with half the deck and they just keep flipping cards with the higher of the two cards taking the spoils until one player gets all of the cards or both players quit out of boredom. While dead-simple to learn, the biggest drawback of War is that there are zero decisions to be made and the entire game is 100% luck based. Wagers of War aims to rectify War’s shortcomings by mashing it up with the strategy of a CCG. Two players go head to head, trying to deplete their opponent’s health. Each player has a health meter and a mana count and following traditional War rules, they flip cards from their decks (one at a time), with the high card gaining 2 mana for that player. Once a player has won five of these battles or both players reveal identical valued cards, then a face-off ensues. Here players can are dealt three more cards from their hands. Red cards can be used for attack, black for shields. Face cards have special abilities which can be triggered to poison opponent, stop an attack, change a red card to black (and vice-versa) and more. Depending on which character they are using, players also have a special ability which may help them to earn mana, bolster attacks, shields etc. And if that wasn’t enough, there are a whole bunch of equipment/spell cards which you can unlock and upgrade and bring into battle with you as well. These added gameplay elements really help to modernize War and give it some actual strategy and make Wagers of War much more interesting, not just something you simply tolerate for the sake of your kids. The game has a comprehensive multi-part tutorial to get you going and then you can challenge online opponents to quick, real-time duels. If you like digital card games, then give this one a go and maybe I’ll see you on the battlefield.
Inspired by a cardboard prototype of a Mafia variant, the new digital-only hidden role party game Triple Agent! launched on iOS this week. Designed for 5-9 people using a single device, Triple Agent! casts players as either a spy for a benevolent intelligence agency called The Service or as a VIRUS double agent. The double agents know who else is on their team, but The Service agents must use cunning and deduction to figure out who they can trust. The double agents are trying to remain undercover, while the Service agents are trying to root out one of the Double Agents. During the course of the game each player will be assigned one operation which affects the game in some minor or major way. This could be anything from getting information about one or more of the other players, a secret agenda which gives that player a different win condition, or they might even have to swap allegiances. After receiving their mission briefing, the player may decide how much information they want to reveal to the other players. Whether they tell the truth or lie through their teeth is completely up to them. After all players have completed their operations, a two-minute timer begins and everyone has the opportunity to discuss and/or accuse others of being double agents. When the discussion time runs out, all players then secretly vote on one player they want to imprison. If the player with the most votes was a double agent, the Service wins, otherwise VIRUS wins. I haven’t been able to get a large enough group of people together to check this one out yet, but it looks like a fun party game. Individual games last about 10 minutes and the crisply designed app adds to the atmosphere and does a very nice job of guiding players through the game, eliminating the need for someone in your group to sit out and be a moderator. The app is completely free for the base game and there is a single $2.99 ‘Deep Cover Pack’ IAP which adds additional operations, customizations and the ability to raise the max player count from 7 to 9. It also unlocks a Special Abilities option where players are randomly assigned special abilities at the start of a game.
Milkbag Games, the small indie studio made up of the Canadian super-duo of Matt Rix and Owen Goss, has just released a new game called Sidewords. It is a zen-like word puzzle game which gives players a lot of freedom on how they want to tackle each puzzle. A word is written horizontally across the top of the screen and another is written vertically down the side, with each letter forming its own column or row (respectively). Players then build legal words by tapping on the letters in those horizontal and vertical words. When they make a word, it fills in a section of the board where those rows and columns intersect. Now that area is filled and the player must make additional words to fill in the rest of the open spaces. ‘Found’ words can be removed at any time to re-free up that space for a different word(s). The player can make as many or as few words as they need to fill the space. Once all the spaces have been filled, that puzzle. has been solved I really love the game’s mix of word finding and tetris-like spacial reasoning as you try to find words that fit any available blanks. The lack of timers and the flexibility it gives players to solve the puzzle in whatever manner they want is absolutely ace. There is no single right or wrong way to do it, so just have fun. Sidewords is a great stress-free way to practice your wordsmithing and get that grey matter firing.
With the big shift to free-to-play, it’s been a while since we’ve seen a good “premium” tower defense game. Fieldrunners 2 came out 5 years ago and the most recent entry in the Kingdom Rush series was almost 3 years ago. So it’s great to see the newcomer, Defend The Bits show up on the App Store from developer PlaySide (Catch The Ark, Lego Batman) at a $2.99 price tag. In each level players need to buy and deploy their BIT heroes along the pathway that the invading enemy Blocks will traverse on their way to the BIT base. BIT Heroes have either ranged or close combat units; some units are designed to slow down the enemy’s progress, while others just obliterate them. From the ranged archers and grenadiers to the close range axemen and quick reflexed ninjas, players have a nice variety of BIT troops to deploy and upgrade to keep 60 waves of colorful block enemies from reaching their base. Each unit type does a certain amount of damage and has a specified range of attack (clearly displayed during placement). As thye BIT Heroes kill enemies coins are earned which can be used to purchase new units or upgrade existing ones to expand their range, speed and damage potential. Finding that right balance between placing new units and upgrading the effectiveness of existing ones is the key. At times Defend The Bits can feel like its on autopilot for a few waves at a time, especially once you’ve deployed enough troops. However, even at the medium difficulty it can be quite difficult to complete levels without losing a single BIT soldier and you will need to replay levels, adapting your strategy as you learn the various patterns of enemies in the later waves of the conflict. While levels don’t dynamically change like in the Kingdom Rush series (a favorite aspect of mine in that series), this is a solid and fun defense game, with plenty of polish. There are a few optional in-app purchases, but they are only for players who want to speed up their progress. Despite their relative ignorability, I do wish the gems required to permanently upgrade your towers were a bit more free-flowing or just eliminated from the game altogether.
Born in Prague in 1883, author Franz Kafka was responsible for several influential works including Amerika, The Tiran and The Castle, and a best-selling short story entitled “The Metamorphosis. Prolific adventure game publisher Daedalic Entertainment has launched an iOS port of a very unique and surreal puzzle game inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka, which is appropriately titled, The Franz Kafka Videogame. Players embark on an odd journey of discovery with the main protagonist (simply named K.). An unexpected offer of employment in America takes K on a bizarre journey and it is up to the player to solve various logic puzzles to drive the story forward. Some of the puzzles are fairly straight forward, while others will take some outside-of-the box thinking to solve. Unlike Daedalic’s usual point-and click fare, players don’t have an inventory of items to use and combine, the game is simply a series of puzzles connected by a strange, yet interesting narrative. The Franz Kafka Videogame is fairly short, but I still found it to be entertaining and several of the puzzles were quite challenging. There is a time-based hint system where two per-puzzle clues are unlocked, should you spend enough time pondering any particular puzzle. I saw a behind-closed-doors sneak peak of this at PAX East a couple of years back, but hadn’t heard much about it since then, so it’s great to see this one finally get released and into people’s hands.
Originally released by LucasArts in 1995, Double Fine and Tim Schafer’s rockin’ classic adventure game Full Throttle has a gorgeous new ‘Remastered’ iOS port. The game tells the story of Ben Throttle, the ‘butt-kicking’ leader of biker gang known as the Polecats, who is just trying to mind his own business when he gets embroiled in an adventure involving motorcycles, murder and all sorts of mayhem. Before I get into the gameplay, I have to mention the phenomenal updated graphics and sound. All of the original, low resolution art has been painstakingly replaced with absolutely stunning hand-drawn and 3D high-resolution artwork. Players can switch between the original art and new art at will while playing and the improvement is astonishing. The remastered sound is pretty darn amazing as well. The game follows that classic Double Fine formula that we’ve all grown to love, with fantastically written (an often humorous) dialog trees. The interface is easy to use and very touch-centric; the player can tap to walk to (or interact with) an object, pinch to switch between the original and modern graphics and use 3 fingers to hilight all of the interactive objects in the current scene. Holding a finger on any object/person brings up the ‘verb skull‘ s do-all UI which allows the player to select an interaction (look, talk/use, pickup/punch, kick). All fairly standard stuff, however, the one unique element which really sets Full Throttle apart from other adventure games is that there are several segments of arcade-style action which require reflexes and skill. At times the player will have to drive a motorcycle and even get into mid-ride fights with other bikers while on said motorcycle. It is a really cool idea which changes up the gameplay, and at the same time creating some of toughest and easily the most time-consuming segments of the game. While I am a huge fan of Double Fine’s work, Full Throttle is one of their titles that I somehow missed the first time around (I was in college at the time…probably studying…yeah), so I was absolutely thrilled to see it get this top-notch iOS release. There are some rather neat extras included in the release as well, like original concept art. However, my favorite extra has to be the commentary track with the game’s original creators. This can either be enabled for the entire game, or players can access it broken up into smaller categorized chunks via a jukebox extra (which also contains the rad music from the game in both lo-fi and hi-fi versions). After finishing the game I went back and listened to a good portion of the commentary via the jukebox and found it to be completely engaging to hear the stories of the game’s development. If you do pick up Full Throttle: Remastered, I highly recommend giving the commentary a listen. A lot of care obviously went into this Remastered edition and I have no doubt this is the best this game has ever looked. Double Fine has done a pretty great job of porting their catalog of games to iOS ove r the years, now we just need some Brütal Legend and Pyschonauts love. In the meantime at least we have Double Fine alum Ron Gilbert’s upcoming iOS release of Thimbleweed Park to look forward to as well.
Finally, that brings us to LAYTON’S MYSTERY JOURNEY: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. This is a brand new entry Level-5’s extremely popular Professor Layton franchise, except that instead of debuting on Nintendo handhelds, the studio has decided to release it on mobile devices first (with an October Nintendo 3DS launch)! A brilliant production, platform release order isn’t the only change, as Layton’s Mystery Journey centers around Professor Layton’s daughter, Katrielle, instead of the good professor himself. She’s smart yet a charmingly a little aloof, funny, strong-willed and a snappy dresser. It seems that Kat also has a knack for solving mysteries and has decided to help fellow Londoners by opening her own Layton Detective Agency. Soon she is off and running when a talking amnesic dog shows up at her door as a new client. With the help of her shy admirer/assistant Ernest and Inspector Hastings she’s got a number of mysteries to solve. With the Layton Detective Agency’s motto being “any mystery solved”, you can bet that these are not your every day, ordinary cases, starting with a clock hand of Big Ben going missing. To search for clues the player travels from location to location, dragging a small magnifying glass around the screen until it finds something notable or someone to talk to; this could be nothing, a hint coin (used to help solve puzzles) or outright clues to the main mystery. Interspersed throughout the game are some rather nice logic puzzles which the player must solve in order to make progress on the mystery and collect clues. Hint coins (which are pretty free flowing) can be used if the player gets stuck, but the puzzle will be worth less points if hints or incorrect guesses are wagered. They’ve even thoughtfully included a handy little memo feature that allows you to make some notes while trying to solve the puzzles. I am absolutely loving the charm of this game from the delightful cast of characters to its thoughtful puzzles. The production values for Layton’s Mystery Journey are insanely high and it is easy to see why it can command a premium price tag of $15.99. With its beautifully animated (and voice-acted) cutscenes and snappy, humorous dialog, at times it can feel like you are watching a perfectly produced animated series rather than playing a game. I quite enjoyed Level 5’s 2013 mobile release of LAYTON BROTHERS MYSTERY ROOM, but it’s really impressive to see how much further they’ve come with the franchise in the 4 years since. Don’t let the high price tag frighten you away from this App Store gem.
And that will do it for this week, I hope you are enjoying some of these fresh titles as well.