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‘Castleparts’ Review – A Strange Name for a New ‘Rampart’

‘Castleparts’ Review – A Strange Name for a New ‘Rampart’

Rampart is just one of those games that every retro enthusiast remembers. I was first introduced to it on the SNES, but it was ported to nearly every platform imaginable due to its immense popularity. Its angle of marrying shooting elements with light strategy and building components is still unique nearly 30 years later, and it’s amazing that so few projects have attempted to emulate its formula directly. Castleparts [$ 2.99] is one such imitation, and although I had a few technical issues with it, it’s a project worth playing if you’re into the Rampart concept.

If you’ve never played that classic before, the gist carries over into the mobile arena flawlessly. Players square off against an opponent with their own kingdoms, centrally powered by a cannon that can destroy castle bits and other distractions like neutral creeps and buildings. All the while you can build Tetris-esque walls to expand your castle, allowing you to “capture” piles of gold to grant you access to faster cannon shots (or spells). Capturing more territory grants you more points, and whoever has the most when the timer is out wins. Doing all of this to the sound of a catchy chiptune soundtrack is glorious.

You can do all of this simultaneously, eschewing the whole turn-based “rounds” of Rampart. To attack any part of the screen (even your own quadrant) you just tap. To cast spells (which are mainly just larger cannon shots with specific patterns and vary slightly between all four playable characters) you tap them too, and building walls is as easy as tapping them and dragging them where you want to go. Like I said everything lines up perfectly for a mobile game, both in terms of the control scheme and the idea of playing a quick round on the bus.

There’s a lot of strategy involved when it comes to balancing offense and defense, as building too much land too quickly could put you at a disadvantage if you’re not attacking your enemy in turn. If they manage to sever your walls while they steadily build up you could end up losing in the end, so there’s a delicate balance to the two philosophies that you’ll have to learn to strike over time. A brief set of tutorials does a good job of explaining the basics, but the rest you’ll have to learn on your own. Things like destroying NPC skeletons so they don’t steal your gold or ogres so they don’t break down your walls is an example of another wrench thrown into the mix.

There’s three distinct modes in Castleparts beyond the online multiplayer angle (which involves cross-platform play with Android and PC, whenever the latter comes out), all of which involve bots of some kind. “Conquer” is pretty much the basic PVP gametype where you duke it out with another opponent and see who comes out on top at the end, while “Creep” sort of mixes things up with an ever encroaching set of colors on each side (that can be destroyed) that grant bonus points. Because Creep adds another element into play I found it to be more worth playing long term.

My favorite mode, or at least the one that has the most potential, is “Adventure.” Here you don’t have a direct bot or player to face at all, you just expand your own castle on a more open ended map with neutral enemies. At first the map seems small as the game doesn’t really explain that a lot of the board is engulfed by a fog of war, but placing castle pieces will eventually reveal an area that’s twice as big as the starting zone.

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It’s a lot of space, but truth be told I would have liked to have seen an even bigger play space and an even more sprawling RPG mode. It sounds like too high of an expectation, but once you play Adventure you’ll see the potential. That, and the resolution problem are my only gripes. Playing on an iPhone 6 the screen doesn’t resize correctly, and some of the text is actually cut off. It’s not a huge deal as every menu item is on-screen and I don’t feel like I’m really missing anything, but a quick fix would be appreciated all the same.

Castleparts stops short of greatness in some ways, but has enough depth to keep you busy even if you never play against another human. It doesn’t even need more modes or characters per se, just slight expansions on the foundation that’s already been created.

‘Prison Architect’ Review – Running a Prison Shouldn’t be This Fun

‘Prison Architect’ Review – Running a Prison Shouldn’t be This Fun

Let’s start this review with the obvious: building and managing a maximum security prison in this day and age can be a peculiar experience given all we hear about the way the real-life prison system works. And yes, I know that some people have found Prison Architect [Free (HD)] disagreeable because of precisely these reasons. Add to that how the game’s tutorial starts with having you build an execution chamber and then proceed to execute a murderer, and you can see why this game’s theme might not be for everyone. Those reservations aside, though, in terms of mechanics and gameplay variation, Prison Architect is a very entertaining game with tons of content and plenty of depth that will keep you busy for many, many hours.While the title of Prison Architect implies that all you’ll be doing in the game is building a prison, it’s actually slightly misleading; you are in charge of so much more than just designing a prison. Your duties extend to planning your inmates’ daily schedules, hiring the right kind of people to help run the facility, arranging for the prison to be “pleasant” enough so you can avoid riots, manage your tight budget, and much more. Prison Architect will definitely remind you of classic PC management games rather than modern mobile games when it comes to just how much you can control and how much tinkering you can do.

But yes, you also have to actually build a prison. The tutorial is good in guiding you step by step through the process of erecting various buildings, installing the necessary utilities like electricity and water?which can get quite complex?adding various necessary objects to the rooms, and so on. Building the facilities is very easy, and it won’t be long before you can make your prison look just the way you want it. The interface works great and won’t block your view because of the way you can hide windows when not using them. The game could have easily been overwhelming on a tablet because of all the toolbars and windows, but the developers cleverly hide what’s not needed. Placing objects is also pretty accurate as is dragging them around to position them where needed.

Once you build a prison, you can start navigating the bureaucracy that comes with it and decide where to invest your pretty tight budget. Do you want to add more cameras? Do you want to invest in getting body armor for your guards, do you want someone to help your inmates prepare for their court appearances? You can also start all kinds of programs like apprenticeships, group therapy, spiritual guidance, and so on. All these options allow you to build the kind of prison you want. Remember, this isn’t a game about building the worst kind of facility imaginable; if you so wish, you can build a very humane facility, which I was glad to see.

The depth of the simulation is easily seen when you tap on any of your prison’s inmates to learn more about them. Every single inmate comes with all kinds of information that helps in humanizing him (even if some of the crimes aren’t that “humane”). You can see their rap sheet and pleas, their activity broken down into detailed pie charts, their current needs, and so on. And you can decide whether the inmate is a threat to your facility and order your guards to search him, move him into solitary confinement, or even recruit him as an informant. And you can choose to follow that inmate around throughout the facility and see his actions in details. There’s a crazy amount of detail in the game, and you can easily spend a ton of time just getting to know your prison’s inmates.

There are many ways to play Prison Architect. For instance, you can go for one of the Prison Stories, chapters that act as an extended tutorial and also let you play a more guided version of the game. This part of the game includes cut scenes to help tell the story, and if you decide to play the game, I suggest you go through this part first to get the hang of all the systems and mechanics before moving to build your own prison. Building your own prison gives you plenty of freedom to make the experience just the way you want it, including setting the kind of budget you want to adding prison gangs?which add to the mayhem?and weather and temperature?which make keeping people happy much more demanding. Finally, there’s the option of playing with premade prisons, where you can focus on trying to solve various challenges over building a prison from scratch.

Most of the content is hidden behind IAPs, but I actually like the way the developers broke down the game into smaller chunks because that allowed them to keep the app from being too expensive for the App Store while also letting players pay for the features they want. For instance, while $ 14.99 gets you the whole game, $ 4.99 gets you the Sandbox Mode while $ 2.99 gets you a chapter from the story. I think this is a pretty cool way to monetize premium games while avoiding hitting mobile players with sticker shock (although $ 14.99 for such a game is still a steal).

The art of Prison Architect is probably the game’s most memorable part, its cartoony feel clashing with the game’s somber theme and giving the game a kind of a comical look. Apparently all the people in these prisons lack feet. The art style allowed the developers to add plenty of prisoner variety, which helps avoid having a prison filled with what could be clones. The animations are very well done too, and overall the game looks really nice on tablets.

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Overall, Prison Architect is a pretty deep simulation and management game that offers ton of things to do and ways to play. Don’t let its cartoony looks deceive you; this is a pretty hardcore and demanding game. If you like classic PC management games, you’re going to love Prison Architect. If you don’t care to dive deep into a game and are simply looking for a light game to pass the time, Prison Architect might not be for you. Personally, I had a blast playing the game, and I certainly recommend it. I’ve heard some users complain about bugs, but personally I had no issues playing the game. So, if you don’t find the theme disagreeable and want to play one of the most complex?but still accessible?management games on iOS, go grab Prison Architect.

‘Flipping Legend’ Review – It’s Flipping Sweet

‘Flipping Legend’ Review – It’s Flipping Sweet

It can be tough to stand out for a game that is in a well-worn genre. The sort of endless runner with action elements genre can be a tough sell for some folks when there’s a ton of those games out there. But Flipping Legend [Free] doesn’t deserve to be skipped. This separates itself from the rest of the pack by having a unique movement system, an RPG-style upgrade system, strong artistic direction, and most importantly: being fun to play at its very core.

Flipping Legend has you playing as one of several character types who have the ability to flip diagonally across the world, much like a bishop on a chess board. So, you can’t hit anything right in front of you, necessarily. You have to be constantly thinking in diagonals, trying to string together jumps, because your health constantly decreases when you’re not bopping enemies. You have five worlds to make it through, though a portal can be taken to later worlds when you reach each one five times. You also can backflip, but this uses up part of your super meter. Your enemies won’t just stand there waiting for you to bop them: some of them throw projectiles, will poison you, or are ghosts that will chase you down unless you get away quickly enough. Good luck with all that! It’s all a fun concept on paper, but it’s such a fun game to just physically play.

A big reason why Flipping Legend works so well is because the flipping feels so good to play with. It’s a fast, responsive control scheme, and flipping from tile to tile, bopping enemies in a row, it is very satisfactory to play with. The big thing you have to understand is how to use the flips across the screen, where flipping right on the right column will flip you to the left column. The checkerboard system helps out a lot, as it gives you a quick glance at if you need to get on a different checkerboard path. The whole system also conveys a feeling of correctness when you get a big string of enemies taken down, like this is how you’re supposed to be doing it. When a game feels so good to just play in its rawest form, that’s a sign that the bigger experience can be fun. This isn’t always the case, but Flipping Legend has a fantastic core to work with.

The special attack meter feels cribbed from fighting games for a different purpose here, but it provides a a useful system. See, you can use one bar of your meter to jump backwards, which is helpful for taking out enemies as there’s better rewards for keeping a string of kills going without missing an enemy. But, the meter takes longer to fill going down the line, so one jump backwards when you have a full meter comes at a higher cost. You can stand there and wait if you don’t have the meter full to jump backward, but with the constantly-draining health, this is only recommended ever so often. The super moves are rather useful, as they can take out multiple enemies, or help you out when you need a bit of an edge going through the world. The werewolf is a particularly interesting character because he has a forward jump for his special move; you don’t get the screen-clearing you do from other characters’ abilities, but you do get a useful little tool that can be upgraded to be more of a boon to your high score chasing.

The upgrade system is a bit different from other free-to-play games, because you have to level up your characters in order to upgrade them. Diablo‘s skill trees are a stated influence for Flipping Legend, where you get one skill point to spend on upgrades per character level. Experience is earned through scoring points, with bonuses to be found in treasure chests. Upgrades include things like being able to pick up multiple shields, being immune to certain negative effects, and faster power bar generation. But each character has some unique ability upgrades, where like the ninja can shoot shurikens at forward enemies when doing their backflip. The warlock’s spell can become more useful, and even help out with the ghosts in the cemetery. The character leveling also means that you have an incentive to play with each character, and have some solid progress to work toward in the game toward not just getting high scores and unlocking new areas, but also making your characters even better.

Flipping Legend is free-to-play, with two in-app purchase types. One is the ad removal IAP, which not only removes any kind of interstitial ad you might see, but you also don’t have to watch ads to get the free chest every 10 minutes, and chests you pick up in the game open for free at the end of your session. You can then buy legend chests: 10 for $ 0.99, 25 for $ 1.99, or 40 for $ 2.99. These give you rare skins, experience bonuses, and big quantities of gold for your runs. There’s no exorbitant spending here, and that ad removal IAP will take you a long way toward saving time with the chest unlocks. Interestingly, there is no way to continue a run, so once you die…you die.

The art style of Flipping Legend works rather well because of the way that it combines voxel art and low-resolution pixel art in a way that feels unique. Plenty of games have had either style, but the voxel characters of Flipping Legend feel special in that way. While the low-resolution fonts still feel a little jarring compared to the 3D art, I don’t know if there was a good solution for that. It’s still a good style for the game. The music has a great feeling to it, and there’s a cool aspect to where it changes smoothly with level transitions, to where you might not even notice that the track has been building into something different. There’s iCloud support so you don’t lose your progress when playing on different devices.

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Flipping Legend is just an astounding take on a well-trodden genre, of the free-to-play action-y runner. The work that Hiding Spot Games put into this along with Noodlecake’s help has been spectacular. The reports from GDC were that this was coming together really nicely, and after playing a ton of this one before and after release, Flipping Legend is a must-download in my book.

‘Epic Little War Game’ Review – Back to the Trenches

‘Epic Little War Game’ Review – Back to the Trenches

It feels like Rubicon’s War Game series has been all over the place. Great Little War Game [$ 1.99] was an accessible turn-based strategy game packed with content and a cheeky sense of humor. Its follow-up, Great Big War Game [$ 2.99], went for a bigger scale and added in online multiplayer. The next game in the series was Great Little War Game 2 [$ 1.99], which went for a more streamlined experience with portrait orientation, smaller levels, and no multiplayer at all. It was a fun game taken on its own merits, but it was somewhat of an underwhelming entry for the series to go out on. Well, here we are three years later, and it looks like the General isn’t ready to hang up his pants yet. Epic Little War Game [$ 4.99] is here, and if you were one of the people who wished the last game was more fully-featured, you’re going to be very happy with this one.

The General and his army of blue guys are back, battling against their stalwart enemies, the red guys. Just about everything good that you remember from the previous games is back. You can engage in turn-based battles against the computer in the single-player campaign or a skirmish mode. The skirmish mode also supports multiplayer via pass-and-play for up to six players. You can mix and match any amount of human and CPU forces, so if you just want to team up on the computer with your buddy, you can do that. There are tons of pre-built maps on all kinds of terrain types to play on, and you can even generate a random map if you want to try something new.

You can also battle online with or against other human players asynchronously. This feature was cut from the last game as apparently not that many people were using it. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again, but I have to admit that it was sometimes difficult to find other players at certain times during the day. The game is back to being presented in landscape mode, and the levels are bigger and more complex than ever. There are a few new things, of course. An obvious change is that the game now incorporates resource gathering and base building. More subtle but no less important is that you no longer have to worry about units running out of ammunition and having to scramble to get re-supplied. If you felt like battles in the previous games had a tendency to slog, you’ll find the quicker pacing in this game to be its best improvement.

Still, the nuts and bolts of the game are familiar. You’ll need to be mindful of when and where you choose to attack due to the heavy emphasis on counter-attacks. Terrain plays a major role, so you need to make sure you’re making the most of it. There are a number of different unit types at your disposal, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The presentation is familiar, as well. Colorful 3D graphics, a cartoony art style reminiscent of the Advance Wars series, humorous voice clips from the troops that get old pretty quickly, and the always-hilarious General acting like a complete fool. The War Game games were well ahead of their peers in terms of production values several years ago. That they’re still coming off pretty good without a lot of obvious improvements speaks volumes.

One other new addition is that of randomized maps in the skirmish mode. This adds a lot of replay value to the game, and I love that the developer has given you the option to replay the ones that you like simply by entering an associated password. It’s something I wish we would see more often in games that use randomized levels. At any rate, this means that even if you finish the robust single-player campaign and don’t feel like indulging in multiplayer, you still have a lot to play around with. As long as you enjoy the core gameplay, Epic Little War Game could probably keep you entertained indefinitely thanks to its surplus of content.

With all of the restored modes, significant improvements, and added features, Epic Little War Game is without question the game to beat for this series. I appreciate the added strategic considerations that come with the base-building, and I can’t stress enough how much of a good choice it was to cut the ammo element. On a surface level, this might seem like more of the same, but these changes make for a very different kind of turn-based strategy game.

At the same time, Epic Little War Game retains the superb balance between complexity and accessibility that made the series such a hit to begin with. Whether you’re new to the genre or a veteran, you’ll find something to like in this game. It’s probably not going to change your mind if you don’t like this genre, but anyone who does have an interest really ought to check this one out. It’s over-stuffed with content and polished shinier than the General’s boots.

‘Mr. Future Ninja’ Review – Gone in a Flash

‘Mr. Future Ninja’ Review – Gone in a Flash

Huijaus Games and publisher Appsolute Games have been promising us Mr. Future Ninja [$ 3.99], a stylish stealth-action game, and finally it is here. And there it goes. The premise seemed incredibly promising, but the problem is that the game is just too short. Characters and puzzle types get introduced, and then by the time you think they’re done introducing things and ready to start really, really testing you, well, the game is over. It’s a fun experience up until that point, but I just wish there was more of it.

In Mr. Future Ninja, you control three ninjas with different abilities, and can split them off in order to utilize their power to advance through levels. The purple ninja can shoot shurikens to hit enemies and switches from a distance, the teal ninja can dash across gaps (and away from enemies), and the orange ninja can knock out enemies from behind. All the while, you’re trying to avoid detection, as the enemies are very good at taking you out quickly once they find you. The game isn’t too punishing: detection isn’t instant death, and if you have the teal ninja selected, a quick dash can help you get away. Now, you can also split the ninjas off, which becomes necessary for switch-based puzzles. Also, when you have three ninjas grouped together, the final ninja in the line can get hit more easily, and if one ninja dies, the whole trio goes down.

The first third of the game is just you and the purple ninja, utilizing the shuriken for switch-based puzzles and the occasional brief enemy stun or destruction. All the enemies are robots, some of which only are stunned by shuriken, or are even invincible. The teal ninja becomes the star of the show once introduced, as the dash ability is invaluable to certain parts of the game. Purple gets left behind a lot once teal is introduced. Aww. Orange’s stun attack is introduced in the final third of the game, and you have to be kind of behind the enemy to use it, but it’s not too picky. You have puzzles where you have to stun enemies, leave one ninja on a switch, go hit something else, then get your ninja back before the robots wake up. These puzzles are some of the most genius parts of Mr. Future Ninja, as they test your reflexes, and figuring out how to use a trio of characters all together just feels fun, and makes you feel smart for succeeding.

The controls are rather simple: you just have a virtual joystick to move, and then an action button for each character. The game slows down when aiming for the purple and teal ninja, so you don’t have to worry about getting hit while trying to escape a tight situation. You have to pull a ninja from the indicator to split them off, and how this works can be a bit confusing as to which ninja you are still controlling, but never to a terrible degree. Mr. Future Ninja does a good job at keeping its whole concept from ever feeling overwhelming to deal with.

The problem with Mr. Future Ninja is that while the whole multiple-ninja concept is fun to play with, the game is rather shockingly brief. It’s only 19 levels long, and a new main character is introduced and underutilized in the final third of the game. It feels like there’s so much more that could be done with the concept and characters, but instead the whole thing ends on kind of an anticlimax. At least for now, it does: I could see this being a game where there’s the potential for future content updates over time, steadily improving the game. At least, I hope so, because Mr. Future Ninja only reaches a small part of its potential with the three-characters concept. I could see more complicated puzzles with character switching, and more expansive levels, but instead you get the most basic exploration of the mechanics introduced.

I suppose there’s an interesting conflict here. Why do we want longer games? Value for our money? There’s a case that Mr. Future Ninja doesn’t ‘need’ more levels because it introduces and explores it mechanics concisely across 19 levels. And certainly, there are titles all throughout the history of gaming that have decided to stretch out their content by being difficult, or repetitive. Part of the beauty of having a colossal number of games available to the general public right now is that games don’t have to stretch themselves out unnecessarily. Mr. Future Ninja is, at the moment, a brief experience, perhaps on par with what you’d get from a Monument Valley [$ 3.99] game. But the mechanics of this feel like there’s more that could be done. And the artistic experience isn’t quite on par with Monument Valley, still the champion of beautiful brevity.

And that’s the problem with aiming for beautiful brevity, I suppose, is that if your game doesn’t quite land perfectly, it’s going to feel a bit disappointing. Mr. Future Ninja isn’t ugly, with vibrant colors throughout, but it’s not quite a visual stunner. It looks a lot better on the iPhone than on the iPad, perhaps due to it looking a bit crisper on a smaller, denser display. On iPhone, where it’s stretched out a bit more, the game looks great. There’s iCloud, so you can compare between the platforms easily. But I don’t think Mr. Future Ninja has a superlative style, it’s just a nice-looking game with some interesting atmosphere. The ending is a bit anti-climactic as well, not quite landing with the powerful punch I think it wanted to go for. The last couple of levels would feel great if they were difficult gauntlets, and made you earn that ending, but they’re actually pretty simple. Again, the problem with beautiful brevity: developers have to be really sure their game leaves a powerful impact on players in the short time they have. And Mr. Future Ninja right now feels like it falls short.

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But I say ‘right now’, because the potential for Mr. Future Ninja to be a better game down the road is there, for sure. Add a couple of level packs that crank up the difficulty, and bring some additional complexity to the solid mechanics at hand, and Mr. Future Ninja becomes a must-have. Granted, we live in the launch-well-or-die App Store, but what’s here might be enough to encourage the game to be a sustained hit, as is also true for those who succeed in mobile gaming. I wouldn’t buy Mr. Future Ninja on the promise that it will get future content ? I don’t know anything about that yet ? but it’s easy to see where it could, and perhaps buying it will be the key to making that happen. The core of Mr. Future Ninja is quite solid, it just needs to be more filling before it’s a strong recommendation.

‘Yankai’s Peak’ Review – Pyramid Perfection

‘Yankai’s Peak’ Review – Pyramid Perfection

Developer Kenny Sun sure does like geometric shapes. His latest game is about pyramids, and just like his previous efforts, it’s both bizarre and brilliant. Yankai’s Peak [$ 2.99] might be titled like a sequel to last year’s Yankai’s Triangle [$ 2.99], but it’s something totally new mechanically. While that game saw you spinning triangles around, disassembling them, and reassembling them to try to make them fit together, Yankai’s Peak is more like a traditional Sokoban-style box-pusher. Instead of cooperative little squares, however, you’re pushing around pyramids that aren’t really good about moving in a straight line. The core mechanic is clever and rewarding, and the game sprinkles in new gimmicks regularly to keep you interested.

Yankai’s Peak offers up more than 130 levels broken up into discrete worlds. Some of the levels are mandatory, and you always need to complete a certain amount to move on to the next world. There’s enough wiggle room in that required amount to allow you to skip a few puzzles here and there if you get stuck, though you will want to return to them later. Just about every world introduces a new mechanic of some kind that you’ll have to contend with, offering a nice difficulty curve that keeps the game feeling fresh. Levels are selected from a sort of overworld area, with each one falling off the grid as you clear it. Moving your piece onto a level’s space in the overworld will bring up its title card and drop you into the mix. The title of the level might give you a useful hint, but you’re largely left to your own devices to solve things.

The basic moves are simple enough to understand. You control a blue pyramid. Swiping in any direction will move you to an adjacent triangle on the board. By tapping on any of the three points of your pyramid, you’ll place a pin. Swiping with a pin in place causes your pyramid to swivel around it, pushing any other pyramids that might be in its path. You can push other pyramids in a couple of different ways depending on if you contact them with a side or a corner. It’s a little hard to explain, but you’ll have the hang of it soon enough. Each stage has some colored triangles scattered across its floor. You’ll need to push an appropriately-colored pyramid onto each of those triangles to clear the level. Most stages are rather cramped for space, so it can be tricky to move one piece without accidentally jostling others in unexpected ways.

It’s all too easy to get yourself into an unwinnable state, but it’s equally easy to tap the undo button a few times to take your moves back. Yankai’s Peak is a pretty difficult game, but it’s a forgiving one all the same. There’s no harm in experimenting with moves since you can always take them back at no cost. Even restarting a level is quick and painless. That leaves the challenge solely in figuring out the puzzles themselves. Whether you do that by careful calculation, sheer luck, or cheating, it’s no matter to the game. In an era where puzzle games often charge real money to take back moves, it’s refreshing to see a game making things easier on the player where it counts.

The puzzles are the key to the game’s enjoyment. While they’re all over the board in terms of difficulty, they’re all quite clever and memorable in their own way. It’s remarkable that the game can keep finding new ways to surprise you with mechanics you thought you had already completely figured out. This, of course, is one of the appealing points of virtually all of the games from this developer. His games usually features a large number of levels, and many of those levels are less about being discrete challenges than they are about setting the player up for a real wallop. The more open-ended structure of Yankai’s Peak means that you’re less likely to run into game-stoppers, but you can’t avoid every level that might give you grief.

While the presentation in this game isn’t quiet as surreal as it is in Yankai’s Triangle, there’s certainly a similar sense of other-worldliness about everything. Things are slightly out of focus, and if you accidentally drop a block, an odd filter starts to set in. There are little flecks of something floating around in some levels, and the atmospheric soundtrack makes you feel like you’ve slipped into another dimension. The intro sequence has to be seen to be believed. If you thought Yankai’s Triangle‘s odd quirk of introducing every single level with its developer’s name attached was something, just wait until you meet the rest of the Sun family.

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The feeling is once again like that of a puzzle toy along the lines of a Rubik’s Cube. There’s little pressure involved here, with no timers, an endless supply of undos, and not one piece of IAP to be found. You will probably run into levels that completely stump you when you first approach them. You might even get frustrated enough to put the game down for a while. The next time you pick it up, you may have a break-through. Even if you don’t, you can always try another level. Until you run out of those, anyway. Yankai’s Peak is a quality puzzle game that feels alien and familiar all at once, and it’s well-worth fidgeting around with until you make it to the end.

‘Framed 2’ Review – The Second Half of a Really Good Game

‘Framed 2’ Review – The Second Half of a Really Good Game

When I reviewed the original Framed [Free], I said “Given the brevity and lack of progression in the concept, this really does feel like half of a larger whole stretched out to fill one game.” Holy crap was I right. Loveshack Entertainment decided to return to the concept with Framed 2 [$ 4.99] and the difference is night and day. I don’t know if I have ever played a game where the second title in the series made the first one look like utter garbage in comparison, but that’s exactly what Framed 2 does. It is exactly what the original game needed to feel like the genius title that the concept deserved.

I recommend playing Framed 1 still to a certain degree, as it is in part the tutorial to Framed 2, which throws a few easy sequences your way, before going whole hog into its concept, challenging you early on rather than feeling like one giant tutorial. The story itself is a prequel, once again involving a silhouetted man, woman, and a mustachioed man pursuing them. The woman and mustache are the same characters who appear in the first game, with the big MacGuffin briefcase playing a role here. There’s still no dialogue in the experience at all, but the game feels like it has more character. The male protagonist in particular has just enough detail and personality to keep him as the abstract character he’s supposed to be, but to make him feel like a character. And taking the world from a generic western city to a vaguely-Chinese town gives the world more of the feeling of a dynamic, lively setting. It doesn’t feel flat, or generic, and there’s good ways that the locale gets used to inspire the theme. While some people might be disappointed that the game is a prequel, like how I saw some consternation after Beyond Good and Evil 2 was revealed to be one, I will say: it pays off well.

The core mechanic of the game is rearranging panels in order to create the proper sequence of events, with the location of characters and items in each panel playing a role contextually to what happened in previous panels. The annoying puzzles where the rules of comic sequencing were played with are gone. For example, there were puzzles in Framed 1 where you had to rotate long panels around to solve puzzles, creating puzzles where you weren’t completely sure of how the sequencing was going to work. Those are gone. What does play a bigger role are the fun puzzles where you have to re-use panels in order to complete a sequence. So, you have more instances of where you have to utilize the different contexts, while still finding a way to use all the panels at least once, in order to solve the puzzle and advance. These puzzles now have more in the way of permanent effects, so order plays a role, too. You also have to move pieces around several times, so just the depth of these puzzles and how you focus on your approach is taken to a new level. Some new elements get thrown into the mix, such as environmental elements outside of panels that you have to manipulate. Some new puzzles at critical moments in the narrative get thrown in, too.

The photos you can collect serve two purposes in Framed 2. One is that they show how there’s some whimsy in the experience now. These Polaroid-style instant photos have cartoony representations of events in the game, and are part of how this game doesn’t take itself so seriously. There’s a few silly moments, and a couple of cool references to a famous fan of the original Framed, one of which is just a nice thrown-out reference, another playing a role in the game itself in a way that shows some of the cleverness at play in Framed 2. Additionally, these photos often require that you play through things in a slightly different way, perhaps taking an alternate sequence through the level. This is great! It shows that there might be more than one solution to challenges, and it encourages a bit of creativity in playing the game and replayability if you miss the photos.

While the police officers in the Framed universe will never be considered smart, Framed 2 does a lot of subtle work to make sure that the hazard they represent doesn’t feel extremely unrealistic. Like, these cops still don’t have a tremendous ability to see anything outside of their immediate vision, but the original Framed took this to a ridiculous degree. The way you avoid and dodge cops in Framed 2 feels far, far less ridiculous. There’s still some oddities of the rules as to when your protagonist will whack the cop from behind or not, but nothing especially egregious.

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I am seriously, seriously impressed by how much better Framed 2 is compared to the original game. You’re talking about a title that left me surpremely disappointed. I specifically said it felt like the first half of what should be a really good game. There were clever ideas, but they went underutilized. And a lot of ideas that didn’t work out took up too much prominence. And the twist in Framed 1 just didn’t land as well as I think Loveshack intended; even on a recent replay, it was still just confusing instead of clever. I stand by that game as a 3 out of 5 mobile experience. Framed 2 chucks almost everything that was bad about the original Framed out the window, emphasizing what is strong about the concept, and then building on it. This is exactly what a sequel should do. And for Framed, where you had a game with a good concept but a flawed execution, Loveshack put a ton of work in to make a sequel that annihilates what the first game did. It took a few years, but finally the promise of Framed has been fulfilled with Framed 2.

10.5″ iPad Pro Review: 120hz Changes Everything, and 10.5″ Is Just Right

10.5″ iPad Pro Review: 120hz Changes Everything, and 10.5″ Is Just Right

Apple’s marketing department has a bit of a challenge on its hands, as the best feature of the new 10.5″ iPad Pro is one that’s impossible to demonstrate in any way other than seeing it in person. In the PC gaming world, high refresh rate LCD’s have become required purchases for anyone serious about gaming as if you thought 60 frames per second was already buttery smooth, 120fps is a totally new world. I use a 165hz display on my PC, and it has made going back to using “normal” LCD’s super difficult.

Here’s a great demonstration on the difference of smoothness between each frame rate, and the exact problem Apple has to deal with. Chances are unless you’re reading this on a gaming PC, 60fps and 120fps look the same, as your monitor is only capable of displaying 60fps. You just sort of need to imagine the difference between 60fps and 120fps as the same jump between 30fps and 60fps:

This ultra-high refresh rate of the ProMotion display once again elevates the iPad to something that feels like science fiction, as most things in iOS have since gained a level of smoothness that almost feels fake- It’s like when you see a trailer for a video game and are sure it’s just one big pre-rendered cut scene and the game turns out to look just like that. It’s a weird sensation, and one you’re going to need to experience at an Apple Store.

This new 10.5″ size is also one more iterative step to perfecting the iPad. Last year I picked up the 12.9″ iPad Pro and while you’d think the giant screen would be amazing, the device ended up being just too large and too heavy for my tastes in day to day use. The 10.5″ iPad Pro is the perfect compromise between the iPad Mini being a bit too small and too close to the Plus-sized iPhones and the slight bump in screen size makes it feel like you’re getting a lot of the benefits of the larger pro without the extra size and weight.

Of course the new iPad Pros have gotten faster once again, with the new A10X Fusion chip sporting a six-core CPU and a 12-core GPU. Per Apple, this results in a 30% performance boost to the CPU and a 40% boost to the GPU over last year’s model. The problem here, much like my first impressions of the iPhone 7, is that while 30% and 40% seem like big numbers on paper, the previous generation iPads aren’t devices anyone would describe as “slow.”

With Apple still selling tons of non-Pro iPads which sport the A9 chip, and iPad Mini’s which feature the comparatively ancient A8 chip, aside from the few “pro” apps featured during the keynote there just isn’t a ton of motivation for developers to specifically target these top-tier devices. This just leads to things likely loading faster, but again, it’s not like apps were slow on older iPads.

There’s an argument to be made somewhere that maybe the increased horsepower of the new iPads is required to render games at 120fps, but it really remains to be seen how many developers end up adding 120fps support. From speaking to a few different iOS developers, it should be reasonably easy to update games to allow them to take advantage of the new ProMotion screen, but no one is sure just how much more battery that’s going to burn. 3D games rendering at 60fps historically have been major battery drains, so doubling that frame rate might be problematic if you’re not plugged in. Needless to say, I’m very interested to see how this evolves.

Other noteworthy improvements over last year’s iPads is the addition of the camera from the iPhone 7. I never really use the back-facing camera of the iPad to take photos, but there’s a noticeable difference in quality with the front-facing camera and using Facetime. The four speaker system is fantastic, and honestly, is one of the big reasons to opt for a Pro iPad over a “standard” iPad. The speakers are actually loud enough to watch movies without headphones and have a great experience doing it, versus having the anemic speakers of a non-Pro iPad cranked to full.

512GB as a top-tier option is a welcome addition as well. Admittedly, I’m likely a bit of an anomaly as I download practically everything that gets released on the App Store, but even with 256GB between apps, music, and movies I was always deleting stuff to make space for more. I’d like to think that 512GB is enough to have difficulty filling up, but, who knows.

The truly strange thing about this year’s release of the new iPad Pro is it almost feel like they released them too early. It’s not a surprise that third party software support for the ProMotion display is nearly non-existent on day one, but most of what Apple pitched for these new iPads during the WWDC keynote is all the incredible new multitasking things you can do between manipulating files and using the new dock to rapidly switch between apps. None of that is here yet, leading to the feeling that you’ve got this new cool thing that doesn’t really do a whole lot of cool new things just yet.

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But, hey, it’s the new iPad, it’s better than the old iPad, and the new screen is super awesome for apps that support it which right now appears to be limited to only the core Apple apps and a small subset of third party apps. If nothing else, it’s worth checking out at an Apple Store just to see the huge difference even simple things like scrolling in Safari experience when rendered at 120fps. I’m not sure I’d rush out and buy one right now though, at least until either iOS 11 launches or more developers update their apps.

‘Monument Valley 2’ Review – Mother and Child Reunited

‘Monument Valley 2’ Review – Mother and Child Reunited

The first Monument Valley [$ 3.99] was a landmark game on the App Store, a title that brought a fascinatingly gorgeous experience to mobile gaming. Yet, I thought there was something lacking from it: it wasn’t a particularly difficult game as far as challenge goes, and while the story had some poignant moments, its abstraction perhaps was too disaffecting from the story the game wanted to tell. But certainly, critics of the game are in a notable minority, as the game has become one of the top-selling mobile games of all-time, spawned many imitators, appeared on House of Cards, and caused many people to fall in love with the characters from the game. So the sequel Monument Valley 2 [$ 4.99] is in an unenviable position where it has to try and recapture that magic of the original. And to a certain extent, it does: it’s still a gorgeous game, and Ustwo are the masters of their craft at putting Escherian impossible geometry into a game experience. As a delivery vehicle for some gorgeous colors and landscapes, Monument Valley 2 is once again a success. As a game, and even at times as a story, Monument Valley 2 falls a bit short.

This sequel doesn’t feature any kind of narrative connection to the original game beyond thematic elements. There is one moment where the game tries to rekindle fond memories of the original while still being new, and it works quite well. I’m being vague so as to not spoil it. This game tells the story of Ro, and her unnamed daughter. The daughter not having a name seems like an odd choice, and one that seems obfuscating more than the benefit of making her a nameless symbol accomplishes. This isn’t just a story of a child growing up, it’s also one of motherhood, and watching your child grow, becoming their own person, and learning to let them go. Yet, it still sees the mother as their own person, and someone with their own experiences ? their life isn’t over just because they’ve finished raising their child to adulthood. The application still seems very hands-off, and good luck trying to figure out the connection of the story of Ro and daughter to the magical acts they’re undertaking along the way. Which, themselves have an interesting customization aspect, as you create magical sigils at the end of each level, and can create unique patterns for each one to include with your screenshots that you take of the game.

The puzzles lack things like the crows from the original game, so it’s just you solving the environments through rotating and manipulating certain objects. Ro and her daughter ? who has the cutest bounce in her step ? play roles, in that you often have to account for each character depending on the puzzle you’re solving. Again, being vague so as to not ruin the experience for those who haven’t played, the role that Ro and her daughter each play in the game changes over time, and your relationship to control of the characters changes, too. As far as challenge goes, it’s not very difficult. It’s still a rather compelling game, and if you like your puzzles to throw just mild resistance at you so you can feel like you’re progressing without putting in too much in the way of blood, sweat, and tears, well, this is the game for you. It’s definitely a game friendly enough for casual players.

Once again, Monument Valley 2 is an absolutely gorgeous stunner of a game. Ustwo utilizes a similar M.C. Escher influence, and a similar set of pastel colors as the base of the world. But they are willing to take some risks with the coloration and artistic approach. Some of the coloration starts to take on new hues that you might not have seen before, that still feel like they fit, but definitely expand on what the game is known for. A particularly cool sequence deliberately plays with making the world look two-dimensional, and utilizing a style that references some of Piet Mondrian’s most famous works.

The thing is that we’ve seen this genre evolve. There’s obvious inspirations like Euclidean Lands [$ 3.99], which serves as a perfect counterbalance to the lack of difficulty of Monument Valley by having some truly, truly devious puzzles. But we even see games like Old Man’s Journey [$ 4.99] which go light on the puzzles, but feel like they still require some thought, and aren’t afraid to go light on dialogue while going deep on emotional connection to the player. Your mileage will vary depending on your emotional connection to the story, but in my personal opinion? I think that since Monument Valley released, other games have stepped it up in the genre. This isn’t a slight against Monument Valley 2, as it reaches new heights in terms of artistic effects for everyone else to compete against. It’s just as a cohesive game, there’s other titles that provide gorgeous experiences with more satisfying puzzle challenges and storylines that are abstract yet meaningful.

The way that you have to look at Monument Valley 2 is the same way that I look at Monument Valley. That, as a delivery vehicle for the gorgeous art, it’s top-notch. But as an actual game, and even as a storytelling experience, it’s not quite on par with some of the fine experiences that have hit mobile since Monument Valley burst onto the scene. It’s tough to criticize the game too much since I’m pretty sure that the purpose of Monument Valley games is to be a delivery vehicle for some gorgeous art. And the mother/daughter themes of Monument Valley 2 are something I’d love to see other games explore. Father/son relationships have played a role in media over the years, and we’re seeing some games in the AAA space that are exploring that dynamic. And even for men, the mother/daughter themes of Monument Valley 2 are absolutely relatable. But there are aspects to the gender dynamic of mothers and daughters that I’d love to see more games explore.

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So as a game, I have my criticisms of Monument Valley 2, and it’s kind of why while I understand why review scores are such a useful shorthand, they are imperfect for something like the Monument Valley games. If you want a puzzle game that will test you, this isn’t for you. If you just want something that you can interact with in order to get rewarded with interesting themes and gorgeous artwork, Monument Valley 2 succeeds at that. But if Ustwo ever explores this world again, I think there’s a gap between the gameplay and the art that could be crossed to make this the masterful experience these games have just barely fallen short of being in my eyes.

iOS 11 Will Feature Standardized Review Prompts You Can Disable

iOS 11 Will Feature Standardized Review Prompts You Can Disable

One of the most annoying things about iOS gaming is the prompt to review apps. Developers do it because getting reviews and ratings on the App Store can be a big key toward developing a reputation for anyone who is looking for quality apps on the App Store. But, it can be extremely annoying for users. So in iOS 11, Apple is introducing not only a built-in review prompt API, but a rule saying that developers can’t have a custom review prompt. The rule is 1.1.7 in the App Store Review guidelines:

1.1.7 App Store Reviews:
– App Store customer reviews can be an integral part of the app experience, so you should treat customers with respect when responding to their comments. Keep your responses targeted to the user?s comments and do not include personal information, spam, or marketing in your response.
– Use the provided API to prompt users to review your app; this functionality allows customers to provide an App Store rating and review without the inconvenience of leaving your app, and we will disallow custom review prompts.

Users won’t have to leave the app to give a rating for it now. Oh, and developers can only prompt for reviews three times a year, with the prompt going away for a year after a user submits a rating. And, it will be possible to disable these review prompts entirely starting in iOS 11.

Now, it’s worth noting noting that some of the incentive for developers to constantly prompt for reviews has been taken away. Apple is making it so that app ratings don’t reset upon each update, though developers can choose to erase their rating upon an update if, say, a previous update tanked their review score due to a bug or unpopular feature that’s now removed and doesn’t represent the current state of the app. So where developers would need users to constantly re-rate apps over time, now they don’t have to because one rating can stick for a long time. It also serves as a check against nuking one’s review score, if a lot of users who previously reviewed can’t be prompted again for a year.

Developers might be wary of this change because of how important user reviews are perceived to be, but prompts for reviews were becoming an intolerable nuisance, but at least Apple is providing a key benefit for developers with that feature.

[9to5Mac via MacRumors]