Ninja Boy has the makings of a hit. Stylish graphics? Check. Innovative and more importantly intuitive control? Check. Wide variety of levels with a ranking system to keep you playing? Check. A pricetag of free with one completely nonessential IAP? Check. Game breaking bug? Che– wait. Yes, Ninja Boy by all rights should be a great game, but it has a game breaking bug. I should be debating if it deserves a 4 or a 4.5, instead I am wondering how many points should be taken off for something that will likely be fixed in the future. But lets talk about what Ninja Boy does right first.
Twin-stick shooters, along with endless runners, are the WWII FPS of mobile gaming. There are tons of them. More than necessary. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, in fact just like WWII FPS games on consoles, games in the genre continue to come out that force you to take notice, no matter how many times you have sworn them off.
Tank Battles is one of those games. It could also be argued that it isn’t a twin-stick shooter, even though that is clearly where its roots lie. Players control a tank with one virtual stick (or joystick if using a controller) and simply taps on the screen where he or she wants to shoot (When using a controller the player aims with the right stick and presses a button to shoot). Levels are small. That isn’t to say levels are simple, they are often filled with doors, traps, portals, all sorts of things to add to the complexity, but they are all contained in a small space, usually not much larger than a single screen and maxing out at two or three screens.
If you’re going to steal, then steal from the best.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: you are a lone warrior who enters a grand gothic castle to defeat the evil within by negotiating a maze of interconnected rooms, filled with secrets, monsters, and a lot of platforming. Castle of Shadows is unashamedly inspired by Konami’s platforming RPG classic Castlevania, which in my book is no bad thing seeing as we have yet to see an appearance by the vampire slaying Belmont family on Android.
You are the exquisitely monickered Montanto Cyprus, a man not unfamiliar with the wilder side of fashion. With of all the scowling grimdark emo boys that usually get top billing in this type of game, it refreshing to see a main character that eschews the traditional lank haired gothica for a touch of Liberace. With his sailor’s cap and long flowing red cape, he defies the forces of evil through the very power of costume jewelry alone.
It’s a typically eccentric Nipponism that adds a touch of character to the otherwise rote design of the rest of the game. That is not to say that no thought has gone in to making Castle of Shadows–it certainly measures up to some of the earlier Castlevania games–but it does dwell on familiar aspects we have all seen before.
The oddball hero is only matched by the game’s confusingly bad translation which renders the plot almost uninteligable, which is a pity because there’s a lot of dialogue. Considering that this is a 2.0 re-release, it might have been wise to address that.
The old school platforming–where platforms really are just that, suspended in mid air–is spread over small discrete areas which can be tracked on a map, although there is no fear of getting lost, as the game is decidedly linear until later in the game.
The biggest distinguishing factor is the combat ratchets up the adrenaline compared to Konami’s game, by liberally cribbing from that other perennial grim-athon Devil May Cry. It’s the game’s one moment of inspiration that elevates it beyond just another wannabe cash in. Combining a side scrolling platforming RPG with relentless hack and slash action game boasting a wealth of combo moves gives CoS a real edge. The screen is at times brimming over with enemies so that it virtually impossible not to hit something and initiate an epic combo as soon as you swing your sword. The virtual stick responds well most of the time, with jump and attack mapped to two other buttons. The standard sword swipe can cut through dozens of grotesque enemies, hit point numbers bleeding off them like a number fountain. Holding up and attacking initiates a vertical move that can be capitalized on to start a juggling combo. Aerial combat is equally well served with every blow keeping Montanto aloft, before pressing down unleashes a devastating floor slam.
The enemies are equally up for the task, relying on more than just sheer numbers. Although there is a lot of blade fodder, the occasional rock golem, or armored knight gets in the way and puts up a more substantial fight. Later levels introduce teleporting enemies and even floating eyeballs that resurrect fallen monsters, making them a priority target as soon as you enter a new area. Thankfully there’s plenty of opportunity to level up. Each new level adds hit points and stat boosts, which the game deems to be so vitally important to the player that it interrupts the action to give you a rundown of just how well you’re progressing each time. It happens with such frequency that it becomes an nuisance. And it’s not just Montanto’s leveling that gets a screen filling news bulletin, the equipped weapon also gets an intrusive splash. Occasionally during a particularly intense section, it possible to have play halted twice within seconds for a useless update.
Boss encounters are a highlight, and push your platforming skills to the limit, and require a combination of dexterity and tenacity, but never use cheap moves, which good to hear as it’s the problem we see so often in other free to play games.
The RPG aspect of the game is mainly based around the many new weapons that Montanto finds in his travels. Each new weapon has it’s own attributes, including some devastating and inventive special moves which are limited by a brief cool down period. It’s in getting the most out of these swords that the pay model comes in. You collect generous amount of gold in game to upgrade your blades, but there’s always room for improvement.
From a visual side CoS is no slouch. Bearing in mind the obvious homages to franchises past, the levels make the most of their 16-bit era styled looks. The animation is detailed and fluid, and full of invention. The levels never quite match the best of modern 2D sidescrollers and rely a bit too heavily on cut and paste elements, but the general tone, despite being overwhelmingly gothic, has a decent amount of variation but the game is so focused on the combat that any short cuts are quickly forgotten under the spectacle of sword-swinging acrobatics.
Castle of Shadows manages to become its own peculiar beast, built from the remnants of other games and stitches them together convincingly enough that you often overlook its flaws. By building from a solid framework, it allows itself to go to places that almost seem out of place within the framework that had been set out for it many years ago, but this weird hybrid of measured RPG platformer, and balls to the wall action really impresses, and is above all a lot of fun.
It’s ancient Japan and you’re knee deep in the undead. There’s only one way to stop the zombie hordes , and that’s slice them to pieces. You are Hiro, a zombitsu expert, and one man army against a never ending tide of evil. Armed with incredible agility, and a katana, you’re the only thing to stand in the way of Lord Nakatomi, and his nefarious plans.
Sounds like a great set up for an intense action game until you realize that it’s an endless runner. How could a game in one of the most moribund, yet ubiquitous, genres ever live up to that pitch? Amazingly against all odds, Zombitsu defies expectations and turns out to be one of the most essential games available right now.
Firstly this game impresses on a graphical side. The detailed catoony world is populated by idiosyncratic takes on Japanese archetypes, all zombified, and all rushing towards you. Although they’re not given much to do beyond stagger towards you, it’s the little touches like them falling down stairs, or colliding with other zombies, that make all the difference. The style brings to mind such games as Okami, or Jet Set radio, with bold dark lines and water colors evoking a traditional Japanese painting.
It’s the well crafted and randomly generated worlds which impress the most. Each element is perfectly, and seamlessly stitched together in a way that every level seems like it was hand made. The amount of variety is remarkable too, with levels taking you through floating, cloud bound cities, and treacherous lava flooded temples. Ah, the lava stage, the oldest trick in the book, used here as a true test of your ninja skills. Just when you’re getting used to the comfortable pace of the standard village, or cloud city, the game will drop you in a town sinking in to lava, which requires some of the most precise platforming I’ve had to do in years.
Double jumps boost you up to the roofs of houses, or along tightropes, to access bonus coins and power-ups, all essential if you want to maximize your score. Islands float in the air, tempting you with alternate routes, and doors can be kicked down to reveal new paths.
At all times you’re running head long in to battle, your swords poised to strike. Lateral movement is controlled by tilting, which frees onscreen inputs for jumping and attack. Successfully completing certain objectives on a single run unlocks new moves which all of which can be combined for furious combos. It’s these mini-quests that keep things interesting, giving you something new to do each time you play. It may involve killing a certain amount of enemies in a particular way such as impaling them on a wall of spikes, or be as simple as avoiding conflict until,the first check point.
Combat is exceptional for the genre. Although we’ve seen the likes of Into the Dead dabble with it, Zombitsu is the first game I’ve played that feels like a proper platforming game, albeit one that is on rails. If you’re good enough you’ll unlock new moves, which adds to the initial burst of progression as you develop your arsenal. A simple slash can be chained to perform a 360 attack, perfect for taking out the crowds of samurai. A hammer attack also serves as an aerial brake, which comes in handy when traversing some of the less forgiving environments. It’s also handy for sending enemies tumbling to their doom off the side of bridges.
The dash is the penultimate attack to be learned and opens up a whole new set of possibilities. By double tapping the attack button, Hiro darts forwards with a burst of ethereal energy, spilling the undead like skittles. When used at the top of a jump, this can allow you to navigate across the level more easily, and course correct should you find yourself going down a path that leads to a dead end. Finally the uppercut is the cherry on top of this stack of zombies leading to some advanced moves like juggling.
Power ups play a significant part as well, but never stray from the established runner tropes. You’ll come across the standard coin magnets, attack boost, and even though the bombs and fireballs add brief moments of over-powered fun, I would loved to have seen something a bit more ‘out of the box.’
As a free to play game, Zombitsu gives you the chance to unlock abilities, and new levels earlier, but never forces the player in to a situation where they cannot have fun playing without paying up. Level specific tasks can be skipped for a fee, but its upgrading each of your power-ups that is the most tempting. There’s not a great deal of options in the store at the moment, but this is exactly the type of game that suits alternative costumes, new levels and crazy modes. we can only hope that developers Ruma studios keep the content coming, as I think they’re on to a winner.
Adding a developed combat system to the endless runner formula, really raises the game beyond it’s peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a glut of copy cat games in the near future. this visuals alone sold me on the game, but uncovering the deeper gameplay made me stick with it. Zombitsu is an exceptional game, which plays like a mix of Temple Run and Dynasty Warriors, with a unique feel all of its own.
I have been one to always love trivia. As a kid and even now Jeopardy was on my always watch list and now I try to hit up my local bar’s trivia night every week. So when I found Quiz RPG: World of Mystic Wiz I was stoked as the game seemed to combine my love for trivial knowledge in a loose RPG like structure to make it interesting, and that is exactly what you get with Quiz RPG: World of Mystic Wiz. The RPG elements are in similar style to Puzzle and Dragons or Monster Match in which you form parties of characters from card decks that correspond to elements. Whereas in Monster Match making matches would attack the enemies on screen, in Quiz RPG: World of Mystic Wiz correctly answering trivia questions does.
Thor has long been a second tier character in the Marvel pantheon. Although he has his fans, to the mainstream public, the concept of an ancient Nordic god with a preposterous hat was just a little too silly to accept. He’s never been as cool as Spiderman, or as iconic as Ironman, or even as fun as the Incredible Hulk. With the release of the big budget Kenneth Brannagh movie adventure, he has somehow infiltrated the public conscious and become a major player, and so it follows that he would get his very own game.
Timed to coincide with the film of the same name, Thor: The Dark World is a free to play action RPG that combines some interesting concepts, whilst sticking decidedly in the casual gamer camp. In an attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible, developers Gameloft have opted for a radically simplified control scheme that is initially off putting. movement, combat and special attacks are all performed by tapping. Tap where you want Thor to run, and then tap on what you want him to hit with his signature hammer, Mjölnir. It seems like an elegant solution to the necessary simplification of inputs, but it doesn’t take long for you to pine for an alternative like virtual sticks.
The problem is that all too often you’ll be in the heat of battle, and manage to completely miss the enemy you’re aiming for, and walk over to them instead of smack them round the head. Add to this already confused issue, that throwing the hammer to hit an otherwise unreachable switch, or attack an elevated enemy is performed by an often misinterpreted double tap, then you’re left with a super hero who seems to be more keen on aimlessly running around then clobbering Dark Elves.
There is a lot that The Dark world does get right however. This Android game starts out as a standard top down cinematic action role playing game, but soon develops in to something more akin to a stripped down MOBA. You do have a tower to defend, although this rarely comes in to play until later levels, but more apposite is your ability to summon Eiherjar.
Eiherjar are a selection of troops that you can conjure up from nothing to assist you on you trek across various alien landscapes. You start with a limited maximum number to call upon, and only the Fighter class is selectable. Before long you’ll gain access to the Valkyries, your long range warriors, as well as healers, magic users and the tank class, the Royal Guard.
Different enemies are weak against different types of Eiherjar, so it’s a good idea to know what you’re up against.a lot of the fun to be had with your cohort, is the ability to summon them pretty much when ever you want. There’s no waiting around for resources to accumulate, which makes for a lot more dynamic game. In fact it’s such a good inclusion that it almost seems like that they were originally aiming for a more traditional MOBA experience, then switch to a more straight forward action game half way through development. Another hold over from a more strategy leaning title like DotA, are your allies, the other characters from the comics and films, suck as Loki, Odin et al. They can really turn the tide during a particularly tough level, by using their special powers to lay waste to the opposition, but if they get hurt, they have to sit out the next round until they’ve replenished their energy. It’s an interesting clash of styles that I hope someone steals to put in a better game.
With Thor and his mini army, as well as increasingly huge enemies all vying for screen time, things do get a little confusing in the middle of an encounter, and without direct control over your demi-god, The Dark world quickly descends in to a furious case of jabbing at the screen and hoping for the best. The only way to ensure that you come out alive is to upgrade your equipment, your army, and your skills.
This of course can only be accomplished by using coins collected during your travails. Or you could use the Iso-8 to boost your stats. Oh, and there’s Uru to consider too, not to mention real world cash. Quite why there are four different currencies used in this game is inexplicable. It’s best not to think about it, and just do what the game tells you to.
From a graphical standpoint Thor ticks all the right boxes. There’s a lot of variety to the locations you’ll explore, with nearly a hundred levels spread over five worlds. Visuals are richly detailed, and do a great job of recreating the atmosphere of the films, just so long as you don’t pay attention to the oddly black human faces. The camera is the biggest downside when it comes to presentation. It swoops around majestically to give you the most dynamic viewpoint, but in practice this means that half the time you have no idea where you’re going and will run in to trouble before you ralize it’s there.
Thor is not without its charms, the addition of allies and troops to command is a great idea, even if the implementation isn’t perfect. But the control issues, and the artificial situations designed to create a fail state, such as the escort missions where your charges, blindly run after danger with no respect for their own life, soon add up to pull what works, down to a substandard level.
As the gap between consoles and mobile hardware gets ever narrower, we’re starting to see a lot more ambitious games being released on Google’s OS. Dead Trigger 2 certainly pushes the boundaries of what we can expect on the mobile platform. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best of the first person shooter genre has to offer on PC, it is without a doubt the leader of the pack on Android.
The gameplay of original Dead Trigger has been completely overhauled for part two, but initially it’s the focus on the narrative and mission structure that stands out. You’re still thrust in to a post zombie epidemic world where a rag-tag group of survivors (is there any other kind?) lead an underground resistance to the shuffling hordes of the undead, but now there’s greater emphasis on character, which certainly adds to the motivation behind the missions.
You start by assembling team who will become vitally important as you progress through the campaigns. Each new member of your crew, gained after completing certain missions, brings their expertise to the resistance, whether it be first aid, weapons, gadgets, or tech upgrades. Once you meet the Smuggler, you’ll be able to access the in app store too.
You can visit any of your crew from the Hideout, a base of operations where you can modify guns, level up and buy extras to help you on your bloody quest. Everything can be bought with cash looted from in the the game, but most of the the important stuff comes with a time delay that can be skipped by using gold, a rare commodity than can be purchased in the store. This is after all a free to play game.
This element of RPG-style character progression will keep you coming back for more of the grind, but thankfully the game itself is a joy to play, which isn’t something often said of touchscreen FPS’s. Of course the ideal way to play is with the fully supported gamepad option, but what developer Madfinger has done for the standard input is nothing short of revolutionary, whilst being forehead slappingly obvious. Movement is mapped to the now standard twin virtual stick set up, but firing is done automatically when you put the cursor over a target. The idea that you wouldn’t fire at something you were aiming at is absurd in this type of game, so removing the option allows the player to focus on the important stuff like lining up shots, and running the hell away from necrotic ex-people. Once game designers realized that pressing ‘left’ in side scrolling platformers, or holding down ‘accelerate’ in arcade racers, was essentially redundant, the genre of the Endless Runner was born. Here we have the Endless Shooter: a streamlined, full speed action game that gets to the point.
That’s not to say that Dead Trigger 2 is without complexity. The short missions are varied enough that, while you’ll be returning to the same locations repeatedly, there’s enough variety in the goals that it never gets dull. There are the usual escort, defense, survival, and assault missions, as well as a few wild cards thrown in for good measure. The sniper sections are a barrel of laughs, as you take down clueless zombies with your manually guided bullets. There are even a few mounted gun sequences, but what first person shooter could do with out one of those?
Alongside the main story, there are side quests, the most intriguing of which are the online challenges to free cities. Here you have to kill literally millions of zombies. Don’t worry though, you’ll have some backup in the form of every other player around the world, whose kill count goes towards the final tally. If the players manage to kill all of the zombies in the allotted time, then everyone participating is rewarded with some cool loot.
As expected the icing on the cake is just how good this game looks. There is an option to play the game in reduced quality, which might be a serious option as DT2 really pushes the hardware on older devices. Which isn’t surprising with the amount of zombies onscreen at any given time, including the return of the multistory super zombies. Textures are detailed, and the water and particle effects really add to the atmosphere.
While the levels are quite small, they are excellently designed, with a focus on objectives rather than exploration. The trump card however are the zombies themselves, which come in a selection of terrifying varieties, with the special zombies receiving a special warning announcement, which you will grow to dread. The cannon fodder is bad enough, especially when in great numbers, but it’s character’s like the ‘Scientist’ that really creeped me out. The scientist is a radioactive zombie in a HazMat suit (lot of good that did him) who causes the screen to flicker with static interference if it gets too close, as well as deplete your health. It’s like a mix of Jason Voorhees and the Slenderman.
Dead Trigger 2 comes highly recommended for anyone looking for a decent shooter that shows off just how good Android gaming can be. It will hopefully be an example for other developers, and demonstrate that there is room for hardcore games, in a free to play space.
Ever since the likes of Minecraft made the prospect of mining fun it seems you can’t get away from the idea. Today, tons of games have taken to the cause (or fad) and come out with mining games themselves both those unique and those which copy Minecraft. Whereas a lot of these mining themed games focus a lot on the crafting aspect made popular by Minecraft some stick only to the mining. This is the case with Pocket Mine by Roofdog Games. Pocket Mine has you racing the clock as you dig deeper and deeper trying to get as deep as you can and collecting precious ores along the way.
While collectable card game style money grabbers have become all the rage in Asia, they have never been able to take off here. Even with those card games that mix in a match 3 element, or do something combined with a CCG game never quite appeal to western audiences. Whether it be the aggressive pay walls usually placed in these titles or the very nature about how western gamers feel about in-app-purchases, none of the blockbuster hits in Korea or Japan enjoy the same success over here. This, in turn, usually makes western mobile developers less likely to take a chance on making a game of this fashion.
This attitude of the West to be against these style of mobile games is odd, considering the popularity of tradeable card games (and video games) like Pokemon, Digimon or Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps players here yearn for something a little different? Maybe we don’t like spending our money, despite blowing $10 on another map pack for Call of Duty? If these are the types of things mobile gamers on this side of the globe crave, perhaps they need to look at Rubicon’s latest title, Combat Monsters.
William Gibson has a lot to answer for. With his 1984 (how apt) book Neuromancer, the author not only gave us the term ‘The Matrix’ to refer to the online world, but established a new genre of fiction that mixed high tech corporate espionage, dirty Film Noir aesthetics, and speculative science fiction that wasn’t so far from the reality that would come to pass. The crudely named ‘Cyberpunk’ tapped in to the the pre-millenial fears of the confluence of man and machine. Now that particular prophecy has been fulfilled, with all of us shackled to our mobile devices, it seems appropriate to revisit that frontier world of shadowy hackers, street samurai, and body augmentation.
Shadowrun Returns was an absolute success story when it was funded through Kickstarter to the tune of $1.8M, far above its $400,000 goal. Jordan Weisman, who created the original tabletop role playing game that spawned a Snes/Genesis adaptation and a ill-received (and long forgotten) FPS, spent five years trying to get this latest incarnation of the ground. The dedication of developer Harebrained Schemes, is evident in the sheer quality of the triumphant return of this beloved franchise.
From the very start you know that you’re in the presence of a labor of love. The writing is is of a very high standard, mixing the oblique, yet believable slang of the streets of Seattle in a time when magic and tech vie for dominance, with the hardboiled dialogue of Chandler, or Elmore Leonard. That’s not to say that the game is without humor, in fact the sprawling dialogue trees that come up with every interaction with n NPC, give you more than enough opportunity to crack wise. There’s a lot of text in this game, so if it hadn’t been as slick and readable as it is, the game would have suffered, but instead it elevates what is a very linear story.
The game opens with the classic set up of a ‘dead man’s switch’; you get a call from an old buddy informing you of his recent death. He’ll get you out of your recent financial if you can solve his murder. Gotta love a character so paranoid that they pre-record their own eulogy.
From then on you delve deeper in to a sleazy world of prostitution, organ trafficking, virtual reality, crazed Doctors, Elves and Trolls. This element of fantasy-or meta humanism in the game’s lingo-adds a novel approach to the Blade Runner inspired distopia. You can choose from a broad selection human, post-human and meta-human as your main character, each favoring different attributes, but all able to take advantage of Shadowrun’s cornucopia of guns, gadgets and spells.
I went for an Elf Decker, the Shadowrun version of hacker, with a mean facial tattoo, which went well with his Hawaiian shirt. From all of the options available when rolling your character (this is very much a traditional RPG) I thought that having access to, and power over, the matrix would allow for the most fun. I envisioned that in this tech-enhanced world that it would give me an edge. Early on I invested a lot of cash in to decker hardware, and a lot of ‘Karma’ in the appropriate skill tree. I was going to own this world, and they weren’t even going to see me coming.
Then I got in to a gun battle and died, repeatedly. For all the customization options, and the promise that you can make any character type you want, whether it be a melee class, magic user, or a combination of any of them, if you don’t make sure that you’re a sharpshooter with an Uzi, you’re going to find life on the street tough.
It was a bit disappointed that I could find ways to circumvent direct confrontations. I’d gone in with ideas that I could tackle this game like the similarly themed Deus Ex series, which did allow for that adaptability. Unfortunately chances to really take advantage of toying with the game world through your cybernetically enhanced body mods, are few and far between. Conversely if you choose to go down the gunslinger path, you’ll come across missions later on that absolutely require you to have hacker skills. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Shadowrun wants you to be a well rounded character, that is as equally at home behind a barrel of a gun as a keyboard, which has the effect of limiting individuality, and makes the experience somewhat flat.
Once you learn to adapt to this odd balancing issue, and forgo any ideas of min-maxing, Shadowrun does a great job of drawing you through it’s story. The plot wouldn’t be worth much if the action suffered. Thankfully the turn based combat is a lot of fun.
Combat only occurs in certain situations, often triggered at important story beats. Each of your crew, which could range from five to a solo effort, has a limited amount of action points to either move, attack or perform a special action like healing. You should take advantage of environmental cover as best you can, because your opponents will use everything they can to terminate you. Battles are both tactical and fast paced, and if you’ve assembled the right team, you should be able to narrowly make it out alive.
Shadowrun is an absorbing adventure, with great characters and years of world building behind it that gives the game a solidity, and depth lacking from many others. A few quibbles aside-namely the sparse autosave-Shadowrun is in the top tier of mobile RPGS, and if you fancy walking neon splashed streets with a katana in one hand, and a data jack in the other, just looking for trouble, then it’s about time you became a shadowrunner.