Despite having access to just about any tablet game via the Google Play Store and an iPad, there are still some games, great ones, that slip past me. I try to get to everything that looks as if it has potential, on top of everything people are talking about, but usually it’s games from this second group that makes my ‘pile of shame’ a high-quality one. This week, I was reminded that the critically-acclaimed iOS game Badland is (eventually) coming to Android, so I decided to finally make time for it, after moths of it sitting on the iPad, waiting for me. The most addictive and exciting few hours of gaming I’ve ever had on a tablet followed that wonderful decision. Badland is a 2D, side-scrolling adventure game- an oddly beautiful and extremely inventive one. This is the kind of game I would tell people to buy a tablet for.
From the silhouetted, dangerous objects that make up the foreground to the Burton-esque story-book backgrounds, the world doesn’t make that much sense, but you’re mostly running through the beautiful environments, anyway. In Badland, you guide a black ball of fluff with wings that changes in size, shape, speed, stickiness and other attributes depending on what power-ups it grabs. Some of these modifiers even make it spin quickly in one direction, completely changing how it moves, while others create a bunch of clones, so that many of the little creature can do what one could not. At times, you need to tap the screen (yes, it’s a one button game) to make all your creatures fly up and avoid the deadly obstacles below, while other times you’ll have to resist touching anything so the fast-spinning fluff can roll on through an area quickly. Quick decisions must be made depending on the current surroundings as powerups are constantly changing everything from the speed of the game to the capabilities of the character.
This isn’t a review, or preview, but just know that Badland is awesome. Its inventive design in the classic 2D side-scroller (almost platformer) genre is an important step for tablet gaming. The care that clearly went into every aspect of the game from the physics to the art are second to none on mobile hardware. I don’t hesitate at all in saying that Badland is so excellently crafted, and so much fun, that it is a game as quintesential to tablets as the original Mario was to the NES, not mention their mechanical similarities. Unfortunately, it won’t mean anything to mobile gaming in comparison to what Nintendo’s flagship series meant for their consoles.
Back in the day, you either spent a lot of time at arcades or you didn’t. You either had a PC powerful enough to handle some really obscure games or you didn’t. You either had a home console or you didn’t. Three yes or no questions decided whether you were a ‘gamer’ or not and the few options you had if you were trying to get into video games were clear. The definition of both ‘game’ and ‘gamer’ have widened by now, allowing everyone to decide what level of time, money, and commitment they want to put into the hobby. A ton of content is available to consumers with every level of involvement in gaming. In the mid-to-late 80′s, if you played games, you didn’t miss Super Mario Bros.. Today, you might just play whatever Facebook time-sink your friends are into or your Xbox might only ever contain the disc of the newest Call of Duty. Or you might grab everything thing you have time for on a tablet, spending only a few dollars and a few hours at a time. If you’re reading this, you probably cast a wider net than that, but no matter how much you love gaming, you no longer play everything. A game like Badland could easily fly under the radar of anyone anywhere along the scale of casual to hardcore.
Roughly 40 million copies of Super Mario bros have been sold world-wide. That was bundled with the NES itself, so let’s use Super Mario Bros. 3 as an example. Never packed in with any hardware, it sold over 17 million cartridges. Granted, it has had a long time to hit that number, but that makes Badland’s 7 million players (some of which received the game for free) seem like a small club. More to the point, there are a lot more iPads out there than there ever were NES or SNES systems, and there are a lot more people playing games now than there were in the eighties, so the percentage of the potential market that’s downloading this game is pretty small in comparison. Even as the amount of content in the game grows post-release, and even with it hitting Android soon, it seems unlikely it will sell as well as a game of its importance should. As crazy as it is to pit Nintendo numbers against an indie game, I don’t feel bad about comparing these two. I honestly think that, with Badland, Frogmind have created a gaming experience on par with some of the greatest this medium has ever seen. Supply is higher than demand, so some great games have to suffer at least a little bit. Unfortunately, no matter how much praise critics (or Apple themselves, for that matter) give to Badland, it can’t possibly be as big as it deserves, and it can’t assist the growth of tablet gaming as much as it should.
If you can convince someone to spend a couple bucks on a game for the device that’s already with them all the time, it’s still going to be tough to get them to spend time playing it. Even if we only consider games, there’s so many different platforms offering so many possible experiences (and so many of high quality), that Badland alone will probably never sell an iPad, or Android tablet either, once it makes it onto the Google Play Store. Even gushing about how awesome it is to your friends who own tablets won’t sell that many on it, considering that mobile gamers tend to have an abundance of apps and don’t like to pay for any of them. As much as it moves one-touch gameplay forward, this 2D sidescrolling mix of Mario’s physics, Sonic’s speed, and Lemmings’ puzzles won’t turn Frogmind into a Nintendo-sized developer and it won’t make tablets as important to gaming as a hobby as the NES and SNES certainly were. However, the creativity of this game could similarly spawn decades of other amazing gaming experiences, the same way Mario did. Badland, and great tablet games like it, might even do that better. Next week, I’ll explain why it’s not so bad that such an amazing game can’t affect the landcape of gaming as much as game of similar quality would have thirty years ago.
When it comes to gaming, what is the distinction between a tablet and a handheld console? Nintendo’s 3DS has two screens and a few buttons, while Sony’s Vita has dual analogue sticks, and a tablet with its one big touchscreen is obviously a different beast, altogether. The hardware and control capabilities aren’t exactly one-to-one between all the gaming apparatus one could travel with, but the gulf seperating the most common types of game on each platform is still surprisingly large, even considering the difference in in hardware. What we usually call ‘mobile’ games are the simple, cheap, and short-and-sweet type, while the most popular games on Vita emulate console experiences and Nintendo’s best sellers deliver lengthy adventures through open worlds not found on their home consoles.
Bite-sized games have been hitting the Playstation Store more frequently these days and Nintendo’s E-Shop is delivering pocket games for pocket change, as well. So why haven’t we seen much growth in the other direction on the Google Play Store? Some recent titles have got me thinking more time-consuming, expensive experiences could thrive on tablets just as well as on any other handheld system. The game that got my mind going? Layton Brothers: Mystery Room. It’s not exactly a follow-up to the popular DS series by Level-5, but the transfer of the Layton IP from ‘handheld’ to ‘mobile’ pretty well proves that many games could easily cross the blurred lines between the two gaming landscapes.
Mystery Room doesn’t follow the same Layton as the adventurous, puzzle-solving professor that the DS games center around, just as it doesn’t share the traditional structure. Alfendi Layton, son of Hershel Layton, is a criminal investigator at Scotland Yard. He has a recently hired the player-controlled character and police rookie, Lucy Baker, as an assistant. Just as Alfendi has clearly taken on a lot of his father’s traits, he has also taken on a a similar cohort. Lucy’s demeanor copies little Luke’s to a tee. Just as Professor Layton always had the answers to the game’s many puzzles, but asked his young friend to come up with the correct conclusion, his son always seems to know the truth, but challenges Lucy, and the player, to keep up. Instead of encountering puzzle after puzzle and quickly piling up the Picarets (or points), this crime-solving adventure involves nine distinct murder cases, during which the larger mystery of Alfendi himself is also explored.
Though the characters and world are similar, the mood of Layton Brothers differs a lot from the other series. Obviously, murder is a constant focus and more adult themes are explored in all the involved character, as well. They don’t shy away from violence or sexual innuendo, though these things are always suggested more than they are put on display. All of this grown-up stuff isn’t to be taken all that seriously, either, since most side characters are jokes in everything from their dialogue to their names. Even when things seem like they should be serious, it all comes across pretty silly. I explain all these differences because it’s important to note that this isn’t just another Layton game, now appearing on one screen instead of a system with two. On top of all this other stuff, the modern setting, improved art, jazzy tunes and long-form puzzles make this work extremely well on a tablet.
What’s really interesting to consider is the history of Mystery Room. It was in development for years as an original series not involving any Layton characters at all. Not only that, but it was originally planned for release on DS. Almost exactly two years ago, after a long silence had made the game’s fate uncertain, the platform change and new title were announced. Of course, releasing on iOS and Android, especially at the low cost of $5, this was a bit of a risky move. Going for a known IP on new hardware asking for only a fraction of the usual money for something almost as long as the previous adventures isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination. Risks notwithstanding, I think this provides a good example for other devs making ‘handheld’ games who are unsure about working with tablets.
Maybe making huge changes and trying something new is the best way to make a series work on a different platform. If this had been a traditional Layton experience, Level-5 might upset fans who feel the series is deeply connected to their dual-screen handheld. So, they branched off the story and gameplay a bit, and gave it a different mood, as well. The new platform meant the game was already going to serve a somewhat different audience, so they took this as an invitation to shun the kiddish coating, keeping this adventure light and fun but not shying away from darker subject matter. Regardless of the many other changes, Level-5 didn’t really shrink or dumb things down for the switch to ‘mobile’ and I think it’s better for it.
At about 10 hours for all the content currently available, Layton Brothers is still a larger experience than what post people think of as a tablet or phone game. The lack of a physical product going through the rigorous cert process, the ESRB, and retail stores means the cost to get such a game out there (to a larger install base, to boot) isn’t as high, so they don’t have to charge tablet gamers so much. If they wanted to ask more, I think Mystery Room could have easily gone for twice the price and still felt like a deal for this type of game, but the low cost does mean more people will pick it up and hopefully start to think of ‘mobile’ as a platform capable of much more than what we’ve seen up to this point.
I don’t mean to hate on handheld consoles at all; I still pull out my 3DS, even if it’s not as often as I do my Android devices. Playing the new Pokemon X and Y, for instance, now has me thinking about whether or not those games work without two screens. Hit indies like Hotline Miami and Proteus hitting the Vita have me wondering what kind of games could survive the loss of analog sticks and transfer to tablets. Other handhelds are powerful machines and some experiences would work on Android, but I think a lot more games could make it over to tablets, just another handheld console, without removing what makes them the ‘handheld’ games we think of them as.
There’s no question that the Android Platform hosts many of the best mobile games you could possibly play. As a gamer, you’ll never go hungry on a Google Play diet. However, I still look over at the App Store every once in a while, and I get a little jealous. I can’t help my envy at a few of the titles on iOS that developers have just been too stubborn to bring over. Every time a port is no promised, excuses such as piracy or compatibility issues are given, and most of the time I just shrug it off. Here are a handful of the best games, though, that I still can’t believe haven’t found their way over to Android tablets, no matter what the devs behind them say.
Over the last few months, I’ve been playing a lot of DotA 2 on Steam. Like a lot a lot. Having tried League of Legends a couple years prior and found myself unable to break into the genre through the most popular game it had to offer, I’m still surprised at how quickly I fell head over heals for Valve’s version of the old Warcraft mod that started this whole MOBA craze.
In case you aren’t familiar with the abbreviation, MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and describes a competitive type of game in which two teams of five players choose one hero from a large pool of playable characters, hoping to use the unique abilities of each to push through the enemy’s army and other defenses, eventually destroying the base on the opponent’s side of the map. These are also sometimes called ARTS (Arena Real Time Strategy) games or LOMA (Lords Management) games, and they all started on PC, but they’re popping up on mobile devices as well.
Of course, LoL and the like stick to the PC platform, but Gameloft’s Heroes of Order & Chaos, Monstro’s Legendary Heroes, and Gamevil’s Plants War are all trying to make it big on mobile. Despite Paul giving the latter of these a great score, I have to say, none of them are doing what a MOBA on tablets and phones needs to do to deliver a fun, streamlined, competitive RPG/RTS experience in the mobile space. I’m no game developer, but I do have a few ideas about what would make a mobile MOBA experience that would bring new people in and keep them playing.
Whether it’s LoL, Heroes of Newerth, or DotA, the mechanics are pretty much the same. Endless streams of weak AI units, or creeps, spawn from your base and charge down three different lanes, past defensive towers, toward the enemy base. The creeps clash in the middle and heroes try to kill these creeps to gain experience and gold while not doing too much damage so that the battle line doesn’t push to a point where you’re all fighting under the enemy towers. Players level up and put points into their hero’s different skills and stats, also spending gold on items that give them even more active and passive abilities. This makes each match, or at least the first part, a war of attrition. It’s called the ‘laning phase’ and it needs to go, along with everything else that requires patience, for a MOBA to work in the mobile space.
When gamers have 30 minutes or an hour to play a competitive game, they don’t pick up their tablet or pull out their phone. If they already like MOBAs, they won’t ever prefer a tablet version over a similar experience controlled by a keyboard and mouse. If they are new to the genre, you won’t get them to sit down and learn the intricacies of your game by demanding so much of their time with each match. A lot of PC gamers already don’t get into MOBAs for that reason.
Cut down on the farming and level progression. Create less characters, abilities and items. Place all this on a smaller map characters can move across much more quickly. Balance it such that matches last just a few minutes, with high intensity throughout. The MOBA design in small scale might look really different, but that’s what works best on mobile devices.
Simple Visual Design
I don’t doubt the hardware capabilities of tablets at all. They can produce some impressive visuals both in 2D or polygonal graphics. However, there are too many any other ways MOBAS on tablets would benefit from a toned-down art style. The 3D world of Heroes of Order & Chaos certainly looks good on a 7-inch screen, but the processing power required helps to drain the battery even quicker than the required internet connection is already doing. The game doesn’t stutter too often as is, but I would imagine cutting things back graphically would also further reduce the likelihood of hardware impeding gameplay. Even if all the technical issues disappeared, simple art on a 2d plane makes the process of learning and understanding the game a shorter one.
As much as I love the look of DotA 2, its learning curve is only made steeper by the wide range of visual effects. Each character has a unique character model, most of which are customizable with different items that make your Phantom Lancer, Skeleton King, or Mirana stand out. Every character also has at least four different abilities, many of which are active powers that fire off a different animation upon use. Then there’s items and their special effects, too. Even though my gameclock shows I have several hundreds of hours under my belt on ‘The Lord’s Pitch’ I still find myself asking my friends and other players why my hero’s hands are glowing blue or what that glowing orange and black circle on the ground does, only making teamfights including all ten players and the use of their many spells that much more confusing. Of course, having so many different powers is the first barrier to learning the game, but intricate graphics that look like a bedazzling firework show when used in quick succession, while aesthetically appealing, are a close second. Cut back on the art and, even with a wide array of items, powers, buffs, and debuffs, players will percieve it better and then learn to understand it all faster.
Imagine a mobile MOBA in which the view is of a small map, looking from above. If it’s a simplistic 2D world, using touch controls to move your character is easier, even if the action is faster to keep matches shorter. It could look like a Pac-Man version of the old three-lane map and still feel rooted in the MOBA tradition. Characters could be separated by slight differences of color and shape while still providing enough variation to keep each match feeling fresh. Every one of the best qualities of this competitive gametype can transfer to a tablet version if a developer is willing to make a MOBA that cuts out the fluff for the mobile crowd.
Meaningful Solo Play
Scaling back complication in both mechanics and visuals would go a long way in translating this genre from PC to phones and tablets, but once that’s done, there’s a couple necessary steps that must be taken to ensure that game would keep up with existing MOBA games on the Google Play Store. The first of these is an interesting single-player mode or well-crafted AI players. As compelling as competitive multiplayer is, most shooters, RTS games, and other multiplayer-focused games still have a way to ease players into the action. Narrative-based campaigns roll out new characters and abilities in these other genres and bots provide a way to practice in the same arena that matches against real enemies are also fought on. This is an issue even the best MOBAs on PC struggle with.
Teaching players the nuance of the systems while getting them to understand the overall team-based tactics is obviously challenging for developers. This hurdle is even more important for a mobile developer to pass because most players on Android and iOS will demand a way to play when they can’t connect to real opponents for a live match, even once they’re comfortable with the game’s systems. Good matchmaking, ranking, and other multiplayer-related features are important, but solo-only MOBA-likes such as Plants War and Royal Revolt prove single player functionality would go further to support the competitive mode on mobile than on other platforms.
Constant Additional Content
Lastly, MOBAs are ever-evolving, so any dev wanting to tackle this challenge must also be willing to keep working on the same game for the length of its (hopefully) long life. I don’t just mean edits to the abilities and statistics of existing heroes to fix issues of balance. I mean additional content. Like, all the time. Financially speaking, this has proven the most successful model for the most popular MOBAs, but even if this mobile game wouldn’t want to go the risky free-to-play route, they would need to keep bringing players back with new stuff to keep the competitive community alive. Cosmetic items, new heroes, fresh gametypes, and special events. Whatever it is, something has to keep players curious about what might change with the next update. They’ll want to play until that update is released to maintain their skill level and they’ll want to keep playing after to experience the additional content. The first truly big mobile MOBA will only keep its player base around if they promise dessert will come after the initial meal and they keep piling on the sweets after that.
Of course, the largest chunk of the MOBA audience will stick with the titles on PC. The communities have been established and the Esports scene will keep the heaviest competition on that platform. However, gamers in this crowd will spend their on-the-go time playing something on their tablets and phones. If a mobile developer wants to own that time, they just have to do what they do best and cut back the fluff that usually pad these games out to deliver a competitive, easy-to-learn, fast-action MOBA that will grab the large MOBA crowd and keep them playing.
I’m not sure why, but it took me forever to get around to Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. I’d been told how amazing it was and I knew about the awesome soundtrack, but yet I was still thrown off by the game’s intro, which indicated that I should use headphones to ensure the best experience with it. As I usually do with these indications of auditory excellence, I ignored the advice. Earbuds hurt by oddly-shaped inner ear and over-the-ears give my giant melon a headache. Besides, as small and tinny as my tablet’s speakers are, I figured they would suffice. It wasn’t until the comedic, fourth-wall-breaking narrator closed his commencement speech with “Got Headphones?” that I actually thought about it. Maybe because I wanted to give Sword & Sworcery a fair shot, or maybe because my wife was watching Mistresses in the same room and my earbuds happened to be within reach, I followed directions for once. I am very glad that I did.
Most of the time, I guess I figure the recommended use of headphones is just unnecessary. Developers know the platform they’re putting their game out on and what hardware configuration and sound settings exist on that device, so why shouldn’t they make their game work well anywhere within those parameters? No matter who they got to score the experience or what kind of fidelity they put into the sound effects, I’m going to play the game the way I like to play games. No tutorial ever suggests, “Our well-known artists made things really small and dim. You should play this game in a dark room with the screen five-and-a-half inches from your face,” so why should the music require such specific circumstances? Even a ‘CAUTION: HEADPHONE ZONE AHEAD’ sign would just conjure a mental image of some audiophile, nose upturned, for me to defy.
Quieting my stubborn nature, I piped the sound directly to my ears for this game and I truly think that decision made the experience for me. I had previously played through the first of four ‘sessions’ that make up the adventure of S: SS EP, but on PC, it hadn’t grabbed me. It seemed like a simple point-and-click adventure with a unique art style and a great reverence for Zelda, but none of that drew me into the world and the short tale of sacrifice I was taking part in. The sounds of Sword & Sworcery- the music, the chirps and chimes of wildlife and wizardry- engulfed me in both the mundane and arcane of the halfway eight-bit world, but only once I allowed it to surround my ears completely. “To use headphones or not to use headphones,” seems like the silliest question, but the right choice, in this case, got me engaged with this tale on a tablet the way I couldn’t have been otherwise.
Under normal circumstances, I figure this is the type of game I’d usually prefer to play on PC. There, I’ve got my mouse, practically an extension of my hand, to interact with the world and perfectly control the point-and-click action on my desktop’s large monitor. On a tablet, moving this young Scythian girl up and down the mountain Mingi Taw means I have to block at least part of my view of the wonderfully-crafted world by putting my hand on the touch screen to do anything. Once I put my earbuds in, though, the size of the screen and method of control ceased to matter.
With no other sound present, I found myself wrapped in the beautiful world of S: SS EP and energized by the vaguely 8-bit rock opera tunes now surrounding me. Rhythm games not included, this experience is probably more dependent on its music than any other game I’ve played. The visuals are quite stylized and not at all not realistic. Dialogue isn’t voiced, so the story is almost entirely understood through reading short bursts of text. Of any piece of the experience, the sound does the most work to set the stage. Though no one sings in Sword & Sworcery, the adventure is almost like playing through a musical. As with most games, the tone of each environment is set by a different tune, but the soundtrack here is also a cohesive collection. Different themes within the music come back, similar tunes resurfacing during new events as the story progresses through several sessions, or acts. In this case, though, the orchestra that is Jim Guthrie doesn’t sit in a pit in front of the audience. If the player allows, his work surrounds and helps to place them on the stage.
As great as any screenshot of this game looks, no image can convey the full beauty of the experience. Check out the original trailer below for a better sample of how it plays, sound and all. If you’ve missed Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, as I had up until now, get out your tablet and give it a go. When you do, make sure you give it the best chance at affecting you with both the humor and the solemnity of the adventure. Instead of peering into the world, swim in it. Put those headphones on and let the music do its work.
It’s no secret that us Gamewoofers love The Room. With clever puzzle design, rich visuals and a creepy vibe that no other Android game has managed to pull off, it’s hard not to fall for Fireproof Games’ inaugural title. What really drew me into The Room, though, was it’s story. As the ending of the first game hinted, and its free Epilogue DLC has confirmed, the tale is not yet entirely told, but the narrative itself is less interesting than the way it actually unfolds. This mysterious puzzle game takes an approach to story-telling that most games stay away from, and it’s all the better for it.
Though The Room is clearly inspired by many bygone, browser-based escape the room games lying somewhere in the graveyard of the old internet, it provides much more than any of those old flash titles ever could. The high-res graphics and touch controls certainly help to innovate beyond the scope of this game’s mini point-and-click adventure ancestors, but those factors don’t set it apart from the rest of the Google Play Store. I can’t say the characters or plot are that gripping either. The narrative so far has only revealed a scientist (or maybe alchemist) who, in pursuing study of something called the Null Element, has gone somewhat mad and left well-crafted puzzle boxes in his wake for the player, a nameless friend, to unlock. In these boxes’ many hidden compartments, notes are sometimes found, all marked with an iconic signature of the initials A.S.. As incomplete as the narrative seems, what’s compelling about The Room is what we don’t know and the invitation it serves to search for more secrets, be they answers or just more questions.
Player interaction may be necessary for a game to be a game, but player agency need not factor into the equation. In The Room, you have no choice or control about which path to take or what puzzles to solve. The order of completion with some of these puzzles can vary slightly, but the path around and through these cryptic boxes is mostly straight. When the players comes in, the story has already happened and they may find it, but they can’t affect it. Fireproof have gotten away with creating a story that doesn’t respond to a player’s actions by turning that player from a instigator into an archaeologist, in regard to that narrative. Turning cranks and sliding switches into place doesn’t make you at all part of the story, but each solution to a puzzle takes another layer of dust off the details of the events that came before.
For one thing, this naturally builds curiosity for those who find themselves trapped with these puzzles. The constant stream of small solutions that eventually lead to a larger goal being reached gives the game a compelling flow, but the mystery of the A.S. notes can’t be overlooked as a driving force. Short letters and diary pages have been littered across all types of games for years and, whether marked as a collectible with a bonus score attached or not, they’re largely ignored. This mechanism matters here because the goal of the game is already searching, even digging, for answers. When a short scribble on yellowed parchment is found next to an ornate key or oddly-shaped cog, it feels like just as much a relic as the piece needed for progress that it’s paired with. Those other little doodads or just the next solution, anyway, so could they really be as rewarding a prize as the answers to the past?
Maybe some people skip over these narrative-sharing notes, but that’s the beauty of telling a story this way. It’s really not even ‘telling’ as much as it is ‘presenting’. The information is there; you may take it or leave it. If you’d like to blaze through and ‘beat’ this game, you can do so without reading any piece of parchment that’s been tucked away for you, even if you might need to open them just to locate clues doodled in the margins. Nobody is going to force you to feign interest. There’s no cutscenes or dialogue for you to quickly skip through. However, you’re already searching high and low for answer to The Room’s many puzzles, so why not find answers to the larger mystery, as well?
In case, you haven’t played the room, I should explain that simple slips of paper are not the sole medium for narrative revelation in this game, though they do present the most information. The rooms themselves (which make the game’s title a bit of a misnomer, as there are several) sometimes display answers to riddles on walls while making for a curious setting. Photographs occasionally hold answers, as do makeshift projectors displaying moving images. Even the seals on the tables and puzzle boxes show just enough branding information to increase the level of intrigue surrounding The Room. The developers describe it as a a story, “revealed in layers,” and though they may have meant the apparently episodic nature of the series-to-be, I see it as an accurate description the way things are revealed within one game.
Some of the hidden letters have dates on them, so the chronology is somewhat apparent, but you’re never quite sure how deep you’re looking into the life of this alchemist and his obsession when you find one of these writings. Is the note confusing because you lack the context or because the writer has slipped further into insanity? Have these tarot cards got anything to do with the friend who left these puzzles behind for you, or is that someone else’s lost relic? The Talisman Co. logo on most of the woodwork- just flavor for the setting and the world or a facet of the overall narrative? These loose bits of story you find don’t always reveal what other knowledge you have that it might be linked to. The mystery here definitely has layers and figuring out how deep you are when you make a discovery can be tough.
In the end, The Room’s mysteries may prove to have answers as lackluster as those LOST was able to produce. Maybe the number of questions will outweigh the answers or the phenomena explained will not be the ones that made us wish for understanding most like…well, again, like with LOST. Or maybe Fireproof will learn from the mistakes of other storytellers and The Room series will deliver satisfaction no mystery-minded media prior has been able to give its audience. Either way, I’m just glad a game has invited me to step out of the limelight and get my hands dirty, digging to find the story for myself instead of heroically adventuring my way through it.
Very few console game franchises have an installment on mobile platforms, but EA’s IPs make up most of the small group that do make it over. Most other publishers would just get a quick and simple puzzle game done up and just connect it to the lore and economy of the main game, but that’s not EA’s style. With Mirror’s Edge, they took what was great about the first-person runner/shooter and tried to evoke a similar feeling with the tablet game. Both place you in the shoes of Faith, a messenger who sprints across rooftops and other nearly empty areas of a futuristic, dystopian city, delivering messages secretly and illegally. Both require quick reaction times to get past a ton of obstacles. Only one, I felt, truly put me into a world I wanted to explore and gave me the tools to dos so. Maybe the overall quality of each Mirror’s Edge game wasn’t quite what it could have been but both titles certainly strike a chord that isn’t just moment-to-moment freerunning action, a chord I think the tablet version manages to hit harder.
When I first played Mirror’s Edge on the Xbox 360 years ago, I wasn’t able to enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I should. I got quite a rush going when I was able to keep a flow of impressive parkour moves coming out of the main character in perfect sequence. The problem came when objectives were unclear and keeping fluid motion became impossible. The world needed to feel natural, so some areas had to be open. When this created several possible paths, or perceived ones, it either paralyzed me or sent me into a frenzied search. Neither was conducive to me feeling like a runner or experiencing the stark white world they had crafted.
Of course, the architecture in this sandbox only needed to be white so that the guiding path could be made to stand out from the backdrop. As Faith runs, objects she should climb or jump on turn red as she approaches them. The Android game titles this Runner’s Sense, explaining these quick-footed messengers are skilled at identifying the best route through any area fraught with obstacles. Whether the path is wide or narrow, the rose-red highlights focus you on the goal and your momentum assisting you to it, but this trail of breadcrumbs also distracts from the world surrounding the action. The tunnel vision aids in keeping the speed and intensity up, something necessary for someone to actually do such a dangerous job, but it impedes exploration and makes the rest of the world mean almost nothing.
In the tablet version of Mirror’s Edge, this future city you climb around in is also bathed in white paint, but it doesn’t feel quite as blank. Certain objects are still made red here, giving hints at the direction you should go, but it isn’t a constant effect. You’d think they would have designed the levels smaller to compensate, but they really don’t feel that way at all. Unlike any other 2D platformer I’ve ever played, there were times where I didn’t know whether I needed to go right or left. Just when I’d finally made up my mind, vertical and horizontal paths would pop up as well, each visually convincing me that it could lead to my ultimate goal. Faith’s freerunning abilities keep the winding paths from feeling like a maze, even when she might have to backtrack after a dead end. What got me is not that the world seemed larger, but that Mirror’s Edge on tablet invited me to explore and find out just how big it is.
Obviously, the first-person aspect of the parkour sim isn’t something a mobile version of the same nature could pull off. On tablets, the view is from the side, so you can see several meters around the main character in every direction. This wider angle obviously sends more of the bright, unnamed city to your eyes at once.
Visibility isn’t everything, but in the case of Mirror’s Edge, it helps with more than just knowledge of upcoming obstacles. When Faith wall-runs along a billboard, you can read the political message it shouts in bright orange as your run by, getting a view similar to what a pedestrian under the heavy hand of the authoritarian government would see. Just as in the console version, hidden collectibles are scattered around the world too, but they manage to be more than an afterthought in only the 2D game by appearing just at the edge of the screen and making you wonder what path might lead there.
The side view also means there’s no gun combat in the mobile Mirror’s Edge, so arguably the worst part of the original game is gone. Guards still litter parts of almost every level, ready to shoot you if they can, but disarming these armed troops is the best you can do to stop them. They never pop out from around a corner Faith is approaching in this game, though. Since the camera shows anyone coming up before they can see you, the momentum you’ve built need not be halted by enemies or obstacles.
I don’t mean to say that the tablet version of Mirror’s Edge is perfect. The scope had to be a lot smaller for this one, so everything from assets to character animations looks low-budget at best and the swiping controls don’t yield results with quite the accuracy one would hope for from such a high-speed game. Some levels even have you taking down other runners, or some of them coming for you, and these encounters never feel well-thought-out. The tablet game is not on the same level of quality as its console cousin; it just isn’t nearly as polished, though I still think it held more promise. As excited as I am about a sequel to the parkour platformer, I can’t help but wish it was a follow-up to the tablet game.
I was quite thrilled at the announcement of a Mirror’s Edge 2 at E3 this year, I can’t help but wish this was a franchise that made the jump to tablets. I enjoy the thrill of first-person parkour, but the rush it gives is over quickly and does not promote any digging into Faith’s story or the world that I was so intrigued by. Sure, almost every surface of the city is white, but I want to know what’s happening on the other side of all those bleached panels, something I could see more of in the mobile version. The political power struggle narrative from the first installment gained nothing from its home on console, so mobile devices would work just as well for that, too. Faith and her city could feel much less like a blank slate if they invited us to explore a bit more and got a larger view of things, anyway. The action of a fast freerunning platformer might excel on a box with better hardware specs and a controller, but I’d rather have the whole package (speed, story, and everything else the Mirror’s Edge franchise offers) on my mobile console- the tablet.
If you visit the site often, you’ve probably noticed an absence of my usual weekly column. You might have also realized that no reviews of Ouya games have been posted in a while either. Faithful readers, I sincerely thank you for returning once again to check in on my personal thoughts about Ouya, and coming to Gamewoof for coverage on the console’s many games, but this several-week-long hiatus did not occur without reason. You won’ t be seeing much about Ouya on the site anymore, but if you stick with me for a minute I’ll explain both why this change is taking place and what this column is going to be moving forward.
First off, I’d like to explain that I still really enjoy my Ouya. I stand by my review and all the reasons I’ve given for dropping $100 on one of these suckers over the past few months. It’s still a good console, one that I’ve already enjoyed a lot of time with and plan on enjoying for a lot longer. As the weeks have passed, I’ve noticed a trend with my usage of the littlest box under my TV. I have my friends over, we play a few matches of Towerfall, and it’s the life of the party. The next time I have people over to play games, the same thing happens. If not Towerfall, maybe it’s the hilarity of Get On Top or No Brakes Valet that gets everybody’s eyes on the TV and hands on the controllers.
By now, it’s pretty common news that Activision has purchased a majority of the shares from French media company and parent company Vivendi, essentially allowing Activision to go out on its own. But what most people aren’t talking about is the Chinese company who helped out Activision – Tencent.
Tencent, who, along with other investors, purchased 172 million shares – equating to $2.3 billion worth of Activision stock – is a massive mobile development company in China. They’ve already been behind many of the major mobile booms in China, releasing the largest Chinese social networking site, a huge Chinese microblogging site (similar to Twitter), their own version of Ebay, and are even minority owners in other gaming companies, including Riot Games and Epic Games. Tencent has also dabbled in video games before, creating games for PC and are currently in development of their own microtransaction-powered mobile games.
Activision is already partnering with Tencent to bring their popular Call of Duty franchise to China; Tencent is handling the online servers and marketing for Call of Duty in China, allowing Activison to tap into a highly populated market.
But what does it mean when a company who is massively into the mobile gaming market purchases one of the world’s biggest gaming companies who makes ridiculous amounts of money off probably the world’s biggest video game franchises?
It’s all purely speculation at this point, but there are a couple of points to consider when thinking about how this could affect Activision’s mobile presence.
EA just reported massive earnings in the mobile department, primarily off of the success of The Simpsons: Tapped Out and Real Racing 3. These sales were so big that it turns out Apple is EA’s biggest retail partner, beating out the likes of Steam, Gamestop, and even their own service – Origin – to the tune of $90 million. While this is the first time that an AAA game company has posted massive earnings in the mobile market over the console or PC markets, this could be the event that not only signifies that mobile gaming is to be taken seriously, but may lure other big name developers into the mobile market as well.
Activision doesn’t currently have a great presence on the Google Play store. In terms of AAA companies, EA dominates the market with 34 apps. Chief amongst those are family favorite board games as well as the aforementioned money making games like Tapped Out and Real Racing 3. Other companies such as Ubisoft, Sega, and a couple of others, also have a presence in the Android marketplace, while Activision only has a measly 6 Android apps under their belt. Out of those, only 3 are games, 1 is an old school Activision anthology, and the other two – wallpaper apps.
Clearly with the competition between EA and Activision reaching almost “cold war of video games” status, Activision has to be setting its sites towards the mobile markets. In Tencent’s homeland of China, the Android market share exceeds 70% in ratio to Apple. As of April 2013, the market share was still hovering at around 52% in the United States in favor of Android over Apple. Activision could utilize the higher market share to control a battleground that EA excels in, but hasn’t completely dominated like they have with iOS (or at least EA isn’t telling us what their Android profits have been).Activision also holds the license for a metric ton of IPs that could very well make a seamless transition to mobile gaming in one form or another.
While we probably wouldn’t see a Call of Duty mobile anytime soon, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to think we could see franchises like Tony Hawk, MechWarrior, Guitar Hero or any number of their titles see their way in some form come to Android devices. If you look through the Google Play library deep enough, there are many attempts to either copy those games or make direct ports of them as well (Like Doom and Wolfenstein) But with a whole array of new technologies for Activision to explore with their new multi-leveled partnership with Tencent, the sky’s the limit. Tencent holds a multitude of patents in technologies utilizing instant messaging within games. While Activision could potentially utilize those technologies within their MMO empire (World of Warcraft), this technology could very well revolutionize mobile multiplayer gaming as well, putting the experience on a more level playing field with that of console gaming.
At this time, there’s no evidence saying that Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision, will usher his company into the battlegrounds of mobile gaming. Heck, for all we know, Bobby may sit on his piles of cash and ignore mobile gaming completely while riding the wave of yet another military shooter that ultimately will sell billions of copies. But with EA already having solid footing in mobile gaming, combined with Activision’s competitive nature against their gaming foes (as well as a partnership with an Asian mobile giant), who knows if we will see the Call of Duty puppy on an Android device near you.
Ouya does all types of games. You’d think a wide variety of experiences, everything from pinball sims to third-person shooters, would be enough for me, but all I’ve been thinking about this week is what’s missing from the store. I can see little holes not being filled or big ones with only a few games where plenty could fit. I’ve got enough 2D platformers and puzzle games, thanks, but there are a few other genres I’d like to see more of on this console.
Maybe it’s just because I’ve been playing nothing but DotA 2 (outside of Android and Ouya games) recently, but I hope Ouya gets in on this MOBA craze. So far, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games have really only hit the PC hard, but the craze is sure to reach more platforms, considering how many swimming pools Riot Games could fill with their League of Legends money. The five-on-five matches tend to take a while, but the competitive nature of these games, their high skill ceilings, and the promise of new content make playing hours and hours of the same game on the same map easy to get sucked into. If you aren’t careful, a good free-to-play MOBA will steal your life away and take your wallet with it.
Now, Arena of Heroes is coming to Ouya yet this summer, but it’s turn-based, which completely changes things. Even if the slower pace doesn’t ruin it, the game just doesn’t look very good, to be honest. Whether I have to plug in a keyboard and mouse or use a gamepad for direct control, I would love to get into a real MOBA on Ouya.
I remember a time when you couldn’t throw a rock without accidentally hitting a game console that was running Mario Kart, or a clone thereof, at that very moment. Kart racers used to be what Angry Birds is now, only they worked really well as drinking games too. Nowadays, a racing game of this kind only comes out every time Nintendo wants to make another safe bet on a new piece of hardware. Ouya seems like the perfect home for a goofy racing game, though, considering how great a party game box it is.
Of course, any kart racer on Ouya would have to be a new IP. I’m pretty sure Nintendo is still screening their calls for Android numbers and Activision seems to be pretending Crash Bandicoot died after his first appearance on mobile, so any of the classics are out of the question, when it comes to official releases. With virtually no competition, though, maybe it’s time for another developer to take a crack at the sillier side of racing on this console.
There’s really only one word you need if you want to make an argument for a good turn-based tactics game on Ouya: XCOM. Firaxis proved slow, punishing, and outdated mechanics are still way more fun than they should be. Of course, XCOM: Enemy Unknown did more right than just the strategic, squad-based combat, but that part was amazing and I want more of it.
I find it quite surprising that we haven’t seen other developers, on mobile or anywhere else, capitalizing on this recent craze. I’d love a new strategy game, but rather than a complete absence of this on the Ouya store, I’d take even a re-release of Final Fantasy Tactics. Square has already given the console a nod with Final Fantasy III, so why not. Again, Nintendo is obviously throwing away invitations to any Android parties, but what if someone just completely ripped off Fire Emblem? Seriously, I’d take just about anything.
Okay, so maybe this is more of a concept or feature than a genre all its own, but I think Ouya is seriously lacking on the open-world front. It doesn’t need to be a crime game like GTA or a first-person adventure like Far Cry, but I’d love to have unhindered exploration in some of my Android console experiences.
Same of my favorite gaming experiences come from wandering into new areas off the beaten path and finding myself in situations my character is not prepared for. RPG, shooter, adventure, whatever. I just want to run around in spaces that feel more like a living world than one long hallway.
This is more of a focus in design than a genre, but it’s an important distinction in video games. While most video games out there are designed around the amorphous quality of fun, there are other games (ones that probably shouldn’t be titled games) that are supposed to make feel something else. Maybe it’s a tale of morality, an educational experience, or interaction with systems that make you feel one emotion or another, but games that have a serious message are really important.
Interactivity means video games are in a unique position, when it comes to th kind of stories they tell. Whereas movies and books can only let you sympathize with a character on screen or follow from page to page, games allow players to place themselves in a situation and make decisions themselves, feeling real consequences that come with those choices. Cart Life and Papers Please are great examples of the kinda of serious experiences that I’d love to see Ouya welcome to its store. I love having fun with games as much as the next guy, but Ouya is in a unique position to bring these deeper experiences into the living room and the hands of more gamers.
Did I leave anything out? What kinds of games do you want to see on Ouya?