Category: iOS

Flower

Flower

Playing Flower in 2019 really shows how far art games have come. With obvious inspiration from Passage, this is like the gaming equivalent of Oscar bait – using up a whole lot of artistic talent to say a whole lot of nothing. After an hour of gorgeous scenery and aimless gameplay, the game’s big statement boils down to “beautiful things > not beautiful things.” A lot of elements of the presentation still haven’t been replicated elsewhere, but in some cases, that’s because they don’t work very well. The unorthodox controls effectively capture the intended feeling of weightlessness but don’t lend themselves to the collection gameplay, which feels undercooked and inconsistent even by art game standards. It’s also quite obvious how infantile procedural audio was at this point, as the music often feels disjointed even during the story’s initial relaxing arc.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange

The elevator pitch for Life is Strange is usually “a Telltale-style adventure game where you can rewind time to edit your choices,” but it’s far from a clone. The time travel mechanics are more multifaceted than that, for one thing, as they can be used to imitate premonition and teleportation, among other things. Its gameplay is also peppered with detective segments, its story is filled with potent symbolism, and its unique atmosphere often feels more like an out-of-body experience than a roleplay. The player is more of a companion than a puppeteer to the characters, but when those characters are so three-dimensional, their world so vividly realized, and its relevant subject matter handled so maturely, merely observing it all through a mildly fantastical lens is as engaging as it needs to be.

Befitting its stellar soundtrack, Life is Strange is like a punk or folk song in video game form – a lack of refinement is the price you pay for authenticity. For example, as devastatingly memorable as several sequences are, the amount of ambiguity and red herrings in the plot’s resolution is disappointing. Additionally, the “painted” art style flips between gorgeous and inadequate depending on the subject. Some of the flaws improve over time, however. Episode 1 – Chrysalis is especially bogged down with introduction, and the early episodes’ default gameplay pattern of “Incorrect action >> Rewind >> Correct action” is gradually replaced with more unorthodox puzzles. The voice acting also inadvertently improves too, since events become more dire in later episodes and the side characters become more…well, sidelined.

Hundreds

Hundreds

Hundreds is probably the best mobile game I’ve played, which is absurd, because I played the Android version, whose final 2014 update caused unavoidable crashing beyond level 60-something (out of 100). I could list the exact ramifications and internal arguments that inform my overall opinion, but the gist is that, prior to that cut-off point (and presumably after it on iOS), this game was wall-to-wall quality, and I regret nothing about its purchase.

Realized through stunning minimalism, Hundreds is built, like many classic puzzle games, on a strangely compelling mechanic that doesn’t really click until you get it in your hands. Pressing numbered circles to inflate their total size to 100 without overlapping doesn’t sound special, but when those circles bounce around amid a variety of clever patterns and objects, it becomes completely engrossing. These tools and obstacles include sawblades, object-freezing snowflakes, and circles featuring pause buttons, negative numbers, and tethers, among other things. All of these mechanics work together with excellent use of a multitouch interface to create a stimulating experience for both sides of the brain. Touches and time used to complete each level are recorded, which seems like a missed opportunity for some kind of challenge mode, and there’s a small cryptology subgame that’s totally pointless, but those are my only complaints – crashing issues aside.

Night in the Woods

Night in the Woods

I want to like Night in the Woods a lot more than I do. It’s basically Persona with all the anime sucked out, which should be the bee’s knees. Its story and characters are exceptionally well-written and memorable, not to mention unexpectedly topical (cosmic horror elements notwithstanding). It’s frequently hilarious, but it also understands when to get serious in order to grab our attention or make a point. It’s got a unique atmosphere that sways between pleasantly familiar, wistfully reminiscent, and decidedly creepy. Even its aimless, minimal gameplay avoids the trap of feeling token and instead reinforces the slice-of-life tone.

The problem is how inaccessible a lot of this quality is. Navigating the setting feels like a chore in every sense of the word. Slow player movement and inconvenient level design provide an inherently boring baseline, and an incredibly arbitrary distinction between foreground and background sprinkle a touch of frustration on top. Most problematically, the game’s system of missable daily character events demands the development of rigorous travel patterns, turning most of the experience into a veiled checklist. There’s definitely something special to Night in the Woods, but it’s going to make you work to appreciate it.

868-HACK

868-HACK

If you’re looking to kill a few hours, 868-HACK is a fine choice. Prolific developer Michael Brough has tapped the well-worn territories of both roguelikes and hacking gameplay and still managed to extract something original. Through a handful of enemy types, a couple dozen unlockable abilities, and a few hidden mutations available to especially skilled players, the game offers a surprisingly deep challenge that rarely feels unfair. The fun starts to peter out as you fall into patterns, but until that time, it’s an engrossing little puzzle box. It’s also a case study in economic design, even if it goes a little too far in that regard; there’s not a speck of unnecessary or drawn-out content here, but there’s also no context to the gameplay, and the audio is bizarrely tuneless.

rymdkapsel

rymdkapsel

rymdkapsel is a sci-fi version of Rampart with no multiplayer but infinitely better aesthetics. That’s it. RTS base-building realized via tetrominoes is a slick idea; I look forward to a game that uses it without feeling like a proof of concept. The game’s problem isn’t that it’s brief, but that it’s brief because it’s completely trivial. I breezed through the main objectives on my second try and felt no desire to do the same in New Game Plus, having already seen everything there was. It was a smooth experience during those two playthroughs, but only because all opportunities for depth or micromanagement were sacrificed to the minimalism gods.

Boson X

Boson X

Boson X is like Temple Run with the physical layout of Tempest, but the geometric minimalism and twitch gameplay bring to mind Super Hexagon so much that if you liked that game, it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll like this one. The premise is that you’re a scientist running and jumping through a particle accelerator so stylized it’s unrecognizable as such. That’s pretty much it, but the game makes the most of it, with wild, shifting levels that test every facet of the movement controls. Said controls are rather unintuitive – holding left or right prolongs your jump just as holding up does, rather than shifting multiple lanes – but once you adjust, smoothly flying through a level is satisfying.

Other things can’t be adjusted to, however, like the unbalanced procedural generation that doesn’t realize how much easier and harder certain obstacle patterns are. The visual design is either an eye-popping treat or astonishingly inconvenient for gameplay purposes; it varies from moment to moment. The all-important soundtrack is more consistent, and while it’s not up to Super Hexagon standards, it’s still pretty good. Overall, I was often frustrated with Boson X, but I also kept coming back to it.

Sorcery!

Sorcery!

An adaptation of a gamebook tetralogy, Sorcery! is an episodic release in all but name, so its four constituents must be additionally judged as a single, complete entity. In that regard, it’s a fascinating experience that alternates between highly engaging and ultimately disappointing. I’d actually like to see a AAA studio tackle this material, as that may be the only way to do justice to such an open-ended premise. As it stands, we have a product that almost reaches greatness but always stops at the last moment.

The main problem is that Sorcery! often forgets to take advantage of its new status as a video game. The standout feature here is the magic system, wherein spells are crafted from three letters indicated by the current alignment of stars, forcing you to make do with what stars are available in a given situation. It sounds awesome until you realize that your options are entirely scripted. Furthermore, the fitting but grotesque artwork is taken directly from the gamebooks, and the immersive audio is barely utilized. Finally, players are assisted by a sprit guide or patron deity depending on their actions, but what each does and how to earn their favour is entirely hidden information.

The combat system is a clever twist on rock-paper-scissors that’s always enjoyable, even if its minimal evolution and chance elements drag it down. Relatedly, you’re given the ability to rewind your previous decisions, which I’d advise treating as an integral mechanic, because whether most actions will be beneficial is anyone’s guess. This also ties in to the series’ unexpectedly compelling plot, whose second half in particular embraces time travel as its central pillar. It too falls apart by the end, however, thanks to half-hearted twists and a tendency to point out its own enormous holes.

As for the individual releases, Part 1: The Shamutanti Hills is the least representative of the final product, with a short, more linear setting and clichéd plot. Part 2: Kharé – The Cityport of Traps is where it most settles in, opening up both the world and mechanics and featuring an interesting self-contained story. Part 3: The Seven Serpents is probably the most creative of the four, but it also marked the point where the static gameplay started to overstay its welcome, and its finale was astoundingly anticlimactic. The final chapter, The Crown of Kings, simply continued that trend with its own problematic narrative and annoying new rewind mechanic.

Hoplite

Hoplite

Hoplite is a neat little title that will inevitably leave players asking, “Was that it?” With turn-based gameplay and laughably simple graphics, it hews close to a classic roguelike, but it also feels like an asymmetric version of chess starring a “one-man army” piece. This genre isn’t known for evoking power fantasies, but Hoplite’s smooth interface will make you feel way more badass than you’d expect. Throwing your spear and then teleporting over to it, and using your shield to knock back bombs and slam enemies against walls are all available techniques. Visualizing them requires a bit of imagination, but they still feel cool.

Unfortunately, all of this is introduced in the span of 10 minutes, and it never evolves beyond that. The basic goal is to collect a treasure on floor 16, with later floors available for those who purchase the full game, but those later floors contain only greater numbers of what you’ve already faced. These mechanics are dying for additional enemy types, terrain variation, and creative upgrades beyond range boosters and the aforementioned teleportation. It’s also too retro for its own good – the RNG loves to slap you with inescapable situations, and the screechy sound effects become irksome quickly (though not the music, surprisingly).

Primordia

Primordia

This is the sharpest adventure game since Machinarium, which is fitting, because it’s practically the same subject matter approached from a different angle. Primordia is a much more cynical game, but not to the point of obsession. Spots of humour frequently pierce the haze of its decayed setting, making many of the characters instantly likeable. The dialogue is top-notch regardless of the tone it’s carrying, and the narrative it conveys is stellar. It tackles many of the themes that NieR: Automata would later be praised for, but stuffs them into a much tighter package. I especially appreciate that there are few disposable characters – nearly all of them have significant histories to suss out.

Primordia also avoids the usual adventure game trap of having to ignore the gameplay to enjoy the story. The puzzles are clever and surprisingly varied, requiring nearly as much codebreaking and syntactic logic as inventory management. Furthermore, hints are neatly integrated into the scenario as the main characters naturally discussing what they should do. The primary thing holding Primordia back is that it’s just an adventure game. Outside of small additions like using your tiny, floating sidekick as a puzzle-solving tool, it’s a pretty bog-standard AGS product. It also looks like deep-fried shit thanks to its miniscule resolution, but at least that’s offset by a beautifully subdued electronic soundtrack.