Happy New Year! Sorry that I haven't been posting much at all in the past couple of months. The holiday was quite busy and so was work. I've had a number of articles "locked in the chamber" but just haven't been around to polish them up and pull the trigger.
Things are actually slower right now (kind of a good thing!) but I'm trying to make finishing up these articles a priority for the new year. So here's my first one, a list of games on various platforms that have gotten my attention over the past couple years...
Canabalt / Tiny Wings: I put these two together as they have similar gamplay - single button action, side-scrolling left to right, single character avoiding obstacles to reach an infinite goal - but very different art styles which make the games feel very different from each other. Canabalt features a black-and-white colour scheme with pixel-graphics, depicting a black-suited man leaping over crates and tall buildings in some kind of daring escape in a dark future world. Tiny Wings, on the other hand, is a ultra colourful, cheery world where you help a funny little bird glide and slide over hill and dale to pick up coins and escape the coming sunset to jump to just one more island. Both games are quick and easy to pick up and play, but require zen-like concentration in order to get good at.
Do you need both games? Probably not, but either one would be a worthwhile purchase.
Osmos: If you've owned an iOS device for any length of time and still haven't heard of this game, you probably haven't been checking the App Store's front page much. Highlighted many times in the store, selected as Game of the Year in 2009 and a constant fixture in the iTunes Canada (and probably the same in other countries) Staff Favourites, Osmos has had a pretty high profile and deservedly so. You play a little glob of "stuff" floating in the middle of the screen, and similar to Katamari Damacy, you need to move around and gobble up other globs of stuff that are smaller than you in order to grow bigger and...gobble up even bigger globs. Simple enough, but unlike Katamari, if you collide with something bigger than you, *you* will be gobbled up yourself.
Movement is facillitated by ejecting matter from your own glob's mass, which makes moving around a conservative, conscientious affair. Move around too much and you might not be big enough to eat up the next target. Couple this with the dreamy beatless ambient soundtrack and you have a game that is quite chilled and relaxing to play. My only complaint with the game is that it can be a real drain on your device's batteries, probably due to the complex math that's going on under the hood (?) but the unique gameplay is well worth it. (Also available for Mac/PC/Unix)
Trainyard: This brilliant little puzzle game has you designing a train track system in order to guide painted choo-choos from point A to point B. There's tons of content, ranging from simple to brain bending, that will keep you busy for a long long time. Each puzzle has multiple solutions, and players can submit theirs to the website database to share them with other players. Even the free "lite" version is full of great content, so there's no reason not to check it out.
Steambirds: This is a beautiful steam-punky "realtime turn-based" strategy game (not sure how else to refer to it) featuring WW2 dog fights between steam-powered planes. The game is turn-based as you have to make your decisions in a planning mode, using the very intuitive interface to guide your planes into killing positions on your enemies, but then both player and computer turns are executed at the same time, hence the "realtime" element. I love both games in this series, the single-player oriented Steambirds original and the more arcade-y "Steambird: Survival". The interface is fantastic and the strategic challenges will keep you coming back. (It's a shame that Steambirds has been "cloned" by Bungie/Harebrained, who should probably know better)
Battle for Wesnoth: Pretty much the best turn-based strategy game in the iOS store. It's based on the open-source game of the same title which is available for free for PC, Mac and Unix. (So I guess before buying it for iOS, check on the desktop-based versions first; better yet, you can synch your save games from the desktop with your iOS device, so your progress is always saved!) There is a *ton* of content in the game, hours upon hours of campaigns to play through with rich stories, characters and scenarios, and interesting strategic decisions and units to play around with. A must for any turn-based strategy fan.
Neuroshima Hex / Neuroshima Puzzle: Based on the board game of the same name, this tactical combat/tile placement game plays quickly in solo games vs the computer and features all the great art and gameplay from the board game. The Puzzle version of the game is simply that, single-turn puzzles that you need to solve with the game pieces they give you. Not as interesting as the full-fledged game, many of the puzzles work well as tutorials on how some of the units work. Of the two, the full game is recommended over the puzzle version, which is more of an interesting expansion for Neuroshima Hex fans than anything.
Note: I was already quite familiar with the board game when I picked this up, and I've heard from others that they were confused by the rules, the icons and the units, so the game didn't do much for them. I haven't had extended conversations to see just what the issue is, so I don't know how best to recommend the game to you, other than that I really like its quick play time, tough strategic decisions, smart AI, beautiful art, asymetrical armies and "knife fight in a phone booth" gameplay.
Drop 7: Another one of those "you must have been hiding under a rock to not have heard of this" games. It's basically Tetris/Dr. Mario but with numbers. Numbers appear from the top of the screen and when you line up enough of them, the matching number disappears. You also have to crack open some numbers that are locked by clearing other numbers adjacent to the locked numbers. Stupid addictive, like most puzzle games. There used to be an ad-based free version, but that no longer appears to be in the iTunes store, so there's just the full version, which is still well worth the buy.
Asynch: Another addictive little puzzle game with a sly sense of corporate humour, you are a worker at Asynch corporation, packaging up boxes and optimizing their use of space by putting like-coloured boxes together and shipping them out. What's in the boxes? Doesn't matter, 'cuz whatever you're shipping out is making the world a better place. :) Three different game modes keep things interesting, ranging from hectic to free play. I personally prefer the more hectic modes like Quota, but it's fun, regardless.
Van Helsing's Fire: This colourful and stylish puzzle game puts you in the role of the famous vampire hunter Van Helsing as you use a torch to light up an array of monsters in a room, and then blast them with your potions. There are a whole menagerie of creatures and level mechanics to master, and the games dynamic puzzle generation system makes sure no two games are exactly alike. A great brain-burner, and it looks pretty too.
100 Rogues: A great little rougelike game with SNES-era pixel graphics, interesting characters, tactics and "tech" trees. Following typical rougelike tropes, 100 Rogues is a single-player turn-based dungeon crawl where your demise is almost always guaranteed except for maybe on the easiest setting. The gameplay is simple but there's a variety of characters to choose from in the base game and if you get tired of those, you can play as one of the monster classes for a buck or two via in the in-game store. There's a simple story, but this is basically a tactical affair. Fun to pick up and play between bus stops to scratch that RGP itch with minimal investment.
Dungeon Solitaire: Imagine that one of the biggest enemies of corporate productivity, Solitaire, had dragons, warriors, potions and swords instead of the Jack of Clubs? That's sort've what we have here in Dugeon Solitaire, a card game where you try to populate a row of hero cards against a row of enemies before they manage to take out your castle. A pretty good time waster with some interesting tactical decisions, and being a solitaire game, you can't guarantee a win every time so the game keeps its challenge. If you're seeking fresh content though, you can always buy one of the expansions available for purchase in-game.
Alphabetic: A very stylish hidden object game, where a stream of colourful letters parade around the screen while you try to hunt down just the right one. Simple and quick to play, I find that this game is great for waking up in the morning as the bright colours and intricate patterns force my eyes to open wider in order to concentrate and find that darn letter "X".
Super 7: Another game from No Monkies (who also made Alphabetic), here we have to connect coloured, numbered gems together to make them add up to 7. A line-drawing dexterity game, but also a math game as you need to quickly figure out how to add up the gems into the magic number. You quickly learn to use the colours to help you, but the screen quickly gets filled with more and more objects, and if any gems collide that add up to more than 7 (or less than -7), it's game over. A nice little puzzle/line-drawing game with some great audio design.
Pico Pico Fighters / Phoenix HD: Just as the SHMUP genre is alive and well in the indie game scene, so to can you find plenty of space shooters in the iOS world. Generally I'm not really a fan of SHMUPs on touch devices, as they can create hand cramping very quickly, and they often degrade down to just dragging your finger around on the screen while your space ship autofires. Kinda boring, but both these games are free and have their own strengths that make them more interesting. Pico Pico has charming 8-bit graphics, 4 different levels and a very punishing challenge level, while Phoenix HD has beautiful 3D graphics, and interesting power up system and variable enemies with some serious bullet hell chops to challenge you. Both are required gaming for SHMUP fans.