Each week, I’ll endeavour to trawl through thirteen apps from my ever-growing backlog of iOS games that are, or have been, free. I’ll investigate and describe each game, and then decide what to keep and what warrants deletion.
Jay & Silent Bob in: Too Fat To Fly
In short: A run-of-the-mill launching game.
This app follows a pretty simple formula; you direct your slingshot, and then after keeping an eye on the scrolling power gauge, release to fire. Then, as your man-cannonball flies through the air, and bounces along, there are objects will help and hinder his flight: Blue items provide another little launch, giving height and speed boosts, while yellow items slow him down, and red items will stop him completely. There are coins and money bags to collect, which can be spent in “The Stash”, which is again, the usual casual iOS in-game store. (Despite the endless possibilities of shop names, lots of games also use “stash”, notably Jetpack Joyride, so its pretty unoriginal). There’s the usual stuff in there: Boosts, gadgets, new slingshots, and also skins, most of which will increase distance and high scores. The only tweak to the usual launching shtick is that with each shot, there are five fireworks that can be used to boost the height of the flying dude. The game also has a slow motion mechanic that kicks in when a red object approaches, so it is pretty easy, too easy in fact, to get out of the way by using a firework.
The only really draw that this game offers, is the cartoon likeness of Jay and Silent Bob, who are characters from a weird canon of American comedy films including Clerks. I’ve seen a bit of said film, and it didn’t really appeal to me, so I don’t really find this game any more enticing. I might be missing some references, but even so, it seems like a pretty thin addition to the game. Furthermore, it appears that the game is based on a spin-off cartoons series, so it is an extra step away from the film(s) for fans. Aurally and visually, the game isn’t very exciting either, though the characters are a good representation of the aforementioned cartoon’s characters.
Verdict: A fairly bland and basic game that does nothing to advance the genre. Fans of the characters are about the only ones that should consider this, even though it is free.
I’ll be removing this this one.
In short: An 2D endless runner that has a bit in common with Halfbrick’s (the world-beating Aussie developer’s) other games.
This plays like any other 2D auto-running, shooting platformer: You’ve got a jump button, a shoot button, pick-ups scattered through the level and enemies and environmental hazards coming at you with ever increasing rapidity. The game is set in may locales, giving it a chance to show off its nice pixelly artwork. You will change areas every 1km that you run, through exceedingly diverse worlds like Zombie Metropolis, Demon Dynasty (running along the Great Wall) and Yeti Heights. Gameplay is exactly the same in each area, but the world (including enemies and objects) is re-skinned.
Each enemy has their own quirk that makes them challenging: Zombies can pop up from the ground, while vampires swoop in in bat form. The power-ups are fairly standard, but are good fun. SMGs and rocket launchers make an appearance, as do items that made it into latter Halfbrick games; the “bad as hog” and the famous “machine gun jetpack”. I keep making all these comparisons to other Halfbrick games because I think time will forget this creation, as it was totally usurped two years later by the master-class of iOS gaming that is Jetpack Joyride. But this remains a fun romp. The only issue is that the game freezes if you try and access Game Centre achievements (of which there are 26) from the menu, which is annoying but not deal-breaking.
Verdict: This game cannot exist now without being compared to Jetpack Joyride. If feels like a prequel to that game, rather than a game in it’s own right, which is a shame, because it is quite a bit of fun!
I’ll be keeping this for a little while, and racking up a few Game Centre achievements.
Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots
In short: A return to the winning fruit slashing formula.
Halfbrick had runaway success with Fruit Ninja, and you and me both could be forgiven for thinking that this tie-in with Dreamworks Puss in Boots would be nothing more than a dirty cash in. It is far more than this. FN:PIB is actually quite a robust companion to the orignial game, even if it falls just short of the titles ‘successor’ or ‘sequel’. Aside from the occasional appearance of the eponymous Puss, the use of some Spanish names and items, and cat-related stuff, the game retains it’s fruit slashing focus. (Mind you, I haven’t seen the Puss in Boots film, so I may be missing some references.) Unlike the first FN game, there are only two modes offered here. One is ‘Desperado’, which is the classic survival mode from the previous game, where you go on slashing until you deplete your three lives. If you’ve never played, it is just a swiping the screen affair, with points awarded for chopping more fruit with the one slice. Fruit must not fall out of sight un-sliced, and bombs must be avoided at all costs. The second mode is the all new ‘Bandito’ mode, which offers twelve challenges split into three rounds, and a final boss. These challenges expand significantly on the classic slice and dice gameplay: They some times impose tough time restrictions, or ask for only a certain fruit to be cut. There are also environmental hazards that fruit will bounce off (pictured), as well as fixed bombs that fruit passes around in patterns, fruit attached to balloons, and fruit hidden in opening doors that test your reflexes. In these levels, you will be scored on fruit sliced, accuracy, and reflexes. Since you have three lives in this mode, so you can make it to the boss fight even if you take a fail a few challenges. Bandito mode is where this game comes into it’s own, and actually become a worthy addition to the Fruit Ninja series. A game like this still needs online features to give it a bit of pulp, and thankfully all the Game Centre fruit are here; both short term and long achievements totalling 24, and leader-boards. The game also has the unlock system of the previous game, with new blades and backgrounds on offer as rewards for skilful play. Oh, and there are tomatoes! I don’t think those were in the original!
Verdict: Almost worthy of being called a sequel, this is certainly not a quick cash grab. Definitely worth getting for existing Fruit Ninja fans, and almost equally recommended for newcomers. Though it is unlikely to ever receive the post-release love (updates etc.) that Fruit Ninja has/is, so keep that in mind.
I’ll be keeping this.
In short: An isometric, colour coding, puzzle game.
Grooh asks players to guide Grooh, a rotund teddy-like thing, through levels, one grid-space at a time. There are coloured tiles that need to be matched and ‘exploded’ to open a door at the end of the level, as well as boxes to be picked up and placed strategically depending on the puzzle. Grooh absorbs colour much like de Blob, and this is what causes the coloured tiles to explode like a landmine when he jumps off. This doesn’t really make much sense, but that’s how the game works. All this, despite the fact that the game scores you on your number of moves, awarding gold, silver or bronze depending on how economical you are with your movement. Grooh is, I suppose, a cute little character, and the whole game world is bright a clean. The animation is also pretty good, except there is a little to much of it, making this game an unnecessarily time consuming affair. I’m not sure if there are issues with translation, but the tutorial and later mid-game prompts have quite a few grammatical and tense errors, which is a nitpick, but it really irked me. Furthermore, Grooh is supposed to be talking in some of these prompts, and so nonsense sounds like “rrrh” and “rooh” have been added to the ends of words, which is even more annoying when you are trying to learn the ropes of the game. You also can’t skip tutorial pop-ups, even when you’re retrying the very same level. The game is also two dollars, which is more than the average game. But you do get close to 150 levels, Game Centre features and reliable performance, so it is a decent proposal for those interested. I gather it gets quite tricky later on too, judging by this screenshot.
Verdict: I’m not a huge fan of these types of games. But if you have the time, and don’t mind the silly languagerrrhhh, then Grooh is a safe bet.
I’ll be deleting this one shortly I think.
In short: A zany, unique multiplayer experience.
This has to be one of the most original games I’ve seen on iOS. Spaceteam is a local multiplayer (Bluetooth/Wi-Fi) game that pairs up to four iDevices together to fly a spacecraft. But this isn’t flying in a normal action-game sense; no, this is all about pressing buttons, flicking switches and twisting knobs. Player one will have a set of instructions to shout (in the real world) to players two, and vice versa. Each command must be enacted by the other player before the timer (the green bar pictured) runs out, otherwise it will be replaced by a new command, and the ship will take damage. As the game goes along, through a series of rounds with different controls, the pace quickens, until eventually things start to fall apart. Steam will issue from the instruments, things will fall off and hang precariously, and you might even need to wiggle your device to move a broken dangling knob. Eventually, despite frantic shouting, your ship will implode and it will be game over. This really is a lot of fun, and hilarity really does ensue as you play, largely thanks to the ridiculous names for you’ll need to shout for different buttons and levers, like “flushbypass” or “set prismneck to 4″. I’ve never played anything quite like this before. It is similar to when banter is exchanged in a multiplayer console game of, say, Super Smash Bros., yet it is a different experience because the banter and yelling is the core mechanic of Spaceteam.
Verdict: This is something you really should try out, even just once. It does require at least two iDevices, but thankfully it is a free game. If you do want to throw down some dosh, there are a few extras that can be purchased too.
I’ll be keeping this one for sure.
In short: A beautifully simple puzzle game that requires good timing.
ichi is a game that is easy on the eye, and easy to control. But it will require much planning, or alternatively, quick reflexes. The yellow ball must be guided to each of the goals; the hollow yellow circles. The ball will rebound off any surface, except for the spikes, which will destroy it. After touching the screen, the ball will start moving, and further touches will rotate the red equilateral triangles. The aim of the game is to use the forty-five degree angles of these to direct the ball safely through each goal. Later on, other objects are introduced to spice things up, such at the breakable grey rock (pictured) and the swirly yellow portals (also pictured). The game features shimmering sketch visuals that are restricted to bright primary colours. It is an attractive, clean look that makes it easy to remember the game’s mechanics. So you can never really be confused, and any failures will be your own fault and not the game’s. The UI also lets you know how to achieve A, B and C ratings in each level, based on the number of rotations you make in each level. There are sixty levels and seventeen Game Centre achievements here, so there is a fair amount of content. Still, I might have criticised the usual $2 price, if it weren’t for the full level editor that is offered. This also means that there are currently 13089 user created levels (yes, there is a live tally in the menu, how cool) available to play. These can be played, rated, tagged with labels like “hard” “fun” “fast” “puzzle” and optionally, shared to Facebook. Most of the levels were pretty damn hard, so there is plenty more on offer for those who beat the games packaged levels.
Verdict: A well made package with great longevity. Definitely recommended.
I’ll be keeping this one and working through it.
In short: A combination of the classic match-three formula and other flimsy wizard stuff
Seriously, there are so many of these games on the App Store now, that combine match-three gameplay with some sort of over-arching story. Here, it isn’t done well. There are ‘cut-scenes’ or rather static images with dialogue, that feature cartoon witches with sexist body proportions, and there is also a map of Hogwarts a castle that will move you between levels. All of this stuff is boring and uninteresting, and just distracts from the game at hand: Making potions by matching things. Sadly the matching side of things isn’t much fun either. Apart from being potion-themed, with weird herbs, flowers, mushrooms and the like, it plays like every other bog-standard Bejeweled clone out there.
Verdict: I’m sure there are game that really do a good job of linking match-three with other mechanics but Wizschool fails to do so, and just isn’t very exciting in it’s own right. Pass.
I’ll be deleting this, and getting my matching-game fix Zookeeper Battle.
Squids Wild West
In short: A 2D top-down perspective game that successfully meshes action and turnbased strategy.
Like so many games on the App Store, the most famous of which is Angry Birds, this game too features a slingshot mechanic. The squids in your party, of which there are four, must use their tentacles to sling themselves in the direction of enemy crustaceans. Thanks to their array of sturdy headgear, they can defeat enemy crabs and lobsters and move onto the next level. However the game is strictly turn based, so while it is your turn, you must think methodically about how you can cause maximum damage before your enemy can move or attack you. This may mean pushing an enemy into a spike, or ricocheting your squid into multiple enemies with the one shot. I have no idea why the squids are in the Wild West, but since they are, this means that some of the squids can deal bonus damage with their pistol prowess, and it also means lots of cowboy hats. The hats aren’t just for show either, as there is a shop where better headgear (like hockey masks that increase defence) can be bought along with power-ups, and new squids can also be recruited. I imagine that as the game progresses, certain squid’s powers will need to be chosen and used strategically. One squid is a healer, for instance, so I’m sure that will come into play more. Each level will see you scored with the iOS-ubiquitous three star scoring system, with one awarded for completing the level within a certain amount of moves, one for keeping all squids alive, and then there is a third hidden star in each level. This game is actually a lot of fun. There’s also a lot of love gone into it: The artists have had great fun, the music is adventurous and twangy in places to suit the Wild West theme, and there is even a brilliant little quasi-3D title screen that uses accelerometer. Content wise, there are easily 60 levels, along with over 20 Game Centre achievements, and also bonus comics. Lots to look forward to.
Verdict: Despite all the zany characters and the generally absurd premise, this is quite a fun game, that manages a perfect balance of action and strategy. I played the original Squids, but I didn’t endear itself to me the way this has.
I’ll be playing through this.
Mad Skills BMX
In short: A surprisingly smooth, good looking, and challenging 2D racing game.
Upon first launch, this game could be dismissed as a port of the oft-seen flash game of bikes racing over bumpy courses, with shonky physics and much head splitting. However, this game is a step and a half above those. The visuals are really really nice. The riders are all drawn in a semi-anime cartoon style, and pop nicely on the retina display. The physics don’t feel at all shonky; there is no crazy stretching suspension, nor are quadruple back-flips encouraged. The controls are also fairly complex, or at least, the timing of certain movements is pivotal to winning a race, and takes some time to get used to. A touch on the left side of the screen will make your rider pedal, while an array of swipes on the right will perform jumps, flips, and speed-inducing wheelies. The game is also overflowing with content. There are plenty of tracks to race through already, and there are more on offer: One is free, one is for facebook fans, and the rest cost a buck. I’ve mentioned facebook there, and that is one annoyance I have: The game requires facebook for any type of leaderboards, which a real game breaker, since I think you could only go so long in a game like this without some sort of real-world benchmark for your race times. The reason for this is of course, the fact that the game is also on facebook. Stunts are also poorly implemented. There is almost no advantage in doing a flip, as the four seconds of adrenaline you gain (a speed boost) is nullified by the time spent in the air losing speed. The bigger issue is a lack of variety. Each race is just a time trial with you and a single CPU opponent facing off. There is no multiplayer and no stunt mode or anything. So I don’t think think this is type of game you could stick with until the end.
The game also had a crushingly hard tutorial, but thankfully this was replace with a simpler one in an update this week. So I won’t harp on about that.
Verdict: A good looking game that doesn’t reach it’s full potential, and is bogged down with facebook integration. It is free though, so if you don’t mind hooking up facey, go for it.
I’ll be deleting this one.
In short: A word building game that dabbles in horse racing.
Okay, even calling it a dabble is a stretch. The horse racing is really just a graphical representation of who is winning. Basically, all you need to do is make a word with twelve random letters, and one additional anchored starting letter. You are then scored, letter for letter, Scrabble style and also receive bonus points for how quickly you crafted that word. Then, it is your opponent’s (sourced from Facebook, usernames or randomly) turn to create a word with the same letter. Then the tiny bit of horse racing comes into play: You and your opponent are represented on horseback, and the points you score will propel you along the track toward the finish. Of course, there is in game currency, though it is pretty much an optional component of the game, and this is earned by placing bets on yourself to win. (You can select a never bet option which is a well considered addition, and slightly ironic since jockey’s aren’t supposed to bet on themselves.) The menu layout of this game is almost identical to Words With Friends. The only thing Word Derby has going for it is the ability to play against three other people in the same match. Though this means races will take a fairly long time. There aren’t a massive amount of people playing this either, so don’t expect to instantly find an opponent.
Verdict: A word game that does a few things different, but not really enough to stand out from the ever-growing crowd.
I’ll be deleting this one.
Galaxy On Fire II
In short: A 3D space shooter with all the bells and whistles.
This is one game that has taunted me for ages. It’s price travels almost fortnightly, visiting exotic locales like $10.49, $7.49, $5.49 and $0.99. So when it finally went free, I had to have it just out of spite, even though it is a whopping 440MB app. Now most of the time, it is pretty damn expensive, and the developers seem to know this; putting things like “TRUST THE MEDIA” (a hilarious statement) and “TRUST THE FANS” in the iTunes description. Now for free, this is a substantial game, but I wouldn’t be paying full price for it. I’ve mentioned before that iOS isn’t really suited to big 3D space games, as it is hard to get your bearings and sense of direction in an open, seemingly endless environment when you have your fingers obscuring the screen: There are swiping motions for speed and dodging as well as the virtual joystick and other buttons. The story isn’t too bad here: You are attacked by space pirates and marooned in an unfamiliar galaxy. Luckily, some alien has taken you in, and mining is the way you will accrue currency to upgrade your ship and repay the guy for saving you. Asteroids can be mined by your clunky (at first) ship. These contain crazy made-up elements like ‘orichalzine’, but also good old ‘gold’. You’ll also be ambushed by pirates during mining operations, in some cases you will deliberately set out to find their hideouts. The game has a GPS with a fast-forward system to help you get you to further locations quicker, but even then it is all a bit slow. As well as this story mode, which I should mention has a convenient-for-shared-devices five save slots, there is also a ‘Supernova Mode’: Which is a a friend-challenging minute long shoot-fest with leader-boards. It’s not a bad inclusion, but again, the controls aren’t really suited to speedy manoeuvres and precision shooting. One of the things this game seems to pride itself on are it’s visuals. These are pretty good, but don’t believe the iTunes description hype. It is well put together as a whole though. Menus look great and there is full voice acting in the campaign mode. The biggest let-down is that the game has ads! I’m not sure if it is to do with the current free offer, but if it was full price, that would be outrageous. There are also in-app purchases offered in GoF2, such as the usual $2 for 100,000 in-game dollars, then there are actual expansion packs, but these are getting up over $5 dollars, so they are just as expensive as the game.
Verdict: A good looking title that can’t feel a little bloated and slow. This genre isn’t really suited to iOS devices, in my opinion, and the developers seem to be forgetting that to compete in the App Store, your prices need to be cheap.
I’ll be deleting this one, and regaining half-a-gig, thank you very much.
Where’s My Holiday? / Where’s My Valentine?
In short: A free introduction to Disney’s Where’s My… puzzle games.
This is a demo basically. It offers six levels of both Where’s My Water? and it’s sequel Where’s My Perry? and runs with a vague seasonal theme; so it was Christmas with Holiday but has now updated to Valentine in February. Both games are all feature puzzles that require you, dear player, to manipulate each level so that water can flow to a certain point: Swampy (the crocodile in Water) needs it for a bath, while Perry (the duck in Perry) needs it to operate an elevator that takes him away to the next level. Often, this means that you will use your finger trace a path through dirt so that a pool of water will drain from point A to point B. Things are more complicated if you want to collect all the items (usually a little buried gnome thing) in each level. There are always three of these and this forms the typical three-star scoring system seen in so many iOS games. There are also a few other mechanics that add to the puzzles. For instance, in the Water levels, there is foliage that will grow when touched, and thus use up all your precious water before you can finish the level. In Perry levels, things are much more technological, with heat rays and ice rays that will zap bodies of water and either evaporate them or freeze them. All these puzzles are quite fun, and offer a similar level of casual engagement that iOS stalwarts like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds do. However the package, while totally free, is a little stingy: There are only 12 levels in total, and even if these are exclusive levels, and even though this has it’s own Game Centre listing and achievements, the game is just too riddled with advertisements. There are menu button ads for buying the full versions or Water and Perry, pop-up banners for the full versions, and also pop-ups for other random games. It is nice that there is a standalone demo for people to try, rather than littering the full games with IAPs, but I think they really could tone down the ads, or offer more than a dozen levels.
Verdict: A stingy introduction to what appears to be a great duo of puzzle games. It doesn’t offer a lot, but it is better than nothing, and allows players to try before they buy.
I’ll be deleting this one. But my interest in the series has been piqued.
In short: A great minimalistic, puzzle/platforming game that doesn’t render it’s predecessor null either.
Edge Extended builds on the foundations made by Edge. Both games feature a colourful cube that players navigate across blocky worlds as quickly as they can. The cube is moved with simple finger swipes in any given direction (diagonals, thanks to the isometric perspective) and the cube will continue in that direction until your finger is raised. As well as reaching the exit (a coloured square in the floor) in the fastest possible time, there are also coloured prisms to collect, the number of which varies from level to level. The number of prisms collected, the number of times the cube fell to it’s doom, and the speed at which the exit is reached, will give players a grade from A down to D. Levels often feature moving blocks, thin blocks that break, elevator blocks, portals, and even blocks that form together to make a robot that destroys the level as it moves. The game features stark grey-scale worlds, which helps payers to concentrate on the traps and puzzle ahead, and also allows the coloured cubes to really stand out. Differences between whites and greys will need to be noted by players, as this often signifies collapsible or moving blocks. The music is also fairly minimal, offering a quiet groovy techno vibe that suits the mood perfectly. Extended isn’t a huge leap forward from the first game, besides offering 44 more levels. However there is a slightly more dynamic camera here, that zooms in and out at pivotal moments, (one of the benefits of a new 3D engine) and there are new sneaky tricks in the levels that even players of EDGE won’t be familiar with.
Verdict: Overall, it is definitely worth getting for both new and old players. Extended is actually cheaper than the original too. Those without iOS and Android can also grab it in Steam, where both EDGE and Extended content is bundled together.
I’ll be keeping this one, and aiming to finish it.
_ _ _ _ _ _
See you next week!