Posted by Ben at 06:56

Iím not sure Iíve ever played a game as deceptive as Hook. The first few levels are so insultingly easy it all felt for completely pointless, I couldnít see how the game would ever get to the level where it was challenging. The premise is simple, you press a button thatís linked to a line, some of the lines have a hook, if that hook is going to hit another hook on the way out you canít remove it. Basically itís a lock-picking mini-game crossed with Kerplunk. And I was very wrong about the challenge, it fairly quickly develops in to a taxing, and inventive little game.

While the first few levels are merely pressing each button in the right order, youíll soon end up with a circuit of sorts, where pressing one button will pull a number of lines, some that arenít ready to be pulled. You have to alter the circuit, spinning corners to they no longer connect, rotating junctions to only activate 2 lanes rather than 3. Lines wonít just be straight or hooked, theyíll also be broken, overlapping other lines, so you need to clear their interconnected pieces before attempting to remove them.

It builds from there, with wi-fi symbols activating offshoots, thereís more than one type of wi-fi symbol too, so making sure you only activate the right one is key. Itís where Hook maybe gets a little complicated for its own good. There were a couple of levels where even after solving them I wasnít entirely sure Iíd nailed down why it worked, or more accurately why previous attempts had failed. I saw the wrong pieces move, I knew where the mistake was, but for the life of me I couldnít work out why they were activating, which rule Iíd broken. Iím thinking about a particular level, one that involved activating 2 wi-fi symbols at a time, but thereís a couple where I wasnít sure of myself.

That said, Hook has no instructions, it introduces its mechanics slowly, giving you a chance to play with them before building on them. Itís something Nintendo do a lot, they give you a mechanic, take it to its natural conclusion, then move on, nothing gets ground in to the dirt. Itís all done without text, you learn by doing, I initially thought the game was more complicated than it was because it was so easy at the start, it was only a few levels in when I made a mistake that the rule set became suddenly apparent.

Hookís a fantastic little game, ideal for mobile. Itís not the most difficult thing youíll ever play, but for the most part itís at least interesting. Itís relatively short at 50 levels, I played through it in one sitting, but Iím not sure I needed more than that. The various app stores arenít exactly short of interesting puzzle games, but Hook is one you should definitely pick up

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Posted by Ben at 16:06

They say the thing to do with reviews is to be honest, give your opinion of a game and explain your reasoning. Whatever that reasoning is doesn't matter, so long as you explain it. I'm not entirely sure that's true, I agree with the theory, if I don't like a game then I don't like a game, but I can't help but feel that my reasoning for not loving Kami is maybe a little skewed.

Kami is a simple one-screen puzzle game. It's themed around paper folding, and the end goal is to make the screen (or paper) all the same colour within a par number of moves. If you have a row of blue paper inside some orange paper inside some red paper, then turning the blue paper orange will then let you turn the orange red, and thus solve the puzzle. Easy right?

It doesn't take long for Kami to take that simple idea and make it mind-breakingly difficult. It's what you want from a puzzle game after all, something to get your mind working, and something that's difficult enough you feel some sense of achievement from solving it. Kami does that, it introduces an idea and then riffs from there, building on the concept each time and forcing you to change your thinking often to keep solving the puzzles.

Where my problem with Kami comes in is the hint system. I can't really go in to detail with it as I've only used it once. You see, each hint costs 3 points, you start the game with 5 points. You don't earn more points the next day, you don't earn more points by successfully beating a puzzle, and your hints aren't restored once you've beaten a set of stages. If you want more hints then you want more points, and that means buying them.

In-app purchases are one thing, but the way it's handled is what annoys me. You start with 5 points, using a hint costs 3 points, meaning that to use a 2nd hint you have to spend money as you're 1 point short. What a dickish way to go about it. Add to that that Kami isn't a free game, you've spent money on it already, it's also not especially long (although there are premium levels for you to buy, thankfully).

I do think a large part of my problem with all this is that I bought Kami in a Humble Bundle, and this kind of mean-spirited twatery seems counter to their ethos.

It's not as though I adore Kami's gameplay, it can get immensely irritating at times. It's slow to get you back in to the puzzle when you reset or fail, it's too obsessed with its admittedly pretty aesthetic. It's a shame really, as I was quite looking forward to a relaxing, sedate brain-teaser.

Kami was played on a HTC One M8
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Posted by Ben at 12:00

Iím a little late reviewing Hero of Many, originally released on Android but more recently appearing on Appleís App Store, and as such Iíve seen a few reviews dotted around. Reviews that make me wonder if I somehow downloaded a different game to everyone else because I didnít find the game short or too easy like the consensus seems to suggest. Not that Hero of Many is especially hard for the most part, thereĎs points where itĎs actually quite tranquil.

It's a 2d adventure game, not quite metroidvania but not far off. You play as an orb and collect fish (they look like sperm, you look like an egg) to fight for you as you float through the game. Along the way you pick up moves, nothing complicated as everything is touch based, but you can swipe to send your horde dashing towards an enemy, open doors, call things towards you, and eventually cause an explosion.

The game starts simply enough, try to avoid fights unless you have the upper hand in terms of numbers, solve puzzles in your environment, move rocks, trigger events, find ways around obstacles. They're simple enough usually but the game gives you no guidance, if you can't figure it out Hero of Many isn't going to solve it for you.

There's also fights against creatures much larger than you, here it's hard to know if you're supposed to run away or stand and fight. Solving how to beat these larger creatures, and being able to pull it off with the touch controls and character inertia is another matter. Sometimes all it takes is an acknowledgement that youíre on the right path, itís here where Hero of Many could do with better sign-posting, and where a google search becomes part of your gameplan.

Despite the criticism Hero of Many is great, you feel like you've achieved something when you do beat an area. There is a tension to certain parts of the game, a real sense of panic I canĎt recall experiencing too often in a mobile phone game. You feel helpless, like a small fish in a big pond, and a big part of this is how well musical cues are used. It looks great too, almost Limbo-style, but at the same time the look is used to contrast your side against the other fish, the other horde, itĎs not just aesthetic for the sake of aesthetic.

The biggest compliment I can pay Hero of Many is that if they sorted out some of the more buggy music cues and added analogue controls, I don't think it would be out of place on a console download service. Thereís a decent amount of game here for your money, and a decent, if slightly schizophrenic, challenge

Hero of Many was reviewed on a Galaxy S3
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Posted by Ben at 13:41

Tupsu is fairly easy to pigeon-hole if youíve been keeping up with your ios and Android games recently. Itís the same kind of game as Contre Jour, a level traversal game where you must get a character in to an exit point using physics and touch controls. There are of course stars to collect to boost your score, and the play style is given a shake-up every few levels.

What Tupsu does thatís fairly unique though is not spoon-feed you, itís not a particularly easy game, and it doesnít give you a lot of help along the way. The reason Tupsu feels difficult is that while other games will show you a technique and then build the next few levels around that, Tupsu just expects you to work it out for yourself, then it never expects you to use it again.

Tupsu has a sticky eye stalk that you use to attach him to platforms and pull him along. As you complete each set of levels heíll grow another eye, this opens up the complexity of whatís possible in the levels. Thereís items to use in levels too, thereís balloons that you can latch on to that give you some elevation, an object that lets you pass through platforms (that must be carried with you), and boxes that can be placed to aide your progress. The boxes are also given as a reward when you level up, which you do by collecting enough stars and earning points, I donít mind admitting that there were a couple of levels I only managed to do because I could place a block to help me.

Levels get mixed up further with the introduction of gravity blocks, where you go from trying to climb up things to trying to hold yourself down. Again Tupsu doesnít spoon-feed how best to use this, sometimes the solution is quite elaborate. Later on spikes are introduced, they donít feature in that many levels, but they add a layer of frustration to the route finding challenge.

Which is kind of where Iím at with Tuspu, I admire that it has a challenge, itís certainly something Contre Jour was missing, but Iím not sure I was ever enjoying it. I donít mean to suggest that itís hugely difficult, I beat it in a few hours, it just feels a bit like hard work. The controls are fiddly, especially when you have to tap to detach an eye-stalk before quickly tapping again to reattach it. Thereís very little leeway either, you can place a stalk a millimetre too high and be unable to reach your next target. Tupsu bobs and bounces when you arenít expecting it, meaning momentum puzzles can require you to restart the level again.

Tupsu is a well put together game, itís also free on Android (although I think the upcoming extra levels might come with a fee), so I shouldnít be too harsh, but I canít say I had a particularly good time playing it. Thatís not to say you shouldnít give it a go though, it ran nice and smoothly on the Galaxy S3, looks pretty nice, and is more involved than a lot of these types of games, itís just not all that special.
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Posted by Ben at 07:13

Thereís some old games, non-videogames, that we all played as kids, all liked, but seem to have disappeared. When I were a lad, by Ďeck, we used to buy big books of word searches, Whereís Wally (Waldo if youíre American), and various hunt the item puzzles. With the rise of smart phones and tablets, especially the latter, these games have had something of a resurgence, and Little Things Forever manages something few do, it manages to find an original and interesting approach to the item-search genre.

Fundamentally Little Things Forever is just that, an item-search game. You get a list of items on one side of the screen and you must find them in the jumbled mess of other objects. If you do well enough you are rewarded with a jigsaw piece, get enough of these and youíll unlock a new puzzle to search for items on. The location of items doesnít change so the more you play a map, which is randomly selected by the game, the better youíll know it.

What marks Little Things Forever out is its presentation, the main screen is a star made up of items; an owl, an octopus, an iron etc. When a puzzle starts the game zooms in on one of these images and thatís what you search on. So if it selects the owl that made up part of the star, itíll zoom in on the owl and youíll see that the owl is made up of lots of items too. Generally the items are placed where theyíd match the colour required, so items that could be brown will make up the feathers. Thereís a bit of artistic license here, but generally itís relatively fair, you wonít be tasked with searching for a blue orange for example.

The colour palette is strong, bold colours, that match the simple, almost cartoon designs. The way the camera pulls out and zooms in is nice and smooth, the music fairly pleasant, it just feels like a nice game. It can be a bit frustrating if youíre playing to win the jigsaw pieces to open up new levels but struggle with the finding the items, thatís the game I guess, and as Iíve said the more you play the more youíll remember.

Little Things Forever is free on Android, and as such is hard not to recommend. However itís priced at £1.99 on ios, hardly bank breaking, but itís enough to make you think twice. Little Things Forever will last a fair few hours, but ultimately itís not that special a game. Itís fun, doesnít feel hugely unfair, and it can get its teeth hooked in you, but itís not something youíll be raving to people about.
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Posted by Ben at 09:04

Anomaly Warzone Earth was a superb game, you might have missed it, I did until it arrived on 360 and android last year. It was a novel take on the tower defence genre, and now in Anomaly Korea it has a sequel.

Anomaly Korea is different from your average 'tower defence' game, in fact the developers have dubbed it a "tower offence" game. Rather than plant towers that attack incoming enemies you lead a procession of vehicles to destroy alien towers. Generally there's an end point you're aiming for, although sometimes the mission ends once requirements, such as destroying certain enemies, are met.

There's various different types of vehicles to aid you in destroying the alien towers, ranging from sturdy tanks to more vulnerable missile launchers. The order the vehicles are placed in becomes important, a missile launcher should never be placed at the front, it's too feeble and its range means it's more use moved away from danger. As you progress you'll unlock new vehicles such as the shield, which should be sandwiched by other vehicles to offer them protection.

Combat isn't simply a case of plotting a route and sitting back, you have the ability to drop various items to affect combat. Your fallback will likely be the heal ability, when used it creates a radius, and any of your vehicles that pass through it will have their health replenished. There's a similar ability that increases your attack power and range, new for Anomaly Korea, plus items to distract enemies or degrade their aim.

The game looks exceptional too, I first played Anomaly Warzone Earth on the pc and Korea looks comparable, at least on a smaller phone screen. There's a story that justifies the missions, all voiced fairly well. Performance wise I can't say I noticed any issues, although my battery life took a hammering and the phone was noticeably hot.

The problem with Anomaly Korea, and it really is the only one I can think of, is that it pales in comparison to its predecessor. Likely because of its pc routes Anomaly Warzone Earth was huge, it was and remains incredible value for money. Anomaly Korea is shorter, 12 missions, and doesn't feel far removed from the original, there just aren't enough new ideas. However itís not fair to describe Anomaly Korea as a short game, it will still take you a fair few hours to work your way through the missions

Anomaly Korea is a good game in its own right though, and if the original didn't exist it would be a much better one. There's bonus harder missions unlocked as you play, and the main game will take you a few hours, so please don't take this review as too damning. It's maybe more of a mission pack than a sequel, but more Anomaly is never a bad thing

Anomaly Korea was tested on a Samsung Galaxy S3
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Posted by Ben at 09:53

I like Metal Slug, love it in fact, itís comfortably amongst my favourite ever games. As such Iíve played a lot of versions of Metal Slug, Iíve played it on the arcade, the Saturn, the PS2, the Wii, Iíve even got the Neo Geo Pocket Colour versions. The thought of a proper version, an arcade perfect port even, on my phone to take with me everywhere, Iím very interested in that.

Which is why the Android version of Metal Slug isnĎt quite all I hoped for. The game looks great, it always did, and on a high density phone screen it looks especially good. I never saw any slow down either, something I cant say for many previous Metal Slug ports, it runs great. SNK have included a multiplayer mode over Bluetooth, and thereís a mission select that makes playing the game on a mobile device more feasible.

The problems come with the controls. Quite a few arcade style games work pretty well on a touch screen, Espgaluda 2 works great, Street Fighter 4 works really well, as does SNKís own King of Fighters port. Metal Slug requires a fidelity that just isnít there on a touch screen, itís a problem Iíve encountered less and less as developers have learnt how to adapt their games, but itís a very real problem with Metal Slug. Slight movements in shooting angle, corrections in movement after youíve jumped, even stepping backwards while aiming upwards at a gunship, theyíre all asking too much of the touch screen d-pad.

The problems get worse when the action heats up thanks to the very real problem of your thumbs covering the screen. However, if you go in to the video settings and change the screen to ĎWindowedĎ that should go a long way to fixing this problem, it certainly improved things for me. Itís worth noting too that thereís no save states, that is what the missions select is for.

SNK does try to negate these problems by awarding you 20 continues and offering up multiple difficulties. The settings cover a pretty wide scale, although setting the game to easy really only affects the larger enemies such as bosses, I canít say the standard soldiers reacted noticeably different from normal.

Metal Slug is still a great game, and it works on a touch deviceÖ mostly. In an ideal world youíll be playing the game on PSN or Virtual Console, assuming you donít have access to an arcade or a Neo Geo, for the more precise controls, but this is a pretty decent port. Set the game to ĎWindowedí mode and youíll have a much better experience, as I suspect will anyone playing on a rooted Android device and a controller. Touch screen issues aside, Metal Slug is still worth your time

This game was reviewed on a Galaxy Samsung S3
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Posted by Ben at 13:54

Youíve probably played a game like Contre Jour before, at least structurally. Short levels designed to be replayed, items to be collected that are used to open up the next world and thus the next collection of levels. Throw in Cut The Rope style swinging and Angry Birds style catapults, and Contre Jour feels like familiar territory.

I donít want to do Contre Jour a disservice though as it does manage to find itís own voice. The concept is incredibly simple, thereís a small one eyed blob that you must get to a glowing exit located somewhere in the level. To do so you might need to raise or lower the ground to produce movement, connect the blob to a rope and swing, maybe even use momentum to pass through portals.

The vast majority of time Contre Jour is quite easy, certainly if youíre not after all 3 of the orbs dotted around the level (useful for unlocking new worlds). There are a couple of levels that will tax you though, perhaps itís different for everyone, but they seem to be sporadically placed, just because you struggled on 2-15 it doesnít mean youíll struggle on 2-16 or 2-17.

Part of the reason for the uneven difficulty is because Contre Jour is constantly adding new ideas. For example the third world, ĎMachineí, introduces movable ropes, thatís a good 40 levels in to the game, they arenít a constant through that world. The variety extends to the graphics too, the worlds are themed with ĎThe Nightí world looking absolutely superb.

I canít think of a lot that Contre Jour does wrong, it feels frustrating when you get stuck, but you can skip levels. Itís a bit overly familiar at points, but then the bits that play like Cut The Rope donít look like it, and itís fair to say it has a broader scope in terms of level design. The only things I can place are that the game will occasionally think youíve selected one thing when you intended for another, and that I do wish there was a bit more challenge consistently, it does seem hard to get the balance right though, and itís certainly the only time Iíve finished a game like this if that counts for anything.

A note on how it runs, I played through it on an A8 1.2GHz tablet with 512MB DDR3 RAM of unknown manufacture (even Google Play doesnít seem to know what it is). The game was playable on that machine, but would pile on the slowdown once a few ropes started swinging. I also played through most of it on a Samsung Galaxy S3, on that it unsurprisingly runs ultra smooth, I canít say Iíve seen any slowdown or glitching at all. In some ways though I preferred my time on the tablet more, the bigger screen really helped with some of the multi-touch stuff.

Contre Jour is pretty decent, and I wouldnít be surprised if it was another phone game success story. Itís missing something though, it never quite had me addicted the way some similar games have, but it does very little wrong.
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Posted by Ben at 07:10

If you played the insanely addictive Game Dev Story then youíll know what to expect from Grand Prix Story. In more ways than one unfortunately, as while the charm and compulsiveness from Game Dev has returned, so has the bafflement.

You start the game with a driver and a couple of mechanics, from there your ultimate aim is to build and improve, adding to your team, expanding your garage, before eventually winning the Formula 1 Grand Prix (or Formula No. One Championships as itĎs called here). First though you must compete in, and eventually win the single race events. These start off simple enough (although youíll likely not beat them on your first attempt), but eventually they throw up different terrain and multiple laps, which means youíre going to need multiple cars.

Which is really the point of Grand Prix Story, you have very little control over what happens on race day, leaving that to your drivers, your job is to make sure they have the best possible car under them and the best set up for each race. For that youíll need to research parts, which cost data points earned through racing and repairing your cars. If a new engine becomes available then you need to research it, then improve it, before adding it to your car. This obviously takes time, and commits one of your drive teams to the task (by the end of the game youíll have 2 teams), but in return thereís the possibility your mechanics will level up (which you can spend points on separately) and the possibility of earning more precious data.

The same is true of cars, you start with a basic model, but will eventually unlock faster cars, or cars suited to off road conditions, thereís a whole host of cars hidden away for you to unlock. Which brings us to the problem all the ĎÖ Storyí games suffer from, it offers no explanation on how to do this. Through play and experimentation you will learn that levelling up parts to around 60% will result in the improved part becoming available. The other tip is to dump your sponsors as soon as youíve maxed them out, even if that means taking on a company that offers less money. The rewards from sponsors arenít always that worthwhile, but they can result in new training regimes to level up your drivers, or possibly designs for a new car.

The problem is that even after carrying on playing past completing the game (14 game years) I still donít have all the cars, nor I suspect all the parts. Iíve got points to spare, but very little to spend them on, certainly nothing thatís going to improve my chances in the races. And the worst thing is, Iíve no idea how to unlock the remaining cars. It also seems unlikely that you could complete the game within the 14 year limit (you can carry on past it), certainly on a first play through.

That all being said there have been some improvements since Game Dev, and the extra levels of complexity do add to the depth of the game. The game is incredibly likable, using the familiar charming aesthetic, comedy names, and plays on real drivers. Grand Prix Story looks better than its predecessors too, itís hardly breathtaking, but it is much sharper than whatís gone before.

In terms of using the phone tech itís possible to rotate the screen for a wider view, you can bring up a virtual pad or just use the touch screen, and you can choose to prioritise performance over graphics if youíve an older Android phone.

Grand Prix Story is superb, it has its problems sure, and it can feel a bit of a slog when your progress halts, something that would be fixed with more guidance, but if you liked Game Dev then itís a no brainer. Even at the slightly higher price itís still value for money, and youíll likely shun your consoles in favour of just one more race. Now we just need Game Dev Story 2 to make the leap across.

Grand Prix Story was reviewed on a HTC Desire
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