Monday, December 1, 2014

Top 5 Free Android Games of November 2014

Stick Hero by ketchapp

Stick Hero has players create planks of variable length to get a ninja from one rooftop to the next. This simple concept is harder to execute than one would think, as going beyond a rooftop's edge, or falling short, means death. Holding a touch down quickly extends the stick vertically while releasing it will drop it across the gap. A narrow sweet spot in the middle of each building will reward extra points. It gets especially tricky when the building is very narrow and on the other side of the screen. It's a fun trial-and-error timewaster that's perfectly suited for 5-minute bouts.

Grappling Garry by Dockyard Games

Grappling Garry can be loosely described as a vertical Flappy Bird. It's addictive in the same sort of well-designed way. Floating hooks and bombs litter the sky for Garry to grapple to, giving you until Garry reaches the hook and begins to fall to decide which hook to grab next. Garry can switch between hooks mid-grapple, and indeed, this becomes necessary at some points to avoid mines. Between keeping hooks in play to grapple to if you need to fall back down to avoid a mine, or using them up to avoid the risk of missing the points, to going for near-miss bonuses on the mines, there's a deceptive amount of complexity to be enjoyed here. 

One More Line by SMG Studio

One More Line is a one-button game reminiscent of Clu Clu Land for the NES as it uses a similar auto-rotating grapple mechanic. Touching the screen will cause you to grapple to the nearest node and rotate around it at the fixed radius it was grappled from. Release has to be timed in order to get to the next node while avoiding crashing into the walls. Its simple, intuitive style showcases just what makes a mobile game, a mobile game. You may find yourself sneaking a few lines in the bathroom. 

Stories of Bethem by GuGames DEV

Stories of Bethem is a Zelda-esque adventure by GuGames DEV that may very well be one of the biggest games you'll get for free on the platform, with a vast Kingdom to explore, 400 treasures, and 10+ hours of gameplay. As most of the free games month to month are very simple games with one or two controls suited for killing time, it's nice to see something with a little meat on its bones.

Just Get 10 by Veewo Game

Just Get 10. Simple, right? Not exactly. It starts out that way though. Click adjacent tiles of the same number to select the group, then click the tile on which you want them to converge and upgrade to the next number type. At first,  you won't really know what you're doing, combining tiles with no rhyme or reason, but by the second or third game, something clicks. Suddenly you're clicking tiles an autopilot, intuitively understanding the optimal moves without knowing how you know, but you don't stop to think about it for fear of breaking flow. Now there's some method to the madness, as you begin to prioritize ridding the screen of the smallest numbers, building up large groups before condensing to that next highest type. Time ceases to exist. All that matters is getting 10. Play for long enough and you may find the face of god. As someone who isn't the biggest puzzle game fan, this one took me by surprise. There's fundamental mathematical beauty within this game's simplicity.

Those are my picks for November's best free android games. Be sure to check out October's list, and stay tuned for the Top 5 Free Android Games of December 2014.

If you enjoy this site's content, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon. Every dollar helps. Perks include guaranteed entry into the monthly Smash Bros 3DS tournaments and free copies of any Android games I end up making, such as Pongbat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Portable Platypus Presents: Pongbat

Pongbat is Pong with some action. Lasers and 5 unique powerups are at each player's disposal in two game modes, played against another human or the AI. The graphics are basic, but I think the gameplay isn't too bad. You can get it on Google Play for free. If you want to support future game development, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Distraction is the first Android game from Portable Platypus

I spent a little over a week making this "Hello World" style game for Android called Distraction. I've already begun work on my second project, which should be a little more fun to play. If you'd like to support these endeavors, you can do so via Patreon. Leave a comment with your top score!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Top 5 Free Android Games of October 2014

Retry by Rovio

Retry is another brilliantly simple physics-based game from Rovio. It's a one-button flying game in which the goal is to fly from one end of the level to the next. Tapping the screen causes the plane to fly, while holding it will cause it to loop. Much like those old corded toy cars, it's a balancing act of tapping and holding the throttle. Coins are placed throughout each level which can be spent on checkpoints, or to reveal the flight path if you're really having trouble. This appropriately titled game is well worth a try, or two, or ten.

Adventure Xpress by [adult swim] games

Adventure Xpress combines the tried and true match 3 puzzle genre with some light RPG elements to create a dangerously addictive game. Attacks are performed by matching 5 varieties of runes, each representing a different element. Earth type enemies, for example, are weak to attacks performed by matching fire runes but resistant to their own type. Attacks are most devastating when they result from combos. Gold awarded by defeating enemies can be spent on upgrades such as weapons, armor, and elemental spells. This is one dangerously addictive adventure.

Micro Battles by Donut Games

Competitive games are lacking on mobile, and it's no surprise why. You can only so much on a single tiny screen obscured by two players' fingers, but Micro Battles manages to be the perfect time-waster for two. Each player has a single button to control their character in 5 different mini-games, including soccer, a desert shootout, and the axe-throwing vikings pictured above. The first to 5 points wins. The games are simple, but, like the ever-popular Divekick, it all comes down to reading your opponent. The games are quick, which makes it a great way to kill a few minutes while waiting for a movie to start or your food to arrive. The only major gripe with the free version is you only have access to 1 of the 5 games each day, but a single $2 payment will permanently unlock the rest of the games.

Fury by Ledida

Fury is a single-screen arcade style game that'll test your reflexes with an onslaught of bears from all directions. Bears come in from all 4 sides, all simultaneously hopping one square at a time, with the pace quickly ramping up. The bears can be killed with a club by swiping in that direction. Filling the meter will result in a blast that clears all bears on screen, but it's only a matter of seconds before you're surrounded once again. The key to success in Fury is to become a methodical finger-swiping, bear-killing machine. Think for a second and you're dead. More often than not the game ends due to a sweaty finger not swiping properly as opposed to incorrect timing, so the option to simply tap a lane would be a welcome addition, but it's a minor issue.

The Wolf Among Us Ep 1 by Telltale Games

Those who have played Telltale's The Walking Dead will instantly take to The Wolf Among Us, a gripping thriller based on various fairy tale characters and their lore. For those that haven't played The Walking Dead, it's essentially a choose-your-own-adventure game in which almost every decision has a major effect on the game's story.While only the first episode is free, it's well worth playing even if you don't plan on purchasing the subsequent episodes. Telltale have once again shown us their mastery at using the interactive nature of video games to brilliantly tell a story.

That's all for this month. Check back in November for another 5 free Android games worth playing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Humble Mo-boo!-ile Bundle brings zombies to your Android

The Humble Mo-boo!-ile Bundle has gone live, bringing a bucket of spooky games to your Android device. The bare minimum will get you Rebuild, Obscura: Second Shadow, and Containment: The Zombie Puzzler. Paying more than the average purchase cost will also unlock Five Nights at Freddie's, the premium version of Dead Effect, and The Walking Dead: Assault. There are also a variety of free games on offer as the clock ticks down, the first of which isThe Spookening.

This particular bundle is supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as the American Red Cross.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Humble Mobile Bundle 9 brings more great games to your Android

Humble Mobile Bundle 9 is live with over 11 days left on the counter. A minimum donation will  get you Syberia, Neuroshima Hex, and Bardbarian: Golden Axe Edition while beating the average will also unlock Leo's Fortune, Out There, First Strike, and the yet-to-be-revealed mystery games. A customizable percentage of your purchase goes to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play. If you can't spare any change this time around, you can always grab Devil's Attorney for free.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top 5 Free Android Games of September 2014

The Battle Cats by PONOS

The Battle Cats is of the single-lane variation of tower defense games in which you're tasked not only with defending your own tower, but with bringing down the opponent's. The first few levels start off slow but quickly snowballs (hairballs?) into a furry frenzy. The gameplay lies within deciding which elements to upgrade and in what order. You may decided to speed up gold production so you can try to zerg-rush the enemy base with an army of basic soldier cats, or maybe you want to take the longer approach and beef up the tank unit to bide your time and rack up gold for the heavy hitting units. It's the type of game that taps into our basic compulsions with constant unlocks, upgrades, and the satisfaction of snowballing your power. If you've played one, you've played them all, but those new to the genre could easily lose an hour or two in the blink of an eye.

ICE by ice cold muffin


At first glance ICE just looks like another Galcon clone but it takes a slightly different approach to the planet-conquering RTS genre. While Galcon uses a planet's HP to create ships at the player's will, the planets in ICE generate ships automatically and have a fixed HP. Tapping a location will move all on-screen player ships to that location. Crossing paths with an enemy fleet will have them auto fire upon each other. Killing enemy units and conquering planets will grant EXP. Upon filling the bar, your units' Attack, HP, or Speed (assumed to be attack speed) can be increased. You're pitted against 4 other colors in the free version's one map which can be played on 3 difficulty modes, with Hard mode starting you off with just one planet. If you're into macroscopic strategy games, this one won't disappoint. Recommended for phones with larger displays or tablets for maximum visibility.

Spider-Man Unlimited by Gameloft

While the basic runner formula remains more or less unchanged in Spider-Man Unlimited, it manages to contextualize the gameplay in such a way that almost makes you forget it is one. In addition to the traditional lane changing, sliding and jumping mechanics, the game also adds mechanics like web-swinging and punching baddies. The visuals are crisp and vibrant, and voice-acted cut-scenes serve to break up the monotony that usually accompanies games of this genre. It's probably the most action-packed, cinematic runner on the market that fans of the source material and/or runners should definitely check out.

Zombie Harvest by Creative Mobile Games

Zombie Harvest parodies the most popular free games, most of all Plants vs Zombies,  but is thankfully more than a shameless clone. Instead, it gears itself more toward the action side of things, requiring you to select plants individually and tap to fire at 25 types of enemies across 90 levels. If PopCap's wildly successful strategy game didn't do it for you, maybe the more action-packed Zombie Harvest is up your alley.

Do Not Crash by HU WEN ZENG

Do Not Crash is essentially a simplified version of Dodge 'Em on the Atari 2600 and has all the addictive qualities necessary for a hit mobile game. There is a single mechanic consisting of tapping the screen to change lanes in order to avoid the 3 oncoming vehicles. It's deceptively tricky. The cars will start off grouped but will gradually fan out into more complex formations, requiring you to weave in and out. As you get caught up in trying to work out the timing, your eyes tend to get confused due to the curvature of the track and the fact that the cars are traveling in the opposite direction. Round and round you'll go trying to best yourself.

That's all for this month. Leave a comment below if you feel I've missed anything. 

If you enjoy content like this, mayhap you'd consider making a small monthly contribution via Patreon. Every dollar is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Humble Mobile Bundle 8 and PC/Android Bundle 11 are live

For the first time in recent memory Humble Bundle simultaneously has 2 bundles up for Android gamers. Humble Mobile Bundle 8 brings Tentacle Wars, the premium versions of Doodle God and Devil God, and Wave Wave to your phone for the minimum, while beating the average will get you Little Bid Adventure, TowerMadness 2 and the yet-to-be-revealed mystery games. Additionally, paying more than $5 will unlock EPOCH.2

The 11th Humble PC and Android Bundle includes Thomas Was Alone, Bridge Constructor Playground, Cubemen, and Cubemen 2. Beating the average will unlock Small World 2 with  the Royal Bonus DLC, Blackwell 1: Legacy, Blackwell 2: Unbound, Blackwell 3: Convergence, and the upcoming mystery titles.

As always, a portion (or all if you choose) of your purchase goes to support Child's Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, so if you're a gamer who wants to keep the internet cool and you hate childhood illness, buy yourself some games.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Smash Bros 3DS demo is live

Some of you lucky platinum members have had the unlimited demo for a little while now (note to self: turn email notifications ON), but now every North American smasher has access to the goods, and boy is it good. Mario, Link, Pikachu, Mega Man, and the Villager are all unlocked in the demo for play against CPUs or local friends on the Battlefield stage. While the exclusive platinum demo is unlimited, the public version allots 30 plays, which should be plenty if you don't close out of it too often.

Get to practicing, because we're going to be hosting a Smash 3DS tournament shortly after release with prizes. See you on the battlefield.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Club Nintendo Sep. rewards are here

The latest batch of digital Club Nintendo rewards are now available for download until Oct 12. On the 3DS you have Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Touch Solitaire, and PiCTOBiTs. On the Wii U are Mario Bros. and Kirby Super Star Ultra while those who haven't yet hopped on board with Nintendo's latest console can get Super Punch-Out and... NES Play Action Football. Yeah...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Top 5 Free Android Games of August 2014

Brave Trials by I Got Games

If there's one genre the mobile market absolutely crushes dedicated handhelds in it's MMOs. I'm sure that'll all change soon enough, but for now, mobiles take the cake, and Brave Trials seems to be one worth checking out on Android. An action RPG with fast-paced combat, a vibrant world, great music, and over 120 skills makes it one of the top free games of the month. Fans of Zenonia should enjoy this one. 

Toy Rush by Uber Entertainment

Tower defense is tower defense is tower defense, but Toy Rush is also tower offense. The maze-building mode lets players design their own bases which they can then defend from their friends, as well as attack theirs with a unique cast of toy-based creatures, including sharks with top-hats, flying robot unicorns, and a puppet girl/giant bear combo (have you seenr Tibbers?). It's all one could ask for and more in a good tower defense game.

Dawn of the Immortals by Perfect World Entertainment

Dawn of the Immortals looks like it could be a PC MMO from a few years back, which is a testament to both mobile tech and the developers. Perfect World Entertainment have been in the MMO sector for a while now and it shows. Dawn of the Immortals features real-time hack & slash combat, a pet system, mounts, and an auction house. It's a great looking game and should be of interest to anyone looking for a mobile MMO.

Arcane Soul by mSeed

Arcane Soul is a side-scrolling action RPG featuring vibrant spritework, intense combat, and oh so many combos. With 3 unique playable characters, there's some definite replay value here. This is the first game under the publisher's belt and it's a solid foray into mobile gaming. Arcane Soul is a very well put together package that fans of Vanillaware will love.

 Finger vs Axes by Brutal Studio

While not as technically or visually impressive as many of the other games on this list, Finger vs Axes deserves a mention for utilizing mobile hardware in a unique way. In this game the player is the literal enemy to the in-game baddies. Finger vs Axes has enemies attacking the player's finger as it moves around screen utilizing various weapons to retaliate. It's simply silly fun.

Until the technological singularity irreversibly improves our species, I'm only human, so leave a comment if you disagree with my fallible subjectivity. That's all for this month, check back at the exhaust-end of September for another 5 free Android games worth playing.

July | September

Friday, August 29, 2014

Azure Striker Gunvolt hits 3DS eShop with free Mighty Gunvolt until 11/28

The much-anticipated Azure Striker Gunvolt has come to the 3DS eShop for $14.99. A reasonable price for such a polished title for sure, but there's more: Those who buy the game between now and Nov 28 will also be able to download Mighty Gunvolt for free, a NES-style title harkening back to the classic Mega Man games, featuring characters from Gunvolt as well as Beck from Mighty No. 9. Mighty Gunvolt will be released as a standalone download on 12/1.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Humble SEGA Mobile Bundle brings SEGA goodness to your Android for charity

The latest Humble Mobile Bundle is brings SEGA games to your Android device while supporting Child's Play, WaterAid, and Unicef. Sonic 4 Episode I, ChuChu Rocket, and Virtua Tennis Challenge can be yours for whatever amount of money you feel like paying. Beating the average will also get you Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, Sonic 4 Episode II, Crazy Taxi, and the currently veiled mystery games.

Here's hoping we see some more publisher-specific mobile bundles in the future. As of this writing, there are 13 days and 22 hours left on this one, so make like Sonic and speed on over to to grab yourself some great games for a great price while supporting some great causes.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Humble Mobile Bundle 6 is live

The sixth Humble Mobile Bundle is live with 11 days left on the clock. Any donation will get you Eliss Infinity, Duet Premium (which is debuting via the bundle), and the special edition of Combo Crew. Beating the average (currently $4.46) will also get you Threes!, Mines of Mars, Joe Dever's Lone Wolf: Full Game and the currently veiled mystery games. 

To date over 45k bundles have been sold for a combined total of over $200k, a portion of which will be going to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights to defend your rights in the digital world, and Child's Play, a charity which brings video games to children in hospitals.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Watch a fish play Pokemon Red/Blue

Twitch Plays Pokemon is a collaboration/war among Twitch viewers to navigate various Pokemon games via a mass of collective input, but now you can watch a fish play through the first generation all on its own. Created in 24 hours for HackNY, Fish Plays Pokemon uses motion tracking to detect where a Betta fish, Grayson Hopper, is in his tank, which is divided into a grid with each square corresponding to an input.

The game has been going for 130+ hours. Grayson has obtained a Charmander, nicknamed AAAABBK, and has defeated his rival. Not bad for a fish. At the moment, he's spending most of his playtime staring at the wall in the starting bedroom. Things are moving slow, and Mr. Hopper could theoretically die before ever reaching Pewter City, so they're considering setting up a site where users can link their own fish streams, including it in the controlling. It'll be interesting to see how long, if ever, it takes for Grayson or a network of fish take to play through the entire game.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Free Poke Ball pattern Vivillion for NA X/Y players until Aug 12

In celebration of the launch of, Nintendo are giving awa a free Vivillion with a special Poke Ball pattern to North American players until the 12th. Simply connect your 3DS to the internet, select "Mystery Gift" from the main menu, followed by "Receive Gift" and then "Get Via Internet". Then just speak to the girl in any Pokemon Center to receive it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Double the games in Aug Club Nintendo rewards

This month's Club Nintendo catalog includes 4 games for the 3DS and another 4 for Wii/U, double the usual 2 a piece. The 3DS side of things includes Dr. Mario Express and Puzzle League Express for 200 coins each, as well as Mario Golf and Baseball for 200 and 150 coins, respectively. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Excitebike can be had on the Wii U for 200 coins a pop, while Starfox 64 and Vegas Stakes can each be redeemed on either the Wii or Wii U for 250 coins.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top 5 Free Android Games of July 2014

The Android marketplace can be a daunting place for newcomers trying to find free games worth playing. This new article series will be an attempt to sift through the market for 5 of the "best" free Android games released each month.
Telltale games have released the first episode of the second season of their phenomenal rendition of The Walking Dead for free on Android. While it isn't technically an entire game for free, it's of a quality that makes it worthy of inclusion, and is a great way for those unfamiliar with the series to get a taste. Few studios can tell a story like Telltale.
Castle Doombad lets players assume the role of a classically evil cartoon villain. Heroes storm the castle in an attempt to save a captured princess, while her screams are harvested as an energy source to outfit the lair with a variety of traps. It's a very polished game with intuitive controls that is packed with the charm and humor [adult swim] is best known for. 

Soulcraft 2 by MobileBits GmBH

Action RPG are, at least for the time being, a genre best suited for the PC. With that being said, sometimes one just wants to hack through mobs of enemies without having to sit down at a mouse and keyboard. Soulcraft 2 is one of the best options out there for Android gamers. With 7 characters to choose from, players can engage in asynchronous PVP and take on the various single-payer missions in the main campaign.

  Jupiter Jump by Noodlecake Studios Inc

Endless runners are one of the most abundant genres in mobile gaming, and it's easy to dismiss them as virtually identical clones of one another. Jupiter Jump mixes things up by having the character automatically jump whenever he touches land. The game revolves around avoiding obstacles by tapping the screen to quickly slam into the ground and start another jump, which is just tricky enough to make it stand apart from similar titles. 

Lionheart Tactics by Kongregate

Lionheart Tactics is a grid-based tactical game with beautifully rendered 3D graphics, fluid gameplay and charming animations. While a little light compared to other games in the genre, it has the core of what makes turn-based tactical games great. Not everything can be as absurdly deep as, say, Disgea, and nor should it. This one'll scratch that tactical itch without all the overwhelming complexity.

Honorable Mention:

Assassins Hero Fighter by DKGameDroid

While some of its splash art is ripped directly from Devil May Cry, there's no denying a good beat-em-up when you see one. Assassin's Hero Fighter boasts some great sprite work, quick gameplay, and satisfyingly devastating special attacks. It's simple, old-school fun.

That's all for this month. Check back at the tail-end of August for another 5 free Android games worth playing. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Club Nintendo 2014 elite rewards are here

Club Nintendo members who rack up Gold/Platinum status (300/600 coins) in a Club Nintendo year become eligible for an elite selection of prizes. In the past, these included cool physical collectibles including statues, soundtracks, posters, calendars, etc. This year however, the prizes are completely digital. Given that there are also fewer prizes available for normal redemption, Nintendo may have a new set of prizes in store for us. The games are as follows:

Wii U

*Game & Wario
*NES Remix
*Dr. Luigi
Kid Icarus
Super Mario Bros.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

*Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
*Fluidity: Spin Cycle
*Dillon's Rolling Western
*Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move
Ice Climber
Donkey Kong 3
Wario Land II
Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

* - exclusive to Platinum status members

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July Club Nintendo downloads include 3D Classics: Kid Icarus and Metal Torrent

Until Aug 3, members of Club Nintendo will be able to grab 3D Classics: Kid Icarus and Metal Torrent. Metal Torrent is a solid spaceship shooter with tight controls and a satisfying old-school sense of difficulty while 3D Classics: Kid Icarus speaks for itself. Each can be had for 200 coins.

On the Wii/U side of things, Donkey Kong Jr. and Paper Mario can be had for 200 and 250 coins, respectively. The physical rewards have also been decreased dramatically for reasons unknown, leaving us with 8 choices, 3 of which are currently out of stock.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Plumbers, Puffballs, and Plankton in this month's Club Nintendo rewards

This month's Club Nintendo rewards are up for grabs until Jul 6. ELECTROPLANKTON and Kirby's Dream Land can be had on the 3DS eShop for 150 coins each, while Kirby's Adventure and Mario Party 2 will run you 200 and 250 coins, respectively, on the Wii U. The Club Nintendo year is also coming to a close at the end of the month, so be sure to get to Gold/Platinum status before then if you want in on the exclusive annual rewards.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Mines of Mars

It could be said that mining and crafting have gotten stale as the bottom of the barrel has been scraped so hard we have broken through it and are now digging up the lawn, but it's easy to forget why it was so attractive to begin with. It's really not all that complicated. First you have the mining drudgery which is not entirely unlike that of actual work. You get your pick and begin slowly chipping away at the world around you, digging up minerals until you have enough to make a bigger pick which you can use to dig up more minerals to make an even bigger pick. Until one day you realize your virtual world is full of holes and broken pick axes.

At its most base level, the mining and crafting compliment becomes simple busy work. Where the real draw to the mining-and-crafting simulators is not with the actions of mining, crafting or even the combat. No, much like with the sticky blocks of youth, the real draw is with what you can do when you have a world of blocks and the limitless time of unemployed adulthood. The potential to create and the potential for those things to be less useless versions of their real-life counterparts.

And it should be said that Minecraft does this exceptionally well. Perhaps it does it the best. That's not to say that there aren't other mining and crafting games but when it comes to creativity, Minecraft certainly has a leg up in this regard. While other games may have the mining down, when it comes to crafting they will almost certainly come up short. You can certainly craft things as long as those things are what the developer had in mind. But what of those who wish to craft boats and computers within their computers? What of those? Well thankfully those people still have Minecraft to play.

The problem is with regards to limitations. Minecraft has its fair share, though it seems to be far more liberal when it comes to enforcing them. Rather, with the myriad incarnations of digging simulators, the goal is typically far more oriented towards building a vast array of laser swords and armor. And really, what's the point of that? If you want to shoot things with guns, there are much better games to get that from.

So when a game like Mines of Mars comes about, its value is going to be held against that of other, more notable games of its genre. It's a lot like when Doom was first released, how all first person shooters were referred to as Doom clones by the press. And unfortunately, it's even more damning when your game does little to bring anything new to the genre.

Ah! But we're in 2D! You mean like Terraria? Well, yes. But did we also mention that the game takes place on MARS? Ah, so you're going for the bland military shooter demographic whose eyes have atrophied into color blindness from excessive browns and grays. Did we mention that there's even less to craft as well? But there's a jetpack so whatever.

The one place Mines of Mars manages to improve the crafting is by showing you exactly what you need in order to craft new weapons and storage, but that's as much a drawback as it is a benefit. People who play Minecraft arguably look forward to the discovery of new crafting recipes, and outright showing you exactly what you need removes much of the mystery. Of course I wouldn't say that because unlike most people who play crafting games, I prefer to have my time wasted as little as possible.

But even in this regard Mines of Mars manages to fail spectacularly. While it isn't necessarily the fault of the designers to actively pursue the mobile platform, perhaps they should have had the foresight to realize when they were padding their game out to unnecessary lengths. Simply put, there's too much empty space.

That's not to say there isn't lots to mine, but it's mining without a sense of progression. You feel as though the game is intentionally wasting your time as you spend hours chipping away at the walls to find new, boring underground vistas. There's a surprising lack of material to craft and when you do find it, you're limited to the aforementioned picks and armor which you only upgrade so you can dig deeper to find more minerals to upgrade the same equipment until your fingers snap off from fatigue.

It all proceeds at such a slothful pace. Of course, it's clearly intended that way to make the unsuspecting gamer feel as though they've gotten their $5.47 worth of entertainment, but it hardly feels rewarding. Even new upgrades don't feel as helpful as they should be.

And much like its phone brethren Terraria, Mines of Mars also suffers from control issues. While actually controlling your character is easier thanks to relatively fixed points, there really seems to be quite a lot of input lag, occasionally failing to respond at all. And of course, combat is hardly worth noting. It warrants discussing only for the fact that it exists, but really isn't engaging in the least.

However, the most frustrating aspect - surprisingly - is moving between portals. Your character, when traversing from the above ground to underground and vice versa, needs to stand on top of a portal whereby you will touch the screen sending them to a set of predetermined locations. The issue arises when you pass through. You may press your finger to the screen, confident in the knowledge that you have let the requisite amount of time pass only to realize that you have sent yourself back to the surface.

And more than once this may happen to you. Perhaps nearly every time you go to drop off minerals. It seems like something that could have very easily been remedied by not having every inch of the touch screen send you back to the surface. Perhaps if there were some sort of button confirming that you didn't want to have your time wasted.

But perhaps you are the sort who enjoys having their time wasted. Perhaps then, Mines of Mars is for you.

Developer: Crescent Moon Games
Get it on Google Play.
Get it on iTunes

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Turtle Tale

Slow an steady wins the race. This is the infamous lesson derived from the classic fable of the turtle and the hare. Tutle Tale is the video game equivalent. It has a turtle protagonist going up against a hare, but the bigger similarity can be found as an emergent property of the gameplay itself. 

Players take the role of a turtle armed with nothing more than a squirt gun as he sets off after the pirate hare that's invaded the island and disturbed his afternoon nap. Anyone with even a little experience with platformers will immediately begin blazing through the early levels with little effort. The landscape is not particularly difficult to traverse, and the small handful of enemies speckled throughout don't put up much of a fight. The water gun fires with a curved trajectory that breaks into multiple particles as it travels, much like a real stream of water. This makes trying to hit certain enemies an interesting challenge, sometimes requiring one to jump and shoot in order for the tail end of the stream to hit, but perhaps the biggest challenge is collecting all 100 pieces of fruit in each level. However, with 4 hit points, checkpoints, and unlimited lives, this is easier done than said. 

The game's 5 distinct areas including a beach, cave, and forest are each divided into 3 parts. After these 15 levels are cleared, we meet the hare face to face in a boss fight reminiscent of the final battle in Super Mario World, with the hare (Bowser) flying around in a machine firing carrots (cannonballs) and throwing various enemies out onto the field. His attack patterns are simple enough to figure out, so the fight boils down to painstakingly waiting for him to fly low enough in order to shoot him.

After putting the hare to bed we see our turtle pal back in his hammock, happily resting. The level select option is now unlocked, and backtracking will be necessary for those who didn't collect all 1500 pieces of fruit on the first run though. Once that's done, the "second quest" becomes available, answering the nagging "is that all?" feeling you're left with after the first run. 

The first half, with its drawn-out, barren landscapes could be run though quickly, like a hare. The second quest is comparatively turtle-like, featuring trickier layouts, a maximum of 2 hit points, and a greater enemy density. This dramatically alters the gameplay, requiring the player to stop frequently to deal with the various malicious foes, from birds and bees to monkeys and cavemen-like creatures. This second quest is the other extreme, but still isn't much of a challenge from a design standpoint. It just becomes more arbitrarily difficult in a tedious way. Run, stop, shoot, run stop, shoot... this repeatedly mashed sequence quickly becomes stale.

With it's crisp, vibrant visuals (which look great in 3D by the way) and ambient music, it looks and sounds great, and the fact that the turtle's face contorts into a serious grimace with ever shot fired is a neat touch, but when it comes to the gameplay itself, it's mostly a matter of going through the motions. With that said, there were some genuinely interesting segments, particularly in the cave levels, where the only way to progress was to deliberately jump into an enemy which would then fling you through the air, providing the force necessary to cover the distance to the next platform, all while trying to keep up with a platform floating down a river of lava. This was one of the most well-designed portions of the game, and felt more rewarding than even the boss fight, which changed little, if at all, the second time around. The other notable fun moments were found in stages with variable levels of lava, which mandated quick, efficiently timed jumps to avoid getting cooked.

While the majority levels in Turtle Tale aren't exactly difficult to get through, this alone isn't enough to write it off (Kirby isn't very challenging, but fun nonetheless). They are laid out in such a way as to reward plodding, methodical, patient play, and carelessly trying to run and gun your way through almost always ends in death. Whether or not this "slow and steady" approach was deliberately designed to be the only way to win or if it's a byproduct of a game that just isn't fleshed out isn't clear. If it was indeed designed to teach patience, then Saturnine Games deserve props for doing something so unexpectedly clever and abstract. It may not be a game to play twice, but I can't say I regret the couple of hours it took to complete, if for no other reason than it making me feel clever for a minute for deciphering the moral of the story, intentional or not. It's a solid foundation but could do with a little more meat on the bones.

Turtle Tale can be downloaded from the 3DS eShop for $2.99

Developer: Saturnine Games