Just mentioning the words “The Oregon Trail” around any child of the 80’s sets off a major burst of nostalgia. This early “edutainment” title acted as a duplicitous infiltrator, teaching us about Manifest Destiny while convincing us we had found a loophole to play games in the classroom. Gameloft’s iPhone Oregon Trail sticks to its educational roots, but douses the graphics in coats of shiny paint and sprinkles on a bevy of new minigames; the Apple II roots of the experience are barely evident. (more…)
Posts byConor Egan
Shoot ’em ups, or “shmups,” are a staple in the history of videogames. From their early 8-bit origins to the more recent flashy predecessors, the top-down shooter has persisted thanks to its simple design and quick action. HotField employs 3D effects, anime stylings and intense bullet dodging that hearkens back to the second shmup renaissance of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. (more…)
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All of us here at Slide To Play are fans of tabletop games. A really good board game can take complicated strategic decisions and boil them down to a few simple rules and game pieces, good for hours and hours of fun. Slay is a tabletop-style, turn-based territory grabbing game that was originally released on the PC. It looks and feels vaguely familiar, but is unique enough to have an engaging strategy all its own. Unfortunately, understanding how Slay works takes a long time, and its lack of options and customization will probably turn off most players. (more…)
When we saw the first trailer for Sway, we were immediately interested in getting our hands on it. Making a platformer that uses physics and a swinging mechanic to traverse a level, rather than the standard run and jump formula, seemed like a challenging task. We were happy to find that Swedish developer ReadyFireAim delivered on the concept, and made it loads of fun to boot. (more…)
Retro arcade games have found a real renaissance on the iPhone. Their short, addictive and time-tested gameplay is a good fit for a portable platform, and the iPhone’s touch and tilt controls are an opportunity to spice them up with a few new tricks. First Contact borrows the concept behind the classic game Missile Command and takes it to the next level by bringing it into three dimensions. (more…)
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All of us at STP have fond memories of playing the educational game The Oregon Trail when we were younger. The game managed to be fun while still teaching us important lessons about how to wipe out indigenous fauna and barter with Native Americans. We thought Westward might offer a similarly enjoyable pioneering experience, but we found that it’s a little too good at simulating the boring and arduous tasks that occupied the early settlers. (more…)
Archibald’s Adventures is shining example of how to adapt a game for the iDevice’s touch interface. By simplifying the traditional platformer controls and incorporating a robust puzzle system, developer Rake in Grass has managed to create a game that challenges both your physical and mental dexterity. Oh, and it’s a blast to play, too! (more…)
Fieldrunners is the newest kid on the block in the ever-expanding “tower defense” genre on the App Store. Each of these games has its own gameplay balance and aesthetic to distinguish it from its cousins; Fieldrunners is one of the most stylish renditions that you will find on the iPhone or any other platform. Its feature set is basic, but balanced enough to provide hours of entertainment. (more…)
Square Enix makes its debut on the App Store with Crystal Defenders, a noble attempt to carve out some space in the increasingly crowded tower defense genre. Crystal Defenders is based on the decades-old Final Fantasy series of role-playing games, and fans of that series will find plenty of recognizable characters and music to stoke their nostalgia. (more…)
As more and more developers come out with great-looking 3D games on the App Store, it’s become increasingly clear that there is some decent gaming horsepower under the iDevices’ hoods. Powerboat Challenge 3D takes full advantage of that power, showing off the developer’s technical proficiency as well as an understanding of what makes a racing game fun to pick up again and again. The game has a few flaws and annoyances that keep it from powering ahead of the field, but they are not nearly enough to sink this quality ride.
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Certain games are clearly designed by someone with a real love for a genre. These games capture the essence of what makes the genre fun and challenging, while still providing enough innovation that you feel like you are experiencing something new. Besiegement is one such game. It is deep without being overly complicated, and fun without being too easy. (more…)
Kroll is a fantasy-themed beat-’em-up where you play as a club-wielding shaman in search of his soul. Instead of the usual months of silent contemplation, Kroll’s spiritual journey involves jogging through amazing 3D environments and bashing hundreds of enemies into goo. Kroll definitely offers a nice demonstration of the iPhone’s graphics horsepower. Unfortunately, the game’s glamorous presentation is not enough to conceal its lack of breadth and depth–there’s just no way this extra-short adventure is worth eight bucks.
Kroll plays very much like the classic side-scrolling arcade game Kung Fu Master. The objective is to walk through a level from left to right, while enemies come at you from either side. You have two basic attacks at your disposal: a fast thrusting attack and a slower swinging attack. As you dole out damage, you fill up a gauge that allows you to perform a ground smash attack that hits enemies in both directions. There are three chapters in the game, each with a number of smaller sections or rooms. Each section typically concludes with a miniboss fight, and the chapters end against gargantuan final bosses.
You move and execute attacks by touching one of three touch buttons on either side of the screen–the right-hand buttons move and attack right, and the left-hand buttons do the same on the left. Though moving and attacking in this way might feel awkward initially, the controls end up being very easy to use. The final boss fights are managed in a completely different manner. These encounters unfold as a cutscene; you have to quickly tap the indicated areas of the screen as the action plays out.
There are only a few types of enemies in Kroll, and their variation is almost purely aesthetic. This adds to the general feeling that most of the developer’s time was spent making Kroll look nice, and the game itself is a bit of an afterthought. Similar games feature jumping, high and low attacks, blocking, and projectile dodging; Kroll’s omission of these gameplay basics is disappointing. In fact, the gameplay is so simple that it almost feels like a rhythm game, rather than an action game. The gameplay highlights are probably the minibosses, who can present a real challenge and require some actual thought to beat. They are far more interesting than the final boss fights, which are fun to watch the first time through, but lack challenge. It’s too easy to memorize their sequences.
Ultimately, Kroll seems like it was made by a talented team of artists, animators, and musicians–along with one poor sap who was responsible for all the gameplay. Most players will be able to see all the content in the game in under half an hour; you can try a higher difficulty level, but its content will be the same. If you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to show off some really awesome-looking graphics on your iPhone, Kroll is worth checking out. Otherwise, you should probably hold out for a price drop.
The ancient game of chess has appeared on almost every electronic device with a screen, and the iPhone is no exception. There are several chess games on the App Store, but Versus Chess is the first to deliver online play. This game’s online functionality makes it easy to find games against real human opponents. However, it lacks many basic features we’ve come to expect from commercial chess applications, and it’s too expensive, considering how limited it is.
Versus Chess is purely an online experience, even if you’re playing against one of the game’s AI bots; if you’re not connected to the internet, you can’t play, period, which could ruin the experience for iPod Touch players or those in remote areas. There are two ways to get into a game: “Instant Match” and “Find Opponent.” The first option will try to find you a suitable opponent and drop you right into a game, while the second allows you to choose your opponent.
When you first venture online, you are assigned a rating of 1200, and as you win, lose or draw games against human opponents, your rating is adjusted accordingly. The interface is clean and functional: human and bots are listed by name and rating, and your record against them appears if the two of you have played before. We had little trouble finding a game most hours of the day, although it was rare to see more than one or two human players waiting for a game at any given time.
We also noted that the bots were relatively challenging–to the point that a true novice might have trouble finding a suitable opponent. The bots are advertised as having “CXR” ratings around 1000, but they seem to play closer to a 1100 or 1200 ELO rating (the international standard for measuring chess skill), meaning that they play like moderately skilled amateurs. The bots are a welcome addition, but their relatively narrow difficulty range makes them seem somewhat prefunctory.
Every game in Versus Chess is played on a clock, as in a game of speed chess. The game clock is a numberless status bar, without any reference to the actual number of minutes and seconds remaining; this display does the job, but it may turn off players used to dealing with a real clock. Each player has approximately 7 minutes to complete all of his or her moves, or they lose the game. In addition, a player cannot take more than a minute for any given move without forfeiting–a harsh but effective solution for dealing with disconnected games. Unfortunately, these settings are not adjustable, which will be a deal-killer for any player who does not like playing speed chess on a short clock. On a few occasions, we found a good, competitive game spoiled by a race to beat the clock.
Clock customization is just one of many options conspicuously absent in Versus Chess. For instance, your personal appearance is limited to your name. There is no way to see your performance history, your win/loss record, or saved notations of your games. You can’t communicate with your opponent at all, including to ask for a draw or a rematch. While the built-in 2D board looks fine, having some control over the its appearance would be a nice addition. The touch interface does require some precision, as there’s no way to undo a mistaken piece placement.
Some of Versus Chess’s omissions may have been planned in the name of simplicity–but they make the final product a little too skimpy for our taste. There is certainly value to be had in playing human opponents in real time, but you will be paying a large premium for it. If you are looking for a fully-featured chess experience, there are better options available.
In Space Monkey, you control a junk-collecting simian tasked with clearing the galaxy of garbage. You must rotate the floating, spread-eagled chimp to grab–or avoid–the variety of items flying towards him from all sides of the screen. Glu riffs endlessly on this simple game mechanic by adding point-scoring combo systems, as well as a huge variety of junk items, each with different characteristics. There’s plenty of fun to be found in Space Monkey, as long as you’re not put off by games that require a fair amount of practice.
When you first start Space Monkey, you may be confused by the fact that your monkey is basically a wagon wheel pinned to the middle of the screen. The monkey grabs passing junk with his hands and feet, and you control his orientation by rotating him with the iPhone’s touch screen; if a piece of junk isn’t lined up with the monkey’s hands or feet, most of it will fly right off the screen to no effect. You score points by catching safe junk, but if you accidentally catch hazardous junk, you’ll lose health. If you run out of health or fail to score enough points over the course of a level, the poor little guy has to restart it.
You can also perform a super spin by drawing a quick diagonal stroke across the screen. This is effective for deflecting junk back off the screen, but can only be used for a short time before the monkey gets sick and loses health.
Space Monkey manages the awesome feat of adding a new wrinkle to this basic gameplay in most its fifty levels. For instance, some junk, like bowling pins and stinky socks, can only be caught with either your hands or your feet. Certain other bits of detritus, like juggling balls, constantly give you points until you try to catch something else with that limb. Conversely, various kinds of hazardous junk need to be dodged, deflected away by spinning, or tapped on to detonate. The later levels are only passable by catching lots of items in a row with the same limb, thereby racking up combo points, while holding bonus items as long as possible. There are also a few other instances where the iPhone or iTouch can be shaken or tilted to trigger an effect, but these are rare.
As if all of that weren’t enough, a boss appears every 5 levels or so. These boss fights are a nice change of pace, but they’re usually pretty shallow; passing them is mostly a matter of memorizing simple attack patterns.
Space Monkey’s presentation is fairly attractive. The character design, art and sound have a cute (if not very original) 50s Sci-Fi esthetic; the space monkey himself also has a lot personality, thanks to abundant animation. The game also features a handful of great-looking cartoon cutscenes to enliven the proceedings, although they are reused frequently.
Controlling the game adequately takes a lot of practice. We found that it took some practice to be able to touch with the precision necessary to rotate the monkey properly at first. The super spin maneuver is especially frustrating, because the game simply doesn’t sense it very well. Unfortunately, the spin is not only a very important move, but also one that needs to be timed just right to be useful. In fact, in some of the later levels one missed spin can ruin the entire level by breaking an important combo.
Furthermore, Space Monkey’s difficulty as a whole isn’t especially well balanced. For example, we made it about halfway through the game only failing a level once or twice. Then we suddenly ran into a minefield, and it started taking us ten or more tries to pass certain levels. Generally speaking, the first half of the game is junior varsity, while the second half is set at a punishing difficulty level.
To summarize, we were impressed by Space Monkey’s ability to continually pull new tricks out of its bag, and we enjoyed our time with the game. That said, be aware that it takes some patience to get a handle on the game’s controls, and that you will probably have to replay the later levels many times before you crack them. Space Monkey isn’t a particularly casual title, but if you’re willing to invest some time in it, you’ll be rewarded.
Mote-M (or Mote Massacre) is one of the App Store’s first entrants into the now-ubiquitous “Defense” genre. For those unfamiliar with this type of game, your objective is to place a variety of ‘towers’ in patterns designed to destroy a wave of enemies before they can cross from one side of the screen to the other. These games require you to choose the right ‘towers’ to match the strengths and weaknesses of the different waves of enemies that flood your defenses, while maximizing the value of their placement. Mote-M lacks some of the depth found in other Defense games, but it is well-executed and very friendly to novices.
As in other Defense games, each of Mote-M’s levels consists of a stream (or wave) of migrating enemies. At the beginning of each game, you can choose to orient this stream from top to bottom, diagonally, or horizontally. You earn money to place or upgrade towers by wiping the baddies out, but if an enemy makes it to its goal, you lose some of your health. The further you get, the more bad guys you have to cope with, and the more cash you earn for each enemy you kill; most players will have a good challenge on the easiest difficulty setting, but there are higher difficulty levels for more experienced players.
The game offers six basic types of tower: “fire”, “frost”, “physical”, “timed”, “restoration”, and “deception”. The first three are attack towers that automatically shoot projectiles at enemies that pass within range; you can pay to upgrade these towers and increase their range and damage. The enemies have special abilities that form a rock-paper-scissors relationship with your towers–for instance, blue enemies are resistant to frost, red to fire, and so forth. There are also flying enemies that can fly right over your towers, instead of having to weave around them the long way.
The other three towers produce special support effects. “Timed” towers can be used to form temporary barriers that stay on the board for five to ten seconds, and then disappear. The very expensive “restoration” towers restore your health. “Deception” towers convince a single enemy that the tower is the goal, allowing you to temporarily direct it off course. We appreciate the addition of these new tower types, but only the “deception” tower is very useful: the “timed” towers are not that much cheaper than a basic physical attack tower, and the money spent on a “restoration” tower is probably better spent on upgrades. The “deception” tower, meanwhile, is relatively inexpensive, and can buy you precious time to finish off the last few motes in a wave.
Mote-M is definitely a budget game, so Defense veterans will find the game is missing certain features that they are used to. For instance, the towers do not explicitly denote their range of fire, although it is quickly apparent from watching them. We also missed having a nice variety of enemies to plan around; there are really only two kinds, the bacteria-like “motes,” and “fliers,” which look like gliding birds. The motes are different colors to denote their resistance to one type of tower or another, but this does not change their behavior at all. The bosses and enemies with exotic abilities found in most other Defense games are missing here. We hope the developer adds some additional enemy types to the game in an update.
M-Mote’s presentation is very utilitarian. Each basic tower type is represented by a box marked with a colored dot; upgraded towers simply get more dots on them. The enemies and weapon effects aren’t anything to write home about, either. Sound is missing entirely, which is not necessarily a bad thing for a $0.99 game, in our opinion, because we would rather it be absent than tacked on. Plus, you can listen to heavy metal on your iPod while zapping hordes of motes.
Overall, Mote-M is a good Defense game at a very reasonable price. Even though it lacks some of the variety of its cousins, it hits all of the important elements, and even tosses in a few novel tower mechanics and some basic stat tracking. We recommend it to anyone who has not yet played a Defense title, and also to veterans who are looking for a basic, inexpensive mobile fix.
Sumo! is a simple game that involves two sumo wrestlers vying for control of a bridge spanning a river. The wrestlers start at either end of the bridge, and their goal is to advance as far as possible while pushing their opponent backwards. You and your opponent move by playing numbered tiles out of your hand in alternating fashion until the tiles run out, or one wrestler is forced off the edge of the bridge. These simple mechanics conceal a deeper level of strategy, and the skilled AI opponents will make you want to improve your play. However, after a handful of games, the game’s puzzling array of bugs and idiosyncrasies will leave you hoping that the developer has more substantial fixes in the works.
You play Sumo! with a deck of 30 tiles, containing six groups of five tiles marked with each number from 0 to 5. Each tile represents the number of planks that you can move forward or backwards on the bridge. The tiles are also used in attack and defense. You launch an attack by playing one or more tiles of the number that would move you onto the plank occupied by your opponent. Your opponent can then play an equal number of the same tile to block the attack. For example, if your sumo is three spaces away from your opponent, you can play any number of tiles marked ‘3’ to attack. If the opponent can play the same number of 3’s, he blocks the attack, the the tiles are discarded, and both players stay in their original position. If not, your attack is successful, and you throw your opponent head-over-heels towards their starting position.
Each player maintains a 5-tile hand that replenishes after you move or attack. You cannot play a tile that would move you past your opponent, so the game’s strategy comes from jockeying for position to maintain a distance that favors your tiles. If you are close to your opponent and cannot play a legal forward move or a ‘0’ tile, you must move backwards, giving up valuable space and potentially opening yourself up for attack. A round ends when a wrestler is thrown backwards past their starting point, or when the deck of tiles runs out. Points are awarded for launching a successful attack, for throwing your opponent off the bridge, or for being the most advanced wrestler when the tiles run out.
Sumo’s design is very appropriate for short play sessions on the iPhone. Games can usually be completed in about 5 minutes, and all the game’s touch buttons are conveniently located near your thumb. In addition, the visuals are nice and clean, and the corpulent combatants have an undeniable charm. In other words, the stage is set for a fun little package…up until the game actually starts moving. The timing of the game events and animation have the feel of rushed coding, or a sloppy port from another platform. Your player has at least rudimentary animation while walking forward, but your opponent has no animation at all, giving him an ethereal, sliding locomotion unbefitting for a 400 pound wrestler. The animation is not a necessity for the core gameplay, so the existing two or three-frame animations would have been sufficient, had they been consistently applied.
Furthermore, the notification messages that pop up to award you points do not tightly correspond to the action on screen, so you might get a flood of them popping up haphazardly after playing a tile. These are appropriately verbose for the first few play-throughs, but they become an unnecessary distraction once you get a feel for the scoring. The sound feels a bit tacked on as well. The game has only a few low-fidelity sound effects, and lack background music entirely. It adds nothing to the experience.
Other bugs go beyond presentation, altering the gameplay for the worse. For instance, the rather important in-game manual disappeared for a number of days during our review period, before magically returning. Also, that same manual specifies that only one tile can be played to move, which is simply not true; you can play as many same-numbered tiles as you want to execute a move, and it often benefits you to do so. The most egregious bug occurs after the computer lands a successful attack. Rather than waiting for your turn, the AI player waits a moment and then simply plays another tile, barreling towards you to finish the job. If you are quick enough to play a tile, the AI will still play this second tile simultaneously, which will occasionally cause the wrestlers to pass each other, breaking the game.
We simply can’t recommend Sumo! in its present form, as much as we’d like to. If it were free, we would suggest that you give it a try, since it’s a fun little game and the bugs don’t obstruct basic play. However, paid games must pass a certain QA and polish threshold that Sumo! hasn’t yet reached. We hope to post a more favorable update in the near future, once the developer squashes some of the game’s outstanding bugs and other issues.