Mobile Spotlight 1/1/13: New Year’s Special!

Hello again, this is Argus9, and this is Mobile Spotlight.

We’re back for 2013, and to kick the year off right we’re presenting a suite of puzzle games by French studio Nuage Touch, taking their own approach to several popular puzzle themes. Resolve to train your brain this year with these excellent app picks.

First up, there’s Pile, a new take on the block-switching (or Puyo Puyo) mechanic seen in games such as Kirby’s Avalanche. Like similar games in its genre, the objective is to drop pairs of colored blocks into an (initially) empty space, matching up sets of blocks in sets of 3, vertically or horizontally, to clear them and earn points. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, the game ends. It’s a well-established, tried-and-true method of play, but Pile takes a few unique approaches to set itself apart. Rather than serving up block pairs one at a time, Pile places four pairs at the top of the screen and lets the player drag-and-drop them at the top of the screen, or tap on them to reverse them. It’s a more deliberate but no less exciting mechanic. The game features a timer for each wave of blocks appearing as a radial dial. This timer is fairly generous at first, but counts down faster and faster as the game progresses. Upon expiring, an extra row of blocks appears on the bottom of the screen and the timer resets. It introduces a certain amount of urgency such that the player can’t just plan out their drops indefinitely, but manages to preserve Nuage Touch’s trademark theme of relaxing brain games. The controls are intuitive and easy to pick up in less than 5 minutes, so it’s an excellent game for any audience.

You can find it on the iOS App Store for $0.99, an excellent value for the amount of brain-twisting gameplay you’ll get out of it. 

Looking to work out your brain in a different way? SEQ will fill the niche with its unique take on connect-the-dots. Like a sort of numerical crossword puzzle, SEQ has you dragging a line from start to finish using an exact amount of squares to get there. SEQ comes with a large assortment of pre-assembled puzzles, and does a good job of getting you through the learning curve quickly. The first two puzzles have you drawing a straight line from start to finish, introducing you to the mechanics. You can draw anywhere within the bounds of the puzzle’s grid, and as you draw, a trail of descending numbers follows behind you. This comes into play in puzzles with more than one line to draw, as you can only draw through numbers in sequence. In the later, more compliated puzzles, you’ll really need to think outside the box to be able to succeed, as you may need to manage multiple lines to successfully converge together to reach their goals. It’s a pleasantly stimulating game and is packed with content: the game is free to download and comes with a total of 40 levels, but if that isn’t enough for you, three expansion packs of 60 levels each are available for $0.99 a pop. Each pack is clearly worth the price, and SEQ is one of those delightfully addictive puzzle games that’ll keep you coming back for more.

Finally, we have my personal favorite of the bunch, ON/OFF. You’ll want to pounce on this deal right away, as it’s free today through AppGratis. They’re offering the Medium Difficulty expansion pack for free as well, using the code APPGRATIS, so hurry!

The best way to describe ON/OFF is to imagine a Rubik’s Cube on a sliding board puzzle. The gameplay consists of a grid of colored blocks which can be slid horizontally and vertically on the board. The goal is to create a path – like an electric circuit – between colored “ports” and like-colored blocks. Adjoining blocks will wrap around to the other side of the board if they’re pushed off of it, so there’s a huge amount of dimension to the gameplay.

The game’s best aspect may be its no-holds-barred style of difficulty. ON/OFF is by no means an unfair game, but you’ll need to muster all of your mental faculties to advance through the game’s 40 included levels. The first two stages are simple enough, but from then on, the training wheels are off and you’ll really need to embrace the game’s think-outside-the-box gameplay style to succeed. ON/OFF will do a great job of developing your sense of pattern recognition, as certain algorithms will surface that will help you succeed on many of the stages. The stages will get extremely intense later on as new gameplay elements are introduced, including black blocks that can’t be wrapped around the board and interrupt block paths.

Like SEQ, ON/OFF is free to download and comes with 40 built-in stages, but has several expansion packs available for $0.99 apiece. At the time of writing, the “Medium” and “Hard” packs are available, and each include 60 new levels to try.

PILE, SEQ, and ON/OFF (pictured left-to-right above) all share a common aesthetic that’s neat, tidy, and blissfully simple. Nuage Touch totes these games as relaxing brain-teasers, and the UI and sound design certainly support that philosophy. Each app boasts a simple pallet of colors, clean-cut corners and an organized interface, and a tidy and organized font style. The games don’t feature any music, but most sounds in the games consist of quick piano presses meant more for tactile feedback than to engage your senses. It gets the job done right without screaming for attention, which is right in line with its minimalist approach. It isn’t lacking, but doesn’t leave you wanting more either. That’s a good thing in this case, since it lets you focus on each game’s deep and innovative gameplay.

Thanks for reading Mobile Spotlight! Join us next week as we deliver the best games for your mobile device. Until then, game on, and have a great new year!

Mobile Spotlight 12/17/12: Sudoku App

Hello, this is Argus9, here with another installment of my Mobile Spotlight series.

Today’s subject isn’t going to be any particularly obscure game title or genre – in fact, it’s one that’s been popular among all audiences for the past decade, if not longer. Sudoku took its place among the top “brain games” right next to the crossword puzzle and word search, especially in the past ten years. Given that Sudoku is so wide-spread in its popularity, it’s safe to assume that there are literally tons of Sudoku copies available on the App Store or Google Play, and it can be hard to choose which one to spend your hard-earned bucks on.

Look no further than Intent Software’s aptly-named Sudoku App, available on the iOS App Store.

For the uninitiated, Sudoku is a logic game best explained by Wikipedia:

Sudoku (数独 sūdoku?, すうどく) i/suːˈdoʊkuː/soo-doh-koo is a logic-based,[1][2]combinatorial[3] number-placement puzzle. The objective is to fill a 9×9 grid with digits so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3×3 sub-grids that compose the grid (also called “boxes”, “blocks”, “regions”, or “sub-squares”) contains all of the digits from 1 to 9. The puzzle setter provides a partially completed grid, which typically has a unique solution.

Traditionally, like crosswords, Sudoku’s been the kind of game that’s played with pencil and paper, often found bound together in books and sold in convenience stores and truck stops. There’s limitations to this traditional method, however – puzzles were often more confusing and required a lot of doubling back upon realizing a number didn’t belong where you thought it did. Besides chewing through pencils and erasers, the fact is, you’ll eventually finish with a Sudoku book and will need to buy another one to keep playing. So for the price of one book and a pack of pencils, you can have an even better experience with Sudoku App – this is where it shines.

Rather than try to take a classic game and put a new, convoluted twist on it (I’m looking at you, Uno, and your many spin-off games), Sudoku App provides one of the best pure Sudoku experiences you can get. It’s Sudoku – no more and no less – but with five built-in difficulties and literally thousands of puzzles available, there’s tons of gameplay and replay value here. Each game starts with some of the numbers filled in, and it’s up to you to determine the right place to put each digit. The game’s controls are simple and intuitive, providing you with the full assortment of digits from 1-9 at the bottom of the screen; just touch the number you want and tap on the grid to place it there. The main advantage Sukodu App has over its paperback version is the game’s intelligence. Similar to Daily Crossword (featured in the first Mobile Spotlight), if you place a digit in the wrong place, the game will tell you right away, even highlighting any duplicate digits present. This is a great way to prevent backtracking and promote a constant sense of progression through each game. This dynamic also helps to contribute towards the game’s score system, as it will keep track of how many mistakes you make, as well as the time taken to complete a puzzle, so you’ll constantly drive yourself to improve these statistics to keep the top spot on each difficulty’s high score list. The game’s Options menu also presents several toggleable options to help you find hints and patterns more easily with no noticeable impact on scoring, so it’s pretty decently customizable as well.

There’s also a sense of showmanship in the game’s presentation. Sudoku App boasts a collection of three unique interface skins, including a tried-and-true paper and pencil theme, a wooden game board interface, and a truly unique Steampunk-inspired design. There’s fun quirks littered throughout each as well, such as doodles spontaneously appearing on the paper and pencil theme. Numbers will also animate as they flick onto the grid or are unceremoniously dropped in the case of an error. Sudoku App’s sound direction is simple, but clean and easy on the ears as well. Most presses, taps, and events are accompanied by glassy, almost fairy-like effects. Interacting with the game’s menu invokes wooden taps and thunks. Much like the game itself, it’s simple and no-frills, but enhances the experience without going over the top, and with a game like Sudoku App, that definitely plays to its strengths.

As good as Sudoku App is, there’s just a couple of gripes I had with it – neither are deal-breaking, but can be addressed down the line. First, the price – $4.99 – may alienate some players looking for their 99-cent fix. There’s no reason Intent Software can’t lower the price or put it on sale, though, and it’s likely you’ll find it in free-app-a-day programs (like App Gratis, my app of choice, and the one I downloaded Sudoku App from). Game Center support is also surprisingly absent, but if I had to guess, it’s because the game’s scoring system is so simple that a leaderboard system would eventually consist of top-10s full of similar times. If Intent Software devised a true scoring system for the game, I could see Game Center support following shortly.

All in all, if you’re looking for the hands-down best Sudoku experience on your iPhone or iPad, Sudoku App is the way to go. It does Sudoku right with simple game mechanics and a nice, clean audio-visual presentation. The $5 price tag may be a bit high for some, but if you’re a Sudoku junkie, hold back on that next book purchase, and put it towards this awesome app.

Thanks for reading this week’s edition of Mobile Spotlight. Join me next time as we continue to deliver the best experiences you can get on your mobile device.

Until then, game on!

Mobile Spotlight 12/10/12: Tilt to Live & Flick Golf!

Welcome back to Mobile Spotlight! This week we’ll be taking a look at two games that take an established game paradigm and put a spin on it – in this case, literally.

First up, we have Tilt to Live by One Man Left. It’s a 2D space shooter akin to Asteroids or Geometry wars, and is available on the iOS platform via the Apple App Store for $2.99. Like the aforementioned similar games, your goal is to survive wave after wave of enemies while piloting your ship and defending yourself with your selection of weapons.

So what sets Tilt to Live apart? Primarily, the game’s control scheme. True to its name, you control your ship not by on-screen touch controls, but purely through your device’s built-in gyroscope. If you’re a fan of driving games that use this control setup (such as the Asphalt series) you’ll feel right at home. If not, no worries – the game comes with two built-in control schemes and a custom option, so you can set your own center point and hold your device however you want. As for the weapons, your ship is completely unarmed; your weapons spawn randomly around the stage, and will fire once you fly into them. This creates an interesting, high-octane dynamic of constantly staying on the move, avoiding enemies in time to arm yourself and take them out. It also creates a greater sense of vulnerability and danger, since you can’t just fire when you please, lending to a more risky gameplay dynamic. And similar to other space shooters, the difficulty will ramp up as time goes on, spawning more enemies at a time, sometimes in specific formations that are extremely tough to dodge if not eliminated right away.

TTL has some great longevity beyond the core gameplay. There’s the game’s wacky sense of humor (which shows itself subtlety through menus and achievement descriptions), but even more prominent is an RPG-esque progression system. The game’s achievements are each worth a set number of “Pocket Points”, and upon reaching certain milestones, you’ll unlock a new weapon to use in the game. These will appear at random during a game, and it’s nice to have extra options to keep the game a more tactical, refreshing experience. There’s also a whole slew of achievements to go for, each with a clever and funny description. I actually found myself driven to unlock more of them to uncover more of One Man Left’s unique brand of humor. Finally, there’s a nice assortment of game modes to choose from that will mix up the gameplay, from the tried-and-true Classic mode to Code Red, Classic mode cranked up to 11. There’s also the time-crunching Gauntlet mode and the truly unique Frostbite mode, which requires you to ram and shatter your frozen enemies before they fall into the hot springs and reanimate, chasing after you instead. If that’s not enough for you, One Man Left offers the Viva La Turret! expansion for $1.99, adding a brand-new gametype, two new weapons, and two-player co-op. It’s a huge value for just two bucks.

In short, if you’re looking for your space shooter fix, look no further than Tilt to Live. Grab it today!

Also up this week is Flick Golf! The exclamation point isn’t just part of the title – it expresses my exuberance at finding such a gem in the sea of Golf games found on the App Store. Developed by Full Fat Productions, the same folks behind Agent Dash and NFL Kicker, Flick Golf! puts a new spin – so to speak – on the traditional Golf formula.

The best way to describe it would be to think of a cross between a driving range and Skeeball. The game revolves around you teeing shots at the fairway green on the game’s multiple Golf courses – 20 in all – aiming to get as close as possible to the hole. Several radii surround the hole, awarding increasing amounts of points the closer you get to the hole, with a hole-in-one awarding the most. The thing that sets Flick Golf! apart is that you are in complete control of the ball from the hit until it hits the green. Flicking on the screen after hitting the ball will let you put a spin on the ball, influencing its trajectory until it stops bouncing. There’s no meter, no precise calculations – just flick to hit the ball and control the trajectory, but watch for the wind, which could send your ball flying off-course. It’s a much more fast-paced, exciting take on a traditional sport.

The two included modes, Quickshot and World Tour, provide a fairly decent amount of longevity for a mobile game, taking about 30-45 minutes to get through each. However, the real value is evident when you push yourself to reach new high scores to compete with your friends and the world. Quickshot and World Tour use a progressive unlock system, rewarding good performance with a steady chain of new stages to unlock. As for the modes themselves, Quickshot sees you trying to score as many points as possible within a limited time frame, while World Tour grants you a finite amount of shots but as much time as you need. And if you make it to the end of World Tour, you’ll unlock Quickshot Pro, a more challenging variant of the vanilla Quickshot mode. The game’s a visual treat as well, boasting top-notch visuals and lighting effects. Textures are crisp and sharp, and the environments are vibrant and surprisingly varied, from traditional greens to mountainside courses, and even an island getaway where you tee off aboard a yacht.

Flick Golf! is available on the App Store and on Google Play for free. You can opt to unlock all courses immediately for a $1.99 fee, but otherwise, the experience doesn’t cost you a dime. What are you waiting for? Get it now!

Thanks for reading, this has been Mobile Spotlight. Join me again next week as I show you the best the mobile market has to offer.

Until then, game on!

Mobile Spotlight 12/03/12: An Introduction, Extreme Road Trip 2, and Daily Crossword

An Introduction

Here at Gamers XTREME, we love bringing our readers the most informative and entertaining game reviews possible. However, as we’ve been thinking on recently, mobile gaming is an entirely different beast. The iOS App Store and Google Play Marketplace are extremely vast, and contain so many titles from an unimaginable amount of developers, it can be hard to separate the very best games from the chaff. Console and handheld markets are considerably smaller, and make it much easier to report on a variety of games, giving you the scoop on the good, the bad, and the mediocre. So as we’ve come to conclude, reviews on mobile games should be done differently. To that end, we’re proud to announce the launch of a new regular column on the Gamers XTREME web site, the Mobile Spotlight.

The Mobile Spotlight aims to deliver more than just game reviews – we’ll pick out the best of the best from the Android and iOS app markets and deliver it to you, complete with a full analysis of why we think you should try it. In order to kick things off, we’re presenting two great mobile games to you today. Let’s begin with Extreme Road Trip 2.

Ridge Racing to the Extreme

Cars with stuck gas pedals; normally a scary predicament in real life, it’s the central element to Roofdog Games’ Extreme Road Trip 2. Part 2D racer, part stunt simulator, the game sees you pulling off turbo boosts and flips to keep it in overdrive without crashing. A simple but thoroughly addictive concept, Extreme Road Trip 2 is the perfect game to set a few minutes aside for, or a few hours of boosting, crashing fun. The game’s controls are simple, and a quick tutorial runs you through them when you start up the game for the first time. Pressing the lower-left or -right of the screen will rotate your car counter-clockwise and clockwise respectively, allowing you to perform flips and ready your landing after a big jump. Performing stunts and getting a smooth landing will earn you Boost, allowing you to conserve your fuel and increase your speed for as long as it holds out. You can also hold down both controls to slam, causing your car to fall rapidly but granting extra Boost if you stick the landing. This is the key to filling up your Boost meter and achieving Overdrive, a high-powered Boost mode that only lasts a few seconds but can give your car some serious air time if you hit a jump. You can also use a selection of power-ups at the beginning of a game, allowing you to start off with a brief speed boost, collect pick-ups in a wider area, and even gain double coins for each one you pick up.

Just a small slice of the cars you can unlock through play.

One of Extreme Road Trip 2’s hooks is the drive to unlock more and more cars to add to your collection. You start out with a basic red Compact, aptly dubbed “Almost Reliable”, but can unlock many, many more vehicles through the game’s currency, coming in two forms: coins, which can be collected during a game, or cash, a premium currency used for higher-end unlocks, acquirable randomly through level-ups and bonus crates (more on these later). Either can be purchased using real money, but Road Trip 2 does a good job of limiting the need. Premium cars aren’t prohibitively expensive, and cash can be acquired at a fair pace. Every car has a series of challenges that can be completed as well, ranging from crashing at a specific distance to traveling upside down for a period of time. Each completed challenge grants a star, and collecting five stars will earn you a pair of bonus crates, which can contain coins, cash, and power-ups given at random. In fact, there’s really little to no feeling of stagnation, as you’ll always be doing something new in Road Trip 2, whether it’s completing car challenges, upgrading your ride, or saving up to purchase something new. You can even post your best distances to social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and iOS players can post challenges to their friends using Game Center. It’s always satisfying receiving a challenge from a buddy and crush it, knowing a message will be sent to them saying their record’s been beaten.

Aside from being an awesome gameplay experience, Road Trip 2 boasts an excellent audio-visual presentation. The game’s 2D sprites are well-detailed and are very reminiscent of Hot Wheels or Micro Machines toy cars. Each stage is littered with scenery and random objects (like beach balls) that can be tossed around by driving through them. Even better, you’ll see road signs representing your friends’ best scores, and you can smash through those as well, literally demolishing their record. Land mines also litter the map and can launch your car extremely far, but can be unpredictable as well, sometimes sending you straight into an oncoming hill. The game’s cute graphics are accentuated by a downright bumping soundtrack. Mixing classic 80’s rock and roll synth with 8-bit sweetness, the game’s music will have you rocking along. There’s only three songs at present (the main menu and the two stage themes), but really, it’s all Road Trip 2 needs. For proof, listen to one of the in-game tracks below.

Extreme Road Trip 2 is one of the most surprising and enjoyable hits I’ve had the chance to play this year, offering addictive gameplay, great social tie-ins, and an awesome presesentation. Best of all, it’s free to play, and comes with a very player-friendly microtransaction model. There’s no carrot on a stick here. Download it today and give it a spin!

An Old-School Mental Workout

On the other end of the spectrum we have Daily Crossword by Blue Wind Studio. Now I know what you might be thinking – crossword apps are a dime a dozen on the app markets. What makes this one so special? A few things, but the main draw is the constant support from the developer. Blue Wind puts out new crossword puzzles constantly, easily downloadable through the app’s main menu screen through a helpful pop-up alert. This alone makes Daily Crossword the app to beat, but it boasts some great features as well. Unlike traditional pencil-and-paper crosswords, after entering a word, you’ll know right away if it’s right or wrong, eliminating a ton of confusion. If you get stuck, however, you can get some help with a word using the game’s hint system. You start off with a few right from the beginning, and can earn more in several ways, including daily app launches, Liking the game on Facebook, and of course, in-app purchases.

It’s a shame there really isn’t more to say about Daily Crossword, but given its nature, there isn’t much to tell that most readers don’t already know. However, I’ve tried quite a few crossword apps and this, by far, is the best you can get for free. It’s gone so far as to change my nightly routine – rather than watching TV until I fall asleep, I find myself firing up Daily Crossword to try to beat a puzzle or two before bed. Given the proven fun factor of crosswords, the excellent feature set Daily Crossword boasts, and its low, low price of FREE, you really owe it to yourself to give it a go.

In Closing

Thanks for reading, and I hope you discovered a couple more apps to add to your collection on your mobile device. Keep checking in at GamersXTREME.org for more Mobile Spotlight and other great reads. To the hardcore and casual alike: game on!