Appvent Calendar Games: Thoughts (Part 2)

Here are my thoughts on the rest of the games I got through the Appvent Calendar promotion. Thoughts on the first few are here.

Crazy Snowboard
Ezone.com – $0.99

This is a snowboarding game for the iPhone. It’s made with Unity if that interests you (I only know this because I noticed it in a showcase thread on the Unity forums). It’s pretty simple and honestly I don’t like the physics; you can steer in the air just as well as you can on the ground, which makes no sense at all.

iPharaoh – Episode 2. Desperate Pharaoh!
Justine Co. Ltd – $0.99

This is sort of an action puzzle game where you control mummies and such, directing them through an Egyptian tomb to attack treasure hunters and keep them from getting to the treasure. The graphics and overall production values are nice. It gets more involved in later levels, but for some reason the game didn’t hold my interest.

iBlast Moki
Godzilab – $2.99

This one is somewhat interesting; a physics-based game where the goal is to use bombs and other such tools to get the “mokis” to reach the goal. It attempts to adopt the aesthetic of World of Goo, even using the same sort of signposts seen in that game. Production values are fairly good; most of the tools and various blocks have no visual appeal whatsoever, as they’re just black or brown rectangles and circles. Some of the puzzles don’t seem all that well thought out: in a few, it was a pain to find the exact single pixel on which to center a bomb so that it would push the obstacles out of the way, and nothing else I tried worked. In another, it took me several tries before I realized there were obstacles; I believe it was the first stage with round ones and their bland appearance caused them to blend with the background for me. Still, this is a better game than many of the others which were offered through this promotion.

Elf
Matmi – $0.99

This is a quite simple game where you launch an elf into the sky, directing him to grab various star-like objects which will boost him higher. The art is decent and the game is fun. It took me a few minutes to figure out you need to tilt the device to move the elf; I don’t believe this is ever explained in the game.

Balcassa
Open Planet Software – $0.99

Billed as a cross between a slider puzzle and a Rubik’s Cube, Balcassa has you rolling around dice to achieve a desired pattern. The dice are arranged like tiles in a slider puzzle but generally have different faces on each side, and each “slide” rotates the die to the next side. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice I feel it falls short. For me, slider puzzles don’t involve planning the solution ahead, but at that level of complexity the strategies involved are somewhat intuitive. With the added element of rotating dice, however, the number of combinations goes through the roof and in my opinion the puzzle feels pointless because of it. I feel like I am just randomly moving things around hoping it will eventually fall into place, rather than that I am actively involved in deducing the solution. The same goes for when I mess with a Rubik’s Cube, though (I haven’t memorized a solution), so maybe this is just for people with a higher IQ than me? That seems like a narrow market, though…

Cheese Collect
Koh Jing Yu – $0.99

This is a puzzle game where you have a limited number of moves in which to get the mouse to collect the cheese, which moves away from it with each move, while avoiding traps. I didn’t find the art to be any good or the game to be any fun. The control buttons don’t feel well-thought out, and there is little to no contrast between backgrounds and game elements. This game uses OpenFeint.

Cabby
Hidden Games – $0.99

“Blimp – The Flying Adventures” but less forgiving and with 3D graphics and worse controls. You control a flying cab and are tasked with transporting people and packages from one platform to another in the small levels. The graphics are decent and the UI seems fairly nice for the most part. There seem to be a number of cars that can be unlocked, and both “career” and “arcade” modes. I never got far enough to unlock anything, however, because the controls are terrible and the game is very unforgiving. The control buttons are very small at the bottom of the screen, and the “down” and “landing gear” buttons seem useless; I tried the landing gear several times but it only screwed me up by taking my thumb off the “up” button, and the landing gear itself had no noticeable effect. If the cab slightly taps any part of the level which is not a landing platform, or if it hits a landing platform just a little too hard, it explodes, ejecting you and your passenger, if you had one. Run out of lives and you have to start your career all over again. I never bothered to get past the first level of “career” mode.

I also dislike the way the game forces players to rotate the device constantly; main menus are oriented vertically, while the gameplay screen is oriented horizontally.

AlphaBattle
Redwind Software – $0.99

A word game where vowels descend from the top of the screen and consonants rise from the bottom; if they all hit the line in the middle before you make them disappear by forming a word from the ones at the front of their lines, you lose. I didn’t find this game very fun. The graphics are ok, but it has bigger problems. It feels like it moves way too fast. The player is attempting to search the board and his internal dictionary at the same time for a match, which takes time (moreso because the vowels and consonants are on opposite sides of the screen, at least until they can’t be used anymore). The few words I formed felt like they barely helped since the columns their letters didn’t come from were only closer to being lost. It is possible that some big changes could be made to make this game feel rewarding/winnable/fun, but it isn’t anywhere near that state and I doubt it ever will be. I would change it so that only the usable letters are even visible; the rest only make the screen confusing. Also, every word scored should push back all of the letters, and they should all move slower in general. Currently the color scheme (blue for vowels, red for consonants) does nothing for the player. Perhaps something could be done to make it more useful, like awarding extra points for certain letter tiles (colored to indicate this), or having certain ones push all the letters back more.

Imp or Oaf?
Gilded Skull Games – $0.99

While dripping with style, this isn’t much of a game. It shows a zoomed in view of the center of a drawing of either an “imp” or an “oaf”. Guess with just that and you get 100 points, or you can zoom out to try to see if there’s anything which gives it away before you guess, but you will get less points than if you hadn’t zoomed out. It is aimed at kids, and they may find it amusing (I haven’t actually had one of mine play it). The only way to tell an “imp” from an “oaf” seems to be that “imps” have pointy ears. So unless the drawing you’re looking at just happens to feature the subject’s ear right in the center, you will be either getting less than full points or flipping a coin. Worth a look for the art style, though.

MiniSquadron
MrFungFung – $2.99

This is, in my opinion, the best game I got through the Appvent Calendar promotion. The art style and production values are great, the gameplay is fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Players take control of a plane in a side-on, 2D dogfight with waves of enemies in single player, or against another person in multiplayer (I haven’t tried multiplayer). Unfortunately there are not many levels; I had only unlocked 13 of the 56 planes when I completed the game. Now I suppose I have to revisit levels I’ve completed, or maybe play in multiplayer or Survival mode to unlock more.

The game is excellent, but I do have a few quibbles. I generally don’t play with the sound on, but the “laser” sound effect is incredibly annoying. Also, the controls can be frustrating at times; the game uses a circle in the bottom left to control the direction the plane is flying and a “fire” button in the bottom right to fire weapons. The problem is the way these inputs work; if your thumb slowly slides off the “fire” button because you are focused on the action, your weapons will stop shooting, forcing you to reposition your thumb (possibly having to look in that direction to do so). It would be preferable if it kept firing until you stopped touching the screen, whether your thumb is on the actual picture of a button or not. The problem with the direction control is similar; without looking at it, it is quite difficult to get it to go in where you want it to; I would have made it so that wherever you first touch on the left side of the screen is considered for control purposes to be the “center,” and you then drag a little in whatever direction you want to get the direction to change. Any further movement of the left thumb would consider the previous position to be “center,” so that if you want your plane to go down you just move your thumb down from wherever it is rather than trying to find what’s considered “down” on the arbitrary control wheel. This would make it much easier to focus on the action without having to look to adjust controls.

These foibles aside, the game works well and is fun. It now uses OpenFeint for leaderboards, as well.

Doodle Golf
Polished Play, LLC – $0.99

This game is well-made and aesthetically pleasing. Players attempt to move a golf ball to the hole by drawing a line which doesn’t intersect any lines in the drawing. This is made more difficult by the fact that the drawing fades out and disappears once the player has started drawing a line. After a while I lost interest, but I think it would be fun to share with kids.

SpongeDude
Handplant Studios – $0.99

First, a huge complaint: this game ignores the “silent mode” switch on the device.

SpongeDude is like iBlast Moki with the graphics of Cheese Collect. Well, ok, the art is slightly better than Cheese Collect. Anyway, you have items like bombs and balloons to use to get SpongeDude to a goal. Its puzzles are not as good as those in iBlast Moki. It ignores “silent mode!”

The last two games for the Appvent Calendar were not given away, apparently because Apple closed iTunes Connect for the holidays, so the creators of the games could not change their prices. So… when is World of Goo coming out for the iPhone, again?

No, no I didn't.

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