Sunday, September 21, 2014

Thomas Was Alone (PS Vita)

Thomas Was Alone is not a new game.

Well, "not new" in the sense of "we've-already-forgotten-this-summer's-memes-and-world-events-and-summer's-not-even-over" not new.

It started as Flash-based game in 2010, but really started building momentum as a PC and Mac title in 2010, and notoriety among a broader audience in it's content-enhanced Sony PS3 and PS Vita versions in 2013.

I hesitate to write something about the game, because I want you to experience it on your own. And I'm not going to be able to say anything that adds to it.

But I feel compelled to say something about it.

So go play it, avoid the Wikipedia spoilerific entry about it, then come back.

Good to go? Right, then.

The PS Vita version (the first time I've played it on the platform) is fantastic. Not just because the platform lends itself to this kind of game (whatever "this kind of game" is, but more on that later) -- No, it's great on the Vita because it makes subtle use of the Vita.

You can use the touchscreen to select your avatar, and skip cycling through all of it. Or, touch the icon avatars in the lower right corner, and scroll to the one you want, (when that one's not visible in the larger screen).

Simple. Clean. Appropriate )and not over-done) use of the hardware.

What about the game itself?

To say Thoms Was Alone is a "puzzle platformer" is kind of like calling Portal is a "puzzle game" or The Last of Us a "survival horror" game (I can't believe I never wrote anything about either of those, but especially that latter amazing title).

No, Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer witty humanist allegory exploring the unconquerable, indomitable complexity of emotions and wants and will of the heroic and the tragic and the just existing ... us.

And yes, that's with the whole thing being presented in geometric shapes and bold colors.

Just ... play the game.

Enjoy the gameplay for what it is -- Tight, well-thought-out, consumable, replayable good design that makes you better at playing the game for having played the game.

Maybe enjoy it for it's clever wit, great musical score, and occasionally deep homilies.

Maybe be moved by something deeper being said about the human condition, and how special and flawed and amazing and petty and elevated and fallible and ever-changing we all are.

But I do recommend you play it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Marvel Puzzle Quest (Android)

I'm digging Marvel Puzzle Quest.

It's a good treatment of both licenses, polished and slick, and has been a good living case study of an evolving, licensed mobile free-to-play app.

The game is free, monetized through purchases in the game, and for the most part, this isn't overly annoying - though it gets there every once in a while (there are distinct "I can't be competitive unless I spend money" moments in the ongoing game events).

Like many free-to-play games, Marvel Puzzle Quest does a good job of rewarding daily play, with the added bonus of character freebies that please franchise fans.

The leveling up mechanic is slick, but the power cap is annoying, and not explained in advance, so you might top out at your aggregate power cap - but not have leveled up the powers you want.

This is less of an issue now that developer Demiurge has added the ability to re-level the powers of maxed cards - a good example of that "constantly evolving" aspect of the game. Plus, it doesn't take a ton of playing to to get the regular, lower-level duplicate cards needed to re-balance maxed characters.

The game is mostly offline, with an asynchronous online mode where you basically play "ghosts"of real players' 3-character squads that fit into a timed theme defined by the game (for example, "Lone-star heroes", which lets you pitch your single star, more common heroes against other players' similar rosters.

The game has turned into my go-to time filler on my phone. Games aren't as quick as I'd like, but they're close.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tekken Card Tournament (mobile)

I'm playing quite a bit of NAMCO Bandai Games's Tekken Card Tournament on Android (from developer C4M, also available for play online, on iOS, and Amazon Kindle Fire).

It's a competitive / combative card game treatment of the long-standing console and upright arcade fighting franchise -- but whereas card games are pretty common on mobile and tablet devices now, Tekken is what I'd call an "upper-tier offering".

Besides being "just" a card game (with a 15 card deck, specials, and power cards), it has great mobile versions of fight moves (focus, attack, block, etc.) as payoff.

Those three moves make the game approachable, and add decent strategic depth, since you see your and your opponent's drawn cards (with the exception of character Yoshimitsu, who can hide cards from opponents). That's the on-deck (drawn) cards -- you can't see the the full 15-card deck they're playing against you.

"Focus" is basically your "draw card" move, but leaves you open to attacks.

"Block" blocks up to 2 of your opponents attack cards, so if your able to Focus/draw 3 to 5 cards (the on-deck max), you're effectively breaking the block, and able to attack with cards 3 through 5. Block while your oponent is focusing, and you've wasted a move.

"Attack" ... attacks.

The game is surprisingly robust, and a good (read: non-cast-off) freemium license treatment (and face it -- these things monetize well for developers and publishers).

The game has a slickly implemented in-line tutorial system (also available on-demand), intelligent unlockables, Arcade, Versus, and Champion (ladders) modes, and a bunch of replayability.

The online versus mode is pretty playable, and in addition to finding people and adding them as "friends" to battle immediately (or later), there's a quick-battle options that finds closely matching contenders, and drops you into a versus match almost instantly. I do wish the non-quick mode showed the other players levels in the playlist, though (starting out, I ended up needing to click through a number of Level 11 players before I found people at my starting level).

It is a freemium game, which means free to play, and conceivably, you can play for free and unlock enough Gold and Credits (to the two forms of in-game currencies) to play the entire game. Or, you can purchase Gold or Credits packs for as little as 99-cents to $99.99 (hey, people are obviously buying these). You also have a certain amount of "stamina", which limits the number of consecutive games you can play before your stamina recharges (or, you can spend in-game currency -- if you have it -- to refill stamina immediately).

Right now is a good time to play, too -- Namco Bandai is celebrating an alleged 1 million aggregate downloads by putting all in-game booster packs for 30-percent off (using in-game currency). So, you can play for probably at least a day more in the promotion to earn enough credits to spend on the on-sale boosters, or get down to the wire tomorrow, and purchase the remaining credits you need to take advantage of the sale.

Overall, a very slick, fun, replayable new expression of the Tekken license, and well worth the hefty download and accessible investment time.

Note: I haven't had a chance to successfully install the game on multiple platforms, but I'm hopeful that when I do, I can play with the same account across platforms, and it will keep track of my progression leveling. (The delay in trying it is the game didn't require a password on my phone, but does on iOS and Web; since I didn't set one up on my phone when I installed, I had to request a password reset for the other platforms, and that notice hasn't shown up yet.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Style Savvy: Trendsetters (3DS)

OK, I'm obviously not the target audience for Style Savvy: Trendsetters, Nintendo's fashionista simulation for its current flagship handheld.

Aside from the title, that I'm not the target demographic is obvious -- not the least of which is my character constantly being referred to as "she", "her", and nothing but feminine pronouns and modifiers. It's also obvious in my lack of vocabulary for fashion stylings like "pop", or "feminine" stylings it would be easy for me to previously reduce to "styles females wear".

But Style Savvy is deeper than all that. It puts me in the role of a part-time assistant at a fashion boutique with a gift for collating ensembles for the shop's entrenched and want-to-be trendistas (copyright Adam Creighton). The game walks me through the terminology and logic of matching clothes to personalities, builds my client base as a value-add to my employing boutique, gradually opens up parts of the town for me to explore (café, supplier store, and so on), and has the requisite "my apartment" to decorate, re-arrange, change my own fashions, catch up on the day's events, and plan for the next).

And while the game helped me get in touch with my own inner tween girl (which only felt slightly less creepy than it probably sounds, if I'm being honest), I'm curious as to who target the audience for this game really is.

I think trend-savvy teen girls probably will find the game a bit young to hold their attention, and I think younger girls who will find the gameplay engaging are pre-conceit gamers for this title. And, arguably, building a style-collecting, must-match mentality of thousand-dollar-plus budgets is arguably not the best way on which to spend development fixation habits (I'd argue "the "Gotta Catch 'Em All" of Pokémon is fictionally abstracted enough (and actually has positive developmental effects), though some would argue that).

As far as the 3D implementation, I have by no means plumbed the depth of the game at this point, but I really don't see a need for 3D in this game. More than some games, this title requires a particular positioning of the head (relative horizontal and distance) that becomes distracting even with minor shifts in either axis. And since the game is stylus-only, it could just as easily be a tap-only mobile title.

But none of that is to take away from what I consider a solid, well-implemented, fairly deep genre title. Knowing what it is, I think folks can enjoy it independent of their demographic, and for me as a game developer, the title (because of it's non-matching target audience-to-conceit) actually made it easier for me to see the base mechanics underneath the genre, and how simply and well those are implemented.

It's a tough title to recommend, because it's so genre-specific, but knowing all that, I'd choose to play it.