Mobile

Indie Studio Mobrite returns with a followup game to their original zombie hit Dead Ahead. Fight rather than flee in this combat focused squeal. 

Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is the follow-up game to the mobile game simply titled Dead Ahead from developer and publisher Mobrite. It is available on IOS and Android and is free to play. Dead Ahead is a simple game where the player is tasked with escaping the zombie hordes that are chasing them in a side-scrolling, obstacle-filled driving game for mobile. Zombie Warfare features the same unique visual charm, with a huge array of new characters, enemies, weapons and locations to enjoy the apocalypse. As the name implies, Zombie Warfare’s gameplay is focused on combat, but with a heavy coating of micro-transactions it’s hard to focus on its interesting gameplay and graphics.

Setting and Graphics – An Expanded World for Dead Ahead

One of the main ingredients that made the first game a joyful experience to play was the game’s graphics and subtle world building. The first game’s opening cinematic creates a sense of dread but also shows a glimpse of the world the player will be inhabiting. Its characters are hand drawn and have a cute, almost chibi quality to them. The player drives a pizza delivery scooter, and most of the zombies have cute (even mildly sexy) designs, making Mobrite’s apocalypse a fun, playful and unique world to survive in. This followup game features even more of the same high-quality pixel art, and creative character and enemy designs. There are a large collection of survivors to unlock from civic employees and civilians like the shotgun-wielding farmer and the armored Fireman to fully armed military and police units. There are plenty of new zombies and even human enemies as well. Your squad will occasionally go up against roaming gangs, some of which are half infected with the zombie virus and brandish ranged weapons or special armor.

Overall the art style and environment in Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is high quality for what is there, but does seem to be lacking a bit of the charm that was present in the first title. This specifically is felt with the game having no cartoon cinematic into, and the campaign feels very much like a set of levels, not a continuing journey, and there is no story at all. This would be fine but it seems like the game is trying to have a larger scope than the first title, though it really is just in level variations and not in an overarching story. It’s hard to not be a bit disappointed by this, as it seems like a missed opportunity, especially as the world map gives the feeling of being in a whole world of zombies to explore. This is not a major mark against the game though, as the levels feature a high variety of enemies and visual palettes.

Gameplay and Mechanics-  The Game has Good Bones, with Flawed Execution

Pushing any non-gameplay issues aside, there are great things to say about the backbone of the game.  The concept of a PvZ style strategy game in the universe of Dead Ahead works well on paper. Seeing the small pixelated characters running off their battle bus into the zombie hoard is great. The basic game rules are that the player has 2 main resources to manage: “Courage” (blue meter) and “Rage” (Red meter). All units and abilities cost one of these resources and the player will have to choose a “hand” of 6 units/abilities out of their total unlocked (or bought). As the level timer ticks on the player slowly builds courage, while every kill builds rage, both of which are used to drop units and objects onto the battlefield. all units attack and move automatically, and the player must deal a certain amount of damage to the enemy barrier to win. Unlike PVZ though, units behave somewhat as if they are in lanes, but there is no way to control which of these invisible “lanes” they will move to attack or defend it. The player units have AI behavior that is designed to have them respond to threats ahead of them or when enemies are in close proximity, but sometimes the AI is not very responsive, which is a huge problem in a game where taking ANY DAMAGE to your battle bus at all will cause the player to lose their 3-star score. This has lead to many frustrating times of my units allowing a single weak zombie to run past, or to not fire at the most critical target because they moved to another lane automatically. This could be fixed with set lanes, or with the addition of manual focus fire or move orders, but neither of these are in the current build.

Price and Micro-Transactions – Mid to Late Gameplay is Very “Pay-to-Win”

The promising qualities of great art, a good gameplay premise, and the pedigree of an enjoyable first game make Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare all that more disappointing when the whole product is taken into consideration. In order to actually enjoy the positive game elements, the player will be loaded down with having to watch a lot of ads that remind them that the game is going to be unbalanced if they don’t start paying real money. I will say that when playing this game to review it for this article I did not pay any money but rather just relied on the daily login bonus and set out to grind for any currency I lacked. This made the experience start off as a fun game with a simple loop of fighting and upgrading my units. As with most games that feature an XP or currency-based upgrade system the amount of currency or XP required for a level up or upgrade is increasingly high for each new tier. This increase in upgrade prices is unreasonably steep and causes players who are not using micro-transactions to essentially be soft-locked out of the higher level units and even the final worlds of the game. At this point in the game’s progression, it is becoming obvious that the game is designed to have players pony up more than just a few bucks now and again to be able to continue playing.

Is having to pay for a mobile game really that absurd? Well no, it would not be if there was a way to pay one time to remove adds, but there is not. It wouldn’t be so bad if the paid products where at least priced well so that $3.99 (what I would pay for this title if the progression was balanced) got you enough gold to buy all the “base” units, but it is not. Not even close. For example, if someone pays $2.99 they get 500 coins. Several of the low power units cost around 700 coins, and the ones you’ll need halfway through the game’s progression are usually 3,000 – 15,000 coins. See? Not even close… Also to really put the nail in the coffin, the most interesting units are not only super expensive, but they can ONLY be bought with real cash, like the pic below of the super OP SWAT unit bundle, demanding $30.

All the extra bits – everyone loves bonus content!

The development team did seem to add some clever extra bits to the game that are worth mentioning. These extra features are not particularly robust or game-changing but are still worth mentioning. Elements like a simple auto battle PvP mode to get a few extra coins, a bonus game mode that cycles through several options a month, and a community discussion board in the game app that allows people to post fan art, and discuss strategy are all good ideas that add just a little extra content to the game. The bonus game modes and the PvP game show the differences between paying players and free players very obviously, and it is unlikely that non-paying players will be featured on any high score boards.

Conclusion

When considering that the game is soft-locked at higher difficulties unless players pay a unwarranted amount of cash, combined with the clumsy inaccurate nature of the enemies and units, along with essentially all resources being on timers rather than allowing for meaningful or satisfying progressing, Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare is a game that has many compelling gameplay elements, but in the end is more frustrating to play than it is fun.

Final Score: 5/10

If you have an experience with this game you want to share, positive or negative feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. As always…

Happy gaming friends!

Florence is a game that possesses a level of elegance that is rare in a mobile game. This is of course not the first mobile game to have high artistic aspirations, but it is not often that a project is created with such a pure and simple execution.

Florence is a beautiful mobile game developed by Mountains Studios, and published by Annapurna Interactive.

Equal parts digital comic, and interactive game, Florence tells a story of love that is relatably human, and beautifully artistic. Paired with an incredible soundtrack (which is done by Kevin Penkin) Florence is a truly beautiful piece of art. Deep and moving melodies sweep over the player and transport them into a world where the music takes the place of words, and communicates the experiences and events to the player absent of dialogue. The story is presented to the player through digital comic like frames that feature numerous opportunities for players to interact with the story.For instance when Florence wakes up, and you are able to move a toothbrush around the screen to help her brush her teeth. In one frame she is commuting to work on a bus and the player is able to interact with her social media app on her phone. Little puzzles and interactions like this make the experience of playing Florence fun and whimsical. It should be noted that there is no “losing” in Florence as the story will come to the same conclusion no matter what the player chooses to do. There are a few short puzzles that the player will need to complete in order to move forward, but nothing prohibitively difficult.

My only complaint about Florence is it’s short length. At the end of the game I found myself desperately wanting more of the great experience that I had just walked through. I enjoyed the whole game in one sitting with my wife, which took about 30 minutes or so. Brevity in itself is perhaps not a mark against it, but rather an indication of it’s well executed presentation. It is a short game that wastes no time, and every image and song is a rare form of simple magic. Florence is not one noted as it might seem to be at first glance. Florence explores many aspects of love, self discovery, and the emotions around real decisions that people must make as they grow up. The tone of Florence could be compared somewhat films such as Begin Again, or La La Land, featuring both happy and melancholy moments backed by an exceptional and moving cello soundtrack. Florence is an exceptional example of what great storytelling can be in a digital experience. The specifics of the story are not particularly important as much as the settings and emotions surrounding them.

Because the experience is relatively short it’s hard to talk about the game without giving away too much of the story or showing all the game mechanics. The best thing I can say about it is go get the game, and enjoy it for yourself. I personally really hope that Mountains Studios decides to make more short stories in a similar style but with different settings. Whatever else we get from them in the future, short story or otherwise, I’m sure it will be great.

Florence is currently available on IOS for $3 and coming soon to Android. Next time you want to get lost in a great soundtrack and story, drop a couple bucks and get this great game! The soundtrack is available on Spotify, though I would wait until after you’ve played the game as the songs are listed as all the chapter titles and contain minor spoilers. I’ve been listening for a few days now and thoroughly been enjoying it (seriously, it’s so good!).

Have an awesome day, and Happy Gaming Friends!

Stormbound is a unique battle card game emerging in a sea of competitors. Though it has nowhere close to the amount of content as something like Hearthstone, it has one unique trait that could possibly help it find it’s own dedicated audience, and that is that the whole game is played out on a 4×5 chess like board.

Developer: Paladin Studios

Publisher: Kongregate

Stormbound feels as much like a board game as it does a card game, implementing equal parts deck building and tactical strategy. I’m sure that initially, it is possible that many trading card veterans could be put off by Stormbound’s simplistic look and (relatively) small card library. The addition of units that move and battle on a physical board, however, makes its strategy different enough from similar games to stand out. The only question in my mind at this time however is; Does Stormbound have what it takes to be as fun and compelling for experienced players as it is right now in it’s beginning?

I’m happy to make it no secret that I personally am having a great time with the game. I have a few reservations that I will discuss, but generally speaking, the beginning of this game is really cool. I appreciate the style and execution and find it generally fun, but also challenging to master.

One of the biggest things that Stormbound is missing in its current state is a way to square up against specific other players. There isn’t a pass-and-play option or private online matchmaking. The matches are ranked, but they are always against random players. The campaign is relatively short and is essentially just to help new players learn the game and gain some helpful cards, while also getting a taste for the different play styles of the 4 factions. The bulk of the game is all about online battles; about testing your skills and decks against other players. Since the main hook of the game is competitive online play it seems only natural that the excitement of head-to-head fights would only increase with private matchmaking. Everyone wants their friends to play the same competitive games as them, usually, so they can crush and destroy friends and family, as we all like to do from time to time. That being said the game has ranked matchmaking so that at least you square up against people of a similar strength deck/player level.

 

Like pretty much any other mobile deck building game these days, you can spend currency (in-game “coins”, or premium “gems”), to upgrade cards, so having ranked matches is important. The loop of winning coins and cards to enhance, customize and upgrade your deck gives Stormbound a feeling of progression; an important quality in any trading card game for sure. The player ranks are all reset every month so everyone ranked at #1 will be reset to 30 (which is really much higher as each level has several stages), giving everyone a chance to work towards rank based rewards each month. The downside to all this is that as is the case with most free-to-play games in this genre, the progression can be a slog. Grinding for coins/gems can take forever. The third currency (fusion stones) are used for crafting new cards, and are earned only when players reach higher ranks. This can be difficult for low-level players as the grind for coins is slow and without at least some upgraded cards reaching those higher ranks is much more difficult.

I so far have not spent any money playing Strombound, and am finding that I can still enjoy building relatively diverse decks. There was at one time a welcome card pack you could purchase which if that was available again I think I would consider buying that, but otherwise I feel the game does not force players to spend currency to win, but rather rewards players for spending time with the game, and offers the option for purchasing cards to quickly expand the range of deck strategies available.

Even better news is that the game seems to have a team behind it that are continually adding balancing and quality of life updates. Recently there have been many free gifts to players (Halloween gift, loyal player thanks you, etc…) which is helping with the previously mentioned currency problems. I think that though it might have a slow start, if Paladin Studios continues to add content and support, Stormbound could do quite well. The combination of card collection and tactical army strategy is actually done really well. I’m still having fun playing it, and I sincerely hope that soon we get new cards that further develop the currently implemented gameplay mechanics. If It is going to be able to stay fresh and alive in a competitive market I think continued content additions are necessary. For now I’m gonna keep chasing that 1st place rank with my favorite decks! “Long live the Ironclad Union!”

Strombound is currently available and 100% free to play, and is available on IOS and the Google Play store. We would love to hear your thoughts about Stormbound, please feel free to let us know what you think of the game in the comments section below. And as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!

For those who seek visceral death in bizarre, creepy fantasy lands, look no farther! Badland 1 was a great journey through a machine infested forest, and if you liked that then Badland 2 is the experience you’re looking for!

In 2013 Frogmind released the incredibly fresh and sharp game Badland. The original was compelling, surprising, eerie, and exhilarating. With the Game of the Year Edition bringing the single player level count to 100, I thought I probably didn’t want more Badland. After a few levels of Badland 2, I quickly changed my mind.

It should be noted that Badland 2 has been out for well over a year, but I personally hadn’t spent much time with it until just recently, and I think that it is well worth a mention here as a great indie mobile game recommendation. The game is a little old but still stands up incredibly well and is just as amazing as some of the better mobile games of this year.

Setting: Bizarre lands, familiar and new. The setting of Badland 2 starts off pretty much the same as the original. The unmistakable whimsy of Badland is seen through all the eerie and beautiful levels. The small fragile creature you control flaps through a twisted quiet forest that has been infested with machines. The sharp contrast between nature and metal starts as a familiar, yet effective mood. As the levels continue however the biome of the levels changes, introducing more realized versions of past level variations. Snow levels have new environmental challenges, like ice beams. Fire levels have lava flows, heat lamps, and lasers…so many lasers. And finally the hero (and their many clones) find themselves in an all new sort of void environment, with floating green plasma, new gravity mechanics, and puzzles.

No matter the color and style of the environments and puzzles, Bandland 2 is still very much the same game as the original at heart,  which is perfect. Any large departure from the original game mechanics would likely be a loss. The squeal feels much more like a natural progression from where the first game left off.

Gameplay: New Layers of Paint on the Same, Wonderful Game. For those who have not played the first installation, essentially the objective of any level is to get at least one of the flying (or rolling) creatures that you control to the end alive. Though there are other objectives, which i’ll talk about in a minute, this all the player needs to do to win any given level. There are of course always a gauntlet of spines, explosives, lasers, waterfalls, pits, and lava (to name a few) which the player must carefully avoid on their way to the goal. The controls are super easy to use, just tap the left or right side of the screen to move in that direction and keep from falling for a second. This creates a simple but challenging task as flying through levels usually demands a lot of avoiding things.

Some of my favorite times with Badland 2 (and 1 for that matter), are levels that incorporate a lot of the pick-ups that change speed and slow time. These are often combined with cloning pick-ups will split and duplicate the little creatures. There are some incredible moments in Badland 2 particularly that give the player a brief feeling of being out of control. Having  50 clones tear across an open map full of saws at super speed, then dramatically slowing time just before they all die is an example of the kinds of things that this game will impose upon it’s players. One new addition to the squeal is the occasional ability to stop time, which makes for some amazing moments. There are also pick-ups that will make the clones sticky, bouncy, fat and heavy, or tiny and fast. This makes for tons of crazy combinations that are tricky but always fun to experiment with.

Difficulty: Change your goals to change difficulty. Though the main goal of any given level is always to get at least one clone to the end, levels always have secondary objectives like getting a certain number of clones to the end, losing no clones, or finishing the level in one try. This challenge based objective system allows players to progress through most levels simply attempting them multiple times, while also allowing experienced players to challenge themselves by aiming for more specific (and much harder) goals. This allows Badland to be what the player wants; An atmospheric immersive experience, or a tight difficult set of challenges.

Badland 2 is not really new anymore, but it still holds up as one of my personal favorite mobile games. If you decide to get into the greatness that is the Badland games, bigger screens if available are recommended along with headphones. The game’s soundtrack is subtle but all the sound design blends together to make for a great audio experience. Badland 2 is available on Android and IOS. I believe that the only difference is that the IOS version is $4, while the Android version is free but plays ads unless you pay to remove them. Badland 1 Game of the Year edition is available on Steam for $10, with controls and levels adapted for PC. This Steam version also features a 4 player mode to play with friends!

The Badland games are some of my favorites for playing in my spare time and I defiantly recommend them to anyone at all interested!

As always, happy gaming friends! 

Causality is one of those rare games that is so tight and clean, so well executed that even if it’s not exactly your thing, you have to recognize a level of excellence in it’s construct. Simple, beautiful, unique, and challenging as hell, this is a must-have for puzzle game champions.

Causality, a fresh puzzle game by London based game company Loju challenges players to guide several astronauts through simple mazes to color coded exits. Players will quickly discover the complexity of Causality as they are forced to navigate space AND time, rewinding and fast forwarding the timeline in order to time all their paths correctly. The cosmic explorers themselves can travel back and forth through time, helping their past and future selves, making for a tight, complicated, puzzle game.

Causality is not the first puzzle game to use time mechanics. Jonathan Blow’s “Braid” used similar elements. Causality is unique however in that the player is asked to manage several units and move them all to an exit rather than a single protagonist. If one unit moves into a time warp the others will continue on their first timeline, unaffected by the time shift, makes for interesting possibilities and path combinations.

I got this game relatively recently and found it to be harder than I anticipated. I’m not necessarily a champion at puzzles, but I’ve defeated my share of tricky games. I played through the first 4 Myst games (well, up to the end of 4) back in the day and have found a handle full of newer puzzle games like INSIDE, the Portal series, and Laura Croft GO to be exceptionally compelling. Causality,is simple, but becomes rapidly difficult. By the time you’ve overcome the challenges that face you in the first world the levels seem to grow exponentially difficult. There is some variance in difficulty, and since you always have at least 2 level options it is possible to skip levels that give you a special kind of torture. Sometimes I’ve had to skip levels entirely, but then found I could beat the next one without too much trouble.

The best thing this game has going for it by far is the time teleporter mechanic. Though it is always fun moving the timeline forward and backward at will, things really get interesting when you can move a character forward in time (causing him to appear already walking as soon as his past self has a path that will eventually lead him there.), or jump them backwards in time, giving you more “turns” to solve the puzzle. Future and past characters can get in the way, or aid each other as they can activate switches and remove obstacles. Be careful not to induce paradoxes in space and time on your travelers though! Getting an astronaut stuck in a time loop will prevent you from finishing the level! That along with a smattering of other dangers and obstacles make the best levels!

Because the game is so dense, levels can be headache inducing. Part of the charm of Causality though is it’s simple and clean presentation. There is no story, no reason for your missions, not even an intro video. But that’s OK. Sometimes games can try too hard to make themselves more complicated when the part of the game that’s fun is just the actual game itself. (Or in this case fun and often brain-smashingly hard). I only have two criticisms of the game in it’s current state:

1. The game does not take advantage of it’s most fun element enough (the time-teleporters, some levels don’t have them at all).

2. The game has only four areas which are not terribly large, but very hard. I would have liked to see the difficulty curve not spike so fast, but then again, I do appreciate that Loju stuck with what makes their puzzles stand out; which is complicated, nuanced levels that implement time-travel.

Causality is available on Android and IOS for $2. Honestly with the level of excellence that Loju has brought to us It should probably be more expensive, so for 2 bucks? totally worth it! I am yet to have beaten it, but plan on at least trying to finish all the main puzzles, which if I put some time into it, I’m sure I can do. If you have any thoughts about the difficulty or other elements of Causality, please leave a comment below, and as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!

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Ever since pinball games began to fill arcades they’ve become a staple of the genre. Since the trend towards digital over physical arcade games has accelerated recently, tons of pinball style games have come out for PC, mobile, and even been featured in console games. From the classic 3D Pinball (space cadet) for Windows 95, to the Pinball-like mini game in Final Fantasy XV (Justice Monsters 5), Pinball games are everywhere. A quick visit to any App store will reveal dozens of Pinball games to choose from, but Pinout is the only one that has ever stayed on my iPhone/iPad for more than a few days. Here’s what makes this Pinball adaptation stand head and shoulders above its competition.

Simple, Elegant Design 

The style of Pinout, Mediocre’s newest title, is a clean, crisp series of ramps and tracks dipped in a thick coat of 80’s neon. The level design is reminiscent of arcade-style pinball cabinets but is stripped down to only the essentials. Familiar elements such as ramps, bonus points, mini-games, and high score are all present, but without the usual busyness of 1000 flashing lights, and sounds. The combination of simple design with a heavy dose of style is perfect. It’s just so damn, cool. This simple design not only adds to its aesthetic value but also makes it feel really natural to play on a phone sized screen.

Adapted for Mobile

Though the visual design of Pinout is stunning, the most interesting and innovative change made to original pinball games is its progressive level design. Instead of well-aimed shots gaining the player points on a static arcade table, a successful shot scrolls the board up to new paddles and tracks to use. This is a natural adaptation for mobile and feels awesome! It keeps the feeling of traditional pinball machines with an added feeling of motion and progression. The player is battling the clock to get to the end of each area with the most extra time left as possible. Players who end each level with a low time left will have the opportunity to replay that level in order to bring more bonus time into the next level. Finishing one of the harder levels with only 10 seconds to spare will inevitably mean doom, as finding enough bonus time-points to sustain a whole level starting with non is almost impossible. The need to bank time as a sort of currency gives the game a feeling of linear progression, in what could otherwise be a series of scattered and unconnected levels.

Amazing Soundtrack

From the moment I saw the trailer I knew I would love the style and feeling of Pinout, but I wasn’t expecting the soundtrack to be such a strong addition to the overall value of the game. for an arcade game Pinout has an unusually striking soundtrack. Each level has it’s own song dedicated to it. As the player battles their way through the maze of ramps they are simultaneous journeying through the album. The game trailer doesn’t feature any vocals, but several stages layer mesmerizing vocals over the hypnotic, electronic beats, deepening Pinout’s winning style. The soundtrack is by Douglas Holmquist, who is joined by by Susanna Lundgren for the vocal tracks. Douglas Holmquist has done OSTs for other games such as, Smash Hit, Beyondium, and Does Not Commute. Pinout’s OST is available on SpotifyBandCampGoogle Play, and iTunes.

Pinout itself is technically free, but won’t save your progress unless you pay for it, so essentially the free version is just a demo. To really enjoy Pinout as it is meant to be played you will need to buy the premium version, which is $3. Not a bad price at all for the quality of the game.

What I’d like to see changed

Pinout is a win in my book, two thumbs up, a “Must Buy” for arcade lovers. My only reservation about Pinout is that it is a little too short. I felt like the game was building to a more dramatic and energy infused game ending, but as I thought I would be approaching what might be new game elements or some kind of dramatic end-game sequence, the levels were all gone, and a new endless mode was unlocked. The Endless mode is actually pretty cool, and introduces more randomness into the gaming experience than the main game did, but I wanted more handcrafted levels, with new themes and  new game elements. Pinout did some really cool stuff with doors and buttons near the end, but didn’t explore these options as long as I wish they did. If the developers would release more levels with a new song for each level that would really make Pinout a home-run. I would even pay another dollar or so for another 5 stages. It feels like they have something really unique and amazing here, and I would love to see that expanded on and explored more. However, the short time I had with it I enjoyed immensely, and I still recommend it as a game purchase.

Pinout is available on IOS and Android, and is a great mobile game to kill time when waiting in lines but is equally fun to play on the couch with a beer on Saturday night.  With good mobile games being hard to come by, Pinout is a creative and well made gaming experience, with a level of design and style I hope to see in more titles in the future. Let the chillwave, 80’s trance vibes flow over you as you gaze into a maze of neon! What’s your best end game score?

If you have thoughts about Pinout, feel free to leave them in the comments section, and as always…

Happy Gaming Friends!