Miles & Kilo Review

Since the release of Canabalt in 2009, auto-runners have cornered the iOS platforming market, and for good reason. For all their benefits, touchscreens are unfortunately cursed with a lack of tangible feedback, and aside from a few specific titles which benefit from onscreen arrows and buttons, virtual controls in mobile games are often clunky, unappealing, and result in wasted screen real estate. The alternative is a one-or-two-tap control method, without onscreen buttons, although this method presents its own set of challenges. Tackling multiple actions with a single tap can be confusing to a first-time player, so it’s important to somehow introduce varied gameplay with these limited controls, while still maintaining a connection to the player’s intuition. Miles & Kilo nails this style of context-sensitive control, harnessing the power of a single button to control punching, ducking and throwing, elevating the game to the top of the auto-runner pack.

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From Michael Burns, the creator of Kidd Tripp, Miles & Kilo follows the adventures of a boy and his lovable-yet-overly-enthusiastic dog. Both Kilo and Miles are cute, memorable characters, and the developer’s charming cutscenes are more than effective in endearing the duo to the player. However, well-designed protagonists can only carry a game so far, and thankfully, Miles & Kilo delivers with tight controls, creative twitch mechanics, and a sense of adventure rare in the auto-platforming genre.

The player’s primary objective is to complete each level within a tight time limit, while also maintaining a collection of five fruits in your inventory. The fruit-collection aspect of Miles & Kilo adds an element of risk and reward, as the fruit can also be used as projectiles. The whole experience is truly challenging, and while I was able to achieve an A rank on most levels within two hours of playtime, the even-more-satisfying S ranks were simply too challenging for me to nail down.

Does a player feel more satisfied with their performance when awarded with gold stars, or instead with the grade-school throwback of letter ranks? Does a one-star performance still feel like a victory, as opposed to the slap-on-the-wrist of receiving a D rank? Does an A rank conjure feelings of success when an S rank is just out of reach?

Aside from a pretty nasty difficulty spike on the game’s second boss, everything else about the game is immaculate. Chris Kukla’s soundtrack is fantastically retro, conjuring memories of classic NES soundtracks for Mega Man and DuckTales, expertly complimenting the game’s nostalgic overtones. Graphically, the whole thing is bright and whimsical, and the entire game ran at a smooth framerate on my iPhone 6.

Miles & Kilo is an absolute gem. It’s professionally crafted, loaded with charm, full of great music and has an exceptionally well-designed learning curve. Most importantly, it’s simply a blast to play. I’d love to see Kilo the dog in his own spinoff game at some point, as his unbridled enthusiasm is a joy to behold, but with or without him, I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more titles by Michael Burns in the future. At its current price of $3.99, I highly recommend that any fans of twitch platforming check it out!

5 Stars

 

High Risers Review

Kumobius games are something special, exuding a spark of inimitable joy that’s hard not to enjoy. Time and time again, the team nails tight controls, balanced challenges, and a pleasing art style. Bean’s Quest and Bean Dreams are iOS classics in their own right, so naturally, when I noticed that Kumobius had released a little twitch platformer, I was instantly intrigued.

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High Risers is as simple as they come. The player must climb a massive building, but is unable to stop running. Tap to jump, and use the building’s walls to keep yourself from falling out of the tower, climbing as high as possible. The gameplay itself isn’t very deep, but the controls are so tight that I found myself experimenting with different play styles for my own enjoyment. It’s possible to climb the building slowly with a one-thumb technique, but by using two thumbs or four fingers, the character can blaze up easier stretches of the building with ease. However, once you reach floor 100, the character begins to run faster and the building gets noticeably more dangerous.

As in other Kumobius games, the graphics in High Risers are top-notch. Backdrops are rich and pleasant to look at, and each unlockable sprite is charming and loaded with personality. There’s not much to speak of when it comes to the game’s sound design, but it gets the job done and is never intrusive. High Risers is free-to-play, so if you’d like to send Kumobius a few dollars to show your appreciation for the game, additional background art and playable characters can be purchased for a couple dollars each. Alternately, each upgrade can also be unlocked through the use of coins, which can be collected in-game or by watching ads, in the vein of Crossy Road or Rodeo Stampede.

High Risers exudes a simple, addictive charm, and with its non-intrusive free-to-play model, it’s an easy recommendation. The game won’t keep you occupied for hours at a time, but it’s a great little time-killer for a lunch break or bus ride. Not to mention that if you haven’t checked out Bean Dreams or Bean’s Quest, High Risers is a great introduction to the unique charm that Kumobius nails so well.

4 Stars

 

Eggggg Review

Eggggg is a game like no other. Overflowing with torrents of vomit, sentient eggs, and classic 2D platforming, the game drips with an utterly unique brand of weirdness, wrapped up in nostalgic googly-eyed charm, and topped off with unadulterated explosions of vivid colors. From the title screen to the final level, Hyper Games establishes their twisted vision, and they’re not afraid to splatter it all over you.

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Eggggg isn’t lengthy, and its mechanics aren’t wholly original, but the presentation is out of this world. The entire game oozes with the charm of an old Nickeolodeon cartoon, thriving on gross-out humor, unsettling-yet-satisfying sound effects and an atmosphere of pure, idiotic joy. The game’s protagonist exists in a state of endless glee, his arms flailing behind him as plunges toward a host of saw blades, mutant chickens, and anthropomorphic eggs.

The controls are simple. To turn left, tap on the left side of the screen. To turn right, tap on the right side. To jump, tap again in the direction you’re running. After a few well-implemented tutorials, you’ll soon be wall-jumping, clinging to moving surfaces and rocketing through the skies with ease. It’s admittedly difficult to jump straight up or down, to tackle some of the game’s more devious challenges, but instances requiring this skill are few and far between. It’s easy enough to make it through the game’s paltry 20 levels, but the real fun of Eggggg lies in achieving three star ratings on each level, by grabbing at least 50 golden pieces and 3 golden eggs. Not to mention the multitude of hidden golden-balloon challenges, only uncovered by rooting around for hidden passages and invisible walls.

While purchasing Eggggg, I was curious as to how a simple vector-art platformer could possibly justify a 350MB download. However, as soon as I booted up the first screen, the reason behind the huge download was obvious. Eggggg’s graphics, animation and sound design are top-notch, overflowing with personality and detail. The animations are fluid and dynamic, the level design is expertly crafted, and the graphical fidelity is razor-sharp. Not to mention that the audio design is varied enough that I didn’t tire of vomit sounds during my three hours of playtime, which is a miracle unto itself. In a world of shovelware free-to-play titles, Eggggg is a breath of fresh air, and shows that there are developers in this day and age who still value their craft, and care about the gamer’s experience from beginning to end.

I could rave about Eggggg all day. If you consider yourself a fan of 2D platformers or gross-out 90s cartoons, buy it. If you want to make a statement to developers that meticulous detail is still valued in today’s marketplace, buy it. If you’re on the fence and aren’t sure if it’s worth the $1.99, skip your daily coffee and take the leap. It’s an utterly unique experience, and an absolute joy to play.

5 Stars

 

Submerged: Miku and the Sunken City Review

Submerged: Miku and the Sunken City by Uppercut Games bears a striking resemblance to a certain award-winning PS2 title. In case you’d like to test out your video game trivia knowledge, I’ve compiled a few of the games’ similarities into a short list:

1. Abandoned, potentially cursed setting.
2. Protagonist’s primary motivation is to save a loved one, who is near death.
3. Ominous spirits watch over protagonist, with unclear motives.
4. Heavy reliance on climbing mechanics.
5. Lengthy travel sequences required to traverse the expanse between challenges.
6. Minimalist sound design and short cutscenes set the mood, instead of relying on a traditional text-heavy narrative structure.
7. Scale utilized to great effect, striking fear and wonder into the player.

To which game could I possibly be referring? If you guessed Shadow of the Colossus, then you’re correct! Submerged is clearly inspired by the PS2 classic, verging in some ways on shameless mimicry. However, after playing through the title, searching for the many hidden objects strewn throughout Submerged’s post-apocalyptic sunken cityscape, I’m honestly not upset that Uppercut Games draws inspiration from such a singular source. The formula that made Shadow of the Colossus such a powerful experience gives Submerged a similarly haunting atmosphere, but the execution on the concept itself is less than pristine.

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Submerged doesn’t provide much history on the protagonist Miku and her brother Taku, but it’s clear from the first scene what needs to be done. Taku is gravely ill, so Miku needs to scour for medical supplies in the surrounding city, which is completely flooded.

The controls in Submerged are a mixed bag. On one hand, Miku’s boat uses an intuitive tap-to-start, swipe-to-control method that works perfectly in the context of driving mechanics. On the other hand, whenever Miku needs to hop out of the boat and explore, the controls don’t change. Miku’s walking controls are identical to the boat’s control scheme, which simply doesn’t feel natural. A young, spry adventurer such as Miku ought to be nimble while walking, especially as she’s able to hang from precarious skyscraper ledges with relative ease. Climbing in Submerged is quite easy, controlled with simple gestures: swipe to climb in the chosen direction, walk directly below a ledge to climb it, and swipe down to drop. Though it controls well, the wall-jump platforming in Submerged is rarely challenging, and I found myself yearning for more engaging gameplay. Allowing just a little more control over Miku’s movement by including a virtual joystick would have greatly improved my experience, but Uppercut Games hasn’t seen fit to include multiple control options. This might be a worthy inclusion for a future update.

On the topic of updates, Submerged currently includes a few frustrating quirks that will hopefully be addressed in the coming weeks. More than once, the simple act of shutting off my iPhone’s screen for a minute at a time would shut down the game, requiring me to start from my last checkpoint, after viewing a long loading sequence. This is an unfortunate misstep, as the game’s climbing portions are generally a healthy 10-15 minutes long, and many iOS players need to be able to pick up and put down games at their leisure. Additionally, an overlaid mini-map would have been quite helpful during my boat-travels, as pausing to view the world map stops Miku’s boat in its tracks, stalling the game’s pacing and flow. An option to warp back to the hub temple would have been appreciated as well.

Now, all these qualms might suggest that I didn’t enjoy my time with Submerged, but nothing could be further from the truth. The setting, atmosphere and boating portions of Submerged are a joy to behold, and quite immersive. Whether or not this is due to its reliance on rehashing the concepts that Shadow of the Colossus nailed over a decade ago is up for debate, but Submerged benefits from its source material, nonetheless. Each play session ran me through a gauntlet of emotions as I discovered new points of interest or sea creatures, and the sheer sense of scale that Uppercut manages to create is mind-boggling, especially considering that I played this game on the small screen of an iPhone 6.

Submerged shoots for excellence, but is ultimately a flawed experience. Framerate skips, texture popping, unwieldy controls, and an uncanny-valley animation style dampen the game’s immersion, but the atmosphere, sound design, ambition, and impressive sense of scale ultimately kept me around for the entirety of the game. Fans of open-world exploration titles should definitely consider checking it out at its current cost of $4.99, but players who aren’t fond of titles that are a bit rough-around-the-edges should steer clear.

3.5 Stars

 

The Beggar’s Ride Review

The Beggar’s Ride by developer BadSeed was released on iOS to little fanfare in the winter of 2015. Reminiscent of LostWinds with a narrative style similar to The Unfinished Swan, it’s hard to believe that such an expertly-crafted title has remained under the radar for so long. The Beggar’s Ride is an absolute pleasure to play, and despite its short length and occasionally confusing puzzle design, it’s undeniably a must-play experience for any iOS gamer.

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Graphically, BadSeed keeps things clean, working primarily with simple textures and vivid colors, hearkening back to visuals from the N64 platformer era, albeit with more polygons. While stark and muted colors have become popular in 2D platformers since the release of LIMBO, The Beggar’s Ride isn’t afraid to play with a rainbow-palette, much to its benefit. Vivid yellows, greens and purples are in abundance here, along with some creative shadow effects, as well.

The game’s tap controls are tricky to master, but thankfully, the developers have included a virtual-joystick option. For the most part, the joystick is accurate and effective, but trickier platforming sections can become extremely difficult due to the Beggar’s inability to fall straight down after an angled jump. After some experimentation, each platforming section is completely manageable, but tighter joystick controls would certainly have improved my own experience with the game. Control issues aside, where The Beggar’s Ride truly shines is in its puzzle gameplay. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll discover various masks, which grant the Beggar power over glowing objects, gravity, as well as the sun and the moon. For the most part, these puzzles are well-designed and intelligent, with a reasonable learning curve. However, the game’s last level is much more difficult than the first 90% of the game, which might hinder the player’s excitement leading up to the storyline’s end. Thankfully, these frustrations are few and far between.

The Beggar’s Ride boasts a stellar soundtrack, which morphs ever-so-slightly from level to level. Adding to the atmosphere, the game’s narrative is handled excellently. Text hovers in physical space instead of a traditional overlay, telling the tale of the titular Beggar, with particularly important parts of the story voiced by a narrator. These spoken-word portions are well-voiced and highly atmospheric, and while the story isn’t groundbreaking in depth or intrigue, it does an excellent job of setting the game’s tone.

The Beggar’s Ride is only a 3-4 hour experience, but it’s fantastic while it lasts. The platforming is generally entertaining, the puzzles are creative and satisfying, and the narrative, atmosphere and sound design are truly well-done. Games with this level of detail and care are few and far between, and at its current cost of $3.99, it’s certainly worth the purchase for any gamer looking for a high-quality puzzle-platforming experience.

4.5 Stars

 

Magic Mansion Review

The terms ‘1-Bit’ and ‘Mansion’ evoke in my mind the labyrinthine corridors of Bugs Bunny: Crazy Castle II or Wario Land II. Castles in the 1-Bit era were stark, dark and dangerous, loaded with puzzles, hidden passages and a multitude of traps. Magic Mansion by publisher Nitrome and developer Folmer Kelly embraces the traps and twitch gameplay, while foregoing hidden passages and puzzles for a heavy-handed monetization structure and general lack of content, which frustratingly mar what could otherwise have been a fantastic game.

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One thing that Folmer Kelly and artist Mat Annal get spot-on is the aesthetic. Cannons are emblazoned with tiny white skulls, bullets flash from black to white, enemy animations are highly emotive, and the soundtrack sounds like it was lifted straight from 1991. Your player-character walks automatically from one side of a castle room to another, changing direction if a solid obstacle blocks your way, working toward the ultimate goal of climbing up a castle one ladder at a time. Most obstacles can be avoided with a jump, controlled with the game’s one-tap system. Magic Mansion’s controls are tight, and its gameplay is easy to learn. However, even with such simple controls, the game can feel occasionally unfair. More than once, I found myself stuck on a conveyor belt with a spike directly in front of me, forced to leap directly onto the spike. Other rooms lined my player-character up with bullets in such a way that I could not possibly leap past them, and while the game is marketed as being incredibly difficult, it sometimes crosses the line from difficult into outright impossible. Some of these issues could be chalked up to limited playtesting, so they may be addressed in future updates, which would be appreciated.

The character models are charming and cute, as to be expected from Nitrome’s previous work, such as Leap Day and Beneath the Lighthouse. However, I would have appreciated some sort of gameplay variance from character to character. Should a witch be able to cast spells to protect herself? Should the bunny character have a floatier jump? Details like this would have greatly increased my enjoyment of Magic Mansion, especially since character-unlocks grow more difficult to unlock as the game goes on.

Despite any minor gripes with the gameplay, my only major issue with Magic Mansion is its monetization structure. Without purchasing an ad-cancelling upgrade, lengthy ads automatically play after most character deaths. In a game that relies on quick playthroughs and twitch gameplay, this sort of video-ad harassment grew very frustrating, very quickly. As I simply didn’t have the time to play the game with so many ads, I immediately purchased the ad-disable option. However, once the game is unlocked, it becomes apparent that there is very little gameplay variance beyond what is discovered in the first ten floors of the Mansion. Rodeo Stampede and Crossy Road are successful in their procedurally-generated coin-grabbing monetization agendas because they constantly introduce new mechanics and areas to explore, and character unlocks are plentiful and satisfying. Unfortunately, Magic Mansion’s $3.99 ad-disable purchase was a frustrating purchase to make, as there simply isn’t enough content under the surface to justify the price tag.

I truly wanted to enjoy Magic Mansion, as classic 1-Bit games are near and dear to my heart. Though the game’s aesthetic suggests similarity to classic Gameboy titles, the amount of gameplay available barely offers enough to entertain for more an hour. I still look forward to future titles from Folmer Kelly, as the game certainly had a lot of potential, and I still recommend checking out the free download, but I would have appreciated if the developers had taken the time to load the game with a little more content to justify the ad-unlocked version’s $3.99 price tag.

3 Stars

 

Alien Jelly: Food for Thought Review

The debut iOS release from developer Collective Mass, Alien Jelly: Food for Thought offers an enjoyable take on gravity gameplay, with some tricky puzzles that should satisfy fans of straightforward puzzle-platformers.

The premise is simple. You’re a smack-talking sentient brain, trapped inside a cube of jelly. The brain once owned a cafe, but his baked goods have been scattered throughout the universe. Luckily, the aforementioned baked goods have settled onto a series of faux-isometric 3D puzzles, so once you’ve traversed the game’s 50 levels, you’ll be able to re-open the cafe!

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Your brain is controlled with a series of simple gestures. Swipe to roll your jelly cube one square at a time, and use two fingers to rotate the puzzle, altering its gravity. As the game progresses, you’ll face increasingly dangerous challenges, such as meat tenderizers, saw blades, and your most common enemy, the oblivion of space. Making things even more complicated, in later levels you’ll find yourself piloting two separate jelly brains at once.

Sound tricky? It can be. More than once, I found myself careening into space, having forgotten to account for my second jelly-blob’s location during a rotation. Thankfully, the developers are merciful, providing the player with Time Cookies that can undo a hastily-made mistake.

The controls are spot-on, and the sound design collides with campy graphics to create a space-horror aesthetic along the lines of Don’t Run with a Plasma Sword. However, the background music is a little repetitive, and I would have appreciated a little more snarky dialogue between the protagonists.

While it doesn’t break new ground in terms of gameplay or graphics, Alien Jelly: Food for Thought is an enjoyable romp while it lasts, and well worth the current price tag of $3.99.

3.5 Stars