Cubiques Review

Cubiques by Dilmer Valecillos is Edge meets Q*bert, a block-rolling puzzler with a simple premise: eliminate a set number of floor tiles, then escape to the level’s exit. It’s not an exceptionally unique concept, but the game’s design is so clever and well-presented that I couldn’t help but play through every last level in one sitting.

Cubiques Screenshot 1

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The game’s controls are intuitive enough. Swipe to move, and roll across tiles to activate their effect. White tiles vanish when touched, grey tiles turn to white, and black tiles are indestructible. The swipe controls work well for the most part, though it would have been nice to have the option to rewind one or two previous moves, as if a player misswipes, the level generally needs to be restarted.

The level design in Cubiques isn’t devious per se, but there are a few head-scratchers in the bunch. Oddly enough, levels 50 through 60 are markedly less challenging than the ones which precede them. A little more play-testing might have helped the team achieve a more balanced learning curve, but the current level of challenge shouldn’t be off-putting to most players. 60 levels were available at launch, though that number has already been bumped up to 70, suggesting that Cubiques may continue to be supported well into the future.

Cubiques isn’t perfect, but it’s a clever and relaxing minimalistic experience, with clean graphics and a solid premise. I highly recommend checking it out on the App Store at its current price of $0.99, and I definitely recommend keeping an eye on future work by Dilmer Valecillos!

3.5 Stars

 

Monument Valley 2 Review

Monument Valley 2 by UsTwo Games isn’t just an amazing game, and isn’t just a sequel to an amazing game. It’s a rich, emotionally-intelligent art piece, bursting with creativity and polished to perfection.

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I can’t help but describe Monument Valley 2 with enthusiasm. The first Monument Valley was an achievement in its own right, an ingenious puzzler with a melancholy ambiance and creative-yet-accessible M.C. Escher-esque traversal puzzles, perfectly suited for touchscreen gameplay. But despite my fond memories of the original game, when I first glimpsed its follow-up in the App Store, I was worried. Could the sequel live up to the original’s legacy? Or would it simply retread old paths, failing to break new ground?

Upon launching the game, my fears were immediately laid to rest. Monument Valley 2, while arguably less difficult than the original, is more cinematic, creative and emotionally engaging than I could have anticipated. The core gameplay is the more-or-less the same as the original, requiring players to rotate and shift impossible architecture, making way for their characters to traverse mind-bending puzzles on-foot. However, the game is more varied this time around. Tricks of light, multiple characters and brand new structures are only a few of the new additions, keeping the experience fresh and engaging, without relying too heavily on a single innovation.

Monument Valley 2 employs simple polygons and stylish designs to create a world that is mysterious and dreamlike, yet intensely perceptible. The game’s music and sound design work in tandem with the visuals, utilizing musical cues to heighten atmospheric tension, from ominous footsteps in a quiet room to an orchestral swell when the player triggers a cutscene. It’s extremely immersive, from beginning to end.

Thematically, this is a story of mysterious grand designs, small cogs that can turn big cogs, and a love that transcends separation and the passing of time. By introducing a mother-daughter relationship to the game, UsTwo widens the game’s breadth of gameplay, and adds a new layer of emotional depth to the player’s experience. What does it feel like to be a parent? How can the concerns, fears and love of a parent be harnessed to engage players? For instance, a collapsing wall, on its own, is a frightening and dangerous thing. But what if your own child is standing at the top of the wall? What if you are powerless to reach them? What if you do have the power to reach them, but are short on time? Can one character have the same emotional impact on a player as two characters, engaging with each other on a relatable level?

Monument Valley 2 is an emotionally-engaging, mind-bending, visually-stunning tour de force, and despite its short play time, is one of the best games available on iOS. For the amount of sheer effort that’s clearly been poured into it, $4.99 is a steal. Buy it. And play it with the sound on.

6 Stars

 

Gravity Galaxy Review

Gravity Galaxy by Pixelbyte has all the qualities I’ve come to expect from titles published by Ancient Games. It’s packed with charming low-poly graphics, intelligent puzzle design, and filled to the brim with unlockables. At launch time, the gravity puzzler’s playtime is admittedly a little short, but despite the general lack of replayable content, the game is addicting, expertly-crafted and a pleasure to play.

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The physics and puzzle gameplay in Gravity Galaxy aren’t tough to grasp. The player controls the launch sequence of a single ship, which activates when the screen is tapped, sending the player’s tiny ship careening through space in whichever direction it was launched, its path altered only by the gravity of surrounding planetoids and asteroids. Each level contains three stars to collect, which are simple enough to grab in early levels, but as the game progresses, these three-star challenges can be deviously difficult. Additional ships can be collected by watching video ads, which will be either a welcome addition or a frustrating one, depending on the player’s access to WiFi. Personally, I play most of my iOS games while I’m on the go, so requiring video ads to be watched to unlock in-game content is a frustration, albeit a minor one.

Although Gravity Galaxy has launched with only 40 levels, hints in the level-select screen suggest that Pixelbyte plans to add at least 30 more levels sometime in the future. Each level is varied, introducing destructible planetoids, flashing lasers, missiles, and tricky button-activated asteroids. The majority of the game’s levels shouldn’t take an average player more than a couple minutes to complete, but due to the three-star challenges and the satisfying physics and animations, there’s more than enough to do during the short playtime.

Pixelbyte’s sophomore mobile effort is enjoyable from beginning to end. It’s challenging, well-designed and the neon-vector aesthetic really is a feast for the eyes. As Pixelbyte plans to add more content in the future, I highly recommend the free download to any fans of gravity-puzzlers.

4 Stars

 

 

Roofbot Review

Roofbot by Double Coconut and Koreez is a tricky game to review. On one hand, it’s cute, well designed, highly atmospheric and satisfying to play. On the other hand, its in-app purchase model left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, tainting my experience with the game.

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Roofbot is an isometric grid puzzler, in which Roofie the Robot cleans up his roof by dropping colored objects into their respective holes, eventually finding his way to the level’s exit. The game’s hook lies in its tile-dropping mechanic, which adds an element of strategy and difficulty to the game. When Roofie moves to a new tile, the previous tile drops away, leaving the player to find a specific path that will allow them to progress. As a lifelong Q-Bert fan, this mechanic had me hooked from the start, and with the addition of fans and warp tiles, the game gets better and better as the levels progress. From top to bottom, the graphics are stylized and pleasing to the eye, with the protagonist cutely sporting a spinning green flower on his head, occasionally taking selfies and playing the ukulele. Roofbot’s backdrops are somber, futuristic, and highly immersive, topped off with a calming, albeit repetitive soundtrack. My only qualm with the presentation is the robot’s name – Roofie – which could be interpreted as a cringe-worthy drug reference. I truly hope that the reference was unintentional.

I was quite enjoying my time with the game, until I reached Level 40, when I made an unfortunate discovery. There’s a hint button in the top right-hand corner of the user interface, which can be tapped when the player is in need of a suggestion. As the game encourages players to tap the button when they’re struggling, these hints become part of the natural flow and progression of gameplay. By the time I reached Level 40, I had only used four or five hints, but I grew curious about one detail: every time I used a hint, a counter on the hint button dropped by one. I grew suspicious as to what might happen if I used all my hints. After all, Roofbot is a paid game, so they wouldn’t lock hints behind a paywall, especially after introducing these suggestions as an acceptable course of action when the player is stumped or struggling. Or would they? So, in the interest of discovering the truth, I mashed on the hint button until my hints ran out. Once I hit zero, I pressed the button again, and lo and behold:

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An in-app purchase screen appeared, confirming that the developers had locked additional hints behind a paywall. To add insult to injury, the price tag on these hints is quite high, starting at $1.39 for 2 hints, all the way up to $69.99 for 120 hints. I’d happily drop a dollar or two on upgrades to the game, such as new characters or additional levels in a future update, but for hints, which I’ve been trained to use freely? No thank you, Double Coconut.

At its core, Roofbot really is an excellent puzzle game, but its frustrating monetization scheme holds it back from greatness. If the game was free to download, in-app purchases for hints would be an understandable inclusion, but premium titles ought to be fully playable without additional paywalls. Should the developers at Double-Coconut rectify this monetization structure, I’ll happily rethink my review. But in its current state, I can’t recommend downloading Roofbot for $2.99, unless you can breeze through its 100 levels without using up your hint quota.

3 Stars

 

 

 

Zip Zap Review

A quality physics puzzler empowers players to use their ingenuity to creatively solve problems, instead of requiring them to uncover a specifically designated path to their reward. Zip Zap by Kamibox executes this design philosophy brilliantly, using an intuitive control system to encourage players to do just that – play – within the constraints of a highly-tuned level set. If you consider yourself a fan of physics puzzlers, download Zip Zap right away, so you can discover for yourself the game’s devious, addicting charm.

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Zip Zap’s controls are simple and intuitive. Tap and hold to contract a level-specific object, and release to expand, using the physicality of your object to propel yourself toward a glowing target. The player-object you’re working with varies from level to level, which is where the fun of Zip Zap lies. Moving a two-jointed object from left to right might be simple enough, but add a few more joints, and the task becomes massively more challenging. Later levels might turn your metallic arms into pegs, to propel other objects across the level, or require you to swing back and forth, gaining momentum to reach maximum velocity. The sheer amount of variety in Zip Zap is truly impressive, considering the simple mechanics at the heart of it all.

Instead of diluting the purity of the experience with lengthy tutorials, Kamibox teaches each necessary skill to the player through natural game progression. Even so, it’s very easy to fail in Zip Zap, so thankfully the developers have seen fit to include a swipe-to-restart option. In the later levels, which had the potential to be frustrating due to tight timing requirements, I was extremely thankful for the option to instantly restart my game and try again.

With over 100 levels, Zip Zap should keep any puzzle fan busy for an hour or two. The levels are challenging, but not overly punishing. The sound design is a little lacking, as while some entertaining music plays in the game’s menus, a simple 8-bar piece loops during gameplay, which becomes quite repetitive after a while. To fully enjoy the game, I had to turn the sound off, which is a shame, as the sound effects of in-game objects are quite enjoyable.

Zip Zap is an excellent example of intelligent game design, in which a simple, entertaining concept is creatively explored without bogging down the experience with unnecessary mechanics. At its current price of $1.99, I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fans of physics puzzlers, as it’s an absolute joy to play, from beginning to end.

4.5 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

 

Diffission Review

Diffission by Filament Games throws its gauntlet into curious territory, daring players to prove their mettle in basic mathematics, primarily in the subject of fractions. Math can be a tricky subject in game design, where user-friendly strategies are necessary in order to reel in new players and keep them entertained. A game with fractions at its core potentially dares to exclude players without workable knowledge in the subject. Thankfully, the team at Filament avoids making things too difficult, creating a game simultaneously accessible, challenging, and memorable.

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Upon starting the game, you’ll be faced with a grid of tiles, with a target fraction at the bottom of the screen. By slicing across a portion of the grid, tiles can be split in order to achieve the target fraction. In later levels, Dissolve Tiles can be tapped to remove portions of the game area, creating a workable grid for challenging fractions. Although this is about as complicated as the math gets, when a timer is ticking in Challenge Mode, Diffission can be quite tricky. By utilizing simplified fractions, or by preserving Dissolve Tiles at the end of a round, points are earned, which are used to unlock further gameplay modes. Later in the game, Swap Tiles are introduced, which leap across cut lines when slicing through an adjacent tile. This additional challenge lends an improved level of difficulty and strategy to the game.

All modes and medals can be unlocked in just over an hour of playtime. While content-hungry players might come away disappointed with the general lack of content, I appreciated the game’s minimalistic approach to design, nailing a few mechanics instead of introducing too many. Additionally, the sound design serves the game well, and is never intrusive.

Diffission is smart, addicting, and entertaining from start to finish. Though its short play time might be off-putting to some players, I highly recommend that any fan of tile-puzzlers check it out, especially at its current price point of $2.99.

4 Stars