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

 

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

 

Steppy Pants Review

Steppy Pants from developer Super Entertainment presents a silly, yet effective mashup of twitch gameplay and ragdoll physics. It doesn’t stray far from the economics and graphics of Crossy Road, or the gameplay premise of QWOP, but still manages to be a memorable, addicting experience in its own right.

 

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As with the best twitch games, one-touch gameplay is central to Steppy Pants. Tap to move your blue-faced protagonist’s leg, then tap to move the other. Rinse and repeat. Your blue man will undoubtedly take a beating, collapsing into painful splits, bashing his face after stepping on a crack, or launching through the air if you have the misfortune to step on a TNT square. As with most twitch games, dying and learning from your mistakes is the core of the experience. Once you’ve worked out a rhythm to the blue man’s stepping pattern, you’ll find yourself flopping down the pathway without issue for minutes at a time, which is immensely satisfying.

An interesting addition to Steppy Pants is its inclusion of checkpoints. Once you’ve passed a dozen or so sidewalk blocks, a small flag will appear to mark your progress. While the game doesn’t become noticeably more difficult as you progress, checkpoints are still a welcome addition, sidestepping the potential tedium of walking the same chunk of terrain over and over again. With the inclusion of coffee cup powerups and some pleasantly-stylized backdrops, gameplay in Steppy Pants remains enjoyable for multiple playthroughs. The sound design is simple and effective, and little details like the weather changing to overcast or rainy are appreciated.

As with Crossy Road before it, the game’s longevity comes from its inclusion of unlockable and purchasable items. Purchasing or unlocking heads, torsos and pants is as enjoyable as in any other game, but I would have appreciated some variance in gameplay, such as different terrain to walk on, or unlockable cities with fresh hazards, akin to the gameplay progression in Rodeo Stampede.

Steppy Pants is a product of its time, unabashedly aping the games that forged the tropes at its core, but delivering the experience in a fluid, addicting and humorous package. As a free download, fans of twitch games and ragdoll physics should definitely consider giving it a download.

4 Stars