Death Road to Canada Review

It’s tough to avoid being a cynical crank about zombie culture. After mowing down thousands of them with a pea-shooter, bashing their skulls in with a crowbar, and stealing their twinkies, there seems to be no end to the abuse that zombies are willing to take. Like the creatures themselves, zombie culture plods on, refusing to die, and it’s only natural to be a little put-off by games and movies that use the concept as a cheap hook.

Thankfully, there is now a cure for zombie-induced cynicism. Death Road to Canada, Rocketcat Games and Madgarden’s self-proclaimed Permadeath Roadtrip Simulator is a surefire cure for zombie fatigue. From Hook Champ to Wayward Souls, Rocketcat’s games never cease to charm, so despite my own reservations toward the zombie-survival genre, I couldn’t help but pick up Death Road to Canada on Steam back in 2016. Now, the game has made the inevitable jump to iOS, and even on a handheld with limited controls, Death Road shines as a classic in its own right, overflowing with challenge and wit.

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The game, at its core, is about survival. Your humble band of travelers is initially comprised of randomly-generated characters, but if you prefer, you can build your own zombie-fighter using an in-game character builder. You’ll need to carefully manage your food, gas, health and ammo if you hope to reach Canada, and if you die, you’ll have to start again at the beginning of the Death Road.

Gameplay is split into two different modes. Most of the game’s random encounters occur within an Oregon-Trail-styled text-based survival mode, in which the team must make difficult choices with unpredictable results. For instance, your team might encounter a moose, and be forced to decide to either befriend the creature, kill it for its meat, or drive somewhere else. Depending on your characters’ stats, these encounters can be hugely beneficial, or fatal. It’s a well-balanced system with a ton of personality, and lends a huge amount of variety to each individual playthrough.

The majority of playtime is spent in top-down exploration and zombie-battling sections, which can be nail-bitingly tricky. The zombies at the start of the Death Road are quite slow, and if you’re armed with something as simple as a lead pipe, you should be able to manage them without trouble. But as the levels progress and you get closer to Canada, the zombies become much, much faster, and it takes more than weapons to survive. Strategy and risk-reward decisions form the heart of Death Road’s challenge, and with one wrong move, your whole team can perish in the blink of an eye.

The game’s music by Joey Grady is quite energetic for a zombie title, and it lends itself well to the game’s self-deprecating sense of humor. All zombie and weapon noises fit the bill, the graphics are charming, and the game runs at a solid clip with very few framerate drops, even with dozens of zombies on the screen at once.

If there’s one thing that irks me about the iOS version of Death Road, it’s the controls. I initially played the game on Steam using a gamepad, and upon transitioning to play on iOS, found the virtual joystick just a little too inaccurate for a game this challenging. After all, if ever a game needed strong touch controls, it’s a Permadeath Roadtrip Simulator, and although the game’s touch controls are intuitive, they’re just unresponsive enough to warrant mentioning.

Death Road to Canada is a unique, must-play experience, even for gamers who aren’t on-board with zombie games. However, as happy as I am to finally get to experience the game on iOS, I definitely recommend picking up the Steam version instead, if you have access to a gamepad. Death Road is a punishing, challenging game, and without dead-on controls, the game can prove to be a little frustrating. That said, if you’re primarily an iOS gamer, I still highly recommend checking out the game on iOS, at its current cost of $7.99.

4.5 Stars

 

Milkmaid of the Milky Way Review

The point-and-click adventure genre can prove to be a little dense for newcomers. Long passages of dialogue and obtuse puzzles can bog down even the best games in the genre, but thankfully, Milkmaid of the Milky Way, a whimsical point-and-click adventure title by Machineboy, keeps things simple, earnest, and quick-moving. While it isn’t a lengthy experience, or even an exceptionally deep one, its childlike whimsy and charming visuals are enough to make the game a must-play, even for a newcomer to the genre.

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The player controls Ruth the milkmaid, who lives in an isolated area of Western Norway in the year 1929. Her home – Calf Ledge – is drawn beautifully, and comes to represent Ruth’s own attachment to her upbringing. Her dairy buyers have become less interested in her wares in recent days, as modern consumers make the capitalistic shift to low-quality butter and cream, but Ruth is stubborn, refusing to change her ways for anyone. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that change is coming to Ruth’s life, and she’ll have to face it, whether she likes it or not.

Machineboy’s sound design and art direction steal the show, adding a magical touch to a solid story. Every sprite bursts with personality and imagination, the music is varied and understated, and the backgrounds are imaginative and colorful.

Ruth walks toward where the player taps, and runs if the player double-taps. As in most point-and-click games, there’s an easily-accessible inventory of items at the bottom of the screen, which are collected as the game progresses, and can be used to solve puzzles and unlock areas. Only once or twice did I find myself frustrated with the gameplay, as certain items and interactive objects were not easily differentiated from the background, and as such – especially in the case of a puzzle later in the game involving a metal pipe – it was sometimes difficult to tell which objects were puzzle-related, and which were not. However, the majority of the puzzles in Milkmaid of the Milky Way are quite intuitive, and the game’s progression is quick-paced, offering 2-3 hours of play, depending on how proficient the player might be at puzzle games.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way is clearly a labor of love. Ruth’s story is earnest and whimsical, and the entire game is wrapped up beautifully with detailed pixel art, heartwarming animations and atmospheric music. Any minor frustrations with occasionally counter-intuitive puzzle design are negated by the well-paced story and reasonable play time, making this $5.49 purchase an easy recommendation for fans of the point-and-click adventure genre.

4.5 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

 

Siralim 2 Review

Grinding is a divisive gameplay element, even in the best of games. Smiting enemy after enemy, hour after hour can grow tiresome after a while, and doesn’t lend itself especially well to the iOS platform, where instant satisfaction is the norm. For this reason, I must preface this review by asserting that Siralim 2 by Thylacine Studios isn’t for everyone. But for anyone who enjoys a good grind, and is able to overlook its harshly-designed exterior, Siralim 2 is a fantastic example of pure RPG-Roguelike excellence.

Graphical fidelity isn’t Siralim 2’s strong suit. Booting up the game, I instantly cringed at the questionable mix of pixel art and smooth text, which is generally an aesthetic no-no. Framerate drops plague certain dungeons, and tiled floors flicker underfoot as the strings holding the game together threaten to burst, hinting at a low budget and small development team. However, my initial concerns and judgments that arose while playing the first half-hour of Siralim 2 were completely vanquished when I came across the game’s Bestiary, hinting at Siralim 2’s depth and detail. With 536 beasts to hatch or capture in the game’s dangerous procedurally-generated dungeons, I soon grew enraptured with the chase to catch every last one.

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But while the monster-capturing aspect of Siralim 2 vaguely resembles Pokemon and its ilk, its high level of difficulty and unusual progression style sets it apart from the pack. From the hub world of Siralim, your protagonist warps into an alternate dimension of Realms, which grow more difficult as you progress to higher levels. Every realm is ruled by a god, who can be swayed to your favor through the completion of various tasks. The God of the Sea might request that you find his lost doubloons, and the God of War might simply like to see you shed some blood in his honor. Helping out these sometimes-needy gods is a treat, as their character traits are quite over-the-top and self-aware. Unfortunately, the Goddess of Poison was written with strained, uncomfortably juvenile humor, which verged on tasteless. This character aside, most of Siralim 2’s humor is quite delightful. Every few levels, you’ll be presented with a massively-difficult boss, who will require quite a bit of grinding to take down, so you’ll need to return to lower-level realms to level-up your team. Combat is turn-based, and customizable with a huge variety of spell gems and weapons, which can be purchased, upgraded or broken down to their raw materials by characters in the hub world. There are no checkpoints within each Realm, so if your character dies, they’ll be instantly warped back to the hub world, depleting your Power Balance level, but without any serious consequences. It’s a fairly-balanced system, as you’re never forced to proceed to a realm that’s too difficult, but the rewards for taking a daring route are sufficiently enticing.

Beyond the grind, Siralim 2 also offers a few mini-games which can be played in the castle pub with some colorful dwarves, and in-depth breeding system. Upon summoning the souls of creature whose essence you’ve captured in battle, monsters can be added to your team or bred with each other to create more powerful combinations. The monsters are varied in personality and skills, and 8 hours into the game, I’ve barely seen a fraction of the game’s monster types. The amount of content in Siralim 2 is fantastic, considering the budget that the team is working on, and Thylacine’s pledge to boycott crowdfunding and microtransactions. What you see is what you get with Siralim 2, and that’s a great thing. If any of the content seems daunting or confusing, the developers have included an extensive library of information in the hub world, which can be read through manual-style.

For an iOS game, Siralim 2 is a little pricey at $4.99, but it offers easily a dozen hours of content, if not more. It’s well-written, well-designed, and if you can get past the rough visuals, it’s a highly atmospheric experience, clearly created by developers who are passionate about what they do. Thylacine’s love for the genre shines through in every moment of Siralim 2, and I highly recommend the purchase to fans of roguelikes, monster-collectors, and RPGs alike.

4.5 Stars