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

 

 

Maximum Car Review

Maximum Car by Ancient Games, Tea & Cheese, and I Fight Bears has a lot going for it. Combining intense speed, flashy visuals and responsive controls in homage to Out Run and Burnout, it’s hard not to enjoy the game’s shameless adrenaline fixation, stylized voxel artwork and huge supply of optional challenges.

However, before we proceed with the review, there’s an elephant in the room to tackle. Maximum Car is free, and as with many free-to-play titles, it’s loaded with game-stalling money-grabs, in the form of Gameplay Tokens. Each race costs a Gameplay Token, which can only be collected by watching advertisements, or waiting for a lengthy timer to count down. While I certainly understand the economics behind this decision, I’ve never been fond of freemium time-sinks in racing games, as this monetization scheme feels more at home in strategy games and clickers. That said, if you’re willing to stay near Wifi or sacrifice your data to watch videos after every three races, Maximum Car is mostly playable without spending any money. I, however, am devoid of the patience for this sort of exercise, so I immediately purchased an endless supply of Gameplay Tokens for $5, thanking the developers for their hard work, and continued on my merry way.

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Maximum Car’s gameplay is very similar to Horizon Chase, in that your vehicle automatically blazes at high speeds along a walled highway, aiming to progress from last to first place during the course of a race, using drifts, boosts and weapons to your advantage. Swiping up on the right side of the screen activates a boost, while swiping up on the left side launches a missile. The game’s main hook lies in its explosions, and for the most part, they deliver. Boosting past an adversary and immediately launching a missile into your next foe is extremely satisfying, especially as each destroyed competitor can eventually be unlocked, once they’ve been destroyed a set number of times.

Each of the game’s 5 different worlds boasts 20 levels of somewhat repetitive design. The game might have benefited by varying lighting or road design a little more between each level, but unfortunately, once you’ve seen one level in each of the worlds, you’ve basically seen it all. Thankfully, the gameplay is frantic enough to deter the eye from wandering too much, and the framerate is usually rock solid, even on my iPhone 6. When running at full speed, Maximum Car’s vividly-colored levels and creatively-designed voxel cars really are a joy to behold.

Sound design in Maximum Car is highly involved, though whether or not that’s a good thing is ultimately up to the player’s own sense of humor. The game’s voiceover character is meant to be a parody on old-school racing announcers, starting out with quips such as “Devastation!” and “I hope they have insurance!”, working his way up to lines like “You’ve achieved something in life!” and “The problems that caused the recession aren’t fixed!”. While the announcer is admittedly an entertaining inclusion, his lines top out at a couple dozen different samples, so the humor might wear off for some players. Thankfully, the developers have included the option to toggle commentary, sound effects and music separately, which should allow all players to find a combination that works best for them.

Maximum Car isn’t a perfect game. The timer mechanics definitely feel out-of-place in a racing title, and the self-aware announcer might deter some players. However, even with these issues, I still found myself addicted to the speed of the chase, as well the game’s varied and humorous collection of collectible voxel cars. I highly recommend grabbing the free download, even if only to test the waters before spending any money. It’s an enjoyable 3-4 hour romp, and well worth the $5 Gameplay Token unlock for any adrenaline addicts starved for an arcade-inspired, explosive experience on iOS.

4 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

 

Duck Roll Review

Duck Roll by developer Mamau had me hooked from the first level. Something about the game’s protagonist – a voxel-style duck with a cheery stare – assured me that the experience would be memorable. With this goofy little duck at my fingertips, I rolled my way through the game’s levels, finding that beneath the facade of silliness, Duck Roll is deceptively tricky, wickedly addictive, and packed with smart level design.

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The gameplay in Duck Roll is reminiscent of classic puzzler Chip’s Challenge, in that the game strips its controls down to four-direction grid movement, requiring players to manipulate objects on a grid to find a way to the end of each level. Beyond the classic puzzle elements of movable blocks and lava pits, Duck Roll introduces Totem Blocks, cubes strongly resembling Bud from Grow Home, which can only be destroyed by eliminating every Gem Block in the level. While it’s not a ground-breaking mechanic, the gem-destroying requirement adds a satisfying level of complexity to the game’s puzzles. The developers continue to keep things fresh by implementing shallow pits in their level design, lending additional difficulty to each puzzle through the use of verticality.

The music in Duck Roll isn’t varied, but it’s certainly enjoyable, energetic and catchy. Similarly, the entire game’s details radiate with an aura of joyousness. Every time I fell into lava, or dropped onto a bomb-block, or trapped myself in a corner, I couldn’t help but chuckle at my duck’s vacant stare, or his grumpy quacking sounds. These details proved to be more than enough to keep me coming back to the game, even when stumped on a tricky level.

All fans of iPhone puzzlers ought to check out Duck Roll, as it’s free to download. If you’d like to contribute to the developers, there’s an option to pay $2 to opt out of in-game ads. I recommend removing the ads, as my playing experience improved immensely once I made the purchase. I look forward to seeing future updates from Mamau, as Duck Roll is a gem, a joy to play, and a worthy challenge for anyone who enjoys grid puzzlers.

4 Stars

 

VOI Review

Minimalist visuals and atmospheric design are some of the handiest tools in an indie studio’s arsenal. Simple polygons and electronic soundscapes are much cheaper to produce than the bump-mapped, fully orchestrated worlds of big-budget studios. In the case of Gamebrain Studio‘s newest puzzler VOI, this minimalism extends beyond aesthetics into the core of the gameplay, which foregoes new mechanics to create an intriguing, yet short-lived puzzle experience.

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VOI is a mind-trip of a shape puzzler. At the start of each level, you’ll be presented with a target shape, to be recreated on a grid from a collection of broken pieces. However, these pieces will bear little resemblance to the target shape. Herein lies VOI’s hook: eye-trickery. Two overlapping black shapes produce a void where they meet, negative space which proves essential to achieving each level’s goal. Each of the game’s 66 levels are well-honed, enjoyable to play, and immensely satisfying to complete. However, 66 levels is a very small amount of content for a title with such an intriguing concept. I would have liked to see more mechanics introduced, or another batch of levels with a larger grid and trickier puzzles. However, Gamebrain Studio promises that more levels are coming soon, and I eagerly anticipate experiencing more when the time comes.

My gameplay experience verged on pure excellence, but the round grid at the bottom of the screen admittedly gave me some trouble. Just as it’s notoriously difficult to organize furniture along a curved wall, I found it frustrating to organize my tiles on a round grid. For large or strangely-shaped pieces, the spacial constraint presented an unnecessary hindrance. Aesthetically, the circular grid was a pleasing choice, but a rectangular grid would leave more room for players to easily move their pieces around the screen.

Even with its frustrating grid design and lack of content, my time with VOI was an absolute pleasure. Its puzzles are tricky but rarely frustrating, the visuals are fantastic, and the soundtrack by Andrew Isaias draws the player into the experience, encouraging them to explore the mysterious powers at their fingertips, while never drawing too much attention to itself. I look forward to playing new levels when they’re released, and heartily recommend VOI to all puzzle fans. At its current price point of $0.99, it’s well worth the purchase.

4 Stars

 

Blyss Review

Blyss by Dropout Games is a well-paced tile-puzzler, loaded with relaxing, endlessly replayable gameplay. Its soft color palette and minimalist design elevate its procedurally-generated puzzle gameplay to a high level of excellence, albeit with a few quirks when it comes to unlocking gameplay modes.

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The core mechanic in Blyss is simple. At the start of each level, you’ll be presented with a small grid of tiles, each marked with one or two dots. By connecting these tiles, the value of each tile in the chain will drop by a value of one. Your goal is to eliminate every tile in the grid by reducing each one’s dot-value to zero. The twist in Blyss lies in a clever gameplay restriction, only allowing the player to connect tiles in groups of three or four. In doing so, Dropout Games ensures that the player must connect the dots carefully, to avoid rendering certain areas of the grid unusable. A hasty swipe might back you into a corner, so thoughtful choices are necessary in order to progress.

Blyss doesn’t require much head-scratching or obsessive searching for a single path to success. Instead, its puzzles are procedurally-generated, meant to be completed in a minute or less, relying on strategies of tile-management and quick logic. After completing a level, the next puzzle immediately appears, noting your progress at the top of the screen. Level progression without error is at the heart of Blyss, and is necessary to complete many of the game’s achievements.

A full round of Blyss can take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes, depending on how carefully you manage your tiles. Any mistake will result in a fail screen, with the option to continue for a number of dot-coins. These coins are earned through basic gameplay, so you can generally afford a couple continues per round. However, as you reach higher levels, fail screens will inevitably appear more often, and the cost to continue rises with each failure. This continue system is cleverly implemented, and is very effective in encouraging smart gameplay without punishing mistakes too harshly.

Beyond the game’s default Endless Mode, two other modes can also be unlocked through gameplay, in the form of Time Attack and Playground Mode. Locking Playground Mode at the start of the game makes sense, as it includes higher-level tiles which aren’t revealed in Endless Mode until later in the game. However, locking Time Attack Mode until the player has beaten hundreds of levels is an unfortunate decision, as it’s arguably the most entertaining mode in the game. Many players might miss out on the joyful rush of blazing through puzzles on a timer, simply because the entry requirement is too daunting. I was only unable to unlock Time Attack Mode by grinding the first fifteen levels twenty times over, as the complexity of later levels slowed my progression toward the achievement.

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Blyss offers additional unlockable themes, which can be purchased using dot-coins. Each theme offers different color palettes and background music, and while the music is pleasant enough, as the game progressed, the loops quickly grew repetitive. Thankfully, the developers have accounted for this, and I was able to turn the music off and leave the sound effects on.

Its daunting achievements aside, Blyss is well-paced, challenging, and endlessly replayable. At its current price point of $1.99, it’s easy to recommend for anyone looking for a puzzler with a pleasant aesthetic.

4 Stars

 

Klocki Review

‘Succinct’ is a word that comes to mind while playing Rainbow Train‘s latest puzzle offering, Klocki.

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The game opens without fanfare or instructions, presenting you with your first puzzle: two tiles, each marked with a pink line. Tapping the two tiles swaps their positions, connecting the pink line, and completing your first task. With this concise yet elegant introduction, your journey into Klocki’s puzzling world of tiles begins.

Klocki’s intuitive controls are responsive and thoroughly enjoyable to experience, and its production suits the gameplay perfectly. The satisfying sound of swapping tiles, the immediate responsiveness of a turning crank and the satisfying glow of a completed puzzle all come together to create a full-fledged sensory experience. As you progress, the game adds tile-sliding, spinning and twisting to your arsenal of tools, increasing the challenge of the puzzles at a steady-but-fair rate.

The heart of Klocki’s difficulty lies in its multiple puzzle types. After working through a number of pink-line puzzles, soon you’ll be presented with overlapping lines of different colors, black tiles which can’t sit next to other black tiles, and green-blob shape puzzles.

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The shape puzzles are the true head-scratchers of the game, and not in a good way. Klocki’s pink-line puzzles work because gathering broken pieces and arranging them into a completed path is a natural human compulsion. Conversely, the green-blob puzzles don’t reach the same level of transcendent gameplay, because piecing together seemingly unrelated blobs into misshapen masses is unintuitive and confusing. Thankfully, the game only presents three or four truly frustrating green-blob levels, which can be solved through the sheer force of will, and a little trial-and-error.

Clocking in at only 82 levels, Klocki is barely an hour-long experience, but it’s truly a pleasure from beginning to end. The ambient background music is never abrasive or intrusive, and suits the game perfectly. The majority of the levels are excellently-designed, concise and self-explanatory, and the few troublesome puzzles can be dealt with through a few minutes of trial and error. For the cost of only a dollar, Klocki is well worth the purchase for any puzzle fan looking for an an hour of clever zen-puzzle gameplay in a cohesive package.

4 Stars