3..2..1..Grenades! Review

Local multiplayer shooters can be a tough sell in this day and age, when people are accustomed to online play, and four-player split-screen parties are few and far between. Maze-like level design, cartoonish violence and varied objectives were a huge part of GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Ooga Booga, and even the multiplayer shooter mode in Banjo-Tooie. For a game to be released today with a great sense of humor, golden goodies to collect and cartoon arena-shooting would indeed be something of an anomaly, and 3..2..1.. Grenades by Banyango is just that.

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Personally, I haven’t had an opportunity to dig into the multiplayer mode, but I’ve played the single-player mode from start to finish, and boy, did I have a great time with it. The hub world is laid out in a style reminiscent of kart-racer hub worlds, similar to Diddy Kong Racing or Crash Team Racing, with unlockable gates leading to new arenas. Each gate is only accessible once your character has gathered a specific amount of golden grenades, which can be earned inside arenas, or discovered in hidden locations within the hub world. My 90’s nostalgia really kicked in as I discovered that I could scour the hub world for hidden gold, but from what I’ve gathered, there’s only about 96 golden objects to grab. Making it a full 100 would make my Base-10-Addicted soul soar.

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Also, there’s a dark wall in the hub that looks oddly destructible, and I may or may not have thrown hundreds of grenades at it from various angles to try and open it. What if the four last grenades are behind it? What if?

Gameplay in single-player mode is hectic, but well-designed and a total blast once you get the hang of it. I’d certainly recommend turning the AI difficulty down to Easy on all the enemies, as – for me, anyway – the fun of this game is victory and progression, not the slog of fighting off impossibly-difficult AI. The graphics are super charming, with low-poly PS1-styled character models and pixel-graphics on the walls. I should also mention that the boss-creature which shows up a couple times throughout the game is excellently-animated for a small-team indie game, and it truly felt large and dangerous during each battle.

Each arena has five golden grenades to collect, each attached to a specific set of challenges. One challenge might require you to get 10 kills while in low-gravity, while another might simply give the characters big heads, or only allow punch-kills. There’s a ton of verticality in the levels, which really adds depth to the game’s strategy. Capture The Pug mode is a highlight, in which the player needs to capture a tiny pug and slam dunk it into a basketball hoop. It would have been nice to see more challenges involving proximity mines and Grenadelings, which are little alien creatures born from the grenades you throw. It’s all very creative, and clearly made with love for the genre.

There are a few things I’d like to see updated in the future, or adjusted in a sequel. The AI sometimes falls into a loop in levels with destructible environments, and while Capture The Pug mode is hilarious, playing Capture The Pug with inverted controls in the Moon arena was a bit of a nightmare, difficulty-wise. The camera can be a little too bumpy when walking slowly, which might make some players queasy if they’re tip-toeing around, and the slow-mo arena challenges were a little tedious, and didn’t add much to the game. Lastly, the UI’s pixel-sizing varies from font to font, which might be considered a no-no by some pixel purists.

While I definitely have a few gripes with the game, most of them are born from how much I enjoyed my time with 3..2..1..Grenades. There’s just so much to love about it. The Lighthouse, Train and Iceberg levels are fantastic, the variety of challenge is great, and the music through the whole game is super memorable. If you have fond memories of the arena shooters of old, or are interested in collecting some golden objects in an old-school hub world, I definitely recommend checking out 3..2..1.. Grenades at its current price of $8.79 on Steam.

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.

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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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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