Thursday, November 13, 2014

Flow Free (Big Duck Games/Noodlecake Studios, 2012)

Games come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles to appeal to a wide range of gamers, many of whom don't even consider themselves gamers. If Mom's playing Candy Crush on her iPhone while Junior blasts through Call of Duty on his XBox as Grandmom works out Sunday's crossword puzzle on an iPad, they are all gamers. From Solitaire to Cut the Rope, one of the fastest growing genres is mobile puzzle games. The simple to approach interfaces and short session times make them ideal for a quick distraction to idle away your hours on the go. One such game that's been taking up a lot of my time lately is Flow Free.

The basic idea of Flow Free is that you're presented with a black grid containing multiple colored dots, two dots of each color. You need to connect dots of the same color by dragging a path between them, and end up with every pair of dots connected in a way that fills every piece of the grid. It's a simple premise, and the challenge level scales well from simple to total brain stumper.

Puzzles in Flow Free are arranged based on grid size. From the main menu, you can select any size grid without having to have completed the previous sizes, allowing you to jump right into whatever level of challenge you are in the mood for. This approach makes the game more accessible to casual players, and allows the easier earlier levels to be skipped if they don't provide enough difficulty, but on the other hand, you do lose out on any sense of progression you might get otherwise.

Lacking a progression map may seem like it would make the game less addictive, but if it does, I didn't notice. This is one of those "Just one more level" games that is difficult to put down. It loads fast and remembers where you left off, so it's a quick go-to when waiting in line, waiting for a download, waiting for a text reply, or just plain waiting. I found myself going through the lists on my phone until I'd completed every puzzle, even the larger ones intended for tablets, with a careful hand they are playable on a decent size phone screen, iPhone 5 users may have trouble with them though.

As the grids get larger, the number of dots increase, and with them, the number of colors used. This is where an unavoidable problem arises, there just aren't really that many different looking colors. Sure it's easy to tell the red dot from the green dot, but when you finally snake a path from the blue dot across the screen only to find that the other blue dot is slightly darker and therefor a different color, it gets frustrating. Sometimes it seemed like they stuck with slight brightness variations of the different colors too much when altering the saturation as well might have made them stand out more, but with a careful eye, all of the puzzles are still playable.

Another issue was with the puzzle designs themselves. Some of them were clever intricate bits of brilliance with only a single possible solution that must be deduced from the clues provided. Others were more sloppy messes with large empty spaces that just need to be filled in by whichever color you're connecting last. It's as if the designer was more inspired some days and just phoning it in others, or else there were more than one designer, and some were just better than the rest. The way they are mixed together gives the game an inconsistent feel rather than a progressive ramp up, possibly another reason why they opened access to all of the puzzles from the start.

While it's far from a perfect game, Flow Free still managed to capture my attention for more hours than I would have thought. Some of the more difficult puzzles had me stumped for days at a time, and one particular puzzle took me weeks to figure out. If you've been keeping an eye open for a simple free mobile game to kill time with, then Flow Free may be exactly what you need.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bastion (Supergiant Games/WarnerBros. Interactive Entertainment, 2011/2012)

I talked a lot about clones in my Ittle Dew review, and about how most games released these days are slight variations on existing ideas. The recent renaissance in indie games by smaller groups or even individuals has lead to some pretty radical new gaming concepts, but sometimes games come along that manage to give us something we're already familiar with, but in a new way that makes it feel like something fresh and unique. This is the case with Bastion.

If you had to categorize Bastion, it would be an Action RPG with Hack n' Slash combat, but that immediately brings up images of Legend of Zelda mixed with God of War as seen in the Darksiders series, and really Bastion is not at all like those games. It has a laid back patient pace to it, and a strong charm that while not exactly whimsical, is definitely leaning in that direction.

Much of this charm comes from the ongoing narration. Ever since Joe Montana II: Sports Talk football for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, sports game fans have seen, or heard rather, the evolution of real time play-by-play commentary, and while it's nothing new in the world of digital ball tossing, it's something rarely featured in adventure games. Bastion utilizes this technology to tell you a story in past tense about not just the main objectives and plot points, but what you are doing moment to moment, and how well you are handling various situations. It's a surreal experience that pushes the art of interactive storytelling into new territory. Hopefully it becomes a trend and we can see how far it can go.

I mentioned the Hack n' Slash roots of the gameplay, and as would be expected, Bastion has a very active combat system. What I found unique was how large of a variety of weapons the game offered the player, and how different the gameplay felt with each weapon. It's not uncommon for action games to have fully fleshed out projectile vs melee combat systems, but the differences between using a sword vs spear vs hammer, or a shotgun vs bow and arrow vs machine gun felt almost like playing different games.

You are able to carry any two weapons at a time, and since they map to different buttons on the controller, switching between them seamlessly becomes a large part of the experience. Optional training areas for each weapon are available as side missions allowing you to learn the pros and cons of each without the need for standard tutorials, and really help in trying to find the combination that best matches your preferred play style.

Try not to get too comfortable with any one play style though. As you progress through the many environments and enemy types Bastion has to offer, you'll be changing up your equipment of choice to best suit whatever challenge you find yourself up against. What works great against swarms won't get you far in a boss fights, and the best way to take down larger enemies won't work well when attracted by quicker moving airborne foes. Some areas require a more focused style of play, while others demand flexibility.

Throughout Bastion, resources are collected that can be used to upgrade your character, or your weapons, allowing the ability to further customize your playing experience by making your weapons stronger or faster, or increasing it's range or ammunition capacity. The ability to perform these upgrades isn't available right away however, first you must upgrade your main base of operations, the Bastion itself.

Bastion takes place right after a horrible accident destroys the world. You play as The Kid, as you try to reassemble some of the pieces to build a small bit of habitable land floating in the vast nothingness, all the while befriending fellow survivors and unlocking the mystery to discover the cause of the calamity. Each character has their own back story, and their own take on the land's history. The Kid's story gets fleshed out the most, and there are some touching moments as he discovers the fate of his lost loved ones. This is where the narrator really helps, allowing the emotions to surface in more of a literary way, rather than a typical cinematic approach.

Visually, Bastion also manages to stand out from other games. The 2D isometric artwork presents a detailed world that flows into place from the empty vastness beneath as The Kid nears an edge. Everything has a strong and consistent style to it that packs just the right amount of eye candy into it so it never seems stale, but never gets distracting. This is complimented by the laid back twangy yet atmospheric music reminiscent of some of the lighter soundtrack pieces from the Borderlands series.

Bastion's relaxed pace brand of introspective combat adventuring may not appeal to gamers looking for pure adrenaline fueled twitch combat, and the desolate world devoid of traditional towns and NPCs may feel a bit lonely for rabid RPG fans, but if you've been on the lookout for something that feels just a bit different, Bastion is an experience you won't want to miss out on.

Friday, November 7, 2014

[TRAILER] Nintendo 3DS - The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D - Announcement Trailer

Ok, I've been posting a lot of trailers on here lately, but this is the one I'm most excited for:

Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was announced as a 3DS launch title, there's been a lot of speculation as to its sequel also being adapted. Now we know, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D will be making its way to our portable screens in the near future so a whole new generation of gamers can experience what is undoubtedly the strangest chapter of the Zelda series.

I might even pre-order this one!

[TRAILER] OverWatch Trailer Premiere At Blizzcon 2014

Remember when Blizzard announced that they were canceling Titan recently? Well, it looks like they're hanging onto a lot of what they'd made and reworking it into a shooter instead...

Overwatch looks interesting, but there's not a lot of information yet on exactly what it is. Is it a Defiance style MMO Shooter? Is it a new MOBA? Is it the next Team Fortress? It goes beta in 2015, but until more info starts leaking, we'll just have to wonder.