Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Bullet Time, pulp fiction, New York Minute…sounds like Max Payne’s back in the house.

Max Payne is in many ways an icon in the video game industry you just knew would eventually show up for the iOS party. Like the Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, he’s the kind of guy you want on your side. In this latest reincarnation for our revenge seeking vigilante hero, Max Payne in his dated glory is still the man when it comes to a story-driven, intense third-person shooter.

Ported to the iOS by Rockstar Games, the story of Max Payne opens with gut-wrenching, emotionally-charged scenes that set the tone for the rest of the game. A tale that involves the demise of his family, the search for the truth and ultimately, the hunt for revenge, I would argue that the story in Max Payne remains as strong as it ever has been compared to many of today’s games where storytelling is so secondary. Even the voice acting from a decade ago helps to build the anger, desperation, and hatred that transform Max Payne into who he is.

As a third-person shooter, Max Payne has all the elements you want. From dodging and jumping to stealth and Bullet Time slow-motion, the game provides an involved and engaging experience. The adventure follows a nine-chapter storyline and offers a number of modes including Fugitive, Hard-Boiled, Dead on Arrival and New York Minute. Fugitive mode offers relatively easy gameplay where Max suffers less damage, finds ample supplies of painkillers to repair health, and has more ammo than you can shoot a mobster with. New York Minute is a great game mode where Max is challenged to clear out levels within a limited time period.

While the game has been around for more than a decade and I know most reviewers like to review based on nostalgia, it’s probably fair to look at Max Payne from the perspective of today’s gaming audience. Visually, Max Payne is a good looking game with detailed environments that draw the player in. The story is presented in comic book cut scenes accompanied by what I consider really excellent voiceover. The voiceovers are worth pointing out because there is a certain talent involved in coming off convincingly. Believe me, it’s night and day when listening to good and bad voice actors and Max Payne fortunately did them right.

The graphics and animation look terrific on the latest iPad, and they look fine on older generation iPads and the iPhone. Remarkably, while the graphics are from a 10+ year old game, they look comparable to many of today’s game. Don’t get me wrong, Max is showing some wrinkles. Besides some of the low resolution images which aren’t really bad, the other hitch is that the faces of people look pasted onto to square-like heads which can look awkward and even a little freaky. However, most importantly, Max Payne runs rather smoothly on the new iPad, although there is an occasional minor lag on the original iPad.

The game has a tutorial which I suggest for new players that gets you familiar with the various controls. Speaking of the controls, the devs do a rather nice job converting a PC mouse-controlled game to touch screen. Moving and turning done by tapping and dragging on the screen are more than adequate, although they can feel a little loose at times. For more specific actions, buttons are provided for jumping and opening doors and moving while jumping will generate other actions such as rolling for example. A shooting button is also provided, and an Auto Aim function is included that you can turn on/off. In general, I suggest turning on the Auto Aim function because I found shooting lacked accuracy otherwise. A Bullet Time button activates slow motion and generally works well especially since you can see bullet trails galore (ala The Matrix).

Everything is neatly integrated into a simple HUD. The HUD displays everything from weapons and ammo levels to the amount of bullet time in the form of an hourglass. Switching between weapons is as simple as swiping the weapon icon to shuffle amongst your arsenal. There is a good degree of customization and button placement, although I found the default placement more than adequate. But, if you desire, you can move and place buttons where you like.

In terms of the gameplay, Max Payne benefits greatly from the atmospheric, mood-setting storyline. For new players, Max Payne starts off rather slowly, but the latter part of the game is really where things liven up. Whether you’re in a lonely subway or in a seedy brothel, the game does an effective job of establishing and building a good amount of tension and intensity. Even as you peak around a bathroom stall door, you feel a bit of paranoia creep up on you.

Also, there is a good mix of heavy action as well as stealth activities. The gun battles with the mafia are wild and persistent, and can be quite graphic (for an iTunes game). Humor is a big part of Max Payne so there are plenty of situations where you may actually enjoy eavesdropping on some of the funny conversations between mobsters before you blow them away.

While they work more than adequately, the touch controls can offer a fair share of annoyances keeping in mind that this game was originally PC mouse based. One general annoyance is the lack of precision. There are a number of platforming elements in the game (i.e. jumping between subway trains) that can be tedious. Other times, turning and moving can require more tweaking than you’d like.

Aside from the good, albeit temperamental controls, and the occasional lag, the game inconsistently implements Auto Save. For a game such as this, checkpoints and Auto Save are almost mandatory. Unfortunately, players will need to manually save progress. Otherwise, you’re looking at a lot of pain by Max Payne. Also, there is a slight load time of varying lengths in between chapters which can slow things down.

Instead of GameCenter support, Rockstar has implemented its Social Club which currently provides 41 achievements. I actually like the layout of the Social Club, and it’s a nice change of pace from GameCenter. Of course, this means achievements here aren’t tracked elsewhere.

Max Payne may be from another era, but he can still give today’s games a run for their money. This third-person shooter has something that other games still struggle for today—personality. The terrific voice acting, engaging storyline and atmospheric tone throughout is still one of Max Payne’s biggest differentiators. For old school gamers, Max Payne will bring back memories of sitting in front of your PC monitor with mouse and Cheetos in hand. Those new to Max Payne will enjoy the intensity and humor and just maybe have a better appreciation of what old school means.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (excellent port of a classic with great storyline; atmospheric game with personality the delivers intense gameplay; touch controls are more than adequate but can temperamental and require tweaking; inconsistent auto save function means relying on manual saves; Rockstar Social Club achievements and tracking)

 

Gaming on Apple’s mobile devices has often been dissed for being too basic or gimmicky.  For the most part, that is a relatively accurate statement primarily because the target audience is the casual player.  Take for instance, Sunside’s Crow, a stunning visual extravaganza that attempts to deliver a story-driven action adventure.  A wonderfully beautiful game that takes full advantage of the processing power of the new iPad, the game focuses more on an immersive experience than on the actual gameplay.  Depending on your personal taste, that may just be enough to satisfy.

As the title suggests, it can be pretty much assumed that you’ll be playing a crow.  Crows may not be the bird of choice for many, but they are one of the smartest.  For the most part, let’s just say the intelligence of the crow in this game will rely heavily on your focus and intelligence.  Other times, your intelligence may have you questioning the gameplay.  Crow is a story-driven game where players maneuver your feathered friend through a number of obstacles, collect items, and learn and build skills all with the overall goal of defeating some strangely maniacal bosses.

Visually speaking, Crow is one of the most, if not the most, amazingly gorgeous games in the iTunes store.  The devs have created an engaging fantasy world that doesn’t disappoint.  From flying high above isolated fields and snowy mountaintops to swooping through dark caverns and ducking monsters, Crow is visually fantastic.  Running this on the latest iPad, the animations are crisp and smooth, and accompanied by a terrifically atmospheric soundtrack, the devs would seemingly have the makings of a great experience on their hands.  The 3D imagery, texturing and shadowing is simply top notch, providing a degree of realism that shows how far the iPad has come over the years.

The controls are relatively easy on paper and involve touching in the direction to move, drag to steer and tap to stop.  The reality is these types of controls tend to obscure the screen which isn’t ideal, but certainly work.

Along the way, you’ll come across a number of storypoints that provide a bit of narrative text that can be revisited at any time.  Don’t worry too much about the storyline because for the most part, it doesn’t make too much sense.  Part of the game involves collecting gems which can then be used to acquire and upgrade skills such as regeneration, efficiency and protection.  Later on during boss battles, the game provides gesture controls which involve swiping to attack and drawing a circle to block and shield.

When it comes to the gameplay in Crow, it will almost certainly be a mixed bag for many players.  The game is a combination of on and off rail elements that in general work well, but can also be repetitive.  Exploration is part of the allure of Crow, and as expected, the free roam aspect is core to “soaring in the sky”.  This aspect of the game is more passive in that you can take your time to look for gems, review storypoints and in general, fly around the various environments.  The on-rail component occurs in the battle scenes where for the most part, you’re automatically directed through the level.  Of course, there is a bit of decision-making and quick reflexes in these sections since they involve initiating and dodging attacks.

A gold orb gradually charges up and once fully charged, you tap the orb and use touch gestures to attack or defend.  The action is simple enough since you swipe across the boss or circle the screen, but over the course of the game, this can become tedious especially when you miss.  What happens is that the crow will repeat the same course along the same path to make another pass.  Again, this on-rails aspect felt flat because there didn’t seem to be much variety.  The boss fights which should’ve been much bigger became more of a missed opportunity for the game.

Along the way, you’ll also unlock Challenge levels which involve reflex-intense gameplay and leverage the skills learned along the way.  These levels are available to play outside of the story-driven campaign, and generally, they’re mini-games designed to keep your skills in check.

Honestly, the gameplay by itself can feel one-dimensional, and the imaginative world in Crow really does most of the work in keeping players engaged.  As mentioned, the ability to roam is Crow’s biggest gameplay strength, but keep in mind that the free roam areas aren’t particularly large.  What you have there is good and you’ll want to explore as much as you can.  Crow also offers GameCenter support and achievements which adds to the overall game.

Crow is an imaginative action adventure game presented in easily one of the best looking visual experiences you’ll come across.  For many, however, the gameplay while adequate is not on par with the visuals.  Combining on rails and free roam elements, Crow provides a decent game, but check your expectations at the door if you’re looking for more than a visual experience.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (one of the best looking visual experiences in iTunes gaming; smooth animation and graphics with a good degree of realism; mixed bag when it comes to decent gameplay but also feels like a missed opportunity; on and off rail elements complement each other, but depth may be a turnoff; GameCenter support and achievements)

The Settlers is an RTS gaming series that has evolved quite a bit over the past two decades. Long-time fans would argue that those changes haven’t been ideal for a variety of reasons—admittedly, my experience with the series is limited. One thing is for sure, Gameloft’s The Settlers as a standalone game brings a slightly different take on RTS to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform that for the most part delivers especially in the visuals department, while also bringing a few frustrations along the way such as the omission of a freeplay mode. Ultimately, The Settlers is a solid introduction for newcomers to the series.

As with any typical RTS game, the objective is to build a community, establishing a means of income, develop a powerful military, and expand territories. The Settlers is less about tactical micromanagement and more about strategic planning. In many ways, The Settlers is a game focused on urban planning where the placement and construction of buildings play heavily in your success. Unlike many of today’s RTS games on the platform, direct control of individual or groups of units is limited. You literally establish a virtual society where your vision will set it down the path to success or failure. This premise alone makes The Settlers worth considering especially for newcomers to the series.

Gameloft usually does an impressive job with visuals, and The Settlers shows an eye for details. You can zoom in using the Zoom Slider to view the slats on the sides of huts to the tops of towers. Having said that, the buildings and types of settlers are generally the same from tribe to tribe. From the buildings to the motions and actions of individuals, The Settlers provides an enjoyable viewing experience. Even the random fluttering butterfly, foraging forest animals or the crashing waves seem to bring just the right amount of personality. To further the immersive experience, the sound effects are done particularly well from the birds chirping to battle cries. One minor issue is the soundtrack, which is short and noticeably irritating when it loops, although you can play your own music if you choose.

The Settlers consists of 4 tribes—Roman, Viking, Mayan and Dark Tribe—each with a series of mission-based campaigns. With the exception of Dark Tribe, you play against each of the other tribes (e.g. Roman vs. Mayan, Viking vs. Roman etc.). The most extensive is the 12-mission campaign against Dark Tribe where you play as each of the tribes in campaigns to conquer them. Unfortunately, a free play mode isn’t included, although the length of missions can take significant time, and unlocked missions can be replayed at any time. Auto save is also included along with 5 save slots which is a necessity for a game of this length and depth.

Missions

* Roman
The Standard of Fame
The Victorious Raid
The Cities Will Thrive
Threat from the North
The Magic of the South
Breaking the Blockade

* Vikings
The Stone Dwellers
Wolf on the Prowl
Unholy Alliance

* Mayan
Shores of Gold
The Red Beards
Double Trouble

* Dark Tribe
Seeds of Darkness
Stabbed in the Back
Desecration of Rolf’s Horn
A Matter of Time
Trampling the Toadstools
All That Glitters
Helping Hands
The Roman Quest: The Search Is On
The Mayan Quest: Search Continues
The Viking Quest: Breaking the Mirror
Push Comes to Shove
Getting to the Root

The game boasts an intimidating 35-screen help section which is the first indication of the depth in The Settlers. This is categorized into 8 sections: Buildings, Goods Flow, New Colony, Settlers, Warriors, War Machines, Alcohol, and Magic. One of the things that the game does nicely is the tutorial which walks you through the basics. Each mission is introduced with a cut screen providing a story background followed by objectives which are well thought out.

With all that it’s involved in The Settlers, the HUD is adequately laid out even though it may feel cluttered for some. At the bottom left of the screen is the Build icon which accesses the Build Menu. From here, you can select building and structures based on 6 different types from Construction Materials to Military Power with more than four dozen different items to select from. On the bottom right is the Settlers icon which provides functionality for selecting troops to send into battle as well as recruiting certain types of specialists. One particularly helpful function is the Find Settler button which allows you to locate specific class of tribesman which will be necessary as your community grows.

A display at the top of the screen provides an overview of supplies and types of tribesmen. The Envelope icon on the left side provides a quick and easy way to access mission objectives and also displays warnings. The Star icon on the right side provides access to a mini-map that shows current location and can also quickly bring you to a specific location by dragging. A Fast Forward icon is provided at top that will you speed you through the lengthy process of watching tribesmen perform actions.

The gameplay in Settlers is no different in that certain things need to happen in a certain way before being able to do something else. This is what usually makes RTS games as appealing as they are. For example, to tap into resources such as gold, you’ll need to recruit geologists, send them out to survey a site, build a gold mine, a gold smelter to process, and then a weaponsmith to make tools and weapons. In many cases, you’ll need to have tools made such as shovels and pickaxes before the settlers can proceed with their work.
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Building and placing structures is rather simple. Once a structure is selected from the Building menu, a series of dots will appear on the screen. These are the locations on which the new structure can be located. It’s here that you can watch the little tribesmen work, and the animation really makes it interesting to watch. Of course, you can also fast forward through the process if you want to the speed up the game. Once a structure is placed, statistics can be viewed by tapping on it. For example, a gold smelting building will show how much is produced, while a tower will indicate the number of troops.

The Settlers has a different dynamic which you will either love or hate when it comes to the moving settlers since many are not under the player’s control. When a unit is controllable by a player, they can be selected either by tapping, drawing a square using a pinch motion around a group of settlers, or accessing the Find Settler button. Once selected, tapping on a specific location will create a flag which serves as the meeting point, and the selected settlers will move accordingly. One of the small issues is that settlers you control will tend to revert back to what they were doing no matter where you want them to go, so control is a relative term.

Beyond the military, gardener, thief, geologist and pioneer are free-roaming specialists that you can control. On the other hand, carrier, digger and builder automatically perform their tasks and cannot be controlled. For those new to the game, the limited amount of control can be frustrating especially since these settlers can move rather slowly.

Battles can be fun as you recruit and train troops and then watch the ensuing fight. But keep in mind, beyond directing the direction of troop movements, there are no tactical decisions to be made during a battle. As mentioned, settlers are basically the same from tribe to tribe, although there are a few differences.

Mayans—blowgun warriors that stun enemies
Romans—medics that heal troops as they fight
Vikings—axe warriors that are the strongest and most dominant

There’s even a Priest for each of the different tribes who can influence food resources and cast spells to inflict damage to enemies. Of course, the hitch is generating enough mana to unleash the spells.

Besides magic, there are several war machines available based on the tribe. These include Roman catapults, Mayan firespitters, and Viking Warships, which create visually eye catching damage during battles.

After initially not being too high on the gameplay, I found myself enjoying the game more as I progressed. Personally, I prefer the ability to control the movements of the people in my virtual community, and I can see this potentially being an issue for those who fall in the same camp. Because the game is focused on strategic planning and less so on micromanagement, the enjoyment level will vary based on personal preferences since you’ll spend a fair share of time watching rather doing. The game is a mix of fun and frustration, although I think newcomers to the series may actually enjoy this game more than seasoned Settlers’ veterans. Regardless of your previous experience, the game offers a solid experience with beautiful graphics and a good level of depth. The missions and the maps are elaborate enough to offer hours of play, bringing enough to separate itself from other RTS games in the genre.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (visually impressive game; mission-based campaigns should provide hours of play; depth when it comes to the number of structures and settlers; effectively laid-out interface although plan to study the tutorial and use the Help function; limited control of settlers’ actions may turn off some especially those new to the series)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/11/11/the-settlers-real-time-strategic-planning/

I remember the days when iDracula set the trend for action shooters with stylistic graphics and animation. The storyline and gameplay may have been one-dimensional, but for a time, iDracula was the adrenaline-pumping shooter many looked for. Garters & Ghouls not only delivers an action shooter with style, but rounds it out with a compelling storyline and intelligent gameplay. While the game isn’t perfect, Garters & Ghouls delivers more than a mind-numbing shooter. It brings a badass debutante that you get to manipulate through the gates of hell.

Now as the title suggests, this is an action shooter that can be a little racy, but should appeal to the immature side in all gamers. You play the role of dead debutante Marie Dupois freshly revived by old Doc Barton. I don’t know why Doc Barton chose Marie, but let’s just say that Marie struts around in a bustier and garter belts packing heat. If that doesn’t sound like a weird fantasy, then I don’t know what does. Dead valley girl Marie longs for her husband Lucas who’s been kidnapped by Mr. Evil himself Thrum. Of course, Thrum is quite the charmer since he has an army of evil minions at his beck and call in the form of zombies, skeletons, werewolves, and even mimes. The game consists of 25 levels of mad shooting in cemeteries, amusement parks, mausoleums, a university and various neighborhoods Buffy style.

Visually, Garters & Ghouls looks great with smooth animation accompanied by macabre sounds. Whether squishy noises or the yelping of werewolves, the game does a good job of setting the mood which isn’t cheery. Besides killing hordes, you also must destroy portals from which they emerge. These portals are literally the doorways to evil strategically located throughout. And, all portals must be destroyed before a level can be cleared.

The game is controlled by dual control sticks—the left one for movement with the right one for aiming and shooting. The controls work well, although they could be a little smoother. All in all, Marie moves and shoots where you want her to. By default, Marie has a basic crossbow that has unlimited firepower. Three additional weapons are available which randomly appear after killing something: Multi-shot coil gun, Grenade Launcher, and Machine Gun.

The multi-shot coil gun fires five multi-directional bullets with each shot. The grenade launcher not only wipes out a target but also sends pieces of shrapnel in various directions. And, the machine gun rapidly fires high-velocity shots at enemies. Each of these weapons has limited ammo with a running tally provided at the bottom of the screen. Once ammo is depleted, Marie defaults to the crossbow. Either way, you definitely wouldn’t want to be on Marie’s bad side.

Throughout the game, money appears from the bodies of dead zombies—that’s redundant—werewolves, and other creatures. This money can then be used to purchase additional weapons upgrades as well as health, walking speed, and ammo. Now, Garters & Ghouls doesn’t make it easy for you to purchase upgrades. That would be too easy. You have to battle through the minion hordes in order to reach the Steam Queens shop. Apparently, this is the underworld’s version of Big 5.

Garters & Ghouls also has an achievement system consisting of 22 different and weird accomplishments based on types of enemies killed. Here are a few notable ones:

Major Silent Treatment—killing 75 mimes
Major Brain Bath—killing 75 zombies
Dead-Eye Gold—shoot 30 times without hitting a target
Desecrator—destroy every gravestone in the graveyard area
Silver Bullet Platinum—destroy 40 werewolves without getting bitten

Garters & Ghouls provides a mini-map tracking enemies as well as the portals. This comes in handy because of the way the levels are designed. Besides the garter belt-wearing Marie, what differentiates this shooter from others is the maze-like level design. Maneuvering Marie through the environments is no cake walk, and if you aren’t careful, can lead down a dead end path. And of course, the portals are randomly placed, and in many cases, you have to follow the bodies if you will to locate them. Once Marie is done with her otherworldly cleanup, then she needs locate the entrance to the next stage.

The game isn’t perfect by any means. Shooting accuracy can be difficult and in some cases, it’s tied to the graphics. Bullets and the various dead things in the game will occasionally go through each other. I’m sure you can market this as an underworld-type game where that’s supposed to happen, but it happens. In terms of the weapons, you can switch between weapons, which is a minor nick for me, but for others who are soldiers of fortune in training, this can be an issue. And, as mentioned previously, the controls could be smoother, but they are still adequate in its current form.

Overall, Garters & Ghouls delivers a fun and intense game with an unusual storyline. The levels progressively become more difficult both in the attacking hordes as well as the level design. If you’re into action shooters or just looking for a little sex appeal with your cup of ammo, you may want to join Marie on her ride through Garters & Ghouls.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (fun, intense, and weird action shooter with a lingerie-wearing debutante—need I say more; campy and well-thought out levels with achievements and weapons upgrade; controls aren’t the smoothest but adequate; can’t switch out weapons; keep the eerie sound effects or play your own music)

One of the things that the iTunes store has successfully done is introduce some of the better classics to the newer generation. Earthworm Jim would definitely fit that mold since it was essentially one of the quintessential action platformers of its day. Providing some of the best graphics of its time, Earthworm Jim brings its quirky characters, wacky storyline, and overly challenging gameplay to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. And for older fans and new ones, Earthworm Jim will have them squirming.

The bizarre story involves your garden variety earthworm by the name of Jim who one day mutates into a superhero with the help of a strange spacesuit that drops to Earth. It’s then that Earthworm Jim learns of the evil plans to take over the galaxy and do away with Queen Slug-for-a-Butt’s sister, Princess What’s-Her-Name. With 4 levels of difficulty—easy, normal, hard and original—the game has 16 stages categorized into the following levels:

New Junk City
Andy Asteroids (mini game levels)
What the Heck?
Down the Tubes
Tube Race
Snot a Problem!
Level 5 (additional level in Level 5)
Who Turned Out the Lights?
For Pete’s Sake
Intestinal Distress
ButtVille

In line with the storyline are the equally unique characters with names such as Bob the Killer Goldfish, Evil the Cat, Major Mucus, Chuck and Fifi, Psy-Crow, and her evilness herself, Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. The graphics in Earthworm Jim are timeless and comparable to many of the new games you would see today. Cartoon-like and weird in every way conceivable, the animation is top notch, oozing with the personality and charm of the original from yesteryear. Running on an iPod Touch 2g, the game generally offers smooth and seamless animation mixed in with an occasional yet noticeable lag.

Besides the characters and storyline, Earthworm Jim does a fairly good job with the controls which should make the game easier to pick up and play. Two control options are provided—d-pad and virtual joystick—along with three action buttons—jump, attack and whip. Note that the action buttons change according to the environment and stage. Between the two main control options, the d-pad was the easier one to use, although this will undoubtedly come down to personal preference. The action buttons are located on closely together, while I didn’t have any problems using the buttons, they may be an issue for those with larger fingers. Other mini-games in the game will make use of tilt controls for maneuvering and fortunately, a sensitivity option is provided. And there are also various tools that you can acquire such as fuel pods, air pumps, and ammo.

The game has 10 different environments, all of which are unusual and quirky in their own way. The gameplay in Earthworm Jim is what will draw many to the game. For example, New Junk City literally is a city built of junk and trash, and Earthworm Jim will spend amount of time jumping off tires, dodging things such as TV sets and kitchen appliances, and swinging from old clotheslines. The level culminates with a boss battle against the junkyard owner Chuck who happens to cough up dead goldfish. One of my favorite characters is Major Mucus, who’s basically a monster made of mucus. Disgustingly fun, Earthworm Jim actually battles him in the level Snot a Problem! The battle, all done by bungee jumping and swinging, takes place over a pool of mucus that harbors Major Mucus’ pet.

Earthworm Jim is incredibly flexible, and if he was human, he’d be double jointed. At any given time, you can make him run, jump, shoot his gun and even use his head as a whip. Throughout the game, Earthworm Jim will do a fair share of running and swinging, most of which involve using his head in unusual ways including helicopter spins and major head whips. For those not familiar with the game, Earthworm Jim can be a little restless and if you ever leave stationery, he will actually start performing tricks such as flexing his muscles, spin and throw his gun, shoot himself, and even drop his pants. Did I mention that the game is bizarre? While Earthworm Jim is a platformer at heart, it also includes many other side games in between the levels to break up the monotony. Space races pit Earthworm Jim again Psy-Crow while underwater pod races and bungee jumping add to the variety.

The primary issues worth noting with Earthworm Jim involve the lack of save checkpoints, the level of difficulty and to a certain degree, the controls. The game does not offer progressive saves or checkpoint saves, only saving at the end of levels. While not a deal breaker, it’s not very convenient for a game aimed at a mobile audience. The bright side is that you can play your own music during gameplay. If you don’t have much patience, the degree of difficulty may not appeal to you because Earthworm Jim is no walk in the park. In fact, it’s easily one of the more challenging games requiring dexterity, trial and error, and bit of luck. This leads into the controls, and while both controls schemes work well, they also aren’t very forgiving in terms of accuracy.

Overall, Earthworm Jim is one of the more creatively bizarre, charming and innovatively fun platformers available. With a great character in Earthworm Jim and a cast of equally personable enemies all set in wacky environments, this game is worth checking out. While the difficulty may be frustrating with somewhat clunky controls, Earthworm Jim definitely does things his way.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (wacky characters matched by equally bizarre environments make this a great platformer; varied gameplay with mini-games and side missions; controls have a slight learning curve, and the difficulty may be frustrating for some; play your own music, but no progressive gameplay save)

The iTunes store is overwhelmingly flooded with pick-up-and-play games that focus more on quick play rather than depth. Tap Fu, however, is a little bit of both with a fun casual fighting game that can be played in short spurts or in more prolonged sessions when you’re looking for a little more action. While it isn’t one of the deepest games out there, Tap Fu provides engaging gameplay with different game modes and combat abilities that make it a game worth considering.

Whether in the village or on the mountaintop, the colorful backgrounds look terrific even though they are limited in variety, while the character movements and animation are smooth. Don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you. The game has 4 modes: Story, Survival, 100 Rounds and Training. One of the shortcomings especially in survival mode is the game screen real estate can abruptly end as you reach the border of the screen. Obviously it’s limiting, but fortunately in Story Mode, the scenery is continuous. In addition to the sound effects of punches and pain similar to what you would hear in an old school kung fu movie, the game also has a 5-slot save system and auto screen flip.

In Story mode, you play the role of a Tap Fu Trainee out on a mission to recover candy that the Sweet Tooth Clan has stolen from your village. Under the tutelage of the Elder Tap Fu Master who strangely looks like Pat Morita from The Karate Kid, you learn new skills. The story is told through cut scenes, dialogue boxes and muffled sound effects that sound like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons. One of the things to keep in mind is that Tap Fu’s Story mode is a work in progress that currently only includes Chapter 1: Ninjas. While additional chapters are planned in later updates, the content that is there right now offers a nice glimpse into future installments.

Survival mode offers high-scoring opportunities by battling a continual onslaught of enemies. A variation can be found in the other mode 100 Rounds where you must defeat all the enemies including bosses to move to the next round. Both modes provide the option of playing in two different locations: Mount Fuji and Sakaki Forest.

Training is an entertaining mode for practicing moves, and for those times when you’re looking for an opportunity to relieve some stress. Here, you can either use the Elder Tap Fu Master as a punching bag or set him to battle against you.

The big selling point for Tap Fu comes in your Tap Fu Trainee’s fighting abilities, and the combat system is intuitive and well implemented. Using either the virtual d-pad or specific finger gestures, specific moves can be performed. The easier of the two control options is the d-pad with specific buttons that appear when available, but the devs created a game where the abilities are both easy and fun to use. These abilities—blocking, quick attack, jumping, spin kick, back kick, roll, and fireball—visually look great, and dare I say, almost make the game too easy.

The gesture-based controls require some practice and gestures are indicated by an array of color on the screen. Jumping for example can be accomplished by swiping upwards, while swiping downwards will result in a roll. In general, the quick attack consisting of a quick punch and kick and activated by tapping the screen will be your primary method of attack against ninjas, but progressing through the levels will see ninjas evolve with different abilities.

One of the nice twists is that some of the fighting abilities are not always available. For example, once a back kick is used, there is a slight delay before that ability is available again. The fireball is one that you’ll want to use strategically since this also takes time to charge up. Both of these abilities are monitored on a separate gauge that you’ll come to rely on as much as the health gauge. Another nice element is the local and online scoring system which awards points for combo moves and style. The game also has an achievement system which provides further re-play value. Achievements are awarded for points scored, battle combos, damage inflicted, and length of survival.

“Candy…your smell is sweeter than pie.”—Elder Tap Fu Master

While Pat “Tap Fu Master” Morita indulges in eating it, collecting candy is rather important to the Tap Fu Trainee for other reasons. Candy randomly appears after slaying an enemy. Collecting green candy will improve the health of the little Tap Fu Trainee, while an extra life is awarded for every 20 green candies collected. Aside from that, Tap Fu Trainee earns the special power of quickness and speed for every 15 blue candies collected. All of this is tracked as part of the HUD.

While the game starts out easy, Tap Fu is all about volume in terms of enemy attacks. Ninjas become more difficult to slay as you progress, as well as the ability to cloak their appearance and teleport from one place to another. The gameplay can be intense and involve a fair share of button mashing because the stages gradually become longer. Illustrations appear as you kill off enemies using combos, maximizing scoring abilities and earn achievements.

Each stage culminates with a boss fight against the Master who can easily drain your health. As the enemy hordes increase, the ability to jump and roll will be essential to your survival. The controls are responsive enough that this won’t be a problem for most, although finger gestures can sometimes be misread. The gameplay in Tap Fu can be rather repetitious because you are battling the same type of enemies for the most part. And, more importantly, the difficulty may not be high enough for some. But with what is there now and the promise of additional chapters, Tap Fu does offer an enjoyable fighting experience.

The game is a work in progress, which may discourage some from purchasing right away. But, what is included in the current version still delivers a full experience especially when compared to other iTunes games. Tap Fu is fun a game where the combat moves should keep pique the interest of casual players. With a funny storyline and smooth cartoony graphics, Tap Fu provides a good amount of content with more to come.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for casual gamers looking for an equally casual fighting game; combat moves are nicely implemented and intuitive; different modes provide both prolonged play and shorter quick play; animation is done well; gameplay is a bit repetitious, but is offset by the different moves)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/10/17/tap-fu-a-casual-beat-em-up/

Finding a good arcade fight game on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform has been tough for the simple reason that there hasn’t been one. Don’t get me wrong, there are several good boxing games, but there are times when only a good cut’em up epic sword fight will do. Gameloft’s Blades of Fury is a 3D fantasy arcade fighter that I think mostly satisfies that urge. If you’re looking for a strong storyline or even some depth, then this doesn’t have it. But, if you have a hankering for a visually commanding game that offers a fair share of fight moves, then Blades of Fury fits the bill.

Normally, I would provide a summary of the storyline, but honestly, it’s inconsequential in the scheme of the game. The reality is that Gameloft could’ve saved the money on the incoherent storyline which I suspect interns developed, and used it for better voiceovers which are also pretty poor. On the other hand, I could be wrong, and the game was intentionally made to have a cheesy feel to it especially with the overdramatic intro “Battle Fight” narration. Aside the fact that the game doesn’t save progress during battles, Gameloft does provide an otherwise well-developed, visually eye catching game with some of the best virtual controls available.

Visually, the graphics and animation are stunning even though they do appear rough around the edges. From the characters to the battle arenas, the visuals easily fall into the upper echelon of the iTunes store. Blades of Fury has 10 characters—6 of which are unlocked to start—that can be selected for battle. These characters each have different attributes, weapons, and may I add attire (namely Elwyn and Enimia) that should appeal to the testerone-driven, male target audience. Some even appear in different costumes as you progress through the stages.

Battle Characters:
Arthur
Elwyn
Skurd
Skorn
Machiavel
Magnus
Danling
Faust
Enimia
Diablo

In addition, Blades of Fury also has 10 battle arenas that are vividly illustrated and have different characteristics that can alter a battle.
Babylon
Penglai
Underground
Castle
Forest
Dragon’s Back
Cathedral
Cemetery
Palace
Inner Sanctum

Blades of Fury has 4 game modes that offer a good variety of play. As I mentioned, the Story Mode follows a story line that can easily be omitted.
Story Mode—takes you through 10 battles with a story line
Arcade Mode—battles without a story with points awarded for each victory
Survival Mode—one off battles with a variety of enemies
Practice Mode—play as a specific character and battle and choose a specific arena

In these modes, there is a good degree of customization where you can set battles all the way up to the best of 5, set the time for each battle up to 99 seconds.

The control options come in a variety of flavors—d-pad or virtual joystick for directional moves and buttons or swipe motions for attacks. You can’t go wrong with either control set because they are all equally responsive. In addition, your character has leaping abilities and the power of magic. One thing to note is that each character and opponent has a red health bar and a blue magic bar. The blue magic bar gauges the amount of magic power available, depleting when invoking magic and slowly regenerating during battles. The magic button can be tapped and combined with specific attack moves that intensify the damage, and when held longer, can inflict an indefensible move that in some cases can take out an opponent.

Where Blades of Fury does offer a good deal of depth is in the 20 attack moves that are categorized as horizontal, vertical and magic and then subcategorized as high, mid and low attacks in addition to blocking abilities. These are done by a combination of directional moves and action motions or taps. These attack moves include the basic horizontal and double slashes, but there are also some visually eye-popping moves such as the chariot crush, Trojan slash, and my personal favorite, the power spike. You can also dodge attacks, roll away or into attack moves, as well as retreating when needed, and I have to hand it to Gameloft for making the moves all feel relatively natural. Besides the Practice mode, Blades of Fury also has a nice tutorial that provides a walk-through of all the controls and various attack modes which are not difficult to learn and master.

The gameplay itself is pretty solid and can be intense when it comes to the battles, and there’s even a replay function so you can save your favorite battles. Each battle begins with some dialogue where the two combatants insult each other with some second-rate banter. You won’t miss much by skipping through it. Depending on the combination of attack moves, your character can jump, trip, hack and slash, and get pummeled a fair amount. The AI tends to be very intelligent in hard mode and less so in easy mode, with a good variety of attack and defensive moves including dodging when necessary. The requisite screaming and displays of power are well incorporated throughout, although the standard voiceover that sounds after a battle is repetitive and annoying enough to skip. Keep in mind that opponents have magic as well which will usually send you flying helplessly into the air as they drain your health bar. In the hard mode, opponents are ruthless and tend to take the offensive in proactive attacks. An ideal strategy early on is to attack low combined with a sliding move to take the opponent on the ground, which then allows for a more directed approach.

As you progress through the various modes using specific characters, different types of armor are unlocked and achievement points and trophies are awarded. For example, successfully completing the 10 levels in story mode will unlock a new set of armor, while completing arcade mode with a single character will be rewarded with additional points. Also, additional characters are unlocked as you progress. This is another area where Gameloft doesn’t do a particularly good job of showing what points do and how they’re awarded. Basic statistics such as characters used most frequently as well as points in Story and Arcade mode are included, but not much else. Blades of Fury is one dimensional in that it is strictly a fight game, and if you’re not into this genre, then I doubt the game will convert you even with its snazzy graphics.

While not perfect, Blades of Fury is an impressive arcade fighter that is a solid game for those interested in this genre. With highly responsive controls and a fair amount of attack and defensive moves, Blades of Fury should be another winner from Gameloft.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (entertaining arcade fighter that should appeal to those already interested in the genre; a good amount of attack and defensive moves with controls that feel natural; lack of save function can be annoying)