Archive for the ‘Casual’ Category

One of the great things about the iTunes store is the variety and sheer number of new games released on a weekly basis.  With that, there are plenty of hidden gems that honestly don’t receive the attention they deserve.  One such gem is Brave Beak, a worthwhile casual game both for its simple, addictive gameplay, and entertaining for its many nuances.  With a simple one-touch mechanic that is much more than its Angry Birds/Tiny Wings hybrid looks, Brave Beak will have many soaring to new heights.

First off, the basics…the goal is to maneuver a bad attitude, squawking bird through a number of environments in a quest to his kidnapped princess.  In order to progress through the current chapter consisting of 18 levels (an additional two chapters are planned in future updates), objectives must be met.  Of course, there’s a high score component and the collecting of treasure throughout.  Accumulating points and collecting items are done simply by flying into them.  This sounds straightforward but players will that Brave Beak is rather clever in how this all carried out.

The first thing players will notice right away is the Don Ho-inspired island music which is catchy enough that you’ll likely be humming bars of it throughout the day.  Many players like eye candy and Brave Beak certainly doesn’t disappoint.  The bright colors and the animation throughout are extremely eye catching.  While the game isn’t universal, I didn’t have any issues with pixilation running Brave Beak in 2x on my iPad.

It’s obvious that Brave Beak takes its inspiration from Angry Birds and Tiny Wings with a number of elements from both.  The controls are simple and they work remarkably well.  Launching your bird is done via slingshot and as he flies through the air, touching and tapping the screen keeps him in flight.  The longer a player touches the screen, the higher the bird soars.  An energy bar allows players to gauge how much longer the little feathered buddy has left in his gas tank.

Where Brave Beak distinguishes itself is in the engaging environments and the addictive gameplay.  Once you get started, you’ll easily find yourself spending more time than expected playing over and over again.

Graphically speaking, the environments offer a potpourri of different things that will keep your eyes busy.  As your bird takes flight, players encounter squawking birds, shooting stars, jumping fish, pirate ships, and castles among other things, and that’s just what you notice on the first go around.  Gold coins and treasure are located throughout as well as wooden structures and ramps.

Each level provides a list of objectives to be met before unlocking the next level.  These can be as simple as flying through clouds to capturing or eating a specific number of items.  The game’s difficulty comes in locating treasure and even finding specific items.  The cleverness is that this requires a bit of experimentation on the player’s part.  Certain objectives require soaring into the stratosphere to find a hidden castle or taking a bite of the moon.  Other times, players are required to fly low to the ground or water to destroy pirate ships or bouncing off of a whale.  There are even objectives that involve freeing other birds.

Because the little feathered guy only has so much energy, power boosts are located throughout.  These come in the form of flames, whale water spouts and rainbows all of which add to the energy bar.  Ramps and hammocks serve to power jump your bird’s abilities while kites temporarily increase flight speed.  Again, there are plenty of these things within the Brave Beak for players to discover.

Along the way, wooden structures ala Angry Birds housing treasure are there for the plundering.  To increase the replay value, gold coins are hidden throughout each level.  The coins are often very visible but the challenge is in reaching them.  Other times, these coins are hidden away typically higher in the air which forces players to plan ahead.

One shortcoming is that the levels are scripted and not randomly generated.  Thus, items and structures remain in the same spot regardless of how many times you play that level.  Having said that, the environment and action is expansive enough that players will be busy enough each time they play.

There’s also has a note in a bottle feature which allows players to send notes to other players.  A bottle can be collected during gameplay which indicates whether any notes have been received from other players.  These notes can be read during the game which will pause play or afterwards.  It’s a quirky little addition and doesn’t impact gameplay.

The game is on GameCenter and there are a fair amount of achievements from scoring milestones to slapping birds.  Yes, slapping birds, although I’m sure PETA won’t be too overly upset.

Brave Beak is a cleverly designed casual game with addictive gameplay.  The mechanics of the game are simple to appeal to everyone and the content, while limited, entertaining enough to keep them coming back.  From the fun, colorful, and eye appealing environments to the challenging objectives, there’s a lot to like and discover in Brave Beak.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (“addicting in its simplicity” gameplay that effectively combines elements found in Angry Birds and Tiny Wings to create a fun standalone game; colorful graphics and engaging environments; plenty of replay value from locating gold coins and topping high scores; more levels planned for future updates)

With the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing upon us have come the conspiracy theories—enough to rival those of some TA members—surrounding whether the landing even really took place. My suggestion to conspiracy theorists everywhere: Play Moon Drop, and you may have a more optimistic look on life.

Over the past 8 months, the evolution of NimbleBit as one of the top devs for the iPhone/iPod platform has been obvious. From the ever popular Scoops and Sky Burger to what I consider one of the best word games out there (and I mean on Earth) in Textropolis, you can now add Moon Drop to that list. Typical of NimbleBit games, Moon Drop is a polished time waster that looks deceptively simple that I think even Fox Mulder would enjoy.

Honestly, my first impressions of Moon Drop just from looking at the screen shots were less than enthusiastic. But the gameplay and the humor sold me. The gist of the game is this: guide a bunch of landing pods containing lunar colonists to the safety pad below. It sounds simple enough until you realize these pods are coming in from all over the place and at different speeds.

You hold the colonization of the moon in your fingertip…literally. Ominous yes, but if you don’t muck it up, you should be able to get some down there in one piece. Steering and controlling the descent speed of the pods is done by touching and tapping the screen. As lunar pods appear at the top of the screen, and move down—some faster than others—touching the screen will steer pods away from your finger while at the same engaging the thrusters. The challenging part of Moon Drop is getting pods to the landing pad, and better yet, the center of the landing pad for bonus points. Of course, the pods are also not very cooperative since an action, usually on your ill-conceived part, will cause a reaction. I really like the controls because they’re simple and they work…two things often more difficult than you think in the world of iTunes games.

As you get better and advance through the waves, the number of pods increases requiring more attention and better touch skills. Otherwise, it’s “Houston, we have a problem” and even then Tom Hanks won’t be able to save you. Often, I forget to adjust the thrusters enough and well, you end up with colonists splattered all over the place. Sorry colonists! Throughout the game, you’re provided three pods that you can voluntarily or as will be the case, involuntarily lose before it’s time to consider a different career other than space travel.

There are also bonus waves where you’re not penalized for losing a pod here and there, but will still add points and colonists to your repopulation efforts. Think of it as a gimme in golf that I’m sure Alan Shephard would’ve taken advantage of if he had the chance.

One of the neat little touches in Moon Drop is the offhanded and sometimes humorous comments whenever you safely land pods. In fact, these comments alone will help conspiracy theorists loosen up a bit, and may actually cause some to believe that the moon really is made of cheese and ice cream scoops.

A few things the game could use is a better local scoreboard. Right now, it only keeps track of highest score and total population from all your games played which in my case is a little sad. Additional statistics or achievements would also round out Moon Drop. The statistics can be as straightforward as number of pods landed to something as outlandish as trips completed without fatalities just to add some humor of course.

Often an intangible in games is the replay value, which go a long way in determining the success of a game. In the case of Moon Drop and more specifically NimbleBit, the game is designed for the super casual player looking for that quick moon adrenaline without all the elaborate stuff. I have to say that the game has an addictive quality to it because of the challenging aspects and the occasional entertaining humor which I think will appeal to many. While conspiracy theorists may say “This got a what on the Albie Meter?!”, Moon Drops and Nimblebit deserves to be on your device.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (for the sheer engaging and super casual gameplay that adds just the right amount of entertainment and challenge; offers the right balance that even your average joe astronaut who doesn’t play games will pick this up)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to lead Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs through battle? In a way, you get a pretty good idea with Warpack Grunts, a lighthearted military warfare game where you direct a team of grunts to battle evil. While Warpack Grunts offers a good degree of entertaining gameplay with enough missions to keep you a busy, the gameplay can be limiting and quite frankly repetitious after a few missions.

Warpack Grunts has 40 missions and 4 difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard and Nnnnaarrgh!. You begin with a series of training missions to familiarize yourself with the controls, weapons and tools available throughout the battle areas. The storyline follows the usual world domination plot by the generically named Evil Dude and his army of Ubiquitous Badly Trained Evil Chaps. The objective for the Warpack Grunts is to infiltrate and destroy the enemy teams and their bases to save the world.

The game looks decent, and the various terrains are adequately illustrated. At certain points, animated cut scenes provide storyline to the next mission, but for the most part, they’re disposable. The animation is very smooth and the sound effects such as arms fire, explosions and especially when the grunts are taking fire can be smile inducing. Yeah, I know that sounds bad, but still I can’t help but laugh at their pain.

The controls which consist of grunts following your finger as you drag it around sounds straightforward in concept, but in play, it’s not the most ideal which I’ll explain shortly. To shoot something, you double tap on it and as long as your finger touches the screen, the shooting will be continuous.

Each of the grunts has individual healthbars meaning they can be picked off one by one. But, keep in mind that the team moves as a unit so they can be branched individually as they enter battle. At the end of each level, points are awarded for Health, No Casualties and Squad, and time to complete the mission is also provided.

In the game, there are several weapons that the grunts can acquire and use. These include grenades, rocket launcher, sentry gun, and sniper rifle. As the grunts are directed around the screen, these weapons will appear, which can then be acquired. Once acquired, a button in the bottom left corner appears, and by tapping this button, the alternate weapon can be activated. It’s rather simple, but as I alluded to, the control scheme hinders this a bit. You simply cannot move and shoot which often means the grunts will take the brunt of enemy fire before they can launch a grenade for example. Another tool worth mentioning is the Binoculars. Once this is accessed, dragging around the screen will provide the ability to see around the current battle area. Part of the problem with the binoculars is they are framed within a binocular-like border, which makes them more or less useless because of the limited perspective they provide. Most of the time, I haven’t even bothered to use them.

When it comes to gameplay, I’m a little disappointed because there really isn’t much strategy to the game. If that’s the intent of the game, then so be it. Each of the battle areas is set up like a maze, and you direct the grunts accordingly around the bends. Because of the limited perspective, the majority of the time is spent firing on enemies that they come upon. Because it’s a maze, you’re forced to travel along a certain pre-planned route with very little free movement outside of those paths. Often you will come up against a turret or base, and the goal is simply to launch a grenade as fast as possible. So, instead of a game that involves planning a move, the game is more about quick fingers and seeing who shoots faster. Not that this is a bad thing, but for those expecting more strategy, Warpack Grunts is not that kind of title.

Because the grunts work and move as a team, I would’ve liked to see individual abilities which would add significantly to the strategy of the game. While some will disagree, the current game is skin deep without a lot of substance. In fact, if the controls don’t turn off people, the lack of depth may. At its current price, do I think that’s fair? Well, I do because this is a game, and I’m reviewing it as a full-fledged game regardless of price.

Expectations aside, Warpack Grunts is a lighthearted casual game that brings a certain degree of entertainment. While the game will sell well, I’m sure that will be based more on the Freeverse name and the hype rather than the merits of the game itself. As a gamer, I can’t help but be somewhat dissatisfied at the current result. Now you know what I mean by disposable.

Albie Meter: 3 Stars (recommended for casual gamers looking for explosions and weapons fire without much strategy)

Every day, I see about a dozen games released on the platform that interest me to some degree. From there, I categorize them into one of three buckets: 1) must try, 2) don’t bother and 3) purgatory. Purgatory is for those games that seem interesting, but I may or may not try them due to time constraints and other personal obligations. Must.Eat.Birds is one of those games that almost fell into purgatory, but for the grace of iTunes I decided to give it a try which I’m glad I did. Beyond the aptly named title and seemingly new genre called Picnic Defense, Must.Eat.Birds offers a cartoony look, vibrant animations, and unusual premise that combine to deliver an entertaining diversion that at the least should put a smile on your face.

Japan is known for its innovation when it comes to technology, but it’s also known for its sometimes “off the wall” creativity (e.g. wacky game shows). The premise behind Must.Eat.Birds is no different. Your objective is to help Nomster—referred to as an innocent monster—prevent birds from eating his desserts. The story doesn’t clarify whether Nomster baked these desserts himself or acquired them in some other way, although I’m sure I don’t want to know. But that’s beside the point.

The game looks great and has that casual lighthearted feel to it, which I think appeals to a broader audience. On occasion, I did experience a slight lag with the animation on my iPod Touch 2g, but nothing that affected gameplay. The music has a Far East tone, and the special effects are thankfully subtle yet adequate for a game such as Must.Eat.Birds. The game offer 9 progressively difficult missions where you’ll need to eat a certain number of birds, and for each mission, you receive scores and grades ranging from A to D depending on the swiftness of Nomster’s feast and your ability to prevent desserts from being snatched. In addition, there are 4 challenges that you can unlock. The tutorial is pretty basic, and it could use additional information especially in the area of perks. The other thing to note is there is no auto save/auto resume, but the reality is that you won’t spend 5 minutes contemplating your next move so it shouldn’t be an issue.

These birds come in different shapes and sizes. The basic bird looks cute similar to something you would see in a Hello Kitty store (not that I’ve been to one, but I’ve seen pictures), but the ones you have to watch out for are the parachuting eggs and the overstuffed birds. Parachuting eggs are tricky because once Nomster hits one, it’s turns into two dessert-loving chicks which means twice the work for you. The overstuffed birds on the other hand are your basic cute bird on steroids which means they fall faster. In addition, there are parachuting bombs as well and these can generate additional points, let alone heartburn, if Nomster can eat them.

How do you defend against this avian invasion? Using your finger, you aim and slingshot Nomster at these seemingly harmless birds intent on snatching their unjust desserts. Seriously. Nomster is hooked up in a contraption consisting of two forks and a rubber band, and using your finger, you pull Nomster back and let him fly. Of course, you can bounce him off the verticals sides of your screen, and there are various additional powers in Nomster’s arsenal. The controls can sometimes stick a little especially when there is a lot of activity on the screen, but in general, they’re responsive.

Nomster has a unique talent…it can eat itself and grow significantly in size. Literally, eat yourself and get bigger. This gives you the advantage of covering more area on the screen and gobbling up more birds in the process. As Nomster eats more birds in a single bound, combo points are awarded. Generate enough combo points and you activate Monster Bake. Yes, I said Monster Bake. This temporarily turns Nomster into a red giant that will streamroll the screen and unceremoniously eats the avian scum. The occasional bonus cake will appear as well, and you want Nomster to eat that for additional points.

To add to the replay value, Must.Eat.Birds has an achievement system, which honestly have some funky names and requirements that you could probably find on a Japanese game show.

Menagerie Au Trois—eat 3 different birds in one shot
Atomic Nom—Destroy 5 birds with one bomb
Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom—Eat yourself 5 times
Tasty Combo—Get a combo of 10 or more in a single shot
Gateaux Blaster—Complete a level without losing a cake
Make Cake Not War—Complete all missions
Maximum Bake—Complete all missions with an A grade
Phenomenal—Score over 500k in challenge mode
Nomicidal Maniac—Eat 5000 birds

The gameplay is rather entertaining especially when Nomster eats himself and gets bigger. The background animations with the different cakes can be eye catching, but the game can be intense, well as intense as it can be for a bird-eating monster. Early on, you’ll have an unlimited capacity to shoot Nomster which means you can shoot haphazardly with less accuracy. But in later stages, you’ll be limited in how many times you can sling Nomster and if you don’t plan correctly, you’ll run out of moves meaning the birds feast, and unable to unlock the next mission or worse yet, reach a milestone such as Menagerie Au Trois achievement.

Overall, Must.Eat.Birds incorporates some unusual and creative ideas into a surprisingly fun and entertaining game of monsters, birds and desserts. And it puts a new spin on eating yourself.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for those who want a fun yet different kind of pick-up-and-play game; I’d even recommend it for children although I wouldn’t go into detail on the various achievements)

Bed Bugs is a fun game in the whack-a-mole genre where the objective is to keep your sleepwalker dreaming nice dreams while preventing the bed bugs from waking him up. Of course, bed bugs are the least of your problems because some require special treatment.

The game has 28 levels with a bonus stage every 4 levels, and based on how you do, you get a gold crown for being perfect, a silver star for keeping your sleeping buddy, well, asleep, or you get nothing because he woke up. A gauge appears at the bottom of the screen that shows the balance between nightmares and happy dreams. The objective is to move the gauge towards happy dreams before the level ends. There are 28 different enemies in the game and if were just as simple as tapping them, then the Bed Bugs would be too easy. You also have several friends including the Fairy, Splitters, Jack in the Box and the Twins which you’ll need to protect from the sleep-waking baddies. Also, you can’t squish your friends because they apply against your nightmare count.

Initially, the bed bugs require a simple tap, but soon they become evolve into bugs that require special treatment. What does special treatment mean? Some will require you to wait until they turn a certain color before you squash them, while others appear in bubbles requiring multiple taps. Many others including the flowers will require even more taps. Then, there are your inconvenient friends that manage to get in the way.

“Sorry fairies, I didn’t mean to squish you.”

If the baddies end up touching any of your friends, they get the bed cooties and turn into nightmares. Get enough of them and your sleepwalking friend wakes up, and then where will you be? When you get into the later levels, a barrage and diverse group of baddies will come out of the woodwork, and it’ll make you wonder what your sleepwalking dude had for dinner. There’s a nice variety of sleep-waking enemies, too many to describe and frankly, they’re best left for you to discover.

The graphics and the sound effects are hilarious. The soundtrack is lively and completely counters to a game with this theme. You’d almost expect some happy lullaby, but instead, it’s straight from a London nightclub. Hearing your friends getting squished is almost as funny as splatting the baddies.

Overall, Bed Bugs is a fun little game that casual gamers will love, and definitely different from the usual iTunes gaming fare.

Albie Meter: 4 stars (if you can’t relate to the game, have hoagie before you go to bed, and then this game will make sense)