Archive for the ‘Puzzle’ Category

Many casual gamers have a natural affection for Match 3 which is a good reason why the concept has succeeded on the platform.  The pick-up-and-play simplicity along with an engaging experience makes for an easy choice.  Of course, the concept can quickly become stale if there isn’t a “higher purpose” to it.  Kitten Sanctuary by Clockwork Pixels successfully uses a novel approach by combining a charming Match 3 with a personality-laden pet sim.  While the cutesy title may dissuade some, it would be an understatement to say that they would be missing out on a very complete and entertaining game.

As the name suggests, Kitten Sanctuary centers on the protection of felines, and in this case, the enemies are catnapping aliens.  Go figure how the devs came up with that storyline, but I guess zombies would’ve been too obvious.  Aliens have gone around Kitten Island capturing kittens, and the goal is not only to rescue them, but also keep them fed and happy.  The general objective of the game is Match 3 so the concept should be pretty inviting to those who enjoy this type of gameplay, but also to others who want a little more with their matching games.

Kitten Sanctuary has a lot of content providing 100 levels with three game modes—easy going, normal, and tricky.  Easy going mode is an untimed experience that provides a number of power ups.  Normal mode is timed and thus kittens face getting catnapped if levels aren’t cleared within the allotted time.  Tricky mode provides a longer time limit although tile clearance is much more difficult.

The way to look at Kitten Sanctuary is as two separate parts—Match 3 and pet sim—since they are both different in what they offer.  Yet, both parts impact each other over the course of the game, which is what makes Kitten Sanctuary such a rewarding experience.

The Match-3 part of Kitten Sanctuary offers some unique looking boards (aka Kitten Traps) each with their unique attributes that add to the overall difficulty.  Visually speaking, Kitten Sanctuary is much more elaborate than you’d expect.  Besides the colorful boards packed with items ready to be matched, the backgrounds are animated and entertainingly distracting.  Often, kittens roam across the forefront of the board with aliens flying around in their ships in the background.  Other times, it’s simply the carefree palm leaves motioning so there’s a good amount of detail included.  Accompanied by a cheery soundtrack that by itself should lift your spirits, the sound effects are well balanced since they’re not meant to overwhelm but only set the stage.

As for the Match 3 gameplay, Kitten Sanctuary offers a well-balanced experience with the different modes and board designs.  In each level, item matches must be strategically made and in addition to horizontal and vertical matches, the games allows for diagonal matches.  Diagonal matching adds a nice element to the game and forces players to think differently.  In general, items fall into four categories—food, drink, firewood, and credits.  Food and drink provide nourishment for rescued kitties, while firewood keeps fires burning to keep them warm.  Credits are gold and silver coins which can be accumulated via matches and used to purchase toys to keep kitties happy.

Within each level are gauges that track food, drink and firewood supplies.  As matches of relevant items are made, the gauge gradually fills up.  This is important as these supplies determine the health and satisfaction of the kittens in the sanctuaries.  For players, this additional element makes every match as important as the next.

Each board contains a number of energized red squares, and in order to successfully clear a level, matches must be made within all of those squares.  Eventually, certain boards will contain locked tiles that require matching to unlock.  The degree of difficulty varies, but within a limited time limit and based on the design of the board, these can be quite challenging.

Kitten Sanctuary also incorporates a number of power ups which appear when match chains of four or more tiles are made.  These power ups are activated by tapping them.

Shuffle—shuffles surrounding tiles

Bomb—removes surrounding tiles

Fireball—removes entire lines of tiles

Time—temporarily freezes the level timer

Locations—highlights matching tiles

Lucky—temporarily allows matches of any tiles

As a Match 3 standalone, Kitten Sanctuary is full of content and has enough variety to make it a terrifically engaging game.  Because there are different modes, players should be able to find something that suits them.  But, what further differentiates Kitty Sanctuary is the pet sim element which is charming and cute.  As levels are cleared and kittens are rescued, they can be nurtured and cared for within one of four sanctuaries—Beach, Forest, Mountain and Lake—which are unlocked as players progress through the game.

The sanctuaries themselves are basically cat parks where the kittens can roam.  Within each sanctuary, players can purchase items such as toys and decorations to spruce up the surroundings.  Credits in the form of coins are earned both from completing levels as well as matches made during the Match 3 portion.  Also, if you don’t manage to make enough matches to fill up on food, drink and firewood supplies, these credits can be used to purchase the necessary supplies.

What’s really neat about the sanctuaries is the amount of interaction that players can have with their feline friends.  While I’m not a huge cat fan, Kitten Sanctuary really grows on you which is saying a lot.  Each adoring kitten has unique personality traits and moods which require attention.  Tapping on each kitten brings up short profile about their likes and dislikes, and the state of their mood.  Also, events windows appear highlighting certain kittens that may require additional attention, whether it’s a nightmare or wanting more toys among other things.

You are more or less forced to nurture your little kitties by playing with them and in general, paying attention to their mood swings.  Purchases within the shop such as balls of yarn, wind-up mice or bicycle horns can be used to boost their mood levels.  The consequence of ignoring them is the kittens will take off leaving the sanctuary which you really don’t want.  If enough kittens bail, you won’t be able to unlock other sanctuaries.

Kitten Sanctuary does have some minor issues worth noting.  Sometimes, taps to switch tiles fail to register and require multiple taps.  In addition, the game could use a zoom function not only during the Match 3 portion, but also for use with the rescued kittens in the sanctuaries.  Another involves items such as trampolines and food bowls which for whatever reason players cannot move.  While the game offers a trophy room for a number of in-game achievements, there isn’t currently any GameCenter support or achievements.

In general, Kitten Sanctuary is complete offering giving players the challenge of Match 3 play with the stickiness of a pet sim.  The engaging gameplay along with the cutesy, yet endearing qualities makes this a gem.  Every action within the Match 3 has a direct impact with the rescued kittens and vice versa which should appeal to gamers of all levels.  Regardless of whether you’re a dog or cat person, the devs have done a wonderful job creating an entertaining experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (rewarding and engaging Match 3/pet sim that is as deep in content as it is in fun; game full of personality and charm with well-balanced difficulty; detailed graphics and animation with more than enough different twists and elements; in-game achievements but no GameCenter support; lite version also available)

Critics and supporters alike have long based their views of gaming on the iPhone and iPad on the production values of games in the form of graphics and animation.  Gameplay aside, many players do use the mantra of judging a book by its cover to make buying decisions.  With its first mobile release Fibble, Crytek obviously knew what it was doing delivering one of the most graphically amazing, near console-quality games to arrive on the platform.  While the simple, yet challenging puzzle game provides adequate fun, Fibble is one where looks is really the name of the game.

The game follows the adventures of Fibble, a cute orange alien who crash lands on Earth inside of all things a suburban home.  The goal is to help the chubby dude navigate through the home, find his friends, and return to his home planet.

I grew up watching Toy Story, and I have to say that Fibble borders on that level of animation and detail.  The 3D graphics are beautifully rendered crafted models, accompanied by perfect lighting and great textures that pop off the iPad screen.  Vibrant colors and the attention to details should garner Crytek an award just for the visuals.

The game takes place in four rooms: Kitchen, Kid’s Room, Bathroom and Basement with 30 levels.  The various rooms are highly detailed and the artwork really highlights what is possible for the platform.  From the coffee beans sitting on the kitchen counter and knick-knacks in the basement to the toy soldiers in the kid’s bedroom and shampoo bottle in the bathroom, you’ll see this is quite the accomplishment.

Within each room are stars and coins that can be collected to unlock rooms as well a key that unlocks bonus levels.  Fibble does offer IAP for players who want to unlock all rooms or bonus levels at once, and also a Flying Saucer to aid in collecting coins and stars.  Keep in mind that none of the IAP are needed to progress in the game which should silence the non-IAP fans in us.

Along for Fibble’s journey through suburban living are his friends—Byte, Docto, Vroom, Ragno, Klonk—each with his own special abilities. The creatures are as cute as Fibble, and the devs instill them with personality and humor.  For example, Byte is three-eyed cave digger who helps Fibble jump ledges, while Docto is a multi-legged octopus whose ability to redirect Fibble in new directions comes in handy.

Put simply, the gameplay is really physics-based hole in one.  Using touch gestures, players drag Fibble back to control the intensity and direction and then release to send him on his merry journey.  The level design is worth noting because of the great 3D animation and graphics.  Each level consists of paths become more elaborate deeper into the game.  The paths are illustrated with arrows pointing in the direction that Fibble travels so there’s a bit of planning and visualization required on the player’s part.  Coins and stars dot the path along with bumpers along key corners that can be used to project or continue Fibble’s momentum.  To succeed in the level, players must get Fibble to the end which is literally a hole.

The devs do a fairly good job of creating levels that are visually complex.  I say “visually complex” because the levels aren’t overly difficult to complete, but more on that later.  There are levels that involve a number of twists and turns, jumps and sliding obstacles, switches and platforms that are more than challenging.  And, the game’s drag and zoom functionality work well in scoping out the landscape.  Not that players haven’t seen this before in the iTunes store, the challenge is using what’s available to your advantage.  As mentioned with scoring, the neat part of the game which takes on a Rube Goldberg-esque feel is that from a technical standpoint, players should be able to complete each level with one flick.

An added dynamic involve Fibble’s friends and in later levels, players have the flexibility and challenge in placing these friends on specially marked areas.  The twist to the gameplay is that players can activate these special abilities through well-timed tapping on the screen.  Tap too late, and you may not get the speed boost needed from Vroom to get Fibble up an steep pathway.  Jumping ledges can also be just as difficult because tapping Byte a little too soon can send Fibble over the side.  It goes without saying that placing these friends at the wrong spot can result in dire consequences for Fibble so you’ll definitely want to experiment.

Because of Fibble’s rolling ability, another little twist to keep in mind is that players can use the device’s accelerometer to tilt and change Fibble’s direction.  Whenever Fibble begins losing momentum, tilting the device can provide just the right boost to keep him going.  This along with the other touches really does add some zing to the physics part of the game.

All this sounds like it should add up to great gameplay, but the execution teeters a bit along the way.  While experimenting makes the game challenging, Fibble is in many ways moderately easy for advanced players.  This is disappointing and ties into a drawback of the game: scoring.  In practice, each level provides an opportunity to win a gold, silver or bronze medal, and at the beginning of levels, milestones are provided that describe those parameters.  These can range from meeting scoring requirements to how often the special abilities of Fibble’s friends are used.  Scoring is also based on how quickly levels are completed as well as coins and stars collected.

The reality is that achieving a gold medal becomes a relatively easy and less than satisfying exercise.  Without even collecting all the coins and stars within levels can result in a gold medal which tends to defeat the purpose of the system in the first place.  The game does offer GameCenter support for high scores along with in-game achievements that range from completing levels and rooms and objectives to creative uses of Fibble’s friends.

Having said all this, while the game is generally fun, it is decidedly average when compared to the great 3D animation.  To some, the overwhelmingly great animation fairly or not will likely not overcome the actual gameplay.  Typically, an argument can be made that high-caliber gameplay matters more than visuals.  This is one of those instances where the visuals set a high bar and leaves the gameplay a few notches below.  So players will need to decide for themselves whether the actual game elements are of interest.

Overall, Fibble will receive a load of well-deserved praises for this 3D animation masterpiece.  Rightfully so, the game is arguably one of the best looking games for the platform.  While the adequate gameplay should appeal to many with quirky characters and terrific game mechanics, it may also leave some wondering if that beauty is just skin deep.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (amazing 3D animation and artwork among the best on the platform; gameplay concept with some terrifically visual and complex level designs; puzzle difficulty borders on the easy side for advanced players; more ideal for novice and younger players; scoring more forgiving than it should be; GameCenter support and achievements)

Polish and elegance are terms often used when describing games.  From the interface and controls to the graphics and animation, those characteristics are typically the foundation for success.  In the case of Azkend 2: The World Beneath by 10tons, the match 3 adventure game’s issue is not lack of polish or elegance, but rather flawed substance and execution.  While looks may be everything in today’s world, the guts under the hood Azkend 2 needs some fine tuning.  Instead of a sequel that should have outshined the original, what you have is a mediocre game.

As a huge fan of the original, I expected a similar experience with this second installment.  On the visual front, Azkend is a beautiful game with deep backgrounds and vibrant screens.  The devs created semi-realistic environments using texture and shadowing techniques that make each scene vivid and deceptively charming.  The animated game screens are enticing which is a significant plus since you’ll spend most of the time staring at them.  All of this is complemented by a whimsical soundtrack that creates an aura of wonder.

Azkend’s storyline revolves around you being shipwrecked in a fantastic world with the overall goal of making it back to civilization.  The story is intriguing, but of course, is innocuous and shallow.  The game offers three modes of play: Adventure, Time Challenge and Medals Challenge.  Adventure is the story mode that takes you through 60 levels with the overall objective of collecting pieces to form power ups.  Time Challenge provides a random puzzle where the goal is to score as many points as possible within the allotted time.  Medals Challenge provides puzzles based on completed levels in Adventure mode with a gold medal awarded for completing the puzzle quickly.

The game boards in Azkend 2 are well designed and vary from level to level.  To clear tiles, you must make matches of 3 or more like tiles to clear them off and turn the board blue.  Along the way, special pieces are acquired to complete tools and gadgets that serve as power ups.  The challenge of course is these pieces don’t appear until the entire board is blue, and you have a limited amount of time.

What I enjoyed about the original are the power ups, and that remains the case in this installment.  You’ll come across a number of different items from binoculars and glasses to dynamite and even gears.  Obstacles are part of the game, and these can range from fires and ice to locks and bugs.  These obstacles must be cleared before a level can be completed, and that’s where the power ups come in.

For example, the Hammer when activated by making a match of 3 or more of its tiles will turn parts of the board blue and potentially even knock out obstacles.  In other puzzles involving bugs, power ups are ultimately used to kill them.  Dynamite on the other hand explodes and knocks out tiles in the area as well as turns the board blue.  By completing each level in Adventure mode, you acquire a piece to form a specific power up to be used in the next chapters.  And, the Inventory area is set up so that you can pick and choose which power ups to use so there is a degree of configurability.

From a concept perspective, Azkend 2 sounds like a challenging game experience which for the most part it is.  Locating matching tiles, turning the board blue, and securing pieces of power ups is an engaging proposition that should appeal to many.  Plus, the time element adds a nice dynamic to the game, and watching the explosive animations on screen is a treat.  Where Azkend 2 suffers is in its execution with the puzzles themselves.

Too often, the randomly generated levels in Adventure mode are near impossible to clear and with the time element, you have a recipe for frustration.  Part of the strategy for players is that as more matches are made, electric coils gradually charge up which when fully charged can turn isolated tiles into blue ones.  Longer chains of 5+ tiles automatically generate a charge, which can be a significant strategic advantage.  However, what occurs frequently in Azkend 2 is the tiles given do not offer anything more than a match 3 so you find yourself unable to create longer chains.  Too many levels end unsuccessfully not because of poor strategy on the player’s part, but instead on the luck of the draw with the tiles.

What adds to the frustration is how frequent boards automatically reshuffle due to no more matches.  For example, the eyeglasses power up provides hints on matches.  More times than not, it will highlight a match 3 to be made, and that will turn out to be the only match available before the boards go into auto reshuffle.  I’ve had levels where reshuffling has happened at least four times in a single sitting.

Also parts of the story are provided through grand and vivid scenes, and as in the original, Azkend 2 inserts a scene match puzzle.  This is similar to hidden item games except the objective is to find randomly selected cut scenes in the overall picture.  Part of the problem is that this feels more like a tedious exercise than a fun game because most of the scenes can appear so generic you’d rather just skip it altogether.

Aside from the Time Challenge mode, there is no high score tracking although there is GameCenter achievements providing some albeit limited replay value.  Even in Time Challenge, a shortcoming is that none of the power ups acquired in Adventure mode can be used which for some, may take away from the experience.

When it comes to appearances, Azkend 2 is polished with an elegant design and in concept, a terrific game.  However, in gameplay, the execution may leave many wanting and frustrated.  While every game needs a degree of challenge, Azkend 2 takes it too far leaving gamers more discouraged than satisfied.

Albie Meter: 3 Stars (elegant and polished design with terrific animation and graphics; gameplay execution needs tweaking; luck of the draw with tiles makes it more a game of chance than player strategy; limited replay value in Adventure mode; Time Challenge does not allow the use of acquired power ups; GameCenter support and achievements)

Simplicity is a trait that many strive for, but most struggle to achieve.  This mantra is one that game developers should take heed when developing titles for the iTunes store.  To be precise, the reality is about balancing the notion of pick and play with the complexities of an engaging experience for the mass audience.  Fortunately, Sminis by Angry Rock Studios does a relatively fantastic job combining a surreal world based on the Unreal 3 Engine with a simple in concept, yet intense “test of your will” puzzler.  With an original storyline to spice up the fun if not unoriginal game, Sminis will have you saying “let me try that again” over and over.

The Sminis are robot beings who while not the smartest tools in the shed, have developed some free will.  Of course, the free will of these little mechanical creatures gives them the desire to escape the clutches of an evil scientist.  The objective is to help them navigate through various chambers of automated horrors, while preventing them from getting smashed (and I don’t mean drunk) to pieces.

Sminis comes with 30 levels broken into three zones each with three levels of difficulty.  In each level, players must save a minimum number of Sminis while allowing only pre-determined number of casualties.  In other words, too many mashed up Sminis means that the evil scientist will have a good day at your expense.  Depending skill level, you can choose to play at the one-, two-, or three-star level with three stars being the most difficult.  The higher three-star difficulty typically means you’re given less leeway in terms of Sminis destroyed, while the easier one- and two-star difficulty provides a greater number of Smini smashups.  Of course, the more stars earned will open up the other zones much sooner.

Regardless of whether you like enjoy reflex-based games, the artwork in Sminis is one to behold.  The cool, retro-industrial look built on the Unreal 3 Engine looks amazing, and doesn’t have that run-of-the-mill animation you’d expect.  Running the game on the iPad, the 3D animation is as good as you’d expect with a game of this kind.  The equally industrial soundtrack more than adequately complements the gameplay, although it can become somewhat annoying after playing and failing a few levels.

The game is all about reflex, skill and most importantly patience.  Sminis appear at timed intervals denoted by a timer that countdowns until the emergence of the next batch.  The complexities of the levels are what make Sminis a treat.  From rotating saws and chomping robots to moving platforms and speeding crates, Sminis face some death defying obstacles.

The one-button control is simple enough that it may deceive you into some complacency.  The button controls movement, but what will trip up most of you is the speed and frequency that the Sminis appear.  The aspect which adds a nice layer of complexity is that not all Sminis stop or move at the same time.  In fact, stopping one Smini will likely cause another to move which if not timed correctly mean pureed Smini.  And, Sminis running into each other is also a big no-no.

The creative level designs are one of the strong points and almost reminiscent of something you’d see in a James Bond movie.  There is a good feeling of depth and texturing within the levels which really add to the game and the obstacles featured.  For example, saws and razors come in a variety of forms from stationary and swinging to up and down among others, while crates and boxes speed along with abandon.  Later levels even offer electrical currents that not only short circuit but fry the little guys.

As for the degree of difficulty, even the early levels can be a bit trying until you get into a good pace of stopping and moving Sminis.  It’s easy to throw the entire level into oblivion with one wrong move.  A nice side attraction is collecting different helmets that can be used to outfit your Sminis.  For all the game’s simplicity, it would’ve been nice to include some power ups or other incentives that add to the gameplay.

Each zone culminates with a boss fight which is probably the weakest part of the game because they feel like they were simply added as an afterthought.  For example, the intimidating sounding Disposer simply controls parts of the platform tiles so that buzzsaws appear.  Mech Guard, on the other hand, is a ground shaking boss who’s more bark than bite.  They just weren’t as satisfying as the rest of the game, and hopefully, the devs experiment a bit more on this front.

Sminis has GameCenter support with a number of achievements which along with the star system adds to the replay value.

Sminis is a fun and challenging puzzler presented in an amazing 3D environment.  The different degrees of difficulty cater to players’ skill levels, and overall, there’s a solid addictive nature.  Aside from the lackluster boss fights, Sminis’ attraction is in its simplicity as much as its complexity.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (fantastic 3D industrial world with equally challenging gameplay; simple one-button control offset by its complex test of rhythm, skill and patience; level design is creative and varied; boss fights can be lacking and menus are minimal; GameCenter support)

The word “sequel” tends to bring up mixed emotions for most of us.  Whether we’re talking about movies (e.g. Ghostbusters, Lethal Weapon, Harold and Kumar) or video games (Super Mario, Metal Gear Solid), tinkering with the original winning formula is a gamble.  On the other hand, mention Zuma and you likely have a groundswell of fans.  PopCap’s faithful port of Zuma’s Revenge won’t change that rabid fan base and delivers a solid if not overly ambitious offering.

Aside from the inconsequential storyline that has a decidedly South Pacific theme, Zuma’s Revenge is a combination match-3 marble shooter with a number of power-ups and boss fights.  The objective is to match three or more of the same colored balls and prevent the chain of balls from reaching the skull at the end of the path.  The shooting mechanism involves a stone frog or toad (whatever reptile you prefer) that can be rotated 360 degrees and launches colored balls.

Zuma’s Revenge certainly doesn’t lack in content with 6 islands for a total of 60 levels with difficulty levels ranging from easy to seriously hard.  There are also two primary modes of play: Adventure and Challenge.  Adventure mode takes players through the levels in the 6 islands while Challenge mode offers timed gameplay with completed levels unlocked in Adventure with the overall objective of beating a pre-set challenge score or beating the higher ace score.

Like the original, Zuma’s Revenge offers the usual power-up balls.

Bomb—destroys balls in its path

Rewind—rolls balls backwards

Slowdown—temporarily slows ball speed

Lightning—destroys every ball of the target color

Tri-Shot—fires 3 balls at once

Laser—destroys balls with pinpoint accuracy

Unlike the original, there are 6 boss fights at the end of each island which add a fun if not challenging dynamic to gameplay.  The boss fights involve chains of balls that act as a barrier to the boss.  The goal here is to clear a path by matching balls and shooting balls at the boss in order to destroy him.  Of course, the boss and his assistant villains fire back, and you have the added caveat of preventing the balls from reaching the end of the path or it’s doomsday for your little amphibian friend.  Beyond the boss fights, you can also collect fruit the randomly appear that boost score totals.

PopCap’s games have high production values, and Zuma’s Revenge is no different.  The animation and the vibrant graphics look great and run smoothly on the iPad.  The soundtrack with its Polynesian theme is lively, but for some, it can become annoying after a while.  One area that may be disappointing for some is that the islands all look similar.  Beyond the variety in path and level design, they all feel and look the same so don’t expect too much on that front.

The gameplay is typical Zuma and delivers an engaging and fast-paced experience.  There’s a bit of skill and timing involved, and the control mechanism is relatively accurate.  Tapping the spot to where you want to launch a ball works well on the screen, while tapping on your frog allows you to cycle through different color balls.  The 360 degree rotating mechanism also works smoothly and fans and newbies alike should have no problems with them.  Later levels allow players to move the frog from one spot to another and this accomplished simply by tapping the spot.

The one hitch that I did come across involves paths where the frog slides back and forth.  Because the motions are similar within a limited space, it’s easy to accidentally cycle through balls when the intent is to move the frog or even shoot and vice versa.  In other words, switching among the different functions with the tap controls can be temperamental, but definitely not a deal breaker.

This part is intended for those new to Zuma (hey, not everyone’s on Facebook either)…having played a number of PopCap titles, Zuma’s Revenge does have those intangibles, aka charm that for example, Peggle does or the personality of a Plants vs. Zombies.  Beyond the frog and the occasional villains, there aren’t quirky characters or even much of a storyline.  As mentioned, the gameplay is terrific and but if you like a dose of ambiance with your puzzle, you may be disappointed.

Zuma’s Revenge is a fun marble shooting, match-3 puzzler with tons of content and fast-paced gameplay.  The variety of power-ups and boss fights add to a solid offering that fans of the original will love.  What the game lacks in personality is successfully offset by the challenging and replay value that works well on the iOS.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid, challenging gameplay with lots of content and replay value; controls are intuitive but they can be temperamental; smooth animation though the islands look similar; lacks a bit of personality compared to other PopCap titles; no GameCenter support)

The iTunes ecosphere is still very much a mobile device at heart with an environment designed with the casual gamer in mind.  That’s one reason why most of the successful games for the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad have been the cute pick-up-and-play variety (e.g. Angry Birds, Cut the Rope).  Munch Time by Gamistry is a hybrid platform puzzler that seemingly fits in that mold decked out with an adorable character, easy-to-use controls, and inviting environments.  About the only thing holding it back currently is the short content, but what is there should have the masses hungry for more.

Designed to appeal to the lizard lovers in all of us, the main character is Munch, a color-changing chameleon on the hunt for his lunch which by the way is a tasty slug.  The hunt through the 42 levels has Munch swinging through gardens full of obstacles.  Using tongue may sound objectionable, but using simple touch controls, gamers will navigate Munch using his tongue to reach the most obscure places.  Visually, Munch Time is vibrantly colored with a lighthearted art style nicely complemented by a lively audio track.

Munch is an acrobat which requires strong, yet intuitive controls.  The control mechanic is simple: tap wherever you want Munch to go.  Of course, this can involve maneuvering small areas next to bottomless or thorn-filled pits and there are certain things to keep in mind.  Munch’s movements are more or less limited to swinging using his tongue and scampering along the ground so planning ahead is a key to success.  In general, the touch controls are responsive and accurately register touches which can’t be taken for granted with these types of games.

Flowers are the main sticking point, if you will, for Munch.  Tapping on a flower will latch him to it, and tapping on others allows Munch to move from place to place.  The hitch is that different flowers have different effects on little Munch.  Other flowers periodically bloom and close and others turn in to cannons that can shoot him a great distance.  The other thing to keep in mind is that once Munch has latched onto a flower and then unlatches, that flower is no longer useable.

While Munch is a chameleon when it comes to using his tongue, he’s really kind of a second rate one in the color change department.  Because flowers come in a variety of colors, Munch must change color according to the flower before he can latch onto it.  To help with that, he relies on eating different color flies which presto-chango transforms him into another brightly colored lizard.

Along the way to reaching his food, Munch likes to collect stars for that narcissist personality of his.  Players have to opportunity to earn a maximum of 3 stars in each level which means clearing the screen of all stars.  While the game doesn’t have a timer, points are always awarded for how quickly a level is completed.

Munch Time does have a sticky quality to it which can be attributed to the cuteness factor that comes through in the gameplay.  Munch is really one acrobatic lizard so swinging from flower to another requires a bit of hand-eye coordination and well-timed release points.  In most cases, Munch will swing from flower to flower which by itself requires some coordination.  Other flowers will have Munch doing loops until another flower is tapped to release him.  Where the devs do a nice job is in the controls.  The levels themselves are not overly difficult, and could even be easy for some.   There is a certain difficulty that comes from coordinating movements, producing the right amount of momentum and releasing at the right moment.  A star is often just out of reach because Munch doesn’t have enough energy behind him even if all the moves are well thought out.

Other times, tapping at the wrong time can mean the difference between reaching a platform and having Munch as a shish-kabob.  As you progress through the levels, more and more flowers will bloom and close which adds a level of difficulty since only open flowers are latchable.  The game does allow players to be creative in how they approach puzzles so that more than one solution is possible and doesn’t require using every flower to complete a level.  Also, while Munch is athletic, you find out pretty quickly that he has no glide to his game whatsoever.  Unlatch him too soon, and he falls like a stone.

Aside from the degree of difficulty, another minor issue is the lack of screen resizing or dragging which becomes more apparent in the later levels.  Typically, the early levels are small and entirely viewable so planning moves is relatively easy.  As the playing fields expand in later levels, the view is limited with players unable to scroll or drag the screen to view those areas.

Where Munch struggles is in the content which currently is rather short.  As mentioned, the levels aren’t overly difficult so most players should be able to complete the 42 levels that are there in less than 2 hours.  Depending on skill level, there is a degree of replay value in a trying to attain the 3-star rating for each level.  The game also has GameCenter achievements which is a plus.

Munch Time is a fun platform puzzler with a cute charm to it.  Intuitive controls and not overly difficult gameplay should draw wide appeal with casual gamers.  Well-timed moves and coordination add a certain degree of challenging play that most will enjoy.  While the current content is a bit short (more is on the way), what is there right now provides a strong foundation for those looking to add new to their iTunes game library.   At the least, Munch Time will whet your appetite for more.

Albie Meter:  4 Stars (cute and engaging gameplay with intuitive touch controls; level designs and vibrant colors should appeal to the casual gamer; content is on the short side with more levels and worlds on the way; degree of difficulty with the current levels may be easy for some with a certain degree of replayability; lite version is available)

“When you control the mail, you control information!”  -Newman, Seinfeld “The Lip Reader”, Season 5

No other Seinfeld saying so succinctly spells out the humor and craziness you get with Ayopa Game’s Mailmen.  While the dull sounding name may give you the wrong impression, Mailmen is a real-time, yet slow-paced puzzler that will put your strategic planning skills to the test.  Engaging at times, Mailmen is full of personality putting a different spin on going postal (sorry couldn’t resist).  The primary shortcoming is the control system which is not as intuitive as you’d like and hampers the otherwise fun gameplay.

Presented in a top-down view, the game focuses on three mailmen in the town of Greenville—Johnny, Charlie and Dave—and your mission is to help them complete their daily tasks.  These tasks involve everything from picking up and delivering packages to rescuing fellow mailmen while navigating around villains (who knew) and of course, guard dogs.  While the premise sounds straightforward, the devs have added an entertaining layer of puzzles and scenarios that require quick thinking and teamwork.

Visually, Mailmen is a good looking game with vibrant colors and runs smoothly on the iPad.  Speaking of Seinfeld, the animation and graphics have a decidedly “King of the Hill” feel to them.  For those who are (gulp) too young to remember, “King of the Hill” was an animated comedy about a suburban family and their mundane life.  The characters in Mailmen are just as likable and come with their own special “mailman” abilities which frighteningly are all plausible.

Behind the story-driven 18 levels comes a neat little world that Johnny, Charlie and Dave will face.  The neighborhood blocks and objectives start out small, but they gradually get bigger and more obstacle-filled as the game progresses.  Objectives are presented by the mailmen’s boss through a series of speech bubbles at the beginning of each stage.  Stars with a maximum of three are awarded based on objectives completed, packages picked up/delivered, avoiding dog bites, and time to completion.  With each 3-star rating, a stamp is awarded and stored in the Stamp album.

Each of the mailmen has special abilities which players can use to protect the sanctity of mail delivery.   Johnny is a reckless driver who is equally adept at sprinting as he is an expert at dog tying using his ropes.  Dave is a rotund yet heavy lifting dude who is also a master of disguise in terms of dressing up as a fire hydrant.  And last but not least is Charlie, the rookie who uses tennis balls to distract while using his athleticism to climb trees.

While the mailmen, um, have their abilities, they will face their most hated enemy—the dog.  (There’s also a rogue ex-postal worker by the name of Newman).  Not all dogs are the same, and players will need to plan accordingly.

Chihuahua—smallest yet has the most annoying bark and easy to outrun

German shepherd—usually sleeping but are fast and can do damage with their bite

Beagle—long range vision who is good at alerting other dogs

Doberman—poor vision but the fastest and hardest chomper of the bunch

Bulldog—ruthless biter with decent speed

Rottweiler—wicked bite with the ability to free tied up dogs

Mastiff—one bite can put the mailmen on disability

Robodog—radar-like vision impervious to deception and difficult to tie down

The gameplay in Mailmen is actually pretty creative with some levels being very complex and elaborate.  Think of a maze with a number of traps and that tells you what game is all about.  The visual range of dogs varies and part of the game involves using stealth tactics.  This can involve hiding behind crates, climbing up trees and using plain old good timing to stay out of the way of dogs.  Others can require using fellow mailmen as decoys (e.g. throwing tennis balls or drawing their attack) while the other sneaks up from behind to disable the dog.  Because of the size of the neighborhoods and the multiple tasks, guide arrows are provided to show where key locations and tasks are.

The dogs are loud and annoying and you’d be amazed at the level of stress as they approach.  Part of the game forces you to calm down, or at least you better if you’re to complete the objectives.  Besides the special abilities of each mailman, each is equipped with an air horn which is useful for disorienting attacking dogs.

Mailmen also has GameCenter achievements and leaderboards so in addition to achieving gold stars, there is a degree of replay value.

The controls in Mailmen deliver (no pun intended) mixed results.  To move characters, the game uses a tap-to-move scheme where tapping a spot will move a character to that area.  This control set up works well, but does significantly slow down the pace of the game.  A minor issue in general, but a bidirectional pad or control arrows would be a welcome addition.

The other control mechanic worth mentioning is in selecting specific characters because it can be confusing and not intuitive.  Mailmen are presented as tiles in the upper right corner of the screen.  Here, strength levels are also presented so players can monitor how much longer a mailman can afford to take dog attacks.  In order to select one, players must tap the icon to make him the active character.  The issue occurs when you’re maneuvering and need to switch between characters because you will likely move the wrong character.  While you do get comfortable with that mechanic, the scheme still feels a bit awkward especially when quick moves are involved.  An alternative and more intuitive character selection scheme that hopefully will be incorporated in future updates is simply double tapping a character to make him active.

Because the neighborhoods can be large, there are plenty of areas to explore and locate hidden items.  The game allows players to change views by dragging the screen to move across and pinching to zoom.  However, a minor shortcoming is that a camera icon must be tapped to rotate the screen. Again, while only a minor issue, it can feel a little clunky.

Overall, the controls aren’t as smooth or intuitive as they could be, and can even be frustrating as the levels become more complex.  But, if you’re looking for a challenging game with cartoony characters and a bit of personality within a slower paced package, Mailmen is that game.  Quirky, yet slow paced…just like the real USPS.

Albie Meter:  4 Stars (fun and personality-laden animation and story-driven game with complex levels; offers a good degree of challenge requiring well-timed moves and planning; control scheme can be clunky and feel awkward; slow paced format with some replay value)