Archive for the ‘RPG’ Category

What would you get if you combined the adventure and exploration of Zelda with the arcade antics of Mario Bros?  You’d likely get Touch Foo’s Swordigo, a wonderfully fun and surprisingly deep platformer that ranks as one of the best of the genre to date on the iOS.  Filled with puzzles, quests and of course battles, Swordigo is an impressive game incorporated in a vast world with a good dose of RPG elements.

Set in the village of Cairnwood, the main character in Swordigo is an apprentice who finds himself thrust into the role of hero after his master is killed by the Corruptors, an evil legion intent on conquest.  Throughout the adventure, quests and battles will take you through worlds where locating treasure is just the tip of the peasant iceberg.

An effective platformer is often able to create a world that not only engages the player, but also provides a lasting effect.  Presented in 2.5D, the world in Swordigo has a unique charm and allure that takes on a life of its own.  From lighting effects to textures, each of the environments is filled with details that help the game stand on its own.  Running this on an iPad, the animation is smooth with good sense of depth.  Whether it’s the isolation of an abandoned castle or simply the wind blowing through the trees, Swordigo is one of charm and allure.

Of course, the hack and slash nature of the battle scenes make Swordigo even better.  The control scheme is pretty straightforward with left and right buttons for movement and action buttons for such things as jumping, sword hacking and slashing, moving/holding items, and conjuring magic spells. The button placement is customizable, and you’ll likely want to move the hack and slash button away a bit from the jump button which can inadvertently be hit.

Swordigo has an intuitive inventory system to keep track of acquired items as well as RPG elements.  From this area, players can also keep track of quests which are presented as conversations.

Something that sets Swordigo apart from the typical platformer is how the game is presented.  Unlike other platformers which are broken into different levels, Swordigo is one giant world presented at your footsteps for discovery.  For the player, this firmly and effectively establishes that feeling of mystery and exploration.  As levels are completed, other areas and places are revealed.

The RPG elements are another area that not only provides another layer of complexity to the game, but helps balance out the flow of the gameplay.    These elements focus on Health, Sword, and Magic.  For Health, you can increase longevity which will come in handy as the levels become more complex and difficult.  Sword boosts the damage inflicted on enemies.  Magic, which is represented by a meter in the HUD and gradually recharges after each use, can be recharged faster with allocating more points to this element.  The elements are easily customizable and designed with the casual gamer in mind within a user-friendly screen.

In Swordigo’s world, adventure is core to the enjoyment of the game.  Players will find plenty to explore.  Crystal shards can be acquired along the way which can be used to purchase health potions and weapons from the village store.  In addition, health and magic potions can also be found on the journey by destroying enemies, but also on occasion from cutting down plants.

Speaking of enemies, there are more than enough dangers lurking.  The living and breathing ones include a variety of giant grass spiders, cave crawlers, man-eating snapper plants, boulder shooting tortoises, and spike-laden turtles among others.

The bosses themselves can be pretty ruthless, and given the way the “levels” are presented in Swordigo, can appear at the most surprising times.  With names such as Szan the Angry, Boulder the Golem, Zak the Bandit Leader, and Edogani the Deadly, these battles are intensely satisfying.

The world in Swordigo is begging for exploration with plenty of nooks and crannies for doing just that.  Treasure chests are located throughout, but most of the time, they’re well hidden, requiring a bit of digging.  In fact, you’ll find yourself at the end of a particular adventure quicker than expected and then turning around to locate your booty.  That’s the beauty of Swordigo—often, the simplest path isn’t the well chosen path.

While the game is designed so that it can be completed without the deeper exploration, most will find these hidden rewards worth the risk.  These treasures can range from more powerful swords and spells to tools and gadgets that make advancing much easier.  Players may even discover RPG elements within these areas so they’re definitely worth checking out.  For example, players will come across a chamber covered in purple slime that requires the dragon grasp spell.  Other times, more powerful spells such as missile and bomb spells supplement your arsenal.

As is typical with other platformers, there are side quests to be found.  Swordigo does a nice job of integrating other characters that provide advice and warnings along the way.  Other times, they can rather mundane and harmless.

The environments themselves are full of hidden doorways, switches, pressure plates, and moving platforms.  Often what you’ll find which players may find challenging and frustrating in the good sense is a locked door after making it through a dangerous set of obstacles.  Wouldn’t you know that the key happens to be located back on the other side of the obstacles?  Beyond the living and breathing enemies, the obstacles add to the character and enjoyment of Swordigo.  From swinging axes to randomly appearing spikes, getting through in one piece is a lot tougher than it looks.

Swordigo also incorporates a portal system so players can travel from one area to another relatively quickly.  This makes the treasure hunting process much more feasible for those of us who don’t have the patience of taking the long and treacherous way.

The gameplay in Swordigo is its core strength, and the fluid controls and the depth of the content are significant.  With plenty of areas to explore in its vast world, the hack and slash nature of the game give Swordigo the makings of an enduring classic.  As you level up your character, there’s a nice balance in the difficulty.  The sword wielding battles are both challenging and intense, but the game doesn’t insult your intelligence.  Players will face decisions in the path well chosen as well as logically solving puzzles and collecting the right pieces to do so.  Other times, success and failure comes to down to well-coordinated timing from jumping platforms to sword-blocking attacks.

Swordigo also has GameCenter and Openfeint scoreboards and if the depth of the game by itself isn’t enough, achievements.  Most players will likely forgo the achievements in the near term with the sole purpose of completing the game.

The game isn’t perfect, and these are more minor issues than game breaking ones.  For one, the checkpoint system seems a little awkward which is noticeable after your little apprentice hero is dispatched and then magically reappears.  There are times where it almost feels like you have to start the entire world over or simply dropped off at some random point.  On that note and not that I’m complaining, there isn’t a penalty for the apprentice hero’s demise which almost makes the game too easy for some because he regenerates with full health and collected crystal shards intact.  Visually speaking, during attacks on enemies, an oversized health and level-up status bars appears which can be distracting.  Finally, one potential annoyance is the ongoing beep when you’re running low on health which is similar to the tone found in some vehicles when you leave the keys in the ignition.

Swordigo is a deep and intense platformer combining strategic RPG elements within a charming adventure.  Effectively presented as a vast and mysterious world, Swordigo provides a graphically wonderful presentation with satisfying battles and exploration that should entice novices and advance players alike, keeping them engaged for hours.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (one of the best platformers available on the iOS with hours of content and gameplay; plethora of nooks and crannies worth exploring; simple, yet customizable controls; user-friendly RPG elements should appeal to all skill levels; GameCenter and Openfeint support)

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Lately, the iTunes store has seen its share of real-time strategy games, and I always find myself gravitating towards those that don’t take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, finding a good balance between fun and challenging can be tough. That’s where Robocalypse comes in delivering a military strategy game wrapped up in a Saturday morning cartoon. Ported from the Nintendo DS, Robocalypse takes advantage of the touch controls on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform to provide a humorous and engaging experience.

While the production values are obvious from the gameplay screen shots, what is really done well is the story and how it’s presented. You don’t often hear me say that since the storyline in most games is the most lacking. Not so in Robocalypse. Thermidoom (not sure I’d buy shares in a company by that name) is a conglomerate that happens to develop both state-of-the art toasters and Killer Military Robots. On one fateful day, the friendly AI in the toasters is accidentally installed into the Killer Military Robots which is a bad thing if you haven’t realized by now. From this strange tech engineered mishap emerges the evil Demolisher, a mean pile of metal intent on taking over the planet. If that wasn’t bad enough, he creates his own army of robots who have a similar nasty streak.

As is the case in real life and in most IT departments, the fate of the world rests on computer geek Myron Mako, and his overbearing and demanding female cohort, Dr. Flaxen Hayer. And, yes, Myron has the unreciprocated hots for Doc Hayer. Together they create their own team of pro-humanity killer robots. The one advantage or hitch depending on how you look at is that these robots have been implanted with the memories of retired WWII veterans. Frankenstein here we come.

Helping Myron and Flaxen on the pro-humanity side, the cast of characters includes Thermidoom’s President Mr. Yellin and secret agent Roger Smashteeth. Roger by the way also has a thing for Flaxen which only makes you want to root more for geekster Myron.

The game has a considerable amount of depth with 17 campaign missions and three modes of difficulty—easy, normal and hard. The missions themselves are quite varied in their objectives that can be as straightforward as destroying the enemy’s headquarters and as complex as preventing a certain number or enemy bots from entering an area while also destroying specific structures. The game also has a multiplayer wifi and Internet mode although I was unable to connect.

Before building your armies, know that scrap metal is the foundational resource accomplishing that, which means you’ll need an infrastructure in place. First and foremost is the construction of buildings since this is essential for building up troops and heroes for offensive attacks.

Headquarters—Base of operations that must be protected at all costs; game is over once destroyed
Robot Factory—Produces soldiers and medics
Hero Factory—Produces heroes and can only be built after a Robot Factory is operational
Workshop—Allows for upgrading soldiers up to 2 times
Resource Bank—Increase the production of scrap metal
Radar—Allows views of uncharted areas
Turret—inflicts major damage on enemies
Heavy Turret—longer range and inflicts massive damage

As with typical RTS games, there are heroes who bring a little something extra to the warfare table. Robocalypse doesn’t disappoint with 6 unique heroes along with 20 weapons that you probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. But, I found playing around with these heroes pretty satisfying in the carnage department.

Joe Commando (assault hero)—elite fighter with dual machine guns; more brawn than brains
Sergeant Payne (leader hero)—born leader with gauntlet gloves that smashes heads
Spyder Scout (scout hero)—fast mover good at infiltrating installations and uses the Converter Cannon to freeze enemies
Pyro Assault (assault hero)—fascinated with fires armed with the flamethrower aptly called Melter
Viper the Sniper (sniper and scout hero)—good at infiltrating and long-range sniper attacks
Warlord General (leader hero)—strong leader who leads by example through his Chainsaw weapon

The game also includes RPG elements where the heroes abilities can be customized. Through victories and enemy kills, heroes level up and life points can be applied in the areas of toughness, energy, armor and weapons. These are earned through kills and can be used to boost their weapons in between missions.

What would heroes be without an army of robots…the game has four basic bots, each essential if you’re to succeed, which are also the same types of bots that Demolisher has at his disposal.

Builder—worker bot who builds and collects resources; basic yet more vital bot (produced in the headquarters building)
Soldier—reliable, nimble combat bot that you have to sacrifice on the battlefield (produced in the Robot Factory)
Medic—the Dr. Frankenstein of the battlefield who repairs bots but can’t defend himself (produced in the Robot Factory)
Heavy Soldier—well armored, but slower moving bot (produced in the Heavy Robot Factory)

The big attraction of Robocalypse for many will undoubtedly be the visuals which are well-animated with a good dose of self-deprecating humor. From the robots and structures to the explosions and weapons fire, this is a good looking game. Dialogue bubbles appear throughout where characters spew humorous one-liners, and coupled with the funny cut scenes, you’re bound to chuckle here and there. From an audio standpoint, the game sports occasional voiceovers accentuated by a workmanlike soundtrack.

The interface can look a little strange since the HUD takes up a third of your screen space. Frankly, it’s not the best use of real estate because it does limit that actual game area. Having said that, I did get used to it, and the information provided is more than necessary. The game will automatically orient itself to landscape and portrait modes, and you can swipe the HUD to bring up primary and secondary mission objectives. The primary ones are necessary to complete the mission while the secondary ones provide additional energy and resource boosts.

In the upper left corner is the mini-map showing your location as well as the location of bots. Unexplored areas are blackened out, but you can easily maneuver around through by dragging within the mini-map or in the actual game area. And a graphical summary shows the number and types of bots in the field at any given time as well as available scrap metal and battery power. The status of heroes is located down the left side of the screen and tapping on them will instantly locate them.

A slight learning curve comes with the controls especially in terms of managing bot movements. An individual bot can be moved by first tapping on him, and then the desired location, but moving groups can take be a unorthodox. In general, bots roam around and behave on their own such as scouting areas, repairing structures or even battling enemies. Two buttons appear at the bottom of the screen Action and Defense. Action enables you to set a spot where you want as many as 5 troops to move as a team. Defense is used when you want a certain location defended at all costs. You tap on the appropriate button and then tap on the location. The action flags serve as destination points and troops will move into the area where the flag is located. When placed in enemy territory, they will attack. A workaround is to use Sergeant Payne’s formation ability that quickly gathers troops for battle. Initially, the action flag system doesn’t sound intuitive, but the AI seems to work well in the action flag system. Honestly, the action flag system isn’t the most intuitive and can be frustrating since troops will occasionally wander off and get killed.

The action can be intense and rather addicting. The game seems to have a balanced AI with a fair share of attacks on your camp thrown in for good measure. Exploration is also encouraged since secret upgrades are hidden throughout. Specific controls points are located throughout both for your side and that of the enemy. These locations can be captured and in some cases, unlock hidden mission objectives.

Robocalypse brings a refreshing take to the RTS category. While the action flag system takes some practice mixed in with a bit of frustration, Robocalypse is an entertaining and humorous game that any strategy gamer should check out.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid RTS with a touch of RPG and dash of humor; fun and lively art with good depth; movement of troops takes practice and can limiting for some; original and engaging storyline)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/09/19/robocalypse-mobile-mayhem-a-real-time-strategy-game-with-humor/

Gameloft has been one of the companies that consistently puts out good games for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. From platformers and shooters to sports and RPGs, Gameloft has provided gamers with a diverse selection. The latest entry is Dungeon Hunter, which is arguably one of the best looking RPGs to appear in the iTunes store. Aside from the amazing visuals, the game’s beauty is beyond skin deep with an in-depth RPG system, extensive story and side missions, and an epic storyline that is actually engaging.

The story follows the story of a prince brought back from the dead to take back the Kingdom of Gothicus by battling the evil that has overtaken the land. The prince treks across a vast world doing battle in a number of dungeons, while taking on a variety of equally dangerous side missions.

Visually, Dungeon Hunter is a work of art from the villages to the various dungeons. While the artwork is reminiscent of Hero of Sparta, which I considered to have the best visuals at the time of its release, make no mistake—this isn’t your father’s Hero of Sparta. As your character journeys through these places, there is a sense that you’re watching an animated movie from above because the backgrounds as so beautifully done and have visual depth with shadows, hues and tones that stand out. While this game mostly involves venturing through dungeons, catacombs and underground nooks and crannies, the visuals of forests and villages are really what caught my eye. This also applies to the enemies and the battle scenes all of which run smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0.

The game also includes the ability to interact with others, namely those who aren’t trying to kill you and illustrated with a round ring or for deeper interaction, an exclamation mark. To speak, a dialogue button appears which you tap to begin the interaction. Story and dialogue are presented in dialogue boxes at the bottom of the screen.

In the game, you can select from three different character classes and depending on which one you select, the range of abilities available will differ and alter your strategy. Fortunately, the game has 4 save slots so you can experiment to your heart’s content.

Warrior—can take on many opponents at once and can wear the best armor; strength is his skill
Rogue—agile and doesn’t require heavy armor; dexterity is his skill
Mage—uses magic, employing an energy shield for protection or to repulse enemies; his skill is energy

The game offers two types of controls:
Touch—touch wherever you want your character to go
Virtual Stick—joystick for movement

In general, both sets are passable, but could be more responsive. Of the two, the virtual stick makes it somewhat difficult to accurately move your character. The touch controls work fairly well, but take getting used to with some frustration thrown in.

In addition, there are several buttons to keep in mind:
Attack button—facilitates offensive and defensive moves
Fairy button—unleashes the selected fairy’s powers
Skill button—activates selected skill

In terms of RPG elements, there is a fair amount of depth, easily outpacing other games in the category for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Your character’s RPG elements are accessible by tapping the character icon in the upper left corner in what I like to call the DH Nerve Center. From here, you can view character attributes, statistics for offensive, defensive and magic attacks, customize your character according to the four character aspects, equip your character, choose a specific fairy, and determine your current mission. And, alerts notify you of yet to be assigned skills or character points. For me, the DH Nerve Center is intuitively laid out and one of the more extensive on this platform. On occasion, I did have some difficulty with the buttons and weapons selection scroll downs which are a tad on the small side, but then again, there is plenty of content here.

As with any RPG game, wealth and experience matter. Points are accumulated by defeating enemies that raise your hero’s level while wealth (gold) is acquired by defeating enemies or opening treasure chests and barrels. With each level up, points and health are awarded that further build on your characters attributes, and enable you to unlock new skills. Points can be applied to character and skills based on your strategic preferences, and of course, enhancing existing skills generally take more points than simply unlocking new ones.

Character Attributes
Strength—ability to deal with melee damage and wear heavy armor
Dexterity—ability to hit enemies with melee damage; also determines ability to dodge melee and enemy attacks
Endurance—ability to resist melee attacks; increases health and ability to block
Energy—ability to manipulate the 5 elements; increases fairy’s spell strength, elemental resistance and total mana

In terms of skills, each class of character has 15 core skills—both active and passive and vary depending on the character—most of which are unlocked as you level up and where points can be added to boost. At any given time, you can have up to three concurrently active skills available. For example, as the Warrior, you can add points to core skills that impact damage inflicted on enemies or reduce damage that can be inflicted on you as well as enhance new weapons’ skills.

Aside from the typical RPG elements, your character also has a sidekick in the form of a fairy. There are 5 fairies to choose from which are gradually revealed as you progress through the game, each with special offensive and defensive powers. Attacks are activated by tapping the Fairy button, and there is a slight down time in between attacks as the fairy powers regenerate.

Celest—lightning
Wetty—water
Windy—hurricane winds
Rocky—stone hurling
Hotty—fire storm

In addition, equipment plays a significant part in Dungeon Hunter, and hundreds of items are available to equip your character and can be stored in your inventory. The number and types of weapons are significant and can be classified into three categories:
One-handed weapons
Two-handed weapons
Off-handed weapons

Each has magical properties based on color inflicting different levels of damage
White—no magical properties
Green—1 magical property
Blue—2 magical properties
Purple—3 magical properties
Gold—4 magical properties

In the Inventory section, gamers will have the option to specifically select different items for use or for those who aren’t particularly fussy, use the Auto-Equip function to automatically gear up your character for battle. One nice touch is that your character visibly changes with the additional and subtraction of items. From swords and armor to shields and robes, such items can be acquired by killing enemies, destroying barrels and treasure chests or via the town merchant. Speaking of the town merchant, items can also be purchased or sold with the town merchant at any time. A handy option is the transmute function where you can turn inventory items into gold from anywhere without having to travel back to the merchant. Of course, this comes at a significantly discounted rate.

Dungeon Hunter has an achievement system recognizing 50 different achievements including completion of certain quests, unlocking of new adventures and skills, and even acquiring new equipment. Unfortunately, these achievements can’t be viewed offline and is only accessible via Gameloft’s online scoreboard.

The gameplay in Dungeon Hunter is among the best you’ll see on the platform. This game has plenty of depth as you move through the various villages and dungeons. As you soon learn, going back to previously completed levels is a necessity in order to acquire additional loot and items to build up powers. And, battling the different legions of enemies is never the same since they become more difficult and stronger. Enemies come in a variety of different flavors including bandits and thieves, killer skeletons, and poisonous slime to name a few. One thing you’ll notice is that battles are not easy even early on as you take damage. A good tip is to purchase your maximum allotment of 12 health potions which work to boost health. Along the health bar is an indicator showing the number of potion available, and tapping it will recharge health. At the maximum allotment, you won’t be able to collect any more potions.

While the maps and enemy spawns are not randomized, many maps do have multiple paths to choose from, with booby traps and bigger gangs of enemies in some cases that you can choose to follow which lends to experimentation. The paths are varied so while one path may be laced with jutting spikes, another may offer the switch to clear out the other path.

Before completing a quest, a boss fight usually ensues. These bosses come in human and non-human forms with an individual health bar. Often what happens is you’re deceived into thinking that you’ve just killed the boss, when the reality is that there is another one waiting in the wings. The game has many side missions that you can choose to take on, and which are usually presented in your interactions with others. While these side missions can kill you, they are also useful for acquiring loot and a bigger reward upon completion.

From depth in RPG elements to the visually engaging, immersive gameplay, Dungeon Hunter delivers one of the best RPG games on the platform. While the game has a minor rough spots, Gameloft has created a solid and entertaining game that should only heat up the RPG arms race as devs try to outmatch each other. For now, Dungeon Hunter sets a high bar.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (strong RPG elements with a deep game that should tie over many for the time being; controls may be wonky for some, but content and top-notch graphics make this tough to pass up)

For many who haven’t followed Showtime’s Dexter, the series is based on novels written by Jeff Lindsay. I remember reading his first book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” years ago, and the intelligent, yet macabre storyline has kept me reading the novels and watching the show. Ironically, I just finished the latest book “Dexter by Design” when Dexter arrived on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. And happily, the intelligence and spirit found in the books and TV series carries through into the game. For fans of Dexter, the game will not be a disappointment with good variety, engaging play, and humor with an element of guilty morbidity. However, non-Dexter fans may want to first familiarize themselves through the TV show or the books to see if this appeals to you.

A little on the storyline…Dexter is a psychopathic serial killer who was taught his policeman father Harry how to channel his killing urges. When Dexter was younger, his urges also known as the Dark Passenger, were released by killing animals. Instilling his own special killing code, Harry decided to focus Dexter’s talents on criminals who had gotten away with murder in the eyes of the law. In Dexter the Game, you become the eyes of Dexter from the collection of evidence to ensure that Dexter is killing someone rightfully deserving to the actual killing. Of course, the catch is that Dexter must maintain his cover as an unfeeling psychopath.

The game focuses on the first TV season consisting of 5 cases:

Mike Donovan
Dear Dexter
Coke Head
Jamie Jaworski
Robert Marelli

While 5 cases sound short, it really isn’t because the cases aren’t addressed in a linear fashion. For fans and non-fans alike, the game has a certain appeal because the story is arranged so that Dexter moves back and forth between the different victims each with its own set of mission objectives. This type of format lengthens the game significantly because you’re simultaneously managing several cases each at different levels of progress.

The game incorporates voiceovers from Dexter actor Michael C. Hall, expertly used throughout to create that Dexter atmosphere. Unlike other action games, Dexter follows a steady, slower pace as you identify and stalk your victim and incorporates a mix of timed and untimed puzzles, performing and meeting task-oriented activities, and interacting with other characters. This is where the game shines because the different challenges keep everything moving.

Through the use of 3D graphics which run smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0, the game contains cut scenes that show Dexter performing his actions to give it an almost movie-like quality. The characters can look somewhat strange looking bordering on creatures you’d see from another game The Quest. Dexter’s sister for example is not as sexy as she is on the show, although Sergeant Dokes looks pretty good. But, walking through the different locations such as Metro Police Station or a victim’s home for example, really show the high production values that were put into this. In addition, after you’ve performed certain activities or completed puzzles, the cut scenes will show the result of those activities so there are moments of just sitting back to watch.

The game offers three levels of difficulty—easy, medium and hard, and the level of difficulty primarily determines the amount of available of time to complete timed puzzles and activities. You can play either in third-person (behind Dexter’s back) or in first-person mode, and choose from several types of controls—double joystick, accelerometer/tilt, single joystick, and an on/off option for strafing. The controls are used for moving Dexter while another is for changing the camera view which can also be done via drag/swipe motions. Personally, I found the double joystick with strafing turned off to be the best control system for me due to responsiveness, and the tilt seemed to be the least effective.

Various action buttons will appear relevant to the situation such as Examine, Open, Talk and Climb among others. Items that Dexter can interact with are highlighted such as doors, tools, and files. In terms of speaking with others, the Talk button will appear, that bring up text-based dialogue boxes. You are then presented with three response options, and depending on your response, you can either illicit more information or in some cases humorous response. Be warned that the profanity is similar to what you would hear in the show especially with Sergeant Dokes and Dexter’s sister Deborah.

Dexter also introduces several elements that help you complete missions. The Journal located at the top of the screen keeps track of progress the cases. This is also where the case objectives are provided and is a good guide for when you’re unsure of what to do next. For example, as you come across evidence, it’s automatically stored in the Journal, and you can refer to it whenever necessary. On the flip side, if you need to gather evidence or need to speak with a specific person before being able to progress, the Journal will also tell you.

Another element is the GPS. Since Dexter needs to travel from place to place, accessing the GPS will show different locations. By tapping on a location, the game takes Dexter there. Having said that, two key locations are relatively essential for Dexter: Dexter’s apartment and Metro Police Station. The game has a handy auto-save function, and you also go back to Dexter’s apartment and tap on the phone to do a manual save to that point. Metro Police Station has its own significance which I will get into shortly.

To add to the gameplay, you’ll need to constant watch two bars which essentially serve as Dexter’s psychological state. Since Dexter must balance his outward appearance to look normal (Mask) and his dark psychopathic urges (Dark Passenger), various activities will impact him. The Mask white bar represents Dexter’s control over dark urges, while the Dark Passenger red bar signifies his dark side. Based on how he interacts and responds with others or even kills them, the bars will gain or lose points. If the Mask white bar ever depletes down to zero, the game is over since Dexter will be no better than the criminals he stalks.

The gameplay is done remarkably well. Generally, I have concerns about games with a movie or TV show tie-in because they tend to be lacking. The devs did an admirable job creating a game incorporating a relatively engaging storyline with a variety of different puzzles which is where it shines. The initial task usually involves stalking the victim without being seen, and similar to an FPS, you maneuver Dexter in a game of hide and seek. As the story progresses, you also have the bigger task of investigating an unnamed serial killer who freezes victims before chopping them up. Other tasks involve picking locks, gathering evidence, and executing the final judgment on the victim.

If you’ve watched the series, you’ll know that Dexter has a ritual when it comes to setting up the Kill Room for his victim. Here you have the opportunity to pick the location, prepare the room with plastic sheeting, and choose the tools. As I mentioned, the game is set up so that you have several open cases and beyond dealing and completing the Mike Donovan case, the other cases are unlocked. The slashing itself is more mundane and involves specific finger swipes on the screen accompanied with the screams.

The mini-puzzles are really training exercises for Dexter that can also add Mask points if completed successfully. He can enter his lab at Metro police station to play several puzzles at any time:

Paint Chips—slider to match colors to a crime scene
Prints—memory game similar to Simon Says to bring up pieces to complete a print which you then match to something in the crime database
DNA—find matching DNA patterns
Spatter—test several weapons and draw blood spatter patterns to match existing spatter patterns

While you can move Dexter in any direction you want, some of the paths while not clearly pointed out feel pre-set instead of providing free-moving alternative choices. For example, entering someone’s house involves picking a lock, but then a dog prevents you from entering so you’re left with breaking through a window. Or in another while stalking a victim, there is only one way to accomplish the recon rather than having several options. One other note, beyond solving puzzles, some of the activities tend to be more of finding highlighted items, while other involve more searching.

Overall, Dexter the Game has high production values that admirably incorporate a good variety of challenging tasks and mini-puzzles. Understandably, with this type of game, the replay value is limited, but what is there should take a while to complete. The timed challenges are not the easiest, but they won’t strain your brain like some of the mini-puzzles. If you’re a Dexter fan, the game admirably captures the spirit of the series. For others, watching the show or reading the books first may make sense prior to playing the game. Either way, this is a solid adventure game that the devs will continue to build on with additional installments.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended highly for Dexter fans; unfamiliar with certain story elements, non-fans may find the content on the morbid and profanity-laced side; high-production values, good mix of mini-puzzles and task-oriented activities; engaging storyline in a slower-paced adventure game)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/09/14/showtimes-dexter-hits-the-iphone-screen/

One of my favorite books as a kid was “Animal Farm”, a story dealing with political and socioeconomic issues in a world run by animals. In some ways, that’s what you have with Inherit the Earth, a newly released adventure game for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Set in a post-human, and decidedly medieval fantasy world where anthropomorphic animals now rule, Inherit the Earth incorporates the light-heartedness of a puzzle game within a brightly colorful world.

By anthropomorphic, I mean that the animals all walk and talk just like humans, and part of the back story is that humans taught these abilities to animals but soon disappeared from the face of the planet. The main story falls more in line with a Hardy Boys mystery and involves the primary characters Rif and his furry squeeze Rhene. Both are red foxes…literally speaking in this case…who belong to the Fox Tribe. All of the animals in the game belong to specific tribes each with their own likes and dislikes sometimes resulting in forest-related turf wars.

The bushy-tailed fox pair head off to a faire with other animal tribes and soon after arriving, Rif is accused of stealing the Orb of Storms, an object that can control the weather and be used for evil. That is where the story takes off with Rif venturing about looking for the true thief in order to clear his name. Just as in “Animal Farm”, the game uses stereotypes that really could serve as the basis for a sociology course. The Elk Tribe rules this world because they are noble and majestic, while the Lion Tribe is arrogant yet protective. The Boar Tribe is more lazy and lack common sense, while the Dog Tribe is more fun seeking and clownish. The Fox Tribe is seen as cunning yet deceitful which is really the basis for why the Boar Tribe accuses Rif of stealing the orb in the first place. The boars decide to hold Rif’s sweetheart Rhene hostage until he can locate the orb. Of course, there is plenty of mistrust among the tribes so Eeah, an elk and Okk, a boar accompany Rif on his journey.

Presented in 2D, the artwork is definitely a strong suit, although the animation can be a little pixelated. And the sound effects are really well done where you can hear rushing streams, buzzing bees, and rustling leaves. The game has a lot of charm from the medieval theme to the voiceovers of the various tribes. There’s definitely a good degree of personality, and you can tell that the devs put some effort into the rather well-written dialogue.

The controls are similar to those found in other games of this type such as Secrets of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, and are based on the verb system. A series of actions are provided at the bottom of the screen such as walk to, look at, pick up, and talk to among others, and you simply tap on the desired option. Once that is done, tap on the area or object with which to interact. For example, to pick up rocks, select “Pick up”, and then using either the magnification box or a pointer (you can toggle between the two controls options during the game), direct at the rocks. Text at the top of the screen will show when rocks have been selected. These types of controls generally take some practice, but shouldn’t take long. As with the other games, something that could’ve streamlined the “verb system” is the use of more general words such as “use”. While less descriptive, it could replace words such as “consume” and “pick up” while de-cluttering the screen. The game also has an inventory system where items can be stored and used later.

As with any adventure game, Inherit the Earth is about interactions and this homeward bound rag-tag team will meet other animals along the way. You can interact with characters and when choosing to talk to them, multiple responses appear at the bottom of the screen from which to choose from. Now, the game offers the option of turning off the voiceovers, but frankly, the voiceovers are what give the game its charm.

As for the gameplay, keep in mind that at the heart of Inherit the Earth are puzzles. While not overly difficult, they are fun and definitely fit within the progression of the story. Although they can be easy for advanced puzzlers, the puzzle variety is commendable and can range from fixing items and solving word games to getting out of a maze and finding hidden items among other things. In some cases, Rif will need the help of Eeah and Okk, so there’s enough to keep you engaged for hours. Along the journey, the game also provides hints of what may have happened to the humans which adds a bit of intrigue.

One of the things I’ve noticed with Inherit the Earth is that characters tend to do a lot of walking. There are instances where Rif and his animal gang walk what seem like multiple screens before anything happens. Also, the game can feel rushed in some places, and the story both early on and late in the game can feel disjointed, enough that I had no idea what I was doing or where I was headed in some cases.

Inherit the Earth is an entertaining adventure game, and while it has a few flaws, ultimately delivers a rewarding experience. If you like puzzlers with a somewhat interesting storyline or better yet, enjoy games such as Secret of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorcerer, then Inherit the Earth is an easy decision.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for fans of point and click adventure games or simply want a game with personality; easy to use controls and solid game should provide hours of gameplay)

If the iTunes store is good for anything, it’s apparently zombie shooters which get churned out like they’re going out of style. If anything, devs are becoming more creative in creating zombie games which ultimately is good for gamers. The latest and well, good game is Alive 4-ever, a classic shooter that has good intentions when it comes to style, but could use some variety if it knew any better. For an initial release, I have to commend the devs for putting a more or less complete game together which cannot be taken for granted these days.

When it comes to features, Alive 4-ever exceeds expectations from the diverse character selection and certain RPG elements to the variety of weapons and missions. At the current intro price, the content certainly is one of the best values you’ll see in the iTunes store. In Alive 4-ever, you can select from among 4 different characters—Steve Carter, Taza Thorpe, Anna Lennox, Wallace Milner—each with his or her own set of weapons and abilities. The game has 4 save slots so theoretically, you can start and save a game using each of these characters.

Visually, the animation and graphics are very good and especially good enough that you can see zombie blood spatter after you kill them. Soundwise, the music is chaotic and conveys a sense of desperation, just what you need in a game about brain-eating monsters. Even survivors have a voice in asking for help which can be both helpful and annoying. By the way, you can also set the level of blood effects in the game, but of course, many will just leave it on the highest setting.

The game has 30 missions each with a mission objective to complete the mission within a certain time limit but also a challenge that when met, rewards characters with additional defensive equipment. The missions in general consist of rescuing survivors, acquiring vaccine or shooting a specific number of zombies or zombie-related creatures. One nice touch with Alive 4-ever is the addition of a challenge within each mission that when completed, award a bonus piece of equipment such as bulletproof vests, ammo, gun clips and additional health among other items. For example, one mission may have the objective of shooting 50 zombies and a challenge of acquiring two vaccines. Killing 50 zombies will complete the mission while acquiring the two vaccines will yield you with a bonus piece equipment.

Alive 4-ever’s dual-control stick scheme is one really one of the better set-ups I’ve played with simply because it works. The pad on the left controls movement, and the right pad is for aiming and shooting. The responsiveness and accuracy are extremely tight and definitely make this game better than many others that come to mind.

Because Alive 4-ever has RPG elements, no matter which character you choose, ability points are awarded based on successfully completing missions that can be allocated to HP, bullets, hit rate, and curing efficiency. In addition, characters earn experience and level up based on meeting mission objectives and challenges which make your character faster and more accurate. And of course upon, completing missions, you earn gold which can be used to purchase/unlock additional weapons.

The weapons section is pretty good in terms of providing an good overview of each weapons power and ability to reload quickly. And, it’s also set up so you can try out your weapons of choice to see what’s most effective for you. During the in-game play, you can shuffle between multiple weapons, and in many cases, you’ll have access to more weapons than you even knew.

During a game, there are various items to help your character such as the HP Recovery Pack (health), Gun Cartridge Pack, Gold Bullion, and Vaccine. One additional feature that is rather nice touch is the Rescue Counter which can be accessed anytime during the game to illustrate how you’re doing in terms of meeting mission objectives and challenges. Keep in mind though that when this is accessed, the game is still live with attacking zombies who don’t stop for anything.

The gameplay is fun and entertaining and the missions themselves are challenging. In many cases, especially when it comes to the boss fights, experimentation with weapons will be your friend. This is why the RPG elements and the ability to unlock bigger and badder weapons fits nicely with this game because you can re-play previously completed levels to build up cash reserves. Zombies come in all shapes in sizes some bigger than others while others are just plain faster. And where would we be without zombies’ best friend, the zombie canine. In later missions that involve recovery of vaccine or survivors, using the action button enables you to pick up/drop off items or lead survivors to the Rescue Zone. One issue I have is that you cannot hold two items at once which is limiting and borderline frustrating especially when you’re under a time constraint. A handy yellow arrow points in the direction of items and survivors, and the game does a good job of randomizing where they are located. In replaying missions, these items and survivors hardly reappear in the same spot.

If the game has a flaw, it’s that the missions are repetitive, sorely repetitive. Playing the first few provides a good idea of how the remaining missions play out which mostly consist of acquiring something, bringing it back to the Rescue Zone or simply destroying a specific number or type of zombie within a large arena. The settings do change, but the missions are more or less the same. Having said that, the game still has a good deal of content for what it is, and it doesn’t better than many others by simply having missions.

Alive 4-ever is one of the more solid zombie shooters you can buy, and while the missions can be repetitive, the game’s RPG elements and weapons upgrades make it better than most shooters in general. If you enjoy shooters and zombies or a combination of that, then Alive 4-ever is a good pick. I do hope that the devs continue to update the game because they have full-featured foundation that only needs some variety to spice it up.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid zombie shooter that is only lacking in variety for its missions; RPG elements work well and is really a nice addition for a game of this type and value)

What would you get if FPS married RPG? You’d get a good looking Wolfenstein RPG, a turn-based shooter that exceeds my expectations and maybe yours as well. While the game is designed for the casual crowd, it’s still a great piece of gaming with an engaging story and a terrifically responsive control scheme that just works. I harp on this all the time, and will continue to do so until devs get this right. I don’t care what the graphics look like or if the storyline grabs you by the family jewels. If the controls don’t work properly, it’s an easy delete off my device. Wolfenstein RPG is a strong example of controls done right.

Unlike traditional shooters which tend to be full-on, gun battles, Wolfenstein RPG’s turn-based approach slows the game down. So if you’re looking for a fast-paced game, this isn’t it. When you shoot a bullet at an enemy, the enemy will take a shot back and so on. But having said that, the game is still fast, and the game is free roam until you get to the action when it becomes turn based. While the 2D graphics are old school, they fit the game perfectly and ran without hiccups on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0.

The story is set in World War II, and B.J. Blazkowicz once again must deal with our most hated enemies, the Axis Army a.k.a. Nazis within the confines of Castle Wolfenstein. Where the story gets interesting is that German scientists are getting creative with cloning meaning this game has zombies, mutants, wacked prisoners, enemy soldiers, and yes, even chickens. This sounds like a great B-movie in the making but alas, we have Wolfenstein RPG.

The game has 9 levels and 3 modes of difficulty—Normal, Hard and Nightmare—as well as well as two mini-games one involving game of War and another focused on long-distance chicken kicking. Probably not something to show the parents or allies of PETA, but know that these mini-puzzles also appear randomly in the game’s story mode.

To say that the game’s controls are the strength of Wolfenstein RPG would be an understatement. They’re some of the most responsive and intuitive controls available for this type of game. A d-pad is provided for side-to-side, forward/backward movement, and swipe left or right to turn in the desired direction. Movement through the corridors is smooth, and I have little very trouble getting where I wanted.

Along the bottom of the screen is the HUD, and it’s relatively straightforward. Tapping the various icons will bring up health, inventory, perks, and even a head of B.J. to skip a turn. The Inventory is a collection all items collected through the game including syringes, weapons, ammo, treasure, and health. These are things that you may come in handy later so the pack rat mentality helps here. A Journal is also available because you will come across information worth remembering. To round out, an overview map is also available showing where you are within the schematics of the castle.

In the game, B.J. has the ability to switch between different weapons, and the turn-based system does come in handy because it gives you the time to effectively make switches without the rush of a typical shooter. With weapons drawn, you tap on the target to shoot, but keep in mind that targets have an equal opportunity to fire back. In addition to weapons, you can use your fists and kicking abilities which tends to be entertaining if you’re into physical gaming violence.

The game is less about RPG and is rather more about interactions. Throughout the game, you do collect items and level up in terms of weapons and power, but those elements are pretty basic. The humor shines when it comes to interactions with prisoners and scientific and the occasional chicken. You have conversations with a variety of characters that tend to either be docile or completely off the wall because they’ve all been injected with weird substances…sounds like a typical San Francisco evening. Each of the cells with prisoners has a board showing what they’ve been injected with and their behavioral tendencies, and in some cases, you can even release the prisoners at your own risk.

Throughout the game, you’ll learn more about the experiments and of course come across the random syringe which you should keep for the later showdowns. But, the overall humor, while a little dark, definitely keeps you engaged.

The play in Wolfenstein RPG seems well balanced with plenty of enemies and side incidents to keep you busy, although I will say that playing at the nightmare level of difficulty offers quite the challenge. As I mentioned, the pace is different from the typical gun and run shooter, and in many ways, I find the turn-based approach ideally suited to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. But to be honest, I would only recommend a handful of the typical shooters anyway. While hardcore gamers may find this game less than difficult, Wolfenstein RPG is definitely a top notch game for the casual gamer. It’s a worthwhile experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (serves as an ideal introduction to the Wolfenstein series; great slower-paced shooter for those looking for a balance between intense and frenetic; controls are among the best along with high production values even with 2D graphics)