Archive for the ‘Sim’ 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)

The Apple iPad was designed for the casual consumer in mind with its minimalistic design and easy to use iTunes store.  So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy by Namco was featured in Apple’s keynote announcing the newest iPad.  From a marketing perspective, SGAS is a sleek, eye grabbing flight sim/arcade combat game that shows off the HD quality of the device while tapping into the casual gamer’s primal need for intensity and excitement.  From an actual gaming perspective, SGAS is a top-notch experience that should grab iPad and iPhone gamers across the board.  The game doesn’t offer anything that gamers haven’t seen before on the platform, but retina-supported graphics, varied content, and hybrid arcade/sim gameplay should incite the gaming masses with a highly immersive experience.

At its core, SGAS has a 10-mission campaign mode complemented by a variety of different game modes: Dogfight, Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base.  There’s also a multiplayer mode allowing for local wifi and online gameplay which allows you to play the following:

Survival—tests skills against waves of enemies

Free for All—battle against up to 7 others

Team Deathmatch—4 on 4 air battle

Capture the Flag—battle for the enemy flag while protecting your own

Defend the Base—destroy enemy facilities while protecting your own

If you’re a novice or really haven’t played flight sims, SGAS has a good tutorial section that covers everything from basic controls and maneuvers to takeoff/landing and squadron commands.

SGAS has a storyline, but honestly, it’s almost non-existent and certainly non-essential for a game of this type.  The game has a good set of controls and customization options—simulator, casual accelerometer, casual control pad, and fixed control pad.  From the option, the simulator control option gives you full control of the aircraft by using roll, pitch and yaw controls.  In general, all the control options with exception of casual control pad are tilt-based meaning steering relies on the device accelerometer.  The tilt controls work fairly well, and you’ll want to adjust your accelerometer sensitivity to suit your preference.  For iPhone gamers, some of the buttons may be a little on the smallish side.

Weapons are displayed as their own set of icons on screen with a count of what’s available, and tapping on them will fire as needed.  A set of flares is also included which can used to divert enemy fire.  In addition, a camera option allows you to choose from a number of views including an inside-the-cockpit view.  Last but not least is the Auto-pilot button which ensures the plane stays level, allows for evasive maneuvers and avoids crashes into objects.  The only hitch is that you won’t be able to fire weapons in this mode.

Graphically speaking, SGAS looks fantastic on both the iPad and the iPad 2, and one can only assume that the HD screen of the iPad HD will only further enhance the visuals.  Currently, the marketing term “console quality” probably isn’t the most accurate for SGAS, but that’s not intended to disparage the great animation that is there.  From the reflection over water to the shadows of aircraft on mountainsides, this is a high-quality production for the platform.  On the other hand, graphics can appear jagged and rough around the edges especially when it comes to buildings and other structures.

The game runs smoothly on early generation devices, although there can be some stuttering and lag when flying through clouds or smoke.  I noticed this on both generations of iPad, but overall, a minor issue in the scheme of things.

The soundtrack has a decidedly Kenny Loggins without-the-lyrics feel to it from the movie Top Gun.  It certainly helps get you pumped for action, but I found it annoying after a few missions.  Fortunately, an option exists to turn off the soundtrack which I recommend.

SGAS’ is what you would expect—intense with a good mix of variety and chaos.  The missions take you through different environments from the desert to the sea with adequate supply of battles taking place over metropolises.  One of things with the game is that it requires a bit of practice and ultimately selecting the right set of controls.  Personally, I use the casual control pad with the accelerometer sensitivity set below the halfway mark.  Accelerometer-based controls tend to come down to personal preference, but I couldn’t imagine a better approach for SGAS.

The battles can be hectic, and SGAS does a good job of creating that immersive experience that can make or break this type of game.  There is a good feeling of speed as you perform maneuvers, and accounting for the high quality graphics and animation, SGAS is a good example of what is possible on the iPad.

Early missions focus on dogfights where you command a squadron that gradually evolves into base defense and the destruction of enemy convoys.  Commanding a squadron is accomplished by tapping a button located within the HUD.  It’s a simplistic approach, but one that allows you to choose from three commands: stay in formation, defend me, and attack.  Also, a radar tracks friendlies and enemies, while guide markers identify checkpoints and point in the direction of other aircraft.

Eventually, missions also involve locating and destroying secret bases and communication towers so there’s a bit of variety.  And, as you destroy enemy targets and complete missions, game points are awarded that will promote you through trainee, combatant and ace ranks.  In addition, additional aircraft (more than 40) are unlocked that you can also for online play.

While the game is marketed as a flight sim, one of things that you’ll notice with SGAS is the arcade-like feel.  Planes are overly flexible in their abilities, and some of the swipe gestures take away from the complete sim experience.  This is not intended to be a slight of SGAS at all, but you’ll notice it if you’ve played other flight sim games

As for the level of difficulty, the missions may be less than challenging for more experienced players.  Each mission has a number of objectives from something as landing at a designated site to destroying specific location sites.  Typically, enemy aircraft are not particularly good about defending sites.  Then there is the occasional occurrence where you can destroy enemy aircraft just as they spawn in view.  Of course, the great thing about SGAS are the chaotic air battles where there are swarms of planes in the air, and avoiding missiles is more reactive than planned.

Where most will get the biggest bang is in the multiplayer mode which I consider one of SGAS’ big strengths.  Playing either a quick game or entering an existing room and regardless of what mode you decide on—Survival, Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Defend the Base—each one offers a unique experience which I found extremely enjoyable.  Skill level is not a requisite so you’ll find gamers of all levels present, and you can choose to use any plane already unlocked.  Playing online, SGAS is terrific because it highlights the varying skill levels of others.  And the explosions help add to the overall feel as you destroy an online participant…yes, there’s no other way to put that.

Completing the missions of course doesn’t automatically guarantee you the highest rank so there is a good amount of replay value to score game points both in mission mode and online.  In addition, SGAS is GameCenter supported with numerous achievements for completing missions to enemy-related milestones.

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is a fantastic flight/arcade sim that delivers a chaotic experience, one that novices and advanced gamers should enjoy.  The content is varied and plentiful and multiplayer online is a blast.  The high-production graphics and animation already pop off the screen on older generation iPads so it should be even better on the iPad HD, although it’s still a small notch below console quality.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (fantastic graphics/animation for the platform delivers an immersive experience; mission mode tends to easy, but most will get the biggest bang from multiplayer online play; controls work well but mostly tilt based; plenty of content, but turn off the soundtrack; GameCenter support)

With today being the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it’s easy to think about what it would be like to be an astronaut. My guess is most of us at one point or another dreamed of what it would be like travel the stars. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to maneuver a ship on another celestial body. Lunar Module 3D does a terrific job of providing a part game, part simulation experience on your iPhone/iPod Touch device. With an intuitive set of controls, a soothing soundtrack, and a lunar surface based on actual lunar photos, the game delivers quite an immersive experience.

Visually, the environment is reminiscent of the moon photos we’ve seen—desolate, barren, lifeless—yet full of character from the dunes and hills to the caverns and pits. The fact that the game also uses real mission audio only reinforces that feeling of exploration and awe as you maneuver the lunar module. Lunar Module 3D takes you through 9 missions (the first 4 are unlocked) through actual Apollo 11, 14, 16, and 17 landing sites. Each site has a series of landing and refueling spots, and depending on well you effectively maneuver and efficiently use fuel, gold or silver medals are awarded that unlock additional levels. These missions start out relatively simple with the Sea of Tranquility to the more dangerous Tycho Crater.

Landing sites are illustrated in red while refueling platforms are in blue. A mini-map is provided that shows the lunar module’s position relative to each of the sites. A fuel bar located down the left side of the screen indicates available fuel, while the altitude and speed gauges are located on the right side. These gauges will be essential because if the running too fast, the speed gauges appear in red and green if the speed is appropriate. A camera button on the bottom left side serves as a guide to the next nearest landing site.

I’ve tried other lunar module games, but the controls tend to extremely difficult and not as responsive as I would like. I’m all for the real experience, but I also don’t want frustrating controls. In Lunar Module 3D, the steering and braking are accelerometer based with the thrust button located in the bottom right corner for propulsion. And they work as advertised. However, that doesn’t make this game any less challenging.

The in-game audio which is usually at the beginning and the completion of a mission are a nice touch, and really provide that NASA experience. Controlling the module requires nifty maneuvers, ability to read angles, and a light touch. Often what you’ll find is that a little boost here and a slight steer is all you need because the lunar module is traveling through zero gravity. The game does an admirable job of emulating what the conditions are like in such an environment. If you’re running too hot, there’s a pretty good chance that either lunar module will overshoot the target site, crash into ground or fly outside of the maximum height allowed meaning the module is now off into space. Gold medals are earned by based on successfully touching down on landing sites and keeping refueling to a minimum.

What the game could use is a variety of other mission types such as re-entry so you’re not only maneuvering around, but also trying other abilities such as learning to land back on Earth without burning up.

Lunar Module 3D is not alien-filled shooting game so if your expectations are for moon base massacres, this is not for you. However, if you want mellow gameplay where patience is required, Lunar Module 3D will provide just the right experience. For the variety and intuitive control scheme, this is easily the best of the bunch.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for space sim enthusiasts and amateur lunar module drivers; provides a relaxing experience if you’re not too worried about landing)

When EA’s Need for Speed finally made its debut after months of delays, I declared it the best arcade racer available at that time for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Well, I can safely declare Firemint’s Real Racing from Firemint is the BEST overall racer, arcade or otherwise, available on the platform that blows away everything else. The game is impressive in all aspects of the word for controls, graphics, and gameplay. It is truly a racer that not only sets a high bar, but tears it down and creates a new set of rules.

Depthwise, Real Racing has 12 race tracks, 36 cars, and 3 car classes (sedan, hatchback and muscle car) and 9 championships. The load of content by itself would be enough to make most racing fans salivate. But I haven’t even discussed the local online play where you can against other players for the title of the best real racer. You can compete either in online leagues or in local online only multiplayer races. Some will be disappointed by the local online only play to compete with others, but when you see the graphics, it’s a good bet that the game in this case is ahead of the connectivity. One thing I am disappointed with is that there’s no flexibility to create your own racing teams which hopefully will be added in the future. There’s even a replay option where you can upload race replays to Youtube.

Visually this game will easily draw comparisons to PSP-quality racers because the high-resolution graphics/animation and framerate are that smooth. From the details on the cars to the explosive sounds of revving engines combined with a high-velocity soundtrack, Real Racing delivers an immersive racing experience. Don’t let the pre-release videos fool you…the colors pop, and you’ll be amazed. Also, in the upper right corner during a race, you can alternate between third-person and cockpit view. Seriously, the game is so well implemented, you can feel the speed in this game.

While the cars look great, it would’ve been ideal to use real makes and models. What you do get is a nice variety of sim cars with appropriate stats which frankly for most is more than enough.

The Menus are designed to be straightforward, and they are. There is nothing you can find in there from settings and controls to your racing stats.

In terms of racers, the controls are what differentiate the elite racers from the great ones. In the case of NFS, the controls are about auto acceleration, and while I’m not a fan of that, it is a great arcade racer. Real Racing on the other is an elite racer whose controls are second to none…no question. The game offers a choice between accelerometer (set by default) and touch steering control. Actually, there are four controls schemes:

1. accelerometer steering, auto accelerate and manual brake
2. accelerometer steering, manual accelerate and manual brake
3. touch to steer, auto accelerate and manual brake
4. touch to steer, auto accelerate and manual brake

Firsthand, I will tell you that the accelerometer controls with auto calibration are responsive but they tend to be shaky making it difficult to see what’s happening around you which can be distracting. The touch steering works like a charm for me and seems to stabilize the image for whatever reason, although I like manual acceleration instead of auto acceleration. In Real Racing, whatever control scheme you choose, you’re in complete control in how much or how little you turn, and I can’t say that about too many racing games.

The other great option is the Brake Assist System which automatically brakes your vehicle when it approaches other cars or turns corners. As with the accelerometer sensitivity, you can also adjust the Brake Assist System, and it’s terrifically implemented which I recommend you use early on as you familiarize yourself with the race tracks or for quick casual play. Other options include the ability to flip the screen (a great option that too many devs ignore),

Real Racing has three modes of play: career, single races and time trials. In Career mode, you have to qualify and unlock races which have names such as the Hatch Qualifier, Monacato 500, NrGee Super Sprint and Touring Qualifier. In terms of single races, you have a number of tracks to choose from and it tracks your fastest lap based on Hatch, Sedan and Muscle. You can choose to race solo or with competitors as well choose the number of laps. In Time Trial, you can also choose from a number of tracks, track by class of vehicle, and then upload the best time online. In each, there are 3 divisions based on difficulty: Division C, Division B, and Division A. B and A are unlocked once you successfully complete races in Division C.

Another significant differentiator is the AI which significantly adds to the realism. The “human-like AI” is noticeably apparent and saying that it adds to the racing experience would be an understatement. In other racing games, the level of difficulty can vary from being too easy to too hard where you can either lap competing racers or you get bombarded by other racers to the point of absurdity (e.g. Days of Thunder). You won’t have that problem with Real Racing, and in fact, you better have your driving gloves on and know the race course. The AI offers challenging gameplay and is not afraid to show who the boss is. If you even make a small mistake, the AI will trade paint to let you know they’re watching. I did a quick test with Fastlane Street Racing and NFS, and if you’re into racers, you will probably have a tough time going back to those games again. This is how good Real Racing is.

Real Racing or NFS? If you’re into arcade racers with arcade physics (you know what I mean by that), and you want more of a storyline regardless of how shallow, then go with NFS. However, for those who want a realistic sim racer with real feel for speed, and a good amount of depth in terms of race tracks and cars, and most importantly a career mode, Real Racing is a no brainer. As I mentioned before, NFS is the best arcade racer you can get with Maggie Q. But without a doubt, Real Racing is the best overall racer available at this very moment.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (recommended for those looking for a realistic sim racer with all the bells and whistles who have the real need for speed)

If you can build solid social relationships in real life, then surely you can do the same in a video game right? That’s the premise behind The Sims 3 where the focus is less on building a home (unlike its predecessors), and more about creating relationships with others. Think virtual dollhouse except in a more adult way, and before you jump into The Sims 3, be clear on your expectations for the game.

One of neat things is the 3D environments where your sim can roam around freely. Visually, the graphics and animation are impressive and run very smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g with no dropped frames or visual hiccups. The soundtrack is perky if not a bit annoying after a while, but that’s just me. Also, there are 3 save slots so you can create multiple characters and control their destinies.

The first thing to do is create your sim in terms of sex, clothing, and persona through a step-by-step process. You can choose five personality traits, and keep in mind that these will affect your sim’s goals and wishes. I am a bit disappointed in the lack of customization allowed here, but it’s more than sufficient for what you’ll be doing. However, the process itself is very straightforward and compactly presented so it doesn’t become too complicated. A lot of times, sim-type games can be overwhelming just because of the number of choices, so I can understand the compromise to make the game more accessible to a broader audience.

Controlwise, you can move and adjust the view side to side, up and down by dragging a finger as well as zoom or change the camera placement using two fingers. The controls are easy to use, although some may need some time to adjust. A slider also appears down the right-hand side for zooming.

There are a few basic things that need to be done in this game: get a job, practice good hygiene, get plenty of sleep, go the bathroom, eat for pleasure and nutritional value, and learn to have a good time. Well, actually, these are things that each of us should be doing in real life, but they just happen to apply to your sim as well. The money that you earn from your job which appears at the bottom of the screen is really the foundation for everything else. If any of these basic things aren’t done, your sim will not be in a very good mood, let alone too healthy. But, The Sims 3 is also more than that. It’s about prioritizing and time management as well as the long-term needs that require you to guide your sim to improve his skills in order to gain work his way up the corporate ladder, learn new skills, grow and maintain a garden, and most importantly, build and maintain friendships. One of the neat things about The Sims 3 is the autonomy, and by turning on the Autonomy mode under Option, your sim has a little more free will so you don’t need to worry as much.

Unlike previous Sims games, this does not include building your house. While upgrading the house is doable, you won’t have the ability to change/remodel the layout or physically alter the structure. What The Sims 3 does provide is a Build mode allowing you to buy and move furniture. I’ve never been a fan of building a virtual home so this isn’t a big loss for me. If your expectation is to have the capability to build a virtual home, then The Sims 3 will not satisfy those urges.

In terms of how the game works, the key is pay attention to your status, accessible through the Menu icon in the lower right corner. The Menu icon provides access to active goals, status (hunger, energy, bladder, mood, etc.), persona, and inventory of collected items. A series of icons are located at the bottom of the screen that also covers these basics and they are either green or red in color. Green means those needs are being satisfied, while red means there are issues. During the game, mini-puzzles in the form of goals appear that you can either accept or decline, and you can have up to five of these puzzles in the queue. These goals include activities such as buying a watering pot, or catching fish. They’re not difficult challenges, but they will require an intermediate step such as buying certain items for example before they can be accomplished.

If you ever not sure of how to go about completing a goal, a set of tutorials is available through the Menu icon and under the Help section. These tutorials cover Cooking, Fishing, Repairing and Gardening. The Sims 3 also has also 73 goals and wishes that are unlocked based on interactions with others, earning life skills, and building up certain attributes within your sim.

As I mentioned, The Sims 3 is all about relationships which the game does a terrific job of facilitating. As your sim walks around, plenty of opportunities exist for interacting with others. When meeting someone, you tap and a series of choices appear where you can select the type of greeting, conversation, joke or even insult to use among others. For some of the flirting and one-liner scenes, I almost wished they included some voiceovers. I’d like to hear how studly these EA developers think they are. Anyway, it’s a rather intuitive setup that has no learning curve and gets you immersed pretty quickly. At any given time, you can access the Town Map through the Menu icon, and tap where you want your sim to travel to.

What do I think of The Sims 3? With impressive graphics and animation in some nicely rendered environments, the gameplay is extensive and offers a good level of depth. I will admit that I prefer the cartoony style of Gameloft’s New York Nights, but The Sims 3 offers considerably more in terms of content and replayability. Even after playing this for a few hours, I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. I think if you’re looking for a game with a strong social relationship component, The Sims 3 offers an entertaining experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for people who want to live vicariously through pixels and their iPhone/iPod Touch devices; definitely provides an immersive environment with replayability)

Being a native of the Bay Area, the Big Apple never appealed to me because the lifestyle there is a polar opposite to the lifestyle here. So when New York Nights: Success in the City was announced for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, my interest in the game was lukewarm at best. Having played other sim-type games, New York Nights would seem to be just another sim wannabe. The only difference is that New York Nights can be a pretty addicting experience where interactions are the name of the game.

At the heart of New York Nights is self-improvement and 40 days to prove yourself. As soon as you create your avatar—male or female, choose clothes and hair styles and even create a personality based on responses to some ethics questions—you face situations that affect you in four main areas: Culture, Beauty, Humor and Health. This is not a game where you will zip through various tasks. Part of the charm of New York Nights is that you’re supposed to socialize and communicate with characters who each have their own unique personalities. These interactions gain you attribute points which can increase things such as charisma, style and humor. As in real life, depending on how you charm, offend, or turn others off, your avatar’s characteristics change and thus affect how successful or not you will be in the Big Apple.

The underlying driver is that you need to find a job to pay rent, and those jobs take you through 6 New York neighborhoods—5th Avenue, Greenwich, Wall Street, Times Square, Chinatown and Central Park. Visually, the characters look great in a cartoony way and set in colorful environments. The sound effects increase as activity picks up, and really add to the overall feel of the game.

Back to the interactions for a moment…as the avatar moves around, you can choose interactions with other characters. A star system shows progress in these interactions. When meeting someone, a ticker appears at the bottom of the screen to show that person’s interests (e.g. art, action movies, Broadway). From there, you can access an interactive system with a variety of choices. For example, choose to tell a joke, and a submenu appears showing what types of jokes to use. Or when it comes to flirting, options include a peck on the cheek, a kiss on the lips or my favorite making out. If life were only that easy…

The game is broken up into chapters and as you complete one chapter, another one is unlocked, and everything is based on time which is the reason for the clock in the upper right corner of the screen. For example, if you’re supposed to be at a specific location or meet someone at a certain time, plan to be there on time. Otherwise, tardiness to an appointment could mean a missed opportunity. Also, remember that to keep in mind the eating, bathroom and sleeping needs of your avatar. You can even talk to the guy in the next stall. Fortunately, a PDA located in the left corner keeps track of everyone you meet, tasks to be accomplished, and locations of meetings. Navigation is done via touch with arrows and gold stars pointing out key locations. The navigation is intuitive and makes movement throughout easy and enjoyable.

New York Nights has a lot of content, and the replayability will come from developing and shaping your avatar’s personality traits and attributes. The gameplay is addicting and entertaining, and about the only minus for some people may appear to be too easy. As for me, I don’t like things that are overly complicated, and in the case of New York Nights, I find myself easily playing longer sessions than I anticipated. With well-developed characters, fun tasks, and some depth, New York Nights is a solid choice.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for sim fans who want something different other than constructing buildings; easy enough for novices and more experienced players)

Whether or not you like the simulation/tycoon genre, Kaloki Adventure successfully brings a light-hearted approach to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Designed originally for the Xbox, Kaloki is fun, almost cartoony and very upbeat where you can easily lose yourself in this easy-to-learn game. The devs did an admirable job infusing this with personality in a way that isn’t overwhelming.

In Kaloki, you play the role of a space station manager whose job is to meet the needs of customers from around the universe, while financially growing the station. For every satisfied customer, money is earned that can be used to build and upgrade ports. Of course, you have to manage other things such as rising energy costs and maintaining a positive satisfaction rating. The customers range from demanding alien scholars and gossip mongers to business traders and industry spies.

Kaloki has 14 chapters with 6 bonus open-ended scenarios presented in a slick, 3D environment with a jazzy soundtrack. Each chapter has objectives such as constructing a certain number of structures, evolving a business to a certain stage or earning a specific amount of money all of which must be accomplished within a limited time frame. A brief instruction page is included in the Help section, but it won’t tell you much other than you have to earn money to build more…seriously. Fortunately, the devs didn’t skimp on the graphics because the engine used in Kaloki runs very smoothly, providing a 360-degree view of the station with a simple drag of the finger. In an ideal world, a pinch zoom function would have been included similar to what is found in tower defense games, but alas, I’m being nitpicky.

The first three chapters are tutorials designed to provide a feel for the gameplay and to develop familiarity with the various expansion objects and bonuses. You have a personal advisor named Cindi and as well as your boss aptly name The Boss who both appear at the beginning of each chapter in the form of dialogue boxes to provide tips and objectives. Keep in mind that the first three chapters, which ironically make up the free lite version, are just a tease because the game significantly becomes more difficult in later chapters.

Kaloki requires fast thinking as you would expect, and offers an intuitive in-play layout. However, as I mentioned, the game lacks in terms of instructions or clarifying what everything does. A trophy icon appears on the left-hand side of the screen where each chapter’s objectives are listed and can be accessed at any time during the game. A Hand icon below it pauses the game. On the right-hand side, a console provides key information including: Money Earned, Energy Usage, Timer, and Customer Satisfaction ratings. At the bottom of the screen is a bar that shows customers in line or approaching the station with their needs and satisfaction levels stated. You can also view the location of the customer in relation to the space station by tapping on them.

When you begin the game, the station is virtually a chunk of metal with empty nubs and ports. Simply tap on an open port, and a window appears showing available structures with important information such as cost, energy usage, and expected revenue per customer. During construction, a bar illustrating progress appears over the relevant port. Once something is built, you can tap each to view profitability, energy use, and condition as well as customization options. This is also where you can sell structures, which will come in handy when you’re upgrading. As you progress, you also earn expansion packs, which are new structures available to you such as the Spy Training Center, History Hall of Records, and The Space Observatory among others. Because the game uses a tab layout to categorize information, the buttons can be small for some. It is fairly intuitive once you understand it, and the game is relatively easy to interact with from the start..

One of my complaints with Kaloki is the small buttons, and while they don’t impact my experience, they can be a problem for those with larger fingers. The lack of directions is another area where the game unexpectedly falls short, although you do receive tips on the fly from Cindi and The Boss. Also, visually, the 3D environments and space vehicles can be a little boxy in appearance…think Bizarro world.

Those new to sim/tycoon-type games will appreciate the cartoon-like environment of Kaloki, while those who are more experienced will enjoy the smooth and challenging gameplay. At least give the lite version a try, and you’ll know what I mean.

Albie Meter: 4 stars—recommended for current and wannabe tycoons