Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category

Among my favorite movies is Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I for its pushing the envelope humor that spoofs key periods of world history. One scene set during the French Revolution involves King Louis XVI using human beings as game pieces on a giant chess board. You can only imagine what happens when a knight takes out a pawn or the King captures the Queen. In any case, the scene came to mind as I played Creative Assembly’s Total War Battles, a beautifully designed strategy game that in some instances could’ve been even better.

For those who don’t know, Total War Battles is based on the popular PC-based Total War series. The iOS version is different from that series so my review is based on TWB as a standalone game. The underlying theme in TWB is all about revenge and redemption as the son of a slain warlord seeks to save his clan while in search of vengeance. The rather epic tale is told through a number of dialogue scenes and narrated letters that provide good background and purpose to the different battles. The voice acting involved with reading the letters has a strong emotional tone which helps to establish the mood.

TWB incorporates various elements with a bit of RTS and turn-based strategy (TBS) with a pinch of role playing all thrown into essentially a lane-based tower defense game. Visually, the backgrounds are stunning on the iPad, and the actual battles that take place on screen come alive. The battlefield itself consists of a hexagonal grid that is nicely incorporated into some lush environments. Everything from the details on structures to the character animations are a joy to watch. Accompanied by an epic soundtrack and equally impressive sound effects, you do feel the intensity as the battles play out in front of you. From soldiers getting hacked to death to shrines and headquarters gradually being consumed by fire, your soldiers react as you would expect them to react.

The game consists of a 23-stage campaign mode each with specific objectives typically involving the defeat of certain enemies or specific units. Included are a number of experience or EXP stages which are side missions and tend to be more puzzle focused (e.g. building and placing structures within limited amount of space). EXP can also be purchased through IAP, but it isn’t needed to complete the game. What’s disappointing is the absence of a skirmish mode and an online multiplayer capability which hinders replay value.

Core to a game of this type is the ability to build structures and establish a specialized army, and TWB provides a good variety. You’ll have the opportunity to build and maintain headquarters and shrines as well as set up lumber and miningl operations. All of this leads to supporting the various soldiers, which run the gamut from archers and riflemen to spearmen and cavalry troops.

The somewhat unconventional controls consist of arrow buttons located at the bottom of the screen. Requiring a slight learning curve, the buttons do feel awkward initially because most players inherently will want to tap to select the unit and then tap on the appropriate location. As units are spawned and become available, they appear as tiles which can then be dragged onto any appropriate hexagon.

Depending on your expectations, the gameplay in TWB is both engaging and challenging, requiring a good degree strategic planning. Each level begins with your base located on the left-hand side facing your enemies on the right. Initially, the objective is to build structures that take advantage of the local natural resources such as wood, iron ore and water. Once these operations are in full force, these resources can then be used to generate gold. Gold is then used to spawn different units depending on what’s available.

One of the strengths of TWB is the planning that players are required to do. Each structure type takes up a certain amount of space on the battlefield’s hex grid which can be challenging because of the limited real estate. But another nuance is that certain structures cannot be located near each other or are link dependent. For example, a trading post which generates gold has to be near headquarters, but not near a shrine. On the other hand, a shrine must be linked to a lumber yard, while a lumber yard must be near trees. This adds a layer of intricacy that is simultaneously welcoming and irritating depending on personal preferences. While you rotate structures before placing them, the process can be somewhat tedious and even frustrating since it can be tough to find the right spot even though space is available.

Earlier I mentioned the side missions aimed at building up EXP. I found those missions particularly irksome because most of the time, they were just very difficult to solve. Another reason is that those side missions don’t involve battles, and I found they took away from the overall gaming experience with the main campaign. I’m not a big fan of IAP, but fortunately, you can bypass it by completing these side missions, which can be like choosing between a rock and hard place.

The campaign is where most players will spend their time and as with the placement of structures, there are certain rules to keep in mind. Since TWB is a lane-based tower defense at heart, one important point is that troops cannot move backwards once you’ve set them forward. I actually found this aspect adds to the strategic planning since you really have to plan attacks while defending your own buildings. Once they’ve moved to a hexagon adjacent to an enemy, the soldier units automatically attack so there isn’t much else to do but watch. What would be helpful which the units are missing is a health indicator similar to what you would find in other castle and tower defense games.

The real-time element comes into play in the deployment of additional soldiers and selecting the right ones based on the enemy at hand. For instance, archers have a longer range of attack, while swordsmen are little more up close and personal. And you have to spawn strategically to replace soldiers who are killed because once an enemy moves to a hexagon, they own that grid until they move or are killed.

Another part of TWB that should resonate nicely is the ability to react quickly and making decisive strikes. Once an attack is set in motion, it can have a profound impact on the path of supporting soldiers. And, there’s a limit on how many units you can have on the field at any time, which takes away randomly spawning a huge army and turning the battle into a numbers game. For players who enjoy strategy, this adds an element of balance forcing you to choose the most appropriate soldiers and units.

TWB does have its share of issues. Not helped by any means from clunky control arrows, the gameplay is slow and deliberate. The units move at a snail’s pace, and the lack of a fast forward option will easily drag out a level to at least 10 minutes. In addition, the game does not include any directions beyond the basic information about each unit and structure. If you’re not familiar with the Total War series, you can feel a little lost in the beginning.

The game has Game Center support and achievements which does lessen the blow from the lack of a skirmish mode. But again, online play is sorely missing here.

Total War Battles offers an engaging visual gameplay even with its shortcomings. With a focus on the animated battles which really are distinctive and entertaining, this lane-based strategy game delivers an atmospheric experience that most will find worthwhile.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (terrific visuals for a strategy game; campaign mode only and lacks skirmish and online gameplay; good deal of nuances adds to an otherwise strategy-laden game; slow paced with no fast forward option complemented by clunky arrow control buttons; GameCenter support and achievements)

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Over the years, various scientific studies have linked playing video games to better brain function.  This has to do with the coordination, focus and multitasking involved which stimulates key parts of the mind.  One good example is Amoebattle by Grab Games, a real-time strategy (RTS) game that not only provides an entertaining yet challenging experience, but does a terrific job incorporating multi-touch controls.  Bolstered by eye-catching artwork and animation and a microscopic storyline that plays bigger than it sounds, Amoebattle may be just what the doctor ordered.

The premise behind Amoebattle centers around waging war on a microscopic level with the overall goal of domination.  In this world, we’re talking about germs and bugs fighting over a primordial turf where players are tasked with stopping a spreading infection.  Not to worry if you’re not into germs because Amoebattle is more than appealing for the hypochondriacs in all of us.

Before you jump into the game itself, the artwork itself is worth checking out especially on a retina-display iPad or iPhone.  Unique in its presentation, the colors and animation by themselves bring the game to life. Each of the twelve missions takes players through 4 highly imaginative environments—Mushroom Forest, Primordial Sea, Lavalands, Final Battle—that successfully make fungus, algae and other microbes intriguing and lively.  The serene and melodic soundtrack provides a surprisingly good audio backdrop that subtly yet effectively builds up the intensity within each battle.

In the microscopic world, the name of the game is survival with nourishment and procreation core to success.  Fortunately, the controls in Amoebattle are intuitive and a pleasure to use.  The control options allow for variations on how to move amoeba troops from tapping to drawing lines.  Movement of amoebas in mass can be accomplished by tapping and holding a specific troop or by drawing a circle around a group.  Moving a single troop is done by tapping on the specific unit.  And, adjusting the camera angle can be done by dragging the screen using one or two fingers.

While directional pads and accelerometer controls have their place in games, line drawing gestures on touch mobile devices has always seemed innovative to me because they involve such a natural and carefree action.  In Amoebattle, I found the line drawing gestures extremely useful because again it ties into a person’s instinctive behavior to simply draw, circle and move.  While the devs could have installed a d-pad control scheme, I think that would have taken away from the overall experience.

Throughout the game, players are accompanied by an AI assistant named AMI who looks like something you’d find at Toys ‘r Us.  For the most part, AMI provides tutorial information, environmental and enemy backgrounds and warnings when warranted, but don’t expect him to wrestle muscle-bound amoebas for you.

The enemies in this tiny world come in three classes—herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores—each with unique attributes and abilities.  An added factor is the environmental setting which can provide a significant competitive advantage depending on the enemy.  For example, omnivores tend to love the undergrowth, while herbivores seem stronger in the grasslands.  Also, the damage inflicted by enemy types varies greatly with some having more long-range capabilities while others like to be up close and personal.

As I mentioned, nourishment and procreation are essential for success.  As your little guys attack and destroy enemies, they actually feed on them building up their energy levels.  Each microbe has energy and health bars that provides a status update, and there’s a handy procreate button that can instantly double your amoeba forces.  Of course, the energy levels gradually regenerate over time and by feeding on algae.  Speaking of which, one of the strengths of Amoebattle is the elegant HUD that provides a useful yet uncluttered display of everything you’ll need.  From maps and weapons to mission objectives and energy levels, this is one of the better displays I’ve seen.

Two words sum up Amoebattle’s gameplay: challengingly fun.  The game doesn’t insult players with trivial or monotonous exercises.  Every activity has direct impact to the overall success and failure of the mission.  Whether it’s feeding on algae or procreating at just the right time, efforts aren’t wasted.   And to keep things balanced, players can only have a maximum of 25 troops at any given time which is a nice touch.  So you can’t simply adopt an out-of-control reproduction strategy to advance.

The missions themselves are varied and can range from collecting items to destroying specific enemies.  One of the nice things about the HUD is that a running count is constantly in view so there’s no guessing or having to flip back and forth between windows.  As more enemies are destroyed, your amoeba armies analyze the DNA which can then be used to mutate your little guys…seriously.  This is really a well-developed part of Amoebattle because it becomes a key part of your strategic and tactical planning.

The combat is mostly automated so you simply select troops, point them in the right direction, and they go at it.  There is a good degree of micromanagement allowed so players can move and direct groups and individuals as needed.  While the line drawing works well, I think it’s probably even more appropriate for smaller screen devices where bigger fingers would otherwise have issues.

GameCenter support is offered as are a number of achievements of varying difficulty.  The achievements focus on milestones such as completing missions, minimizing damage to amoeba troops, and even keeping your procreation activities to a minimum.

A drawback with Amoebattle is the absence of a skirmish mode.  Currently, the game is limited to twelve-mission campaign, although the difficulty level in the later missions can make them pretty time consuming.  Most players regardless of the experience with the RTS genre should get more than enough play from the existing campaign mode.  However, for advanced players, the lack of a skirmish may be an issue, although developers have promised this in a future update.

Another minor issue worth noting is that Amoebattle could use a reference section providing backgrounds on the various enemies if not just a general Help section.  While the HUD is one of the best, the supporting materials such as a non-existent Help area and the overall menu are bare bones.

Amoebattle is an imaginative RTS that delivers a uniquely engaging and intense experience.  The variety of enemies and the level of strategy involved as well as the intuitive control scheme make this a welcome addition to fans of the genre.  Along with the impressive artwork and elegant interface, Amoebattle provides more than enough to keep your brain on its toes.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (imaginative RTS with intuitive controls; line drawing controls tied to micromanaging units work well; elegant interface and beautiful graphics and animation; good depth in terms of content; well-balanced campaign-only mode although later missions can be difficult for new players; GameCenter support/achievements; lacks skirmish mode but promised in a future update)

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, while the phrase “less is more” is used just as often.  Regardless of which mantra you subscribe to, Eufloria by Omni Systems crosses both in delivering a real-time strategy (RTS) game that’s just as simple as it is complex.  With elements from games such as Risk and Galcon, Eufloria is a unique bucket of mellowness mixed with a healthy gallon of challenge.  It won’t necessarily appeal to hardcore RTS fanatics, but it has the right ingredients for casual ones.

The story, what there is of one, is about conquest.  In this case, Eufloria is about the flight of seeds where the ultimate goal is to seed and grow across this little world of asteroids.  Once these seeds land and grow successfully, they become trees which transform these barren rocks into planets of life.  Of course, there are enemy seedlings and other nuances to the game that throw a wrench into everything.

The basic unit if you want to call it that is the seedling which serves as the scout and defender.  The seeds are used not only scope out asteroids, but grow into the trees that lay claim to territories.  Eufloria provides a rather straightforward tutorial along with a help button that can be accessed during gameplay.  The game has a 25-level Story Mode which provides the barebones story; Skirmish Arenas which offer a number of specific challenges; and a Dark Matter Mode which is the Story Mode except with a much darker background.  The game arrives with levels locked meaning previous levels and challenges must be completed before progressing, but players also unlock everything in the Options section.  Eufloria also offers two difficulty modes: Relaxed and Challenging, which are exactly as they sound.

The Story Mode takes players through 5 stages: Takeoff, Into the Wild, Outer Colonies, Deep Space, and Event Horizon.  I would suggest players go through Story Mode first since this provides a hands-on tutorial prior to attempting the Skirmish Arenas.

Visually, the game can easily be called beautiful in the general sense and stylistically unique in another.  Eufloria is all about mood and ambience, which is successfully done from the minimalist interface to the extremely relaxing soundtrack.  A pastel background (this can be changed to a dark screen in Dark Matter mode) with a bunch of orbs along with trees and flying seeds would be an appropriate description.  Of course, that would be an understatement as the smooth soundtrack does wonders to enhance the gameplay.

The controls in Eufloria are extremely responsive with little learning curve.  In addition to panning and zooming using finger pinch and drag gestures, tapping on an asteroid will bring up an information panel highlighting the energy, strength and speed of the asteroid and its seedlings and trees.

The control mechanism for deploying seeds is just as easy to use with a number of different methods for doing this.  The simplest way for me was tapping on an asteroid with seedlings brings up an arrow and tapping on the target asteroid will send those seeds to that destination.  A nice touch is how to select a specific of seeds to send.  A green dial appears around the asteroid which can be manipulated by touch.

The gameplay in Eufloria and the level of satisfaction will likely come down to the expectations of the player.  Sending seeds to populate and evolve asteroids can set the scene for rather intense battles.  Personally, zooming in to watch the seedling battles can be wonderfully relaxing in a strange way because the resulting colors and animation add much to the experience.  In some ways, this is the best part of Eufloria.

Because the planets have different attributes in terms of energy, strength and speed, the seeds that are sent will eventually take on those strengths.  An added complication involves the maturity of the trees because the older they get, the harder it becomes to conquer that planet.  The reasoning here is that older trees will burrow deeper into the core of the planet which makes it harder for them to be destroyed.

Eufloria does provide a fair albeit not overwhelming degree of strategy which I found very enjoyable and satisfying.  Players will face a number of decisions, and the game does offer a good deal of options in that area.  As the game progresses, players can select specific seeds to send based on the planet’s attributes as well as selecting different trees and flowers to send and plant.  The game’s complexity is furthered by the type of tree with the Dyson Tree being the most basic.  But, beacon plants, terraform trees, flowers and laser pods are added to the mix.  While you can send individual seeds to scout asteroids (this is pretty neat) which you’ll don’t really want to send your forces into an enemy ambush, planting flowers via enhanced seedlings are another capability.

The game is designed for the casual player in mind.  For all the damage the AI can do, it’s slow enough that players will have time to consider moves and build up their seedling forces.  Personally, that’s makes for a relaxing, yet challenging game with just the right level of management options.

Having said that, the slow-paced proposition of Eufloria can be an issue for some.  While it’s not unusual for an RTS game to last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, gameplay can feel drawn out because of the slower pace.  Normal and fast forward buttons are provided, but they don’t speed things up considerably.

Unlike other RTS games, stats are not a particularly strong point for Eufloria.  Right now, the most players can expect is the elapsed time it took to complete a stage.  Another shortcoming in the current version is the artifacts which for the most part can be collected but lack any real use.  The game also doesn’t have GameCenter or OpenFeint support, which frankly is begging for achievements.

Eufloria is a different kind of RTS game because of its slower pace and more relaxing approach.  It offers a simple, yet elegant interface with just the right balance when it comes to the degree of game management involved.  There’s enough complexity to make it challenging while enjoying the stylistic visuals.  Casual players will love the ease and pick-up-and-play controls, while advanced RTS players will value the uniqueness and variety.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (unique minimalist approach to visuals; responsive and easy-to-use controls; simple, yet complex nuances to make it challenging; slow pace will appeal more to casual players; great soundtrack; minimal player stats)

Role playing (RPG)/turn-based (TBS) games have seemingly found a home on the iOS platform with a number of significantly terrific games for players of all skill levels. And, gamers have yet another strategy game to indulge in with Red Wasp Design’s Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (you should definitely read his stuff if you haven’t), CoC could aptly also be compared to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a game that has a good side with deep content and great atmosphere, yet struggles with its dark temperamental controls and less than stellar UI. And while the game is universal, let’s make this clear: don’t even think about CoC unless you’re playing on an iPad.

Let’s start with the good…the game features nine levels presented in 3D and set in the filthy trenches of World War One. The storyline focuses on a team of investigators including Capt. Hill, Sapper Brown, and Professor Brightmeer on the hunt to uncover the inhuman conspiracy behind the war which lead them to the Wasted Land. Visually, there is a decidedly old school feel to the game complemented with a mood of dread and doom with every scene. Parts of the story are presented in cut scenes and text boxes with a creepy soundtrack as a backdrop. In terms of storylines and how it’s told, CoC is one of the better ones you’ll find in the genre.

The story is further strengthened in the degree of resource materials that players can access in the form of Game Guides. The devs did a really nice job here simply because there is so much content. The Game Guides include the Field Manual, Unit Guide, Grimoire (spells), Weapons, Armor and Equipment. Within these manuals, players can get an overview of the game, see an overview of the different units, and view the various capabilities and items available. Along with a basic training tutorial, the game has two modes of difficulty: normal and hard. Normal is quite challenging with missions that should take a while. Also, CoC has GameCenter support with a fair amount of achievements mostly for completing missions.

As is typical with an TBS/RPG game, characters uplevel their skills as they attack enemies, secure items and complete missions. Strategically speaking, the game is about planning and in general, players have the option to move, support or attack. In regards to support, there is a first aid function available either as a first aid station or via other supporting units. Tactically speaking, attacks include the use of weapons or spells. Each investigator and enemy has a profile that covers everything Action Points (AP), Hit Points (HP) and Sanity (SAN). APs are the cost to move, and the farther a unit is moved, the more Action Points it costs. HPs measure the health of a unit. SAN is the mental capability of a unit which diminishes when a horror is witnessed or when the unit unleashes a spell. This only begins to scratch the surface because there is a lot more.

The action-packed environments are rather rich in how they’re designed. From the trenches to pits and hidden areas, players will have to deal with poisonous gas, crazed cultists and inhuman beings. The nice part of CoC is how that affects a player’s planning. Depending on the type of weapon, distance and terrain, damage can either be limited or extensive. A nice addition is the Overwatch function one of a player’s units with enough APs will attack if they spot movement during an enemy’s turn. Besides the different terrains that impact APs, players discover a variety of different challenges where being outnumbered by the enemy is the least of your problems. Visually, damage done to units is graphically represented with blood and some minor screaming, which is well done. Overall, combat is both enjoyably realistic and rather deep when it comes to all the strategy and tactics behind it all.

On to the not so good…content often separates great games from good ones. The other is UI especially in the case of the TBS/RPG genre, since this impacts not only the user experience but the overall immersion with the game. While content is a major strength of CoC, UI is decidedly mediocre at best with the experience varying greatly depending on the type of device.

The CoC HUD primarily incorporates a vertical layout displaying unit strengths and health, capabilities and weapons. Once an action is requested, a horizontal display appears at the bottom of the screen asking for confirmation. While this type of layout is intuitively set up so that players have a minimal learning curve, it is undoubtedly clunky. Also while there isn’t a zoom function (CoC needs this), counterclockwise buttons have been added to allow players use to change and rotate views. In practice, this seems like a less elegant approach and instead of using buttons to rotate views of the battlefield, swipe, drag and pinch/zoom functions may have been a better choice. In general, it just feels like performing certain actions requires more clicks that what should be needed.

On the iPad, the buttons are usable, but even then, they feel packed together. But, a likely issue especially for iPhone/iPod Touch users is the size of the buttons, which are small. Even with average-sized fingers, tapping buttons with accuracy can be difficult, albeit not impossible. In some ways, the devs probably would’ve done themselves a favor by making this is an iPad only release. Right now, it feels like the iPad UI was basically shrunk down for the iPhone/Touch without accounting for the reduced screen size.

If small buttons aren’t enough of an issue, then the lack of responsiveness may well be regardless of the device although this issue again probably will be more pronounced with iPhone/Touch users. The task of selecting a specific unit requires tapping on the unit, tapping on the battlefield to highlight available spots, and tapping on desired spot to move the unit. From moving from location to location to forging attacks, taps and double taps are a core function of CoC. Unfortunately, taps frustratingly do not register accurately, and players can often find themselves tapping to no avail. Even on the iPad, touch responses occasionally lagged or simply didn’t register. Engaging in battle can also be just as problematic since that involves tapping on a specific unit and then double tapping on the proposed target.

CoC is a welcome addition with its atmospheric environments and heavy content. The less than elegant HUD interface does a fairly good job of helping to reinforce the old school feel of the game and provides an atmospherically, visually immersive environment. Where CoC stumbles is with unresponsive controls which puts it a notch below the many offerings in the genre. That’s not to say that CoC isn’t a worthwhile purchase with its unique storyline because the content is one of the most in-depth in the genre.

Albie Meter: 3.5 Stars (immersive environment with deep content; character development is a key cornerstone of the game; old school feel along with combat visuals that are realistic; mediocre UI designed for iPad users and not ideal for iPhone/Touch devices; occasional lag and non-responsive touch responses that should be addressed in a future update)

What would you get if you somehow cloned a hybrid of Bill Murray and Conan the Barbarian?  If you’re the mad scientists at Ayopa Games and Drowning Monkeys, your creation would aptly be named Dungeon Crawlers, a quirky 3D turn-based love child, um, adventure.  Outdone only by its irreverent humor and a clunky, less-than-intuitive UI, Dungeon Crawlers is a smorgasbord of fun with slimy oozes, nasty goblins, weird science sorcery, testosterone-driven attitude and charming ineptitude.

The adventure is told through a rather engaging storyline that will have you missing the days of ectoplasm and Sigourney Weaver.  Inspired by the Ghostbusters movies, Dungeon Crawlers takes a line from that great franchise of yesteryear and puts a medieval spin on things.  Presented through cut screens, it’s engaging enough that you actually pay attention at least through the first go-around.

Visually, Dungeon Crawlers is a high-production package that pops off the screen.  In some ways, it’s like watching a low-to-mid range production of a Disney animated film because there’s a dose of familiarity that flows throughout.  Considering the game takes place in, well, a dark dungeon, the devs create an inviting environment that asking to be explored.  From the dark textures of the brick walls and the treasures throughout to the ghoulishness of baddies and the evilness of bosses, Dungeon Crawlers instills a good sense of claustrophobia in a cartoon kind of way.  And the sound effects from the clashing of weapons to the screams of agony make you feel at home.  Your bumbling heroes include Payter the UFC-like barbarian, Aegon the Harry Potter wannabe, Roy the gluttonous healer and Failston the dwarf warrior, each presented gloriously in the latest dark ages fashion.

Dungeon Crawlers has four multi-layer chapters with a total of 12 levels.  The game consists of 3 modes of difficulty—easy, normal and hard.  The game does feature an auto save function, but only one save slot, which is unfortunate.  It’s relatively easy to rotate and tilt the screen using finger swipes, and a camera icon is also available for rotating the screen if you prefer.

The battles themselves provide entertainment in their own sense since players will deal with a variety of different baddies including slime spitting oozes, arrow wielding goblins, hideous mummies and screaming banshees among others.  Each chapter culminates with a boss fight with monsters such as the Goblin King, Banshee Queen and my favorite Death Knight Shyamalan.

The gameplay is more or less what you would expect for a TBS with RPG elements which consists of fighting enemies, discovering/collecting treasure, acquiring skills and items and building up experience.  In Dungeon Crawlers, each dungeon floor is made up of tiles that players can move protagonists to via turn-based play.  Tapping a character indicates tiles that are available for movement which are highlighted in blue while attack tiles are highlighted in red.  Green highlighted tiles show which allow for healing.  Each hero and baddie has red bars to indicate the state of health.  Actions are indicated in the bottom right corner of the screen.  For example, an attack action button appears when an attack can occur, and by tapping, that action is then invoked.

One interesting aspect in Dungeon Crawlers involves movement of the heroes.  Unlike typical TBS games which locks a character’s movement after an action is invoked, players can move the DC heroes pre- and post-action.   In other words, once a hero has positioned a hero and destroyed a baddie, players can move him to another spot afterwards.  It’s a nuance specific to Dungeon Crawlers which in certain ways makes the game a little more forgiving.  Of course, it adds another layer to a player’s strategic planning.

It’s worth noting that the UI can be cumbersome requiring far too many clicks for things that otherwise should readily be accessible.  For example, rather than just visually indicating that a hero has completed his turn, players need to individually tap him to discover this.   In addition, TBS games inherently tend to be slow paced, and a typical way of cutting down some of that time is the ability to fast forward through the action during an enemy’s turn.  Unfortunately, the fast forward button doesn’t work in Dungeon Crawlers.  This is likely a bug that will be addressed in a future update.  Again, these are minor frustrations, but they serve as distractions that take away from the polish of the game.

As heroes dispatch the dungeon crawling scumbags, loot appears which are collected by tapping.  As players clear dungeons and levels, treasure chests appear which can contain a variety of items including gear, weapons, magical powers, skills, and maps among other items.  Also, items worth investigating will slowly blink until you actually wise up and maneuver heroes over.  To change individual hero skills, powers and weapons, simply tap on the hero to see an overview of statistics and scroll through available weapons and powers.   Considering how much I fumbled around initially to figure out the various parts of the game, adding a better tutorial or building out the Help section would be a worthy consideration for the devs.

Running the game on the iPad, the game runs smoothly with some occasional lag.  The AI in Dungeon Crawlers feels pretty balanced starting players off rather slowly and gradually ratcheting up the difficulty.  The tactic of barreling through to destroy baddies in Chapter 1 won’t work well in later chapters.  In fact, the later chapters will require planning ahead and using a balanced attack using the various heroes.  In general, Dungeon Crawlers is a good introduction for those new to RPG/TBS games because it doesn’t rely on skill trees or other RPG details which can be overwhelming for some.  For advanced players, the RPG elements in Dungeon Crawlers are satisfactory and even a little basic, but the cartoony characters and tongue-in-cheek humor should offset that.

The game is on GameCenter and there are 15 achievements mostly for completely chapters and finding trophies.

Dungeon Crawlers is certainly one of the best looking TBS games in the iTunes store with gameplay to match.  It’s easily one of the more fun and highly enjoyable games in the genre.  The cartoony characters and top-notch humor along with the familiarity that many players will have with the GhostBusters movie add to the appeal.  The clunky UI makes for a few frustrating moments, but all in all, Dungeon Crawlers is worth checking out.

Albie Meter:  4 Stars (slickly produced, fun TBS with an adequate dose of RPG elements; great visual presentation with humor throughout; UI could use some tweaks; slow paced gameplay so plan to spend some time; limited replay value)

One common knock for games in the iTunes store is they tend to be mostly skin deep experiences with minimal depth.  While that topic could be an article on its own, one thing is for certain.  Smuttlewerk Interactive’s Time of Heroes is among the richest and deepest when it comes to turn-based strategy (TBS) with great 3D animation that should provide hours of challenging and even vast gameplay.   It’s safe to say that that Time of Heroes is designed for the advanced gamer in mind, while casual players will enjoy it for the aesthetics and well-developed storyline.

Presented through cutscenes, the storyline follows Prince Minos and his team of human heroes Rholtwest, Ariadne, and Ungbar as they seek to conquer the continent of Altland.  Along the way, they meet Elven Hero Ryrrmdaar and Dwarven Hero Ultomuk who join in this war between good and evil.  With the help of human, elven and dwarf forces, these explorers will do battle with the likes of demons and zombies who display strength, brawn and magical prowess.  Sounds exciting right?  Fortunately, the gameplay in Time of Heroes more than successfully take advantage of that storyline to create an action-packed experience.

The game offers 3 modes of difficulty—easy, normal and hard—along with a setting that allows players to select the volume of enemies—Pack, Throng and Hordes.  A nice feature is the 3 save slots so you can try out different strategies.  A bit of warning:  unless you’re an advanced player in TBS, the game isn’t exactly a walk in the park so it’s recommended that begin in easy and pack modes.

As with any strategy game, the challenge and skill in Time of Heroes comes down to selecting and placing the appropriate battle units based on the battle conditions and objectives.  The battles take place in a series of distinctive maps each with its own set of objectives that must be met in order to claim victory.

There are a number of units for our heroes within the human, elven and dwarven races.  Humans rely on Berserker, Axethrower, and Bullrider, while Elvens have Dragonlings.  Let’s not forget the Dwarvens with their Guards and Mortar Dwarves.  You’ll find each unit has a number of attributes when it comes to strength, power and even environmental preferences.  For example, human race Berserkers are known for their skill with battle axes and courage under fire while Mortar Dwarves are heavily armored, highly intelligent beings.  This is just touching the surface, but players will have plenty to discover during gameplay.

Visually, Time of Heroes sets itself apart in the TBS genre with great 3D graphics and animation.  The battle scenes are a treat to watch since they can be both intense and engaging.  The game does offer an option to turn off these scenes since they do add significantly to the already slow game pace.  Some players will be turned off by the length of time involved, but as mentioned earlier, Time of Heroes isn’t really designed for the casual gamer.

The UI in Time of Heroes is rather clunky and even unintuitive at least initially.  For example, a unit becomes permanently placed once you select another unit which can be confusing.  Another involves being to select exactly where a unit is to move because units tend to be closely lined up together early on.  Of course after playing through a few battles and maps, the controls much more usable, but they remain less than user friendly.

Because the tutorial is rather basic, the game does require a certain commitment to understanding the nuances.  This can be a frustrating and in some cases, an overwhelming experience given the amount of depth.  A common approach in other games is including an encyclopedia where players can find information on specific units and background on environments.  Time of Heroes would be well served to include such a reference in a future update.

As players progress and claim victories, bonus items, powers and spells are awarded which heroes and units can utilize.  Items include strength axes, power rings, swords and battle armor among others while spells include fire, vortex and ice rays.  The game includes an easily manageable skills tree that where commands and spells can be accessed.

The gameplay itself forces players to use their strategic thinking if they’re to succeed.  Because of the strengths and weaknesses of units and the variety in the terrain, the game can be difficult.  And, players will find out quickly that additional enemy units tend to appear out of the blue as you reach certain checkpoints.  This can be both fun and challenging especially since by this time, hero units may have taken a significant amount of damage.  Keep in mind that Heroes (not Hero units) can receive health boosts during the game as they level up in attack, defense and skills experience.

Time of Heroes has IAPs which provide additional weapons, magic and power boosts bundles.  Fortunately, the IAPs are set up so that they aren’t necessary to fully enjoy the game.

Time of Heroes is easily one of the deepest strategy games in the iTunes store.  While it has a rather clunky UI, the game provides a rich and entertaining experience within a great looking 3D environment and epic storyline.  The slower pace may not appeal to casual players, but the Time of Heroes is definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for some intelligence in your game.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (a great looking 3D TBS that goes beyond skin deep; strong storyline with depth being the name of the game; clunky UI not as intuitive as it could be; tons of hero and enemy units with plenty of bonus items and powers; ideal for advanced strategy players)

Everyday the iTunes store delivers a plethora of games which can be daunting to comb through for novices and advanced gamers alike. One game that certainly surprised me is Wind Up Robots by Soma Games. Slickly presented, it’s a charming and wildly hectic robot defense (yes, robot defense) game that will get your gears going. Casual time waster, addicting, and entertaining come to mind, but one thing is for sure, you won’t be bored.

As with any tower defense game, the objective is fairly straightforward in that you pick your troops and weapons and deploy to defend. But, Wind Up Robots is much more creative and entertaining than that. Wind Up Robots is about Zach, a little boy haunted by nightmares. With his father off to war, Grandpa Jack is the closest thing Zach has to family. The adventure begins one night when Jack unveils his latest creations to Zach—wind up toy robots that will protect and defend at all costs.

The devs spent a good amount of effort on presentation which is obvious throughout. Wind Up Robots is rendered in high quality graphics and animation which really makes the game a pleasure to look at. From audio perspective, the tracks within each stage provide just the right balance between whimsy and intensity. It may sound like a strange combination, but it certainly adds to the experience.

This game is obviously about robots, and there it doesn’t disappoint both in presentation and in gameplay. You have 7 robots that are unlocked and stored in your Robot Locker as you progress through the rooms, each with its own unique attributes: Lamplighter, Photon, Flash, Lazer, Bubba, Scanner and Flare. Photon for example is a short range unit with a light shotgun who likes tea (kidding about the tea part). Then there’s Lamplighter who is the robot nurse if you will, just without the long legs (not kidding about the long legs). Each unit has varying degrees of range, power, health and speed.

One of the neat additions in Wind Up Robots is the Store. Ever wanted to play dress up with a robot? Me neither. But the Store actually makes it fun, and it’s also here where you can customize your robotic force. As you complete stages, coins and gears are earned that can be applied to building up your mechanical friends. For those who are impatient, there’s also IAP if you want to buy additional coins or gears. Besides the usual upgrades, the Store offers a wide array of costumes—think Robotic Salvation Army—where you can deck your little guy in everything from antlers and hats to pipes and gun holsters.

Wind Up Robots has two game modes: Story and Quick Play. Story makes up the core of the game with 28 levels that take place in various rooms in a house such as Zach’s bedroom, the backyard, and even the treehouse. As you complete levels, they unlock for access in Quick Play.

With the neat stuff packed into the game, it wouldn’t be anything without decent gameplay. Gameplay is definitely not a weakness when it comes to Wind Up Robots. The monsters are varied ranging from T-Rexes and pterodactyls to rhinos and Frankenstein creatures so you do get a good mix of them. There’s even a cow so hopefully you’re not allergic to dairy. Robots have health bars so you’ll see exactly how they’re faring, and once they start breaking down, so do their powers.

It’s downright fun and engaging, and it certainly doesn’t lack in the challenge department. The game begins when you select your robots and items/tools from the Robot Locker each of which is stored in a toy chest. From there, you simply tap to select a robot and tap in the location you want him to go with which he slowly waddles over. You’ll want to think fast because you won’t even have 5 seconds to think because the game begins quickly.

As monsters are dispatched, coins are earned which you collect by tapping. Of course, there are more than enough obstacles that impact your robotic deployment whether they be books on the bed or columns in the attic. Don’t forget to check out your Trophy Room since this is where your enemy kills are mounted. It’s a nice yet eerie touch.

The touch controls are responsive, but the one area where people may have problems will be in selecting and directing robots. Even on my iPad, the units can be small on the screen, and on occasion I would select the wrong robot. Getting them to the right location can be a little imprecise as well because of the way the screen is set up. Also, because collecting coins requires you to tap on them, I sometimes found myself tapping robots and inadvertently moving them. Still, you can change the perspective and angle by dragging around the screen, and you can pinch zoom in/out.

Another area lacking is the tutorial. Although it provides the basics of placement and general directions, it doesn’t provide much guidance in terms of using various items or powerups outside of a brief description. So many times, you’re left to experiment which I don’t have to tell you is always a dangerous thing.

Wind Up Robots may not get the recognition or buzz, but it certainly deserves it. The name may deceive you, but this is a fun and challenging game that delivers lots of content and even more entertainment. Even if you don’t buy the game because of my review, buy it because it has robots.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (unique twist with robot defense that works; charming, well put together game with enough bells and whistles; concept should appeal to everyone with enough challenging gameplay for novices and gameheads alike)