You know, I think “Madden 13” might be the most depressing game ever made.
Seriously, when I first booted it up, I was greeted by the new (and very well done) menu score, loaded up a quick play Redskins vs. Cowboys game, and marveled at the new presentation that so perfectly recreated a CBS broadcast, it managed to subside my summer longing for the football season in earnest. From there, I’m welcomed to a beautifully rendered Cowboys Stadium by the new, and enjoyable, announce team of Jim Nance and Phil Simms who actually bring some enthusiasm to the booth again, as they give a fantastic and accurate introduction to the matchup. As you might expect, the set up and presentation to “Madden 13” are phenomenal — I would even use the term unrivaled, in terms of sports games.
Then things actually get even more encouraging when I took the field. The new “Infinity Engine” that runs the game manages to avoid being a buzzword, and actually changes the gameplay in an initially significant way. Essentially the new engine attempts to prevent the canned animations and the predetermined outcomes they led to, by allowing for dynamic player reactions to on the field situations. It’s appropriate then that the cover boy this year is Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, as a play is never really over or decided until it is actually over and decided, much like the plays of Johnson himself. This new engine is bolstered by further innovations such as the ability to cancel a play action animation on the fly and regain control, or how defensive backs can hunt and track a ball with unprecedented levels of control. The goal of this year was obviously to make the on-field action feel more organic, and you may be surprised at how well this is achieved at first.
Nothing was worse than seeing this message pop up on the Apple screen at the library we used to play “The Oregon Trail” at in grade school. Maybe the first couple of people to fall to it got away without too much ridicule, but as soon as one of us discovered what dysentery was, we became unstoppable forces of mocking nature. There were many ways to die on the “Oregon Trail”, but the only one you truly feared was the dreaded dysentery. It’s not like it was ever your fault either. If there was a “wash your hands after using the bathroom” button, we would have used it.
If you can’t relate to what I’m talking about then I truly pity you, because you missed out on one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time. What made “The Oregon Trail” so great was the many gameplay options and features, and how even playing the game right wasn’t a guarantee for survival. Even better, the vaguely historical setting meant that it was a game you could play at school, and at the aforementioned libraries. It’s one of those games where you can tell right away if someone grew up with it or not, because if they did, all it takes is a mere screenshot to bring a grin to their face, and set them off on a bombastic recollection of nostalgic memories.
Well if you did, in fact, never get to share that experience, then developer The Men Who Wear Many Hats has your back, thanks to some funding by Kickstarter. Because they are bringing back the old school gameplay of “The Oregon Trail” but infusing it with the harsh reality of the zombie apocalypse. Now truthfully, I’m getting a little tired of the zombie genre, but every now and then something will pop up that resurrects the style much in the same manner as the decaying dead that populate those titles.
“The Organ Trail” (huh…clever) is one of those instances. From the menus, to the basic gameplay, to the perfectly recreated graphics and sounds, “The Organ Trail” shamelessly apes “The Oregon Trail” with admirable accuracy. The basic goal is the same. You and yours traverse the country in search of a better home, while battling the dangers of the untamed world. But rather than just throw a couple of undead sprites your way and port “The Oregon Trail,” the developers have completely re-imagined the experience of that classic as it stands in this new world, and along the way have managed to perfectly recreate the experience of the original, while still making sure that anyone who grew up on the original game enjoys the near flawless ratio of nostalgia to the joy of a fresh game experience.
There’s really nothing original to “Jar on a Bar.” Aesthetically, it immediately brings to mind “Angry Birds,” and the basic concept is so dated that they used to call it “Jenga.” But that doesn’t matter, because for a mere 99 cents, you get one of the most addictive puzzlers to come to the app market in some time, originality be damned.
Let me backtrack a bit and explain. “Jar on a Bar” stars a fish in a bowl trapped precariously atop a ready to fall stack of pallets, glass, and other increasingly nefarious obstacles. Your job is simple: Get that fish to the ground and back into the water without breaking the bowl, all while trying to spill as little of the water in it as possible for bonus points. Sounds simple, right? Well, as you can imagine, as the game progresses through its 60 plus levels, things keep getting more and more complicated, until the point that this game of “Jenga” becomes a real mind-twister.
I mentioned “Angry Birds” earlier, and that’s because at its core, the game’s main concept of removing various obstacles to reach your goal is highly reminiscent of that classic app. However, “Jar on a Bar” is more about manipulation than destruction. Its well implemented physics system accounts for everything from weight to momentum, and forces you to master it before you can make any progress in the later stages. You may have to push a block to a certain point to gain just the right leverage, or momentarily put the fish in danger in order to set up the right move correctly. You not only have to consider your next step at all times, but the next several after that as well. It creates just the right combination of on your feet decisions and long term strategy that makes the best puzzle games so memorable, and executes it very well. There is also an in-app store but, while it does feature some cool objects, overall it doesn’t add much to the core gameplay of “Jar on a Bar.” The good news is it doesn’t have to, and it far from hinders the experience.
I could be wrong on this, but I don’t expect “Jar on a Bar” to take over the world like some of the games that inspired it have. However, the 99 cent asking price is a steal, turning this into a must-buy for anyone that has half an interest in puzzle games. Quite simply, it is one of the best and most addictive new puzzlers, and overall app games, I’ve come across in a while, and it is a more than deserving app of the week.
Jeremy Clarkson’s opening monologue for “Forza Motorsport 4” explains that the car guy is an endangered species. Chased out of his natural habitat, cut down by laws and regulations, and ostracized from society at large due to his love of speed and adrenaline, he remarks that the only place left, the final frontier for this endangered species, is in the virtual world with “Forza 4.” The question then becomes if the virtual world can recreate the enjoyment of the physical one.
If you are judging by visuals alone, “Forza 4” comes close. Crisp, razor sharp resolution and detailing highlight the unique aspects of every car in the game. This differs from “Gran Turismo 5” since only a few “premier” cars got the high resolution treatment in that game. Also, there is the “Auto vista” feature. Here, you can take a painstaking look inside and outside of a variety of cars, taking in the minute details rendered in jaw-dropping detail.
Having a pretty face is one thing, but offering entertaining gameplay is a different matter entirely. Here, the “Forza” experience really starts to pull away from “GT5.” First off, you don’t need to be a car guy to enjoy the game. Game settings are adjustable from beginner to simulation levels so you can be comfortable in whichever level you fall under. Second, “Forza” doesn’t beat you over the head with technical bureaucracy. There are no license tests, long loading times, or a never-ending bog of petty races to get through before you get to the good stuff. Just hop in and drive.
Plus, you can drive whatever you want, wherever you want. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, muscle cars… nearly everything under the sun is available to you. You also don’t even need to race. You can take photos, create paint schemes, and participate in a multitude of other activities. Just like in the real world, you don’t necessarily need to be a speed freak to enjoy the hobby, but it does help.
When you do start driving, “Forza’s” fantastic physics engine really starts to shine through. Developer Turn 10 took simulating the cars so seriously, in fact, that they contacted Pirelli to be able use their tire simulation software for the game. This is the same equipment F1 teams use to develop their tires, so of course it is insanely accurate.