App of the Week – Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies


Developer: Fireaxis Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad 2 , iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There’s just something about strategy games on touch screen platforms that’s so satisfying. Controlling armies or deciding the fate of civilizations in this genre is always a good time to be sure, but when you add the touch element it makes you feel the role of commander or leader like no other game on any other format possibly can.

It’s an advantage that can lend a critical entertainment boost to even the most mediocre of mobile strategy games, which unfortunately many strategy app developers seem to be increasingly aware of. As much as I love the average mobile strategy game, there does seem to be a complacency sinking into the genre that makes every new encounter with one of these games increasingly less and less thrilling.

Into that scenario enters the legendary Sid Meier (the man behind the “Civilization” series) and Fireaxis Games who’ve not only developed many of those “Civilization” titles, but the recent strategy phenomenon known as “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” With them, comes “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” the follow up to the successful “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.”

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Moving the game’s venue from WWI to WWII, “Pacific Skies” gives you the option of choosing either the American Navy and Army, or the Japanese Navy and Army to command. In either case, the actual gameplay works largely the same, as you try to wipe the enemy off the map, while leveling up your soldiers and avoiding enemy encampment trap areas. Breaking down every in and out of the gameplay would be a lengthy exercise in tedium, but basically as far as general objective goes, little more is asked than to successfully command your troops in combat using a pretty versatile, largely grid based troop movement system

What’s more important than what’s in the game, though, are the various things that aren’t. By removing many resource gathering and base building elements from the average strategy game and focusing solely on the command of troops and vehicles, Fireaxis has stumbled upon the perfect formula for a mobile strategy game. Whereas removing those traditional elements could have made the game feel overly simplified, here there is so much creativity put into the ins and outs of the combat system, and so much work put into making the enemy A.I. a genuine challenge, that all the strategy you could ever want comes through the action and the action alone. It’s incredibly rewarding to play a strategy game that cuts right to the action, but doesn’t feel watered down in the slightest by doing so.

Rewarding is overall the best way to describe “Pacific Skies.” There are no easily won battles here, yet the game so expertly manages all of the elements that go into a combat scenario that you never once feel burdened or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Instead you are given just the right level of challenge to compel you to keep going at all times. You can’t understate how importance that balance of difficulty v.s. reward is in these types of games, nor can you understate the level of satisfaction that comes from experiencing a game that gets it right like “Pacific Skies” does.

“Pacific Skies” may be most easy to recommend to strategy fans and those that have lost weekends absorbed in the History channel, but honestly everyone who enjoys mobile gaming should have at least one strategy game on their device, and considering the absolutely perfect balance of brain teasing and instant gratification “Pacific Skies” off, it’s the one to get even if you usually shy away from these types of games. This is quite honestly one of the most complete app games out there, and the clear app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Pocket Trains

Developer: NimbleBit

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 6.0, Android 2.2

Price: Free

Available: here (For iOS) and here (for Android)

Did you know that video game technology has become so advance that we are able to use it to make the most mundane activities exciting? From punching trees in “Minecraft” to driving trucks across Europe in “Euro Truck Simulator,” it seems like there is nothing a capable developer can’t turn into compelling subject matter.

While managing a series of trains, railways, and cargo has been on that list for a while thanks to a surprisingly strong amount of train simulator games, developer Nimblebit presents maybe the most compelling example of the idea with “Pocket Trains,” the next in their line of incredibly addictive series of games that focus on micromanaging a specific set up (for example their airline manager “Pocket Planes”).

“Pocket Trains” doesn’t deviate from the formula set in the studio’s previous games much, but it does manage to almost perfect it. You start off with a couple of trains and a few railways available to you in Europe, which you use to deliver a variety of, often wacky, cargo from city to city. Completing a run awards you points and cash which are used on everything from purchasing new parts to build more trains, upgrading current trains to be more efficient, and buying new railways to connect your available cities and expand your cargo empire all over the world.

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There’s a variety of additional gameplay elements such as challenges which provide additional rewards upon completion, along with an RPG like level system that also rewards you as you advance, and while thy are very welcome, the real draw is the addictiveness of the core gameplay. It’s actually quite difficult to build a functional railway system, mostly due to the fact you that each individual train can only occupy certain lines (unless you buy a line out each time which gets costly) meaning that you have to strategize the use of railways and hub cities to maximize your best trains potential. Despite those complexities, the very basics of the game are so simple that learning the deeper ins and outs never feels like a chore, and rather extends the gameplay naturally.

Put it all together and you’ve got a game that manages to achieve that rare balance between being brain teasing and easy to pick up and play, that could only come from years of honing this style of game to perfection. You may initially pick this up as a curiosity or because you subscribe to the “what the hell it’s free” school of app downloads, but just know that doing so is the equivalent to signing hours of your free time away building a railroad empire that dominates the globe.

Most mobile games have to choose between being something perfect for short sessions and killing time, or going for something deeper that asks for hours and hours of your time to truly appreciate. That “Pocket Trains” manages to seamlessly combine both of those game types into an experience that is near impossible to put down is a feat that can’t be overlooked. You may not think “Pocket Trains” sounds like it has much potential, but it will crush your reservations and pull out of the station with your free time, along with the title of app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Boson X

Developer: Ian MacLarty

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: here

Puzzle games and endless runners.

Despite the numerous advancements in mobile gaming technology (this week’s slightly pricey, slightly buggy “Shadowrun Returns” is a great example of all of them), it always seems to come back to endless runners and puzzle games when defining the mobile gaming scene. We’ve all downloaded one or several of them and, much like zombie games, you can swear up and down that the last one is the last one you’ll ever play, yet be back again to find yourself oddly addicted to another entrant in two genres that have become insanely refined.

“Boson X” is an interesting case of this phenomenon, as it does combine a lot of elements of both puzzle games and endless runners, yet doesn’t feel quite at home in either genre, considering its fast pace style and the fact its running is not necessarily endless, among other things. In it, you are tasked with navigating the constantly shifting platforms of a continuously building structure that somewhat resembles a cylinder consisting of varying sides, but is filled with so many gaps and other twists to navigate that it’s hard to define its exact shape. Only by spending enough time running on special blue blinking areas can you fill up a meter that allows you to proceed to the next level upon your next death.

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The game’s most popular comparison is to the mobile sensation “Super Hexagon,” and the comparison is an apt one in several respects outside of whole navigate your way out of a rotating geometric structure bit. For one thing, much like its infamous spiritual predecessor, “Boson X” is really, really hard. Like any good puzzle game, however, you won’t get a feel for how difficult it is until you get past the initial getting to know you phase, and see how it uses its easy to grasp concepts in an increasingly challenging series of ways. Also like “Super Hexagon,” it knows how to use this challenge not as a deterrent, but as an irresistible draw.

“Boson X” differentiates itself in important ways from “Hexagon” though, with the biggest difference being the move to 3D. Not only does this make the game much more visually appealing (visuals which are enhanced and complimented by a truly great soundtrack), but adds to the gameplay as well, as you’re goal of jumping from platform to platform while rotating the game world makes you question things like time, space, and distance when trying to survive more than you usually do you in these types of games. “Boson X” knows this, and adds unique tricks to its levels that prey on those additional perceptions, and challenges them. For instance, one level may make platforms move and shift on their own momentum, while another may present escapes not apparent until the absolute last second. The way the games uses this visual freedom makes for a much more compelling experience than the one way solution found in “Hexagon” and other similar titles.

If you’re desperate to classify “Boson X” an argument could be made for it being a runner or a puzzle game (or you could just settle by calling it a puzzle runner), but it feels cheap to classify a game that toys with your expectations from the outset, and only continues to do so by providing you a dynamic experience that challenges your every skill and provides that elusive sense of genuine satisfaction for having bested it. Taking all the game offers into account, the once label it is easy to slap on “Boson X” is app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Infinity Blade 3

Developer: Chair Entertainment Group

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $6.99

Available: here

You really can’t understate the influence the “Infinity Blade” series has had on mobile gaming. While the drop dead, drop jaw, just plain unbelievable graphics have long been the most obvious selling point, they only represent one of many things that “Infinity Blade” showed could be done on a mobile device that simply wasn’t believed possible before. That includes a style of touch screen play that managed to adapt itself to the simpler control scheme of mobile devices but didn’t sacrifice any fun or functionality in the process.

Essentially, then, “Infinity Blade” showed that modern gaming as we know it was not only feasible on a mobile device, but could lead to an experience every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as larger console and PC releases. It was an exhibition of excellence that was carried on by the superior sequel “Infinity Blade 2,” and continues to thrive with the (allegedly) last, and most recent, installment in the premier mobile franchise, “Infinity Blade 3.”

This is usually the part where I may explain a bit about the story of “Infinity Blade 3” as an intro, but continuing its trend of defying convention, that’s not really possible here. The “Infinity Blade” series has managed to build a quite deep mythology that this game looks to wrap up in a satisfying manner. Unlike say “Mass Effect 3’s” attempt at this same feat, “IB3” actually does manage to tell a story that not only feels like a worthy conclusion to the tale so far, but is an incredibly entertaining tale to play through as well. That means that while fans of the series will gain the most from knowing the full ins and outs of this world and its characters, even those just jumping in will have no trouble enjoying the ride. That also means that going into details regarding the plot will be ruining a tremendous amount of fun to be had for everyone involved.

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Yet even if the story were either a complete bomb, or simply non-existent, the gameplay on its own would be well worth the higher than usual admission price. For the most part, it doesn’t stray far from the previous games, as you engage in a series of trying battles using a clever dodge and combo fighting system that never wears out its welcome, which is fortunate as you’ll once again find yourself starting over again and again thanks to a death system that borrows from rouge games, and sees you trying again and again to make it just a bit further.

There are some new additions however, including an enhanced skill system that is well implemented and adds another level of addiction to the already unforgettable proceedings, and a blacksmith for leveling up and improving your weapons. Two of the bigger new features (potion brewing and gem crafting) are a bit more superfluous, and occasionally cumbersome, but do reward those that invest the time in them, and do nothing to tarnish the overall pristine experience.

“IB3” doesn’t do quite as much to reinvent and improve the series as “IB2”, but it’s no matter considering how well the original system functioned in the first place. It’s more of a follow up than true sequel then, but in that role it allows the series to hit its stride and become something that doesn’t overstretch the boundaries and limits of mobile gaming, and doesn’t water down and shrink a console game, but rather provides a harmonious balance of the best of both worlds.

There are plenty of mobile games that prove that simplistic experiences not reliant on big graphic and bigger budgets can end up being as much fun as any other game out there, but every now and then, you want something that feels like you’re taking your favorite PS3 or Xbox 360 game with you without sacrificing a single aspect, and for those times there is absolutely nothing that can provide the experience like “Infinity Blade 3,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Knife That Guy

Developer: Flyover Games LLC

Compatible with: iPhone3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up, iPad, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 6.0, Android 2.0.1

Price: $0.99

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

Sometimes when trying to explain a new game to someone, its easiest to use other similar games as a reference to it. For instance, I would describe “The Last of Us” as a mix of “Uncharted 2,” and “Resident Evil,” with a little “Splinter Cell” tossed in.

In trying to do that with “Knife That Guy,” I found my reference concoction overflowing with comparisons to titles like “Bomberman,” “Pac-Man,” “Hotline Miami,” “Q-Bert,” “Temple Run,” “Stealth Assassin,” and a few others, when I realized that technique wasn’t going to work.

It’s also pretty unnecessary as at its core, “Knife That Guy” is a simple game that sees you play the role of a guy with a knife patrolling a pressure operated floor of colored tiles with the sole objective of finding the titular that guy and…well knifing him. You’ll be able to recognize that guy as he’ll have a red arrow above his head, which is handy considering the floor is populated with a variety of people who are not that guy, who you do not want to knife, as doing so depletes your lifebar.

The challenge, and fun, of the game comes through the fact that solely knifing your target is a tall task considering the fact you cannot stop or slow down, and that the other non-knifable people surrounding your target, constantly get in your way and force you to think on your feet at all times. Even reaching your target only contributes to the burden, as the game speeds up upon each successful kill and more innocents with various walking paths populate your space. Play it too cautious though, and take up too much time, and the tables turn so that you are now the hunted guy with someone looking to knife you.

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Assisting you is a dash maneuver which propels you several feet in your chosen direction, and a bomb which launches knives in every direction. Both of these moves are helpful in the right hands, but if not used carefully can actually harm you more than help. Thankfully they were designed that way, and their risk of danger is not instead the cause of control issues, which are actually excellent.

The brutality of “Knife That Guy” extends beyond its challenge, as the game is pretty violent, even if it is in a pixelated cartoony way. Surely that will bother some people, but the consequences of stabbing an innocent are immediate and severe, making you feel incredibly miserable every time it happens. It’s not exactly a poetic analysis on the duality of man, and a moral guideline for all games to follow, but it does emphasize consequences for your actions more than many games do.

In a way “Knife That Guy” is an incredibly violent puzzle game that will have you going one more turn for hours on end, and getting a little better each time out. It goes beyond the average mobile puzzler though with its action/arcade elements that provides an adrenaline rush with every successful maneuver. The developers did a fantastic job of taking an incredible, but simple, concept, and honing every single style and gameplay element so that they all serve to enhance it. You may be able to learn the game in a few minutes, but it’s that creative craftsmanship that ensures every round will be a new experience.

“Knife That Guy” is, by its own design, a very odd game. Somewhere underneath its playful dementia, though, lies an experience as old as gaming itself, and crafted to a level you’d expect from so many years of experience to build upon and reference. In that way it may be most like “Hotline Miami,” but truthfully “Knife That Guy” doesn’t have many peers, and has no competition for app of the week.

  

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