App of the Week: Skulls of the Shogun

Developer: 17-BIT, Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $4.99

Available: Here

Strategy games on the mobile scene are a tricky lot. Too often many of them just default to the tower defense style and get lost in the masses of that sub-genre, while those that aim a little higher tend to be crushed under the weight of their own ambition or simply don’t appeal to those not looking for an in depth strategy game on their phone and tablets.

Yes, it’s not easy to make a compelling new strategy game for mobile devices. That’s why “Skulls of the Shogun” is all the more impressiv

Now, the first thing to know is that “Skulls of the Shogun” had a long road to becoming a mobile title. It started out its life as a Windows 8 exclusive, and has made an appearance just about everywhere else since then. However, it’s on the mobile scene where I feel confident saying it may have finally found its home.

A big reason behind that is the simplicity of the game’s combat and movement. There’s only a few units in the game (generals, monks, archers, infantry, cavalry) with a few variations, and they all work in a rock, paper, scissors format to insure that no one unit is necessarily more powerful. Moving them around is also as easy as it gets, as you simply tap your unit and choose where in their movement circle you’d like to place them. Combat also only consists of a few taps, when you are in range.

There are a couple of variants in place, though, that keeps things interesting. For instance there are various rice fields on the battlefield which can be occupied by your units and produce currency which is then used to purchase additional units. There’s also terrain advantages and disadvantages to consider such as bamboo used for hiding, and spikes which can cause additional damage to both you and the enemy. There’s also a somewhat morbid, yet very interesting, mechanic which requires you to devour the skulls of your enemies in order to power up your general.

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It’s a set-up that reminds me of the “Advanced Wars” series. That’s a comparison that I don’t make lightly, as those happen to be among the greatest strategy games of all time despite their relative simplicity. In both cases, these games take their smaller set ups and turn them from a potential detriment, into games that take advantage of the smaller number of variables and provide some of the tightest, most intense, and most rewarding experiences in the genre.

Now, don’t take that to mean the game is difficult. It isn’t. Instead it finds a rare balance in challenge that makes it so you often have to consider your movements, but are never overwhelmed by what is happenings. It’s a balance that makes it part of the reason the game works as well as it does on the mobile format, as you move along at a brisk pace, yet spend your game time still having to consider your options and their consequences.

The game’s art style is also perfect for your device as while it is far from visually taxing, the level of commitment put into the art style is head and shoulders above many modern games. More than just visually pleasing, the art style maintains a consistency throughout the game’s run that ensures that every new element introduced fits perfectly into the incredible world they come together to form. Even better, that world adds a dimension to the experience that easily sucks you into the proceedings in a way that only the best visual designs can.

There’s few games as easy to recommend as “Skulls of the Shogun.” It’s the type of game that mobile devices could use more of, as it feels like something that would have been released to great acclaim on a full fledged mobile system like the Nintendo DS, but comes in at a fraction of the price of one of those titles. It’s an immediately appealing and constantly engaging game that never wears out its welcome and encourages you to keep coming back based on no other factor than the consistent fun it provides.

One of the most complete experiences available on the app store, “Skulls of the Shogun” is also my app of the week.

  

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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: Spaceteam

Developer: Henry Smith

Compatible with: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here

I have a terrible confession to make.

When it comes to picking apps, I’m not infallible. While always striving to find the best of the best in the world of apps, occasionally something comes along that doesn’t cross my radar until too late, and becomes so popular I see no reason to go back and cover it (*cough*Ridiculous Fishing*cough*).

In the case of “Spaceteam” though, there’s actually a fair chance you haven’t heard of this app, even though it’s attracted a devout following since its recent release. Even if you have though, surely after playing it you’ll begrudge me the chance to talk about its brilliance, even if it is a little late.

“Spaceteam’s” core concept is pure simplicity, as it places you and 2-3 friends (Note: game does not come with friends) in control of a spaceship escaping an exploding star, and tasks you all with surviving by hitting a series of buttons and switches all named after techno-babble (Copernicus Crane, for instance) at the right time.

Sounds okay but nothing special right? Well, from there a couple of twists are thrown in that make the game interesting.

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You see, each of your friends has a different control panel filled with unique buttons. When the instructions come in for which ones to press, they don’t always come in to the person who has that button. This is why the game has to be played by people in the same room, as the only way to win is to shout out the instructions you receive and hope the person with the right button on their screen can get to it in time.

While an efficient team can hold out for a while, considering how much the difficulty ramps up, and that your random boards change in each section preventing many shortcuts, you will inevitably lose. In the meantime, you spend most of the game shouting at your friends in not just techno babble, but in encouragements and curses, as you all try to manage your own board, while maintaining even the most basic intelligible form of communication with one another, before devolving to violent grunts.

A game where you spend 90% of the time yelling at each other and losing may not sound like much fun, but it is. At some point you either form an efficient and serious team to progress, or just start laughing at how bad things are going. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to share a room with people all united over a single experience that brings back memories of “Goldeneye” parties, “Halo” LAN fests, or even “Pictionary.” This is a party game in the true sense of the phrase, and has few equals on the mobile scene both in terms of its idea, and certainly its execution.

But really you don’t have to take my word for it. Get a few people and try “Spaceteam” yourself and its greatness will become apparent mere minutes in. It’s not often a game so instantly accessible manages to be worth months of play time, and promotes local gaming with friends, which is why late or not, “Spaceteam” is my app of the week.

  

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