App of the Week – Ravensword: Shadowlands

Developer: Crescent Moon Games

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen. and up, iPad, Android devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 4.0 and up

Price: $7.00

Available: Here for iOS, and Here for Android

 

You can hit a dinosaur in the face with a sword.

I know that any good porn director will tell you that you shouldn’t start a feature off with the money shot, but I just couldn’t find a way to ease that statement in.

In “Ravensword: Shadowlands,” (freshly available for Android) you have the ability, nay the privilege, to hit a dinosaur square in the face with a weapon of your choosing (mine being the sword).

Oh, and the game itself is an open world RPG that heavily resembles the famed “Elder Scrolls” series in several important and thankful ways. That open world also happens to be beautifully rendered with some of the best technical graphics a mobile system can offer, which are used to accentuate some particularly inspired visual artistic design, all leading to a thematically strong and diverse world that loads every inch with pure content.

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“Ravensword: Shadowlands,” definitely cribs heavily from the book of fantasy RPG design, as you’ll level up, complete quests, take on an incredible variety of enemies with multiple weapons, and even dabble in some magical combat enhancements from time to time. There is no getting around the fact you’ve been down this dirt road before, and ventured these same adventures.

It’s very likely, though, you’ve never experienced an RPG of this quality on a mobile system, and that is the difference. Whereas “Shadowlands” would just feel like an “Elder Scrolls” knockoff on a console, albeit an exceptionally well made one, on a mobile device, it is a constant wonder. Games of this high production value and depth usually don’t happen on a mobile platform, and even if they do, they rarely play so well, or come off as polished and executed, as “Shadowlands” does.

Thus every towering structure, open vista, inspired quest, and intense battle with an impossible creature is just that much greater, because by all rights something of this high quality shouldn’t exist in this format.

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All of that quality does come at a couple of costs. The first is a heavy amount of glitches and bugs throughout (though the developers are working on ironing these out), while the other is the cost of the app itself. $7 is no doubt more than you spend on the usual app, but considering the horror show that is the world of in-app purchases, paying one flat rate to unlock an entire (and gargantuan) game is actually not a huge burden when you consider this isn’t “Doodle Jump,” but an actual video game, for which $7 would normally be considered a steal.

“Shadowlands” is one of the best games I’ve played this year, on a mobile device or otherwise. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in every single other aspect possible. This isn’t a mobile game you’ll play until something new comes along, or while bored and about, but something you’ll find yourself going back to no matter where you are or what the circumstances.

Of course when you put all of that aside, you can still hit dinosaurs in the face with a sword. Epic mobile experience or not, that’s going to net you my app of the week.

  

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MOGA Mobile Gaming System Review: Controlling the Future of Android Gaming

You might know video game accessory makers PowerA as a novelty company of sorts. A quick scan of their website will reveal that they sell everything from Yoshi backpacks to sweet Batarang styled controllers. They’re obviously a company having fun with what they do.

You may, then, try to write off their latest creation, the MOGA mobile gaming console, an Android system game controller, as a novelty as well. After all, the entire point of having a touch-based system is the simplicity of the touch-based controls eliminating the need for traditional controllers. Understandably, it is easy to ignore the idea of buying an accessory for controlling touchscreen games.

Doing so, however, would be doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Compatible with over 40 titles and Android systems 2.3 and up, the MOGA is a battery-operated, bluetooth-enabled controller that essentially turns your touchscreen phone into more of a traditional handheld gaming device. It even works with tablets, remotely, by using a sync button. The reason it succeeds is entirely due to the design of the controller, which is perfectly sized to take into account both your hands and the size of the phone. The button layout is reminiscent of an Xbox controller, and immediately feels comfortable with the real highlights being the “nub” like joysticks that barely protrude from the controller and never intrude on your game experience, the responsive and well placed “trigger” shoulder buttons, and a nice rubber lining along the side of the unit, providing a firm grip.

Even better than the design of the controller is the fact that it really does work. I never once experienced a moment of lag or unresponsiveness while playing, which is quite impressive considering that these games weren’t designed with this controller in mind. The compatible games so far don’t necessarily use every button on the remote at all times, but the ones that they do work in some way to enhance each game significantly, whether it be true range of movement in the FPS “N.O.V.A. 3” thanks to the joysticks, or more accurate QB controls in “Madden 2013” on behalf of the face buttons.

It’s pretty clear that the list of available titles for the MOGA is far from random, and instead are carefully hand picked titles that don’t work on touchscreen gaming alone without some sacrifice, whether minor or seriously detrimental, going along with it. Rather than think of the MOGA as a superfluous touchscreen accessory, you should instead consider it a savior of a variety of genres and titles that at this time simply do not work well on a touchscreen, even if the games themselves are exceptional.

A great example would be the phenomenal “Sonic CD.” Never having had the chance to experience this classic during its release, using the MOGA I found myself incredibly addicted to it. Curious, I switched to the touchscreen controls and found it purely unplayable to the point where I questioned the integrity of releasing it in such a format. That’s one example, but it holds true for many of the compatible titles so far. The MOGA significantly enhances the value of the games it supports.

PowerA is already hyping new titles and developers that are set to jump onto the MOGA, and I hope it happens soon. The very idea of the controller opens up a missing link of sorts between mobile gaming and the rest of the field, and the actual functionality of the device immediately eliminates any doubts you might have regarding if the concept can truly work. I wish there was a greater range of motion on the actual dock (which can be set to three positions), but it does work for everyday use, as well as more unconventional playing positions like lying down.

Whether or not the MOGA justifies its $49.99 price tag is entirely dependent on a number of factors, such as how much you game on your mobile device, how many of the compatible games you play, and how much faith you have in a variety of developers continuing to support the device. Considering its ingenious design, though, in a perfect world we would see enough continued support for this device to call buying it now an investment. As it stands, the MOGA adds some kind of improvement to every game it works with and is easily one of the best all-around gaming accessories I’ve used this year.

  

App of the Week: Bastion

Developer:
Supergiant Games

Compatible with:
iPad

Requires:

iOS 5.1

Price:

$4.99

Available here

As the Summer of Arcade kicked off in 2011 for Xbox Live, one of the headline games was a title called “Bastion.” Like just about every other indie title ever made, it arrived without much hype and drew little more than curiosity based on the tantalizing art style. But as soon as it hit the marketplace, both critics and fans found themselves completely immersed by a game that realized that sometimes there is an inherent value in style over substance, if you happen to be the most stylish thing in the room. It went on to post impressive sales figures, and find itself on short lists everywhere for game of the year.

And now it’s coming to iPad.

If you never got to experience “Bastion” originally, it’s a story of a protagonist known only as the kid who awakes one day to find that an event known as the “Great Calamity” has wiped out just about everything he’s ever known. His only hope is to search out a communal safe haven, known only as the bastion.

“Bastion” is an action RPG in the style of “Diablo.” From there, it immediately defies categorization. Letting the simple and addictive style of the genre take care of that burdensome concept known as gameplay, “Bastion” instead focuses its considerable efforts on…well just about everything else. You’ll immediately be drawn in by the games art style, which features well rendered hand painted environments and characters. Color has seemingly abandoned video games as a whole, and to call “Bastion’s” style a breath of fresh air contradicts the fact that the only way to really describe the look of the game is breathtaking.

Coupled with this graphical onslaught is some of the best sound design ever put in a video game. This is mostly due to the games gruff narrator who manages to comment on just about everything in the game, whether scripted or otherwise. What initially seems gimmicky, and could get annoying, instead becomes vital as it contributes to the game a unique storytelling style that reminds you of a storybook fantasy tale. When not being entertained by the narration, you may take the time to notice that the music is not only appropriately atmospheric, but also stands well on its own accord.

For its critical transition to the iPad, little is lost. All of the game’s content is available, and looks and sounds great. The controls could have been an issue, but by using a minimal amount of touch buttons, the developers have managed to make things as painless as possible, and after the first few levels you will rarely find yourself fumbling with the controls. In fact, the only reason I couldn’t recommend the iPad as a platform for “Bastion” is because when everything in the game (the addictive action, the stunning look, and the encompassing sound) all come together, it’s very easy to get swept up in the title and thus lose track of the world around you, making “Bastion” something of a public hazard. Also, much like the original title, you may find yourself wishing that you had an invisible narrator commenting on your every action through the day, only to be continuously disappointed there isn’t one.

There doesn’t exist enough games with the simple beauty of “Bastion,” and there are even fewer on the iPad. In 2011 “Bastion” for the 360 was a candidate for best game of the year. In 2012, it’s still got enough going for it on the iPad to be my app of the week.

  

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