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Four Years of 148Apps, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love iOS Games

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 24th, 2015

There's a good chance that, unless something crazy happens, this post is the last thing I'm writing for 148Apps. I feel odd writing a personal essay for a website with no real “community” to speak of, but if you invested four years of your life into something wouldn't you want to say a few words when it's all over? Besides, it's not like I haven't done it before. In fact, if you care at all about how working here has improved my career as a young games journalist, the thoughts I expressed in that post are pretty much the same thoughts I have now. So the rest of this piece will be other post-mortem musings.

TouchTone Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on March 19th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CITIZENFOUR
A puzzle game for the paranoid.
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It Came From Canada: Nightmare Guardians

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 19th, 2015

Nightmare Guardians is a game riding several big trends in the medium right now. Because all of those trends don’t necessarily align, the end result is a weird, curious experience that’s hard to precisely pin down. However, that doesn’t mean we still can’t try in this edition of It Came From Canada!

So what are those trends exactly? Well for starters Nightmare Guardians feels like an interactive history lesson for a certain strain of Blizzard Entertainment’s evolving catalog. Players join a band of elite warriors to fend of waves of encroaching evil forces, and the dark fantasy atmosphere is just the beginning of the Diablo comparisons. The semi-automated gameplay has players tapping the screen to move their character who will then automatically wail on whatever is nearby that needs wailing on. From there it’s up to players to prioritize threats and protect the wall behind them from succumbing to enemy attacks. That means managing loot and experience and other action-RPG staples, as opposed to technical skill, is the best way to become powerful and succeed.

However, players aren’t exploring dungeons - they’re just surviving horde after horde of foes in a box. This structure makes Nightmare Guardians even harder to categorize. Later levels introduce shields and buildings to protect, giving the game a tower defense twist, but really it ends up turning into a single-player/co-op MOBA. Learning the different hero-specific spells like quick dashes or zombie-killing fire blasts, and more generic debuffs like spells that cripple enemy healers, is essential. Coordinating and strategizing with your partners, whether it’s a computer or another player online, also adds to the DotA vibe, as do little touches like “last hit” and “kill steal” bonuses.

But even that classification still doesn’t feel entirely complete because, for all that it borrows from these intensely complex and competitive genres, Nightmare Guardians is actually surprisingly approachable. Easily killing countless foes with flashy finishing moves feels like Dynasty Warriors of all things. The quick-hit, mobile-friendly framework could easily be called a wave-based shooter with swords and spells swapped in for guns. Based on my earlier online encounters it’s not hard to get into at all, which could be good or bad, depending on how elitist your perspective is.

If this preview sounds a little confusing, if the more you read it the less you understood about the game, well that’s just what playing Nightmare Guardians is like. But if you’ve been left intrigued as well, like I still am, you can check out when it launches everywhere soon.

It Came From Canada: Compass Point: West

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 18th, 2015

If developers insist on making even more Clash of Clans clones, they’d better gin up a better excuse than “we just want a lot of money.” Fortunately for Compass Point: West, the Wild West setting actually proves to be pretty thematically appropriate for the genre. But is that a good enough reason to continue the gold rush? Find out in this edition of It Came From Canada!

Like I said, Compass Point: West's biggest coup is that the Clash of Clans template of building a town from scratch, populating it, defending it from invaders, and exploring uncharted parts of the map is basically the western cowboy pioneer spirit in a nutshell. So while the gameplay remains virtually unchanged, unlike other clones, it rarely feels like a nonsensical chore. Plus, the lush 3D graphics really sell players on the organic world. The texture of the ground, the swaying of the trees, and the flashes of the guns give the game that crucial, if cartoonish, frontier feel. True grit.

But Compass Point: West does offer slightly more than just a cowboy cover of Clash of Clans, even if all of its new ideas don’t exactly work. When enemies invade, players place hero units like the sheriff on top of buildings, which mixes up the standard tower defense and alters the nature of town design. To find new missions, players manually send out the Pony Express to reveal new parts of the map via charming animations. Finally, instead of recruiting offensive troops, players earn all their units - from cowboys to bankers - through a randomized playing card system. After completing missions, or by paying, players draw several cards and reap the rewards. On one hand this adds a neat element of chance, and units eventually revive after death so the stakes aren’t punishingly high. But taking away player choice also makes them more likely to depend on freemium currency, which is always dubious. At least players can choose to fuse units into stronger allies, so their strategic options aren’t entirely beyond their control.

At this point Clash of Clans clones are as ubiquitous as cowboy movies were in the 1950s. So if the idea of the two of them finally coming together sounds good to you, check out Compass Point: West when it launches everywhere soon.

It Came From Canada: Beast Quest

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 17th, 2015

Figuring out how to best preview Beast Quest, the upcoming action RPG from Miniclip, proved to be surprisingly difficulty. This isn’t a judgment on the game’s quality, but it really does feel like a bunch of pieces from other, more famous games stitched together. So in this edition of It Came From Canada!, I’m just going to describe those pieces and how they find a way to fit together.

Beast Quest's general structure resembles any other casual RPG on the App Store. Players complete various short quests like gathering X amount of treasures or killing X amounts of enemies to level-up and take on the next major story mission. Those story missions revolve around the overarching goal of killing the elusive boss monster, giving the game a Monster Hunter or even a Shadow of the Colossus vibe. The combat is straight out of Infinity Blade, except players just tap a button instead of swiping to attack. However, while that control choice is nicely streamlined, holding a run button and moving the camera to steer the character feels even clunkier by comparison. The impressively large, dense, and snowy initial open world is a like a very, very light version of Skyrim, and by climbing “eagle peaks,” players gain a cinematic panoramic view of the landscape to flesh out their map, Assassin’s Creed-style.

That’s a lot of disparate influences. So how well do they fit together? Let’s put it this way: while the game is full of many beastly creatures, Beast Quest itself most resembles is a successful Frankenstein's Monster. By taking all of these proven ideas and applying them in the places where they make the most sense, few parts of the game feel lazy or weaker than each other. The individually strong parts strengthen the whole. Even the vague fantasy setting is generic and receptive enough to include these nakedly obvious inspirations without suffering any kind of tonal or mechanical whiplash.

Beast Quest is currently in a soft launch phase and will be launching everywhere soon. So it won’t be too long before you can decide whether or not this surprisingly seamless hodgepodge works for you.

It Came From Canada: Power Rangers: UNITE

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 16th, 2015

With the Pokémon trading card game finally bringing those precocious pocket monsters to the App Store, it was only a matter of time before that other 90s, vaguely Japanese, childhood nostalgia hot property Power Rangers tried to get in on the action. Yes, Power Rangers: UNITE is a Power Rangers collectible card game. But is it as mighty as the morphing rangers themselves? Find out in this edition of It Came From Canada!

Obviously you should have a lot of reverence for the Power Rangers franchise to get the most out of Power Rangers: UNITE. But we should also examine its merits as a card game, too. Perhaps given its young target audience, the systems are actually pretty simple. Both players face each other and lay cards on their five-by-two grid. Unit cards placed on the front row, like rangers and powerful Zord robots, provide defense against enemy units directly opposite them. If there is no enemy, the card can target the opponent's health directly. The game ends when one player runs out of health or cards. Meanwhile, players use the back row to activate various spells like drawing from the enemy’s discard pile or increasing a unit’s likelihood of scoring a critical hit. One particularly neat mechanic has players placing a ranger on the board in their civilian form only to then morph them into their Power Ranger form on the next turn. Strategy ultimately boils down to effectively managing your offensive units. You have to know who to pit against who, who to power up and when, and when to tag someone out or sacrifice them.

But really, Power Rangers: UNITE wisely places its focus on copious amounts of Power Rangers fan service. As players build their deck they can choose from over 20 years’ worth of heroes, villains, and giant robots. The artwork is clean and high-res, the sound and music samples are exciting and numerous, and the original Mighty Morphin' series is, deservedly, over-represented. The limited animations somewhat bring down the production value - images just slide around - but the volume of content is still impressive and especially noticeable when encountering new challengers online.

While it may not be as provocative as the recent POWER/RANGERS short film, at least Power Rangers: UNITE won’t subtly mock fans for still enjoying the franchise. It should be launching everywhere soon.

Who Wore it Best? The Final Episode

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 5th, 2015

After 16 episodes and nearly a year of comparing App Store clones, our regular video series comes to an end. It's the Who Wore It Best of Who Wore it Best?

Meteorz Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on March 3rd, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: DEEP IMPACT
In Meteorz, saving planets from destruction is the daily grind.
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It Came From Canada: Jurojin: Immortal Ninja

Posted by Jordan Minor on March 3rd, 2015

At this point it’s pretty safe to say that no MOBA is going to dethrone Dota 2 and League of Legends anytime soon. After all, if Batman can’t do it, nobody can. However, with a genre as popular and profitable as this one, there’s still room for smaller games to carve out unique identities. Jurojin: Immortal Ninja opts for this path with its shinobi battle arena, and we see if it’s worthy in this edition of It Came From Canada!

What immediately sets Jurojin apart from its contemporaries is its theme. Ninjas are nothing new for video games, but in a MOBA landscape full of nothing but vague fantasy archetypes, it’s refreshing to see bamboo forests and stealth assassins instead of generic crystals and character designs two steps away from a Blizzard game. The smooth visuals and movement complement the elegance of the heroes and gives the game the precision the eSport-friendly genre demands.

Also aiding the precision are the controls that work around the limitations of a touch screen in some clever ways. Instead of controlling the character directly, players freely spin a flowing cursor/camera around and their ninja will follow. It’s quick and sharp and makes targeting opponents for melee or projectile attacks a breeze. Although there are paths to follow and enemy structures to take down, in general Jurojin’s environments are more open than the rigid lanes of other MOBAs, so the more open control scheme really shines.

Players put those controls to the test in typical multiplayer battles as well as some welcomed single player challenges. Kill waves of enemies to get the loot and cash necessary to upgrade elemental spells and skills for the next real challenge. Obviously these missions lack the depth of a true duel, but they still do a great job rounding out the package and making up for the lack of additional characters to master.


Ninja Gaiden meets Dota might be too much praise for Jurojin: Immortal Ninja, but that’s not the most inaccurate comparison either. See for yourself if this ninja way is right for you when the game launches everywhere soon.

Who Wore it Best? The Counting Dead vs. AdVenture Capitalist

Posted by Jordan Minor on February 27th, 2015

Like it or not, the "clicker" genre, popularized by cute distractions like Candy Box and Cookie Clicker, seems like it's here to stay. So Who Wore it Best? takes a look at two recent examples: The Counting Dead and AdVenture Capitalist.

Grudgeball: Enter the Chaosphere Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on February 26th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: MUSCLE MEN
Regular Show gets an above average game.
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AdVenture Capitalist Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on February 26th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: DAS KAPITAL
An inadvertent Marxist manifesto.
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Game of Roads Solo Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on February 24th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: ROAD TO PERDITION
There's a thoughtful, austere puzzle game waiting at the end of this road.
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VPET Planets Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Jordan Minor on February 23rd, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: 90s KIDS
A neat recreation of a genre best left in the past.
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Puny Stupid Humans Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jordan Minor on February 19th, 2015
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: COME IN PEACE
An amusing theme saves this otherwise generic strategy game.
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