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Blake Grundman

Contributing Writer with the 148Apps Network since August 16, 2010

Mild mannered programmer by day; gamer, podcaster, and writer by night. Blake is a staff writer for 148Apps, as well as the Managing Editor at GamesAreEvil.com. He also co-hosts and produces the EvilCast Recap podcast with fellow gaming junkies Ross Polly, Keri Honea, and Chris Nitz.

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Email :: blake.grundman@148apps.com
Personal site :: http://www.gamesareevil.com
Racer 8 Review

Racer 8 Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Cars and puzzles, who knew they would go together so well?

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Monster Die! Die! Die! Review

Monster Die! Die! Die! Review

iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Just when you thought tower defense had run out of ideas, they dump a new idea on gamers. Although it probably hadn't been tried for good reason.

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As with any good trilogy, all good things must come to an end. Sadly, this is also holds true for Zen Studios’ epic conclusion to their trifecta of pinball DLC packs. The aptly named Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within releases for iOS on April 29, but we were lucky enough to get a hands-on look slightly before the masses. Will this be the strong finish that the game deserves, or will it end up feeling a bit more like “Revenge of the Sith,” than “Return of the Jedi?”

IMG_0406Leading off the pack is the most predictable in the pipeline: “Episode IV: A New Hope.” This brings a close to the trio of tables focused on honoring the original films in the franchise, and boy does it send things off in style. Fans of the “Empire Strikes Back” adaption included in the game’s base download will find the design of a central loop ramp rather familiar. That said, flanking ramp layouts make this outing appear far more symmetrical, with the exception of the additional left ramp. The main tweak to Zen’s existing formula is the ability for players to channel their inner Bambino and call their shot, so to speak, and select which ramp they would like to use for their post-launch skillshot. As per Zen’s usual mantra, the feature is nothing game changing, but it is just different enough to keep things fresh. Other highlighted elements include the return of mini-games involving a Tusken Raider or two, a slew of missions inspired by the plot of the groundbreaking film, and even a mini Death Star trench run. Considering that this film is where the magic began, it surprisingly also acts as a strong final act under these circumstances.

IMG_0417After dedicating a table to one specific film, it only seems appropriate to follow that up with a table focused the Droids that have incidentally appeared in every installment of the franchise. The core plot revolves around R2-D2 trying to get the Death Star plans safely into the hands of “Old Ben” Kenobi. Flanked by his trusty companion C-3PO, the duo navigate their way across the massive deserts of Tatooine. In the process, they come in contact with Jawas, sabotage and escape from a sandcrawler, and aid several other droids in need. Every aspect of this fast-paced ramp-heavy layout oozes personality and stays true to the series’ narrative – 3PO never shuts the hell up. But that is a good thing, right?

IMG_0430What would a last look at Star Wars be without something dedicated to the most important Jedi and Sith? The Masters of the Force table manages to do just that by bringing together the likes of Yoda, Count Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, and several others, all in the name of reliving the biggest battles throughout the series. Oddly enough, most of the combat reenactments take a more simplistic and “old school” approach, employing what amounts to cardboard cutouts of the combatants that double as targets to either hit or avoid, instead of utilizing the resource-intensive fully rendered characters found across the other offerings in this collection. In another interesting side note, the way that the Jedi Holocron is used to capture the ball and transition between alternate modes loosely harkens back to the magnetic trunk in the classic Bally/Midway table, “Theatre of Magic.” It is hard to put a finger on why, but this decidedly more grounded table feels like something that the Zen series has been missing for quite some time and is a welcome deviation from their current design philosophies.

IMG_0427Bringing the collection to a close is none other than everyone’s favorite “scruffy looking nerf herder,” Han Solo. If there was ever a quip, mannerism, or action that the character was known for, most likely it will be featured on this table. Han teams up with his infallible protector Chewbacca to relive the many moments that made him an amazing anti-hero and cultural icon. Of course, the Millennium Falcon is prominently on display in the top middle of the playfield and can even be taken out for a minigame test flight, bobbing and weaving through an asteroid field. Heck, the player even has the opportunity to engage in a shootout in the Mos Eisley Cantina! Guess it is high time to find out who really shot first.

As has always been the case with Star Wars Pinball, each environment is lavishly populated with nods to the lore that will no doubt please hardcore and casual fans alike. The voice acting continues to be fantastic, once again breathing life and credibility into the Force-inspired experience. It’s a good thing that this is the last pack of DLC, because topping Heroes Within would be a tall order. No Jedi mind tricks are needed here, because each table’s midichlorian counts are off the scale.


via: Our Review
R.B.I. Baseball 14 Review

R.B.I. Baseball 14 Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
What was old is new again, as the MLB attempts to taking baseball gaming back to its retro roots. Too bad nothing has changed since 1986.

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Cosmic Mechanic Review

Cosmic Mechanic Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Creatives folks love the opportunity to have their wits tested, but there isn't enough variety to make the mind quake.

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It is a beautiful thing when bite-sized games from the console space transition to iOS successfully. A perfect example of this phenomena at work was Hello Games’ fantastic reinvention of the Joe Danger series last year. Now it seems that Zen Studios wants to get in on the action, as they’ve put the finishing touches on a port of their console and PC tower-defense/action hybrid title, Castlestorm. They were kind enough to give us an early look at the game, and much to my shock I learned that not only is it great fun, but it may actually prove to be better than its console predecessor.

IMG_0365Everything you loved about the original game is back again, and this time it’s being aided by an extremely intuitive touch interface. The previously arduous process of twiddling control sticks to try and line up a headshot is a nightmare that can be left in the past. Launching projectiles are now as simple as tapping on the screen where the shot should land. But sometimes a catapult just isn’t enough to fend off the enemy’s attacks on the castle. In these cases, you have the option of spawning defensive ground troops or jumping into the fray yourself in the form of super-powered hero characters. These death-dealing beasts specialize in hand-to-hand combat, with a side of magical abilities mixed in for good measure. Anyone who is familiar with the control scheme of a traditional 2D brawler will feel right at home showing these “Knights of the Square Table” the error of their ways.

Though some may sink hours into the actual combat component of Castlestorm, others may find it just as enjoyable to custom design their own fortress. The easy to grasp quasi-drafting tool makes tweaking and tinkering with the perfect blueprint just as fulfilling as topping the adversary on the field of battle.

IMG_0364While the previously released Castlestorm console outing clocked in at a reasonable $9.99 purchase price, the iOS iteration implements an entirely free-to-play monetization structure. Both coins and crystals can be purchased using real cash, earned through normal gameplay or awarded for logging in to play on a consistent basis. Coins are used to level-up the abilities and stats of either the hero characters or each type of projectile in your quiver. Crystals are used to unlock more substantial elements, such as entire campaigns.

What I’ve played was a very solid sneak peak of things to come. Hopefully the final product lives up to the promise of this preview. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for our full review.

Star Horizon Review

Star Horizon Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Lost in Space? Nothing helps to solve that problem like a fully-armed space vessel.

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500 Years Act 1 Review

500 Years Act 1 Review

iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
This space opera is a fun exploration to partake in, but then the actual combat starts.

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Tank Riders 2 Review

Tank Riders 2 Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Another enjoyable gaming experience is cut short by a free-to-play implementation that leaves something to be desired.

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Baldur’s Gate II Review

Baldur’s Gate II Review

iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
What was old isn't new again. In fact, this iOS port may do more harm to the Baldur's Gate brand than good.

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Hollywood Fighter Review

Hollywood Fighter Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Matching games meet fighters in this odd hybrid puzzle title.

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Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga Review

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Can Free-to-Play work well for episodic gaming? Let's just say that this is a perfect example of episodic done VERY right.

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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Not all games age elegantly. Though while Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is certainly showing its age, everything that made it great still shows through brilliantly.

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Tough Nuts Pinball Review

Tough Nuts Pinball Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
A interesting hybrid of classic and modern pinball monetization that ends up working out in the best interests of the player.

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Band Stars Review

Band Stars Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Free-to-play management games tend to fall into the trap of monetizing before incentivizing. Band Stars forces players to decide if they feel the same way.

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Skulls of the Shogun Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Skulls of the Shogun has been so solid on so many other platforms, so why would iOS be any different?

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Skull Legends HD Review

Skull Legends HD Review

iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
On paper, the idea of crossing first-person shooters and tower defense seems rather curious. In execution, things work out far better than one might imagine.

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Geomatrix Review

Geomatrix Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
When games borrow from similar titles, sometimes they forget to bring the fun along. Sadly this may be one of those cases.

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Pure Pinball Review

Pure Pinball Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Sometimes realism isn't all it is cracked up to be, especially when it results in game-breaking bugs.

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Galaxy Jam: Space Basketball Wars Review

Galaxy Jam: Space Basketball Wars Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Basketball is all the same. Unless it's happening in space, right?

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Blur Overdrive Review

Blur Overdrive Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
A console racing game would be hard to do justice on mobile, but Blur Overdrive has just enough old and new to appease both fans and newcomers.

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Burn The Lot Review

Burn The Lot Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Sadly, just because a game looks original doesn't mean that is brimming with new ideas.

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PBA Bowling Challenge Review

PBA Bowling Challenge Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
While not a surefire strike, PBA Bowling Challenge still has the potential to cause plenty of damage to a wallet.

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Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge: Gold Edition Review

Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge: Gold Edition Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Though underwhelming on the whole, Lomu Rugby Challenge has a few solid nuggets worth building on in the future.

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Halloween Pinball Review

Halloween Pinball Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
OOO Gameprom is at it again with this trick-or-treat of a table. But which is it, really? Come inside to find out more... MWAHHAHAHAH!

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Mega Dead Pixel Review

Mega Dead Pixel Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
A game that even Tom Petty could get behind. Or above.

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Random Runners Review

Random Runners Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Despite Ravenous Games' pedigree of solid releases, this endless running experience feels like it has a flat tire.

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Costume Quest Review

Costume Quest Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
This bite sized snack lacks the staying power to appeal beyond the haunting season.

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Zaccaria Pinball Master Edition Review

Zaccaria Pinball Master Edition Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
A great core simulation is held back by a less than stellar micro-transaction model.

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Zen Studios have been at this pinball thing for quite some time now. Between the console and iOS platforms they have become the undisputed champion of the digitalized steel ball. Their most recent offering, Star Wars Pinball, garnered an Editor’s Choice rating from this very site. So you can only imagine the excitement when they announced the game’s first batch of DLC, entitled Balance of the Force. Calling upon their veteran stable of developers, the trio of new tables look to put the initial collection to shame. Thankfully, the team over at Zen has the Force on their side!

IMG_0087The first table of the set follows the trend of the first outing by adapting one of the classic films, which in this case is the original trilogy finale “Return of the Jedi.” Building upon lessons learned last time out, the table once again breaks up the plot points into a collection of checkpointed missions. When playing through the stages in Jedi, players will encounter countless interactive objects and fantastical extra-curricular activities that force them outside of the traditional confines of the bumpers. How exactly does one take part in a speeder race through the forests of Endor, without ever breaking the immersion of a pinball experience? Trust us, somehow they have managed to pull it off seamlessly. And how could you ever forget the epic showdown between Luke and Vader? This time the player gets to determine the outcome.

IMG_0077Next up, Starfighter Assault comes aboard to provide the parallel experience of piloting for either the Empire or Rebellion. Depending upon the ethical allegiances of whomever is behind the paddles, the player is placed in the role of tipping the balance of battle one way or another. The table has a light RPG system of sorts that rewards mission completions with upgrades to their fleet, which may very well turn the tide of conflict. Once again, certain missions will involve leaving the table and jumping into the cockpit of signature fighters made famous by the series or competing in third person shootouts, somewhat in the vein of Galaga. There is more than enough variety and fan service to go around, regardless of which side of the battle is embarked upon. Thankfully this also lends itself well to replayability, because why settle for only one side of the story?

IMG_0091Darth Vader rounds out the trio, with his own signature table. It only makes sense that a character as iconic as Vader would receive the same treatment afforded to Boba Fett in the initial offering. As one of a select few characters that spans the trilogies, there is quite a deep pool of subject matter to pull from; starting at the beginning of each game, when the player has the opportunity to actually participate in his transformation from Anakin Skywalker to the hulking “mandroid.” From that point on, the table covers notable occurrences from the original films including the hunt for rebel bases, a Death Star trench run, and his battles with the likes of both Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is a tour-de-Force, (sorry, I had to…) that should not be missed.

This time around it feels like the team at Zen was given free range to really “go nuts” in respect to table design. Each playscape feels more complex than the base set, while still not being off-putting to newcomers. Everything from tricky ramp positions to the new multi-shot goals all play like evolutions to a formula as well as the culmination of mechanic refinement that has been in progress since their immensely popular Marvel line. Regardless, the result is a breath of fresh air for pinball enthusiasts who have been eagerly awaiting their next challenge.

IMG_0092Balance of the Force is scheduled to launch on iOS as downloadable content for both Star Wars Pinball and Zen Pinball on October 16. It is also worth noting that while the tables will be available for purchase from within Zen Pinball, players will not get the benefit of Star Wars Pinball’s additional leaderboards and Force rating system; so choose platforms wisely. Really, no matter what the choice the player will still be treated to a nostalgia-drenched adventure in a galaxy far, far away. They may have once been but a learner, now Zen Studios has become the master.


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