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Jordan Minor

Senior Writer with the 148Apps Network since August 19, 2011

Wordsmith. Northwestern Alum. Fan of video games. Fascinated with the internet.

Connect with Jordan via:
Twitter: @JordanWMinor
Email :: jordan.minor@148apps.com
Personal site :: http://www.JordansOB.blogspot.com

It Came From Canada: Heavenstrike Rivals

Over their long history, Square Enix has become synonymous with big, epic, blockbuster Japanese RPGs. But while mobile may be a great place for ports of classics like Chrono Trigger, when crafting a new game the company has to make something a little more modest than Final Fantasy XII 3. Heavenstrike Rivals is that new game, and we see how well it lives up to its pedigree in this edition of It Came From Canada!

While the game was made in collaboration with English studio Mediatonic, it’s hard not to notice the Final Fantasy style all over it. From the exciting but ultimately nonsensical name, to the plot involving brave youths rescuing a quaint and vaguely European world from a rising darkness, it’s pretty obvious where this game comes from. Fortunately it also has production values that rival its AAA cousins. The illustrated artwork is luscious and detailed, battle animations for the chibi characters are a delight, and the jaunty music sets the mood for adventure.

heavenstrike rivals (5)

And players will need to be in the mood because Heavenstrike Rivals‘ strategic gameplay will demand a lot of their time, even if it is broken up into chunks via energy meters. Using units they’ve gathered, players face off against opponents on a board game-like grid. The goal is to have their army reach the end and begin attacking the other player directly. However, this requires fighting through the enemy units coming after them. It’s a straightforward idea, and the compact arena limits more extravagant strategies, but the game does offer depth through its unit variety.

Players gain access to more of their forces over the course of the round, and knowing all their quirks is where the fun begins. From the fighters’ increasing strength, to the scouts’ multiple hits, to the defenders’ shields, to the gunners’ range, effectively combining these abilities is the key to an effective squad. Plus it’s just satisfying to watch an enemy fall for your carefully planned trap. Outside of battle players can improve their squad even more by leveling-up stats, modifying magic users, and recruiting special vanguards to lead the assault.

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A few years ago, Square Enix released a little strategy game for DSiWare called Dragon Quest Wars that entertained in a way similar to Heavenstrike Rivals. We’ll see if the larger App Store audience will be as receptive when the new game launches worldwide soon.

We recently got our hands on Heavenstrike Rivals, an intriguing upcoming strategy game from Square Enix and Mediatonic that’s currently in a soft launch phase. To learn more about the game and the East/West collaboration that created it, we spoke with Masanori Ichikawa, a game producer at Square Enix, and Paul Croft, Director of Games at Mediatonic.

148Apps: First, could you give a brief overview of Heavenstrike Rivals?
Masanori Ichikawa (MI): Heavenstrike Rivals was created as a joint effort between Square Enix and Mediatonic, a studio in England. It’s a brand new tactical RPG. One of the game’s key features is the real-time PvP multiplayer.

148Apps: You described the game as a tactical RPG with PvP combat. What does that mean exactly? What would you compare it to?
MI: It means that you can battle in real-time, like if you were playing chess, over the internet with other players.

Paul Croft (PC): I would compare it to many multiplayer games you might find on PC. We have multiple types of leagues and tournaments, similar in structure to those in Starcraft 2 or League of Legends. Players can compete directly with others across the world for the top places and earn promotions into new divisions if they perform well.

Continue reading Heavenstrike Rivals – An Interview with the Makers of Square Enix’s Latest Strategy RPG »

It Came From Canada – Moonrise

I think by now we all know that when pocket-sized elemental creatures with awesome powers are afoot, there’s really no other choice than to try and collect all of them. And in case that last sentence wasn’t clear enough, yes, Moonrise is a lot like Pokémon. But it does put its own spin on monster battling, and we find out just how original it is in this edition of It Came From Canada!

When a peaceful race of creatures known as the Solari is corrupted into bestial Lunari through “Moonrise,” it’s up to the player to tame and purify them. But Moonrise‘s world isn’t all dark and foreboding. The game opens with the player graduating into a Warden, and it feels like a friendly martial arts exam. Still, the mood is oddly dour for such a kid-friendly genre, and part of that is due to the aesthetic. Instead of the expressive and cutesy anime characters one might expect, people look weirdly old and realistic, wearing contemporary clothing while exploring ancient ruins. The monsters themselves are more stylized, which is a given considering names like Snaptrap and Buzzle, but they also have a strange, earthy edge that tips over into almost frightening. But style aside, when it comes to visuals, what the game should focus on before launch is fixing its erratic frame rate and overall sluggish feel.

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Players can take on quests and visit side towns, but monster battles are where it’s really at. In the wild, players encounter savage Lunari and can either defeat them outright or trap and train them with their limited Warden keys. Elemental match-ups follow the typical rock-paper-scissors formula where water beats fire, fire beats grass, and so on. Players can also challenge rival Wardens. Once the fighting starts, players launch their attacks in real-time. However, different attacks have different recharge periods, so players must juggle between different skills to keep up the offensive. They can use two Solari at a time and swap between them at will. Players can even use lengthy but powerful attacks of their own to give their team an extra push. It’s hard to say if this system is any better than a standard turn-based one, but at least it is different.

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History has shown that the only things people “gotta catch” all of are these monster battling games themselves. Players will get their chance to snag Moonrise when the game launches worldwide soon.

Fantasy Breaker Review

Fantasy Breaker Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Fantasy Breaker features just enough changes to the typical Breakout mold to feel worthwhile.

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Tainted Keep Review

Tainted Keep Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
A beautiful exploration of an ugly world.

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Hang There Review

Hang There Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Hang There leaves players dangling by a thread.

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Slot Raiders Review

Slot Raiders Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Despite its best efforts, Slot Raiders proves slot machines can only be stretched so far.

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Bruce Lee: Enter the Game Review

Bruce Lee: Enter the Game Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Jeet Kune Do on the go.

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Primitive Review

Primitive Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
True to its name, Primitive is about as straightforward as runners get.

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Master of Tea Kung Fu Review

Master of Tea Kung Fu Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Master of Tea Kung Fu is a creative and complex caffeinated brawler.

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Slider Review

Slider Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Slider has all the excitement of unlocking your phone screen.

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Knituma Review

Knituma Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Knituma isn't the knitting simulator we need, but it's still pretty good.

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The Hunted Review

The Hunted Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
The Hunted's multiplayer thrills are overshadowed by bland visuals and average gameplay.

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Space Expedition Review

Space Expedition Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
The only thing boring about Space Expedition's lonely journey is its title.

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With The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 out this weekend, Who Wore it Best? pits two Hunger Games tie-ins, Girl on Fire and Panem Run, against each other in a brutal and pointless fight to the death. I wonder where we got that idea from?

It Came From Canada: Blades of Brim

It’s easy to want to write off Blades of Brim as a gimmick. You could look at its swordplay as a cheap attempt to distinguish itself from every other endless runner out there. But the combat actually is an integral part of the game, giving it a distinct identity. Is that enough to overcome endless runner fatigue? Decide for yourself in this edition of It Came From Canada!

Blades of Brim uses the typical endless structure. Players try to dash as far as they can while dodging and defeating obstacles and enemies. There aren’t distinct environments per se, but as players level up they’ll unlock new parts of the map, granting them access to new areas during each trip. The worlds are diverse and the transitions between them are fairly seamless. The coolest touches are the little challenge rooms that give players some task to complete on a stretch of road seemingly existing in a pocket dimension. Meanwhile, the cartoon fantasy visuals have tons of colorful energy and, more importantly, run super smoothly.

blades of brim (1)blades of brim (2)But obviously Blades of Brim‘s big hook is its prominent combat system. By swiping the screen, players will slash their sword. Fortunately, it’s a lot more robust than just a single, glorified defensive option. Players can use slashes to stylishly hop between lanes and fling themselves skyward, all while taking down enemies in their path. They can also take advantage of the branching level design for moves like wall runs and flying ground pounds. Successfully and fluidly chaining attacks together, while constantly propelling forward, makes players feel like a force of nature. And the game’s forgiving health system, allowing players to take one hit and recharge health from there, prevents needlessly frustrating roadblocks. Rounding out the system are unlockable weapons like axes with different stats, along with new characters. And if players are really in a pinch, they can sacrifice some magic to summon a double-jumping dog to ride, complete with a handy projectile attack.

blades of brim (3)blades of brim (4)Blades of Brim looks like it could carve out a nice little niche for itself in the expansive endless runner landscape. Players can see if that niche is right for them when the game launches globally, soon.

Call of Duty makes a lot of money, and Clash of Clans makes a lot of money. So, logically, Activision thinks they can make a lot of money by putting those two things together. With Call of Duty: Heroes, that’s exactly what they’ve done. But will fans of bombastic shooters enjoy a tiny freemium tactics game and vice-versa? We go Oscar Mike to find out in this New Zealand edition of It Came From Canada!

While Call of Duty has gone everywhere from World War II to Vietnam to the near future, Call of Duty: Heroes takes place during the popular “Modern Warfare” era of the series. As the leader of a military base, players fortify their surroundings using the latest and greatest army toys. Bunkers, turrets, and thick walls defend HQ from roaming insurgents as well as other players in online battles. But as you’d expect from a game like this, there’s also a substantial offensive campaign as players engage in real-time strategy missions all over the globe. Successful assaults typically boil down to effective unit composition. Normal soldiers are cheap and easy to mass produce, but only armored soldiers can withstand heavy fire long enough to actually accomplish anything.

call of duty heroes (1)However, all of that is just the Clash of Clans formula that has now proven its success countless times. What does the Call of Duty license bring to the table? Well first off it actually creates this weird incongruous feeling. The detached, rational perspective of an omniscient commander in the sky doesn’t quite gel with the fast, visceral, and up-close cinematic action the series banks on with its tagline, “There’s a soldier in all of us.” Beyond that though, there are times when the game is more than just Call of Duty in name only. The leveling system works as a fine Prestige Mode substitute. The top-notch production values, with detailed visuals and an excellent frame rate, match the franchise’s high standards. Killstreaks and air strikes put players behind a turret and have them mow down targets from a familiar first-person perspective, and players can even enlist heroes from past games like John Price and his famous mustache.

call of duty heroes (2)Even if we have reached peak Call of Duty, the franchise still carries plenty of cache. We’ll see if that carries over to this new mobile spinoff when Call of Duty: Heroes launches everywhere soon.

Rapture – World Conquest Review

Rapture – World Conquest Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Millennia turn to minutes in this frantic strategy game.

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Briquid Mini Review

Briquid Mini Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Briquid Mini is more Briquid, just smaller.

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GoatPunks Review

GoatPunks Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
For a multiplayer goat combat game, GoatPunks is about as confounding as it sounds.

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Super Secret Service Review

Super Secret Service Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Super Secret Service is a great candidate, but a one term president.

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Jet Run: City Defender Review

Jet Run: City Defender Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Jet Run: City Defender's beauty might be its own worst enemy.

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Vektor Review

Vektor Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Vektor blends genuinely interesting infinite running mechanics with a dark and stylish sci-fi atmosphere.

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It Came From Canada: Creature Academy

Creature Academy doesn’t have time for your slow-paced, grandparents’ RPGs. In the span of a few minutes, it has players slicing down monsters, toppling a boss, improving their party, and repeating the whole cycle all over again. But while role-playing this quickly may work during a bus ride, does it sacrifice depth in the process? Find out in this edition of It Came From Canada!

Structurally, Creature Academy is a fairly rote action-RPG. With their three-person party, players venture out into various environments, like meadows or volcanoes, looking for monsters to slay. They’ll encounter everything from Hackits, little burlap sack creatures that recall Dragon Quest’s iconic Slimes, to towering goblins and mushrooms that serve as the bosses of each area. Players can then customize their party between skirmishes by giving them better weapons and gear along with limited-use boosters like extra speed or strength. However, while party leaders will typically be heroic human characters, players can also recruit fallen foes to their squad like the trident-wielding, amphibious Fischenchips. Furthermore, players can evolve and combine captured monsters to create even more powerful allies. Beyond the main campaign, players can also test out their team in a wave-based survival mode.

creature academy (4)

But what stands out so much about Creature Academy is how it takes those standard tropes and plays them at what feels like double speed, after a painfully, and ironically, slow initial install. The game is divided into dozens of separate levels and, at least initially, players will just cruise through them crushing monsters in seconds. This isn’t to say that the game is mindless. It’s good to know when to use a ranged weapon vs. a sword or when to swap out a weak character because one death equals game over. But the game just moves so freaking fast that everything kind of becomes a blur, especially once screen-clearing special attacks and overpowered online helpers enter the fray. It’s not bad, just chaotic, and at least the graphics keep up.

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Hyperactivity isn’t historically a hallmark of RPGs, but maybe that will give Creature Academy its own identity. Players can see if this whirlwind of level grinding and monster battling is right for them when the game fully launches soon.

It Came From Canada: Seabeard

Aside from a Pokémon spin-off or two, it doesn’t look like Nintendo will be putting out games on the App Store any time. However, that just leaves room for other companies to try to fill that void. Neither rip-off nor clone, Seabeard instead feels like an homage to several acclaimed titles from the House of Mario. But is that the best thing it has going for it? We set sail for these and other answers in this edition of It Came From Canada!

Although it’s not entirely obvious at first, Seabeard is essentially a town-building game. As a little monarch, players attempt to rebuild their lost island kingdom of Accordia. So, to get the necessary resources and manpower, players travel across an expanding ocean map doing odd jobs for people and recruiting them to the cause. Tasks range from feeding and milking cows, convincing some burly brothers to build new houses, scaring away pesky foxes, pulling out roots, and catching a variety of exotic fish. Players go at their own pace though, finishing jobs when they feel like it. There’s nothing stopping them from just sitting down by the water or trying on some new outfits. While traveling from island to island, players must also play a sailing minigame like avoiding obstacles or shooting down targets with their cannon.

seabeard (1)

It’s relaxed, low-impact gameplay, and what really ties it all together is the equally mellow presentation. This is where the Nintendo feeling comes into play. The isometric perspective and cheery but not too energetic blocky, 3D, cartoon world recall Animal Crossing, as does the life-sim gameplay. However, with its whole nautical theme and big-eyed, pseudo-cel-shaded characters, there’s a lot of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in there too. But seeing as those are both beloved games, looking at them for inspiration was probably a smart move.

seabeard (2)

Seabeard looks to be a pleasant place to drift off into, like sinking your feet into the pool. Players can decide for themselves if they want to dive in when the game fully launches soon.

It Came From Canada: Gems of War

With the original Puzzle Quest, developer Infinite Interactive showed that a genre as deep as RPGs could be married with one as seemingly shallow as match-3 puzzle games creating a match (3) made in heaven. With their point now proven, thanks to the continued success of that series, their new game, Gems of War, feels like another victory lap. We slay dark messiahs of might and matching yet again in this edition of It Came From Canada!

In the world of Krystara, all players need to start battling against hordes of monsters is a map to explore and some directions from their stern adviser. Gems of War’s centrepiece is, without a doubt, its numerous puzzle-driven enemy encounters. Players and their opponents share the same grid of gems and take turns matching with different gems causing different effects. Matching skull gems launches a basic attack while matching four of any gem gives another turn. And combo chains provide extra magical energy. From there though, benefits will vary. Most gems represent different elements like fire and water. Matching those gems charges up the special attacks of whatever team members specializes in those elements. Players might activate a solar-powered axe attack or defense-buffing howl driven by green energy.

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Managing parties to better adapt to the random nature of the puzzle board is a key component of Gems of War’s non-combat gameplay. Aside from messing around with the look of their main character, players can tweak their elemental affinity as well as equip them with new weapons built to use new elements. Players can also recruit monsters from victorious battles and create a four-person squad. Elemental diversity opens up strategic opportunities along with the ability to limit enemy options. A fair but steep difficulty curve, especially for those who choose to tackle the bonus challenges, will encourage players to constantly customize their party until it is as strong as it can be.

gems of war (7)

Right now, the biggest barrier between players and the puzzle action is Gems of War’s curiously long and frequent load times. Hopefully that’s something they can fix before the official release. In any case, expect the game to fully launch everywhere soon.

WinterForts: Exiled Kingdom Review

WinterForts: Exiled Kingdom Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
WinterForts' exceedingly unoriginal gameplay will leave players cold.

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Planet Hop Review

Planet Hop Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Planet Hop is as empty and unforgiving as space itself. That's not a bad thing.

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Monster Flash Review

Monster Flash Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Solid shooting and a surprising amount of spooky tension make Monster Flash a great portable piece of Halloween.

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Never Let Go Review

Never Let Go Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Never Let Go is a tough test of touch endurance.

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