On one hand it’s a bit depressing to see LittleBigPlanet (i.e. a PlayStation franchise adored for its abundant creativity) turn into an endless runner (i.e. one of the most overexposed mobile genres there are). However, maybe it’s better for a familiar formula to feature a familiar face. In any case, we’re checking out Run, Sackboy, Run!, LittleBigPlanet‘s iOS debut in this New Zealand edition of It Came From Canada!
Let’s not mince words. Run, Sackboy, Run! is totally just an endless runner with a LittleBigPlanet skin. Anyone looking for the robust platforming and level creation the series is known for will end up disappointed. But as far as skins go, it’s a pretty faithful recreation. The warm and fuzzy feel of the franchise looks just as great and tactile here as it does on Sony’s devices. As players progress they travel from earthbound environments to more futuristic areas, but the handcrafted aesthetic ties everything together. Like its siblings, the game also offers a plethora of costumes and collectibles. Players can gather stickers and outfit their Sackboy with new looks, like a kangaroo ensemble, to increase their score multiplier.
Fortunately, beloved license aside, Run, Sackboy, Run! is a pretty good endless runner in its own right. The controls are floaty but still fluid – ironic, considering how poor the controls in console LittleBigPlanet games can be – letting players easily jump and squish enemies. Levels don’t feel procedurally generated, but they are so large and dense with multiple branching paths that each run can feel unique depending on where players decide to turn. Along the way, players find power-ups like magnets and jetpacks, and they can charge their own inner powers like a shield for walking right over sticky pink goo. But if players do get trapped, a simple dash will save them from the monster in hot pursuit. And beyond just looking cool, using these skills completes missions and causes Sackboy to slowly level-up.
Again, as great as a proper LittleBigPlanet game could be on iOS, Run, Sackboy, Run! is not that game. It’s a simple spin-off. So potential players should make sure to keep that in mind when the game launches globally soon.
Through sheer force of will, along with a few legitimately great games, Ubisoft has turned their historical murder simulator Assassin’s Creed into one of the biggest franchises of the generation. But aside from a handful of questionable spin-offs, the series has never had a strong mobile presence – until now. We enter the Animus and check out Assassin’s Creed – Identity, the first “authentic” Assassin’s Creed experience for iOS, in this New Zealand Edition of It Came From Canada!
What’s so striking about Identity is how it manages to feel like a real Assassin’s Creed game by only making a couple of small compromises for the platform. Instead of controlling one protagonist for a sprawling, story-heavy campaign, players create and customize their assassin and take on a series of self-contained missions. The franchise’s infamously bonkers conspiracy meta-narrative is still there for those who choose to read it, but it never gets in the way of the neck-stabbing. And along with outfitting their avatar with collected weapons and skills, like the ability to summon online recruits for assistance, the different classes freshen up play styles on a more fundamental level.
The missions themselves are familiar fare – things like stealthily kill this one dude, deliver this item, or run across these rooftops – and the Renaissance city playgrounds do feel more compact than usual. But again, it’s a small price to pay for gameplay and visuals as fluid and detailed as the franchise’s high-end portable entries at least. Players swipe to fight, sneak, and parkour with ease, and as they reach the tops of buildings they’ll get amazing views of the vistas before them. Assassin’s Creed‘s smooth systems have always been criticized for feeling too automated, but here it’s the perfect fit.
Right now levels are limited to adventures in 16th century Italy, but the game promises modern-day Montreal missions are coming as well. However, Assassin’s Creed – Identity presents such a promising framework the team should consider throwing in stages from however many eras as they can fit. For right now though, getting the game in shape for launch should be the top priority. As we played, the game would freeze and hard reboot the iPad after every completed mission while attempting to ping the server. But that’s why this is a soft launch.
Assassin’s Creed – Identity will be creeping onto iOS devices everywhere soon.
Anyone afraid that throwing Transformers into the Angry Birds mix would result in a Michael Bay-level of childhood pillaging can rest easy. While Rovio’s famous fowls may be a 21st century staple, Angry Birds: Transformers wears its affection for the 80s on its sleeve. But is mere retro reverence enough to justify this crossover? We find out in this edition of It Came From Canada!
The opening video reveals how the classic birds we all know and love have transformed into birds disguised as robots in disguise. But aside from establishing the story, the lavish animated intro’s attention to Saturday morning detail, right down to VHS scan lines, might be the best part of the game.
Fortunately the gameplay itself, while about as simple as a typical Transformers episode, is also about as action-packed. Plus the animation isn’t as cheap. Angry Birds: Transformers eschews the physics puzzles the series is known for in favor of something resembling an on-rails shooter. As avian Optimus Prime or beaked Bumblebee constantly run from left to right, and players tap to shoot down Decepticon pigs in the background. Targeting weak points on fortresses to squish enemies more efficiently is about as close as the game gets to traditional Angry Birds strategies. Of course, since this is a Transformers game, players will also occasionally need to change their robots into vehicles to speed past collapsing columns.
As players blast more pigs they’ll open up more parts of the map, unlocking new characters with unique weapons like lasers or missiles. However, we weren’t able to access special Jenga levels since we didn’t have the codes. Between battles players can also upgrade characters to increase their strength and durability. Doing so gives players a close-up look at the bird bots themselves, and their colorful boxy models amusingly marry the aesthetics of both franchises while still maintaining what separately makes them iconic. And even better, there are barely any hints of ugly, cluttered ‘Bayformers’ in their designs.
Apart, Angry Birds and Transformers have already made all the money in the world. So we can’t imagine what they can do together – especially with Skylanders-style toy integration. Expect Angry Birds: Transformers to transform and roll out everywhere soon.
Nintendo characters on the App Store? Have they really gotten that desperate? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. While it may be strange and novel seeing Pikachu and company running around on an Apple product, the fact is the Pokémon Company has always had some degree of autonomy from its Mario masters. And now they’ve used that independence to bring the wildly popular Pokémon Trading Card Game to the iPad. We catch ‘em all in this edition of It Came From Canada!
If the smash success of Hearthstone has taught us anything it’s that card games work great on the iPad, and Pokémon Trading Card Game Online is no different. Dealing with digital decks is just so much more convenient than laying out physical spaces, shuffling cards, and keeping track of various pieces. Plus, having a computer present to teach and reinforce the rules is a lot more reliable than leaving it up to human error.
However, this really is just a straightforward virtual translation of the Black and White starter editions of the actual trading card game. Battle animations aren’t flashy and graphics are kind of flat in general; they’re not even as stylish as the beloved anime. Meanwhile, online is used for simple stat-tracking and basic multiplayer matches. Players should also make sure to register an account, because otherwise they’ll be forced to sit through the lengthy tutorial each time they launch the game.
But modest production values aside, there’s a reason why this game has been so popular for so long, and it’s not just marketing. It simply does a great job at capturing what’s fun about Pokémon RPGs in card game form. Arranging teams of monsters, evolving starters you’ve grown particularly fond of, and strategically unleashing powerful elemental attacks is just as satisfying here as it is on the screen of a Nintendo handheld.
Since Pokémon is a worldwide phenomenon, expect Pokémon Trading Card Game Online to launch everywhere soon. And while it’s not totally fair to use it as a litmus test for Nintendo’s future on the App Store, it’s at least interesting to think about.
I’m going to be straight you with folks. I don’t know much about MOBAs, and I’m certainly no professional. That means I don’t know how well Vainglory, the upcoming multiplayer online battle arena showcased in the most recent Apple keynote, compares to titans like League of Legends or DotA 2 in terms of depth and control. However, in this edition of It Came From Canada – Philippines Edition, what I can say is that it certainly has the ambition to be king of the mobile MOBAs.
Even to someone like me, the specifics of this gigantic genre have become pretty well-known by now. Two teams, in this case with three members each, attempt to destroy their opponents’ home base by making it through lanes full of powerful turrets and endless waves of disposable grunt soldiers. Players choose from a handful of heroes with their own personalities and moves to master – like the sadistic sword wielder Catherine, rambunctious catgirl Koshka, and shambling Monty Python-quoting zombie warrior Krul. Fast melee-focused characters obviously require different strategies compared to slow spellcasters, and forming those plans is where much of the tactical depth comes from.
Fortunately, the game is very accommodating to newcomers. The extensive tutorial goes over basics like what to buy at the shop and why it’s important to not die and give your foes a bonus. It also familiarizes players with the single map and important sites to capture like special monsters that strengthen minions once defeated. It’s a lot to take in, from knowing when to hide in the bushes to the concept of “the jungle,” and that’s before it even gets to character-specific traits. But since this is all the game is, it’s good that there’s a lot to it. Players can also practice at any time and discover how surprisingly nuanced the touch controls are – letting them set waypoints, launch strings of attacks, and tell heroes what spots to avoid.
Vainglory also just looks fantastic thanks to the new “Metal” iOS 8 API. Yeah, the art style still betrays the fact that this entire sub-genre descends from a mod of a Blizzard game, but the details, effects, animations, and smoothness of play actually do resemble a higher-end PC release from a developer of that caliber. Along with giving players new options to explore, unlocking characters from the marketplace also provides something new and pleasant to look at for a match.
Since Vainglory isn’t out in most territories yet, so finding a match was a little difficult. Although once it fully launches soon, that shouldn’t be a problem. Again, I’m not the one who can tell if it will succeed in the highly profitable but contentious MOBA space, but it’s definitely an impressive attempt.
Overkill 3 is like every trope of big modern gaming rolled into one. It’s a sequel to an action-packed military shooter. It’s flashy and scripted and flaunts its sophisticated graphics. And it’s a mobile game with a heavy emphasis on in-app purchases. But does it still manage to forge its own identity within that sea of marketing points? We find out in this edition of It Came From Canada!
In its biggest break from past Overkill games, Overkill 3 is a third-person shooting gallery rather than a first-person one. Movement is automatic, so players just aim and decide when to pop in and out of cover. But now they can see their vulgar, macho, soldier hero with his scarred Mohawk head instead of just imagining him. The shift also provides a slew of new tactical options. Firing down the sights, from the hip, or from behind cover each has its own balance of safety and effectiveness. More indirect assaults, like grenades and explosive barrels, also take on new dimensions for players and their enemies alike.
But the real benefit of the pulled out camera is the wider variety of moments it’s able to present. Players get a better look at the game’s graphically detailed and impressively lit environments from desert Shanty Towns with secret Windows 95 jokes to vaguely futuristic cities. Calling in airstrikes or firing off rocket launchers also becomes more exciting when seen in their full glory. The game’s levels bounce between standard missions, wave-based survival modes, and even turret sequences for those that miss the first-person feel. But nothing justifies the new perspective more than the occasional quick-time events where players swipe the screen, causing their hero to dramatically leap out of the way of sniper fire. It’s bombastic and ridiculous in the same blockbuster action movie way other AAA games are. And given its content and fall release, Overkill 3 definitely wants to be in that company.
Developer Craneballs says the limited number of levels in this soft launch version will be expanded during later releases, but players can still get more from the experience by buying and experimenting with different tools. Equipping new armor, lovingly rendered guns, and side weapons can really change a fight, and players can level-up via repeated playthroughs to give them access to even more goodies.
The past generation of games proved people can’t get enough of modern military shooters, but will this generation prove that players have now had their fill even on mobile? Overkill 3 will have to find that out for itself when it fully launches later this year.
In some way or another, most Japanese RPGs owe something to Final Fantasy. But with Terra Battle, the now-common mix of Western medieval fantasy with Eastern anime aesthetic feels earned. After all, its developer, Mistwalker, was founded by the Final Fantasy mastermind himself, Hironobu Sakaguchi. While this upcoming strategy game is definitely more modest than its ancestors, it’s still worth noticing when a company with this pedigree flexes its muscles. So that’s what we did in this latest edition of It Came From Canada!
As modern RPG plots become as integral to their respective games as they are incomprehensible, Terra Battle harkens back to an earlier time when fighting monsters was as good a reason as any to recruit tavern patrons to your party. There is a story, but those who choose to skip it can still find the game worthwhile.
And besides, the vast majority of the time is spent in the battlefield brawls that make up each chapter. Terra Battle‘s take on turn-based strategy feels like a cross between Fire Emblem and a board game like Reversi. Enemies and party members appear as squares on a grid. During each turn, players can move one square wherever they like while they still have time. To attack, players simply flank an enemy with two units.
The game also uses a weapon triangle system where certain attacks trump others, like rock-paper-scissors. However, proper positioning is the real focus. Beyond basic movement, players can explore other tactical options and quirks like passing units through each other to shift their locations or creating larger support clusters to attack multiple foes at once. Occasionally, powerful orbs will materialize on the grid, and by working those into their formations players can unleash even more devastating attacks perfect for boss fights.
To improve their party, players can also participate in daily challenges in special zones to earn more experience or loot. But really, the deep, intense, and highly strategic combat is the draw. It’s so good players may not even notice or care how lovely but generic the illustrated artwork is or how dull the barren grid itself becomes after staring at it for countless hours.
Terra Battle may not be some endless epic about saving the world from calamity, but it is a tight little test of wits. And it’s coming to the App Store soon, so be on the lookout.
Of all the “hardcore” game genres that have had recent new life as more casual mobile games, RPGs might be one of the most surprising. With their focus on numbers, organization, and slow, patient play, you wouldn’t expect them to fit in with quick, flashy distractions. However, the upcoming Might & Mayhem offers a pretty clear explanation for this phenomenon. While it has many trappings of a dense role-playing adventure, playing it is a much more straightforward, and arguably stripped-down affair. We find out if it still has enough of the goods in this edition of It Came From Canada!
In Might & Mayhem players build a three-person team of fantasy warriors – from dashing but weak sword fighters to mysterious and buff spell casters – and fight a series of turn-based battles. There’s no real overworld to explore, not much grinding, and little emphasis on loot. Rather, players just take on battle after battle in kingdoms full of enemy robots and goblins before reaching a boss. Fortunately, the combat has some depth to justify its prominence. As each match goes on, players accrue more action points. With more action points, they can launch stronger attacks or multiple attacks at once. However, skills still have limits, so balance and strategy is crucial. Go for the strongest foe or take out the weak healer first? Smart tactics become especially necessary in online battles.
There is some customization to be had outside of battle, though. Players can upgrade their castle home base along with their fighters. While manually reviving fallen units costs precious diamonds, other upgrades are refreshingly freemium-free. Before quests, players can equip special single-use abilities like massive lightning strikes or health waves that can really turn the tide of battle. And more bonuses of all kinds unlock as players progress.
Since Might & Mayhem focuses mostly on its battles, it puts a lot of effort into their visual presentation. Everything is brought to life in colorful 3D environments with great, dynamic animations. Players can even rotate the camera whenever they choose to get a different view of the action. However, even if it is well made, the artwork itself is still fairly generic. Plus battles will glitch out and freeze a little too often, requiring a soft reset.
Might & Mayhem demonstrates how RPGs adapt themselves to mobile by becoming super straightforward. Players can decide from themselves whether or not that’s cool with them when it launches worldwide soon.
With a brand new Star Wars trilogy on the horizon, prepare yourselves for Disney and George Lucas’s space fantasy throwback to be more omnipresent than ever before. So it should come as no surprise that new adventures in that galaxy far, far away are coming to mobile as well. The latest example? Star Wars: Commander. We check to see how strong the Force is with this upcoming strategy game in this edition of It Came From Canada!
As much as its creators try to deny it, Star Wars: Commander is Clash of Clans with the Star Wars license. Players begin as independent Tatooine mercenaries who have unfortunately gotten on the bad side of powerful gangster Jabba the Hutt. So to survive, players can either join the Empire as it continues conquering the galaxy or make friends with the Rebels heroically struggling for freedom. Whatever they choose, players then begin building their base and taking on missions.
At their headquarters, players can upgrade new structures and droids to help bolster their forces. Depending on what faction they choose, hero units like Han Solo or giant death machines like AT-ATs will be at their command. With these units, players take on the light real-time strategy missions that make up the game’s single-player campaign. They can also ally with other players or launch offensives against them. However, that means they must remember to keep their own base safe as well by constructing defensive walls and turrets along with deploying strategic air strikes. The missions themselves are brief, easy, and mostly just focus on destruction, but it’s lame how any units brought in can never be used again even if they survive. It leads to needlessly conservative play.
But again, all of this will be familiar to Clash of Clans players. This is mostly just an elaborate Star Wars skin. However, it is hard to deny how great a skin that is. The character models, sound effects, and musical cues are not only fantastic, but almost overwhelmingly nostalgic for the original trilogy.
If this is all part of the master plan to get people excited about Star Wars again, it’s working. Star Wars: Commander is currently in a soft launch phase and will coming to a galaxy near you very soon.
With its use of well-established tropes like endless flying and sci-fi space shooting, the upcoming Galaxy Dash: Race to the Outer Run most likely won’t confound expectations. However, with its robust amount of opportunities for fun player interactions it might just exceed them. We check out this new great space coaster in the latest edition of It Came From Canada!
Galaxy Dash has the typical infinite runner set-up: players control a ship and try to fly out as far as possible, hopping between the three lanes to avoid enemies and obstacles. But from that familiar framework, the game then introduces a lot of interesting small details that add up to something greater. For starters, players can shoot lasers to bring down bogeys or bust open gem-filled asteroids. However, the weapons need recharging so players must plan their shots carefully. Part of that includes paying attention to the snaking nature of the lanes. Shots always go out straight, but players themselves will be at the whim of their looping path. The way larger deadly asteroids casually intersect also adds to the cool feeling of naturalism.
But players’ options aren’t limited to pure offense. In between rounds, they can upgrade various aspects of their ship or purchase new models. One upgrade path lets players increase the speed of their shield, which charges throughout each run and can soak up a single hit. Or players can choose to upgrade their cargo. Each run is littered with crates – some lying out in the open and others attached to special enemies. Depending on their capacity, players can pick up these boxes and earn extra points by carrying them to the checkpoint outpost separating each section. Finally, players can recruit allies who leave special power-ups for them to find, like deadly double lasers. Tying Galaxy Dash‘s surprising amount of gameplay choices together is the clean, colorful art style. What looks to be cel-shading gives beautiful depth to images that could’ve seemed flat otherwise.
Again, Galaxy Dash won’t feel like some radically innovative experience once it fully launches – it does things players have seen before. However, it’s hard not to appreciate how well and how intelligently it executes those familiar ideas.
When the evil alien invaders inevitably come, it’s pretty much guaranteed that only the pure innocent hearts of children can save us – or at least children as well-armed as the cast of “Attack the Block.” So we might as well start preparing now with Scrap Force, an upcoming turn-based strategy game where children use alien power to protect the planet with homemade weaponry. We find out just how much kids rule in this latest edition of It Came From Canada!
Scrap Force consists of a lengthy series of turn-based battles between plucky neighborhood kids and evil alien Obliteroids. Each match is one-on-one with two teams of six facing each other using three lanes that are two-units long. Players don’t create units, but rather draw from a shuffled group of heroes to place on the battlefield. At the start of each round, players and enemies are given an increasing amount of power shards. With more shards, stronger heroes can be summoned, so the match escalates no matter what.
The hero variety is really what gives Scrap Force its depth. Every new warrior has his or her own quirks to learn. Some can attack as soon as they are placed. Others steal power shards with each hit. Some kids can move in more directions while others just have more sheer strength. There are tons of strategies and counter-strategies to form using these unique abilities in concert. Skillfully balance these fighters to defeat alien foes and topple their base. Using items like bowling balls and hot dog dynamite helps, too. And with its simple 3D playground characters and environments, the whole thing has a neat Backyards Sports vibe. Except it’s galactic warfare instead of football.
In between rounds, players can summon new heroes and upgrade old ones with the scrap they’ve collected. Downtime isn’t optional either, since the game’s freemium timers keep players from just blasting through the campaign. That means players will be spending a lot of time with these child soldiers. But given what we’ve played so far, that might not be such a bad thing.
So be on the lookout for Scrap Force once it fully launches soon.
If you go to a casino, you might make a lot of money. If you run a casino, you’re guaranteed to make a lot of money. The choice seems pretty obvious. So while waiting for your shady real estate deals to move forward, get prepared with Tiny Tower Vegas, the latest follow-up to the smash hit sim Tiny Tower. We become mini casino moguls in this latest edition of It Came From Canada!
Tiny Tower Vegas will feel instantly familiar to fans of the original. Players build their gambling empire floor by floor while keeping customers happy and business flowing. New floors need new employees, and players can choose between who the best person for the job is and who is the most affordable. Customize the tower by putting pyramids or Greek statues on the roof, changing interior décor, and even sprucing up the elevator design. Players can also upgrade the elevator’s speed since they’ll be operating it by hand quite often to get guests where they want to go. And it’s all presented in the same great, low-key pixel art style.
But of course, the Las Vegas setting comes with its own demands – even if this seems based on new, classy, family friendly Vegas instead of old, seedy, good Vegas. While some new floors will be the occasional taco bar in need of restocking, the gambling is where the real action lives. Players can try their luck on slot machines and earn extra cash alongside customer revenue. Once the hot streak ends, would-be pit bosses can check up on how their “bitizen” guests are doing by reading the “BitBook” social network, or just sit back and watch the fireworks – the only things brighter than the massive glowing signs.
Current Tiny Tower players shouldn’t expect Tiny Tower Vegas to completely reinvent the wheel after its soft launch phase. It’s got some new ideas, so it’s not just a reskin, but it’s so close to the original it’s more spin-off or expansion pack than sequel. But you can decide for yourself once it fully launches.
For all the hate that it gets for being a pastime for slackers, skateboarding really does require a lot of skill. All those flips and spins take real athleticism, and there’s all the jargon to memorize. Fortunately for us less extreme individuals, Epic Skater makes things a lot simpler by handling all that pesky “moving” business. We check out this upcoming endless runner – or skater, rather – in this edition of It Came From Canada!
Epic Skater always starts with its kid hero bursting out of a dusty old classroom to go skate in the big city. But from there, the game randomly strings together its environments to create a slightly different experience each time. Certain sections will become familiar, but changing the order keeps players on their toes, and their toes on the board. The different backdrops are also lovingly detailed, whether it’s the giant “Epicwood” sign or the various restaurants players skate by after emerging from the sewers. And it’s all brought to life in a colorful, fast-paced, 3D cartoon world.
As an endless runner, the only goal is to make it as far as possible without stumbling over an obstacle. But what’s the fun in that? The real goal is to get as high a score as possible using the game’s fairly robust, Tony Hawk-style trick system. Swiping or holding down on the screen in various ways will trigger all kinds of unique flips, spins, and jumps. Players can chain moves together through manuals, or if their timing is really precise, hop right onto a grind rail in the background. The game gets quicker the longer it goes on, and soon players will be leaping over massive gaps at breakneck speeds. They might even start to worry for the kid – especially after watching some of the gnarly failure animations.
Between runs players can use the coins they’ve gathered to upgrade their board, or buy boosters at the start of each round. With real money they can also buy energy drinks to continue a failed run without losing any points. But as far as freemium elements go, that’s pretty inoffensive. Plus, by paying attention to the achievement system players can earn most of the experience they need to take their skater to the next level without crutches.
Currently, Epic Skater is only available in countries like New Zealand as part of its soft launch phase. But expect it to shred its way onto App Stores everywhere soon.
Bio Inc. is an evil game. It can make players feel legitimately guilty. It’s not only about killing, but killing as subtly and fiendishly as possible. It’s about death as inevitability. After blackening our hearts and poisoning our souls, we’re here with the autopsy in this latest edition of It Came From Canada!
Remember the villainous virus from Osmosis Jones that took pride in killing people as fast as possible? That’s basically Bio Inc.’s premise. Players dive into the body of some unsuspecting sucker and try to end their life quickly and efficiently. It’s like Trauma Center in reverse. At the start of each round, players hop between different body systems, like the brain and the skeleton, harvesting minor bacteria like resources in a strategy game. From there, they use the points they’ve acquired to unleash new ailments like the flu and insomnia. As new symptoms take their toll, players can climb further up the tech tree discovering even stronger ways to cripple their victim’s heart or immune system defenses. They can even unlock bonus risk factors to buff their attacks like making the victim smoke or eat junk food.
But as in real life, killing in Bio Inc. isn’t that simple. Eventually the victim will go to the doctor and start receiving care. Once that happens, their recovery meter will start to go up. As the player’s attacks become more vicious and more systems start to fail, the doctors start working even harder and recovery increases faster. The game then becomes a race against time to murder the mark before the doctors can save them. Players can even use downright abhorrent sneaky tricks like making the doctors go on strike and halt recovery.
What’s most diabolical about the game though is how its deep strategic elements make players thoughtfully plan out their dirty deeds. Target one system aggressively or spread out the infections? Pepper the body with little diseases or save up points and release The Big C? Each new victim also has specific traits like high stress or a family history of genetic deficiencies. Exploiting these facts is crucial, especially on higher difficulties. Players can even name their targets for maximum meta cruelty.
The horror inherent to the premise is only slightly blunted by a few funny voice clips accompanying each new development. Upping the victim’s age to over 60 sounds especially, hilariously painful. But beyond that, the game pulls no punches while forcing players to watch their victim’s body slowly breakdown through the harsh, clinical interface.
Bio Inc. isn’t available yet, so fortunately we have some time to brace ourselves for the complete extent of its malice. Once it fully launches though, it just might spell the end for our current age of innocence.
It’s always easy to be way too cynical when it comes to free-to-play games, and when Tony Hawk’s Shred Session was announced there was certainly some thought that it could be a cheap licensed affair. Well the game has soft-launched in New Zealand, so I put on my helmet, grabbed my board, and found out this is a more casual game – but not a cash-in.
The game is set up as a lane-based runner a la Subway Surfers, but it truly is just a Tony Hawk game set up in that vein of being friendly for mobile and casual play. Levels include ramps, rails, and even half pipes. Tricks can be strung together through the gesture-based system for grabs, flips, and grinds. Extended gestures exist for more complicated tricks. These complicated tricks can be unlocked and bought with coins over time as players level up, or unlocked instantly with bucks (the hard currency).
The game takes place in two modes: Shred Session and Survival. Shred Session is a level-based mode where each level tasks players with short-form goals to chase after. Some levels involve scoring a certain number of points before the timer or level runs out. Others involve collecting a certain number of orbs, collecting time tokens, and participating in trick-offs with other skaters where the prescribed tricks must be matched. All are managed by a three-star system, with higher scores or more collectibles necessary to get more stars.
While the game is free-to-play, and more advanced tricks will help with combos, it does a great job at not letting the monetization get in the way of playing the game. There are boosts to buy along with new boards and skaters, but purchases largely feel optional instead of necessary. Having no energy system helps out a lot, too. Given that style is a huge part of skating culture, I can see cosmetic upgrades contributing to the game’s moneymaking – particularly as hard currency is needed to unlock many of the skaters and cooler tricks early on. But there’s no replacement for skill.
While certainly the monetization could change, it seems as if there’s a really interesting core here; one that could appeal to those who like skateboarding games, but want a mobile-friendly experience. We’ll see how the world reacts when Tony Hawk’s Shred Session eventually goes worldwide.
King is releasing a sequel to the game that got them started on mobile, thus becoming the behemoths that they are today: Bubble Witch Saga 2. The game has soft-launched in the Netherlands, so I busted out my wooden shoes for this edition of our soft-launch series: It Came From Canada, Holland Edition!
If I were to sum up the experience of Bubble Witch Saga 2 in one word, it would be “polished.” The visuals are shiny and detailed; the animations are fluid; even the controls are exceptional. This Bust-a-Move-esque bubble-bursting game’s controls use a simple touch-and-drag method to aim upward from the bubble launcher, with tapping on the other bubble in the launcher to switch to that one. The aiming is accurate for even small movements, making it easy and pleasing to use – because the game will take a turn for the difficult.
There are a variety of levels to mix up the bubble-bursting: the primary ones are levels where players must use a limited supply of bubbles to pop six of the bubbles on the top-most row. These levels scroll, though there’s no way to scroll upward to see which bubbles are off screen. There are similar levels with encased animals, who must be freed by having no bubbles above them. Finally, there are ghost levels where all the bubbles that encase a central ghost must be eliminated, with the twist that the level, well, twists around with each bubble hit.
There’s the standard King array of midgame power-ups and lives that slowly recharge, with the ability to request more from friends on Facebook. The distribution of bubbles seems to be not particularly weighted around making sure players can beat a level: if a color gets eliminated, it won’t appear any more, but don’t assume that the game’s going to ensure that you get all the bubbles you need; it won’t necessarily be that generous. Any miss should be treated as a potentially grave sin – a damning step toward failure. Of course, there’s the ability to buy more bubbles. This feeling kicks in after about ten levels or so. The game starts to mean business, and it punishes players who aren’t very careful and calculating.
Of course, this is pretty much the formula for King’s success so far: extremely playable games with a brutal streak that keeps players coming back, spending more money or spreading the word about the game for their personal benefit. Bubble Witch Saga 2 is expected worldwide soon.
InnoGames, fresh off announcing Rising Generals, has an iPad strategy game currently soft-launched in Canada. Forge of Empires has players building a town, so I grabbed my sword and hammer and set off for the land of maple syrup for this edition of It Came From Canada!
The main phase of the game is town-building: creating new buildings in order to earn more money, or items that can generate more resources such as building points, villagers, gold, and even happiness. There’s a lot to keep track of here. This is all in service of becoming the most powerful town in the world. There’s a leaderboard of players that one can peruse, with guilds that can be joined for cooperative purposes.
Okay, it sounds a bit like Clash of Clans so far. The key difference is that players don’t just send off enemy hordes to battle: they enter a turn-based strategy game with them.
Battles take place on a hexagonal grid, where players can move their units about within their specified range, and can attack enemies within their attack range. There are also defense bonuses for certain terrain types. It’s very basic strategy gameplay, but it’s definitely deeper, even in its simplicity, than most Clash of Clans-esque games. Units start out as Bronze Age soldiers and eventually get up to modern era ones, though this will likely take a long time to get going. Those who check in often and spend their forge points regularly will get to the later eras first.
While there is a campaign against computerized enemies, it’s also possible to interact with other players. These can be in friendly ways: motivation and polishing will help resource generation and production happen at a faster rate. As well, it’s possible to attack other players and plunder one of their buildings. It appears that all battling is asynchronous for now against human opponents.
Players can research new units and types by spending forge points. These recharge over time (or can be bought with gold or diamonds) and by researching new tech trees, new unit types can be had. The tech trees are deep, so people who come back often will be the first to unlock later portions of the game.
While the town-building is very familiar – and the strategy very basic – for this oft-imitated genre spearheaded by Clash of Clans, the relatively-deeper (yet still approachable) combat might be worth checking out once it launches worldwide.
Just announced on Monday, May 19, Super Monkey Ball Bounce also showed its face in the Canadian App Store. This free-to-play game puts a Pachinko and Peggle spin on the game of monkeys in spheres. So, I sealed by plastic ball up tight and crossed the border for this edition of It Came From Canada!
This game is very Peggle-like. It uses many of the same tropes and gameplay setups as Peggle does. The general mission is to pop the various star pegs, with other pegs existing as opportunities to get bonus points, including randomly-placed multiplier pegs. Power-up pegs also exist, which grant an ability based on the selected character, though ones beyond AiAi require playing the game to certain levels to unlock. AiAi’s is a guided line, which is pretty much identical to the first character in Peggle, though other power-ups start to show some variety. Still, this skews closer to the Peggle formula than even what Papa Pear Saga did – though the physics feel a lot more consistent than King’s take on the genre.
How does Super Monkey Ball Bounce operate within the confines of its monetization? The game uses a currency of gold bars, which come with a free supply at the start but are either not earned or only infrequently so. What can be bought with them? Well, there are boost power-ups that players can take into levels with them, including the power-ups of other characters. Also, a slot machine that can be played for every ten spins can get guaranteed win spins for the cost of a few gold bars.
As well, continues can be had for gold bars. That’s likely where the money-making comes in: levels can start to ramp up in difficulty, and the temptation to spend real-world money on gold may just set in. As well, there’s a lives system like Candy Crush Saga (with a level progression map just like it as well), and these run out whenever the player fails a level, though connecting with Facebook friends can earn more lives.
The monetization might be an interesting thing to track at the final release. Super Monkey Ball Bounce is a slow burn early on so it might not make money for a while, or the early part of the game might get a bump up in difficulty. It’ll be interesting to see how Sega approaches this once it releases worldwide.
After messing around with giant cubes and social experiments, the famously eccentric game designer Peter Molyneux returns to the God game genre with Godus. This spiritual successor to Molyneux’s earlier game, Populous, is currently in beta on PC and has just soft launched on the New Zealand App Store. We let absolute power corrupt us absolutely in this edition of It Came From Canada!
Witness and shape the beginning of human history in Godus. As a benevolent deity, players will guide their followers from a single hut on a beach at the dawn of time up until around the Roman Empire, although the game could certainly continue from there. The main way to achieve this is by molding the Earth and allowing the population to expand. It’s almost sad mowing down thick forests to let humanity proliferate like a virus, but such is life. There don’t seem to be any threats to the tiny citizens, like predators or natural disasters, so players can just focus on reproduction. As the population grows, the player’s godly power increases – granting them new skills like the ability to shift oceans or terraform more parts of the single, continuous map.
The game unsurprisingly has numerous subsystems as well. More intense god powers, including burning bushes or controlling followers directly through “leashing,” draw from the belief of worshippers. Players naturally gain belief as their small world grows, but it can be purchased using the game’s real-money gem system as well. Players can also purchase sticker packs to activate the special cards they receive with each level up. These cards bestow various bonuses like faster building speeds or the ability to start settlements on different terrain. Fortunately, stickers appear naturally in the world too.
As more of the cold, unconquered North gives way to the player’s bright civilization, players will encounter ships and beacons allowing them to interact with other players online. In fact, the grand prize for finishing 22Can’s previous game Curiosity was becoming the God of Gods in Godus, along with a share of the profits. However, in many ways the game works best as an isolated experience, an entire little world unto itself.
That shoebox diorama quality is accentuated by the game’s almost paper cut-out art style. The solid colors and obvious layers of the landscape may not be realistic, but they’re charming. The same goes for the cute sound effects like the mysterious voices on the wind and the happy little tunes villagers whistle while they work. The distinct layers also make it easier for players to meticulously sculpt the land as they see fit. They can even make terraced steps out of the Earth for followers to climb to higher places, when their spotty path finding works that is. However, it is still a little too easy for fatter fingers to make unintended changes, which is especially annoying when those accidental changes waste precious belief.
Still, Godus successfully captures both the tedium and the power trip of what being an all-knowing, all-powerful force must feel like. Players can get their hands on a world of their own when the game fully launches.
Adult Swim Games and Mediatonic have soft launched a new trial-racing game to the App Store in Canada and other territories: Outlaw Delivery. So, I strapped on my helmet and put some curds and gravy on fries for this edition of It Came From Canada!
Outlaw Delivery takes after titles like Trials, Extreme Road Trip, and Zombie Road Trip as a physics-centered trial-racing game where players must try to make it to the end as quickly as possible, but also in one piece. Players’ health is regulated by the health of their cargo: rough landings and hard collisions will damage the cargo, and that’s not gonna be good for anyone. Especially so if trying to get the gears, the game’s star system. One requires players to stay above a certain health percentage, and three gold gears usually requires both a fast time and high health.
Controls are simple: there are gas and reverse buttons, which serve as spin forward and backward buttons respectively, while in mid-air. Players get extra gold for tricks like spins (which are very difficult to do), wheelies, perfect landings, and even just getting air time in the first place. Players have a limited amount of fuel to work with, though more can be collected mid-level, and just letting gravity and momentum keep oneself going is an option to conserve fuel.
As far as monetization goes, the game uses only one currency – gold – which is spent on buying new bikes, upgrades, and better parts. There’s no secondary currency, and no energy mechanic at all, which is very good because there’s a lot of retrying involved, and grinding to do better and get more money plays a significant part in the game. It’s a lot quicker to just buy it outright of course, but hey, at least the option is there to try and earn it. While Adult Swim Games has been unafraid to use energy-type systems before, like in Amateur Surgeon 3 (though that only reduced players’ lives when they die), this is definitely a much friendlier system than what most publishers implement. Of course, friendliness and free-to-play don’t often mix, so whether this makes any money is a good question.
Outlaw Delivery should at least prove to be rather entertaining: it trods well-worn territory, but it has the production values and the base appeal that most Adult Swim Games’ titles have. This should be one worth keeping an eye on when it launches worldwide.
In an App Store chock full of shameless clones, it’s always nice to see a game that expands on its influences instead of just copying them wholesale. Such is the case with Globber’s Escape, now in a soft launch phase, which clearly borrows its basic framework from the classic Pac-Man formula. But fortunately it doesn’t stop there, and we see just how far it goes in this edition of It Came From Canada!
In Globber’s Escape, players guide a circular creature around a 2D maze collecting tiny objects and avoiding patrolling enemies. However, if they collect the right power-up they can turn the tables on their foes and gobble them up, sending baddies back to the center to regenerate. Again, it sounds like Pac-Man. But from that familiar set-up, the game starts diverging in small but clever ways.
Instead of static dots, players devour little aliens that sporadically burst out of different containers on the map and mindlessly roam around the stage. This means players must always be ready to adjust their paths and strategies on the fly. Once all the critters are collected, instead of automatically starting the next round players must manually escape the room by reaching the closest open door. However, this makes them even more vulnerable to agitated enemies like evil mad scientists and almost unfairly unstoppable robots. If players do get caught, they can free Globber using the rare revive hammers sprinkled throughout each map. And when it’s game over for real, the final score goes towards increasing Globber’s level.
In an alternate universe, Globber’s Escape is one of the better arcade games made to capitalize on Pac-Man‘s success. Along with all the mechanical twists, the game has a less breakneck and more strategic pace overall. The control scheme has players creating waypoints for Globber to follow by touching the maze, which reduces the amount of mindless, frantic tapping while still allowing players to course correct easily.
However, for all of its gameplay creativity, Globber’s Escape‘s presentation sadly falls back on generic tropes. The cartoony sci-fi visuals, full of vibrant colors and angular designs, are pleasant but uninspired. The music might as well be non-existent. Some of the dialogue between the chatty tutorial robots is at least kind of amusing in a classic comedy duo way, but the game’s universe isn’t the reason to get invested.
Instead, players should get invested because Globber’s Escape is reassuring proof that cool, new games can still come from slight tweaks to old concepts once considered done to death. They can find out for themselves though when the game launches worldwide soon.
Craneballs is returning to the Overkill well that has helped put them on the map. Where previous games in the series were futuristic alien-shooters, this one takes place in a past version of Chicago, where violent, fedora-wearing, gun-toting criminals roamed the streets shooting at each other and innocents occasionally getting caught in the crossfire. Thankfully such a world no longer exists: there are far fewer fedoras now. So, with the game currently soft-launched in Canada, I made sure not to put ketchup on my hot dog for this edition of It Came From Canada!
As stated earlier, the setup is very similar to past entries in the series in that this is a shooting gallery game. Players are in a stationary position, trying to take out enemies as they come in. The left thumb is used to move the gun by dragging around the screen, and there are fire and reload buttons in the lower-right corner. This is a Prohibition-era setting, so all the weapons are based on that time period, like a Colt 1911. Don’t expect any high-powered assault rifles here, but perhaps a tommy gun or two.
The meat of the game is the level-based progression, where players must survive multiple waves of enemies without dying, earning cash along the way. There are hundreds of levels promised, and interestingly enough, no energy system. At least yet. Right now, it’s possible to play to one’s content.
Along with the fixed levels, there are also reputation battles – such as the game’s endless mode, which also serves as a kind of asynchronous play where players attempt to get higher scores by lasting as long as possible, with more powerful enemies coming in as time goes on. Leaderboards track who’s doing better than whom. This is where buying better clothes comes into play: they grant character upgrades but also reputation multiplier bonuses. These bonuses naturally make it easier to get higher scores. They also serve as lives since every time the player ‘dies’, their multiplier lowers.
Guns can be upgraded with cash, with wait timers for upgrades to be delivered that can be skipped by spending liquor. Liquor is earned occasionally through level-ups, though there’s plenty to spend it on – including health and power boosts in the game itself. The game steadily gets harder, and it’s easy to see where the desire can be cultivated to spend real-world money on more cash and liquor to be more powerful; at least to catch back up to the game’s increasing difficulty.
It will be interesting to see how well people take to another entry in this series, and to one with a different theme than the ever-popular “shoot aliens” motif. And of course, will this make money? Time will tell. I imagine this one will be available worldwide soon enough, but it’s difficult to tell sometimes with soft-launched games. Some take months despite feeling ready, others feel half-baked but are soon available everywhere.
Retry, the latest game from the Angry Birds moguls at Rovio, apparently comes from the publisher’s new educational gaming branch. But if that’s the case, the only thing this game teaches is that life is nothing but unending punishment. Prepare for high-flying death over and over again in the latest edition of It Came From Canada!
Retry takes the brutally difficult flight controls of the infamous Flappy Bird but has players navigating finite, designed levels instead of endless rows of pipes. Pressing the screen boosts the player’s plane forward and also aims it up slightly. Meanwhile, letting go causes the plane to fall. With limited control over their speed and trajectory, players have to rely on careful yet confident taps to make it through these death traps. One brush against the environment, aside from water or wind currents, equals instant death. Sometimes the only way forward is a well-timed and skillfully executed loop-de-loop. The name Retry itself refers to how often players will be restarting the game. They’re even forced to look at the ghosts of their past selves, crashed against the walls, as their trial-and-error toils on.
There are a few oases in their desert however. Each level has a handful of permanent checkpoints, but in a devastating twist, they can only be activated if the player has a coin. Most sections between checkpoints have a coin somewhere in them, but they are usually in tough to reach spots – making the game even harder. If players can’t manage that, which is truly understandable, they can also just pay for coins. They can even earn them outside of gameplay by completing easy achievements like crashing a bunch. Overall, the checkpoint system is an intriguing compromise between being fair to the player while still honoring the game’s core commitment to hair-pulling challenge levels.
Sadism isn’t the only thing Retry shares with Flappy Bird. Both games use a chunky, pastel, pixelated art style and peppy music that belie their dark hearts and cruel, true natures. Retry has four worlds with various visual themes like “summer” and “the future.” Expect to see the same skies often though, because while the game has a decent amount of different levels, its difficulty and frequent restarts inevitably lead to repetition. Fortunately, that also means it will be a long time before players experience all the game has to offer.
Retry is currently in a soft launch phase, but once Rovio finishes toying with the Canadians, expect them to unleash their torture on the rest of the world soon enough. With the amount of effort this takes, it’s probably easier to just learn how to fly a real plane.
Wargaming has one of the biggest games on the planet right now, and it’s one you might not have played: World of Tanks. This free-to-play tank warfare game has had over a million concurrent players on PC, and it’s starting extend its tendrils out beyond the PC to include mobile. World of Tanks: Blitz takes the formula of putting tank-driving players on to the battlefield, with the objective of capturing points or wiping out the other team, in small maps with fast-paced gameplay. The game is in a soft-launch phase in Europe, including Denmark. So, I whipped up some frikadeller and rugbrød for this It Came From Canada: Denmark Edition!
Blitz is an apt subtitle for this, since it puts players into the game pretty much immediately. Once players register with either Game Center or a Wargaming.net account, the tutorial starts. This lets players get an idea of the movement, aiming, and firing controls, before players are set off into their first real battles.
The tutorial actually does a great job at briskly setting up the game and showing how the mechanics work: a single joystick controls movement, with buttons for turning in place and arrows around the tank indicating where it will move to.
Though players do start off playing in real battles, this doesn’t mean that the learning is over. As players progress, the game introduces ammo buying, tank upgrading, and more. It just does so in a way that is spread out over time, and doesn’t overwhelm players with information all at once. Importantly, it lets players actually play and learn for themselves.
Even playing with non-US players via both wi-fi and LTE the game has performed exceptionally well, with latency having little effect. While the game does manage to put players into games with more experienced and better-equipped opponents, I didn’t feel helpless. The game does require some intelligence built-in since there’s not really any voice chatting, and with such a diverse international audience playing, having just a text chat option might be better anyway.
There’s no actual energy mechanic, but tanks can’t be used until a battle ends – though players do have multiple tanks. Credits (the soft currency) can be spent on more ammunition, and gold (the hard currency) can be spent to buy different kinds of ammunition, additional tank slots, and more along with premium accounts, which grant more experience and credits for certain amounts of time. How well this model works on mobile as far as money-making remains to be seen. There are at least enough credits handed out to keep ammo supplied, but just how ‘free’ this game will be remains to be seen. As well, will the more casual market be willing to jump into such a gamer’s game, even if it’s fast-paced? These are interesting questions I’m curious to see the answers to when the game is eventually released worldwide.
Harmonix, creators of the Rock Band series, have soft-launched Record Run on to the Canadian App Store. You will likely not be surprised to learn that it’s a rhythm-based game, but in a mobile-friendly endless runner format. So, I put on my athletic boogie shoes for this edition of It Came From Canada!
The gist of the game is to dodge obstacles and make it to the end of each level, but that’s oversimplifying things. See, each obstacle is meant to be dodged in time, with more points scored and more of a multiplier boost for timing the jumps, slides, and sideways movements properly. Of course everything is set to music, and players can import their own music to listen to while they play, with the game’s levels synchronized to the music. This does tend to work better with tracks that have a consistent tempo to them: the Animals as Leaders tracks I tried didn’t work so well, but electronic tracks worked a lot better.
Essentially, much like Rock Band, Record Run becomes about maintaining success in order to get high scores and the elusive five-star rating. In particular, continued success is necessary: getting and maintaining high multipliers is key. And they can get really high, I’ve seen as high as 10x, so repetition becomes important. Figuring out when to make swipes is harder once the 3x multiplier is reached, because that’s when the world shifts to its extremely-colorful mode – where the main character transforms into a creature of some sort (the first one available transforms into a flaming skeleton), and the world dances to the music. But most importantly, the indicators for when to swipe go away, and players are on their own as for when they have to.
Record Run is monetized through the standard two-tier currency, with records being used for upgrades, and backstage passes as the hard currency used for unlocking additional song slots and additional characters. It will be interesting to see how well the game monetizes: when I spoke with Harmonix at GDC, they gave off the attitude that they were just jumping in feet-first with this sort of free-to-play game, so balancing everything could take some time. I expect some sort of daily challenge incentive to be added as well, along with perhaps an energy system – the game is fairly simple and would be most rewarding perhaps through a system that conditions the game to be played in short bursts. So, before it launches worldwide, it could have a long way to go, and could still change a lot.
Blizzard’s free-to-play online collectible card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, left beta not long ago. Now its mobile days begin, as they have soft-launched their online card-battling game in Canada ahead of its global launch. So I grabbed my deck and chatted up some pandaren for this edition of It Came From Canada!
The core gameplay of Hearthstone has players using an increasing supply of mana to play cards they’ve drawn: most are creatures that can be put into the arena, and only played on the next turn, though some have instant effects such as attacking immediately. Players also have hero attacks that cost mana but can be used to attack the other player or their creatures, with the ultimate goal being to take the opponent’s hero down to zero health. Players can battle online with others via Battle.net, take on computer opponents in Practice Mode, and spend their winnings (or currency purchased via in-app purchases) on cards to outfit their deck. It’s fast-paced, but easy to get into.
The game is simple enough that anyone can get into it after the first six tutorial missions, which cover the gamut of battling. Of course, this is where the game shows its origins as a non-mobile title: the tutorials take about 20 minutes or so to get through them before players can even battle online. In a mobile-first world this would likely be a lot shorter, but the slow pace does a great job at getting players to know how to play the game.
After the tutorial is finished players must register for a Battle.net account in order to play online, with this account usable cross-platform. Deck creation isn’t explicitly covered, but it’s possible to just go out with a default deck. Custom decks can be created as well, and there’s a handy guided tutorial for creating a well-balanced deck, where the game recommends three cards of a kind – so players can choose and understand how to build a deck, versus the game just automatically making one.
Once into the online battles, the process is similar to the tutorial missions, except slower. Some players online can be slow to decide their moves, though there’s only so much time that a player has before the game passes it along. Note that unlike mobile-designed titles like Ascension, players must stay in the battle; there’s no jumping to other games.
And really, that will be the interesting thing to see as Hearthstone nears its global release. This is a game that isn’t necessarily unfriendly to mobile, but many of the patterns that have defined mobile card battlers are clearly defied here. And the longer pacing could lead to more drop-outs during matches, which would not be ideal for the PC userbase. But still, this is Hearthstone on an iPad and that should excite many people.
One of the problems with the trend of free-to-play games lately is that many games have been merely facsimiles of great ideas. RPG battling without any actual control over the combat. Build an empire and attack other empires, but without much control of attacking or defending. PlunderNauts does not have this problem: it’s a game about being a space pirate where players actually have a lot of control over the space piracy! Backflip Studios currently is testing the game in Canada, so I put on my pirate hat and sailed to the great northern seas for this edition of It Came From Canada!
Players hop from planet to planet, trying to become the galaxy’s top space pirate by defeating other pirates and plundering their planets for gold and antimatter – the soft and hard currencies, respectively. Antimatter can advance wait timers, refill energy, and buy new starships.
However, the bulk of the actual gameplay is real-time spaceship battling. Players tap and drag to move their spaceship around, which is equipped with multiple turrets. When enemies get in range of the turret, players can select them and attack, with turrets having varying restart times depending on their stats. Players and enemies can summon fighters that not only can attack, but also serve as distractions as the turrets must focus on them instead of the enemy. However, players can only summon their fleets of fighters once per match: other abilities that can be equipped to provide in-game boosts can be used multiple times as they recharge. Combat is a game of positioning: getting out of the way of enemy turrets yet keeping them in range for one’s own turrets is key, and early on the ships are often close, doing their awkward dance with each other.
While antimatter can be earned through completing planets, it feels like many of the battleships will require spending money in order to unlock them; especially as it’s difficult to earn antimatter through grinding like you do for gold. There is an energy system, with 5 bars that refill at 20 minutes per bar. This is kind of a shame as while it does make it so that players are compelled to come back, it doesn’t feel particularly necessary – because, hey, buying items to get better does require grinding. As well, the amount of energy players are given is rather small; I’d prefer longer play sessions even with longer recharge times. But of course, as a soft launched game, this could change at any point.
Still, PlunderNauts has a lot intriguing ideas to it that will be interesting to see as it gets balanced and fully-formed for its final release.
After their smash debut, the Angry Birds have gone from physics-based puzzle games to space adventures to kart racers. Angry Birds Epic, the newest entry in the series currently in a soft launch phase, continues the franchise’s evolution into the Mario of mobile by casting the birds as heroes in a turn-based roleplaying game. We grind through this ambitious spin-off for the latest edition of It Came From Canada!
When the dastardly Prince Porky and the rest of his pig army steal innocent eggs, it’s up to a brave band of birds to stop him. Starting out with a lone red warrior bird, the player’s party soon sees new recruits like a yellow wizard and white healer. There’s no real overworld to explore in Angry Birds Epic. Instead, the party travels from battle to battle on a linear map, occasionally coming across treasure chests or resource deposits. The fights themselves play out like simplified, turn-based, JRPG battles in the vein of Paper Mario or the more recent South Park: The Stick of Truth, albeit without the cursing or focus on timed button presses.
The battles do have some depth, however. Using an intuitive touch system, each bird can either attack an enemy or use its special sub-skill. For example, the wizard’s lightning strike attack hits several foes at once. But it can also choose to create a lightning shield around itself or an ally that damages incoming foes. As the birds levels up, some skills can even be applied to the whole party.
Complimenting these strategies are the surprisingly complex skills of the enemy pigs. Some stronger pigs charge up attacks over time like meteor showers or taunts that cause all foes to target a specific vulnerable bird. Other enemies have more passive abilities like Prince Porky’s resistance to attacks above a certain damage level. When the red chili pepper at the bottom of the screen fills up, players can unleash a devastating special attack. However, it may be useless against bosses like Prince Porky or other shielded enemies so players still have to play smart.
These bite-sized battles make up the vast majority of the Angry Birds Epic experience, but there are a few things to do outside of combat. Players can forge stronger weapons, brew potions, and scrounge around for more loot. Aside from tackling the main campaign, players can also participate in daily dungeons and lottery spins for the chance to earn even more prizes. Partaking in these side activities strengthens the team and makes the story quest easier, but the fair yet steep difficulty curve definitely still feels designed to push players towards spending more money.
It’s hard to be too mad at the game though, because the world of Angry Birds Epic is so pleasing to take in. The colors are vibrant, the animation is exquisite, the music is joyfully rambunctious, and the whole presentation is so charming players will be reminded why so many people got hooked on this franchise to begin with. Like all things Angry Birds at this point, expect Angry Birds Epic to soar once it fully launches.
These days it’s super easy to be immediately cynical about freemium games on the App Store. Just the mere mention of energy systems or recharge times can cause players to roll their eyes. Considering Dwarven Den, the new game from Backflip Studios currently in a soft launch phase, is based entirely on these mechanics some might dismiss it out of principle. But the more open-minded will discover a shockingly fair dungeon exploration adventure. Get ready to dive deep in this edition of It Came From Canada!
In Dwarven Den players control a dwarf spelunker making his way through a series of caves. Each cave has a different objective, like find the lost dwarf or mine all of the gold, but efficient exploration is what everything ultimately comes down to. Pathways are blocked off by various types of rocks, and mining through them depletes the player’s energy. Run out of energy and either pay up or quit and wait for the dwarf to recharge. However, each cave is also littered with red gems that restore energy when mined. The tension comes from trying to make progress while keeping energy reserves high.
It would have been so easy for Dwarven Den to keep energy gems artificially scarce to encourage customers to pay. Fortunately, players can get through much of the game with intelligent play alone. By raiding treasure chests for loot, players can forge stronger weapons and armor. Rocks become easier to mine and sometimes even give back energy. By mining blue gems, players can also use a variety of Zelda-style tools like fog-clearing torches and rock-clearing bombs. Bombs are especially effective against energy-draining spider foes.
Using all of these tools in Dwarven Den‘s surprisingly non-linear dungeons makes for a satisfyingly cerebral experience. Each dungeon is basically a big environmental puzzle to solve, and there’s always more than one right answer. It’s not Dark Souls, but the combination of tense challenge and freedom for creative player experimentation works in a similar way. It avoids becoming the tedious loop of repeating an action, waiting, repeating the same action, and waiting again that it could have easily devolved into.
Things can get a little stressful, but that’s offset by Dwarven Dungeon‘s bright, chubby characters and cheery voice samples. The 3D visuals move smooth and fast. Meanwhile, each new item equipped shows up on the player character as a nice touch of customization.
There is the nagging fear though that Dwarven Den‘s freemium elements are so non-aggressive they might be too good to be true. Since the game is still in a soft launch phase, there’s still time for it to decide how money-hungry it wants to be. As it is now though, Dwarven Den rightly chooses to be a great game first and a cash magnet at a distant second.
Are the fine people at Halfbrick rather angry? Their last game, Colossatron, was about destroying humanity as a giant serpentine robot. Bears vs. Art can’t escalate on that concept, but it does try to go for something a bit higher-class: namely, destroying art as a rolling bear. The game’s currently in its soft launch phase, so I put on my monocle for this edition of It Came From Canada!
Players control a bear who hates art because museums wrecked his home, so he goes to various museums and wrecks up their paintings – and occasionally the snooty patrons there. Makes plenty of sense. This bear prefers to get around by rolling in the cardinal and ordinal directions, perhaps because he’s a big fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, and he can only roll in a straight line. There are also a number of parameters dictating just how many times the bear can roll in a level, or how much time there is to complete it. Okay, now we have stepped deep into video game logic.
Most levels just feature the bear and the paintings on the wall to destroy, but patrons are a frequent occurence. The patrons behave chaotically, though with certain rules: they always move if the bear gets near them. Thus, this requires an intelligent approach to taking them down; though if time and moves are a factor, this can be rather difficult. This is a system I’d be kind of wary of since it seems like it could be a real energy-drainer, but Halfbrick’s a reputable enough company that I would trust to not use this kind of system against players.
So, the levels become about figuring out the proper sequence to solve the various puzzles. Some paintings require rolling from a specific spot. Being able to roll diagonally really opens up the puzzle design. The introduction of timed levels, and ones where players must try to take out patrons and thieves (or even avoid them!), add even more variety, especially as levels start to blend each type together.
This game gets a lot of clever details right. For one, it’s legitimately pretty funny – from its rhyming storybook intro, to all the bear-themed art that can be destroyed. There are some art history students who made this game – perhaps disgruntled ones – because of all the parodies of real paintings and pretentiously-named modern art pieces that can be destroyed. Oh, and the destruction occurs by the player slicing up the paintings in a Fruit Ninja-esque way. The dialogue before some levels from the snooty patrons is often quite humorous and at one point self-aware that these museums were built without doors for some reason.
The game is ruled by an energy system, though energy gets refunded for completing a level successfully. There are coins to be earned and costumes with different effects to buy with them, along with extra turns and rage mode. There are permanent turn and time additions, but they come at rather expensive costs: $14.99 each as of the soft launch. The energy bar is lengthy, but later levels start to use more than one unit of energy and it refills very, very slowly. Like “16 hours of waiting didn’t refill it all the way” slow.
Of course, since it’s a soft launch these could all change as time goes on, and it’s quite possible they will. Free-to-play requires some exploration to see what works, and this game feels like it could be enjoyed long-term for free, so paying customers may need to shell out more for the game to be financially viable. Still, time will tell how players will take to it.