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Let's Talk About Ember, from N-Fusion Interactive

Posted by Rob Rich on October 14th, 2014

I’d like to think that we’re all familiar with N-Fusion Interactive, but for those of you who aren’t, I imagine you’ve at least heard of some of the games they've been involved with: Space Noir, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, and Deus Ex: The Fall to name a few. The studio has done some pretty impressive work on iOS over the years, and now they’re getting ready to release the RPG they’ve always wanted to make.

The world of Ember seems like a fascinating one. The game is titles after the world's most valuable natural resource, which is used for all sorts of things from providing energy to a city to being set in jewelry. What’s more, it has intelligence. The larger the chunk of Ember, the smarter it is, to the point that you might find yourself squaring off against some rather (understandably) hostile giant crystals.

Ember also plays into your story, not just the over-arching story of the world. Throughout the game you’ll acquire Ember shards, which you can then decide to sell off for a tidy profit or set free - much like freeing or harvesting a Little Sister when you stop and think about it. Creepy.

Ember can best be compared to PC classics like Ultima and Baldur’s Gate. It uses a top-down isometric perspective, sure, but the similarities go a bit further than that. The world is also incredibly large, and will never need to load when traveling from one area to another. It has day/night cycles, weather, multiple homes to own, NPCs have their own schedules and behaviors that they keep to, and even the animals interact with each other (i.e. cats chase mice, wolves hunt deer, etc) on their own.

Items are also liberally sprinkled throughout the world (think just about anything Elder Scrolls) and all of them can be picked up. Or dropped, of course. There’s also a crafting system, so you’ll be able to turn ore you’ve mined into a new weapon or mix potions using materials gathered from the woods. And yes, there are readable books.

Combat is in real time, but you can pause the action at any point while you plan your tactics and activate skills. And speaking of skills, they’re tied to your equipment as opposed to being in some sort of tree. The reasoning behind this is simple: to prevent players from getting “stuck” playing a class they decide they don’t like. If you’re 12 hours in (the game touts 30 hours of gameplay, 180 quests, innumerable sidequests, etc) and decide focusing on melee combat isn’t doing it for you, it’ll be easy to start playing around with fireballs and lighting bolts instead. And of course when you put on new gear and equip new weapons they’ll all show up on your character.

There’s no official release date for Ember yet, but it’s coming along nicely and looks to be close to completion based on the build I was shown. Pricing is also still up in the air, but it’s definitely going to be a premium title - no ads, timers, etc. At the moment it’s being designed for the iPad, but I’ve been told there’s a chance we may see a separate iPhone version as well. Either way I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

It Came From Canada - New Zealand Edition: Run, Sackboy, Run!

Posted by Jordan Minor on October 6th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

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.

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It Came From Canada - New Zealand Edition: Assassin's Creed - Identity

Posted by Jordan Minor on October 6th, 2014

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.

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It Came From Canada: Angry Birds: Transformers

Posted by Jordan Minor on September 30th, 2014

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.

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It Came From Canada: Overkill 3

Posted by Jordan Minor on September 18th, 2014

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.

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Zynga Unveils First Look at Looney Tunes Dash!

Posted by Ellis Spice on September 16th, 2014

Be vewy, vewy qwiet. I'm hunting wunners featuwing wabbits, and luckily, it's duck season wunner season. Zynga has unveiled Looney Tunes Dash!: a runner featuring Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Road Runner, and more.

Following on from fan feedback, the developers have aimed to give players a game that has a sense of progression - meaning that, unlike many runners, levels do have a completion point. By completing levels, players can unlock new characters and landscapes iconic to fans of the animation classics.

Looney Tunes Dash! is set to release in select countries (and Tazmania?) this week in Acme's Apple's App Store. For those asking "What's up Doc?", more details are set to be announced in the coming months. Hopefully in the form of a note attached to a falling anvil.

Th-th-th-that's all folks!

Hands-On with Skylanders Trap Team - Coming to the iPad This Fall

Posted by Rob Rich on August 12th, 2014

Skylanders has always been a bit polarizing among gamers. Some see it as a glorified (and expensive) kids’ toy. Others see it as a somewhat ingenious combination of toys and video games. It’s a bit less of a toss-up with kids, though - kids adore it. And they’re undoubtedly excited about Skylanders Trap Team.

The Skylanders series has been brought to iOS before, but Trap Team is a first. It isn’t just a port that’s been cut back to fit or a completely different sort of game that uses the license: it’s Skylanders Trap Team. You can swap between characters by switching out figures (including all the characters from previous console-only versions), capture enemies in special Trap Crystals, and otherwise do all that Skylanders-y stuff you’d expect. It’s the same game console players will be experiencing, only on a presumably smaller screen. The touch controls work quite well too, although they aren’t entirely necessary (I’ll explain in a minute).

The portal that’s included with the mobile Trap Team starter set is quite nifty. It uses bluetooth to connect to tablets wirelessly, has a simple but brilliant little notch in the side so that you can prop up your tablet (just about any tablet, no less) while you play, and comes with its own bluetooth controller that easily tucks into the bottom of the portal. Perhaps the most impressive thing about all this is that it’s incredibly easy to pair the portal and the controller with your device. If you’d rather not use the included controller, Trap Team also supports third-party mobile controllers. Or, if you find yourself with a surplus, you can also pair two different controllers and play co-op.

“It just works” has been the mantra for Vicarious Visions as they worked on the hardware for the mobile version, and it’s something they’ve pulled-off extremely well. So long as you have bluetooth enabled on your tablet all you’ll have to do is press and hold a button on the portal and/or controller and they’ll simply connect. Disconnecting them is just as easy of course, and if the controller becomes disconnected at any point during play (either on purpose or because it’s run out of batteries or something) the touch controls will pop up and you can keep playing. And if, for whatever reason, you either don’t have the portal or don’t have access to one you’re still covered. When Trap Team isn’t connected to a portal it’s still possible to play through the game using two special digital-only characters (each with their own levels, stats, and abilities).

Skylanders Trap Team will be available in the App Store as a free download on October 5 for the iPad 3 and 4, iPad Mini Retina, and iPad Air. The Starter Pack (includes the portal, bluetooth controller, unlock for the full game, and two figures) will be available on the same date for $74.99.

New Trailer from Loqheart Previews Wizards of Prestige

Posted by Ellis Spice on August 6th, 2014

Loqheart has unveiled a preview trailer for their upcoming free-to-play wizard academy management game (i.e. Hogwarts simulator), Wizards of Prestige. Your academy is the final hope against the forces of evil, so it's up to you as Headmaster to ensure that your students train up, master their skills, and graduate to fight against the evil. Along the way they may even fall in love or find themselves having a fight in class.

It's also up to you to pick the correct wizards and control them in real-time battles, with good timing and strategy critical to ensuring your wizards get the chance to heal up and fight again another time.

No release date has been announced for Wizards of Prestige as of yet, but you can sign up for the browser pre-alpha now.

Hands-On With Melissa K and the Heart of Gold

Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 28th, 2014

Set for release later this summer is Melissa K and the Heart of Gold, a casual adventure game that's hoping to be a cut above the rest. I was lucky enough to check out a preview build of it to see just what we should expect.

The team behind Melissa K and the Heart of Gold initially worked on mystery game, LA Noire, being responsible for the real-time animation system within it - and it shows. Melissa K and the Heart of Gold is immediately more attractive than many other adventure games of this type. It's the little things that shine through, such as how a small twitch of the iPad in any direction causes the game's screen to move a little, adding a nice sense of fluidity to things.

Such pleasantries continue, ensuring that Melissa K and the Heart of Gold feels a more interactive experience than the usual titles in the genre. Objects can be manipulated by twisting them around, treating them like real 3D objects, and it works well.

Of course, the real meat for such games comes from its puzzles. Melissa K and the Heart of Gold offers plenty of hidden object scenes, but also a number of puzzles. In my short time with it I wasn't overly challenged, but I was interested. The puzzles are clearly laid out and interesting enough. They're reasonably different too, such as one requiring you to move a flower from one side of the screen to the other, without knocking the other items down. Figuring out how to unclasp a gem from a dragon statue was also a highlight, requiring more tactile controls than most.

Melissa K and the Heart of Gold should be out later this summer. It's shaping up to be something that casual adventure gaming fans like myself should be anticipating. We'll have more on it when it's released.

Overkill 3 Head(shot)s to iOS Soon - Check Out the New Launch Trailer While You Wait

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 10th, 2014

We hope you're all ready for a firefight, because the Overkill franchise is coming back for a third dose of action this summer. Craneball Studios' new teaser trailer for the upcoming Overkill 3 features more of the futuristic shooting that fans have come to expect from the series, only this time in third-person.

Though details are scant as of yet, you can definitely spot appearances from drones, gun emplacements, and the remnants of toppling skyscrapers in the footage. So essentially it looks like business as usual, right? 

Start stockpiling your ammo now, because this is the kind of conflict that players won't want to miss.

Chuck E. Cheese's Skate Universe Skates its Way Onto the App Store

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 7th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Everyone's favorite pizza peddling rodent has managed to sneak out of the midway and invade an iOS device near you. In Chuck E. Cheese's Skate Universe, the mousy mascot takes a Temple Run-esque skateboard ride while dodging, jumping, and ollie-ing his way to safety.

This free title not only acts as an advertisement for the popular food chain, but also allows players to rack up as many as 1,000 tickets in-game that can be redeemed toward actual midway prizes! Cue children pleading their parents to make a pizza run in 3... 2... 1...

Chuck E. Cheese's Skate Universe is available for free as a universal app right now.

DeNA Brings the Pain With Super Battle Tactics

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 7th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Years after the Advanced War series successfully melded the world of heavy artillery combat with mobile gaming, DeNA is taking their own whack at the turn-based strategy genre. In their newly debuted game, Super Battle Tactics, players get to build up an impressive armory of tanks and then face off against the competition.

This free-to-play experience revolves around upgrading and purchasing new vehicles, while also performing well strategically in the arena of combat. Successful performances help to attract sponsors, which in-turn brings in the revenue necessary to build out an amazing arsenal. Mix in some social networking features just for good measure, and this may be a recipe for mayhem inducing success.

Super Battle Tactics is now available for free in the iOS App Store as a universal app.

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer will NOT Lose Online Multiplayer, but Receive a New Expansion Soon

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 1st, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: COLLECT THIS :: Read Review »

Three years to the day, after it initially launched on the App Store, it was announced that the Editor's Choice award winning Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer will be getting a brand new in-app expansion pack. As part of an extended partnership between Ascension creators Stone Blade Entertainment and publisher Playdek, the expansion Rise of Vigil is set to debut on iOS this summer.

As part of this agreement Playdek is committed to maintaining the current online infrastructure (no fretting over the possible loss of multiplayer anymore, yay!), including cross-platform multiplayer functionality. But wait, isn't Ascension currently iOS-exclusive, you say? Well our friends over at AndroidRundown have plenty to be excited about too, because shortly after the new expansion lands on the App Store, the title will be launching on both PC and Android for the first time.

For now though, you can brush up on your deck building skills by downloading Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer for free on the App Store.

Jump Streamlines Charging for Mobile and Home

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 1st, 2014

There is nothing more irritating than when your phone runs out of juice. It is even worse when this happens while on the road. But what if there were a way to constantly have juice on-hand, without needing a handful of different charging devices? The over 6,000 people who Kickstarted the new product, Jump, have felt your pain and have the perfect solution.

Available for a mere $49.99 from BiteMyApple.co, the Jump is a hybrid battery pack/charger for iPhone 5/5S/5C that can either provide a pass-through charge from an electrical source or 3 hours of talk time from the on-board 800 mAh battery. This intelligent charger even waits until the iDevice's battery is full before charging the booster.

Best of all, the product still performs perfectly as a sync cable as well. Move quick, because with impressive features like these, the Jump isn't going to stay in stock for long.

Turn Screenshots into a Shopping List with SnapUp

Posted by Blake Grundman on July 1st, 2014
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

Nowadays mobile shopping is becoming the norm. The problem is that there are too few websites that put a premium on a fantastic shopping experience on the phone. That is where the new app SnapUp comes into play.

Designed as the perfect way to quickly compile a list of products, SnapUp melds an iOS device's screenshot functionality with a streamlined shopping interface. Users can even share and monitor products, all from the comfort of their iOS device.

Oh, and did we mention that SnapUp also has the ability to provide real-time price drop push notifications on "snapped" products? No wonder it was able to secure $600,000 in venture capital funding before the software even launched!

SnapUp is available now on the App Store for free.