Posts Tagged soft launch

It Came From Canada: Epic Skater

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.

epic skater 1As 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.

epic skater 2Between 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.

It Came From Canada: Bio Inc.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

BubbleWitchSaga2_ICFC-3There 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.

BubbleWitchSaga2_ICFC-11There’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!

ForgeOfEmpires-11The 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.

ForgeOfEmpires-05While 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.

SMB_Bounce_ICFC-04SMB_Bounce_ICFC-09How 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.


It Came From Canada: Godus

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.

godus 1The 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.

godus 2That 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.

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.

globber's escape 1globber's escape 2Instead 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.

globber's escape 3globber's escape 4However, 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.

OverkillMafia-ICFC-06The 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.

OverkillMafia-ICFC-04Guns 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.


It Came From Canada: Retry

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.

retry 1There 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.

retry 5Sadism 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.

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.

RecordRun-2Essentially, 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.

RecordRun-3Record 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.


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.

PlunderNautsICFC-04However, 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.

PlunderNautsICFC-08While 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.

ab epic 7Complimenting 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.

ab epic 3It’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.

It Came From Canada: Dwarven Den

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!

dd 6In 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.

dd 7Things 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!

BearsVsArt-ICFC-7BearsVsArt-ICFC-4Players 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.

BearsVsArt-ICFC-12BearsVsArt-ICFC-9This 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.


It might sound crazy to say, but Farmville is one of the most influential games of this millennium, being perhaps the popular spark for the simulation genre that has become wildly popular through the rise of Facebook gaming and on mobile. There’s probably no Clash of Clans without Farmville. While Zynga has seen better days, Farmville 2: Country Escape is still a big deal because it’s one of the few free-to-play games with history and a sort of gravitas. Well, as much gravitas as a free-to-play game about farming can have. Right now, Zynga’s soft-launched the game in Canada and we’ve gotten our straw hat and overalls on to lead a more rustic lifestyle on our non-rustic technology in this edition of It Came From Canada.

The game essentially follows a simple pattern: water crops and feed animals to get basic resources. Combine these resources into more complex resources and even specific products, and then sell them for gold and experience points in order to buy and unlock new crops and buildings, ultimately expanding one’s farm through buying new plots of land. Repeat until satisfied. It’s a classic formula, and one that Farmville 2 tries to set up early on with teases of online elements like selling to other players. Ultimately, it doesn’t really rock the boat too much.

Farmville2-ICFC-7Interestingly, FarmVille 2 gives players a lot of keys (the game’s hard currency), at least to start out with: a total of 90. Of course the game tries to get players to use them in a variety of fashions in small increments when starting out. Skip a pesky wait timer with a key? Well sure, why not, I have plenty of them! Be able to produce twice as much flour by paying five keys to unlock that option? Sure! It’s easy to see those keys running out at some point.

Farmville2-ICFC-2That should be one of the interesting things to keep an eye on as the game nears its worldwide release: the keys could definitely be tweaked to give out more or fewer when starting and while playing – leveling up and buying new plots of land gives out more keys, for example. Another unanswered question is just how this game will fare in a world where simulation games have grown up to become Clash of Clans and its similar ilk: will people be willing to jump back in to Zynga’s familiar rustic experience? We’ll find out soon enough.

Codemasters is the developer of numerous Formula 1 games, but what they’re looking to put out on mobile with F1 Race Stars is something of an entirely different beast. Currently soft-launched in Singapore, even it couldn’t escape the clutches of 148Apps’ global reach. This is It Came From Canada: Singapore Edition!

F1 games are usually known for being intense simulations, but if F1 Race Stars is real, I need to pay more attention to F1. In reality, this is a kart racer, one very similar to the recent Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed in style and in gameplay: there’s of course power-ups to use for boosts and taking out other racers, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on drifting to develop a turbo meter. Maintain drifts for a long amount of time and longer boosts can be had. Catching airtime will also increase the drift meter. Each game has a very similar heart.

F1RaceStars-3While Danica Patrick in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed was a very strange addition, having this be an F1 game means that actual racers, none of whom I have any knowledge of because I’m an American and we prefer stock cars to drift leftward, are playable. Each driver has their own Sessions energy bar that depletes with each race, so like Angry Birds Go, switching racers can be used to extend play sessions.

As I use an HDMI output device to capture game footage, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the game is TV-ready: it supports widescreen output on TVs, and the game’s controls are built to not require looking at the screen in order to play. TV support is something of a lost feature, and I’m interested to see it added in here. There’s real-time multiplayer available as well, but just as a local mode, not online.

F1RaceStars-10While there’s the standard two-tier currency system – with coins used to buy boosts, and gems for more permanent features like perks and new driver unlocks – there’s one particular way that coins are used that is interesting. See, there are coin gates while racing that grant power-ups right away. These naturally grant an advantage that costs currency, but it’s also possible to accidentally trigger them. Then again, boosts are what the coins are there for. Still, seeing this as a potentially-accidental feature is odd.

F1 Race Stars feels very polished, like it’s just undergoing monetization testing to see if the business model is working, along with the last checks before they’re ready to race around the world. Whether this kart racer can stand out among the others out there will be seen when it rolls out worldwide.


Remember how Square Enix released a port of the original Tomb Raider last week and didn’t bother to tell anyone about it? Well they’ve done it again. This time it’s Lara Croft: Reflections that’s been sneaking around the NZ App Store with little to no attention.

However, Reflections is a fairly big departure for Ms. Croft so they probably wanted to test the waters first. Rather than a 3D adventure game, it’s a free-to-play card battler that lets players collect and evolve weapons, complete quests, take on bosses, yoink artifacts from other players, and otherwise duke it out with cards. The game has been soft-launched (not my favorite trend but whatever) in the New Zealand App Store and is available now for the curious. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait until the testing is over and it officially releases in the States sometime during the first quarter of 2014.

reflections

source: The App Store

It Came From Canada: Trials Frontier

For years, Ubisoft and RedLynx have taunted mobile gamers with physics-based racers that have been sorta similar to the acclaimed Trials series on console and PC, but not quite the same. But now there’s a mobile Trials game in Trials Frontier. Designed as a free-to-play game, it’s currently undergoing a soft launch in Canada. So I strapped on my helmet, revved up my motorbike’s engine, and prepared to defy death for this edition of It Came From Canada!

Trials Frontier does not dawdle. Tired of games that keep away from the action for too long? So is this game. Trials Frontier gets players going right from the initial launch, eschewing even a title screen, as it sends players through a few levels and introduces the story’s antagonist, Butch, that players (as the anonymous Rider) must race against because Butch is a huge jerk. Like, he almost kills the Rider in a rock cave-in. That’s good enough motivation to help the people of the dusty village, as they too have been terrorized by Butch. Help them by riding a motorbike through various levels, completing different objectives like performing a certain number of backflips to impress a fan, and earn rewards to upgrade and buy new bikes.

TrialsFrontier-8Yes, there is a two-tiered currency here: coins earned for doing well and performing stunts, which can be used to buy bikes, and gems, which can be bought or earned and are used to skip upgrade wait timers and buy certain upgrade items without getting them as a reward for completing levels. Discovery of new levels is mission-based, though any level can be repeated at any point.

There is an energy mechanic, but it largely regulates the initial playing of levels, not restarting them while in the level. So yes, restart to your heart’s content, even complete a level. On the final screen where it shows the postcard with the final time and crashes, just hit the restart button again. This isn’t necessarily a way to grind for coins while cheating the energy system, but it is a way to repeat levels to get better times and better medals without having to use energy, necessarily. It’s easy to be critical of energy systems, but this seems to be an implementation that doesn’t get too much in the way of actually playing the game. As well, gems can be earned through in-game actions and as end of race rewards, so a relative free-to-play fairness, without impeding the core game too much, seems to be the order of the day here.

TrialsFrontier-3With this game soft-launching so close to Christmas, I almost wonder if this is an emergency test of the monetization just to make sure that everything is hunky-dory before a likely launch before the holiday iTunes freeze. So for non-Canadians and non-“Canadians”, this one might be in the hands of the general public sooner than later.

EA Mobile has decided to revive the famous Bullfrog Dungeon Keeper intellectual property for a new free-to-play mobile game. It’s currently testing in Canada, so we hopped on a moose to bring you another episode of It Came From Canada with hands-on video below!

DungeonKeeperCan-6Dungeon Keeper is a two-fold game: one, there’s the dungeon keeping. This involves getting imps to mine for materials and build traps to help keep out invaders. Imps can help expand the dungeon, though certain spots take more time to open up. Of course, these waits can be skipped with gems. The other half of the game is raising units to go in and raid other dungeons, trying to survive the traps that the opposing Keeper has laid down in order to get their stuff. It’s a raid or get raided world.

Thus, in this modern incarnation, the game plays somewhat like a tower defense title: setting up a tricky dungeon with enough traps to keep invaders from getting much in the way of material is important, but so is amassing that army of creatures to go and get more gold and materials from opponents. There’s both campaign missions versus computerized opponents, and more interestingly, dungeons of other players to go raid.

DungeonKeeperCan-7The game does have a sense of humor to it, even to the free-to-play aspects: the demon guiding players jokes about how gems may be controversial. At least it’s somewhat self-aware for a game that would require a $99.99 in-app purchase to pay for three months of the game’s premium service. Of course, that could change before the game’s international launch. There’s also stat boosts and raid protections available to buy to help make surviving this tricky dungeon world a bit easier.

The game seems to be in a fairly polished state at the moment, and EA’s soft launches usually last less than a month, so there’s a good chance that you’ll have a fairly well-formed dungeon by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. Can’t wait till the international launch? Check out our hands-on video below.


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