iPhone Game Review Agglomeration Pt. 1

It’s been a while since I did a post about iPhone games I’ve played, so I figured I’d re-up that tradition. These are more notes than reviews, but you know the drill. As you will notice, I have a lot more likes than dislikes compared to the previous review post. Either the quality on the App Store is getting better or the quantity is so massive that I can find the games that fit my niche much easier.

Baseball Superstars 2009 by Gamevil

I talked about Baseball Superstars in this post fairly extensively. Nothing has changed. The game is still an incredible value and pretty much the best thing out there if you are looking for portable ball. It was clearly made as a mobile game and the gameplay reflects that as it requires very binary (press/no-press) controls. The computer can be set to take over the controls that require a bit more precision like fielding.

Zenonia by Gamevil

I was so impressed by Baseball Superstars that I bought Zenonia without a free trial. Zenonia is a sprite-based action-RPG in the vein of Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and it also shares some similarities with Brave Fencer Musashi. This is a lofty pedigree. And while it shares mechanics with and shares visual styles with these great titles, it falls short of warranting a recommendation because of poor controls.

Again, this game was obviously meant to be played on a mobile device as it would be excellent on a normal handset. Why? A normal handset has tactile feedback when you press a button. By sense of touch, I can tell if I am pressing up/down/left/right. On the iPhone, this isn’t the case. The gray area between up and up-left for example has to be guessed and is millimeters in size. And when you are playing a game that requires twitch dodging, it really isn’t feasible. It’s frustrating even having to walk up to a piece of treasure and pick it up without running past it or changing direction. Imagine fighting a boss.

The game has fantastic writing (for a foreign game to make great jokes regarding something as esoteric as starting an Amway business is a high feat) but I just couldn’t get too deep into it because of the feeling of being out of control. A 1.1 update dropped recently and had in the notes “Fixes to the D-Pad”, which gave me hope. However, the “fix” was to slightly adjust the position of the D-Pad. If they can fix the controls in a future update, this will likely gain a huge amount of my attention as the game looks to be deep and interesting.

The demo of the Mega Man 2 iPhone port shows an example of an iPhone game that does a better job at implementing a D-Pad in a game that requires precision. It surely isn’t perfect and only approximates the precision of using a D-Pad, but it is more serviceable to the cause.

Phase 10 by Magmic Games

Phase 10 is a relatively older family card game in the vein of Uno and Rummy. I was recently introduced to it by a friend of my girlfriend’s. Like Uno, it is fairly mindless, but has a modicum of tactics. On a whim, I searched to see if there was an iPhone version and there was. This is a faithful port of the Phase 10 experience, but lacks much in the way of bells and whistles. You can pass-and-play with friends, but there is nothing for single-players besides playing with the somewhat stupid AI. There are no achievements or unique challenges. Yet for being quite usable and a faithful reproduction it is competent and I can recommend it if and only if you already enjoy the card game.

Because I liked Phase 10 so much but saw huge design flaws with it (games play out mostly the same way, shallow tactics, loooooong matches), I designed my own card game inspired by this that fixes these problems while keeping the spirit of the game the same. More on this in a later post.

Trivial Pursuit by Electronic Arts

There really aren’t many good trivia games out there. Is that because Trivial Pursuit fills the niche so fully that no one else need come along? You Don’t Know Jack did great for a while but scaled poorly. Regardless, when it comes to professional-style trivia games, this is the only one on the market.

Luckily, it is quite good. It contains not only the traditional way to play versus either a CPU opponent (what fun is that? Flip a coin to see if they get the question?) but also Pass-n-Play and what they call “Pursuit Mode” which is a single-player mode where you try to make your token reach the end of linear levels in the least number of turns. There is a Wi-Fi game mode, but I don’t know anyone else with the game so I cannot comment.

One gripe: Often the game will offer up a question where the answers are images, such as “which of these buildings houses the British Parliament?” That’s well and good on a web browser on a PC, but on a phone, these images are something like 125 pixels square. The salient feature of that image may only take up half the image, so you are squinting at a 60px square area. For some questions it is next to impossible to really tell what they are showing as the resolution is far too small.

Peggle by Popcap

It’s Peggle people, geeze. This version takes some lessons from the DS version (the scroll wheel) but luckily benefits from the iPhone’s superior resolution. All the depth of the PC version is here including challenges, duels, &c., If you tried it on the PC, XBLA, DS, PSP, and so on and so forth, you should already know if you like the gameplay and presentation. All I add to the analysis is that the gameplay remains sound on the iPhone’s touch screen.

Killer Sudoku by WhiteNile Systems

By 2006, I was quite bored with sudoku. Luckily, the Japanese were about a hundred steps ahead of us and the good puzzlemakers at Nikoli were churning out books of other interesting logic puzzles in the same vein. One of the puzzles in this vein (and I don’t know if it originated at Nikoli or not) was Killer Sudoku. The “Killer” in the variant name doesn’t refer to the difficulty, but is simply a rather poor name for a completely different puzzle.

The similarities between Killer and Traditional is the 3×3 latin squares setup. But instead of receiving a number of squares pre-filled you receive no squares pre-filled. Instead, each cell is part of a “group” and you receive the sum of that group. So this allows you to solve the puzzle with different strategies. For instance, a 3×3 square has to contain all the digits 1-9, so the sum must be 45. Same goes for rows and columns. So if you know the values of a row except for one totals, say, 38, then you know the last number is a 7.

This phone version is a very competent puzzle generator. The input is slighly laggy, but who cares in a lax puzzle game? There is a tool where you can drag a rectangle (see image) and automatically calculate the sum of the area of the rectangle from the knowns given. This is useful. Overall, if you like these kinds of puzzles, you will find Killer Sudoku to be a useful time-sink.

Yahtzee Adventures by Electronic Arts

This is how it is done. Yahtzee is generally an uninteresting game. Yes, this game contains the standard one player version or a pass-and-play version of the same, but that is less interesting than what the game does different. There are two variants of Yahtzee new to this game. There is a single-player progression mode (in a Yahtzee game for pete’s sake, hence the ‘Adventures’ part in the title). While Yahtzee doesn’t provide the depth of a Chess or Go, the AI is still non-trivial. And there are achievements! For a game that debuted at $2.99, there is a lot of gameplay and polish. Say what you will about EA’s stranglehold on various licenses. They are doing a much better job providing unique takes on the Hasbro properties than anyone before them.

Now if I could get a Fireball Island game, I’d be set.

Phrase Party by Logan Sease

Many have seen the party game Catch Phrase where one player tries to get another player to say a word or phrase by describing it. It’s essentially what they play on $25,000 Pyramid. Well, this is exactly that. The original icon for this app was the device that comes from the board game, but smartly the developer changed it to prevent lawyers from paratrooping from the sky.

It is feature-bare, the interface is uggo and some of the entries have spelling mistakes. Some are so esoteric as to not make much sense. But it is one of the games that my girlfriend and I play when waiting in line or for dinner at a restaurant. And while it looks amateur, I’ve certainly got my $2 out of it, so I should recommend it, although you could approximate the game by having a long list of nouns or phrases in a Notes file and picking them off randomly.

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