Friday, August 27, 2010

Game Review - Bit Pilot

Bit Pilot - $0.99 (Appshopper Link)

Video games have been around for a bit over 30 years now, but in that relatively short time, they've evolved considerably. Just about every aspect of gaming has changed - the graphics, the storytelling, the exposure, and the types that are out there. We've got billion dollar companies churning out games with budgets bigger than Hollywood movies and teams of more than 100 people. Yet despite this shift (or maybe because of it) a new subgenre has emerged in the gaming world - "retro games".

Originally it just included remakes or rereleases of old classics, mainly for nostalgic reasons. You're familiar with these classics: Namco's Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man series, Pong, Space Invaders. For whatever reason, people of a certain age like going back to these games in spite of the availability of games that are, at least on the surface, far superior.

Then came the arrival of a new type of retro game. This new type of retro game can be any genre, such as puzzle, action, shooter, etc. but usually includes some or all of the following traits: low-resolution pixelated graphics, 8-bit electronic "chip-tune" music, simple, vibrant color schemes, and lack of a meaningful storyline.

Bit Pilot is one of those new types of retro games. It's not a remake of a classic from the 70s or 80s, but it looks as if it could have been. The premise is simple. You're in an asteroid field and you're supposed to navigate your little ship to avoid the rocks and collect medicine-looking things for points. That's it. That's the whole game. Pixelated graphics? Check. Awesome chiptunes? Check. Storyline? Nope.

You control your little dot of a ship by swiping in the appropriate direction with your thumb. To accelerate faster, you use both you left and right thumbs. This is necessary when you get to the higher levels and the rocks move much faster. Some of the medicine things add a layer of shields to your ship, allowing you to take more damage. Occasionally a big laser beam comes and covers the whole horizontal length of the screen, so your reflexes are important.

As mentioned in my Tilt to Live review, these kinds of simple games that you can pick up for a few minutes to go for a high score are tremendously ideal for the iPhone platform. And in spite of this simplicity, there remains a motivation to keep playing. The game records your total score across all plays, and at certain point totals another song is unlocked, allowing you to listen to said song while playing. When you unlock all 3 songs, your next goal is to unlock iPhone wallpapers. Your single-game scores in both Easy and Normal modes are also posted to the online, OpenFeint-enabled leaderboards so you can see how you're doing against others in the world (though the game claims that you're being compared to the rest of the galaxy).

For $1, I'd recommend it for sure, especially if you like chiptunes.

Old-school title screen ftw?

I died shortly after taking this screenshot.

Wallpaper A unlocked!

Game Review - Tilt to Live

Tilt to Live - $2.99 (Appshopper link)

Many have attempted to bring big budget, full-featured games from consoles and computers to the portable, small-screened iPhone. Some games turn out well, but many of them suffer from the small screen and the lack of physical buttons. This is why certain types of games really excel on the iPhone and others don't.

Tilt to Live is an example of a simple game that really takes advantage of what the iPhone can do, while not trying to do something that the iPhone can't do. But don't let the term "simple" fool you.

With that out of the way, here's what the game is about. You control what is basically a white arrow on a rectangular playing field the size of your iDevice's screen. In gamer lingo, it's a 2-D overhead view game. Red dots appear on the screen and constantly try to kill you by touching you. Your goal is to use the iPhone's tilt controls to move the white arrow and avoid the red dots - hence the name 'Tilt to Live'.

But it's not just a survival and avoidance game. Along with the red dot enemies, weapons appear randomly which you can use to destroy the dots. There are eight weapons in all, and three of them - nuke, hadouken (my name, not theirs), and homing missiles - are available from the beginning. As you play the game and achieve certain feats, you gain Agon points. At certain Agon point levels you unlock new weapons. Achieving these feats is half the fun, and obtaining and using the new weapons is the other half of the fun. Eventually you get a freeze blast, detonating shield, spiked shield, lightning shield, and finally the "burnicade" which creates a temporary fiery wall that kills any red dots that come in contact.

Tilt to Live is a great twist on the "survive as long as you can and try for the high score" type of game. Even though you may die quickly at first, there is always an incentive to try again, whether it's to get a better score or to unlock the newest achievement/weapon.

But wait, there's more! What I described above is just one of 4 play modes in Tilt to Live, the Normal mode. Also included is Code Red, the "Normal game, but on crack," where red dots show up much faster and are many times more relentless. There's Gauntlet, in which you get no weapons and red dots are arranged in a side-scrolling "obstacle course" of sorts and you must avoid them and collect Time orbs to increase the time left on the figurative hourglass. And finally there's the newest mode, Frostbite, in which red dots start out frozen and continuously fall downward from the top of the screen. You must touch them to pop them before they reach the bottom, at which point they thaw out and come after you.

If you're looking for a game that can be either a quick time killer or something to keep you occupied on a long flight, give Tilt to Live a try.

The loading screen is always entertaining.

350 Agon points is more than enough to get all the weapons.

Choose your destiny

Red Alert!

We need a burnicade in here, stat!

Game Review - MiniSquadron

MiniSquadron - $2.99 (Appshopper link)

MiniSquadron SE - Free + DLC (Appshopper link)

Every time I do a game review I grapple with the problem of what to mention and what not to mention. If I go into too much detail, I risk making the reader feel lost because he or she hasn't played the game yet. There's so much about MiniSquadron and its followup that it's hard to cover all of it without being too long-winded or overly detailed. So this time I shall endeavor to do this review in fewer than 8 paragraphs.

MiniSquadron is a great "pick up and play" game that you can turn on when you have a few minutes to kill, yet has a ton of neat things that will keep you coming back for more on your next break. You control an airplane, and your goal is to destroy all the other planes that show up in order to advance to the next wave. Visually, MiniSquadron is a cartoony 2-D side-view game with colorful and varied settings. Each area, which features 12 waves of enemies, has a unique theme, such as Face Land, whose background is littered with Moai heads from Easter Island, or Sunset Lagoon, which has a brilliant red-orange backdrop.

Like many other wave-based games, your goal is to survive 12 waves in each area and get the highest score possible. What's neat about the scoring though, is that you're not trying for a high score just to get a high score. There are certain goals to meet, and if you meet them, you unlock new planes. For example, a particular plane may be unlocked if you get 30,000 pts by the time you finish Wave 5 in Face Land. There are 56 different planes in all, and each has its strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.

Each plane also has a certain weapon type. There are 7 weapon types in all: Cannon (your standard bullets), Double Cannon, Triple Cannon, Homing Missile, Cluster Bomb, Drop Bomb, and Laser. Dividing 56 by 7, you get 8, meaning that 8 planes have a cannon, 8 planes have a double cannon, 8 planes have a laser, and so on. But not all planes are the same, even if they have the same weapon. Some may be faster but have weaker armor so you die faster. Others may be slow-moving and not very quick to turn, but have near-impenetrable armor. Finally, most of the ships have interesting and/or funny names that the creators, Studio FungFung, obviously had a lot of fun thinking up.

To make things even more interesting, powerups fall from the sky in the form of different colored stars. Powerups can make you faster, slower, invincible, invisible, shoot a burst of homing missiles, call in an airstrike, shoot a ginormous laser, or just give you extra points. Sometimes a Heart will appear, giving you an extra life. The kicker is that these hearts and stars can also be taken by enemy planes. The heart doesn't do anything for enemies, but the other powerups do, and you'll be at a disadvantage if, say, the enemy gets the Airstrike power.

I played MiniSquadron like crazy and managed to unlock all planes except the last one, which requires completing the last wave of the last area with a crazy high score. I haven't been able to complete it at all, much less get the high score. I will someday, though.

MiniSquadron is currently $2.99, and if you have half as much fun as I did, it's worth it. If you're not sure, you can download MiniSquadron SE, which contains the first 2 levels for free, and the other 6 as 3 separate $.99 download packs. I should note that MiniSquadron SE is a different game, with a new set of 56 planes and all-new areas, weapons, and powerups.

There! 8 paragraphs! For a buttload of screenshots, visit my Picasa web album.