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The Swords

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

The Swords ($2.99) by Lee-Kuo Chen is an action game that deals with the ancient martial arts. If you are looking for innovative gameplay and love swordplay, then this is a game that you must check out.

Back when I was in high school, I had a thing for swords. I bought a few and tried collecting them, though I didn’t do much of anything with them afterwards. I think it was my obsession with anime at the time, and I thought owning some swords would be a cool hobby. And while it is, it certainly wasn’t practical, and I didn’t take the time to learn actual swordplay or martial arts like a few of my friends had done (more like kendo). Still, even though I don’t collect swords anymore, I still love admiring them from afar and find them fascinating. So naturally, when the news of The Swords hit my inbox, I was intrigued and had to give this game a shot. And I’m glad I did, because there isn’t anything else quite like it.

The visuals in The Swords are stunningly beautiful. While the game itself has fairly minimalistic graphics going on, I am much more impressed with the cutscenes that explain the story behind the game. These scenes are painted in black-and-white with a traditional Chinese art style that I’m all too familiar with. The backgrounds are a clean, off-white color and the black ink and gray shadows contrast nicely with it. The gameplay parts feel a bit like Chinese calligraphy, especially the beginning stages, and visually, it all just comes together as you go. The atmospheric music is captivating and adds that layer of suspense and action as you play, and the realistic sound effects are a nice touch. If you like games that are more like art, then The Swords does not disappoint in that department.

In The Swords, players will learn the history of a character named the Grandmaster, who is essentially a sword master that you hear of in legends. To learn the history, though, you progress through different chapters that contain several levels each, and these stages go by fairly quickly. It also teaches you the basics of the game as you go at a gradual pace, so you aren’t going to be lost and stuck. If you mess up or get hurt in battle, you just retry the stage until you get it right. There are no stars to earn or points to rack up — it’s just learning the ways of being a sword master and fending off enemy attacks. The game has three different game modes so you can pick your level: Novice, Advanced, and Master. The difficulty level can be changed at any time, though you lose current progress if it is done in the middle of a fight.

The controls in The Swords are simple and intuitive, though the responsiveness seems a bit lagging in more hectic fights. In the first handful of stages, you will learn the strokes of the sword, similar to calligraphy. To do this, you swipe anywhere on the screen to start the line, then when it reaches the end of that path, you swipe again in the direction the outline is going to follow it. The moment you miss is the moment you have to start over. During battle, you will see enemy blades coming in from all over the screen, and you can destroy their weapons by swiping your finger over them, preferably at the tip. You can break multiple weapons with one swipe if you’re skilled enough. Then you move on to “soft” swords, which make me think of things like Ivy’s Valentine Ivy Blade. These are blades that can twist and bend, surprising the enemy and giving you an advantage. These levels will require you following a path of “weaknesses” to reach the opponent’s own weak spot, but if you mess up and hit your own weakness, you’ll have to restart. As you play The Swords, you’ll discover many different types of swords, but they all require the same gesture to make use of them: swipes. However, any time you get stabbed by the enemy, you just tap to retry. Things start out pretty simple in each chapter as you learn the basics, but the action and pacing picks up rather quickly from there.

I’ve only started The Swords this morning, but so far I’m loving every minute of it. The art style is true-to-form, the music adds to the suspense of battles, sound effects are rather realistic, and the gameplay is innovative and challenging. Honestly, at first I wasn’t quite sure how to play since I missed a few seconds of the intro, but once I restarted and saw how to swipe, it’s been a ton of fun. It can be difficult, but that is the way of the martial arts, and it’s always fun to have a challenge. It’s like a Fruit Ninja but with a much more serious tone and theme.

I highly recommend picking up The Swords if you like martial arts and want an artistic and innovative game to play this weekend. You can get The Swords on the App Store as a universal download for just $2.99. There are no in-app purchases.

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Futurama: Game of Drones

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Futurama: Game of Drones (Free) by wooga is the highly anticipated mobile game for the Futurama television series, which ended several years ago, much to the disdain of fans. Futurama: Game of Drones is a match-four puzzle game (everyone was expecting a town-building sim like Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff) so it will appeal to both fans of Futurama as well as the matching game genre.

I grew up on “The Simpsons” as a kid, but as time passed and the show remained on air, it got a bit tiresome and old, though I still loved Matt Groening’s work. So when “Futurama” first hit the air, I fell in love. It was the familiar art style, futuristic setting, quirky characters, and plots that kept me coming back every week for a new episode. When Fox first cancelled the show, I became pretty upset about it, and missed being able to tune in to the show every week. In recent years, “Futurama” ended up on Comedy Central, and I was able to get my fix once again, despite the newer seasons never being quite as good as the original classic seasons (same goes for “The Simpsons”). Then the series finally ended on Comedy Central, and I haven’t been able to get my fix of one of my favorite shows since. So naturally, once Futurama: Game of Drones became available worldwide last night, I had to get my hands on it — Futurama lives!

The visuals in Game of Drones retains the classic style of the cartoon series, and I’m rather pleased about it, as it almost feels like the show never ended. In fact, the level selection screen is reminiscent of the show’s opening intro, so fans will feel right at home. The graphics are colorful and flashy, with smooth animations and the famous opening theme music playing in the background. And if you missed Professor Farnsworth himself, don’t worry — you’ll hear plenty of one-liners from him, and other characters, as you play, including the all-time favorite of “Good news, everyone!”

Like typical matching puzzle games, Game of Drones has players going through levels one-by-one, and meeting certain objectives before they’re able to move on to the next stage. It’s a bit like Candy Crush, as the objectives involve clearing out a specific number of certain colored drones, getting rid of toxic waste, destroying boxes, and more. To make things challenging, you’re restricted on the number of moves for each level as well, which is indicated in the top left corner. Players earn up to three stars on each stage, depending on the threshold of points obtained once completing the goals.

Since this is a match-four instead of a match-three, players have to think a bit more carefully about their moves before making them. Also, since the levels are all in oddly shaped grids, players have more freedom when it comes to moving them around. To move a piece, it must be swapped with any adjacent piece, and as long as it ends up in a group of at least four like-colored drone pieces, then it will get cleared out. There are also special drones that can be made if you match at least five or more pieces, such as line-clearing drones, explosive drones, and color-detonating drones.

To make the game more exciting, there are even some enemy drones that will be sent you way, and you’ll have to do battle with them through battle drones, featuring everyone’s favorite shiny and vulgar beer-guzzling and cigar-smoking robot. When these battle levels come around, both sides take turns to make matches, and can attack the other by matching the silver battle drones. Once you get into the other chapters of the game, you’ll gain access to special power-ups provided by your favorite characters, such as Fry’s drone eliminating laser gun thing. Eventually, you’ll also be able to obtain boosters to start levels with, giving you an advantage.

I’ve only started playing Futurama: Game of Drones, but so far I’m loving every minute of it. The game looks great, I like seeing all of the familiar characters and hearing their quirky bits of dialogue, and the gameplay itself is fairly challenging due to the match-four concept and oddly shaped grids. The different objectives keep the game fresh, and there’s high replay value here. And while there is an energy system in place, you’re fortunate enough to not lose a heart for each play — you only lose one if you fail a stage, which is how every free-to-play game with an energy system should be (I’m looking at you, Pokemon Shuffle). There are in-app purchases in Game of Drones, but they are optional and not necessary to enjoy the game.

I highly recommend checking out Futurama: Game of Drones if you’re a fan of matching puzzles and love Futurama and need your fix. You can get Futurama: Game of Drones on the App Store as a universal download for your iPhone and iPad for free with optional in-app purchases.

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Love You To Bits

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Love You To Bits ($3.99) by Alike Studio is a cute point-and-click adventure puzzle that tells the story of a young space explorer who sets out on a journey to collect the pieces of his robot girlfriend that got blown up in a fatal accident. If you enjoy games that tug at your heartstrings, such as Stay, Mum, then you will like what Love You to Bits has to offer.

I’m sure it’s been said before, but one of the biggest dreams of any person is probably to go in space. Yeah, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to achieve that in my lifetime, but one can always continue dreaming, right? And hey, we still have video games that can make the dream feel a bit more obtainable, so there’s that. Oh, and love is a great feeling, though it can bring you a lot of pain too, but it’s essential to our lives. When you put all of these together (puzzles, space travel, and love), you can get quite a concoction of a game, especially on mobile. That’s just what Love You To Bits is, and it’s executed extremely well.

The visuals in Love You To Bits is stunningly beautiful and looks great on Retina screens. The graphics appear as a cartoon-like style, but if you look closely enough, it also has a bit of a paper craft aesthetic to it due to the subtle textures. The colors in the game range from soft and muted to bright and vivid, depending on the locale that you’re in. Regardless, though, the colors are vibrant and rich, making the graphics pop out on the screen. Animations are smooth and fluid, and the whimsical, piano-heavy soundtrack is a delight to the ears, especially if you’re using headphones. Overall, Alike Studio has done an excellent job in terms of looks and sound in Love You To Bits.

In Love You To Bits, players are first greeted with a scene that introduces Kosmo, a clumsy, rookie space explorer who is traveling the universe with his robot girlfriend, Nova. However, their time is cut short when an accident occurs on the ship, resulting in the loss of Nova as her robotic body gets blown up into pieces and scattered throughout the universe. Now, Kosmo sets out on a journey to explore various planets one-by-one, solving puzzles and discovering new life as he collects her bits piece-by-piece, with the end goal of rebuilding her so that they can be back together once more. Yes — cue those feelings and teardrops, everyone!

Each planet that Kosmo will encounter acts as a level, with one piece of Nova that is scattered somewhere on the stage. Your goal is to retrieve the piece to reveal the portal that takes you to the next planet, and repeat the process until Nova is rebuilt. However, this is easier said than done sometimes, because the puzzles that the game throws at you can take some brainpower to solve. And if you’re a fan of Monument Valley, then you’ll feel right at home because some of the levels feature some tricky optical illusions. Each puzzle will take a few minutes to solve, though you can’t really get stuck on a stage since the events happen pretty chronologically. You’ll have to collect items to use on other objects, activate switches, and more on your journey for rebuilding your love.

As mentioned from the start, Love You To Bits is a point-and-click adventure, so moving is done by tapping the spot that you want Kosmo to move to. It’s simple enough, though Kosmo does move a bit slower than I’d like. When you come across something that Kosmo can interact with, whether it’s picking up an object, using something in your stash, or activating levers and pushing buttons, a bubble pops up above Kosmo with a hand icon. Tap on it to interact with the object. Like other point-and-click adventures, it will take a bit of trial-and-error and time to figure out everything to solve a puzzle. Fortunately, there is no time limit or points to worry about in the game, so you can play at your own pace. Additionally, there are other hidden items that you can find as you explore the vast universe for your robotic love, so make sure to check out everything there is on a level. These special items will reveal the touching past of Kosmo and Nova, in case you weren’t done riding the feel train already.

I’ve only just started Love You To Bits, but I’m already in love with it. The visuals are adorable, the ambient soundtrack is a joy to listen to as you play, the controls are simple enough, and the puzzles are fun and challenging. Plus, with the developer already promising more levels in the future (with no in-app purchases), there is plenty of reason to keep coming back to this adorable point-and-click puzzle adventure.

I highly recommend checking out Love You To Bits if you like cute stories and love a good point-and-click adventure with challenging puzzles. You can get Love You To Bits on the App Store as a universal download for the iPhone and iPad for just $3.99.

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Vertical Divide

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Vertical Divide ($2.99) by Emmet Morris is a new number puzzle game that will keep your brain stimulated for hours to come. If you are a fan of other games like Threes! and The Mesh, then you will love Vertical Divide.

As you have probably guessed from what I do here at AppAdvice, I definitely consider myself a word person, and not a big fan of numbers, personally. However, one of my favorite game types are puzzles, and my love of puzzle games does not stop me from trying the numerical ones, even though I am probably terrible compared to many other players out there. My scores in Threes! are abysmal compared to what I’ve seen some of my friends get, and I always end up failing on The Mesh at around the same point. Still, that doesn’t stop me from playing and just having a good time, so naturally, I was excited when I first heard about Vertical Divide.

The visuals in Vertical Divide are simple and clean, which should appeal to all of the minimalists out there. In fact, the game has a style that is very reminiscent of Threes!, which may rub off the wrong way for some, but I believe the developer is just drawing heavy inspiration from one of the most popular iOS games ever made. For me, I don’t mind the “inspiration,” because it just works well. Vertical Divide features a lot of whitespace, grays, and soft pink and blue number tiles that contrast nicely against the background. Animations in the game are smooth and fluid, and the upbeat, quirky soundtrack is rather pleasant to listen to. Overall, the heavily-influenced design of Vertical Divide is familiar and comforting, despite the completely different gameplay involved.

There are two game modes in Vertical Divide: Classic and Strategy. While the gameplay remains the same in both, there is just one difference: Classic spawns blocks at random, and Strategy has a specific sequence for the spawning blocks. I would recommend starting out with Classic before attempting Strategy, as the game does take a bit of getting used to before you understand the basics. In fact, Vertical Divide has a rather drawn out tutorial in the beginning to explain how the game works, so I endorse reading it thoroughly to get the basics.

Essentially, the board will start out with some pink “1” blocks. The game spawns blue blocks at the top, and you need to move them by dragging your finger horizontally on the screen, then release to drop the blue tile on the board in the column you want. The blue blocks need to be placed on each other so that the bottom one will be divided by the top one. You can also combine blue blocks that are next to each other so that they are a larger number, but then you also need to divide by a large number as well. The division result will then remove that many pink blocks underneath. However, if you don’t divide evenly, the remainder gets added back on the board as pink blocks. Once the board is filled to the top and you can no longer make any moves, then it is game over.

I know — it all sounds a bit confusing at first, but once you see the game in action and try a few rounds, you’ll pick it up quickly. But don’t be fooled by the simplistic appearance, as the game is much more challenging than it looks. Despite only having two game modes, the game has a high amount of replay value, since you’ll keep coming back in attempts to beat your previous high score. There is also Game Center integration for leaderboards so you can compete with friends.

I’ve only just started Vertical Divide recently, but so far I’m enjoying the challenge that the game brings, despite not being a big numbers person to begin with. The game looks great with the minimal aesthetics, the music is fun to listen to, and the unique gameplay is interesting and refreshing. The only thing I don’t like about the game is the fact that you can’t see which column you’re going in without looking at the top, and sometimes a slight adjustment in your positioning results in the number tile going in the wrong column. I hope the developer considers optimizing the controls, as it would lead to less frustration down the road. For now, though, you just have to be very careful with where you’re putting that number down.

I recommend giving Vertical Divide a try if you’re in the mood for a simple but challenging numerical puzzle. You can get Vertical Divide on the App Store as a universal download on the iPhone and iPad for just $2.99. There are no in-app purchases.

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Blackbox - think outside the box

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Blackbox - think outside the box (Free) by Ryan McLeod is a new kind of puzzle game that has you thinking of creative new ways to solve puzzles without ever touching the screen. If you’re tired of the same old puzzle games on iOS, then Blackbox is something refreshing and different.

If you have followed my work here at AppAdvice, then you will know that I can’t help but love a good puzzle game. However, over the years, it seems that puzzles have become a tried-and-true genre, where developers go with the same old gameplay concepts and challenges, just don’t in a slightly different way. None of them have brought something completely different to the table in terms of iOS gaming, so while I love the genre, sometimes it starts to feel a bit stale. So when I got a message in my inbox regarding a new puzzle game that makes you think outside of the box, I was intrigued — what could this possibly mean? Turns out that Blackbox is a puzzle game that is unlike anything you’ve ever played before. So take what you know about puzzles on iOS and throw it out the window, because none of that will help you with this unique twist to the genre.

Visually speaking, Blackbox is very simple and fairly barebones, to be honest. It goes along well with the clean and flat aesthetic of modern day iOS, and fans of minimal design will fall in love. Blackbox, as the name suggests, features a crisp, black background that fills the entire screen, and neon lines, shapes, and dots contrast nicely against the darkness. There isn’t much else to the game’s graphics other than that, but the animations are fluid and smooth, making for a seamless playing experience. The game has no sounds or music, but that doesn’t detract from the experience at all — in fact, it adds to it.

Blackbox has over 50 distinctive puzzles for players to solve. They are not split up into various chapters like other games. Instead, they are color-coded, and you unlock more available puzzles as you solve other ones. The colors each have a different meaning, but one thing is for certain: they all utilize some aspect of your iPhone’s hardware, so you’re going to have to really understand how your device works in order to solve the puzzles.

The controls in Blackbox are special, because you will never use the screen to solve anything. You can tap on the screen to pause and return to the level select screen, or perform a 3D Touch on a compatible device to quickly go back home. But for actually solving the puzzles, you will have to figure out what the puzzle is asking you to do, and make use of the component on your iPhone to solve it. This ranges from using the device gyroscope and accelerometer to get colors on the screen to go where you need them to, using the mirror to reverse what is on the screen, adjusting the brightness of your device, tinkering around with the buttons and headphone jack, blowing into the microphone, and much more. This is just a sample of what I’ve tried so far, and I’m just a few puzzles in.

While the game certainly has a new perspective on puzzles, be prepared — some of these can be rather maddening at first, so you’ll have to return to it at a later time to solve if you can’t figure it out immediately. The game also has some hints that you can use, though they should be kept as a last resort when you just can’t seem to figure out what to do. Blackbox is a challenging puzzle game that requires brainpower, time, patience, and perspective to solve.

I’m still fairly early on in Blackbox, but I am in love with it so far. As a big fan of puzzles, this is the most invigorating new game I’ve played in a while due to the exclusive gameplay concept and controls. Plus, the minimalist visuals and text look fantastic on the screen. The developer is also actively looking for user feedback, so if you find something broken or have ideas for new challenges, make sure to let the developer know.

I highly recommend giving Blackbox a try if you haven’t already. It’s great to see someone come up with something that has yet to be done in the iOS gaming world until now.

Blackbox – think outside the box is available on the App Store as a free download for your iPhone only. There are in-app purchases for hints and an all-level unlock.

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