Stellar Wanderer

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Stellar Wanderer ($4.99) by Crescent Moon Games and Dream Builder Studios is a space combat RPG where you can choose your own destiny. If you loved games like Galaxy on Fire 2 and things like Star Fox in general, then Stellar Wanderer is the game for you.

At some point in humanity, we’ll be traveling to and from space like no big deal, having colonies on various planets and space stations scattered about that you can visit at a whim. It’s not happening in my lifetime, but I’m confident it will happen at some point. Until then, though, there are always video games that involve space, ships, and plenty of futuristic laser battles, so that should hold us off for now. Usually I am not a big space combat game fan, because I’ll admit it — I’m not too great with them. However, since I heard about Stellar Wanderer, I was intrigued by it due to the fact that it was coming from publisher Crescent Moon Games and a development studio called Dream Builder. Plus, I can’t resist anything that looks pretty and shiny — we’re here to have fun, right?

The visuals in Stellar Wanderer look great for a mobile game, but I wouldn’t say that they are the best I’ve seen. Still, it’s decent enough and you won’t notice it too much while flying around in an open-world galaxy and shooting up your foes. Space looks beautiful in the game, thanks to the soft colors in the background due to the sun and air, and there are some rather nice looking auroras that are charming. While all of that looks fine and dandy, I was a bit disappointed with how some of the space stations and other objects looked from a distance, as I noticed things could be a bit flat, jagged, and lacking texture, so it wasn’t quite as console-quality like I was expecting. But since the game is mostly about combat, you probably won’t notice too much. Animations are smooth and fluid in the game, and I did not experience any kind of lag on my iPhone 6s Plus. The atmospheric soundtrack is pretty calming, so it should help you focus on the missions that are at stake.

Just as you’d expect, Stellar Wanderer opens up with a cutscene (you can skip if you’d like), and then you’re thrown into the action. Well, if by action you mean just flying around and reaching a gate, then yeah, that’s action-packed. However, as we all know, these types of games require a bit of a tutorial in the beginning to show players the basics, and the game does a good job of this. So even if you are like me and pretty bad at space combat titles, this tutorial will help you out.

The controls in the game are pretty simple and straightforward, though it may take some time to get used to if you don’t play these types of games a lot. To steer, you will have to tilt your device in the direction you want to go. There are calibration settings so you can recalibrate at any time if they feel off, and there are options for inverting the x and y-axis if that’s what you prefer. In the bottom left are buttons to accelerate and brake, and buttons for attacking and a special action button above it in the bottom right corner. The action button changes from Time Warp multiplier (speeds up time when you’re not in combat), jump for gates, and docking for hangars. As I said, everything is pretty easy to pick up, but mastering the controls is a different story — time and patience are needed. The crosshair for your weapon is pretty small, though, which I found to be a bit frustrating. You can switch between first and third-person perspective at any time, which is pretty cool.

As far as content goes, Stellar Wanderer is jam packed with it. While you uncover the plot, there will be main story missions that you must go through in order to advance, as well as plenty of side missions that you can take on for extra cash and experience. Early on, you will also get to choose the role you want to play as, which gives your pilot unique talents and bonuses.

The classes are: Fighter, Trader, Tank, and Engineer. Each one has their own strengths and you should distribute skill points accordingly. Fighter inflicts most damage, Trader is good at negotiating, Tank has plenty of armor to take most of the damage while the rest of the team takes out enemies, and Engineer specializes in creating items that can hurt the enemy or help your team. As you successfully complete missions and objectives, you will earn experience points — once your pilot levels up, you get a few skill points that can be distributed across a wide selection of attributes, so you need to allocate them into the best one for your class. Like any other RPG, this process requires a bit of learning and tinkering, and you may even need to start a new character if you mess up, since you can’t switch them once they’re allocated.

You will also earn money for completed missions, and all of your hard-earned cash can be spent in the Market. This is where you go for equipment (including weaponry), commodities for your crew, minerals, and cargo. The Hangar is where you want to go to modify your ship or purchase newer and better ones. And since Stellar Wanderer is a vast game, you can access the Map at any time from the main menu to see just where you are in the universe.

Typically, I’m not a big fan of these games because I can be terrible at shooting down the enemies and end up getting myself blown up a lot. But Stellar Wanderer is still a good game, despite my lack of professional skills. The game looks nice with the vast universe that it takes place in, though the textures fall a bit short compared to other console-quality games. The music is soothing and reminds me a bit of “Star Wars,” which is not necessarily a bad thing given the theme. The controls are simple enough, though it will take me a lot of practice, but I do wish the laser crosshair was a bit larger and easier to see. Hopefully that is rectified in a future update. And with the game’s large amount of content for players, this is one that will keep you busy for a while.

Despite some flaws, Stellar Wanderer is a very solid space combat RPG game that will appeal nicely to fans of the genre. I recommend checking it out this weekend if you want a nice, lengthy space combat game that is full of action.

You can get Stellar Wanderer on the App Store as a universal download for $4.99. There are no in-app purchases.

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Fantasy Mage - Defend the Village Against the Army of the Dead

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Fantasy Mage ($2.99) by Illogical is a combination of action role-playing and hack-n-slash games, creating a nice mix of action that most can enjoy.

When I was in high school, my love of fantasy and magic blossomed. Since we all know how stressful growing up and high school can be, I liked to escape into fantasy worlds for a break from reality. And even though high school is long gone for me, I still like to take a break every now and then to escape the stressful responsibilities I have in adulthood. That’s why video games are one of my favorite things — they’re great ways to pass the time, and I can just escape from reality. And while I love stimulating games most of the time, sometimes I just need something that allows me to mindlessly kill things without putting too much thought into it. Hack-n-slash games are perfect for the job, but as I love spell-casting, I thought Fantasy Mage would be right up my alley.

The graphics in Fantasy Mage are pretty sharp, and just about what I would expect from a mobile game. It is rendered in 3-D with an angled, top-down perspective, so you can see enough of the battlefield with a single glance as you move around. It’s not the most detailed game I’ve played, but it is sufficient enough for most. The colors run a bit darker than I’d like, but that’s because of the shadows that cover the village. I mean, what do you expect from villages that seem abandoned due to the plague of skeletons that have taken over? Still, for whatever vegetation life remains in the villages, the greens look nice and lush. Buildings, though, kind of blend into the darkness. Animations are fairly smooth and fluid in the game, and the ambient soundtrack is rather upbeat and soothing during the game menu, but a bit more techno-ish during gameplay. It’s a weird mix, but it doesn’t detract from the actual game itself, which is good.

Fantasy Mage is a level-based game, where players must progress through the story stage-by-stage. While there is a pretty basic story going on in Fantasy Mage, the game will give you a short text brief before you begin a level, explaining the current situation to you. However, for the most part, there is not much variation between how each stage looks — you have a barren village that has been deserted by the people who lived there, though it still has a nice bit of bright and vivid vegetation still intact. While the layout may vary, it’s largely the same thing on each stage, so there is a bit of repetitiveness going on here. The objective is simple, but doesn’t add much variation either: just clear out all of the skeletons on the stage, and then it’s complete. Again, I found it to be a bit repetitive.

Fortunately, the game does have some variety in terms of the combat itself. Since you’re a mage, you specialize in elemental spells. Unfortunately, the enemies also have their own specialized element when they attack, whether it be mêlée or ranged, so you have to take their element into consideration when making your own move. The game’s “auto-target” button in the bottom right corner will pinpoint the nearest enemy to you and point out their element, giving you time to plan out your counter attack. The cycle of elements is pretty simple and straightforward: water is strong against fire, fire is great against earth, and earth is good against water. It’s like an elemental version of rock-paper-scissors, and once you get the basics, combat becomes easier.

While the controls in Fantasy Mage are easy to understand, I think there could have been some better optimization, because it did felt cumbersome at times. To move, you just tap where you want your mage to move to, or keep your finger on the screen to move continuously. When you see an enemy or are engaged in combat, just tap on the foe to begin attacking with your spells. Your equipped spells show up at the bottom of the screen, and you can tap on the one you want to use at the moment — switching on the fly is just a tap away. The auto-target button locks on to the closest enemy and you’ll begin to attack once you’re in range.

Though the controls are pretty simple to pick up, I found that it gets annoying at times. I would have preferred a virtual joystick of some kind to move around, as the current control method means my fingers are always on the screen, making it hard to see what’s around my character, and sometimes it’s like I’m stuck. I’d also like to have a button to start attacking, rather than tap on the foe, because again, my finger just gets in the way. All-in-all, I just want to see some better optimizations for the controls so that they don’t feel as clumsy.

Since the objective of each stage is to clear out the skeletons, once they’re all accounted for, the stage ends and you will earn experience points and loot for your troubles. As you level up, your character will earn skill points that can be distributed into four areas: Rage, Focus, Stamina, and Constitution. Rage deals with water defense and attack speed, Focus is for fire defense and reload speed, Stamina affects earth defense and move speed, and Constitution has to do with your character’s health, which is indicated at the bottom left corner.

The loot will always be randomized, and will be a mix of equipment (helmet, boot, and armor) and even different spells. To equip your mage, just go to the Inventory screen from the main title, and you can tap on the slot you want to change gear for. However, be careful, since you have limited inventory space — if there is something you don’t need, you can just destroy it to free up space. There is also an option to compare an item or spell with something else, in case you are wondering which one would be better. But don’t get your hopes up on changing your mage’s appearance — her look remains static throughout the entire game, no matter what you’re using.

I was excited for Fantasy Mage when I first heard about it a few weeks ago, but I’m going to admit I’m a bit let down by the game overall. While it looks nice during the actual game, I found the menus and such to be a bit barebones, and the music, levels, and missions are repetitive and get stale after a while. I’m also sad that the appearance of my mage never changes, which is one of the biggest reasons I like to play these kind of RPG games. It also doesn’t help that there is not even a way to tell which items in your inventory are new, because they’re all just kind of there, all bundled up, though you can separate by category.

Fantasy Mage is not a terrible game, but it certainly did not live up to my expectations. However, it’s a decent time-waster and a lighthearted game that could be good for casual players.

If you are still interested in checking out Fantasy Mage, you can find it on the App Store as a universal download for $2.99.

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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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