Shaun’s iOS Roundup Pt. 1

A few months I acquired myself a recent-fangled iPod Touch. It’s a 3rd-gen so I don’t think I can quite describe it as new-fangled, although now that I’ve spent some time with the thing I can confidently describe iOS 5.0 as quite poorly optimised.

Anyway! Enough about Apple! We will say nothing of Steve Gobs! I’m here to talk about games. In the past Dylan and James have written a few pieces about iOS games they’re keen on, such as Minotaur Rescue and a bevy of turn-based titles. Those posts are going back a bit though, eh? Don’t worry though, I’m here and ready to blunder through a list of titles everyone probably already knows about with all the delicacy and forethought of a space minotaur in a space china shop.

(I’ve ended up splitting the list of titles I had a few things to say about in two, so watch out for part two in a cinema near you soon. Coming this Fall. Directed by Roland Emmerich.)

World War

It’s nice to set the bar low to start you off, isn’t it? And is it possible to set the bar any lower than a Storm8 game that shamelessly imitates the most banal of rubbish peddled by one-time Facebook juggernaught Zynga?

In fairness, they’re both imitating a game that has been around for over a decade: Progress Quest. (If you’ve not seen Progress Quest before, I apologise. I have just broken most CRPGs for you.)

So yes, World War is one of those numbers-go-up games where you use “Energy” to undertake missions (earning XP and money and sometimes loot) and “Ammo” to attack other players (earning XP and money). That’s basically it. You can spend money on buildings and units that make your army better or increase your hourly income, but the former become outmoded pretty quickly (so you have to spunk your money on the best and brightest every level) and the latter is boooooring.

World War

VICTORY! You have builded a buildering!

It’s also one of those games with a sickening, soul-scarring “monetisation strategy”, in exactly the same way as Mafia Wars or whatever on Faceache. Spend a few “Honor Points” to recharge your energy instantly, or spend a fair bit more to get some random loot. Alternatively, you can earn points by introducing your friends to the game! And what a good friend that will make you.

My favourite things about World War are:

  • That you can spend Honor Points on “Alliance Members”, which are basically your friends who play alongside you and increase your army’s strength. Do you see what this means? That’s right. Storm8 have successfully monetised having no friends.
  • It’s quite nicely presented.
  • That once you reach about level 22 you can no longer do any new missions because they all require Alliance members. So yes, you either need to pay up or invite your friends in to share this shallow experience with you. This is essentially a game component that drives build-in player obsolescence, or in other words, is a perfect opportunity to stop playing.

The fact that I chose to download and play World War until about level 25 speaks terrible volumes about my ability to tolerate the wholly banal and my inability to not fidget around with things when watching films. It is also a shining example of the sort of thing that I choose not to mention when I tell people that I play and write about games. It’s a serious hobby, don’t you know? It’s definitely not a business sector constructed around a socio-economic demographic and full of sub-standard extruded cultural product.

(Note: a few years back Storm8 were sued over the collection of private user data. I’m sure that nothing like that accident will occur again, but still… caveat emptor, right?)

Avalon

Avalon is also a “massively-multiplayer online competitive base-building mission-taking player-versus-player game”, or as I like to call them, an MMOCBBMTPVPGoddidIreallyjusttypethatout.

Don’t skip on just yet, though! See, as these games go, Avalon is actually… kind of good.

It takes as its template the one-time (and possible still) king of the hill, Evony (you know, that browser game that everyone laughed at for shit like this). There is even a woman wearing improbable combat gear on the splash screen.

Avalon

Boobs, lightsabres, and a guy wearing a Boba Fett halloween mask flexing all of his musculature. It's a basement-dwelling shut-in's perfect ''art print''.

Happily, once you get past that you will find a game that has strategy staples like a bona fide research tree – in which you can pursue everything but it makes far more economic sense to specialise pragmatically. Specialising also relates to the units you build your regiments with, the formation you array them in, etcetera. This, coupled with the statistically unique heroes you can recruit, train and enhance, and the wargear you can buy or assemble for them, feeds in to a combat system that plays out automatically.

The trick, essentially, is to work out what your enemies are, what their formation is, and thus what to deploy against them. It’s rock-paper-scissors with many added layers and twiddly bits of nuance.

That’s the idea, anyway. Unfortunately you can’t see what someone is packing before you attack, which makes sense as otherwise the attacker would be overly favoured in most rucks, but it does mean that you need to lose at least once before you understand what to bring to the party. Also, this approach requires a framework of tactical flexibility that the game, through directing you toward specialisation, seems to alternately encourage and discourage.

So that’s Avalon: quite good fun, lots to do, interesting mechanics, and a ton more ambitious and coherent than most games of its type, but still suffering from being a bit confused about what it wants to do. Oh, and the writing is terrible, but you won’t mind that so much because you’ll be too busy sniggering at the shoddy localisation.

King of Dragon Pass

This is without a doubt the best game I’ve found on iOS as yet. It’s also a port of a 1999 PC strategy game of the same name, which may go some way toward explaining why I like it so much. You can keep your Pokeymans and your Barrio Carts, the PC will always be king!

Anyway, KoDP is equal parts turn-based strategy and choose-your-own-adventure. It places you at the head of a clan of people who have been forced to migrate into the historically dangerous region of Dragon Pass, where you find many other clans as well as numerous other peoples, monsters and treasures. It is, apparently, set in the same world as Heroquest, so everyone who remembers the world of Heroquest will have the best of times here.

You have some control over the direction of what takes place, but the closest you get to direct control is the construction of some buildings and choosing what your clan focuses upon in each season. You might, for example, start the year by sacrificing some cows to one of the gods whilst allowing your farmers to sow their crops. In the next season you can raid a neighbouring clan to steal some of their trade goods and cattle. In the next, it’s time to bring in the harvest, so why not send out a small scouting party to explore the nearby area in search of something interest?

King of Dragon Pass

"Stop bothering me with this. I had a big dinner and have dragons to pass."

King of Dragon Pass features hundreds of random events, several of which occur every season. Sometimes these can prove beneficial; more often they can prove a threat or hindrance. Most often, though, it is the choices you make in response which influence the outcome. For example, a clan allied to you may approach you and request aid in time of a bad harvest. You could give them exactly what they ask for – which is both customary and acceptable under the terms of your alliance. You could give them less, which will save more food for your own clan and may please clan members and leaders who prefer self-interest as a strategy, but could threaten the alliance and make you appear a mean and miserly leader. Or you could give them more, which marks you out as a generous and kingly leader and will please your allies as well as raise your perception among other clans, but may upset members of your own clan.

It’s a game full of surprises and depth, and unlike the overwhelming majority of strategy games it is one in which you are encouraged to accept the consequences of your actions rather than trying to min-max every scenario for the most beneficial outcome. It’s a lot of fun and, astonishingly, for such a deep game it’s very easy to dip into for a few minutes here and there. It costs £6.99 but I would say it’s worth every penny.

Crush the Castle Free

I include this mostly so that I can say ha ha, I am not one of the 500 million people who downloaded Angry Birds. That makes me a special flower.

CtCF is a bunch of levels that you may recognise from the browser version of the game, which is a game that Angry Birds ripped off, although Crush the Castle itself acknowledges that it is effectively a clone of Castle Clout. But enough of my spiteful attempts to sneer at Rovio! CtCF is good fun for exactly the same reasons as the browser version is fun. I may even buy the full version just for more levels to beat and ace.

Crush the Castle

Sometimes it is a little hard to imagine how these could be described as castles. This one looks more like a Broadway set interpretation of a construction site.

Bubble Blast

I include this one to acknowledge that Dylan was right about it. It’s fun, and the free version has more than enough levels for mere mortal men, and some of the puzzles are fiendish.

Bubble Blast

HOW DOES THIS EVEN I DON'T KNOW

Shadow Cities

Shadow Cities sounded really cool when I read about it on the app store. “Shadow Cities is global location based MMORPG that turns your city into a gripping game. Conquer your neighborhood!”

Neat! I could be the best technomancer in Brighton! That will definitely make me a more Interesting and Desirable person, I thought.

Unfortunately in the time I’ve spent with the game thus far I’ve been entirely unable to figure out the UI and fight/capture/speak to/get down on my knees and plead before one of the many spirits I’ve seen flying around the Seven Dials area. The game told me what to do, so I did it, and it didn’t quite work. Now the prompt doesn’t appear any more and I feel confused and stupid, which is probably not how a technomancer should feel.

Shadow Cities may be a really good game. I’ve just not been able to work out how. Has anyone else played it? Is it actually any good? Or should I just ignore it and play something that is clearly more innovative, like The Nightjar?

(Note: I just went to find a screenshot for this game and found that since it’s been updated, a new UI element has appeared. I can now play the game! So in Part 2 I will write more about Shadow Cities. For the time being I’m leaving the above in place, because it’s amusing.)

Shadow Cities

This isn't from my game. I didn't want you people knowing where I live.

Tune in soon for more fun and games (or games, at the very least).