Shaun’s iOS Roundup Pt. 2

Zombie Highway

This was a freebie that was advertised around the time I first got my iPod, so was one of the first games I played for it. As a freebie it’s quite good fun. Basically you drive your nice little 3D car along a nice straight highway and zombies will jump onto your car whilst it careers along at 70mph, as this is a thing that we have always known zombies to do. Then you must try to knock the zombies off against wreckage along the sides of the highway, or shoot them with your guns, which are definitely something we know to work against zombies.

There’s not a great deal to Zombie Highway but it’s a slickly presented game which makes great use of the iPod’s tilt functionality for the driving mechanics; the pacing is just right for such a control scheme. It’s not going to rock your world but if you fancy something more dynamic than the usual puzzle game to keep you entertained for the duration of a bus ride, you could do far worse.

Oh yes! There are different cars and zombies too! Which I assume is to reflect the different cars in the real world, as well as all the different people, like thin people, and large people, and people who glow red. It’s a shame the game doesn’t also reflect different roads, but one cannot have everything.

Zombie Highway

I include this screenshot as a hilarious example of my own ineptitude at the fiddly process of saving an iPod screenshot whilst also steering a car covered in zombies. We've all been there.

Helsing’s Fire Lite

Kudos to, er, one of my friends on twitter for recommending this one to me. I gather it’s quite popular? I can see why. It’s a simple puzzle game but it’s all about positioning, and unlike something like Bubble Blast you don’t have to try and fail to experiment. Well, you can, but you’d be a fool to do so as the game allows you to tweak your positioning before you commit.

I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ve been drinking whilst writing these reviews. (My iPod randomly resets itself regularly and takes two minutes to reboot, so I needed to drink through the boredom of revisiting these titles and grabbing screenshots around this “fun” “feature”.) Helsing’s Fire is a game in which monsters are popping up all over London or some shit, and the only thing that can stop them is a cartoonish Dr. Helsing and his lickspittle manservant.

Helsing's Fire 01

I really want to be more sarcastic about a puzzle game having such a SRS BSNS plot, but it's actually quite characterful and charming. You know, in a way that re-imagines Victoriana as a magical wonder filled with magic and wonder, rather than a barbarous era of industrialised imperialism and savagery.

Doctor Helsing and Lab Technician Bumlick must place a torch in a position where its light is cast around obstacles and strikes monsters; once the torch is in place they activate a tonic of a given colour and all monsters of that colour are killed. But wait! Things are a tad more complicated. Strike a monster with an, uh, tonic-infused torch of the wrong colour and you strengthen it. And so each level becomes a matter of trying different spots and figuring out your sequence of triggers. The game doesn’t immediately fail you when you screw up, either, meaning you can either spaff light all over the place like the Angelic Host experiencing premature ejaculation or experiment further with torch placement.

The game soon proves quite compelling and, at times, mildly infuriating. I’ve still not beaten all of the Lite levels which isn’t bad for a free puzzle game, even if it is probably quite bad for a business plan.

Helsing's Fire 02

Rats, skeletons and weeping maidens amidst the signature architecture of 19th-century London.

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Nerds of the world, unite! Everyone remembers gamebooks, if by “everyone” you mean “nerdy kids, mostly boys, whose formative years overlapped the 80s and 90s to some extent and involved books, dice and goblins”. If you’re reading this website, them odds are good!

Okay, more seriously: this is the first in a series of titles which republishes classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks into an entirely new format. Halfway between ebooks and role-playing games, the closest thing I can liken them to is Seventh Sense which did a similar thing with Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf game books (and went one better by stringing them together into a truly sequential campaign).

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a classic gamebook that features a lot of staples of the pen and paper RPG: battles with vanilla fantasy monsters like goblins, giants and minotaurs; thinly-veiled analogies of allegories (pay the boatman to cross the river, oooh!); mystery and magic; and of course a bona fide maze.

Warlock of Firetop Mountain 01

Also, a guest appearance from Kerry Katona!

The conversion also brings with it some genuinely welcome innovations such as an automated dice roll system (shake or tap, your choice) for battles and luck or skill roles, an automated inventory system that keeps track of everything you’re carrying, and automated stats that remember your skill roles from the start of a game and amend them up or down as you progress. As a side effect, this also effectively eliminates your ability to cheat in any of the following ways:

  • Sticking your fingers into pages and peeking forwards to check the consequences of a decision until you’ve more fingers used as bookmarks than you have on both hands, and you’ve entirely forgotten where you started from.
  • Deciding to eat a meal to regain stamina wherever you are at that time, because “nothing’s going on here and the author probably just forgot to mention that it’s okay to eat here.”
  • Being a mighty warrior by way of ignoring unfavourable dice rolls. In fact, here it’s possible to gamble all of your money away against a tiny librarian, as I’m pretty sure the dice are skewed in his favour for that bit.
  • Combining the above to cheat your way to the final battle and then pretending you possess the items you need to win it.

Effectively, Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is an adventure gamebook that kicks your waaambulance off a cliff and laughs uproariously at you. It’s not impossible to beat but it’s a damn sight harder to do so when you can’t get cheeky with it.

Oh, and all the old line drawings are reproduced in both their original form and full colour, which is a nice touch.

Warlock of Firetop Mountain 02

The first enemy you encounter; some fearsome shit right there. The Warlock would've had more luck with one of those fake CCTV cameras.

Frotz & IF Quake

Sometimes you witness artefacts or events that make you wonder why people do things to themselves. For example, I confess to being slightly unsure as to why people engage in feats of strength such as this:

Or why, in 2011, the NME still insists on putting the Gallagher brothers on covers. (It is almost as though they hope that, through sheer force of editorial will, they can reverse time until it is 1994 and the magazine can once again enjoy a feeling of relevance to modern music larger subscriber figures.) Still, it is nice that sometimes people go ahead and do stuff just because they can, regardless of whether or not it is an idea that smells faintly of Michael Crichton’s literary career, i.e. ridiculous.

Such an idea is porting Frotz, the text adventure engine, to iPhone and iPod. I concede that iPad is slightly less ridiculous, but seriously, endlessly typing in words to try and figure out the correct combination of verbs and nouns in order to accomplish an action? No problem on your PC. Using a teeny touchscreen keyboard that’s prone to misinterpreting your chubby finger stabs? Ooooh boy, that’s quite the thing.

Still, I’ve been meaning to play IF Quake for many years, and I’m glad I finally got to. Even if it took me over five minutes just to get out of the difficulty selection room.

Frotz IF Quake

When taking screengrabs I couldn't get much further in than this thanks to my iPod crashing. It really hates interactive fiction, I guess.

Oh yes. For those of you who don’t know, IF Quake is a text adventure / interactive fiction retelling of iD’s revolutionary 1996 polygonal industrial-horror FPS. It’s got a sly sense of humour about it – particularly in how it describes the game world’s eccentric mish-mash of aesthetics and ideas – and provides a good bit of fun in its short duration.

Frotz bundles in a rather fine online catalogue and download service for other Interactive Fiction games so, if IF is your thing, and you have the saintly patience required to persevere with the iOS text input system for lengthy periods of time, you are well-served here. If you want to try out the platform with something short, fun and familiar, then IF Quake is a good place to start. Frotz also comes bundled with a bunch of titles, so no doubt there are some fancy-ticklers in there.

Geomon

It’s a Pokemon rip-off of sorts. Or at least I assume that is the case, as I’ve never played a Pokemon game. But come on! Look at that name! Look at these cutesy critters!

Geomon 01

"I devour the souls of children and slurp the marrow from their cold, dead bones."

Okay, maybe not that particular one. But there’s cuteness aplenty elsewhere.

Geomon is actually quite a bit of fun, even if that fun may be cookie-cutter fun directly lifted from Nintendo’s high school massacre-baiting series of collect-&-capture-’em-ups. You can level up your critters as well as yourself and collect or buy a bunch of different items. You can collect info on the game’s many different species and capture a menagerie of your own. The game draws info from your location to set a day/night cycle which affects the appearance of different creature types. There’s a well-integrated if typical tutorial and mission structure to get you started. You can duel other players. It looks and sounds… nice. The monster design is inventive enough and even occasionally funny, such as the giant turkey wearing an American pilgrim’s hat, complete with oversized buckle.

But still… I feel a bit dirty. It’s, like, Pokemon, basically. And so it’s a game that makes me feel like a paedophile.

Geomon 02

TEMPORARY STATUS EFFECT: INAPPROPRIATE HUMOUR

Hector: Badge of Carnage: Episode One

This one was actually recommend to me by friend-of-AR Rob Wade over at Emotionally Fourteen. He’s been cheerleading the series for a while and was kind enough to point me towards an offer from creators Straandlooper to give away free copies of the 1st episode. They released the third episode a few months back which brings the series to its conclusion, although I hope that they either return to the character or the genre in the future.

Hector: Badge of Carnage is that hoariest of PC gaming staples: a point and click adventure. Or, more accurately in this age of Apple, a smear and prod adventure. It lends you control of an overweight, coarse, crass and crude police detective: imagine Life of Mars‘ Gene Hunt without the basic charisma. Hector’s one redeeming feature is that, unlike the rest of Clappers Wreake’s over-funded police force, he actually exhibits some semblance of competence. Even if that competence does tend to avoid stealing trousers from idiotic teenagers.

Hector: Badge of Carnage 01

"To get 'ere today I had to steal some trousers, feed coffee to an incoherent tramp, set a prostitute up with a trick and fish some keys out of a big pile of shit. You don't see that on 'World's Wildest Police Videos'. Mostly because it's not shown over 'ere."

Hector is beautifully drawn and animated, boasts some genuinely good voice acting (at times very good, at times weaker, but ain’t that always the way), and stands out because of its resolutely low-brow approach to parody and satire. It’s also equally at home mocking Middle Englander attitudes and police incompetence as it is social degeneration and ridiculous youth cultures, and despite a number of missteps it maintains its confidence. Would that all new point and click IPs were this self-assured.

I wouldn’t mind writing a full review of Hector at some point, as I do have more to say about its approach toward a few of its characters and targets, but rather than coming over all New Games Journalism on you I’ll simply wrap up this 2,000 word article by suggesting you play some of the games I’ve mentioned here or in part one. Fun-poking aside, they’re (almost) all rather entertaining.