November Mobile Roundup

Star Trader (Android)

An open-ended space adventure game with RPG elements? With combat, trading and exploration lying at the heart of its mechanics? Why yes, I will most certainly subscribe to your newsletter.

Star Trader is also heavily inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune, right down to ship crewmen being fond of a recreational drug known as Spice, the presence of Great Houses among the game’s major political factions, and the banning of advanced computerised technology due to a taboo concerning artificial intelligences. If you walk without rhythm you won’t attract the worm, or apparently the attention of the Herbert estate. But I can’t say I mind that Star Trader pays such tribute to one of my childhood favourites.

The game itself takes a little while to get into as the tutorial elements do little more than show you the basics of control and navigation, leaving you to figure out most of the important stuff yourself. It’s only later that you understand crucial details like when you should run from a fight, the importance of certain resources, when contracts are should be taken or rejected, and how risky it can be to really piss off a faction.

A mix of difficulty modes and starting conditions are available, with the game’s regular difficulty setting rendering it impossible for the player to fail (literally: if you die your ship and captain somehow reassemble themselves, leaving you to limp on to the nearest planet). This is a good way to get to grips with the game’s more complex mechanics and depth, as it does take some time investment and failure to learn the necessary lessons, but it does cripple any sense of risk/reward to know that death is not the end. It doesn’t even have any consequences that can’t be escaped with a few minutes of further play.

To its considerable credit a substantially-featured free version of Star Trader is available, with the full version adding more planets, ships, upgrades and the like. I’ve derived cumulative hours of fun from the free version – mostly in very short bursts here and there thanks to the turn-based style of play – and will be shifting over to the full version as soon as I get bored with my current playthrough.

Star Trader 1 Star Trader 2

Archipelago (Android)

Archipelago is a very simple GalCon clone. Cheerio then, see you next time.

Right. Fine. For those unfamiliar with the indie game GalCon, the concept of Archipelago is that two players (one human, one AI – there’s no multiplayer component) start out controlling a couple of islands of varying sizes with a number of aircraft on each island; islands produce new planes at rates corresponding to their size until they hit the island’s population cap. Tapping on an island and then a destination sends half of the planes present toward that destination. Victory involves capturing every island.

The trick is to capture new islands without weakening your existing ones too much, grabbing neutral territory or vulnerable enemy locations until a tipping point is reached and you can finish off whatever is left with ease.

Archipelago contextualises its mechanics with little islands and WW2 aircraft rather than asteroids and spaceships. That’s far from the only difference: the game types on offer are a lot less varied than GalCon, which put a fair bit of effort into environmental variations on those simple core mechanics. Still, Archipelago is a fun and fast-paced way to spend five minutes, and for a free title that was bundled with my phone I can hardly complain.

Archipelago 1

Angry Birds (Android)

Angry Birds is a big load of shit. Crush the Castle is much better.

Yep, this is pretty much just me grinding an axe because I find Rovio’s CEO deeply irritating. Apologies to everyone else involved, but that guy really is a douche.

I’ve played both Angry Birds and Angry Birds Rio now, and haven’t found much present to write home about. As for Crush the Castle: since I last wrote about it I’ve achieved a gold star on every level in the full version. Therefore, I am right. I know Angry Birds has that cutesy character design but Crush the Castle has funnier physics, more interesting level design, more imaginative projectile types, and no CEO saying twattish things all the time.

It also doesn’t have advertisements plastered all over it.

Angry Birds 1

Also if I’m entirely honest I don’t know how to do this level.

Monsters Ate My Condo (iOS)

I’m not a big fan of match-3 style games on the whole, so take my thoughts here with a generous pinch of salt, but Monsters Ate My Condo is one of my favourite of this type. It’s chaotic and frenetic and throws points and multipliers and all kinds of stuff around with wild abandon. This all feeds into scores, but I don’t really know. I’m too busy feeding intergalactic terror monsters with overpriced prefab housing.

It’s pretty simple really: you watch over a tower onto which new condos constantly drop. Each is assigned a colour, and monsters like to eat stuff of the same colour as them. You can feed them other colours and items but do it too often and they’ll throw a tantrum. Tantrums will bring down your tower, which is game over. You feed monsters by flicking condos left and right on the touch screen; your tower grows more uneven and precarious the more this is down, but hitting a combo straightens it out – and hitting a colour combo that matches one of the two onscreen monsters nets you their special ability.

I never have any idea how well I’m doing until the game is over. It all happens so fast.

I was initially charmed by MAMC’s bright, colourful and characterful design, and the fact that one of its taglines is “Fully-animated monsters to delight players, destroy civilization”. It didn’t take long for me to also be charmed by its cast – including the giant rainbow unicorn Reginald Stardire, who is in no way a deranged homage to a Peggle character, and a giant spacepug called Lord Ferocious – and superb music. Beneath all of this frippery, there’s also a well-balanced game that demands constant quick decision-making.

Monsters Ate My Condo 1 Monsters Ate My Condo 2

Crazyquest (iOS)

This is a MUD-style adventure game which I enjoyed playing for a few weeks. It’s pretty traditional fantasy stuff; you literally start out killing a rat in a sewer with a rusty dagger. You gain experience and cash to improve an impressive range of different skills or spells and buy or loot new equipment.

It’s got that endless progression loop thing down pat; training up skills and setting back out to see how your boosted character fares against old enemies is a pretty moreish experience, and it doesn’t take too long to gain enough skill points to train skills up. Although it’s a game of linear progression you can freely revisit old areas if you want – which, if you’ve the patience for such things, can be useful for grinding specific loot drops.

The writing was described to me as a friend as being a plus point but to be honest it’s pretty bland – it’s completely stock CRPG stuff. There’s a very mild parodic element to it which is probably best summed up by the title screen, which features a dragon and two warriors. One warrior has a sword and the other has a dead fish. Ha ha ha, yes? It’s just like Monty Python!

Crazyquest’s best features are that it is a fully-featured game that is completely free, and that there’s a busy chatroom built into the game where expert players (including the game’s creator) are on-hand to offer advice to new players or just provide someone to chat to while you wait for your HP to regenerate. Like me you may drift away from playing once the simple pleasures of killing critters and levelling up your skills wear off, but it’s hard to fault Crazyquest for providing an entertaining traditional CRPG/MUD experience on the iOS platform and doing so without charging a penny.

Crazyquest 1