The Palm of My Hand Pt. 1

I had not realised until I went looking that the last time I wrote a mobile round-up was in June 2013, now more than a year and a half ago. That said, last year I wrote a few pieces that went into mobile gaming in a bit more depth than I had previously. (With varying degrees of resulting audience interest. Hi!)

I played quite a few mobile games over the course of 2014, many of which I’ve not written about (although a few have been mentioned on our 2014 round-up podcast, which should be released soon after this is published – allowing for our appalling ineptitude at audio editing). I’ve decided to run through some of these games in a single post, grouping them together by commercial approach rather than genre, and looking at the commonalities between these games as well as my reactions to them. This won’t exactly produce a ‘state of the nation’ as concerns the mobile gaming space, but it might turf up a few interesting talking points.

I should note two things. Firstly that I’ve not included the games that I linked in that first paragraph – Out There, Hoplite, Dungeon Keeper, Transformers Legends – as I’ve already written about them. They are, however, factored into my conclusions. Secondly, that I only currently own an Android device, so iOS (or, er, other) platform owners may not be able to try out all of the games mentioned.

Oh, one more thing. This turned out quite long so I split it into three parts. Parts two and three will follow on Wednesday and Thursday.

Ready? Let’s rock.

To Have Is To Own

I, like a lot of people, prefer to think of myself as owning things like games. Most business entities who produce games prefer to think of users as licensing a product for use, or accessing a service. The lines are pretty blurred these days, and more and more people are either coming to terms with the latter idea (or choosing to just not think about it). I’m not really here to talk about that. This is a category of games that I paid a sum for.

10,000,000

10,000,000 is a fairly old entry in this list, dating from 2012, but it’s still a good one. Its approach to match3+ is unusual in that you slide entire rows or columns until you’ve aligned the tiles that you want. I’m starting to get used to this system but it’s still tougher to visualise options compared to other match3 games. Add to that the constant ticking down of your time limit and 10,000,000 can be a somewhat stressful experience. But the inevitable moment of failure means little in the grand scheme, as you keep the experience and gold you gather, so you just run, run and run again.

I doubt I’ll ever see that fabled 10,000,000 score since some of the challenges that begin to pop up to gate your progress are pretty esoteric, but you never know. I might be playing this in the hospital in twenty years time while I wait to get my hip operated on. At that time we’ll no doubt chortle about how inflation has made 10,000,000 a hilariously small number.

A Story of a Band

A Kairosoft-style title which sees you managing a five-piece rock band throughout their career. It’s ENORMOUSLY bollocks. Said career will see you constantly inventing and changing numerous genres, from prog rock to punk rock to technical death metal to power ballads and sometimes back again. It’s a shameless imitation of Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story (et al) template with only a few of its own mechanical ideas introduced, and it is not as smoothly and charmingly implemented as Kairosoft at their best.

That said, it’s obviously been made with some affection for rock & roll, and the trappings of that alongside the compulsive and fun gameplay and feedback loops was enough for me. I played this in a very dedicated fashion for a week and a half until my band’s career ended, at which point – having topped charts, won awards, invented numerous genres and maxed out most of those my band had played in – I felt I was done. Definitely got my money’s worth, for what that’s worse considering.

Calculords

Beautiful. Just beautiful. And absolutely rock fucking hard.

So: this is a lane-based deck strategy game versus AI opponents, with the big twist being that the cards you deploy are all assigned numerical values, and to deploy them you must calculate your way to those values! You get a set of number tiles in each turn and must add, subtract or multiply them in order to arrive at the figures needed. There’s something fiendish going on in the background because it appears always possible to arrive at an optimal solution: you deploy all cards, use all of your first set of number tiles and all of your second set too. You will need to be able to do this to beat the tougher opponents. There are less than a dozen such opponents to fight in all, but only the first couple are genuinely easy.

Happily, Calculords is tremendously replayable because you never know which cards from your deck you’ll get to use in a turn, plus performing strategic arithmetic never gets old. It’s also got a nice 16-bit aesthetic (unbelievable in a mobile game, I know) and has dialogue and jokes written by the internet’s Seanbaby, who also designed the game.

Calculords costs a couple of quid and there are four in-app purchases for about the same amount, so really dedicated players will pay just shy of ten English pounds for it. A mobile game with a low entry price and a defined, finite quantity of in-app purchases capped at a sum comparable to the price of a budget game on other platforms? Wonders will never cease.

Wicked Lair

Wicked Lair bills you as a dungeon master attempting to defend against questing heroes whilst attacking and ultimately destroying the town above you. A bit like Dungeon Keeper, right? Slightly, yes.

Each layer of your dungeon must be set to a particular dungeon type, and you can then spawn three monsters within it. The range of monsters available includes four for each dungeon type, with three dungeon types available in the free version and six more available for (low cost) real money purchase. The core game, incidentally, is free.

There’s something very more-ish about finding the balance between defence, offense and additional resource collection, keeping your dungeon going so as to afford newer and greater things whilst ensuring that the heroes – who constantly become more powerful – aren’t able to overwhelm you.

Wicked Lair is a game I want to put more time into, because it feels like there’s something potentially really good here that I haven’t yet gotten a handle on.

Quick mentions

  • Containment – a sort-of match-3 game wherein you surround zombies with humans of a certain colour (soldiers, cops, firemen… that sort of thing) at which point they unite to smoosh all the zombies. There’s a classic game – the name of which I cannot at all remember – which is a bit like this; all about establishing enclosures. Can anyone help me out on that? As for Containment, the 3D visuals are theoretically quite nice but the game’s top-down perspective results in everything getting both visually muddy and practically fiddly on my phone (which is not that small). I can see it working better on a tablet. I didn’t play much of this because the puzzling just didn’t draw me in, and I’m really not sure why it used zombies. The in thing when it was made, I guess.
  • The Spookening – a top-down action puzzler thing where you control a ghost and float around and scare people. I didn’t play enough levels to get a feel for where it actually goes; it was a bit of an unengaging experience if I’m honest. I don’t want to scare to people. What if you could talk to the people?
  • The Walking Dead: Assault – an actiony affair that is, astonishingly, once again top-down. You control a couple of survivors and bosh all the zombies in a level without dying. It’s okay for what it is, but after a few levels I didn’t know where it could really go beyond making you manage more survivors. Kiting zombies and fighting them in a manageable fashion is the order of the day, and your survivors auto-attack stuff that’s within range, so the action is more about positioning. Ho hum.
  • Ninja Village Lite & Beastie Bay – after playing A Story of a Band I had an urge to scratch that Kairosoft itch again, and unfortunately I own Game Dev Story and Epic Astro Story on iOS but no longer own an iOS device. What to do? Try out some of their freebies, of course. Sadly Beastie Bay didn’t have much personality and was definitely not as polished as their best offerings. Ninja Village Lite was more engaging, but not exciting enough for me to shell out the cost for the full version once I hit the time limit. That probably says more about my prior experience with what Kairosoft do than their shareware-esque commercial model.

Concluding Thoughts

This category contains some of my favourite mobile games of last year, but not all of them. Calculords in particular I have to single out for its innovative game design – there really is nothing else like it, unless some jobsworths have cloned it by now – and its humour, but also for its pricing model. I’m curious as to how well it’s done. I’ve bought one but not all of the extra packs but I’ve not done well enough in the game to get to the point where experimenting with deck design is worthwhile. My girlfriend is much, much better at this than I am (as is true of almost all mobile games).

This category also includes more than a few Humble Bundle games. A sad thing about Humble Bundles for mobile is that I usually end up playing only a very small number of games in them – whereas the comparable PC bundles I usually at least try everything properly. Why is that? Possibly it is just down to long-ingrained gaming snobbery towards the mobile platform – although I don’t believe that this is the case as I try a lot of mobile games out. Perhaps it is down to the perception of value around mobile games: I believe they are worth less and while I’ll invest an hour in a PC game just to see what it is like, I don’t innately believe a bundled mobile game is worth the faff of downloading and installing via the Humble app before playing it for a bit (to be fair, this can be a bit of a faff and sometimes the installs fail anyway).

The logic I lean towards most is that when it comes to mobile games I know what I’m looking for – something engaging but which is either simple enough to allow my attention to simultaneously be elsewhere (watching a film, say) or has natural break points i.e. is turn-based, so I don’t risk screwing up by changing my focus for a few minutes.