There’s little doubt that Ndemic Creation’s Plague Inc. is one of the finest strategy games in the App Store, but it’s also one of the most well tended to games I’ve ever seen. The original release last year was an elegant humanity-eradicating simulation that felt like a perfect fit for a mobile title. Over the last year and a half though, Plague Inc. has grown and evolved into so much more. We’ve seen a brain-burrowing worm plague with last September’s Neurax Worm expansion pack, Genetic Mutations in an update the following month, the zombie-like plague Necroa Virus added in an update in February, and Speed Runs and Center for Disease Control content in an update from July. Now that brings us to today, where the Scenarios update which we detailed last month is now available in the App Store.
The Scenario update includes 14 new modes which include real-life diseases like the Black Death and Smallpox which you can try to spread across the entire planet, and there’s also alternate-reality world events that take place like a US Debt Default which will throw a wrench into how you expand your disease across humanity (or provide a golden opportunity to exploit such situations). The update comes with one of the new scenarios for free, and each additional scenario available for a 99¢ IAP each. Or you can buy a “season pass” of sorts for $2.99 that will unlock all current and future scenarios.
Plague Inc. is one of the best dollars you can spend for a video game, and if it “infects” you the way it has me (sorry I couldn’t help myself) then you’ll have an enormous amount of both paid and free added content to occupy yourself with. If you’re already a fan then check out the new Scenario update, but if you aren’t yet familiar with Plague Inc. then you should definitely consider giving it a look.
‘Galaxy on Fire – Alliances’ Soft-launch Expands to US App Store and Other English-speaking Territories
It was just a few days ago that the iOS version of the Galaxy on Fire MMO from developer Fishlabs soft-launched in fourteen different territories, but here we are already and the soft-launch of Galaxy on Fire – Alliances has expanded to include the US and “all English-speaking countries as well as additional territories” according to a developer post on our forums. If you’re not sure if that includes your territory, well, follow the link to your App Store and if the game is there then you’re good to go.
I haven’t dove into Alliances myself just yet, but people
The Infinity Blade series is a mainstay of the iOS platform, and chances are that every man, woman and child has downloaded and installed the first game in the trilogy since its release nearly three years ago. But… maybe some of you haven’t yet, for whatever reason, and if that’s the case with you then right now is a great time to correct that as the original Infinity Blade is free for a limited time as part of a Black Friday sale promotion.
Infinity Blade has only been free once before, but it’s definitely been as cheap as a dollar many, many times. I’d say the original game has been surpassed with its sequels Infinity Blade II and Infinity Blade III , but that doesn’t mean the first game is any less enjoyable, though I do think it’s a shame it doesn’t have proper widescreen support. At any rate, if you jumped into the world of Infinity Blade with the second or third entries and missed out on the first, you should take this opportunity to complete the collection by downloading Infinity Blade for free.
We told you last week that the remake of the strategy classic M.U.L.E. would be landing on November 25th, and we weren’t lying. As of today you can now download M.U.L.E. Returns from the App Store. This new iOS version features remade visuals, remixes of the classic M.U.L.E. tunes, and absolutely no in-app purchases or any of that weirdness. As the app description puts it, “Nothing else to buy. No gems. No crystals. No ads. Pure gaming!” Here you can see a nice chunk of the game in action in this developer gameplay video.
Remember back when Game Dev Story released? It was such a fun game, and it seemed like everyone was playing it, even people who weren’t really into mobile gaming. At that point in time, the future looked pretty bright for developer Kairosoft, with a future as a dominant force on the App Store seeming likely. Well, they perhaps didn’t make the most of their chance, but they’re still trucking away, porting their old feature phone and PC releases to iOS and (more frequently) Android. That they could sell tons more copies of Game Dev Story 2 than The Sushi Spinnery may or may not be obvious to them, but they’re clearly marching to their own beat, and today, that beat sounds a lot like clopping hooves.
Pocket Stables is the newest release from Kairosoft, and unlike recent titles Dream House Days and Beastie Bay , this one isn’t free to play, and there is no IAP at all. Perhaps responding to criticism, recent games from this developer have been incorporating more RPG elements and slightly deeper mechanics. Pocket Stables feels like a bit of a backslide in that regard, because it’s more or less a straight serving of simulation, Kairosoft-style. Mostly similar to Grand Prix Story , in this game you’ll be establishing a ranch that grooms racing horses. Though careful purchasing, training, and breeding, you’ll gain access to faster horses, win bigger races with bigger prizes, and gain greater fame and fortune.
Of course, the real game here isn’t about making your way to the top, because that is a matter of course. No, the challenge here, as ever, is one of time. You need to accumulate as many points as you can by the time you reach the end of your 16th year. Every Kairosoft game uses this mechanic, with each game varying as to how difficult it is to reach the top prize or goal in time. Pocket Stables is actually pretty tricky in this regard. The chances of winning the top race by the time you hit that last year are pretty slim. Of course, you can just continue playing for fun after the time limit is up, but for those who like that meta-challenge, you’ll have a slightly more taxing time here than with most of their other games.
Most of your time spent with the game will be at the grounds of your ranch. Here, you can build new facilities for training your horses, housing your jockeys, entertaining visitors, or beautifying the grounds. The training facilities each improve a different set of stats when a horse uses it enough. The lodgings are needed to keep full-time jockeys around, who are required for training your horses. Entertainment facilities help generate money and research points, and after a certain type of visitor makes enough use of them, you’ll earn a new item, skill, or facility. Plants and trees are useful not only for aesthetic purposes, but also give a bonus to surrounding buildings. As you play, you’ll unlock more buildings and facilities, along with the opportunity to expand the size of your ranch.
Naturally, you’re training your horses for a reason, and that’s where the races come in. You can enter a horse and jockey into a race every month, with selections based on the horse’s class and which races you’ve previously cleared. You’ll always walk away with some money, though not very much if you don’t place in first. You’ll also gain fans by running races, who will then come and visit your ranch to spend money and give you items. From time to time, you’ll also be challenged to one-on-one races by certain spectators. If you lose, there’s no shame in it. Rest your horse up, do some extra training, and try again. Sooner or later, you’ll win, because that’s the Kairosoft way.
Visuals and sounds are no surprise if you’ve ever played any of the games this developer has released. Everything is cute and pixelated, and anything that could be reused from previous games has been. The music is pretty relaxing, at least, giving the whole thing a nice mellow tone that fits the theme of the game well. At this point, the art style seems to be Kairosoft’s calling card, so I don’t expect much change. Fortunately, both portrait and landscape modes are supported with no IAP required as in their free titles, and the larger size of the iPhone 5’s screen is completely filled. Low expectations, I know.
It’s kind of funny, because usually I like a game to challenge me in some way, but even though Kairosoft’s games are almost devoid of challenge in the proper sense, they still manage to pull me in completely for at least one playthrough. I find them relaxing, adorable, and engaging, whether they’re covering mundane situations or the bizarre. While I’m sure we’d all love to see a big follow-up to Game Dev Story come to iOS, I can truly appreciate on some level that in this heavily-changing market, Pocket Stables shows that Kairosoft can, if nothing else, keep their games’ quality and value stable.
Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series are going to be in for a treat next week
Gameplay seems to focus around naval battles, building up a crew, and doing all sorts of other pirate-y things. I’m curious how it’s going to differentiate itself from Sid Meier’s Pirates! , but we won’t have to wait long to find out.
[Image and Trailer Courtesy of
Square Enix’s Final Fantasy IV: The After Years is a strange beast. While there have been a number of sequels and spinoffs to official FF games all of them were based on post-SNES era games. Yet, in 2008 SE released this direct sequel to FFIV to the Japanese populace as a mobile game, and would eventually launch it in the US first as a WiiWare port and then as part of a compilation on the PSP. Now, iOS users finally have a chance to check out After Years although there really isn’t much to enjoy.
In making the transition to iOS, After Years receives a great looking 3D facelift. Gone is the classic 16-bit art style, replaced with visuals highly reminiscent of the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. While it’s obviously based on the 3D engine used to recreate FFIII and FFIV, as was the case with those titles’ iOS ports After Years looks much better than anything you’d see on Nintendo’s portable system. In fact, other than a few minor cosmetic improvements, the game’s visuals and interface look exactly like the iOS port of Final Fantasy IV. Fans of the series have a lot of opinions regarding the 3D engine, but I’ve enjoyed the updated look and that continues with After Years.
I’m also not a fan of the game’s episodic nature. Each of the main characters have their own mini story complete with their own cast of characters which all eventually lead to the main arc of saving the world yet again from an extraterrestrial menace. I also found the whole ‘episode’ system to be disjointed and not really cohesive until you get to the ending tales. This is particularly due to the option for players to play most of the episodes in whatever order they want. It’s obvious that this is a leftover from the game’s mobile/episodic roots, but it still leads to an overall story that is not greater than the sum of its parts.
I am a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, particularly when it comes to the pre-PSX titles. I also hadn’t played After Years before and was fully expecting this to be a wondrous romp through nostalgia. Unfortunately, that feeling never came while playing through After Years. I can’t pinpoint which of my above issues lead to this absence, but regardless, without that nostalgia all you’re left with is a mediocre at best RPG with too much recycled content. Huge fans of FFIV will probably want to check it out After Years regardless, but honestly, I don’t think you’re missing much.
About a year and a half ago, NTT Resonant and ZigZaGame Inc. released Dragon Island Blue , an RPG that was very heavily inspired by Nintendo’s Pokemon. Offering a huge roster of monsters and abilities, it nicely tapped into a few of the hooks of the famous franchise. There were lots of reasons to like it: the joy of collecting as many creatures as you can, building a team that’s all your own, the tension of trying to whittle down the enemy’s life without killing them to ensure a capture. However, while it got some things right, there were other ways it didn’t fare quite so well. It was a really ugly game with really poor visual consistency. The spread of creatures looked like random clip art gathered from a variety of artists. The quest itself was kind of limp, with most of the focus being on the monster-collecting. Still, it was a fun game, but the sort of fun game that was begging for a good follow-up.
Luckily, this isn’t one of the many cases of games like that never getting the refined sequel they need. Hunter Island , a spiritual successor to Dragon Island Blue, brings forward everything fun from the original, fixes up a lot of the major problems, and adds a few new wrinkles. This is one of those sequels that doesn’t stray too far from what worked the last time, but does a much better job of presenting it all around. No, it’s not Pokemon. I regret to say we are probably not going to see a full-sized, full-budget Pokemon-style adventure for a dollar anytime soon. It does, however, hit a lot of similar buttons, so whether you have fond childhood memories of Pokemon Red/Blue or you just want something to play on your phone while you’re between sessions of Pokemon X/Y, I think you’ll be happy with what Hunter Island is offering.
The first order of business I want to talk about are the graphics and art improvements. Normally, that’s not something I would lead with, but Hunter Island is night and day when compared to its predecessor. The game has an actual consistent visual style now, and the monster designs are not only excellent and varied, but now look like they belong to the same game. The overworld and towns look a lot better, too. Sprites don’t look quite so much like they’re pasted on to the backgrounds, and the map version of your character actually resembles the character art this time. Battles still lack animations, and that’s something I hope the developers try to implement in future games, but hey, it took Pokemon almost 15 years to get that far, so I’ll try to be patient here. The point is that this is actually a pretty good-looking game for a 2D RPG, and that’s not something I ever expected in a million years coming from the people who made Dragon Island Blue.
From there, you’ll fight your first battle, which plays out like the battles in the previous game. It’s a turn-based system where each of your possible actions take a particular amount of time units to use. This will determine how long it will be until that monster gets to take its next turn. Turn order of both your team and the enemies is displayed on the side of the screen. At any given point, you and the opponent can have three monsters each in play, with defeated or otherwise incapacitated monsters being swapped out for the next one in line on the active roster. If your whole party is wiped out, worry not. You’ll respawn at the last town you visited, with absolutely nothing lost.
The overworld maps are still traversed by touching various points marked by arrows. This is where you can randomly encounter wild monsters which you can catch. Use your monsters in battle to reduce the enemy HP, which improves your chances of being able to capture it. You have three different options for capturing the critters. You can spend a little silver, a lot of silver, or some gold, each with increasing odds of successfully capturing the monster. Silver is easy enough to come by but not so easy that you’ll be wanting to toss a ton of it at every single monster, and gold is a premium currency with many other uses, so treat it like a Master Ball. One small but appreciated change is that even if you capture the monster, you’ll still receive experience points at the end of the fight. Anything that cuts down on meaningless grinding is great in my books.
Hunter Island has more than 350 monsters to collect, far more than the first game had. There’s an extra layer added to the collecting this time, too, because each monster has a grade ranking from E to S. The higher the grade, the more frequently the monster is able to attack, and consequently, the more powerful it is. For OCD hunters, this is something of a nightmare, I imagine, because not only do you have to collect all the monsters, but you have to find S versions of all of them. I wasn’t too concerned with it, but one thing I do wish is that I could see which rank of the monster I’ve already caught when I’m in battle. Monsters are marked to tell you if you have them or not, but you have to remember if the one you’ve already caught is better than the one in front of you. If you aren’t the type of person that needs to find the best specimen of everything, you’ll find the old university slacker slogan applies pretty well here: Cs earn degrees. You won’t have trouble making your way through the game even without having a full team of S ranked monsters.
You’ll also find towns and caves on the map. Towns have many purposes, of course. Your monsters are automatically healed when you enter a town, and you can change your active roster here, too. There’s also an item shop that sells various goods for both silver and gold, a tavern where people offer advice and hints, a guild where you can pick up sub-quests and take rank tests, an arena where you can do battles once a day to earn prizes, a teleporter that can take you back to any town you’ve already visited, and occasionally NPCs that give you rewards for certain achievements. Most of the story progress happens in these towns, though like its inspiration the main story of this game is a serious afterthought. There’s certainly more plot here than in the first game, but it’s really hard to care about it. But hey, progressing the plot opens up new areas with new monsters, and that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?
The Game Center support in this game is really good, actually. Every time you catch a monster, you’ll get a little banner telling you what your completion percent is, which is a nice little Pavlovian reward for catching something new. You can also do online battles through Game Center, which is another pretty big addition to the game. In the online battles, you choose your team and take a max-level version of them into battle with another player. The matchmaking doesn’t seem to take your strength into account, though, so lopsided fights are pretty common. Win or lose, you’ll earn some points towards your online ranking, though, so losing doesn’t sting too badly. This was one of the major pieces missing from Dragon Island Blue, and I expect fans of that are going to be pretty happy to see it.
Hunter Island does everything a good follow-up should. It clearly addresses the faults of the original, to various degrees of success, while still doing what it was doing well already. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement, especially with regards to freedom of movement on the world map and in caves. The story, while better than before, is still barely there and not very interesting at all. That said, the core experience, collecting and battling monsters, is done very well here and makes the game quite compelling as a result. I really like how this is both a very long game (about double the length of the average Kemco RPG) yet still very much a pick up and play experience. If you’re looking for an accessible RPG that’ll give you a lot of bang for your buck, give this one a look.
There are so many ‘endless’ games constantly being released that it really takes a lot simply to get noticed in the crowded genre.
As we mentioned in our preview, Space Chicks is an endless platformer starring a space-age ladies man that traverses across planetoids in search of damsels to rescue. Once a ‘space chick’ is located, you must guide her back to her space ship, where she takes off to safety. Of course, it’s never that simple as a variety of enemies look to end your rescuing ways. Get hit and your rescue gets thrown back onto a planet, typically forcing you to backtrack to save her again. Rescue all the chicks and you move on to the next level (each of which gets progressively harder). Get hit enough times and the game is over and the run ends. Overall, it’s a solid gameplay foundation that doesn’t offer any radical changes.
Where Space Chicks does differentiate itself is in its implementation of gameplay elements on top of that foundation. The planetoids are a great alternative to simply running in a straight line which provides added depth in terms of timing and strategy. A gravity system reminiscent of Angry Birds Space ensures that jumping from rock to rock isn’t quite as simple as you’d expect. It also makes for some interesting ways to take out enemies, as you can land on rocks that are easily moved when you jump off them, effectively making them projectiles. I’m also a fan of the game’s later enemies, which include weapon-wielding baddies that are actively aiming for you which add some intense pressure while you’re simultaneously trying to wade through the static obstacles.
Space Chicks is one of those rare examples where every small component of the game comes together to make an experience greater than its parts. Runs have that perfect difficulty progression and offer ample opportunity to collect coins. The in-game store features a combination of skins along with abilities and power-ups that offer different ways to play without being game breaking (there’s also only one currency, meaning everything is accessible with enough playtime). Meanwhile, the overall speed of the game is spot on, offering a fast-paced experience that requires reflexes while not feeling like advancement is based on sheer chance. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful visuals and infectious music which add a lot to the overall presentation.
However, the multiplayer is what really sets Space Chicks apart from the rest of the pack. Two heroes tackle each level in co-op fashion, collecting coins and saving chicks. While there is inevitably some competition regarding who can collect the most coins and save the most folks, the game ends when one player runs out of lives, making the whole affair co-op in nature. Since the game’s controls exclusively center around one-tap jumping, the game divides the screen into half with each player using their respective side to tap and jump.
Playing on the same device combined with highly accessible controls and fast paced action really leads to a highly entertaining multiplayer experience in Space Chicks. There aren’t a lot of games that can really nail same-screen multiplayer, but I’m pretty impressed with what Space Chicks does. It’s certainly unique, which would make it worth checking out on its own, but it doesn’t hurt that it actually works incredibly well and is a joy to play.
There really isn’t a lot to complain about with Space Chicks. Sure, it would have been nice to have more unlockables, and some added variety in terms of environments and enemies would have been nice, but those are superficial complaints that can be made about most games. The simple fact is Space Chicks is an awesome endless runner with great presentation, highly approachable controls and just enough platforming elements and difficulty to keep players coming back for more. I highly recommend you give it a try.
This week’s episode we actually recorded a day early, so all the amazing things which happened (or didn’t happen!) today will be discussed next week. Anyway, we spend a lot of time chatting about the recent war of virtual pet releases, other cool games of the week, relevant news, and then a big long discussion on the iOS 7 game controllers we played with.
Don’t forget to shoot us emails with any questions, feedback, or anything else relevant or irrelevant to firstname.lastname@example.org. We read ‘em all, even if they don’t make it into the podcast.
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