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TouchTalk, Volume Six

Brad Gallaway's picture

Welcome back to a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com: TouchTalk.

In every installment we'll be reviewing a handful of mobile games and apps that you might want to check out… and maybe some that you'll want to avoid. If you've got a favorite that you'd like to see reviewed here in TouchTalk, drop me a line via email or Twitter.

If I use your suggestion, I'll give you credit for the discovery, and my thanks!

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion Screenshot

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion

Developer: Witching Hour Studios
Platforms Available: iOS
In-App Purchases: The full version charges $0.99 for a triple-speed option. The "lite" version charges for the same feature, plus extra episodes.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10

As a relatively new iPad owner (bought mine in September of 2012—just in time to get screwed by the unexpected iPad 4 reveal a month later…), I can't say I've been thrilled by the gaming experiences on my iOS device so far. Oh, sure, I've sunk hours into Elder Sign because I love Lovecraft, and I've been known to go for a round of Fruit Ninja while on the can, but they're anomalies in my gaming diet. I spend far more time with my Vita and 3DS because the games on those systems appeal to me more than anything I've found on iOS—and then I found Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion. Thank you, Witching Hour Studios, for giving me something enjoyable to play on my iPad.

Those who've played strategy role-playing games (SRPGs) in the past know exactly what they're getting into with Ravenmark. For those that haven't, it's like military-styled chess. Players command armies of units with different strengths and weaknesses as they engage in mortal combat with enemy forces. Knowing those strengths and weakness, as well as strategizing how to best turn them to your advantage, is the key to success in the game. Like chess, it's both simple and complex at the same time.

Ravenmark doesn't break with SRPG tradition, but that's okay from my perspective. Things start simply enough, with players commanding forces through a series of tutorial battles. As the game progresses, the skirmishes get more complicated. It never gets inscrutably deep (forces basically operate on a rock-paper-scissors format) but there's enough challenge and randomness to the gameplay to keep things from becoming predictable or too easy.

The game's aesthetic choices are equally impressive. The narrative is deep (and supplemented quite nicely by an in-game Codex that explains all the lore for those who want to get lost in the game's world), the graphics quite striking, and the soundtrack impressive. Ravenmark really is the complete package for those who own an iPad or an iPhone.

The one potential downside here is the price of admission. Generally speaking, I'm reluctant to spend more than $6.99 on a game for a mobile device, yet Ravenmark retails for $9.99. However, this is an instance where dropping the cash is worth it because it feels like a game you'd play on a dedicated handheld device instead of a typical $.99 mobile release. For fans of titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Advance Wars, Ravenmark will certainly scratch that strategy game itch.

Reviewed by Mike Bracken on the iPad.

Hungry Giraffe Screenshot

Hungry Giraffe

Developer: Laughing Jackal
Platforms Available: iOS, Android, PC
In-App Purchases: In-game currency, upgrades, unlock levels, and skins.
Rating: 4.0 out of 10

Playing Hungry Giraffe feels like trying to grab a stuffed animal out of one of those notoriously weak-gripped claw machines. Others have successfully managed the feat, but they are few in number; mere legends in the dark corners of a dingy arcade. For most people, there is a feeling the contraption just hates them. Similarly, Hungry Giraffe feels like it hates the player, or at least does not like the idea of the player enjoying herself.

Ostensibly, Hungry Giraffe is part of the "endless runner" genre of mobile games where players try to travel as far as they can before falling victim to one of many sadistically placed obstacles. In this case, the player controls a giraffe head with a snaking, serpentine body by tilting the mobile device left or right. The goal is to navigate the head toward a piece of fruit that propels it toward the top of the screen. Eat enough fruit and avoid pitfalls like anvils and other calamities, and the player endlessly, though clumsily, snakes upward, scoring more points and accumulating more of the in-game currency used to make subsequent attempts a little less painful.

The silver lining to this otherwise mediocre (at best) experience is found in the rich visual presentation. The giraffe is well animated, the art not unlike the average family CG animal adventure by Pixar or Dreamworks, and the backgrounds have depth and richness. Although I hate to make the lipstick-on-a-pig comparison, the graphics just don't make up for an otherwise lackluster mobile distraction.

Reviewed by John Vanderhoef on the iPhone.

Blood Roofs Screenshot

Blood Roofs

Developer: Gamesmold
Platforms Available: iOS, Android
In-App Purchases: In-game currency to unlock characters and game modifiers.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Although I never would have guessed it before owning an iPhone, I've become quite partial to the "endless runner" genre that John just mentioned in his review above. I'm especially fond of games which twists the formula somehow, or reinterpret it into something different enough to stand out from the crowd. Blood Roofs certainly fits that bill.

The title begins with a main character who looks like he's just stepped off the cover of a Gothic romance novel swinging down and scooping an injured damsel into his arms. Appearances can be a bit misleading, though—he's not saving the day entirely by himself. Since his hands are full, she's the sole means of offense, able to take down enemies with a machine gun. This teamwork mechanic is quite interesting to me, and what's even more interesting is the inventive take on the genre—the two characters immediately began leaping huge distances across the rooftops of a fog-choked city while dodging horrors straight out of a Lovecraft novel.

The level design still pushes the player forward at a rapid pace, but there are often multiple routes and the game is more about landing these massive jumps than it is about split-second reflexes. There's good variety in the environments, and the boss encounters were a pleasant surprise.

Although the level of difficulty is quite steep at the beginning before the player has unlocked any enhancements, I was pleased to see that nearly everything in the game is permanently unlocked for around $5 in addition to the original purchase. For a title as interesting as this one with such high production values, I thought that one-time investment was a very fair price for what's now become one of my favorite iOS titles.

Reviewed by Brad Gallaway on the iPhone.

Sushi Mushi Screenshot Sushi Mushi Screenshot

Sushi Mushi

Developer: Aspyr Media, Inc.
Platforms Available: iOS
In-App Purchases: Mon$ter Money for purchase of game modifiers.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10

An asynchronous two-player puzzle game that rewards quick thinking and swiping, Sushi Mushi offers competitive puzzle play for people on the go. Unfortunately, the game is hampered by a forced registration system, the curse of freemium advertising, and a design that fails to adequately distinguish itself from other games in the "match three" genre.

The main operation in Sushi Mushi involves players creating "sushi rolls" by matching at least three pieces of sushi by color or shape. This is accomplished by connecting the sushi through a single, continuous swipe of the screen. The ability to create chains using hue or form allows for creativity when playing, and also increases the challenge involved in eyeing the best option at any given time. This complexity creates an organic skill hierarchy between advanced and novice players, and rewards those who take the time to learn the intricacies of the puzzle game.

Other specific combinations include "feed rolls" and "rob rolls," either matching four differently colored pieces of the same shape or four differently shaped pieces of the same color, respectively. Along with "take out boxes" that offer random powers, these are the central units for success in the game.

In a bizarre move, Sushi Mushi forces players to register for an account with a recognized email address before the game can be played, something that might turn off many players who would prefer not to share such information. Once registered, players can choose to set up a game with a random person or a friend through Facebook or email.

Before each round, players can purchase up to two abilities that are used to shift the game in their favor. The most basic of these involve adding time on the turn clock or pointing out particularly fruitful score combinations. After three rounds, the player with the highest cumulative score is the victor and receives an appropriate prize of in-game currency. The game also features a leveling system that indicates a player's skill-level so others know the experience of their opponent.

Completing challenges (like signing in using a Facebook account) rewards players with in-game currency that can improve their winning chances. However, like the forced registration, many of these options are conspicuous data-mining and marketing ploys. Granted, these kinds of hooks, are to be expected in a free-to-play experience, but nonetheless sour the overall game. Although the ability to maintain multiple, asynchronous matches can be appealing for the puzzle-fiend in a rush, Sushi Mushi is ultimately a serviceable but generic match-three that lacks a distinct personality.

Reviewed by John Vanderhoef on the iPhone.

Noble Nutlings Screenshot

Noble Nutlings

Developer: Boomlagoon
Platforms Available: iOS
In-App Purchases: None.
Rating: 4.0 out of 10

Angry Birds. Everyone's heard of it, if not played it. Without question, it's one of the biggest success stories in recent years, and there's been no shortage of people seeking to replicate that good fortune. However, it's nearly impossible to catch that particular kind of lightning in a bottle. Some developers who left Rovio to strike out on their own try with Noble Nutlings, and their effort only proves that phrase to be true.

Although the aesthetics and tone are quite similar to Birds, this title is about a trio of squirrels who set out in a wheeled cart to drive over hilly terrain in the pursuit of nuts. As one would imagine, there are jumps to fly over and loops to loop, and each level follows the classic "three stars" template made popular by... well, you know.

While the colors are bright and I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy driving like a maniac (in a video game, at least) there's little entertainment to be had here. The formula of piloting a cart from left to right just doesn't have that much to it, and the developers show their cash-hungry hands early by asking players to purchase different bodies for the cart, different wheels, and quite surprisingly, even asking them to purchase the "turbo" juice needed to propel the cart to top speeds.

(Oh, and if you need to restart a level? The juice is still used up. Cha-ching!)

While I have no problem ponying up a few bucks for great games (see: Blood Roofs) the hollow experience in Nutlings isn't compelling, and the painfully obvious attempts to squeeze money out of the player are a huge turn-off. Rather than a game created to hook people with strong gameplay or a novel idea, Noble Nutlings feels like it's all about the Benjamins. Pass.

Reviewed by Brad Gallaway on the iPhone.

Paper Galaxy Screenshot Paper Galaxy Screenshot

Paper Galaxy

Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Platforms Available: iOS, Android
In-App Purchases: Stars to acquire upgrades.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Paper Galaxy is like an intricately designed origami piece that begins life as a generic sheet of paper. In its initial form, there's not much to it. However, when played with a little and when the right folds are made, a beautiful form emerges. Like the transformation from a piece of paper to the finished origami statuette, Paper Galaxy eventually reveals itself to be an unexpected masterpiece and an exceptional mobile game experience that continually rewards players with its imaginative art direction, intuitive gameplay, and gradually-doled-out rewards.

After sneezing itself out of Earth's orbit, Luna must outrun the menacing Crab Nebula and flee back to the safety of the third rock from the Sun. The core gameplay of Paper Galaxy involves tapping the game screen to cause Luna to sneeze and propel itself toward the nearest planetary body, orbiting each until freeing itself with a sneeze once again. Types of planets include generic ones that can be chained together to increase speed, gas giants that can offer Luna a boost, smoky plants that can refill the player's free-floating sneezing ability, and rich planets stocked with the game's currency, star pieces.

The star pieces are used to purchase upgrades like raising the frequency of special planets, increasing the amount of free-floating sneezes Luna can perform, and decreasing obstacles like black holes, which impede Luna's progress through the galaxy. Although the player will have to attempt the journey to Earth countless times before enough upgrades are unlocked to outrun the diabolical Crab Nebula, each attempt results in a healthy supply of stars. Optional challenges encourage specific strategies and provide an alternative way of collecting stars.

Paper Galaxy could easily be a re-skinned version of a mini-game in the Super Mario Galaxy series, but I don't mean this comparison to say that it's derivative in any sense. Instead, I draw the connection to highlight the incredible design of Paper Galaxy. Like the best Nintendo games, it marries simplicity with skill-building, art design with mechanical execution. With its edges and corners firmly creased, Paper Galaxy deserves to sit among the most recognized titles in the mobile gaming space.

Reviewed by John Vanderhoef on the iPhone.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Android   iPhone   iPad  
Genre(s): Puzzle   Strategy/Sim   Arcade  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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