Dec. 12, 2011

Gobtron
Creator: Juicy Beast
Platforms: Browser, iPhone/iPad
Played on: Browser
Price: Browser—Free; iPhone—$1.99
So you’re a none-too-bright-looking giant pink fuzzy monster, roughly the size of the horizon, and you’re just hanging out one day when a bunch of teeny-tiny primitives start freaking out and hucking spears at you. What’s a horizon-sized monster (with no visible limbs, tentacles, or other useful appendages) to do, besides fight back with every gross weapon at your disposal? In the case of Gobtron, that means smacking them with snot, shooting them with boogers, drooling out a bubble shield, and more. It’s a frantic drag-and-click game once it gets going, and precision is both necessary and difficult, since you have to click on specific, close-together areas of the monster’s face to select a weapon, then on your enemies to target them; it’s so difficult to play with a trackpad, it’s hard to imagine on a tiny iPod screen, though it seems tailored for the iPad. That said, the cute-yet-disgusting design, smooth animations, and overall mildly naughty sense of humor make this one an entirely enjoyable quick play-through, worthy just to see how your attackers develop as ages and civilizations pass, and how your own upgradeable biological attacks develop… B+



Quarrel Deluxe

Creator: Denki
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Price: $2.99
The Scrabble people have developed a number of variations on their game—Super Scrabble, Scrabble Junior, Scrabble Flash, and Scrabble Slam among them. But none of Hasbro’s officially sanctioned efforts have been as clever as Denki’s Quarrel Deluxe, which essentially combines the venerable word game with another rec-room mainstay, Risk. In Quarrel, players conquer enemy territories not by rolling dice, but by challenging opponents to a spelling showdown. When a battle commences, each player is given the same rack of letter tiles, and the object is to make the highest-scoring word you can. The number of letters you can use is determined by the size of your army, and speed counts, as it’s used to break ties. The combination of military strategy with the endless variety of the English language gives each Quarrel match a lively unpredictability and an almost inexhaustible replay appeal. One of the only blotches on the game is that you must play against computer opponents, although to Denki’s credit, the characters all have their own personality and approach to the game, so they feel close to human. Denki has stated its intention to add person-to-person multiplayer, which could bring Quarrel into the Words With Friends pantheon of indispensable iPhone games… A



Hyper Princess Pitch

Creator: Daniel Remar
Platform: PC
Price: Free
Unlike Futurama’s malevolent metal Kris Kringle, the Mecha Santa that Hyper Princess Pitch rallies against is a kindly spirit merely trying to spread joy and mirth throughout the world. Clearly, he needs to be stopped. Blazing through four stages of top-down Smash TV-style action, Hyper Princess Pitch and her rocket feline Catstrike battle robotic gnomes, trains, and presents bent on defending St. Nick’s gift-building empire. Peculiar controls require you to stop shooting in order to change the direction of your fire, but it’s a deliberate choice that works, as circle-strafing would make the game too easy. The sickly saccharine color palette and sharp humor add considerable flavor to the already-tight action. By trying to dismantle Christmas, Daniel Remar has given players the best gift they could hope for… A



Egress: The Test Of STS-417

Creator: Dane Krams
Platform: PC
Price: Free
In space, no one can hear you look up a walkthrough. It’s a good thing, too, because Dane Krams’ science-fiction/horror adventure Egress: The Test Of STS-417 has a lot going for it that’s nearly undone by a couple of poorly conceived puzzles. Stick it out (or look up a solution), and you’ll be rewarded by an evocative tale of an astronaut spirited away to a barren moon. There’s a brilliant sense of dread predicated upon Krams’ cartoonish hand-drawn art, in concert with Kevin MacLeod’s mesmerizing soundtrack. In spite of the presence of oily black life forms, Egress evokes the quietly unsettling atmosphere of The Martian Chronicles more than the haunted-house-in-space vibe of Alien. Its languid pace can grate at times, with lengthy transitions fading to black while sound effects fill in the rest, but the story and atmosphere prevail… C+



K.O.L.M. 2

Creator: Antony Lavelle
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
If there were a Child Protective Services for robots, the plucky, emotionally abused hero of K.O.L.M. (“kind of like Metroid”) would be a prime candidate for rescue. Picking up exactly where the first entry left off, K.O.L.M. 2 makes no effort at all to work as a stand-alone experience. And now that unreliable narrators in browser games are about as exotic as chunky 8-bit graphics, the experience feels more than a little empty. That might have something to do with the Metroid-like maps themselves, which are frequently recycled (for narrative consistency), devoid of life, or both. When enemies do present themselves in larger areas, the camera zooms so far out, it feels like playing one of those wristwatch-embedded games. The disturbing family dynamic still serves as the story’s foundation, and it’s built out in some interesting ways, but K.O.L.M. 2 doesn’t feel like a whole new wing to explore, so much as a sunroom thrown up over a couple weekends… C



Dadgame

Creator: Sakupen
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Dadgame is a browser game that perfectly embodies the disjointed, fickle nature of the Internet itself. Sometimes you’re a dad knocking over your boss’ immaculately decorated office; sometimes you’re flying through the streets swinging a giant golden statue, or shredding on electric guitar. Later, the camera pulls back and you’re doing battle with a Transformers-like train contraption. The game doesn’t linger on one motif too long before snapping to another overwhelming, mostly forgettable level. This doesn’t make Dadgame a bad experience; the object is to beat up bad guys and destroy random crap in a figurative and sometimes literal whirlwind, and this premise arrives in full force. It’s just that the game seeks to trump itself around every corner, and without much of a foundation to start with, these escalations are merely peeks at a world without the time or desire for more… C



INC

Creator: Orangepixel
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Played on: iPad
Price: $1.99
Set in a dystopian, robot-infested future, INC feels a lot like Mega Man in mechanics and aesthetic, though not in forward momentum. Playing as a scruffy hero (albeit a boxy one), you must leap over pits and shoot down automatons in typical side-scrolling fashion—sometimes in both directions. Levels are completed not with a bang, but with a whimper: Most require you simply to activate three beacons sprinkled throughout, usually easy to spot. And though an experience-point system improves your character over time, losing a life means starting over from scratch. The game feels like it has a longer memory, with levels spread out over four worlds, but it doesn’t; each level stands on its own, awarding up to three stars for an efficient, time-restricted completion. Yeah, like Angry Birds. The perfectionist structure doesn’t quite match up with the action, which rewards flurries of gunfire over in-the-moment strategic moves. Yet INC recalls a lot of the Mega Man thrill; you’re still the underdog, discovering a cool 8-bit world using nothing but firepower… B+



Box Cat

Creator: Rusty Moyher
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Played on: iPad
Price: $1.99
Box Cat recalls The Incident, a much-lauded iOS title in which your workaday businessman climbed on falling piles of trash, higher and higher, to avoid getting crushed. Box Cat can similarly operate on repeat, only sideways. You play an oversized orange cat (not Garfield or Heathcliff) who can knock over cars, spinning them into each other for high scores. And so you knock those cars, over and over, running back and forth across the street, inciting as many accidents as you can before time runs out. Thankfully, unlike The Incident, Box Cat rewards quality over quantity. Each level has specific challenges, like hitting a quota of green cars or collecting three coins, procured from birds who fly by on occasion, to become SUPER BOX CAT. These objectives add some order to the chaos, as do the playful, retro graphics with peppy soundtrack. In addition to the default “adventure” mode, there’s a “survival” one (pure order; stealth and perfectly timed dashes are required) and one called “rush hour” (pure chaos). There’s plenty of repetition, but it hardly ever feels that way… B+



Legend Of The Void

Creator: Obelisk Games
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Legend Of The Void looks and plays like those shareware RPGs from the mid-’90s. That may seem like a fault, but there was a reason players paid the fee to unlock the later levels of those games: They were really fun. Obelisk has produced a take on a tried-and-true genre, with predictable but winning results. The plotline—evil wizard calls forth some demons in a ritual, you need to clean up the mess—is decent, and the three character classes are distinct, which is sometimes a problem in games like this. Legend Of The Void only clocks in at about five hours, but sequels are promised. Hopefully with the fan feedback Obelisk’s been getting, the later Void games will branch out… B



The Bard’s Tale

Creator: inXile Entertainment
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Played on: iPhone
Price: $5.99
This iOS version of Brian Fargo’s The Bard’s Tale, itself a remade version of a 2004 reimagining of the 1985 original, scratches a particular itch for old school fantasy game buffs. Like Diablo and countless others, most of your time in Bard’s fantasy United Kingdom is spent wandering dungeons and forests, cutting up beasts and monsters, acquiring treasure to buy new weapons and armor, all while completing point A to point B quests. It’s all as quaint and satisfying as a mug of home-brewed beer, but Tale does add some spice to the typical brew. The bard actually adds songs to his repertoire as he travels and unwillingly meets his heroic destiny, songs which summon up everything from elemental monsters, to warriors, and gods to heal him. It’s not much more than a pretty spell system, but it’s charming all the same. As with real bards, though, charm is half the appeal here. Come for the comfort-food play, stay for the chuckle-worthy dialogue. Special props to the narration from the late Tony Jay, whose incredulity and exasperation with pretty much everything in the game is a warm delight… B+



Catball Eats It All

Creator: Broken Compass Studios
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal Binary)
Played on: iPhone
Price: Free 
Imagine Katamari Damacy with levels designed by Eric Carle, and you get Catball Eats It All. Players control the titular Catball as it eats its way around various levels, each odder than the last. Once Catball consumes enough little objects, it begins to devour the scenery as well, ballooning up with every chomp. The game’s collage aesthetic is beautiful, but that beauty comes at the price of obnoxious loading times. There’s a “please wait” screen between every level, each of which lasts upward of two or three minutes, even on the latest iOS software and a current-model iPod Touch. Even worse, not all of the game’s content is downloaded in the initial install, making offline play limited: Only the levels previously unlocked will be available. The controls can be a little finicky as well. It’s a shame to see such a visually stunning game marred by poor execution… C



Kit And The Octopod

Creator: Jay Armstrong Games
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
If you’re going to ape The Behemoth (the studio behind Castle Crashers and Alien Hominid), you’d better be hilarious. Jay Armstrong isn’t hilarious. His Kit And The Octopod is cute enough. A polar bear muscles in on a lady cephalopod and beats up a boy octopus, who then teams up with a fella or lady of your design (Kit) to show that bear what’s what. To reach the bear, you have to fight and jump your way across a medieval land full of tricky jumps and golden coins. Kit beats up bad soldiers and jumps up walls, while the octopod can be thrown in baddies’ faces and into switches to activate bridges and such. It’s all functional, but even though the old-man hostages are smiling after you free them (though it’s unclear why they’re tied up in the first place), there’s no joy in Kit. Unless you really need an octopus fix with your running and jumping, there are better options… B-



Vampire Physics

Creator: Odzy/RobotJAM
Platforms: Browser
Price: Free
Physics games like Red Remover and Pumpkin Remover abound, but Vampire Physics may be the first humanity-remover game. In this cute little puzzler, the goal is to turn all the bland-looking humans into cute little fangy bow-tied vampires. The existing vampires will help: If one touches a person, that person immediately becomes a vampire too. But a vampire who encounters a priest will burst into flames, and when the moon is out, some humans turn into dangerous werewolves, and then there are flying vampires and rival vampires… There are a lot of minor Twilight-y complications for such a short and simple game. Vampire Physics is still too simple—a few of the levels are annoyingly timing-dependent, but most of the rest are pretty basic. Still, the adorable design breathes new life (or undeath?) into a familiar concept… B



Trigger Knight

Creator: Studio Mintsphere
Platforms: Browser
Price: Free
At first blush, Trigger Knight looks like a quick-time-event game, but the quick-time events are one-button clickables that don’t require much precision or timing; it’s more a Canabalt-esque runner game, with a lot of the choice taken out of players’ hands. As your little anime-esque knight charges forward, she encounters enemies whom she’ll automatically battle, earning coins that can be selectively used for armor and weapon power-ups, one-use equippables, or to purchase more “lifespan” to keep the game going. It’s awfully luck-based; go too long without encountering a lifespan shrine or a healing potion, and you’ll die no matter how carefully you husband your hit points or save your cash for crucial stuff. And costs ramp up faster than the coinage earned in encounters, so games wind up bring pretty short. Your only input into the game is to choose what to buy based on what you encounter, so while the game can be hypnotic, and there’s always the temptation to play just one more time in hopes of getting a better run of choices and making it further next time, it’s rarely a satisfying experience… C-



Them Coconuts

Creator: Spelgrim
Platforms: Browser
Price: Free
As castle-defense games go, Them Coconuts is both basic and frustratingly difficult: You start off with a weak gun and unlimited ammo, perched in the parapets of a cardboard-ish castle being attacked by bobbling stick-puppets. If you shoot enough of them, you’ll earn the dough to buy better weapons and better ammo, including bullets, chickens, and eventually dragons. Problem is that the game is predictable and repetitive, and your attackers are so numerous and tough, it’s easy to get overwhelmed early. Yet the puppety design is so impressive, and the variety of weapons is so entertaining, it’s tempting to stick with it far longer than the simple, dull mechanic warrants. Also very much in Them Coconuts’ favor: A terrifically catchy theme song that plays throughout, with verses from the points of view of the attackers, the defender, and the king who periodically rides through, granting you double damage. “They want to walk against my pretty castle wall / I throw my goats at them in self-defense…” Forget the game, and just sing along… C+



Armed With Wings: Culmination

Creator: Sun-Studios
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
A side-scrolling hack-and-slash about fighting demons, Armed With Wings: Culmination gets off to a good start. Its crisp monochrome art style and smooth animations are appealing, and there’s a primal satisfaction that comes from your fleet-footed ninja slicing through hordes of monsters. Little skill is required, since simply mashing the attack button and spamming power moves will get the job done. Hard Mode alleviates this tedium, but comes with its own set of problems. Knock a foe down, and they’ll stay invincible for several frames until they’re good and ready to fight some more. Unfortunately, you aren’t allotted this same luxury, making for frustrating failures when enemies pile on their attacks before you can recover. Floaty controls, flying foes, and precarious pits frequently conspire for cheap Game Overs. Your most powerful attack, which sends you on a vicious rendition of “connect the dots,” is certainly a showstopper, but it’s hardly enough to make up for the otherwise-irritating combat… D+



Bullet Bill 3

Creator: Psy-City
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Famed Mario-puncturer Bullet Bill has a lot going for him—speed, a great smile, a curious resemblance to the Flying Tiger fighter squadrons—but maneuverability has never been his strong suit. Or at least it wasn’t until Psy-City’s Bullet Bill, which let players pilot the malevolent missile through a tricky arcade-avoidance adventure. Five years later, the series is on its third incarnation, and while the improvements since entry two are incremental, newcomers to the franchise are in for a treat. If the high speed and higher difficulty of these levels wasn’t enough to get players gritting their teeth, the blaring remixes of iconic Mario tunes should do the trick. (Some are obnoxious, some are awesome. The dubstep twist on Desert Land’s theme should be especially polarizing.) In Bullet Bill 3, unlockable characters bring their own unique stats and special powers to the fight, and a level-editor extends play beyond the standard eight worlds. Polished and punchy, BB3 is a potent time-suck, even though moving the cursor outside the play area still results in a quick, cheap death. A-