Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wake The Cat iOS Review

Originally posted on PixelBedlam

Who doesn't love kittens? If you’re saying “I don’t!” right now then I put it to you that, just like a fine wine, you just haven’t found the right one yet (of course, if you’re allergic you get a free pass here). Kittens are adorable little creatures. Well, they are when they're asleep anyway.

Wake The Cat is first project from new indie developer Halfpixel Games (published by Chillingo) and has the greatest element needed in mobile gaming, a simple premise. In this case, it’s chuck a ball of wool at the sleeping cat and wake the little blighter up. The mechanics of the game will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a mini golf game before, press on the ball, drag your finger to indicate direction and strength then release to action the shot. If you hit the kitty, she wakes up and if you miss she purrs on and you have another go.

Cute is the name of the game here. Right from the off we are presented with a loading screen showing a little cartoon kitty that looks awfully happy to have been disturbed from its slumber. In the game actual, all the objects are designed to appear realistic with a slight over exaggeration in colour to appeal to your senses. Add to this a plucky soundtrack that isn't overly offensive.

What's interesting about this particular game is the range of obstacles and actions you have. In the beginning you have only a few objects in your path that require a few easy bounces to get your goal. After a few levels you are introduced to blue objects, all of which can be altered to some degree with a quick touch (trains can stopped, fans can be turned off, barriers can be lifted and so on) and red items that cannot be affected in anyway. Soon after getting the hang of these, slippers are introduced and act as a portal to a matching slipper. Before you know it, you'll be attempting to navigate each level in flurry of timed touches and well aimed shots.

Each level is scored on both time and shots taken, but you'll get a three star rating on a given level by waking up that lazy mog in one shot (a task not that hard as you can restart the level easily enough once you have the feel for it). So if you want to be in with a chance of being high up on the leaderboard, you not only have to be accurate, you have to be fast. Here's where the games replay factor kicks in, it's incredibly annoying when some chump is 10 points higher than you on GameCentre so you want to go back and attempt a few levels a bit quicker.

At the moment there are only 60 levels on offer and if this writers’ experience was average, most of you will be able to tackle all of them with three star ratings in a few sittings. I'm not saying it's too easy, but it's hardly headache material for the adult mind. Still, at present there is at least one more level set on the way so hopefully more will follow in due course. I for one love it when games are supported months after release with new updates.

It’s fairly difficult to find much fault with Wake The Cat. Saying it’s too short seems somewhat premature when updates will buff out the experience. It is true that none of it feels particularly innovative or original, but it is enjoyable enough for that to be forgotten.

Fury Of The Gods iOS Review

Originally posted on PixelBedlam

I can’t precisely remember which Tower Defense style game I played first but I can remember the one that sapped many hours out of my youth when flash based browser gaming was becoming huge. Bloons is that culprit. A time waster like no other, the possibilities for air filled carnage were endless and it was a constant battle to beat my friends scores. It’s fair to say that I will probably judge any game that classifies itself as tower defense squarely against the joy I once gleamed from the lost time of yester-year.

Enter Fury of the Gods on iOS platforms, from Chillingo and developed by Spectral Games. Billed as ‘tower defense on a godly scale’ I have to admit to being initially skeptical as my brain took me back to the days of paragraph one. But this is not, this is PixelBedlam so off comes the Shroud of Nostalgia and on goes the Objective Cowl of Truth +1 lightning damage.

The opening video shows a series of events that lead to the gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades all pissing off their subjects. The humans have had enough of the gods bullshit and decided to do something about it, namely tearing down the temple of their respective deity. Obviously, the all-powerful immortals aren't going sit back and watch this insolence take place, which means its up to you to use a decent array of divine powers to smite any hapless peasants who deem their lives unfair.

The gameplay takes place in level form around the temple of whichever god you are playing. Each level has several paths by which creepers can get to your temple and start the destruction. Whilst the camera angle is isometric, the entire level can be navigated with ease with a standard pinch zoom that almost everyone is familiar with by now. In traditional TD games, the player would place towers of differing abilities around a set course and either have a wave countdown or a start wave button. Fury takes a more arcade route to gameplay, whereby you don't actually place many units at all. Most of the peasant smiting is done by either your default attack (the Almighty Finger, where you deal damage just by touching enemies) or the several unlockable special attacks (which range from lightning bolts to meteors and even whirlwinds). As you progress through each level, you can spend acquired points to buy some special creatures, like the cyclops, to stand in a particular spot and deal damage to any folk dumb enough to wander into its path. This can be a bit of a pain due to the multiple paths creepers can take, but I guess that’s part of the replay value. When not in play, there are several options to spend your silver on including upgrades to your finger as well as several god-specific powers that require leveling up separately.

Graphically, Fury performs well enough. Everything is in decent 3D and movements are smooth to prevent any issues with gameplay, though it is impossible to say it’s top notch when compared with the graphical prowess of Real Racing 3 for instance. Each god has his own themed stages with the relevant effects you might expect from their mythologies. Sound wise, it’s all what you might expect from a game based around Greek gods with dramatic title music and suitable noises to go with your powers in game.

My only real issue with the game was how you play. The nature of the game requires you have one hand free for tapping at all times. I tried several different ways to interface with the game. The most preferable of which was placing my iPad on a table to free up both hands, but that isn't always possible. Holding the device with one hand and tapping with the other soon game some wrist ache. Ordinarily this wouldn't be a problem, but Fury’s constant action in the later stages requires several minutes of concentration at a time. This problem is somewhat alleviated by the iPhone edition, though in that case the smaller screen poses problems of its own.

Score 7/10


+ Fun, fast action

- Uncomfortable after prolonged play


+ Smooth 3D effect stages

+ Good element effects


+ Apt music and sound

Diary Of A Wimpy Vin Pt2

Day one was a bit a slog for me and I will admit to aching a little bit the next day. My personal Fuel Print shows quite clearly that I lack in both fitness and athleticism (a fact it loves to point out by comparing me to the few friends I have with Nike+ as well as the prints of the two personal trainers). Thankfully, the folks at Nike aren't in this to poke fun at fatties and cripples. The software has preselected which exercises it thinks I would most benefit from and it has allowed me to select precisely which days I can fit my new program in to. Unfortunately for me, my next session was the very next day.

Week One

The sign up and fitness test don’t truly count as your first week, so ‘week one’ starts on your next session (I signed up on the Tuesday, with my first session on Wednesday) and in my personal program I went for three days a week. This input spat out two strength and one cardio session a week for the next four weeks. Each session starts with a good range of warm up exercises and motions that seem to be tailored to get the muscles you’ll be using up to temperature for the upcoming drills. It’s pretty much the same as the fitness tests. The trainer will describe to you what is expected of you, you get into position and complete either the targeted reps or time limit. What’s clever here is the game constantly analyses your movements to try to give tips on how you can improve and get more out of the drill.

My first proper session is a strength workout so once I’m warmed up (read: knackered) it’s straight into my prescribed drills. Nike makes a habit of informing you that strength training is different from weight training in that it’s designed to increase your ‘explosiveness’ (whatever the hell that means) and should keep you burning calories even after you've finished working out. The drills basically boil down to a series of long, slow and determined movements such as push-ups, lunges and squats. Keeping in time is key, too fast or too slow will result in sub-par rep and a sound bite from the trainer.

After the 25 minute workout, I’m given the option to do another round of exercises if I felt particular in the zone (I didn't, and nor did I fancy accepting a challenge in my current state). There are some achievements related to this but I pretty much dying so maybe next time. Then there’s a brief cool-down section to stretch out and bring the workout to close.

Cardio sessions are a little different in that they are all about movement, constant and quick movement, to really get your blood pumping and get a decent sweat on. These sessions are really about proper calorie burning in real time. The drills have a really good mix from bog standard stuff like jogging on the spot to mini game style drill that have you dodging balls or trying to fit through gaps in a glass wall.

After my first week, I’d managed to burn around 400 calories (that’s two pints of lager!) and gained something in the region of 900 Nike fuel points (more on those in a future article). I feel pretty good that I’m actually doing some exercise and I only really had one day of muscle ache while my body got used to the new movements. I did feel like shit straight after one or two of the sessions but I can already feel them getting easier, just.

Next up…Getting used to the routine in week 2!

Diary Of A Wimpy Vin Pt1

Originally posted on PixelBedlam Going to the gym has never inspired me. I join up and go solidly for a few weeks then something breaks my routine (be it illness or car troubles) and I remember how easy it was to NOT go. I severely doubt I’m the only one with this lack of commitment to exercise, especially amongst us gamer types. What can be done with us? How about attaching achievements to it? Enter Nike+ Kinect Training, the latest in a line of kinect based exercise software. Yes, I hear the Internets collective groan of apathy at the slightest mention of motion technology but bare with me as I take you on a journey through my prescribed four week program! DAY ONE That’s right kids, day one is so huge it needs its own article! First things first, make sure your KinectID is set up properly as this will aid your experience no end. Once you put the disc in, it will guide you straight to the set up where you can enter critical info like height, weight and age. This, of course, is not compulsory but let face it, now is not the time to be getting all shy about your weight when your standing in your living room in your pants prancing about in front of your TV. After all, the point is to track your progress accurately. Right, we’re all set up. The next step is brief assessment of your capabilities. In my opinion, this is where the software shines above its direct competitors. Using a few basic movements, the pixelised on-screen trainer will be able to tell if you have balance issues, one stronger leg, problems keeping your back straight and that’s just the problems I had! Think of this as a calibration for your future experience. Straight after this is without a doubt the hardest Nike+ Session you will have. The fitness test. My god am I unfit. By this time, you will have selected which trainer you prefer (obviously I picked the woman, who wants to stare at a bloke the whole time?!) and your personal aim you desire from the program. ‘Get Strong’ focuses on slow, methodical exercises to build up power, ‘Get Lean’ is mostly cardio and ‘Get Toned’ is a decent mixture of the two. I digress, the fitness test is a series of quick movements designed to test your fitness and athleticism, the result of which gives you your Nike+ ‘Fuel Print’. The main idea behind this is to run the test at the beginning and end of your program (or whenever you want) to gauge any improvement and progress. After your test, the software will ask you to choose which days of the week you want to commit to (yes, that right. The dreaded word) and will build an exercise regime based around your goals, strengths and weaknesses by selecting relevant moves from a huge matrix. That’s day one over for now. If you’re feeling brave, or not as dead as I felt, you can jump straight into some unprogrammed sessions or challenges. Personally, I went straight to the shower. I mentioned before about the difficulty of the fitness test. This isn't necessarily about being unfit. I’m not overweight and I have a reasonably active job. The problem is, with life in general, your body is a machine of repetition. Nike+ Kinect will challenge muscles in your body that you never knew you had. Some of the exercises feel really difficult and my body protested at this new strain for the next 24 hours. Next up, the rest of week one!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zooniverse iOS Review

*Originally posted on PixelBedlam

Freemium [free-mee-uh m] noun. A sales strategy, especially on the Internet, in which the basic product or service is free, but customers are charged for additional features and content. That’s the dictionary definition for an ever prevalent format in current gaming. Zooniverse is latest offering of the genre, brought to us by the mobile giant Chillingo.

The concept of freemium has been around for a few years now. You get the main software for free and if you want the best features, or to speed things up a bit, you can pay a sum of money and get what you want. The issues are always the same. It is possible to spend £70 in app to unlock a tonne of in game currency, but the key point is you don’t have to. Or do you?

The premise of Zooniverse is simple. Create a zoo, fill it with animals and attract visitors. Animals generate XP (used to level up and gain access to more habitats, animals and shops) and shops give you cash (which you use to buy said items). So far so simple. Then you factor in the many hybrid versions of the cutesy animals and the need to ‘assign’ guests to shops to begin generating money and what you get is a rather confusing mess of on screen happenings. The hybrids themselves aid the monotony of placing ‘normal’ animals everywhere, even if some are downright ridiculous (here’s looking at you ‘Nue’, a mixture of a Siberian Tiger, Boa Constrictor and Japanese Macaque).

Graphically, there is very little wrong with Zooniverse. It’s all very colourful and aesthetically pleasing. The animals themselves are well drawn, with a slight pang of anime to them and there has been obvious effort to make the hybrid animals look at least a little bit feasible. I would have preferred a little more on-screen real estate to make it less cramped and the edges get a bit fuzzy if you zoom in or out.

The trouble with Zooniverse is it does absolutely nothing new. It makes a slight attempt at doing something interesting with the hybrids feature, but in the end it’s just a way to make you wait for something else and hopefully buy some coins. I think my biggest gripe with Zooniverse is some of the missions cannot be completed unless you spend money on the game (it is theoretically possible to earn access for free, but the given time needed is unfathomable) and that really is committing the #1 sin of freemium. For me, freemium games should be completely free and if I enjoy it, I should feel like want to give the devs some money and not that I have to.

All that said, the game is free. So try it out, your kids will probably love it (if you’re one of these insane people who let infants go wild on an iPad) but for [enter relevant deity here]’s sake PLEASE don’t tell them your apple password so they can’t spend the aforementioned £70 on in-game rubbish. You have to help yourselves folks.

Score 6/10 Gameplay

+ Fairly familiar to Freemium veterans

- Overly complicated for the target audience

-Too many paid for elements


+ Cute art style

- Cramped

- Zoom in/out at your peril


+Fits the theme well

-Repetitive enough to get in your head

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Eurogamer Expo 2012 Preview

Time, it seems, flys when you're having an abundance of fun and this year has been no different for me. Frivolities include writing a car off, buying a new car, buying a house (you heard right, I'm all growed up) and generally working for a living. The culmination of such leaves the author with little time or desire for authoring.

As any regular reader to this blog will note, my writings have gone from rare to virtually non-existent over the last 12 month and now I find myself faced with Eurogamer Expo in what seems like a blink of an eye. So I guess it's time to dust off Writing For Dummies and attempt a few paragraphs detailing which queues you might find me in at Earls Court on the 28th and 29th September

Let's get some negative out of the way first. One major queue you won't find me in is Black Ops 2. So far, I've seen nothing that makes me believe this title will do anything different from previous iterations. Add to this the fact that everyone will cover it to death and you've got zero reason to stand in a hefty line. There's absolutely no way I'll be checking out Borderlands 2 either, but that's mainly because I bought it!

This years 18+ zone looks like it might steal the show. Aside from the previous two titles I've mentioned there are some real giants including Tomb Raider, Hitman: Absolution and Aliens: Colonial Marines, all of which have been shown at length at other events but I still can't wait to see if they play as good as they look! Possibly my most anticipated title of the 18+ zone (and maybe the whole event) has to be Assassin's Creed 3. None of the recent iterations managed to top AC2 in my opinion so it'll be great see if turning the game on its head makes everything feel fresh. I just hope there's a single player demo!

For the youngers at the show, I'd have to recommend checking out the F1 2012 booth. I'm a massive fan of the sport and Codies have made a real gem out of the series so far. They'd have to do something pretty major to screw this title up! I'm also keen to find out what all the fuss about Rocksmith is, after all it can't make me any worse at guitar!

That's my main picks this year! Where will you be?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NFL Flick Quarterback & NFL Kicker iOS5 Review*

*Originally posted on

British people are an odd bunch. Our sense of humour rarely translates beyond our borders. Our inability to adapt to weather patterns leads us to be perceived as a bunch of moaners – and lord help anyone who tries to use one of our words incorrectly.

The latter point there, amongst others, is the chief cause of American Football’s failure to penetrate our sport loving nation. “It’s not football if you use your hands” we cry, along with “blast”, “crickey” and “cup of cha old chap?”

That is until Superbowl time. All of a sudden its okay to show an interest in this great American tradition of taking your enemies territory by force, one yard at a time. Piggy backing on the boom of interest in NFL is Full Fat Games, developer of such hits as Flick Golf!, and Flick Soccer!

NFL Flick Quarterback and NFL Kicker! are essentially physics based mini games themed around each of the player positions in the team. Absolutely no knowledge of the sport is required on either front. Plus one point already. If you are looking for reasonable comparison, look no further than Paper Toss.

Where these games differ from the aforementioned paper throwing simulator is the variation of mini games and simple XP system. For example, Flick QB has you throwing balls into buckets at increasing yardage, whilst ramping up wind speed. On a similar note, Kicker! has a great mode where the aim is to actually hit the upright bars at the field goal. XP builds after each game is completed and each rank unlocks a new mini game to get your teeth into.

Control wise, flicking is the action of the day. Flick to throw/kick, then flick again to affect the after-touch, all the while compensating for the severity of wind. The simplicity lends itself greatly to Kicker! as power isn’t much of an issue. I did find it hamper Flick QB on several occasions where a millimetre or so extra flick-age can result in throw so far away from your team mate you’ll wonder if Superman chucked it.

The only real shame of these games is they could have quite easily banded them together under one package for 99p instead of two separate games for 69p each. Out of the two, I most enjoyed NFL Kicker! as I felt it penalised you much less for a slightly inaccurate initial flick and with a decent spread of mini games, it is slightly more entertaining overall. But they both score the same in the big picture. Well worth a look.