Jet Set Radio Review – The GGs Return On iPhone & iPad

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Jet Set Radio (universal) by SEGA is the re-release of a 12-year old action platformer that took the Dreamcast by storm back in the day, with an infectious soundtrack and innovate use of cel-shading technology. Hardcore fans rejoiced when it released on iOS this week: but does the game hold up after a decade?

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In Jet Set Radio, players control a gang of in-line skater/graffiti artists named The GGs, who are fighting out for turf with not only rival gangs int the fictional cartoon world of Tokyo-to, but also against an oppressive police faction and their leader, Captain Onishima. The tale is narrated by none other than Professor K, the wild dreadlocked pirate DJ – and bar none the most fun, vivacious character in the game.

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If the game sounds wildly out there – it is, definitely one of SEGA’s more daring titles from their final console. And surprisingly, the gameplay’s held up quite well: in three distinct sections of Tokyo-to, players have to complete various missions to dethrone rival gangs and take back the city from the nefarious regime that just won’t allow kids to tag everything in sight with graffiti. Most levels involve players riding around on their skates, using swipe gestures to “draw” tags and 

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The game is still as fun as it used to be, pulling off tricks in mid-air, tagging cars while grinding on railings, and enjoying the various cutscenes with the always dancing, upbeat characters. Part of this is because the game still looks so damn good: it doesn’t wow like it did 12 years ago, but there’s been some tweaks done in upgrading the game to the high-definition era, and it makes Jet Set Radio look better than ever.

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However, those familiar with the console version will remember the camera problems and control issues – both of which are prevalent here. Jumping while moving quickly can be quite wonky, and there are times where the swiping gestures to create the bigger graffiti pieces don’t register, which leads to a lot of re-swiping and mistakes. And while there is a dedicated button to center the camera behind the player, the camera’s insistence on poor viewing angles and awkward pans can be quite distracting at times.

Jet Set Radio is a memorable piece of gaming history – and with its arrival on iOS, brings back all the great (and frustrating) memories of the original, including arguably the best soundtrack to ever appear in a video game. Whether you owned the original or are hearing about for the first time, Jet Set Radio is worth a download, one of SEGA’s most creative titles ever.
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Build-a-lot 4: Power Source Review – Get Strategic With Real Estate On iPad

In Build-a-lot 4: Power Source (iPad only) by G5 Entertainment, the popular world of strategic real estate is back in an all new sequel. Throughout the series, players have grown housing monopolies in vast lands, fancy towns, and in Europe – all while dealing with property crisis, fires, and weather changes. This time, the housing market is pretty much the same, with the exception of transitioning the neighborhoods to using clean energy – which means making sure the lights stay on.

Players can practice being a virtual real estate agent by fulfilling the requests of the town mayor, who are always focused on going green.The game comes with two modes – campaign mode, where town objectives for the Mayor must be performed, and casual mode, which contains both a money goal and an appearance goal to be met using any strategy preferred – a row of pink A-frames on Main Street looks oh-so-lovely doesn’t it?

However, neglect of energy conservation will easily cause a major metropolitan black out. To keep the money flowing, windmills, solar towers and nuclear plants are essential investments to keep the power surging. Like any management sim, success comes down to managing everything from the amount of workers and technicians, to the town’s funds and material goods – it’s all a very carefully orchestrated dance that keeps the player on edge. The dance is dictated by the most important factor: time. In other words, all the hard work and management in the world won’t be worth squat it if it doesn’t meet the deadline.

The colorful graphics and design, especially in neighbor hoods such as Saber Creek and Northington, make me wish I could jump inside my iPad and live there – not to mention the view of a cool mini fire work show every time a house is built, which happens often enough to make one feel like a hobbit from Lord of the Rings watching Gandalf do his thing. Despite the game’s unique look, it lacks Retina capabilities, leaving landscapes and building looking a little more pixelated than most games on the iPad.

Overall, Build A Lot 4: Power Source stands out from the pile of typical strategies by providing users with the ability to learn, entertain, create, and develop time management skills. Fans of Rollercoaster Tycoon and Emergency will love this one. First off, the combination of keeping originality with the theme of going green brings a fresh new challenge to such a classic interface.

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Sleepwalker’s Journey Review – A Dreamy Puzzle Platformer For iOS

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Don’t let the laid back, dreamy world of Sleepwalker’s Journey (also available in HD for iPad) fool you: this new puzzle platformer from 11-Bit Studios is anything but relaxing. A frenetic puzzle platformer with awesome touchscreen gameplay elements, this journey through a fantasy world is not to be missed.

Each of Journey‘s 45 levels represent a dream Moonboy is sleepwalking through – and as the manipulator of his dreams, the player’s goal is to get him to his bed at the end of the level safely, collecting as many stars and moons as possible along the way.

However, this isn’t done not by controlling Moonboy – he moves automatically – but by manipulating various elements in the level. Among other things, players will move platforms left and right, push obstacles out of the way, and shoot him through cannons – yes, cannons – in pursuit of the exit.

At first, Moonboy’s slow pace might bore players – in the early levels designed to get players comfortable, his leisurely gait makes navigation quite easy (though there is a fast forward button to speed things up, if desired). But once multiple pathways and intricate puzzles are introduced, the game quickly picks up the pace, forcing players to think on their feet. Thankfully, if a mistake is made, players can rewind their progress a few seconds ala Prince of Persia, without having to re-do the entire level.

Sleepwalker’s Journey is just as impressive visually as it is to play: the colorful 2D art is absolutely gorgeous, with smooth animations and hand-drawn backgrounds that give a lot of character to the environment. It looks particularly good on the iPad retina display, where there is more screen real estate for the warm colors and mystical designs to show off; on the smaller screen of the iPhone, some of the beautiful art can be hidden behind a player’s finger while trying to maneuver multiple platforms on the smaller screen.

There are a TON of platformers in the App Store – but not a whole lot with the charm and design of Sleepwalker’s Journey, one of the most enjoyable side-scrolling experiences I’ve had this year. A must-buy for fans of the genre, and anyone looking for something beautiful and challenging on their iOS device.

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Flashout 3D Review – Futuristic Racing On iPhone & iPad

Flashout 3D (universal) by Jujubee is the closest thing the App Store has to Sony’s popular racing series Wipeout: it takes place on futuristic race tracks, with vehicles that is part boat, part race car, and part jetplane. In other words, this new racing title is ready to redefine the phrase ‘speed demon’.

Racing in Flashout 3D is similar to any other iOS racing game: players can control their vehicle with either tilt or touch controls – and in this case, the tilt controls actually work better, at least by default. It will take some time to get used to the game’s advanced physics – and with no brake pedal, the only way to learn is to bang into wall after wall on the game’s handful of courses.

Thankfully, the game is kind with in-game cash earned during races, so it won’t be long until players are driving one of the higher-tier cars, screaming through turns towards the finish lines. There is the option to buy cash via in-app purchase, but it’s hardly needed – though if one does, the game is quite generous in the amount of cash and perks it provides.

Oddly enough, the most impressive thing about Flashout 3D can also be the most disappointing: the graphics. At a glance, the animation and level design look absolutely terrific – although there have been some slowdown issues on some levels with a lot of background animations. Also, the poor-looking, low resolution weapon and explosion effects look out of place with the beautiful neon colors, especially on Retina screens. Also, using white as the HUD text color is a poor choice: at times, the white text is unreadable on super-light background, particularly the sky on some courses.

There are currently three modes available in Flashout – seven cups in Career mode, quick race, and time trial. Challenge and multiplayer are listed as ‘coming soon’, but players will be occupied for awhile racing their way through the career cups, which consist of three races, where points are tallied based on place of finish. When the online multiplayer is added, I hope they find a way to bump the number of cars on the track up to six – five just doesn’t provide enough excitement in some offline races, and the game will need more action to keep players engaged in competition with each other.

Flashout 3D is a little rough around the edges – along with the occasional frame rate hiccups, there are a lack of interesting and unique power-ups – but for fans of the Wipeout series and mobile speed junkies like myself, it is a game worth the $1.99 price of admission. A promising racing game with a lot of features – iCloud, Apple TV support, and a pulsating soundtrack, to name a few – that I’m looking forward to playing as it grows with some tweaks and updates. 

Bladeslinger Ep. 1 Review – The Dystopian Action Saga Begins On iOS

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When Bladeslinger Ep. 1 (universal) by Kerosene first appeared on the gaming scene in late 2011, it was but a mere tech demo utilizing the Unity 3D Engine. Fast forward eleven months, and its become a full-fledged action/adventure with some amazing, amazing graphics. But visuals can only take a title so far: is the game worth playing?

Part western and part sci-fi, Bladeslinger takes place in an alternate future version of the Wild West, with very mystical/steampunk-like elements in its beautiful, 3D design. Episode 1 introduces us to William Glaston, a man who is returning from a years-long war to his hometown of Hammer’s Peak to find it nothing like the way he left it. It’s abandoned and full of some horrible-looking, violent creatures, with weird symbols and gems strewn about.

As players investigate the town and fight these nightmarish creatures as William, they will be engaged in various Infinity Blade-like battling (for console players, think of a title like Bayonetta) tapping or swiping on enemies to attack them, double-tapping to dodge, and so forth. When fighting a single enemy, the control scheme is fantastic, allowing players to rack up big combos combining shots and swipes for massive damage. It’s fast-paced and offers a variety in attacking enemies most iOS games are too limited to include.

However, battles break down when multiple enemies are on-screen, and the game becomes more than frustrating. Switching enemies is simple enough – tap a pop-up box on the side of the screen – but the rapidly moving camera angles when switching between targets quickly becomes ineffective. Attacks will constantly miss or register incorrectly (particularly when performing attacks with his mechanical arm), and fights turn into enemies surrounding William, quickly ending his life. Since there are a lot of these battles, it really takes away from an otherwise intuitive control scheme, and erases any semblance of strategy or skill when trying to survive.

The other problem with Bladeslinger is the game’s store. Like every App Store game, there are both consumable items like health potions, and permanent upgrades like new attacks and stat bonuses. The problem is the imbalance between money earned and money spent in the game: with the amount of cash players are required to spend on health potions after every multi-enemy fight, there isn’t any money left to unlock any of said consumables or upgrades.There are ways to unlock every consumable item or upgrade without paying – which of course, is going to take some grinding – but having things like special attacks be consumable cards keeps players from being able to use them without dishing out for some IAP cash. 

However, these shortcomings don’t stop Bladeslinger from being a thoroughly intriguing title. While there isn’t much story progression, being a first chapter and all, there are some interesting characters and settings introduced, and the possibilities of the narrative – if the series continues – have me excited for future episodes – if the series continues, that is. And there’s no doubting the technical wizardry of the game: it’s not only one of the most beautiful games we’ve seen on iOS, but runs like a purring engine, without any major hiccups in frame rate or other glitches.

It’s not a perfect title, but for $2.99, Bladeslinger Episode 1 is definitely worth the investment for serious iOS gamers, and those who like some entertaining eye candy on their iOS device. It is a work in progress, but with a solid foundation, the sky is the limit for the series moving forward.

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Meganoid 2 Review – The Pixelated Platformer Returns to iOS

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Meganoid 2 (universal) by Orange Pixel is the follow-up to 2011′s Meganoid, a 8-bit style hardcore platformer that won gamers over with challenging level design and pixel-perfect controls. An ode to a forgotten era, this is definitely a game for gamers with a nostalgic edge – and a serious amount of patience.

Meganoid 2 is actually a prequel to its predecessor, telling the wordless story of Meganoid’s grandfather, Grandba. Keeping the framework of the original, players have to navigate through small, intricate levels within 20 seconds, avoiding all the obstacles and finding the hidden golden totem in each stage. There are 60 in total, and although they are short, it will take plenty of time to make it through the game: it is much harder than the original, making it one of the most difficult platformers in the App Store. 

There are points in Meganoid 2 that feel overly cruel – even with the return of the game’s simple, smooth control scheme. Many of the golden totems are hidden behind invisible walls with no real indication of where they are, and finding them involves lots of suicide and blind luck. More so, some stages don’t feel designed to challenge, but rather to punish, especially in later levels, requiring a level of precision I found myself – a dedicated platformer for two decades – struggling to stay patient enough to keep repeating levels. I’m not asking for a super-simplified game – but at some point, the enjoyment to frustration ratio becomes too skewed, closing the game off from appealing to a larger audience.

Visually, Meganoid 2 takes a number of cues from Indiana Jones in both style and execution: Grandba wears a very Indiana-like outfit, and there’s even levels where massive concrete balls chase you as you race to the exit. These touches are fun – and the pixel art style fits in with the retro vibe – but the over reliance on dark brown, gray and black for the majority of levels becomes repetitive over time, with only small changes between them – like the addition of vines in some stages. Of course, the experience is topped off with an always-catchy chiptune soundtrack, although it’s a little too techno-y and upbeat at times for a game that takes place in a retro jungle.

Despite its overbearing difficulty at times, Meganoid 2 is an above average platformer with great controls – everything we expect from an Orange Pixel release, making it a great buy for fans of the original, or the platforming junkie looking for a new retro-themed challenge.

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Silibili Review – A Galaxy-Traveling Adventure For iPad

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In the brand new action adventure game Silibili (iPad only) by Chundos Studios, users won’t be disappointed when they get to know Sili and Bili – a duo that have decided to rise up against the evil dragons that have invaded their beloved galaxy, Sibull. There’s more to this catchy story line than the typical “save the world” – the goal is to restore peace, the misplaced sacred elements of faith, courage, freedom, wisdom, and love – must be returned to their rightful places. The plot is dramatic enough to suck any gamer in already – but so is the gameplay itself. 

This mixture of action-adventure meets beat-em-up and strategy will reel in gamers and keep ‘em hooked. Players must collect all the harmony stones and place them in the shrine while fending off various evil dragons, and occasionally bosses. The difficulty of gameplay proves it shouldn’t be underestimated, especially with the variety of hidden objects, misleading pathways, and radioactive plants that spread through a series of tricky, challenging levels across the planets of Jungull and Magmull.

Like most modern games, players can earn points to upgrade the hammer weapon and shield –however, unlike many other hammer beat ‘em ups that involve slamming continually, an attack limit on the power of the hammer causes it have to be refueled after about 15 – 20 whacks  That’s where the random treasure chests become most valuable – they contain points, power ups, and regain health. 

This game has a great, old-school video console feel to it – literally – in the controls, visuals, and gameplay that remind of console classics like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. On the iPad’s widescreen, designated controls are sometimes best for action games, and Silibili succeeds in signifying this assertion with its easy-to-navigate virtual joystick and tap-able buttons for walking, jumping (even double jumping!) and of course, slamming the hammer like a mad man. Or woman, depending on which character is chosen for play. Great 3D graphics and bouncy, energetic instrumentals put the cherry on top.

There are few areas that this app lacks in, and could use small, minor improvements. There is nothing more frustrating than almost completing a level, only to die and have to begin the level all over again. Perhaps users could be given at least three deaths before the level had to restart, or a checkpoint halfway through. I also thought it would be awesome to play this game via two player, so that Sili and Bili could fight side by side, but no co-op play is available.

Other than a small number of suggestions, it is hard to find anything wrong with Silibili – it is just a fun, challenging iOS title. Gamers of all ages will find themselves proud to join forces with Sili and Bili in the fight – in the name of faith, courage, freedom, wisdom, and love.

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March On Oz Review – Follow The Yellow Brick Road In This RTS For iPad

March on Oz (iPad only) by City State Entertainment is an epic tower defense title that takes place in the wonderful world of Oz. Players first customize the main character by selecting clothing, size, accessories, gender and more, then are whisked away to aid the Ozians in their quest against RoggeDoh and the Evil Alliance.

The enemies faced throughout the trek along the yellow brick road are N.O.M.E.S. – mechanical creatures who are wreaking havoc in the land of Oz. Through more than 50 levels, players work their way down the yellow brick road to rescue Princess Ozma and do away with the intrusive N.O.M.E.S.

With similar road defense game mechanics to the uber-popular Plants vs. Zombies, players place units in rows to defeat oncoming enemies that advance down the road, all while waiting for currency-creating units to create more currency – which, by the way, is cake. The additional cake allows for the purchase and placement of additional units.

March on Oz, however, pushes a faster pace and requires a little more strategy. For instance, players are awarded additional cake for putting together specific battle formations with various units. These formations, however, have to be discovered during game play. Once unlocked, these formations are viewable in the encyclopedia which also houses ally and enemy information, unlockable comics and a game reference guide.

With three levels of difficulty and more than a dozen unlockable mini-games, the 50+ levels in the main game are more than enough to keep players busy for hours and hours. The game also includes an online save file for progress transfer between devices, with Game Center integration promised for the next update, which is due out before the end of the year.

Where March on Oz really shines are the fantastic 3D graphics, effects and animations, and the beautiful full-musical soundtrack. The music is whimsical and epic, yet never gets boring or repetitive. The 3D graphics are stunning on the iPad, especially on the Retina display.

If there’s one complaint about the game, there’s an awful lot of narration and dialogue throughout the game – no doubt so players can enjoy the beautiful depiction of the world of Oz. There’s also a lot of time spent simply walking down the yellow brick road in between levels. The graphics are pretty to look at, but having to wait 10-20 seconds which the characters walk to the next level seems excessive.

For those that enjoy the tower defense and road defense genre, March on Oz is a welcome addition to the fold. With an emphasis on graphics, music and storyline, and well-balanced RTS, March on Oz is definitely worth checking out. It’s easy to see the developers put a lot of hard work into this one, and I have no doubt many fans will enjoy it.

Sneezeman Review – No Tissues Needed In This iOS Platformer

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Sneezeman: Escape From Planet Sneeze (universal) by Sensei Games takes place in a world I’ve never want to live in: Planet Sneeze, where a constant stream of mucous and other undesirable nasal material chases after you incessantly. As Sneezeman, the goal is to survive through 60 levels of side-scrolling platformer action, avoiding the ever-present sneeze cloud chasing him, collecting pills and stars along the way.

In terms of gameplay, Sneezeman is pretty standard fare. Two buttons on the left side of the screen control movement, with one on the right for jumping. There are pills to collect for extra points, enemies to jump on, and of course, three stars to collect throughout each level to progress.

Denouncing it as simple would be a mistake, however - Sneezeman is a solid little casual title with a clean, sketch-like character design and smooth animation through each of the five unique zones. It does lack a bit in the way of animation: for example, when a character bumps into an enemy, he simply flies backward motionlessly without any sort of other visual cue. 

There are some driving segments  - each zone has their own vehicle type – but these never really amount to much more than jumping and avoiding a few spiked objects for a short segment. If there’s an area to improve the game, it’s there: those level pieces could provide an awesome change of pace throughout the 60 levels – all of which employ the same basic design, whether its on foot or in the car.

Despite that flaw, Sneezeman is a perfectly enjoyable – if not particularly challenging – platformer, especially for one boasting a corporate sponsorship, albeit one that fits well with the game’s content (Kleenex). Definitely worth a look for fans of platformers, or gamers looking for some laidback side-scrolling action to kill some extra time.

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Arranger Review – A Melange Of Musical Adventures For iOS

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Arranger (universal) by Ayopa Games is an puzzle-packed adventure game, a fantasy RPG, an arcade shooter, and an engrossing musical experience… all at the same time. In theory, it sounds wild and absolutely impossible to create – but composer and developer Arman Bohn has done it, creating one of the most original, enjoyable iOS experiences I’ve had in a long time.

Just looking at the screens for Arranger won’t reveal much about the game – except its crude Atari-flavored pixel art style, which is simplistic, but embodies the game’s charming personality perfectly. Players control a little yellow ‘arranger’ who is traveling the world of Musica, to defeat a series of bosses and return the beauty of harmony to the various lands in the kingdom. 

To do so, players will embark on an epic journey full of RPG-like missions, collecting the 16 different instruments available along the way. Collecting instruments isn’t as simple as finding them on the map: players will have to complete a variety of different tasks – mostly through a large collection of unique mini-games – to earn instruments, which are then used to create songs to defeat enemies with.

While the various mini games – which range from Simon-esque memory exercises to arcade shoot-em-up sequences – are fun (and are complete with their own Game Center leaderboards for social competition), the boss battles are the game’s most ingenious touch. Defeating a boss isn’t about beating him to a pulp, it’s about affecting its brain with the sounds of music. Each instrument acts like a unique weapon, and players have to shoot the brains of bosses with each instrument, filling up a bar that represents the permeation of harmony into the baddies’ brain. 

It’s hard to find fault with Arranger, but the game does have one flaw: the floating d-pad players use to move around, which can be a frustrating problem when trying to move from screen to screen. There were a few times where I would find myself stuck against a wall simply because my finger had slid away from the virtual d-pad while directing my character around the screen – an easily solvable problem, but one that comes up a little too frequently. 

With its amazing, evocative chip tune soundtrack, quirky narrative, and addictive set of mini-games, this is not a game to be missed. Arranger is a wildly inventive take on old-school adventure games, combining both the retro and the modern for a harmonious (pun intended) gaming experience.

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