Jan 272013
 

Hill Climb Racing logoFingersoft’s Hill Climb Racing was one part of the finnish trifecta a couple of weeks ago: then a finnish game was on top of the three categories in the Appstore (most downloads for free [this game] and paid [Angry Birds Star Wars] games and most revenue generated [Clash of Clans]). The other two are pretty famous on their own, but Hill Climb Racing took pretty much everybody by surprise.

It’s a simple game with plenty of meat below a simplistic surface, there’s a lot more on offer than initially seems.

The objective of the game is simple, drive as far as you can, without succumbing to the twin hazards of a tricky track and a limited gasoline supply. And the track is indeed tricky – a two-dimensional hilly road that quickly gets challenging. The challenge needs to be tackled both with skill and with vehicular improvements (more powerful engine and such). And behind the first track and vehicle lie several more.

The controls match the game. There’s just two virtual pedals –

Despite an initial appearance that Hill Climb Racer is yet another IAP-monster, the need to purchase coins subsides fast once the track set on Moon opens – in the lighter gravity the jumps and flips quickly generate a seriously positive cash flow.

Hill Climb Racing

As individual games are short, this is a very good casual timekiller.

Jan 212013
 

Carcassonne: Traders and Builders logoThe Codingmonkeys’ fabulous iPad rendition of Carcassonne has been updated with the Traders and Builders expansion.

The second expansion adds a two new dimensions to the game: trade and repeated turns.

Some city tiles now provide trade symbols, and the player who hoards the most by the end of game gets ten points for each majority. The trick here is that the trade symbols are awarded to the player who completes a city, even if he has no meeples within.

A player may also place a builder meeple on a road or city – and whenever he grows the structure where the builder assists, he gets to pick and play a second tile.

The third addition, a pig meeple that boosts the scoring on a field, is more limited in scope to these two.

Both change the flow of the game quite a bit, and especially in games that use both expansions the scores tend to run high. In some ten games the AI has proven a bit fragile, the personalities that have been reliable high-scorers (count and countess) no longer rule the land as they have used to.

Like its somewhat simpler predecessor that went unreviewed here, this expansion is heavily recommended, even if its gamecenter achievements are very much on the boring side (and pretty much demand a few games against a local opponent that lets the wookiee win).

Apr 012012
 

Trainyard logoMatt Rix’s Trainyard was one of the very first games I purchased for the iPad, and one that I still enjoy occasionally.

Trainyard is a puzzle game where the aim is to build tracks to get various train engines to their destinations. The goal is complicated by the color requirements of the trains – the trains change color upon crossing each other and this ability is needed on most of the non-trivial levels.

The game itself is accompanied with a large and well-behaving community, where solutions to various levels are debated and optimized relentlessly in addition to members competing to create new content for the game. After all, the engine itself is simple, but stretches to very complex demands.

The user interface is exquisitely smooth, the difficulty curve pleasantly inclined and all in all the game’s been worth way more than its three dollar asking price.

And with a site explaining the theory and practice of track arrangement, it’s even easier to become a track-laying monster in the matter of a few well-spent hours.

Feb 272012
 

1000 Heroz logoRed Lynx’s 1000 Heroz is a game that lasts a thousand days. At least.

The game is updated with new content daily, and thus there will be close to three years worth of new playing for the princely sum of a euro.

1000 Heroz is a simple game – the task is to guide the daily character (everybody has a quasi-historical name) from start to goal across a scrolling playing field as fast as possible. The journey is mostly against the geography – there are very few mobile elements on screen. The controls are simple as well, just three virtual buttons on screen – left, right and jump (where the duration of the flight is determined by the length of the press).

The games does not vary that much, the levels are pretty much the same – and the only goals are the twin times that mark silver and gold level of accomplishment. The former tends to be moderately reachable (though some levels put up a sizable fight), the latter sometimes trivial or behind a seriously optimized romp with no false steps allowed.

1000 Heroz pulls in new content daily. And the update cycle has been subverted for a good purpose already once.

Sep 122011
 

Arkham Horror logoPlayed a couple of games of Arkham Horror during the summer, and became even more convinced of two things: it’s a good game, and the tons of fiddly bits in the box are a nightmare to keep in order.

Indeed, the co-operative boardgame to rid the eponymous new england town of Cthulhu’s kin remains as entertaining as it was on the very first date.

Arkham Horror offers a nice mix of a story-telling adventure game mixed with pure dice mechanics that has been spiced up with hundreds of cards and other components.

While the selection of characters and enemies is pleasantly random, the encounters in the city are recycled rather too fast. Soon, the potential occurrences in the most commonly visited locations become predictable and a source of amusement.

Variety is not the sole reason why Fantasy Flight Games has supplied the basic set with no less than ten supplements, but sadly it’s a rare gamer who can summon up a table large enough to support the entire Lovecraft Country.

Arkham Horror is the game that takes up the most shelfspace in the collection. But despite the volume and the fact that I haven’t yet explored all of the expansions, I keep on buying them. That’s either a sign of a good game or obsessive collecting. My bet’s on both.

Sep 052011
 

7 Wonders logoAntoine Bauza’s 7 Wonders has won a lot of the boardgaming awards this year, and for a good reason. The game plays fast and remains random enough while rewarding bits of skill and strategic thinking along the side.

The theme of the game is nation-building (while at the same time constructing the eponymous wonders). This is not as loose a theme as those in some of say, Reiner Knizia’s games, but 7 Wonders is by no means a complicated Civilization-clone.

The game is played using cards and plenty of other pieces, so it’s susceptible to feline attacks or wobbly tables.

The most unexpected thing about the game is the simultaneous play. Each turn everybody plays their move at the very same time. On at least the very first time this is quite confusing and the rules become much clearer if the traditional sequential way is followed. However, unless measures to prevent resources installed this round, this alternative provides the first player with a significant disadvantage.

Another unorthodox rule is that of the non-permanent nature of the players’ hands – the collections of cards are pushed on to the next player after playing just one. This makes longer-term strategies a lot more challenging than the norm. As the game is quite competitive, often the best moves are defensive in nature – getting rid of cards valuable to others may actually have a larger payoff than mediocre construnction rounds.

The game can be played with two players, but that’s an optional rule – it’s clearly meant for a bit larger audiences. Played it in a four player setting, and allegedly 7 Wonders scales up to seven players.

Aug 142011
 

Ticket to Ride logo

Days of Wonder’s Ticket to Ride is amongst the greatest of gateway games into the world of new german boardgames. Short, easily understandable and combining randomness and skill in decent measures.

Following the excellent Carcassonne version for iPad, it was just a matter of time before the other top-tier boardgames started popping up.

Days of Wonder’s take is not perfect by any means. The title screen is confusingly laid out, the AIs personalities cannot be selected, and there’s no gamecenter integration yet.

However, my biggest complaint with version 1.0 kept me from buying the game – Ticket to Ride originally shipped without support for pass-to-play – definitely a killer demerit when playing in a train. That omission was fixed quickly, the second release of the game supports sharing a gameboard beautifully. The game is a tad more stateful than Carcassonne, so losing sight over the gameboard can confuse (especially if fellow players take a long time to complete their turns).

Ticket to Ride ships without undo (which is OK, as long as everybody playing understands that actions are final once done is hit), and the indications on what just happened on the board could be a tad more bolder. Haven’t yet taken the plunge into the online games, the AI and local play have been sufficient thus far.

The game ships with the original gameboard (of 19th century United States), and additionals (Europe, Switzerland and US A.D. 1910) are available as in application purchases. Too bad the selection doesn’t yet include the two remaining games: Nordic Countries and the one concentrating on Märklin model railways.

May 292011
 

FrontierVille logoZynga’s FrontierVille is a semi-multiplayer social game that combines their previous hit FarmVille with american history.

FrontierVille begins innocently enough, with a small cottage and a couple of farm animals. Through growing and harvesting crops and trees, growing animals and adding buildings to the settlement to advance it towards a true frontier town. A nameless town in isolation, since while the neighboring villages can be visited, they in no way are part of the life of the town itself.

But the neighbours are, as the game requires an increasing amount of begged gifts from them. FrontierVille degenerates to a mutual fest of asking for and receiving various gifts – either to craft new buildings or to complete other goals. The process soon gets annoying, and the requests keep on filling up the players’ walls in facebook.

FrontierVille manages to stave off disappointment by variety. The new buildings, animals and goals create a semblance of a storyline, though sadly there’s no history function in the game – it’s not possible to check when a given goal was achieved.

The game shipped with four signposts on the town’s territory advertising further adventures in different regions. The first of them, the Oregon Trail, premieres in the beginning of June.

I was quite hooked by FrontierVille in the beginning, and keep on coming back for more. The pace of my playing has slackened a lot lately, though. And I’m looking forward to the inbound reboot of sorts by the departure to Oregon.

Mar 292011
 

Mass Effect 2 logoFinished Bioware’s Mass Effect 2 a short while ago. I liked the original a lot, and the sequel was an improvement over it in several ways.

The plot doesn’t really continue where it left off in part 1. Quite the contrary – the protagonist gets killed in the very first act and ends up being anonymously resurrected by a bona fide terrorist organization. Jack Shepard is actually a non-person for a good chunk of the game. Even if the character is believed dead, his actions from the original live on – a lot of familiar faces appear as do results of decisions made in Mass Effect.

But the truth is soon revealed, and the mail plotline kicks off. Shepard is off to assemble a motley crew of incompatible professionals to go against the escalating threat against the civilized galaxies. The quest takes Normandy to a variety of planets, moons and space stations. Thankfully the drive-around sections of the original have been dispensed with – vehicles exist only in additional downloadable content to the game.

The crew collection takes a good while, and ensuring the individual crewmembers loyalty brings in a new dedicated mission per person. The individual missions are pleasantly complex, mindless slogging through dozens of geth or other opponents doesn’t pollute every mission Shepard’s posse undertakes. But there’s no shortage of combat, plenty of shooting occurs during the saving of the galaxy. Shooting has been simplified considerably since the original – the skills of the character have been replaced by good aiming, the guns and ammo are treated a lot simpler. This smooths out the experience a lot, to me the obsessive-compulsive inventory management was one of the least appealing aspects of Mass Effect.

The biotic and technological powers of the characters are simpler as well, and Shepard’s computer-guided companions quite adept at using them without manual intervention.

The difficulty curve is smooth in the sequel. The original featured a final fight that demanded skills no previous battle required. Here the last combat is again different from the main game, but certainly beatable without extra attention. Unlike the original, finishing the final fight doesn’t end the game. Which is a good thing since there’s plenty of downloadable content to enjoy in addition to the main game. Especially the latest piece Lair of the Shadow Broker is well worth the money, and it expands the universe a lot.

The budget of the game is considerable indeed, the game took about forty hours to finish, and I by no means explored every nook and cranny of the universe. There’s plenty of graphical fireworks and music, and the voice acting is certainly worth an extra nod. The highlight for me was Martin Sheen as the mysterious patron, Seth Green returns as the wisecracking pilot of Normandy. The likes of Carrie-Anne Moss and Tricia Helfer (from Matrix and Galactica, respectively) hid themselves well, picked them out only from the credit sequence.

Especially when compared with the original game, the issue of achievements was handled very well in Mass Effect 2. A normal playthrough nets a good chunk of the points – and there’s little need to finish the game multiple times.

Mass Effect 2 consumed a good chunk of playtime during the last year, and I’m definitely looking forward to the final part of the trilogy due out towards the end of the year. According to Bioware developers, the gameplay of the finale will be significantly shaped by the decisions taken in the two first parts – exactly the kind of role-playing game I want to see from the start to the finishing line.

To tide over the intervening period the franchise offers both books (Drew Karpyshyn’s trilogy will be expanded by at least one further novel) and comics (at least four series are either being published or already available in collected form).

Mar 152011
 

Tiny Wings logoAndreas Illiger‘s Tiny Wings dethroned the long-reigning Angry Birds from the top of the iphone charts.

The subject is quite alike, a cartoony bird with a simple physics engine.

Though Tiny Wings packs no porcine enemies nor hard to understand controls.

On the contrary. The game has a very simple goal. It is to guide an overweight tiny bird from an island to the next as fast as possible. The problem: the bird cannot really fly, and must pick up speed by sliding down a hill and then slingshotting up the next. The sole control is the act of not flapping the wings, thus zooming down the slope a bit faster.

And that’s it. Rhythm of the flight soon becomes second nature.

Combined with a flawless execution, bright graphics, a very casual pace (a game is over in a couple of minutes) and un-annoying sounds, the game proves that a huge team and a sky-high budget are not requirements for success.

The only demerits to Tiny Wings are its truly one-trick-birdy nature and the lack of GameCenter integration. The latter is being addressed already, and the former is exactly the point of the game.

Feb 152011
 

Mallorca logoMallorca (originally, and outside Scandinavia: Finca) is the winner of the finnish board game award of 2010. Bought it in January and have enjoyed quite a few games with it.

Mallorca is a german-style boardgame – the mechanics are everything, and the theme just a thin veil on top. And the mechanics are indeed used in plural. The number of actions per turn is limited, but there’s plenty to do: scoring is based on transportation of fruits to villages. The movement is indirect and based on all the players’ pieces on a shared windmill. Which lends an entirely new layer to the gameplay – as the mill is laid out at random, access to certain types of fruit is by no means equal. The basic mechanics are simple, if initially a bit alien. Each player has four chits with which the rules can be slightly bent.

Have played the game only as a two-player match thus far – I’m sure the tactics and gameplay are horribly altered when additional participants join in the fun. Luck is present in quite large doses (as the requirements of the ten villages are randomly dealt out at the beginning). Interaction between players is rather low, and the potential to blocking moves is almost entirely absent.

The game has had a small expansion already. It’s been published in the Spielbox-magazine and is not available independently in the shops.

Feb 042011
 

Halo Reach logoFinished Halo:Reach, Bungie’s last chapter of the saga the other day.

The game is actually a prequel to the original trilogy, it details events up to the point of the sacking of the Pillar of Autumn, where the first game begins.

Halo:Reach is a lot more varied than the earlier parts. In addition to the traditional land- and air-vehicular sections, the game has a lengthy space sequence. The space battle doesn’t feel like a filler, it’s actually a very decent element in the game.

The plot is as pompous as militaristic space opera allows, the visuals top-notch and the soundtrack appropriately dramatic.

And unlike the previous installments, the action is paced well – boring and repetitive moments are very few during the course of the ten-hour campaign.

Bungie is now done with the series, their future direction unknown.

Their swan song may turn out to be a resurrection, as there are persistent rumors of the original Halo: Combat Evolved being remade for Xbox 360 for the game’s tenth anniversary in November.

Sep 082010
 

Alan Wake logoThe “other” big finnish video game of 2010 is Remedy’s Alan Wake. The follow-up to 2003 Max Payne 2 took a long time coming – and the delay shows. Both in the occasionally outdated graphics and the rushed storytelling.

Alan Wake wallows in its episodic nature. The story of a writer facing supernaturally hard times is told like a mini series. It takes six episodes, all of which end up in an exquisitely soundtracked coda and begin with a “previously in” introduction. The episodes last about an hour to two hours each, there are plenty of autosave positions to minimize repetition in case of fatalities.

And there will be plenty of fatalities. The protagonist’s struggle against hundredes of “Taken”, locals possessed by darkness are marred by slightly awkward controls, and that inevitably leads to death. The taken need to be exposed to light before they are susceptible to gunfire. Thus the game is dominated by its duo of mechanisms – first wash away the darkness with a precision aimed flashlight, and then remove the enemy with a couple of well-placed bullets. Sadly, that’s pretty much all that there is. Flare guns, floodlights and flashbangs liven up the action a little – but the tricks of the game seen well before the plot runs out.

The plotline follows its own twisted logic. Its origins are in the likes of Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone, but it goes deeper, a lot deeper. With the bonus that it doesn’t explicitly spell out what is going on. So understanding the story requires seeking out additional information in the game. Some of it is available in the form of loose pages from Alan Wake’s upcoming book (that bears a frigtening resemblance to current events), some in television screens scattered around the city of Bright Falls. Television screens that broadcast snippets of “Night Springs” – a horror show that also bears more than a little resemblance to what is going on in the town.

The town of Bright Falls is criminally under-used. Originally the game was much more of a sandbox, and in the published form most of the action occurs in rural areas.

Alan Wake is mostly a very pretty game. Especially the exteriors are breath-takingly well-done. Too bad a lot of the action occurs in tightly packed forests where the powerful graphics engine is not used to the full effect. The age of the game is shown in the cutscenes – facial animation is wooden, and lipsync nowhere near the likes of Mass Effect.

Even though a lot of the game is quite repetitive, there are several beautiful set pieces to play through and enjoy. Bonus points for a scene where getting wasted on moonshine advances the plot. Drunkenness is a seldom used plot device.

Alan Wake begins very effectively. The elements of the story are introduced in a disturbing introduction. But the effects of darkness soon diminish, and the game degrades into rinse&repeat form. The ubiquitous weirdness is present in the backstory, but quickly vanishes from the gameplay.

The ending was a rather severe disappointment. The twin Max Payne games demanded a lot of attention in their final combats, but the final showdown in Alan Wake was a cakewalk compared to them.

The story of Alan Wake is not over yet. The Signal, the first extra episode is already out as downloadable content, with the second to be published in the near future.

Sadly the sales figures have not been as high as expected (that’s what you get going head to head with Rockstar’s Grand Theft Horse, Red Dead Redemption). And the lack of a windows version cuts down on the revenue as well.

Not bad by any means, but not exactly an AAA-game either. But definitely good enough to warrant picking up the upcoming DLC and finding out what really happened.

Sep 022010
 

Angry Birds logoRovio’s Angry Birds is a bona fide finnish software success story.

Angry Birds features a feud between the birds and pigs. The birds assault the pigs holdings with the aid of the player and a big slingshot. The touchscreen is used to control the power and the angle of the shot, thereafter the game’s physics engine takes over to determine which objects on screen break or fall under the impact. Later levels feature increasingly complex structures in which the pigs are hiding, and correspondingly additional species of birds that provide special effects to the assault. Completion of a level requires a direct or indirect hit on each of the pigs.

Angry Birds has been released for Maemo 5 (Nokia’s N900) and Apple’s iOS (ipod touch / iphone), with ports in the pipeline for Palm’s WebOS and Google’s Android. Definitely a game for all the touchscreen devices.

Thus far the game has sold more than six million copies, and looks destined for movie screen.

The game is simple, but addictive. The levels have been built with care. The first few are almost trivial, towards the end the puzzle-like missions demand perfect hits and effective use of the different birds special abilities. Success is rewarded with one to three stars, and reaching a triple on each of the levels takes time and practice.

Aug 242010
 

Plants vs. Zombies logoI bought PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies for the ipod Touch to serve as in-flight entertainment on the trip to Japan in April. While the game was definitely a good timewaster, it took me almost half a year to finish.

Plants vs. Zombies is a tower defense game where the player uses toys at his disposal (different plants and plant paraphernalia) to stave off invading enemies (zombies).

The game starts off simple, with peashooters against slowly shambling zombies. But the evolving enemies (packing anything from steel buckets to zamboni machines) demand higher grade weaponry. And that is indeed provided – beating each level in the adventure mode puts a new plant at the player’s disposal.

Visually the game falls into the candy-colored-cuteness camp. Even the undead are given a pleasant coating on top of their festering skin. Tom Savini-style visuals would hardly have led to the massive sales the game has enjoyed.

Indeed, the game has been a great success for the kings of casual gaming. It’s been ported to quite a few platforms, with a version on the XBLA surfacing in September. No sequel has been announced yet, but it’s just a matter of time before a new horde of the living dead walks onto the consoles and computers.

Plants vs. Zombies features achievements on all platforms. Achievements that demand quite a bit of extra playtime after the adventure mode is completed, as only a few will get picked up during the course of the story.

A selection of minigames (including zombie-bowling) round out an entertaining package well worth the couple of dollars it costs.

Mar 212010
 

Mass Effect logoFinished Bioware’s Mass Effect a couple of weeks ago, since playing the direct sequel without having seen how the original ends felt odd.

Mass Effect is a space opera role-playing game where the choices matter more than character’s statistics. The game combines traditional RPG elements with a third person shoot-em-up. This can lead to situations where perfect aim with a high-lethality sniper rifle leads to a miss, on account of the underlying random number generator.

The shooting is supplemented by “biotic” and “technological” powers. These are supernatural manifestations such as telekinetic tossing around of enemies or direct sabotage of their arms. The selection feels like low power force from Star Wars and as such does not stand out as being too much out of place.

The game plays well, apart from a one or two scenes, most of the combats are doable with the first try. Hence the sudden difficulty spike in the final combat feels almost unfair. Before that there’s no need to synchronize the use of weapons and powers too much, but the ultimate fight pretty much demands a much closer attention to detail.

The plot oozes sense of wonder. It’s once again a case of a hidden Big Evil menacing the galaxy, with the protagonist the only one available to defend. However, the game manages to sidestep being a mere collection of cliches, and actually produces a decent story. The main plotline is not that complex, but it is supplemented by scores of sidequests, the completion of which provides tangible benefits in the form of improved equipment and additional experience.

An even more attractive piece of gaming evolution is the interaction system. The faces have been rendered well, and the dialogue system is unparalleled thus far. It allows the player to select the mood of the protagonist, not the exact words he is going to utter.

Bioware’s attempt at providing downloadable content post-release for Mass Effect has been a failure. There’s been two pieces thus far, with especially the latter one, Pinnacle Station getting very negative reviews.

Achievements-wise, Mass Effect is not optimal either. A lot of them are pure boring collections (x number of kills with a certain weapon) whereas others require multiple playthroughs (finish the majority of the game using a certain NPC assistant). Then again, the 20+ hour duration of the minimal plotline is anyway not conducive to easy gamerscoring.

The most controversial part of the game was the inclusion of a very limited sex scene at the conclusion of a continuing sidequest. The couple of seconds of blurry camerawork are tame indeed, and nothing that isn’t shown on television on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the media storm resulting from its inclusion resulted in endless threads (and probably improved sales as well).

The second part of the Mass Effect trilogy has started with a bang, I’ll return to the rather streamlined game in the form of an article at an appropriate time (meaning when I’ve progressed beyond level 6).

Feb 022010
 

Professor Layton and Pandora's Box logoFinished the second Layton game yesterday. Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box (or Diabolical Box as it is known in the United States) continues the puzzlefest and provides a good ten hours worth of brainteasers.

The game is pretty same as the first part of the series. This time, instead of a curious village, the environment is a luxurious train (and a couple of villages, since there’s obviously never enough of a good thing).

The structure of the game remains the same – a more or less improbable storyline packed with characters who want to test the protagonists’ skills at solving puzzles to advance the story. And the puzzles are plentiful indeed, with quite a few new types added to the portfolio.

The Professor Layton series has been a major hit, and the original trilogy has now been supplemented with a second trio of prequels. Though that’s the situation in Japan only, the western countries apparently will receive just one translated game a year. The next one, concerning a time machine, hopefully gets released next fall.

The style of the game has not changed. Most of the time the screens contain static images. A couple of key scenes have been properly rendered in animation. The ambient music is timeless as ever, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the series’ soundtrack cds in the future.

Jan 142010
 

Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure logoTaito’s Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure is the a very disappointing remake of a classic video game.

Not only is the game almost insultingly bad, it eliminates the possibility of seeing a proper version of one of my favorite games on a modern console.

What, then turns the remake into a travesty of the original. The conventional arcade lives have been replaced by a global timer, making each failure far costlier than was the norm in the original. The rainbow mechanics have inexplicably been changed, dropping one on top of an enemy does nothing in the new version.

The original was a staple game on the MAME-cabinet at work – the new one is immediately forgettable.

Aug 152009
 

Guitar Hero Aerosmith Logo

Bought Guitar Hero: Aerosmith as second hand game a couple of weeks ago. The price was sweet enough not to be able to resist. And the idea of trying out my virtual guitarist chops against Joe Perry wasn’t a bad idea either.

The first single-band game of the series eases gameplay a lot after the rather extreme Guitar Hero 3. As the music is pretty much all seventies/eighties/nineties hard rock, there are no excessively hard songs in the selection (GH3′s Raining Blood has no equivalent in this game).

A lot of the presentation is unchanged from the previous installment, so production values are not really sky-high in this game. And sadly the idea of a “guitar battle” has not been abandoned yet, but fortunately there’s just one guitar-on-guitar bout in the whole game.

It’s not all Aerosmith, all the time. The set list is maybe 70% filled with the band’s songs, the rest consists of hard rock from their contemporaries (and includes a lot of songs that are far enough from the main event and fun to play as a bonus).

Most of the Aerosmith tracks in the game are originals, but the band re-recorded four songs off their first album for the game. There are several curious omissions in the song selection – despite being featured as achievement-names in the game, the likes of I don’t want to miss a thing are absent from it. Walk this way, on the other hand, is featured twice in the game. Once in its original form, the second outing is the joint take with Run DMC.

Achievements-wise this is a nice game, and does not mandate total devotion unlike its predecessor.

The Guitar Hero franchise has been expanding a lot lately. World Tour added drums and a microphone, and the game centering on Metallica is the second band-specific production. Van Halen is the subject of the next third single band-game, to be released around christmas. As a decades-long fan, I’m sure I’ll try out the game on Metallica soon, but unless the game is significantly refreshed, Activision seems to be fighting a losing battle against the Rock Band imperium.

Aug 052009
 

Scrabble Scramble LogoBought Scrabble Scramble off a sale in London.

Scrabble Scramble is a dice-based variant of the classic Scrabble. A player’s turn consists of rolling the dice, and using them to extend the vocabulary on the board.

There are many differences to the original game. The play flows fast, there’s just two rounds worth of words on the board, so deep strategy is something that does not happen in Scramble. Also, the same tiles keep getting reused all the time – to the effect of having multiple power letters come up in a game. And speaking of high-scoring tiles, “Q” is “Qu” in this game – easing its use a lot.

The game is fast (especially if the included sixty second hourglass is used to time the rounds). The words snaking around the board and disappearing quickly prevent impasses from created. The board is smaller than usual (9×9), and the placement of the bonus squares is altered from the original.

Scrabble Scramble is a pleasant variant, and it works well as a travel game (although occasionally the contents seems like it requires non-euclidian geometry to fit into the plastic box).

Unsurprisingly there’s an electronic edition of the game available, but that’s rather outdated (it’s for Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance). This would be a very good time-killing game for the continuously connected platforms such as the iphone.

Jun 042009
 

Peggle logo PopCap‘s Peggle turned out to be an addictive game indeed. I had actually never played the game before it appeared on the Xbox Live Arcade, but got quite hooked upon trying it out.

The game combines a convincing physics model with a simple puzzle to solve. The player’s aim is to eliminate all orange pegs from the screen, the only weapon is a bouncing ball whose touch eliminates all that it touches. Combined with an array of special powers like multiball and flippers, the mission to remove dozens of pegs with just ten balls is no longer as daunting.

The game features a traditional single-player mode that teaches both the basics as well as the advanced techniques through a journey of 50+ levels. A further set of challenge levels that pits the player against carefully designed puzzles follows, as well as a selection of effortless multiplayer modes.

Peggle is indeed easily learned, and packs a formidable amount of “just one more round” quality. It plays well solo, and is even better as a head-to-head game.

As the wikipedia page notes, Peggle is amongst the most ported games – its latest target is iPhone, yet another conquest for the PopCap monster.