First off, sorry about how spotty these reviews have been for the last few weeks. I’ve been moving and haven’t had much time to write. Starting this week you can expect that we’ll get these reviews out every week for you again. This week, we have an alternative Cold War adventure for the Mac. We’ve also got a platformer for the Mac that puts you in the body of a goat. Then we have a variety puzzle game for iOS. We’ll also take a look at Monopoly’s steroid ridden cousin for iOS. Then finally we have a sequel to a casual card game for iOS.
Jazz Punk – Mac
Arty indie titles can often take things a bit too far into the serious side of things, turning off people who are looking for games that are just simple and stupid fun. Enter Jazzpunk, a game that combines crazy art, a fictionalized version of the cold war, and a wicked sense of humor. You take on the role of a British secret agent mailed to Japan. You have to do things like collect spiders to throw in the face of a sushi chef so you can steal a blowfish, or follow a series of clues to meet with various agents before getting a pigeon to smuggle. If it sounds weird, well, it is, no doubt about it. That weirdness is likely why Adult Swim chose to publish it. Jazzpunk would seem at home with the network’s brand of weirdness. The game is full of odd references to old games and other pop culture stuff. There’s also humor built right into the game. Every time you get a mission your boss ends up disappearing under his desk, and if you peek around you’ll see him laying right under the desk.
Though the game is generally a first person adventure, there are scattered mini-games throughout. In the first level, to beat the security system you’ll need to play a Space Invaders clone, later on you’ll find mini-games based on other classics. The game isn’t without its problems. The controller support doesn’t map very well by default, and the basic keyboard controls are a little off as well. Just make sure to customize your settings when you first play. (It could be that having a controller plugged in when I was first playing may have caused the settings to scramble.) If you’re really into graphical fidelity, you should skip this game. It’s stylized to a point of minimalism, think Katamari meets the Little People.
What’s Good: Fun sense of humor, lots of references to pop culture and old games.
What Sucks: Controls need customization, bad controller support. Stylistic graphics not for everyone.
Buy it?: If you’re looking for a funny game, but don’t mind stylized graphics grab Jazzpunk. The game is $14.99 on its website.
Escape Goat 2 – Mac
I love Double Fine. Almost every game they publish mixes great gameplay and design in a way that’s entertaining. Their latest game, Escape Goat 2, lives up to that reputation. A puzzle platformer, the game puts the player in the role of a goat freeing the souls of other animals trapped in a branching maze. You also have a mouse friend that you can use to hit switches or hold them down so you can advance through the levels.
Sadly it seems that the mainstream game developers aren’t interested in platformers anymore. On the other hand, that gives the opportunity to smaller developers and publishers. Escape Goat 2 exemplifies the approach of making levels that are just a joy to play and solve. The levels are arranged into branches off a hub world, and each of them is about ten or fifteen minutes. They’re just short enough to keep you saying to yourself, “just one more level.”
What’s Good: Fun game with good level design.
What Sucks: If you’re looking for story, this isn’t the game for you.
Buy it?: Fans of classic platformers looking for something new, check out Escape Goat 2. Grab it for $9.99 on its website.
The Voyage- iOS(Universal)
I’ve been a huge fan of variety puzzle games since the original Professor Layton game for the DS. The Voyage is a variety puzzle game for iOS, themed around searching for pirate treasure. There are one-hundred puzzles, though many are just harder versions of similar puzzles. Each of these is supposedly a page in a book that holds the secret to a great treasure. You aren’t the only one working on this puzzle book, your rival pirate taunts you every few levels, and challenges you to odd events for hint coins and keys. These rewards are then used to help you skip through harder levels.
The puzzles have a lot of variety, ranging from brain teasers like decoding a sequence of shapes, to reflex tests like labyrinth. There are around a dozen or so puzzle types, and they repeat with increasing difficulty as you advance through all one hundred puzzles in the game. There aren’t many out and out stupid puzzles that rely on luck, everything requires a little bit of of skill. If you’re stuck you can use a Doubloon to get a portion of the puzzle solved, or simply get an easier puzzle. You earn these sporadically, but there is more pressure to buy them through in-app purchase. Considering this is a paid app, it’s annoying to then implement the pay to advance. It’s a small fault, and pretty much hidden if you don’t go looking for hints.
What’s Good: Variety of puzzle gameplay.
What Sucks: IAP for a paid app.
Buy it?: Fans of Professor Layton and other puzzle variety games should check out The Voyage. Grab it on the App Store for $1.99
Cashflow – iPad
Have you ever wondered what Monopoly would be like if you had to manage more than a real estate portfolio? Enter Cashflow, which offers multiple avenues to financial independence. Though you are buying rental properties and looking for business opportunities, your goal isn’t to bankrupt your rivals. Instead you and the other players are in a race to gain financial independence through earning passive income. This is earned through your rental properties and other earnings. The game has a lot going on and forces you to think about more than chasing Free Parking and Boardwalk. You can play the game against the AI, or you can do Pass and Play.
That said, the game is a little on the complex side. There’s a lot to manage right away, and the game doesn’t do a great job of putting the explanations right up front. However, with a few plays the game becomes easier to understand. This is a bit of an edutainment game, so there is a bit more of a cerebral edge than your average board game. I don’t mind that, and I think it’s great to expand Monopoly’s ideas beyond the real estate market.
What’s Good: Fun game with plenty of depth to keep you coming back.
What Sucks: Hard to pick up and play, requires a few plays to catch on.
Buy it?: If you’re looking for Monopoly with strategy, check out Cashflow. It’s $4.99 on the App Store.
Fairway Blast – iOS(Universal)
Fairway Solitaire came out a few years ago for iOS; it was an arcade approach to Golf Solitaire. Fairway Blast expands that idea to an even simpler approach. Riffing on freemium games like Candy Crush, you’re given a simple interface of levels you can play through. The original game had a few different modes, including daily challenges. The new version focuses more on power-ups, these can help you complete challenges and clear cards faster. In fully embracing the freemium model, you can get these anytime through IAP. There’s also Facebook integration so you can see how you stack up against your friends.
I don’t really fault Big Fish for slimming down the interface. This game makes it a lot easier to get right into the game and play. The freemium aspects to the game aren’t egregious, there’s life systems and powerups, but the game never feels like you have to pay to keep going. There are points where you’re a single card away from winning, and it would just be easier to pay for a power up, or an extra five cards to finish the level.
What’s Good: Simple interface, unobtrusive freemium features.
What Sucks: If you don’t like card games, you’ve got nothing here.
Buy it?: If you like card games, and you’re looking for something simple, check out Fairway Blast. You can get it for free on the App Store.