Sorry for the tardiness of this week’s haul of games, but winter has begun in earnest here in the Midwest. So while I had time to play this week’s games, between the shoveling and the salting it took a bit of extra time to review them. First up, we have a sequel to a teeth-gnashingly difficult RPG. We’ll also take a look at a new iPhone adaptation of a Czech board game. Finally, we’ll look at Marvel’s latest freemium game.
Bit Dungeon II – iOS (Universal)
Bit Dungeon was a rouge-like game that riffed on Zelda, and it’s back thanks to its sequel, Bit Dungeon II.
The original Bit Dungeon was tough on new players, and in many respects, the sequel is just as difficult—when you die, you die, just as you do in the original. In other areas, though, the game is a bit more forgiving than its predecessor: For example, you get a lot more bonus lives that give you a second chance when you die.
Bit Dungeon II is also more expansive than the original. Rather than just a single dungeon, you now start the game in the overworld. And in addition to the overworld, each area has its own dungeon, so there are plenty of places to explore.
Though this game is easier than the first game, it still isn’t all that accessible. If you’re comfortable with the difficulty level of the Dark Souls games, you will enjoy Bit Dungeon II. It’s not frustrating if you’re patient, but you can’t just expect to charge through the game.
What’s Good: Expands on the original game. Tweaks the degree of difficulty.
What Sucks: Still too difficult for beginners.
Buy it? If you’re a fan of rouge-likes or difficult RPGs, check out Bit Dungeon II. Download it on the App Store for $2.99.
Stroid – iPhone
Stroid is one of those titles that seems like it came straight from the arcades you used to visit as a kid. The game has a simple premise: You navigate your ship through asteroid fields, blowing up asteroids as you go to collect gold that you can then invest in upgrades to your ship.
You also unlock new stages to play as you progress through the game. These new stages bring asteroids that require several shots to blow up as well as ones that split up into smaller rocks, among other new challenges. You’ll need to avoid shooting satalites that float among the asteroids, as shooting these will cost you your gold.
Stroid’s control mechanism is simple and straightforward: Tilt you iPhone to move your ship from side to side, and tap your thumb to shoot. That simplicity gives the game its classic arcade feel, but your enjoyment level will depend on your nostalgia for classic shooters.
What’s Good: Easy to pick up and play. Lots of material.
What Sucks: Simplicity may bore some players.
Buy it? If you’re a fan of arcade shooters, check out Stroid. Pick it up on the App Store for $1.99.
Elevate – iOS (Universal)
The proliferation of brain-training apps has led to some cool word- and math-based games in recent years. Elevate is the latest such app, and Apple named it as one of its 2014 Apps of the Year.
I can see why—the app is oozing with cool design.
You start by selecting specific goals of things you’d like to improve, like reading retention, multitasking, and solving problems quickly. You then get a series of tests that determine your starting point. The activities are all very well designed: You get some that read off lists of items and test your memory, while others ask you to swipe error-ridden off your screen. There are 29 games in all, though you only have access to 20 of them unless you upgrade, and you can only pick three of those 20 as part of your training.
The upgrade is available via in-app purchases, but rather than a one-time fee, it requires a $4.99 monthly/$44.99 yearly subscription that unlocks the additional games and unlimited training. The game works fine without the premium version, though, and the daily training still provided plenty of variety.
Generally speaking, it’s unclear whether or not brain-training games really work. For his part, Elevate Labs CEO Jesse Pickard tells Macgasm that his company’s offerings differ from other brain-training apps and programs in that they focus on what his company considers “trainable skills” such as spelling, reading comprehension, and so on. We can’t verify those claims, so we can’t say that Elevate is going to make you any sharper, but we can say that it makes for a good way to pass the time.
What’s Good: Good design. Good variety of training games.
What Sucks: Subscription rather than a one-time fee for all games.
Buy it? If you’re looking nice looking math and reading games, check out Elevate. Download it on the App Store for free.
Galaxy Trucker Pocket – iPhone
Galaxy Trucker is an iOS adaptation of a board game, and it has a pretty funny premise—you’re building a ship out of sewer pipes and hauling them from planet to planet.
Unlike most board game adaptations, there’s actually quite a bit more than just a quick adaptation of the board game. It has a full campaign mode that comes complete with its own story and scenarios, and it’s told with a cool cartoony style.
The game itself is easy to pick up and play. Each game is broken into two phases, building and flight. In the building phase, you and your opponent select tiles from which to build your ships. Once you build your ship, you begin the flight phase, during which your ship’s design is tested against asteroids, pirates, and slavers. You can also pick up cargo for additional revenue, and you can explore abandoned ships and stations. Once you complete your flight, the player with the highest percentage of their ship intact gets a bonus, and the game tabulated the rest of your rewards to determine a winner.
A whole game can take between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on how many flights you choose. You can play a multiplayer game online or via pass and play: Pass and Play has slightly different rules, however, as you can’t build the ships in real time.
What’s Good: Easy game to learn. Much more than a straight adaptation of the board game.
What Sucks: iPad and iPhone versions are separate purchases.
Buy it? If you’re a fan of offbeat board games—or just like unique strategy games—check out Galaxy Trucker Pocket. Pick it up on the App Store for $4.99.
Marvel: Contest of Champions- iOS (Universal)
The march of the freemium model into every genre of game has been interesting to watch, and I wonder exactly how far it will go. Fighting games have been a recent genre to succumb to the freemium trend, and Marvel: Contest of Champions is the latest title to adapt that model.
At its core, Contest of Champions is a really competent fighter. It doesn’t have a lot of complex controls; instead, you have light, medium, and heavy attacks. The control mechanism is very well done: You tap, swipe, and tap-and-hold to use the various attacks and blocks at your disposal. There’s also a “special attack” button. It’s minimal, but it works well for the control scheme.
The game frames the fights with a story about aliens coming to earth and kidnapping all the heroes for their “collections.” As for you, you’re Earth’s champion to fight them off with your own heroes. This framing device allows for multiple copies of the same hero, and makes it so you’ll need to spend items to upgrade your team of heroes. The quests given are just maps where you collect chests and fight, but some require you to make a few runs in order to unlock everything. This game is pretty fun, but the story is fairly pointless and uninteresting.
Contest of Champions’s makers are keen to let you play for free, but you’ll likely spend a fair of amount of money to unlock heroes you want to play. Some characters are available to buy only at certain times, and you’ll need to buy crystals to get the rest. Even then, you unlock heroes at random. I know that some of you aren’t going to appreciate this type of approach to free to play.
What’s Good: Fun fighting system, good controls.
What Sucks: Aggressive free to play model. Weak story.
Buy it? If you’re a fighting game fan, or just like Superheroes, check out Marvel Contest of Champions. Grab it on the App Store for free.
[Update, Jan 8, 2014: As originally published, this story stated that Elevate is an iPhone-specific app. It is, in fact, a universal iOS app that was designed with the iPad in mind as well. We regret the error. In addition, we have updated this article to include additional information Elevate Labs provided to Macgasm on how its app compares to other brain-training apps, and to make additional clarifications on this point.]