My run of puzzle games continues this week: First up is a game that tries to marry a serious story about government surveillance with an arcade puzzle game. I’ve also got a look at a puzzle game that tells a surreal sci-fi story. I close out with the second episode in Telltale’s Borderlands game.
Touch Tone – (iOS Universal)
Traditionally, puzzle games as a genre have taken most of their direction from Tetris. They’re sparse titles that focus on game mechanics. That has slowly been changing, Touch Tone for iOS demonstrates that you can tell a serious story using a puzzle game. You are a trainee at the NSA using your hacking skills to get access to phone calls, emails, and texts that may or may not contain information about attacks against the country.
That alone would be creepy, but just after you complete your training your asked by a mysterious agent, PATRIOT, to mark all conversations in regards to a Silicon Valley CEO as pertinent regardless of their actual value. The game doesn’t give you a point where you can make decisions, you just continue. However, if you pay any bit of attention to the game as you’re playing you’re going to have a reaction. There’s a one star review in the app store because an early mission where you’re lectured about freedom of speech when you mark a conversation as pertinent when the subject tries to buy a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook. How you react to this narrative is likely going to depend on your political inclinations.
The puzzle portion of the game is just as well crafted. You have a large grid with signals of different colors that go across the screen. There are pieces that you slide around to redirect those signals to their corresponding receivers. At first the game simply has you bending the rays around, but as you advance you’ll get splitters and more complicated solutions. When you move a row or column the entire thing moves, making it tricky to line everything up correctly. These puzzle are complex but you can play around to solve them, it’s difficulty without being maddening.
This game impressively mixes puzzles with story in a way that’s really engaging. The soundtrack is a sort of dissonant ambiance giving it this 80’s cyberpunk feel. This is a very well crafted game.
What’s Good: Excellent story, fun gameplay concept.
What Sucks: This doesn’t suck per se, but if you’re of a certain political alignment, the anti-surveillance message might be off-putting.
Buy it?: If you’re a fan of puzzle games and want more than a time waster, check out Touch Tone. Download it on the App Store for $2.99.
Mr Jump – iOS(Universal)
Platformers have had an odd Renaissance in the indie and mobile genres. Mr Jump takes those cues from plaformers and throws in some endless runners and difficulty from Flappy Bird.
Mr Jump only has a single control, you tap to jump. Your character always runs to the right. You’ll have to manage your jumps in a way to dodge and navigate the terrain. The length you hold down your finger determines how long you’ll jump. This may sound simple, but it ends up being varied enough to base the whole game around.
You unlock levels as you finish them, but if you’re stuck you’ ll be able to pay $.99 to unlock the next level. (The game also has ads that pop up after you die.) Each new level has a different twist on the gameplay, adding power ups that allow you to double jump, and others that change the way the game plays. It keeps you on your toes and leads to the games stiff difficulty curve.
The game has a really simple art style. I do not think that graphics are everything to a game, but at some level it feels phoned in. This isn’t a retro pixelated style, it feels like something built with a kit. The game is fun, but I wish that the visuals had gotten more attention.
What’s Good: Challenging platformer with interesting mechanics.
What Sucks: Needs better art style and polish.
Buy it?: Fans of retro platformers that are forgiving for bad graphics, check out Mr Jump. Download it from the App Store for free.
Heartbeats – iPhone
Heartbeats combines a sci-fi story, with logic puzzles. The story counts down the last few seconds of a man’s life, flashing back to how he got into the situation. It’s all told in this really weird art style. Each puzzle advances the story a moment, giving you a little bit more of the story.
The puzzles themselves are all different. The first puzzle has you piecing together a key. Later on you’ll need to finish several chess games by finding the right move for check mate. Most of the puzzles have a straight forward solution, though a few later require trial and error over deduction. You get the first couple of puzzles for free, but you will need to unlock the rest for $.99 via IAP.
What’s Good: Excellent collection of puzzles, neat story with unique art.
What Sucks: Some puzzles lack a logical solution, rely on trial and error.
Buy it?: If you like a variety of puzzle types, check out Heartbeats. Download Heartbeats on the App Store for free.
Tobuscus Adventures: Wizards – iOS(Universal)
I didn’t find out about Tobuscus Adventures: Wizards through their Kickstarter, I just thought it looked like an interesting game when I was browsing the App Store. (I also didn’t know about Tobuscus as a You Tube star.) The game has an interesting premise, you defend a castle against hordes of undead by casting spells. You cast the spells by drawing symbols on the screen.
The game has some pretty nice animated cinematics in the style of 80’s Saturday Morning Cartoons, the story of Tobuscus accidentally killing a wizard and taking control of the castle is incidental. It can be funny but it doesn’t add much to the game. In fact, when you’re replaying some levels you’ll have to sit through the in game dialog again, though not the full cinematic.
The game is fun, but some of the spells don’t register easily. This recognition is a little tricky, just pay attention to the correct direction to draw the symbols. It’s a little bit of the Newton on your iPad. Also there’s a Facebook sign on feature that doesn’t work at all, another odd oversight.
What’s Good: Fun game, neat concept.
What Sucks: Throwaway story, weird glitches.
Buy it?: If you’re into neat concepts, check out Tobuscus Adventures: Wizards. Download it from the App Store for $4.99.
Tales from the Borderlands – iOS(Universal)
I think that Borderlands might be my favorite modern video game franchise. It took a rather simple premise, Diablo with guns, and through great writing and unique characters made a fully realized world that stayed interesting through multiple sequels. This is the second episode in Telltale’s adventure take on the series’ universe.
In my review of the first episode, I talked about how interesting it was to be powerless in a world full of nearly invincible murderers. Now the grifters and corporate turncoats try and take a little power of their own, even as they dodge bounty hunters, artillery blasts, and the local wildlife on Pandora.
The writing is even better here as the characters get a little more definition.It picks back up right where the first episode left off, with the team stuck in a hidden Atlas vault. They story has some pretty early surprises that I don’t want to spoil, but the continues to deliver the combination of fan service and original content.
The game has some pretty good integration of quick time events, including prying out an eyeball with a spork. There feels like fewer dialog trees in this episode, but the reduced number gives the remaining dialog a lot more weight. I really like the writing for the sisters Sasha and Fiona. They get an extended sequence in this episode that really defines their characters well. The interstitial framing story is fleshed out as well, with Rhys and Fiona
I played this game on the iPad Air 2, but still had some weird glitches and long loading times. I am not sure if this is just that the game is pushing at the edges of what iOS can do even with extra RAM. It was a bit frustrating, but nothing that kept me from plowing through the episode. You will need to buy the game for $4.99 which includes the first episode, to get the second you’ll need to buy it for an additional $4.99. You can buy the new episodes along with the remaining three for $14.99.
What’s Good: Great writing, improved quick time mechanics.
What Sucks: Some glitches.
Buy it?: Fans of Borderlands or Telltale should pick up Tales From The Borderlands. Download it from the App Store for $4.99.