Now that you’ve survived your families, the travel, and the marauding Black Friday shoppers, let’s take a look at some games you can play while you look busy before Christmas vacation. We’ve got the expansion to one of my favorite iPad games (though it was released as a new app). We’ve also got the sequel to the game that made gambling addicts out of grandparents everywhere. As a bonus, we’ve got a review of an expansion to Monument Valley.
XCom: Enemy Within – iOS(Universal)
Take-Two’s XCom was proof that console games could work on the iPad, and the strategy title translated particularly well to touch. And the expansion, Enemy Within, retains everything you loved about the original.
The game takes the same basic shape as the original XCom title in that it’s a turn-based strategy game where you fight various aliens in randomly generated levels with a squad of soldiers. Enemy Within adds new enemy units atop the original XCom release, as well as new weapons and units for your side. One of the new enemy units is a floating unit that can strangle your soldiers, giving you a turn to intervene before they die. You also have more cybernetic customizations for your soldiers at your disposal, but you can just build robots if you prefer.
Take-Two opted to publish Enemy Within for iPad as a separate app instead of, say, an in-app purchase (and for some reason, Enemy Unknown has been removed from the App Store). Unfortunately, you can’t import your XCom saved-game data from iCloud, so you may need to start fresh. But like the previous game, Enemy Within has an online multiplayer mode: I’m not the biggest fan of this mode, as I like the slower pace of the single player game, the multiplayer mode is there if you want it.
XCom was a great game, and the expansion gives the game enough of a new feel that it will keep you interested.
What’s Good: Excellent expansion to original game.
What Sucks: No way to import your existing game from iCloud.
Buy it? If you liked the first game, or just like sci-fi and strategy, pick up XCom: Enemy Within. Pick it up on the App Store for $12.99.
Call of Duty: Heroes – iOS(Universal)
Call of Duty: Heroes is essentially just a re-skin of Star Wars Commander. I am not sure if the games shared a development or design team, but they play almost identically. That doesn’t make Call of Duty: Heroes a bad game, but the similarities leap out at you as soon as your start the App. The game is a social RTS, so you split time between attacking bases and building your own.
If you’ve played the console Call of Duty games, you’ll find familiar units and characters from the franchise on the iPad version. The characters will come in as heroes, which fight alongside your regular units. Combat takes place RTS style. Place your units on a map outside of a base: They will attack the defenses on the base, and as long as your squad is strong enough, you’ll win. Battles grant you more resources to improve the defenses on your base. You can play campaign battles as well as player-versus-player matches, though in the latter, you’ll have other human players attacking you.
Everything you do in the game has a long wait attached to it, unless you pony up some in-game currency. Everything on the base takes a day or so to build, and training troops takes around a half hour or so. Every attack you make expends troops, so you’ll always need to wait before the next attack.
What’s Good: Easy to pick up and play, familiar characters.
What Sucks: Lots of waiting unless you’re willing to buy lots of in-game currency.
Buy it? If you’re looking for a casual time waster and are a COD fan, pick up Call of Duty: Heroes. It’s free on the App Store.
Space Age – iOS(Universal)
Space Age is a game that channels the classic Lucas Arts adventure games—it even uses a similar font to those games for dialog. If you played Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion, it should be immediately familiar. The game opens during the first manned mission to an alien planet. You play as a private exploring Kepler–16, and along the way, you rescue your fellow crew members, meet aliens both friendly and aggressive, and even flash back to your childhood.
The graphics have a pixelated old-school feel, but they’re polished enough that they don’t feel lazy. The controls are all touch, and resemble something you would use for an RTS. All told, the control mechanism provides an easy way to move your crew around the planet, and simplifies the interface so that the story takes center stage.
What’s Good: Excellent design sense, great story.
What Sucks: If you don’t like retro pixel art, you may not like this.
Buy it? If you’re looking for a great adventure game with an engrossing story, check out Space Age. Pick it up on the App Store for $3.99
Vainglory – iOS(Universal)
MOBA—or “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” for the uninitiated—is the new genre that frightens the n00bs. The communities surrounding MOBA games like League of Legends and DOTA are full of expert players waiting to shred your sanity, and Vainglory is an attempt to bring that genre to iOS—a platform that’s supposedly dedicated to casual games.
(If you read this column, you know that iOS serves serious gamers just as well as it serves casual gamers. In fact, Tablets offer an even better interface for the MOBA genre as you can use both your hands to tap through the commands right on the screen. Vainglory’s tutorial video even recommended that you put your iPad on the table and play with both hands.)
The first time you open Vainglory, you’ll be presented with a tutorial video, and once done, you then open the game and request your match. You are paired with your two teammates, who team up to take down a rival team of three. You get your lane, minions, and turrets.
Vainglory has only one lane of minions—the rest of the map is used for resources. The game features are two mines you can capture by killing a creature, which in turn strengthens your minions. Then there is a gold mine that you can attack every so often to get payouts for your team. After fifteen minutes, this third mine turns into a creature called the Kraken: It’s powerful, but if you do enough damage, it’ll tear through the other team’s defenses. Once you destroy all your opponents’ turrets, you have to destroy their Vain, a big crystal at the end of the lane, right by their base. Destroy this Vain, and you win.
This game delivers a more robust experience than Fates Forever. You’re expected to use both hands to move and attack with your character, kind of juking around the enemy. Your abilities are powerful, but you’ll need to use them strategically for them to be effective. Vainglory features ten characters, and you can rotate through most of them for free, but if you’re attached to a particular character, you can unlock them via in-game currency. (You earn this currency by playing matches, and you can buy a secondary in-game currency via in-app purchases. It’s a really soft sell for a free-to-play game—it doesn’t even make you annoy your Facebook friends.)
What’s Good: Variety of characters, complex gameplay, challenging.
What Sucks: Still going to be a bit daunting for new players.
Buy it? If you are looking for a good MOBA on iOS, VainGlory is it. Pick it up on the App Store for Free.
Candy Crush Soda Saga – iOS(Universal)
Candy Crush Saga was a huge game. It made the leap from iOS hit to cultural phenomenon, creating thousands of gambling addicts in the process. (I kid, I kid. Kind of.) And although Candy Crush currently has well over 500 levels, King has decided to finally release a proper sequel, Candy Crush Soda Saga.
Candy Crush Soda Saga keeps the familiar grid of candy from the original, but it adds some new pieces: soda bottles. These soda bottles slowly fill the stage from the bottom, which in turn changes how the pieces fall. As you clear pieces under the soda line, pieces will float up from the bottom. If you’re in the “dry” area, they fall in from above.
King also added some new game modes. One has you clearing the path for a gummy bear trapped in a bubble to float to the top. Another new mode requires you to clear sections of the board to reveal hidden gummy bears.
The game is a bit prettier than its predecessor as well, with some sharper sprites and brighter colors. Sadly, Candy Crush Soda Saga also brings with it all the things that have made Candy Crush Saga an annoyance over the years. It tries repeatedly to make you send an invite to everyone on Facebook, which is not a great way to endear people to your game.
What’s Good: Still a fun game, new modes and look make it distinct from the first game.
What Sucks: Spammy. Ugh.
Buy it? If you’re bored with plain old Candy Crush, check out Candy Crush Soda Saga. Pick it up for free on the App Store.
BONUS REVIEW – Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores
The Monument Valley expansion has caught a lot of flack because it cost an additional $1.99 op top of the game’s $3.99 purchase price (you can purchase an additional 99-cent chapter that benefits Project: Red). I loved the original Monument Valley, and tore through it in the span of a day. The expansion is essentially an entire new game, albeit a bit shorter.
Everything that was fun about the original game is here, along with some new twists. The second chapter has you trying to steal your hat back from one of the crows that grabs it when you get blown off a platform. The expansion is a bit lighter on story, but the puzzles are still multilayered and intriguing.
What’s Good: More content to a great game.
What Sucks: Story is a bit light in the expansions.
Buy it? If you loved the original, grab the expansion to Monument Valley: It’s two dollars well spent. If you haven’t played the original download from the App Store for $3.99.