I usually use this space to preview the games you’re going to find in this column, but I am going to use my little soapbox here to tell you console players to go grab a copy of Destiny. It’s stolen a bunch of my time since it came out, and I’m telling you, it’s worth checking out. But that isn’t to discount any of our iOS games that we have this week—I still need something to play at lunch.
Spellbounders – iOS(Universal)
Spellbounders combines a fantasy RPG with Words With Friends. (Yes, Mr. Pendant, I know that it’s just Scrabble, but since Spellbounders is online, WWF is a more apt comparison.) You choose a character and face off against an opponent, and each character has spells that provide bonuses. (Three characters are free; you have to pay for the other three.)
There are some additional in-app purchases related to essence—the energy used to cast spells—but you can also generate this just by playing words. This game’s appeal is going to depend on whether you like the idea of adding RPG and magic elements to Scrabble. It’s enough of a change that it does make the game feel fresh, but that appeal may not be universal.
What’s Good: New twist on a classic game.
What Sucks: The fantasy theme likely isn’t appealing to all players.
Buy it?: If you’re bored with Words With Friends, check out Spellbounders. It’s free on the App Store.
Fanatic Earth – iOS(Universal)
Kemco has done a fantastic job at recreating your 16-bit youth on iOS, channeling the great RPGs of the past with superb sprite art and long text-heavy stories. The studio’s Fanatic Earth is full of a lot of cliches: You’ve got a hero that wakes up with no memory of their past. There’s also a mysterious and powerful corporation that has corrupted the local government.Then there’s a bit of a buddy cop film mixed in for good measure, which mixes in some humor that goes a long way (This comes when the amnesiac gets paired with a straight-laced cop on a secret task squad).
Yeah, it’s convoluted, but that’s a genre staple. Fantastic Earth features werewolves and battle androids as well, so there should be a lot to keep you entertained. The combat is a straightforward turn-based affair. Fantastic Earth doesn’t really do anything new with RPGs, but this an effective use of the genre. If you’re a fan of anime, especially Dominion Tank Police, then you should enjoy Fanatic Earth.
What’s Good: Cliched but funny story.
What Sucks: You aren’t going to find a lot of fans for it outside of the JRPG and Anime scenes.
Buy it?: If you’re a fan of sci-fi Anime or classic JRPGs, check out Fanatic Earth. Pick it up for $7.99 on the App Store.
Tiny Dice Dungeon – iOS(Universal)
Tiny Dice Dungeon is an RPG that brings the dice rolls from the tabletop to video games. Plenty of other games have the randomness of dice rolls included, but this game makes it explicit. When your character battles, you can keep rolling dice to stack damage, but if you roll a one, you fail and lose all the damage you stacked. Don’t expect much of a story, though—this is mostly just a dungeon crawler. I will say that the pixel art design is really well done. There’s also a hint of Pokémon’s gameplay included, as you can capture monsters.
But wait—there’s more! Tiny Dice Dungeon has its own mini-game called Capture Dice that has another set of dice to manage. The game doesn’t have much beyond the combat and monster management: You manage your combat dice, your capture dice, and your items. The game uses dice pieces and gold as currency, which you can buy via in-app purchases. You can also watch ads to get bonuses as well, but you can still play the game pretty well without it. This is a fun little RPG as long as you aren’t too attached to a deep story.
What’s Good: Engrossing combat system, lots of customization options.
What Sucks: No story.
Buy it?: If you’re a stats junkie or hack and slash RPGs, check out Tiny Dice Dungeon. It’s free on the App Store.
Star Wars Commander – iOS(Universal)
Since JJ Abrams has picked up the reins of the Star Wars franchise, there’s been almost enough excitement about the series to erase the memory of the prequels. Almost.
Star Wars: Commander is set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, and puts you in charge of a group of mercenaries on Tatooine. Eventually, you’ll be forced to choose a side, Rebel or Empire. You’ll need to manage your base, build troops, and manage resources.
You then complete missions that alternate between attacking other bases and defending your own. The game also features campaign events that generate special missions that in turn grant you points you can use to buy more units. Social features allow you to team up with friends in squads, and you can also attack other bases. And yes, that does mean that others can attack your base.
These attacks don’t permanently damage your base, so it leaves the game in the realm of friendly competition. There are some freemium elements that will help you level up more quickly, but it’s pretty easy to play for free. Star Wars: Commander expands the wait and build genre (Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.), and its inclusion of attack stages make it feel like much more than just a time sink.
What’s Good: Star Wars: Commander features the waiting and other trappings of freemium base-building games, but attacks make the game feel more involved.
What Sucks: The Prequels. Let’s just pretend those movies never happened.
Buy it?: If you’re a Star Wars fan, check our Star Wars Commander. Download it for free on the App Store.
Madden Mobile – iOS(Universal)
Madden game releases are the video game industry’s equivalent to the back to school sale: New versions usually come out a few weeks before the season begins, so they’re definitely a sign that summer’s almost over. The iPad version of the game joins its console cousins, but how does this free-to-play version match up? The answer depends on why you play Madden.
Fans of realistic team management, custom seasons, and the more advanced stat management features will be disappointed. If you don’t worry about the realism, though, you might find something to relish here. I was able to play through a lot of the season mode, and the game is pretty easy to pick up and play. The game control mechanism uses a mix of a familiar virtual d-pad with contextual buttons.
As an arcade experience, it’s satisfying. Even the daily challenges are kind of fun: These mini games vary from staging a fourth quarter comeback to getting a set number of rushing yards in five plays, and there’s a new set every day. The game also features a multiplayer mode, a turned-based game where each player takes a drive against an automated defense. How well your defense performs in multiplayer mode depends on your level—an RPG element that EA uses to lock down the game’s content.
The rosters are locked down, and lack most of the big names at first. You can unlock big-name players via in game currency, or by paying out real world currency via in-app purchases. Your rosters aren’t going to fill with the teams you choose; instead, it’s completely random. The game’s locked-down nature will likely frustrate its existing fan base from consoles: Maybe this approach will appeal to a new audience, but if isn’t clear if that is what EA is going for.
What’s Good: Fun arcade-like experience.
What Sucks: Locks full rosters into randomized in-app purchases.
Buy it?: If you’re a football fan not stuck on full realism, grab Madden NFL Mobile. Download it for free on the App Store.