Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Mobile Collectible Genre

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Apr 21 2014

[Mobile Mondays were previously My Phone Mondays, but I expanded the term now that most of my mobile gaming is on my iPad tablet]

There are a few prominent genres that currently dominate the landscape of mobile gaming, so with my breadth of experimentation I have some familiarity with several of them. Today I’d like to look at what I call the Mobile Collectible Genre, I’ve also seen it referred to as the Card Battle Genre but given a few use more like figurines than cards and most have terrible battle mechanics I think my label is more informative. Eventually I’ll segue into Square-Enix’s Deadman’s Cross and Guardian Cross games more specifically.

From my perspective the genre sort of started with Rage of Bahamut, previously reviewed on this site, which was for a long time the high point of the genre–which REALLY isn’t saying much. Eventually I swore off the mobile collectible genre entirely because I’d spent enough time in the “good” ones to establish the entire genre was total garbage–though of course that can benefit from the “one man’s trash” principle, and as all free games the overall risk involved in trying them out and forming your own opinion is appropriately low.

Pretty much all of these games boil down to;

  • Spend energy to advance in a single player mode. This energy replenishes over time, but effectively limits the amount of time that can be spent in the game at once. Generally possible to pay real money for immediate energy restoration.
  • Collect cards/figurines/warriors to assemble into a deck/battle-group to use against other players and sometimes the computer. Biggest number wins, and the rarest collectibles have the biggest numbers. The collectibles that aren’t at least rare are virtually worthless, and that’s what you’ll get the most of. Generally possible to pay real money for better odds at getting better cards–which in some cases means the chance to get them at all.

The good apps in the genre (and even those don’t deserve to be called games, because the user basically just watches the app, there isn’t much ‘play’ to speak of) offer amazing artwork that can make them worth the free price of admission if the experience of suffering through the app isn’t too off-putting. And the biggest problem with all of them is that they aren’t games. Collecting is great, lots of people–myself included–love collecting things and the generally high art quality makes the collection fun to enjoy. But it ends up being hollow and without value if there’s nothing to do with that collection–and I personally believe it’ll be easier to get people to continue to invest money if your app has value. As the physical Collectible Card Game, Magic the Gathering, showed and continues to show, a really solid game to play with the collectibles is perfect for ensuring consumer engagement–promoting them from collectors to players.

Eventually I came to the realization that my odds of collecting the art I wanted from these apps were too low to justify the time invested when they so quickly become boring to just sit there and watch–or worse, frustrating to sit and watch when the game decides that you lose instead of win. I swore I’d never play another one again.

My vow of abstinence held up through Square-Enix‘s entry to the field with Guardian Cross–as interested as I was in what such a legendary company might have done with the genre, that interest was not enough to break my vow of ‘never again’. But then came Square-Enix’s second entry in the field, Deadman’s Cross, which caught my attention just enough that I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give the genre another shot–though my expectations remained low.

The very first thing that happens in most of these collectible games is the game asks for the Invite Code of the player who invited you to the game–and whether you were invited or not it’s worth finding and entering a code to get the associated bonus, plus it really helps the person whose code you used. My code for Deadman’s Cross is UFV2RGC should anyone decide to give Deadman’s Cross a try–use it and get to level 5 in the game and you get a limited edition Rare card, and help me toward more limited edition cards of my own, which I really want.

Now, what sets Guardian Cross and Deadman’s Cross apart from the other Mobile Collectible apps is their Hunts. Both allow you to “hunt” for new cards using a sniper scope and rifle, introducing an element of skill to new card acquisition that adds considerable interest to the game and rewards players who develop their skill in that regard.

 

In the case of Guardian Cross the scope pans much more slowly than the player’s own finger movements and monsters easily outrun the blasts from the rifle making it obnoxiously difficult to hit anything–this does set Guardian Cross apart from other mobile collectible games, but unfortunately it sets it far below the rest of the field.
I know I said I didn’t fall for Guardian Cross, but after enjoying Deadman’s Cross I went back and tried Guardian Cross as well. Both are free, so nothing really lost there except for some respect for Square-Enix.

Deadman’s Cross really polished the hunt system though–and in its case the hunt mechanics set it apart and above the rest of the field. The speed you move your finger at is now the speed your scope moves at, and the zombies are not faster than the bullets–though they are generally still faster than your trigger finger. There’s a real sense of reward for skill, and I’ve been very happy overall with the number of cards I’ve been able to get per hunt in Deadman’s Cross.
The only things I’d say need fixing is bullets should consistently come out of the gun when the player taps the Shoot button and the gun’s loaded–because right now the bullets currently come out when you take your finger off of the Shoot button, most of the time. Also, any time the bullet visually passes through a zombie that should count as a hit–even if to balance things out the times the bullet doesn’t visually pass through the zombie never counted as hits.

Now, my initial impression of Deadman’s Cross as the height of the genre and actually worth playing turned out to be a little too rosy. See, I got some very good cards very early in my play experience–and I thought, “Hey, Square-Enix is such an experienced developer, they probably realized purely random drops were bad game design and have a complex algorithm going on here to guarantee the ability of all players to reasonably compete in the game.” The reason I thought that is because most in Mobile Collectible apps what you get from card packs–or however you get new collectibles–is more purely random, and randomness is not my friend. If there’s an element of luck involved in anything I do, I can pretty consistently count on not having any luck myself. Don’t know why, I just have bad luck when luck is given too much weight in the equation.

So, having a couple weeks of good luck in Deadman’s Cross–over two accounts no less–led me to believe it wasn’t really luck and rather clever game design on Square-Enix’s part. The 1 in 100 chance of getting a Legendary card must have been implemented so that after 100 attempts every player would have a Legendary and the random element was which one in the hundred it was–or whatever, the numbers are just to illustrate the concept. Turns out, I actually was having good luck–as improbable as that seems–and Square-Enix had similarly banked on lucking into a decent game rather than putting in the design work to ensure one.
Was very disappointing when my luck returned to zero, and I read the online accounts of others with no luck in Deadman’s Cross. I’d thought Square-Enix could deliver better than that, but even that hefty blow only dropped them even with the rest of the field–which coupled with their hunt mechanic remained a net advantage for Deadman’s Cross.

Now, I’ve got plenty of ideas how the hunt system in Deadman’s Cross could be improved–but given their console record I’m pretty confident that if Square-Enix had wanted to make a game out of Deadman’s Cross they would have done so. A few things like the 60 second time limit seem arbitrary, and the whole thing could use a little more polish–even improved as it is from Guardian Cross. But ultimately the Hunt for new cards is one thing in favor of Deadman’s Cross that I think does put it ahead of the rest of the field–which isn’t saying much, but is worth mentioning.

It doesn’t take long to get to the point in the game where if you’re using anything less than Epic cards (the progression being Common->Uncommon->Rare->Epic->Legendary) then you cannot win against other players–and anything less than Rare will leave you losing to the computer as well. This isn’t any different from other apps in the genre, but is unfortunate because new Commons, Uncommons and Rares continue to become available well after there is no reason (other than their artwork) to want them. Some rarity limited brackets would help players find matches they could compete in according to the cards they actually possessed–and make a lot more sense than the current level limited brackets that have far less bearing on the actual strength of the hordes the player can field, not to mention it would provide an application for getting and developing the lower rarity cards instead of just raging about not being able to find any of the highest rarity cards.

Now, one thing that Square-Enix has continued to do well on the mobile market that I always respected them for on the consoles is write. The writing in Deadman’s Cross is far beyond anything else in the collectible genre, and pretty well positioned for mobile games in general. I really enjoy the story and the characters, and wish I could get the whole thing–unfortunately it seems unlikely Square-Enix will wrap up the major plot-line any time soon, since they still want to milk the in-app purchases for years if they can.
Aside from the interactions with townspeople, Guardian Cross also featured similarly strong writing–though in that case most of the townspeople were painfully badly written, which I can’t explain. Nor can I explain why every single towns-person in Guardian Cross had a stable of Guardians they wanted to pit against the player’s. Deadman’s Cross takes a much more reasonable approach of a lot of people having deadman–aka zombie–hordes, but a lot of people don’t have them too.

Still, both Guardian Cross and Deadman’s Cross offer just a little more in the card to card contests that define the player-versus-player element as well as much of the player-versus-computer experience. The standard for the genre is “Which number is bigger?” Which as you may be able to guess, doesn’t amount to much of a game and doesn’t leave the player with anything to do but watch the computer figure out whether 500 is bigger than 900 or not. Once you’ve got the biggest number (which also happens to be the most rare) card you can, there’s not much else for you to do.
Square-Enix added on to the biggest number contest–though I wish they’d replaced it–so that when the numbers are close there’s actually more the player can do to swing things in their own favor. It falls short of being a matter of skill, the player does still just watch during the actual battles, but adds a few granules more strategy to the deck construction preparation part of the app. But I highly respect Square-Enix’s decision not to include evolutions based on multiple copies of the same card, as that quickly became the most tedious part of the rest of the field–especially as the rarity of the card in question increased. There’s no reason not to strengthen a card you want to strengthen as soon as you are able to do so and while some methods are more efficient than others all can get to the same end point, and that is much more user friendly.

Furthermore, the deadman cards have 3 ability slots that fill as they gain levels–but each deadman has more than 3 abilities they can learn. Choosing which ability to keep and which to lose allows players to customize how their deadmen play and adds a little more strategy to the game. Ultimately it’s still the biggest number comparison, but the accents put on top of that provide some consolation and that’s not nothing.

I really wish I could recommend Deadman’s Cross, because it is in my experience the best Mobile Collectible game on the market, because it’s Square-Enix, and because it would really help me to have 6 more devices use my Invite Code of UFV2RGC and then get to level 5. Unfortunately, my actual recommendation is to stay away from Deadman’s Cross. I’m probably giving up on the game myself if I don’t get those 6 more Invites by April 30–the cutoff for getting the Cleopatra card I would very much like in my collection.

Now, if I could go back and reevaluate the other Mobile Collectible games I’ve rated on this site I’d probably give them much lower marks now that I’ve seen the full ugliness of the genre, but I feel it would be unfair to punish them too severely for my distaste for the genre without giving them more play time for the reevaluation–which I have no intention of doing. So keep that in mind when I say my final rating for Deadman’s Cross is 3 out of 5 stars and it is the best mobile collectible game I’m aware of.

A lot of apps get higher marks from me for being free, because I’m not going to hold a free handout to the same standard as an expensive purchase. That said, be wary of the in-app purchases offered by most free apps and intended to be the developer’s source of profit. I’m in favor of making in-app purchases from free apps that prove themselves, because I want to see good developers succeed, but I’m not nearly as interested in supporting developers’ attempts to bleed their consumers without offering any kind of reasonable return for that capital–not even developers with long histories including good titles like EA Games or Square-Enix.
If you choose to purchase from Deadman’s Cross it’s worth noting that the $13.99 Coin Pack offers the best in-game return for real-world investment–otherwise your best bet is investing in increments of $0.99. But do note that as satisfied as I was with my $13.99 investment at the time, I am coming to regret it as I see the app rapidly dead-ending with my art collection still woefully far from completion.

If you’re willing to help me out, or if a free Square-Enix game with zombies sounds worth checking out even if it isn’t their best work then do try Deadman’s Cross with my invite code of UFV2RGC and get to level 5 to give the app a good go. But I advise stinginess when it comes to spending money on the game, and maybe wait until level 10 to have a better grasp of what the game really offers.

Or if you’re just looking to learn a little more–or find the artwork posted online–there’s always the Deadman’s Cross Wiki as a pretty good repository of the cards from the game with their pictures, statistics and even some more general game information. If you’re already in the game or just looking to go deeper then the Deadman’s Cross Forum seems to be a good place to go for more in depth information and to arrange trades, since the in-game trading feature is very nearly unusable.

 

Finally, I was thinking of mentioning Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft in this review–but I think it’s gone on long enough as is, so I’ll save that for another post.

Kingdom Royale

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Dec 10 2012

Well, as I get ready to buckle down and delve into Arel Wars 2–with the intention of writing the strategy guide as I go this time–it seems time to discuss other offerings by the company, Gamevil. Unfortunately, I don’t have much good to report. Arel Wars wasn’t nearly what it could have been–it should have been amazing but small easy-to-fix problems reduced it to okay, which is fine since the game was free, but I still wish it had been worth putting money toward since I would have very much liked to.

That said, as far as I’ve discovered Arel Wars is by far Gamevil’s best effort. Other of their titles I tried lacked even the promise that Arel Wars should have lived up to, and most of them were so bad they didn’t stay on my phone for even a day and thus don’t merit a review.

Kingdom Royale is an interesting middle ground, whose place on my phone is probably going after this review but managed to at least engage me for a time.

Kingdom Royale has an amazing design aesthetic to it–which sadly is all the further too many iPhone Apps seem to bother going–and in the vein of Arel Wars is an all out fantasy war game. I didn’t catch what the storyline was since they give you about one second to read a whole screen of text and I couldn’t find any way to go back to it–but I did catch that there was one and that seemed cool.

I’m not a great strategist, which is part of my chagrin at having to write the Arel Wars strategy guide, so simple effective strategies really appeal to me. In this regard I am very much a fan of Kingdom Royale’s double-layered Rocks-Paper-Scissors mechanic. In true RPG style, your units are defined by a combination of their race and class.

Orcs beat Humans, who beat Elves, who beat Orcs–but also Melee beats Range, which beats Magic, which beats Melee. That seems to me like enough to be really interesting to play with–say an Orc Melee unit against an Elf Ranged unit would be a fairly even match against each other or against a Human Magic unit, but reverse the classes in the first pairing and the Orc gets curb-stomped. Those sorts of mechanics are really fun for me to play with, and figuring out the troop roster to take into any given battle, who assign to guard duty and how many of each unit to keep in reserve makes me happy.

Even better, you don’t have to choose a faction when you play! All players have access to all three races and can produce and maintain troops as they see fit. I don’t mind having to choose a faction, and admittedly my play style heavily favors my elven units, but the completionist in me really loves the idea of being able to get everything–every unit, every structure–on a single play through. So I play elves whenever I can, but sometimes having exactly the right unit for any given job is immensely satisfying.

Now, Kingdom Royale is one of those resource oriented games where the passage of real time–whether you’re in the game or not–is required to build up the resources to build your structures and produce your units. That’s not an inherently bad thing to me, it can be nice to come back with a sense of progress after leaving your phone alone for an extended period.

Unfortunately I believe the actual implementation of resources in Kingdom Royale is one of its unforgivable gaffs. That’s right, I have good things to say about the game but this will not be a positive review over all.

The first three resources you work with are Gold, Wood, and Food. Gold is used in everything you do–and is proportionally easy to come by. Wood is used more heavily in the construction and improvement of structures and fortifications, while Food is significant to the production of units. All three of these resources are actually quite well handled–frequently used but easy enough to come by. Another thing the game does right is the general store in your secure home area where you can exchange one resource type for another if you need something other than what you’ve got in a hurry.

The next three resources I liked in concept, Sapphires associated with Human units, Amethysts with Elven units, and Emeralds with Orc units. These are a little harder to come by and later upgrades demand quantities that can be difficult to collect, but early in the game you can secure sources of Sapphires and Amethysts safe from seizure by other players so even if holding and taking ground against others is proving difficult you can still get the resources you need given enough time. No such luck with Emeralds. The first source of Emeralds is a little further in to the game, and is hotly contested enough I was never able to hold it long enough to have any pretensions about building any sort of meaningful force of orcs. I would have been fine with this, but even humans and elves start requiring some Emeralds once you begin producing 4th level units.

The final three resources are the ultra rare, Diamonds, Opals and “Crowns”–with the latter primarily being obtained by paying real world money into the game. The balance of supply and demand for these resources seems fairly reasonable to me, but I’ll never get far enough in the game to say whether this holds true to the end. I’ve got a sinking suspicion it doesn’t.

See, the difficulty of obtaining Emeralds–one of the core three gem types–throws the whole economy out of balance even before factoring the exponential price increases that far outstrip any sort of resource income I could envision having achieved.

I love the character design of the units, and find the sound from music to effects to voices spot on for the game. I even discovered that it is possible for a unit to gain experience and become more powerful–without you having to spend half a day training the entire unit type, or just buying the next level up of the race/class combination. This is an awesome touch that really lines up with my preference for developing an elite team with as few casualties as possible.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that there’s virtually nowhere to train your units up. The storyline missions are all only played once before moving you on, and the enemies become stronger faster than your units can–and I have yet to meet a player who just offers up their fodder units for you to train on and then take their land. Also, when on offense–as you will generally be–your units can be killed and then are gone along with potentially the vast amount of resources spent producing the higher level ones.

Your main keep has a hospital where defense units, or offense units who weren’t actually reduced to zero health, can recuperate over time. If there were better odds on a unit being sent to the hospital rather than killed then even in loss a player could build their forces up and do better next time–but as it actually stands when you lose you lose big.

It is technically possible to alleviate the deficit of any resource (Emeralds being the prime offender) by building structures dedicated to harnessing that resource on a limited number of vacant land plots within your secure home area. Unfortunately, Sapphires, Emeralds, Diamonds and Opals all require Crowns to build their structures–unlike the others that can be built with in-game resources. Since the game never convinced me it was worth money, and I burned crowns on unit resurrections while I was still learning the game, getting a reasonable supply of Emeralds is out of the question for me, and thus so is advancing through the game.

The challenge curve is the last problem with the game I think is worth mentioning–because between the rapid scaling of challenges and the rapid scaling of costs I found it completely inconceivable that I could ever really get anywhere in the game. If the Player versus Player element happened on a separate map and resources gained on the regular map were retained, or if there were at least a secure source of Emeralds that would be different. But as is I reached the 12th area of Payro with the first real boss enemy and found that no combination of units I could produce could stand up to him without devastatingly high losses (Spoiler Alert: You have to fight him more than once in that area) that would take days of play for me to recuperate from.

So I was stuck unable to get the resources I needed to build up my forces, unable to advance the single-player storyline, unable to complete the side-quests (which advance in difficulty as rapidly as the core missions), and unable to defeat other players in such a way that I gained more than I lost. So at this point the only thing I can do is log in and collect resources from my safe sources, and that just isn’t fun at all.

The good news is that since playing the game is free, there’s no real reason not to try it for yourself and form your own opinion if you think it even might be different from mine–plus you can benefit from my folly and spend your crowns getting an Emerald mine in your home area rather than on unit healing/resurrection.

I give the game 3 of 5 stars–similar to Arel Wars. I’m certain there’s something there, I love the aesthetic and I definitely feel it actually is a game–I just can’t seem to find the way in to it. One difference is that Arel Wars could have easily been a 5 star game if they’d bothered fixing what I felt were obvious errors… Kingdom Royale could probably get up to 4 stars if they fixed their wonky resource availability/expense balance, but getting all the way to 5 would take serious work and require more story and character for me.

Tap Creepy Manor

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Dec 03 2012

Has anyone else noticed that my “My Phone Monday” entries are so dated as to be unlikely to be of use to anyone? I only seem to download apps after they’ve been out for a while, and then have to play them long enough to develop an informed opinion before reviewing them. So unless you also are in the market for older apps then my reviews are likely just for entertainment purposes.

With that said, on to my review of Pocket Gems’Tap Creepy Manor“.

When a developer goes to the trouble of making a product it’s only natural that they should like to be reimbursed for their effort–it makes sense and allows them to expand or improve the product, or provide additional products in the future. There’s no reason it can’t be a win/win situation for the developer and the consumer.

That does not appear to be Pocket Gems’ approach to getting the public’s money. I feel the best apps encourage the consumer to invest in the game, to actually want to spend money in support of the project and offers suitable return for the investment in the form of desirable in-game benefits and features–ideally proportionate to the investment of real world capital.

Creepy Manor on the other hand takes the approach of luring in its audience and then bleeding them for everything they’re worth–less interested in building a community or a fan base than in taking each sucker for as much as possible before they get wise. I can’t say for sure that Pocket Gems’ other games are also like this, because I did download Creepy Manor after Pocket Gems officially stopped supporting it. What I can say is I will neither download nor play any other games by this developer.

These tapping games are similar to the social networking games like Rage of Bahamut and Legend of the Cryptids, in that as I understand it they got their start on sites like Facebook and calling them games is a grave insult to the term “game”. One difference though, is that I feel that in the vein of Last Day of Work’s “Virtual Villagers”–which does actually qualify as a casual game–these sort of tapping games could in fact provide a degree of amusement worthy of small investments of time and possibly money if handled properly.

In the case of Tap Creepy Manor I find the game actually has a fun ambiance and self-described collection of kooky characters with stories and personalities that while unexceptional are note-worthy for the genre. The objective is to build up a haunted manor and attract residents in order to gain the funds to further expand, hire staff, decorate, and attract more residents.

There isn’t a whole lot to interact with, and long passages of time are frequently required to represent building time–but neither of these are inherently bad things. The app could actually be well positioned as a great way to kill a free minute here or there with the time passing between those minutes still counting toward game progress.

The problem is, like Arel Wars, the game has two currencies. The coins that can be earned and saved in game, and the gems that have to be purchased for real money. Altogether too many elements in the game require gems to obtain, so many so that even if they were all reasonably priced the game would still demand a far greater price to unlock everything than it could in any reasonable universe be considered to be worth.

This problem is only made worse by the fact that aside from building the library for Sandra, every single gem purchase in the game is obscenely over priced. Pocket Gems doesn’t even make an effort to make investing in Tap Creepy Manor look like a good idea, they just hope that the gut urge to get everything will get people to dump their finances into the game without actually paying attention to how much it’s costing.

A miniscule amount of gems are attainable in-game on a free play through, and having gotten some of those I can offer a little further insight into the price system for anyone actually interested. I earned enough gems in game to initiate building of a Library to attract the character Sandra to the manor. All character rooms are completed in 3 phases, with additional time and cost associated with each phase–and I am happy to report that if Sandra is any indication the characters who require an initial expenditure of gems still complete the other two phases for their room with coins–the prank rooms are completed in a single phase and so this wouldn’t apply to them anyway.

Unfortunately, again based on Sandra, it seems that getting pets for a character who cost gems to attract will cost gems to get the pet–and where I think the characters, prank rooms, staff and decorations that cost gems are horribly over priced, I don’t think pets should ever cost gems in the first place, since that’s a rather unkind double-whammy when their owner also cost gems to attract.

Surprisingly enough, I give the app 2 stars. It could have easily been three, maybe four, stars without the gem system and limiting in-app purchases to extra coins for those too impatient to build up on their own, but Pocket Gems’ parasitic avarice damaged the enjoyability of the application quite severely.

That said, my advice isn’t to avoid the application entirely, but rather to NOT SPEND ANY MONEY ON IT. I can’t stress that last point enough, it isn’t worth money. But it is entertaining and undemanding, and if the aesthetic appeals to you then there’s a chance you could find some amusement from it–if a different aesthetic would appeal to you more then you might even consider a different game by Pocket Gems, though I can’t speak to those.

There’s a decent chance I will actually keep this application and occasionally dump a few minutes here or there into it, because there is enough to do without spending money for me to stick around a little while at least–but I think an opportunity was missed by trying to bleed the consumers rather than engage them.

Legend of the Cryptids

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Nov 26 2012

I know I teased you about it before, but now I’m going to actually talk about Applibot’s “Legend of the Cryptids”. You can also refer back to my review of Mobage’s “Rage of Bahamut” because they are essentially the same game. The quick version, for those uninterested in the long version, is that there is a genre of casual game out there based around social networking that as I understand it began on Facebook. I managed to avoid the genre there, but have been suckered in no less than four times on my iPhone. The best of them are gorgeous art-collections burdened by unnecessary and uninspired “gameplay”, and this is the category the likes of Rage of Bahamut and the various of Applibot’s applications fall.

Now, the long version;

A quick note before I really dig into my review, as an actual gamer I am clearly not the target audience for these internet based social abominations. I try to divorce that from my review of the application as a matter of fairness–someone who is severely lactose intolerant isn’t the first place to go for a solid cheese review. So when it actually comes down to my star rating at the end of the article I will here–as I did with Rage of Bahamut–give the application an additional star beyond what I think it deserves as a way of compensating for my bias.

Conceptually, “Legend of the Cryptids” is brilliant. It has a lush fantasy world crafted for it, and a more than adequate storyline for any casual gamer moving through it. Like Rage of Bahamut, the name of the game is collecting cards and trying to build your ideal deck. All the mechanics are essentially the same, if you’ve played any game in the genre you can pick up any other one without difficulty. So rather than repeat my Rage of Bahamut review here (you can follow the link at the top of this article if you want to see that one) I’m going to just touch on the differences.

The first difference I noticed in Legend of the Cryptids is that it features decent music and sound effects–which really enhance the game experience. It’s nothing fancy, but still something I frequently found myself grateful for.

Now, it has been a little while since I’ve played now, but Legend of the Cryptids did have one major disadvantage as compared to Rage of Bahamut–though one I’d attribute to being a younger game. The user-interface and menu schemes were often clunky and lacking the smooth navigation afforded by RoB’s many links and buttons. This is something that could easily iron out over time, and maybe already has been–but I did waste a lot of time navigating between menus in LotC where I could have simply used the ‘back’ button in RoB.

In Legend of the Cryptids rather than the “Gods”, “Demons” and “Humans” classification of Rage of Bahamut, the factions are divided as “Water”, “Fire” and “Forest”–which in theory I believe still has a nice rocks-paper-scissors mechanic (and is still a legitimate, if incomplete, classification system based on the Chinese 5 Element approach). Though in practice I didn’t observe any strong tendencies when it came to interactions between the factions, or even necessarily what cards ended up in what faction.

As with RoB, LotC has absolutely gorgeous artwork and more than a little pin-up quality teasers. These are well distributed over the factions, so don’t worry that by picking one faction or another you’re missing out on cheesecake. This does, however, bring us to something I think LotC does better than RoB–and that is card evolution.

Duplicate cards can be combined into more powerful forms as in Rage of Bahamut–again carrying forward a percentage of the stats of the base cards that increases if those cards are at maximum level. However, unlike RoB, only one such combination is necessary to get a card to its ultimate form. This makes evolution a much easier process, and greatly decreases the risk of developing a suboptimal final card as the result of impatience or lack of resources.

One area that I’m afraid LotC loses out to the more developed RoB, however, is the in-game events. LotC seems to constantly have events going on, which gives new players no time to ease into the game through the regular campaign and regulars no chance to recuperate from the more intensive demands of a live event. Events are great for mixing things up, and will generally be a player’s best shot at getting really good cards, but I think LotC would benefit from some downtime between events. The actual quality of the events is actually quite good, merely their constant presence becomes exhausting and leaves no resources for pursuing the regular game.

Before giving my final review I’d like to highlight a couple points that apply to all of these collectible card online social networking games.

  1. They promote an abusive play environment in that deck quality is the primary determiner of victory in player versus player matches–so there’s no point fighting other players who might be able to beat you if you can get what you want from a player you know can’t beat you–and players need to attack and steal from each other to complete treasure collections.
  2. The value for money isn’t there, the return for In Application Purchases of additional cards and items isn’t worth what they cost–unless you put a high price on getting to be the abuser rather than the abusee in regards to the first point.

That said, Legend of the Cryptids is a glorious art collection with a little story and some nice touches that make it every bit as good as Rage of Bahamut. It isn’t my genre of game, and I intend to avoid the genre like the plague now that I’ve become more familiar with it than I could have ever wished, but if you’re the sort of person this game is meant for (interested in art, extremely simplified “gameplay” and somewhere to just burn an excess of time and money that perhaps can’t be collected for the larger investment of a real game) then Legend of the Cryptids is a good example of the genre.

I give it 4 stars, because as a free application that it is perfectly possible to get through without ever spending any money–if somewhat painful–it does deliver a lot of content for potentially no cost.

Now if games of this sort were $6 Art Collections (or maybe $0.99 per release collections) without the burden of sadistically abusive excuses for gameplay then I think I’d enjoy them and have actually put money toward them–something I’m thankful I’ve never done.

If you want a taste of the art and the game you can check out the excellent wiki for Legend of the Cryptids, a superb resource for anyone looking to get into the game. I’d also like to mention Monster Maestro–which will not be receiving its own review and has already been deleted from my phone–and the new Galaxy Saga both also from Applibot. The company knows its genre, and if unlike me you are not put off by the genre then you can expect a very similar experience from any of their products. And if you’re in it for the artwork, the only reason I can think of to be in it, then the variation between the three will allow you to find the art niche that works best for you–with Cryptids being fantasy, Monster Maestro being basically Pokemon/Digimon/whatever, and Galaxy Saga being science fiction.

I’d further like to mention that Applibot does a good job of cross-promoting their products, and give quite handy rewards in each game for progress made in the others–that’s how I wound up with Monster Maestro on my phone even though I didn’t want it, and actually don’t regret the time I spent on it.

Rage of Bahamut

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Jul 16 2012

Alright, time for another installment of “My Phone Monday”! You may recall my previous posting on Zombie Jombie, a wretched excuse for an application with addictive qualities. I did in fact end up deleting that one from my phone, as it proved unworthy of time let alone money. Of course, no sooner did I delete Zombie Jombie, than I curiously encountered Mobage‘s Rage of Bahamut.

If you take nothing else away from this post, then remember that Rage of Bahamut is a free game that you can enter the code lrq89881 at the end of the tutorial in order to gain a lot of bonuses including Rupies (in-game currency) and a rare card, while passing similar benefits on to me.

On to a more involved examination of the game however… I was actually shocked to discover that Rage of Bahamut must be everything Zombie Jombie wanted to be, and nothing more. The underlying mechanics are identical, with time based energy (tracked separately for quests versus attacking other players versus defending against other players) limiting the time you can spend in the game and so limited mechanics that it is a bit insulting to gaming to refer to such things as games.

The difference? I despise Zombie Jombie and I am a fan of Rage of Bahamut.

Rage of Bahamut is a collectible card game for the iPhone and Android with a fantasy theme, and gorgeous artwork. Furthermore it’s free, so collecting the cards just for the art is a reasonable excuse to get the game. I would further be remiss if I neglected to mention that much of the artwork in the game is representative of fine fantasy cheesecake and fan-service–and the cards qualifying as such are well distributed across the factions.

There are three factions in the game. You must choose your faction when you first start playing and never get to change that choice–so there’s a lot of pressure there and you want to make the right choice.

First there is the faction of MAN–the humans in the game with such high tier cards as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. My understanding is that Men play a little better toward Defense–Offense or Defense can be done perfectly well by any faction, but as I understand it Men have an easier time defending. I’ve also noticed a bit of a rocks-paper-scissors effect where Men have an advantage against Demons, but that may just be my experience. Ultimately this is a good faction if you identify strongly with humanity.

Next is the GOD faction–recommended in no uncertain terms by the game designers as being more beginner oriented and easier to progress through. The Gods are the divine beings, elves and spirits and the like, with such high tier cards as Odin or other mythological deities. My understanding is that the God faction is well balanced between Offense and Defense, and I’ve observed a rocks-paper-scissors tendency for Gods to win against Men. If elves and supernatural creatures generally aligned with goodness are your thing you’ll enjoy playing Gods.

Finally is the DEMON faction–the one I chose to play. Demons are definitely Offensively oriented, it’s much easier to build a strong Attack Deck with Demons than a Defense one (the latter being a constant thorn in my side). The demons aren’t just fiends from the lower planes of existence, but also comprise a significant undead presence and other more generic monsters. High tier demons include dragons like the eponymous Bahamut (who I would have placed as a God personally) and Tiamat, or even Satan himself. In my experience Demons have an advantage against Gods in the rocks-paper-scissors mechanic I’ve experienced.

Another consideration when choosing your faction is that the Treasure rewards you gain from missions vary according to your faction–and by higher level Treasure Collections you will not be able to complete the collection by questing alone. Whichever faction you choose, you will need to battle and/or receive presents from the other two in order to complete your Treasure series. Unlike in Zombie Jombie, where the factions seemed quite arbitrary, the factions have clear themes and flavors in Rage of Bahamut–and those themes do seem to translate into noticeable game-play effects.

There are two or three play modes in Rage of Bahamut; Questing, Boss Fights, and Player versus Player matches.

I spend most of my time in the game questing–advancing a pleasantly sufficient storyline, collecting Rupies, Cards and Treasures along the way. Similar to Zombie Jombie you just select a mission and if you have the Energy to advance you do so–but Rage of Bahamut actually features nice quest screens with a variety of enemies for you to tap on when advancing the quest. You select one of your cards to be you ‘Leader’, and that card is actually featured on screen during quests and provides an appropriate attack animation for defeating enemies.

The actual play is identical to Zombie Jombie, but the additional graphics make it feel more like you’re doing something and your choices as a player matter. It’s the minimum effort level for improving the app in my opinion, but at least they made it and the difference is significant.

It’s best to go into quests with enough Energy to complete them 3 times over, as you spend the requisite energy on each opponent and the reward doesn’t come until the 3rd time. Later missions you may need 4 or 5 times the required energy on occasion, but 3 is a good minimum. I’ve posted a chapter based on the Rage of Bahamut Tutorial from my perspective, and am outlining the other chapters as I complete them with some idea of possibly chronicling the whole thing in Flash Fiction.

The next mode that features after every 5 unique quests is Boss Fights, where your Leader does combat with a single powerful enemy. In this fight you can call on up to two Fellows to add their Leader cards to your forces for the fight–something I haven’t done yet because I’m fiercely isolationist, I imagine it’s not a terrible idea though. In this case the Attack strength of your Leader(s) contributes directly to the damage done to the Boss, and I had a powerful enough Leader that the first several Bosses were all one-shots for me.

I’m now on Chapter 24 and only recently started encountering Bosses where it felt like my Leader had to work to defeat them (selecting your strongest card as your Leader is very good for Boss Fights). Then your Leader’s Defense determines how many hits they can survive from the Boss, and can make up for a lack of Attack power and make it a battle of attrition if necessary. You can also use an Item called Holy Powder to heal during Boss Fights, but my impression is this would be a colossal waste of Holy Powder.

Even more so than another Item, Cure Water, Holy Powder is likely to be undervalued by new players–but is considered profoundly valuable to experienced players. My advice is only use Holy Powder for Player versus Player, or for trading to other players (I’ve found 2-3 Holy Powders a common going rate for Rare cards, don’t even bother wasting Holy Powder on anything less than Rare).

Then the final mode is Player versus Player, where your Attack Deck’s total Attack Strength is compared against your chosen opponent’s total Defense Strength (or vice versa if you get Attacked) to determine the winner. This spices up a little compared to Zombie Jombie with things like Faction Bonuses for playing cards from the faction you chose at the beginning, Skills that may or may not be used in a given fight by your cards with them to increase your side’s numbers or decrease your enemy’s, and additional bonuses that come from joining Orders (if you don’t see the bonus for your faction on the Order’s page when you are considering joining that means they don’t grant it).

Ultimately it is still a direct comparison of numbers with minimal skill involved–but at least the construction and development of your deck is in your hands and significant to the outcome. The ability to both level up and evolve cards allows you to really develop the cards you like the most–and done correctly can result in a significantly more powerful card since cards retain a percentage of their previous stats when evolving, and that percentage increases if the card being evolved is at maximum level.

There’s actually a decent amount of depth to the application, with excellent collect-ability and just enough involvement in the development of your resources that it doesn’t feel like a totally mindless waste of time–though the game experience ultimately fakes a lot of its depth and is more like the inch of water you can drown in.

One thing Rage of Bahamut does very well, which I admit to having mixed feelings on, is encouraging its players to market for it. You may have noticed that I plugged my ‘referral code’ lrq89881 at the top of the page–encouraging anyone who downloads the game to enter it at the end of the tutorial.

I don’t normally go for that sort of thing, but Rage of Bahamut rewards players for recruiting new players to the game quite generously–and gives similar recompense to the joining player. It’s an actual win-win situation, and so I buy in. Then on top of that the game offers rewards to promoting them on Twitter daily, through the application and with preset messages so it’s all very easy. The reward is nice, and the price of tweeting is fairly negligible. Though I do recommend making a dedicated Twitter account for Rage of Bahamut–no sense spamming any real Twitter followers you have with it. This can of course wait until you know you are going to be using the application to Tweet a lot.

Then there are all of the fancy in-game bonuses that make starting a game in Rage of Bahamut a really pleasant experience. You get a free card every day, and can ‘purchase’ more free cards using points you can accumulate daily, and/or by posting on Twitter, and/or by encouraging other players in the game–particularly your Fellows.

Then for starting a game you get a free Rare Card (which the card I got immediately became my Leader, and some evolutions later remains so, probably for the rest of the game). You later get more free Rare cards for beating the first Boss and reaching level 20.

The one place Rage of Bahamut falls surprisingly short is the value for money if you want to put real money into the game. It is a free game, so you never have to put any money in, but at the same time you can buy Card Packs and Items with real money that can really give you an edge in the game.

Unfortunately, similar to Arel Wars, I don’t consider the value for the money appropriate. The purchased card packs are supposed to be at least Rare, I think, but you only get one card per pack and have no idea what it’s going to be. They’ve got some a nice introductory rate of 1 pack for 100 Rage Medals (you can get that for $0.99, though the best economy comes at 1100 Rage Medals for $9.99, after that the larger packs start delivering decreasing value).

I’d happily pay $10 for 11 random Rare or better cards–I think the game is worth that and that’d be a good return for the investment given the power of the Rare cards and odds on getting enough duplicates of a card to evolve it. Unfortunately the price after that first pack jumps to 300 Rage Medals per card, then you’re looking at (including the one-time promotion) 4 Rare Cards plus some change only usable for Items for $9.99… And that’s not quite a good enough return for me to be interested. Maybe if I got to pick my cards, but not for a random draw.

Another SERIOUS limitation of this application is it is played entirely over the Internet. You have to load every single screen from the internet, and anywhere you can’t connect you can’t play. This does offend me, as I feel it partially defeats the purpose of having a game downloaded to a portable device–has been immensely inconvenient at times, and means I can pretty much only play when I’ve got a lot of data to spare or am on a Wifi connection.

Additional information can be found on the Rage of Bahamut Wiki, which I find immensely informative and interesting if a little rough around the edges and unfinished.

My final rating of Rage of Bahamut… Is going to be 4 stars out of 5. 3 stars out of 5, demotion on later reflection. It’s a free game with regular updates and absolutely gorgeous collectable artwork, and just enough in the way of graphics, story and so forth to feel like a little more than it is. Things like the internet requirement hurt it a lot, but for the price it delivers a worthwhile experience.

Because it’s a free game there’s no reason not to try it out and form your own opinion, and if you do please consider using my referal code lrq89881 to net yourself 100,000 Rupies, an Angelic Knight and kick some benefits back my way too.

Zombie Jombie

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Jun 11 2012

I was going to review this one a week ago, because I wasn’t sure it would still be on my phone by this week. Unfortunately for my review of it, I decided on a stay-of-execution not because my opinion of the application changed, but because I came up with a different idea on how I could deal with it. Amazingly, in the span of that single week my opinion of the app managed to drop! With any luck this will prove to be the worst application I ever have the misfortune of downloading.

Some apps I’ve tried have been so bad I deleted them immediately and they will not be reviewed here. This one is worse than them because of addictive qualities that have me hooked in spite of its abysmal quality. And so, without further ado I give you the piece of digital garbage that is Zombie Jombie.

I’d like to start by talking about the positives of Gree’s application, because there are some–it’s just the shorter list. There are two things that stand out almost immediately about Zombie Jombie, and are the reason I decided to give it a try in the first place.

First, the concept is really original. The Zombie are the good guys, and as a “Jombie”, a person who controls zombies in the world mythology if the application can be credited as having one, the player leads a growing force of them to save what feels like a post-apocalyptic United States. That’s just a cool concept. I would love to see a game, movie or any kind of story with that as the concept.

Second, the art is fun and distinctive. I really enjoy the art style, it would also be great for some sort of casual game–perhaps involving say zombie cards?

Even once you delve into the app there are still more good things to find. There is a tremendous, in fact ever growing, variety of zombie cards to collect which is always fun. This also adds an immensely addictive aspect to the game… Argh, called it a “game”. Been trying to avoid doing that. More on that later.
Anyway, the collectability adds a tremendously addictive quality to the application as you try to find every single zombie card to round out your Cards Collection–though you don’t need to keep the card to have it in your Collection archive.

Then when it comes to making your own personal decks, there’s yet another sweet feature in the option to Level Up your Zombie Cards through fusion–sacrifice some cards to make others stronger. Being able to improve your favorite cards is the perfect way to let each player play the deck they want without being disadvantaged for doing so–theoretically anyway.

And then we get into the big long list of problems with the game that make me hate it, very passionately. First among those is the fact that Zombie Jombie ISN’T a game! Gree didn’t see any need to incorporate any meaningful gameplay at all! Most of the time it doesn’t even try to look like a game. Collectable Card Games are awesome, I wouldn’t mind playing one on my iPhone. Zombie Jombie could have been a good Collectable Card Game… Only since they didn’t make a game it’s sort of just reduced to being Collectable Cards, which is still cool–but they need a different primary mechanic for acquiring them than “Stages”, “Missions”, and “Player-versus-Player” when in fact those “activities” involve nothing more than tapping the “Do It” button on the screen and waiting for a random number generator to enjoy whatever “It” is–leaving the supposed player unable to so much as watch what’s going on. The game just gets back to you with results, which are usually less than satisfactory.

Deck Construction (which has no bearing on Stages, Missions, or Boss fights) just amounts to trying to put together cards for the highest possible number as in Player versus Player the high number wins. That’s it. Even WAR at least involves drawing your cards and the sequence they come up in can be relevant. Zombie Jombie doesn’t even have that.

Another place I was hoping for something to satisfy my thoughtful creative side is the three classifications of zombies cards; Tombies, Mombies, and Bombies. Yes, rhyming everything with Zombie is dumb, but I’m ashamed to say I nonetheless hoped there’d be some sort of significance to the clasification. Based on your starting card–which determines your affiliation for the game, though you aren’t restricted to only using cards of the same affiliation–I was thinking maybe Tombies were male, Bombies were female and Mombies were animals. Or perhaps the classification was more play based (this is before I knew there was no play), Tombies might be offense oriented, Mombies defense oriented and Bombies more balanced. Or something.

But no. The only discernible difference seems to be that Tombies have a red background, Mombies a yellow one, and Bombies a green one.

My next issue is that the lack of any semblance of a game combined with the time investment it takes to “master” missions so you can move on to the next one is tedious and pointless in the extreme–very far from enjoyable. You choose a quest, the game runs through an online random number generator or something, and gives you the results with no interaction or even indication that anything about you or your deck was even remotely relevant to the outcome.

That’s starting to bring us to some of the application’s worse features. For example, “Player-versus-Player” is defined by Gree in no uncertain terms as “bully lower level players to steal their hard earned gems.” This is obnoxious and mean spirited.

This isn’t any sort of a game, so obviously the more experienced players will have the higher numbers in the straight and unambiguous comparison of “whose numbers are higher?” that Gree somehow thinks makes a game. You lose out when you lose a match (gems and tokens) so you never want a fair fight, you always want to abuse someone who can’t defend themselves.

I find that sickening.

Next is an element which as I understand it Zombie Jombie has in common with the variety of Facebook games that never sounded even remotely appealing to me. Everything you do in the game is based on “Energy” or “Force”, which replenish at the pitiful rate of 1 per 3 minutes–though you can buy “Brains” for real money to replenish both. The rate of expenditure contrasted to the rate of recovery leaves you unable to do anything too often and for too long. Yet it recovers quickly enough that the game isn’t exactly telling you “only play for an hour then go outside and be active” like certain Wii games do.

The game effectively tells you to pay up (real money) for Brains, or f-off for an hour before repeating the whole abusive cycle. If you’re dumb enough to log back in.

Then there’s the money issue. Zombie Jombie is technically a free game, but “Bucks” are an important in-game currency that after your initial allotment are only obtained by paying real money–at a rate of approximately 10 Bucks to one real Dollar. What does that Dollar get you? 100 Energy if you use your 10 Bucks to buy a Brain, a single use item that will net you somewhere under 5 minutes of immediate play-time. 30 Bucks (3 Dollars) will net you a whole Zombie Card, which has the possibility of being of higher quality than the ones you get for free from missions and quests.

Arel Wars charged too much real money for not enough in-game return, but Zombie Jombie’s heartless greed puts even Arel Wars to shame. Arel Wars could have cut prices in half and come out about right. Zombie Jombie overcharges by so much it’s not even worth working out what fraction you receive versus what you pay for if you’re unfortunate enough to have given them real money. My rough estimate is Arel Wars charged twice as much as what they were offering was worth, Zombie Jombie charges possibly ten times what their product is worth.

That at last brings us to the problem I ran into over this last week that actually managed to drop my opinion of Zombie Jombie. It requires constant Internet Connection to function at all, which defeats a lot of the advantage of having it on a portable device. I’ve been very disappointed in the number of places it didn’t connect, or the times it decided to just glitch out and be unusable all day.

The concept, collectability and art go a long way in my book–but not quite far enough to compensate for the myriad problems with the app. There is, however, a nice fan presence for Zombie Jombie, particularly in the form of a very handy Zombie Jombie Wiki. This suggests to me that perhaps it is a game for someone, and I’m just not that person.

I am giving Zombie Jombie 1 out of 5 Stars, for having a nice Wiki. My advice is just go to the Wiki and find all the Zombie Cards there, you can even save the pictures to a folder on your computer to “collect” them for an experience every bit as rewarding as playing Zombie Jombie, but without all the annoyance. If the pros and pictures still have your interest, in spite of the many and severe cons, then feel free to download Zombie Jombie for free and form your own opinion. Just don’t give them any money and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Though a lot would need to change, I don’t actually think it would be too difficult to get Zombie Jombie up to a 3 or even possibly 4 star game–and since it is technically free (and just laden with too many in-app purchases) that could be very worthwhile. Continue reading if you’re interested in how I would fix Zombie Jombie.

The main thing is that as interesting as the cards are, Gree should have come up with some sort of game involving them that players could play–against the computer for the stages/missions/quests and against each other for the PvP. Here are my thoughts on what they could have done just based on what is there;

  1. Make it turn based–most card games are, it’d be great for the casual nature of cell-phone gaming, low stress but still engaging.
  2. Have Force regenerate per turn instead of per 3 minutes (and as a fraction, like 1-2% of max instead of a flat 1 per).
    1. Get rid of Energy entirely and just let players play quests or each other when they have the time and inclination.
    2. Spend the single all encompassing Force during matches/quests/games to play Zombie Cards according to their Force costs.
  3. Actually use the Zombie Cards as part of a card game where deck composition, luck of the draw, and some strategy can actually come in useful.
    1. The Zombie selected as Leader can begin in play each time at no initial Force cost, but cost Force to deploy again–thus preserving the importance of selecting a good Leader.
    2. One card is drawn per turn into the player’s hand (or perhaps begin face down and are flipped over).
      1. Zombie Cards could battle similar to the way they currently do in Boss and Epic Boss fights.
      2. If defeated, Zombie Cards could be returned to the bottom of the deck to possibly be played again later in the match.
      3. Brains could be another type of card as opposed to their own separate thing, used to heal your Zombie as they currently do in Boss fights.
      4. Instead of costing Force to play, Brains Cards would be free to play but permanently removed from your deck after use.
      5. Traps could be used as direct damage cards, that like Brains were free to play but permanently removed from your deck after use.
    3. Victory would be achieved when the opponent had no Zombie (or Human/Boss in the case of the computer) cards left in play. Loss if the player ever had none.
    4. The translation from the current “system” to this one should be obvious and easy to implement for Boss fights, Epic Boss fights, and Player versus Player matches and lead to a much more interesting and robust experience.
  4. Involve the player in the success of quests–preferably with the result that proper involvement increases the probability of achieving quest rewards like cards and gems. At the most basic, at least show the player’s Zombies appear and go into the quest so it looks like they’ve done something.
    1. Preferably actually incorporate the above game into quests in an abridged fashion, say ‘x’ damage needs to be done in order to “Make a Grand Entrance”, an actual (easy) game needs to be won to “Escape a Musical Ambush”, ‘x’ amount of damage has to be survived to “Learn to Play Guitar” and so on.
    2. Degree of success, composition of forces, and quest mastery could all influence the chances of getting a card or gem from the quest.
      1. Exceeding the target damage could increase the chances of getting some sort of special prize, winning games in a minimal number of turns, or surviving damage with greater total levels of Health still in play.
      2. Increased chance of getting a Zombie Card that matches the type of your Leader (Tombie, Mombie, or Bombie)
      3. Increased chance of getting a Zombie Card that matches over half your deck (Tombie, Mombie or Bombie)
      4. Increased chance of special prize (especially gems) when repeating Mastered Quests–preferably approaching a guarantee of getting something.
  5. Allow Gems to be sold for Tokens and/or used in Fusion so there’s still a use for them after the initial collection satisfies the mission for the Rare Card.
  6. Alter Player-versus-Player so that the attacking Player issues a challenge that the defending Player may Accept or Pass, that way players who don’t want to fight other players won’t constantly be getting trampled.
    1. Require Gem stakes on both sides so that the attacker puts one of their own gems on the line as part of the pot for the winner.
    2. Challenges can stand like Trades currently do until both Players are in the game.
    3. Ease up on the Level restrictions for PvP. Instead of forbidding matches between Players 10 or more levels apart, just issue a warning about the level gap and leave the decision whether to fight or not in the Players’ hands–if Zombie Jombie were made into an actual game it would be more possible for lower level players to beat higher level ones, though still unlikely and thus deserving of a warning.
    4. Eliminate the current function of Traps (instead using them for direct damage as suggested above). If Zombie Jombie were made into an actual game and players were given the option of not accepting challenges the auto-defender-win of Traps would no longer be necessary or even desirable.

 

One of my biggest problems with Zombie Jombie is the culture of abuse it seems to cultivate. The app abuses its players by forcing them to wait extended periods for their Energy to recover in order to play, and/or pay exorbitant fees for more immediate game time and/or a shot at better cards–but like a good abuser keeps pulling its victims back in with gifts of new cards and promises to be better, that never come true. Then the abused are actively encouraged to become abusers themselves, beating up those weaker than themselves in order to steal the gems they need to complete collections and unlock rare cards. The developers are basically jerks who want their players to be jerks, all while remaining the top jerks.

This did not, and does not, have to be the case.

Arel Wars Review

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Apr 30 2012

And now I’m finally going to review Gamevil‘s “Arel Wars“, the original reason I thought reviewing the applications on my iPhone would be a good thing to do for this site. I really want to like Arel Wars. I want to love it.

A tower defense fantasy strategy game, there is a lot to love about Arel Wars. Three totally distinct factions, each with their own play-styles, strengths and weaknesses that I think balance out beautifully. Juno and her elves excel in the late game thanks to powerful units and a focus on resource building and ranged combat, Vincent and his humans play the mid-game by building quick and having respectable units, and finally Helba and his Busters play the early game by rushing out of the gate and try to win before their opponent has even gotten started.

There are even three developed story-lines through the three campaigns in the game, with 40 stages to each campaign. These stories intersect at various points, and playing all three gives you a much more complete picture. So why don’t I actually love this game? Because for a free game it displays a level of avarice, incongruous with its status as a free game, that is absolutely nauseating.

Here’s a little lesson on the world of Drusilla, where Arel Wars is set. There are two major currencies. Gold is the first, and is obtained in the usual way for such games–by accomplishing goals and defeating enemies. Cash is the other currency, and while available as a rare prize in-game (and a free bonus for your first file) is primarily obtained by paying real money to Gamevil.

Everything Gold can do Cash can do better, Cash can do things Gold can’t do, and to top it all off Gold has a tendency to fail at its most critical function (upgrading your units). Throw on top of that challenges that by mid game expect either flawless strategy or else heavy expenditure of currency to even advance. I wouldn’t object to Cash adding value to the game, but it feels like the developers were so hung up on how to leech more money from their customers that the fact that they actually made a good game is mostly a happy coincidence. Instead of making a game people wanted to pay money to see more of or show support for, the approach was instead to make a game that claimed to be free and then demanded unsubtly named “Cash” to continue enjoying the game.

This critical decision–in my opinion error–on Gamevil’s part has ensured that the game won’t see a penny from me so long as it remains a money-drain first and a game second. That said, many frustrated hours have resulted in my discovery of ways to play and enjoy the free game without paying for it. So anyone interested in enjoying a solid fantasy-strategy game without being cheated out of your money should be happy to know that I will be posting my own strategy guide for Arel Wars on this site, which should get you through both Normal and Hard Modes without having to pay any money.

We of course miss out on the awesome Hero Units and Permanent Items among other things that I think would be good places to spend real money if it weren’t for the amount of real money being asked… But no matter how powerful the unit is, I don’t think a single digital unit is worth $5 of real money–especially when there are 6 such units and I’m a completionist and could never be happy with a partial set.

Fights like Helba, Handles Mana like Juno

Specialized in production of soldiers. Has high Attack Strength and a fast Movement Speed. A Powerful Melee Unit.

So this should be a Great Game, and because it’s free that should mean a five star rating… Unfortunately they shot themselves in the foot. Repeatedly. With a shotgun.

My final rating for Arel Wars is 3 of 5 Stars. It’s an okay game, and because it’s free there’s no real risk in trying it out and coming to your own conclusion. I’ll just be forever irked that it’s little things keeping it from living up to its amazing potential.

I find the variety of typos and grammatical difficulties in the game endearing. They could be fixed, but wouldn’t change my opinion of the game. The following items could actually change my star rating though;

Guaranteed Gold Upgrades: If Unit Upgrades paid for with Gold, the legitimately “in-game” currency, did not have the failure chance they currently have that would be worth a whole extra star all by itself. I wouldn’t mind level caps based on your Hero’s level, or what stage you’re on (which seem to be factors anyway), or if Cash could bypass those limitations. I just don’t want to spend over 3,000 Gold Pieces (average Gold reward for a mission ranges from 30 to 400 depending on what stage it is) and get nothing but a message saying “the upgrade failed”.

Reduced Cash Costs: I think Cash is involved in way too much, and should maybe get out of Unit Upgrades altogether, but either way I think a 50% reduction in Cash Costs would go a long way toward generating appropriate return for investment. With a 50% reduction I could get all 6 Hero units for $15 instead of $30, still a bit steep but I’m pretty sure I’d pay it (partially because Arel Wars is a good game and I’d like to give it money). Alone not worth a star though.

Cash Sharing: Right now you can have 3 save files on a single phone, which matches nicely with the 3 factions/heroes/stories. But each file has its own separate finances, both Gold and Cash. Also alone not worth a star, but implemented with the reduced costs and the Guaranteed Gold Upgrades could get Arel Wars back to the five stars it should have had.

 

Feel free to check the game out and form your own opinions though. I’ve beat it with all three heroes, so if you need help feel free to contact me or check out my Arel Wars Strategy Guide.

My Phone Dictionary

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Apr 23 2012

Had a busy weekend and as always Monday is one of my more involved days–so it’ll be another easy My Phone Monday.

This week I present the free “Dictionary.com-Dictionary & Thesaurus” app. I’ve used Dictionary.com from time to time as a handy tool as a writer–but generally if I’m on my computer it’s just as easy to use the Office dictionary, only if that fails do I do an internet search at which point Dictionary.com is one of the top places to return the meaning of the word that stumped Office.

But I do believe that the apps you have on your phone say a lot about who you are–so I definitely didn’t want all of my apps to be games, a few had to be tools, a few conversation starters and a few just personal statements. Dictonary.com falls into the tool category and is probably one of the best apps on my phone.

With over 2 million words, with definitions in the dictionary and synonyms/antonyms in the thesaurus, it makes for a very comprehensive tool and I now occasionally consult my phone instead of the Office dictionary even when I’m actively working in Word. This is by no means a bare-bones app, it gives you the full dictionary run-down of word pronunciation and origin.

The part that amuses me the most is definitely the Word of the Day. Seriously, what better way is there to flex your vocabulary than with a word-of-the-day that pops up on your phone from a database of over 2 million words? Plus you don’t even need to have an internet connection, most of the dictionary is right there on your phone (even handier than the website!) and you can get it to say words out loud for you.

Granted the app isn’t perfect, there can be some clunky-ness to the interface that generally isn’t a problem–but is still there. The only one I even feel is worth calling attention to is the voice search. Supposedly you can speak the word you want Dictionary.com to look up and it’ll find it for you. This feature sounds cool, but has a few critical issues.

First issue: You only get 5 free searches before you have to pay $0.99 to fully unlock the feature. This isn’t a major issue since the voice search isn’t critical to operation, and if it weren’t for the second issue would fall under my category of “chance to give money to people who deserve it for their cool free app”.

Second issue: This one’s a deal breaker on the voice recognition, and that is that said voice recognition doesn’t work. I exhausted my 5 free uses (before knowing I only got 5, otherwise maybe I wouldn’t have used them at all) without having it return the word I was looking for even once. In fact, it didn’t tend to be particularly close. So as near as I can tell the voice-recognition for Dictionary.com is as poor as you can get and still pretend it recognizes voices. No other voice recognition interface I’ve encountered (including others on my phone) has had the 0% success rate of Dictionary.com, and I don’t think more chances would have helped the average.

Thing is, I still love the app. I don’t use the voice recognition–not even allowed to any more–and it isn’t an avenue I’d want to contribute money through, but the core app is still amazing. If the app itself cost $0.99 I’d ding my rating of it for the atrocious voice recognition, but for a free app I’m giving Dictionary.com a full 5 of 5 stars. If you enjoy words at all there is no reason not to have this app on your smart-phone.

Oh… A little note. I was just prompted to upgrade to the ad-free version of Dictionary.com for $2.99. I might do that, because that does fall under my category of “chance to give money to people who deserve it”–but honestly the ads are very unobtrusive, tiny little banners at the bottom of the screen. I forget they’re there 90% of the time and they wouldn’t have even come up in this review if my phone hadn’t kindly reminded me just now.

My Phone Monday

Uncategorized | Posted by davidludwig
Apr 16 2012

I’m now realizing that with a couple of Blog Competitions on Mondays (Cara Michael’s Menage Monday and Wakefield Mahon’s Motivation Monday respectively) if I’m going to do a good My Phone Monday post I’ll really need to prepare it by Sunday or just get lucky and have a Monday with nothing else major to do.

So unfortunately this first one will not be a “good one”, but the whole point of these posts is something to keep you entertained and me on the web until August when you’ll get another serious project from me again. But for now, this My Phone Monday I present for your consideration;

Shazam

Not too shocking I imagine, but I have Shazam! On my smart phone. This spiffy music tagging device actually pre-dates smart phones and is fun to yell just before using it like a special technique in an anime.

The range of songs it can identify and then connect me with in iTunes has been a tremendous boon to my library of songs. My family eats out fairly regularly and I love world music, so I get to hear a lot of music that I’d never be able to pronounce the name of let alone read–and thanks to Shazam I now have much of that music in my library to enjoy the music and utterly mysterious lyrics whenever I like–or even better have come on randomly and be like “Wow! Where did that come from? I should Shazam that!”

Now, I’ve got the free version on my phone, not Encore… Though in researching for this post and discovering that fact I am seriously considering the $5.99 price tag for Encore. The free version, which I have, features advertising banners–which are small and unobtrusive, but Encore apparently connects to Pandora and Spotify which could be sort of cool. But mostly I’m looking at it as a free app that I wouldn’t mind paying $6 for, and which a $6 version is available.

Any time I want to know what’s playing–or just save it somewhere to be purchased later even if I do know, but being me am likely to forget–Shazam has shown remarkable ability to identify even obscure and foreign songs, and to work with an average level of background noise. My only real complaint is the few times it hasn’t worked I couldn’t tell for sure if it couldn’t hear the song or just couldn’t recognize it–but that has been a rare occurrence indeed.

So I’m giving Shazam 5 out of 5 Stars, because you can get it for free and it does something pretty cool (identifies music for you) and does it reliably. You’ve probably all already heard of Shazam and have your own opinions on it, but maybe somewhere down the line something will turn up on my phone you haven’t heard of or hadn’t made your mind up about yet.

And that’s the first My Phone Monday!