Hey! After a couple weeks of late columns, we’ve got game reviews on the day they’re supposed to be published! How about that? This week’s first game uses a unique mix of genres by combining RPGs with Solitaire. I also take a look at a word game that manages to do something new in a crowded genre. I close out with Sid Meier’s newest game—and the reason I won’t be getting much sleep.
Card Crawl – iOS (Universal)
Card Crawl combines a dungeon crawler with Solitaire—and it’s actually a genius move. You take the role of an warrior who journeys into a dungeon represented by a deck of 54 cards, which are dealt by an angry-looking Minotaur. Cards fall into several categories: creatures, potions, swords, shields, and coins. Think of these as the suits, and each has cards numbering from two to ten. The creatures are your enemies, and their numbers correspond to the amount of damage they can do, as well as to their health points. Potions heal you, while swords and shields help you attack and block monsters. A creature leaves the deck after it attacks.
Coins are unique because they contribute to your score, and allow you to purchase special weapons—cards get mixed in the deck that have various special effects. These cards really change the game as you play, but only four of these cards appear the standard game, and they come up at random. If you play the Constructed mode, you can pick and choose five of these special cards, so you can be sure that you’re playing with the new cards you unlock.
Card Crawl is a fun little distraction, as you can power through a game in less than ten minutes. As you win rounds, you can easily unlock the new cards. And just like regular Solitaire, it’s easy for the cards to line up in a way that you lose right at the end of the game. The game is well-balanced throughout, as those experiences don’t stand out in the dozens of games I have played.
What’s Good: Creative mix of RPG and Solitaire. Good incentives to keep playing.
What Sucks: You might be frustrated with games where you’re doomed on the last hand.
Buy it? Fans of RPGs and card games should check out Card Crawl. Pick it up on the App Store for $1.99.
Do Not Believe His Lies – iOS (Universal)
A horror puzzle game is a fantastic idea, though one that requires an entire subreddit to cooperate to find the solution, not so much. While I find the phenomena of these kind of group puzzles interesting, I am not the most interested in actually solving them.
That brings us to Do Not Believe His Lies (or DNBHL for short). The game itself is simple: You solve a puzzle to reveal the password for the next level. Puzzle-solving techniques range from taking screenshots and messing around with them in Photoshop to discerning a programming language. There is literally nothing intuitive about this game, but that seems to be the point. I’ll admit that I cheated my way through most of the game because there was no way to see enough of it to review it otherwise.
If you’re stuck—and if the subreddit doesn’t have a solution— you can pay to get hints.
Only a specific kind of gamer will like Don’t Believe His Lies, but it’s perfect for those players this is perfect. You can’t just zone out while moving pieces around: You’ll need to think about things from many different angles—it has more in common with alternate reality games than it has with Tetris.
I really admire games that seek a specific kind of gamer and cater to them perfectly. Sadly, I am not that gamer. I suspect that many of you aren’t either.
What’s Good: Excellent puzzles with fiendishly complex solutions. A creepy backstory revealed very slowly.
What Sucks: Not for the faint of heart—not even for experienced puzzle people. This is only for the true obsessives.
Buy it? If you’re really into puzzles, and don’t mind maddening solutions, download Do Not Believe His Lies from the App Store for 99 cents.
Alpha Omega – iOS (Universal)
The word-puzzle game scene is heavily saturated, so coming up with something new can be a challenge. That didn’t keep the team behind Alpha Omega from trying, though.
At first glance, Alpha Omega resembles a Scrabble game. The board consists of several mixed up words, lined up so the words cross and share letters. You then swap letters around and try to find the correct words, but you can only move each letter once.
The game very slowly ramps up the difficulty. When you start out, you get the puzzle theme immediately. After the first series of stages, you have to figure out the theme as you play. Later still, the game adds blank tiles into the mix, which makes it more difficult to guess based on the letters.
As you play, the game rewards you with new themes: This adds some variety, but unfortunately, the games becomes monotonous pretty quickly. I really liked Alpha Omega, but at a certain point the puzzles stopped being challenging and I was just cruising through levels. This game could have done more by providing fewer larger—but more difficult—puzzles.
What’s Good: Really neat concept for a puzzle game. Unlockable themes to keep you playing.
What Sucks: Not enough of a challenge to keep you interested in the middle of the game.
Buy it? If you like word puzzles and don’t mind a game that’s light on challenge, check out Alpha Omega. Download it from the App Store for 99 cents.
Command and Conquer: Generals – Mac
It is weird to think that 2003 was 12 years ago. It’s weirder to think the Command & Conquer was once one of the biggest franchises in Video Games. A really nice remake of C&C Red Alert came to the iPad in 2010, but aside from a free-to-play browser game released in 2012, the franchise has been pretty silent ever since. but Mac users get to relive the glory days of 2003 with a new re-release of Command & Conquer: Generals.
You play one of three factions: China, The US, and a terrorist organization called the Global Liberation Army. The story unfolds across the three factions, so you get a chance to play with all of them—a little like how you could play as the Terrans, the Zerg, and the Protoss in the StarCraft series.
China and the US are pretty standard RTS fare, but the GLA is something you could have only done in that weird haze just after 9/11. They have units like suicide bombers and exploding cars, and yet they fight alongside tanks and normal soldiers. It’s a totally surreal thing.
While the material hasn’t aged well, the gameplay has—the RTS genre had already solidified into its conventions by the time C&C Generals was originally released in 2003. The missions try to be dramatic and interact with the environment. The animation and modeling looks dated, as you might expect from a 12-year-old game: Everything is a bit chunky, and some of the unit models look like they could have been made from Lego.
What saves this game is that it is a lot simpler than any of the modern RTS titles out there. If you like the genre but get overwhelmed by the competitive focus of modern games and their more complex systems, C&C Generals provides a much simpler take with a lot less to multi-manage.
What’s Good: Simple RTS that’s easier to pick up and play than modern titles. Lots of content, including an expansion pack that was released for the original game.
What Sucks: Game is pretty dated.
Buy it? If you loved the original game, or are just nostalgic for the RTS craze, check out Command & Conquer: Generals. Pick it up on the Mac App Store for $19.99.
Sid Meier’s Starships – iPad
I seem to be running contrary to popular opinion when it comes to Sid Meier games this year. I really liked Civilization: Beyond Earth, which got some mixed reviews, and I am a big fan of Starships. I’ve been obsessively playing it for days—in fact, I have a game running on my iPad as I write this.
Your enjoyment of the game will depend on why you like Civ games. If you like the city management and construction, Starships is going to make you angry. If on the other hand, you enjoy exploration and strategy, you’ll enjoy Starships.
It isn’t that the civilization aspects are missing entirely—you still get to pick the alignment of your character’s affinity. This is the guiding philosophy of your characters, which grants you a bonus. It will also change the look of your character and starships. You’ll also build cities and wonders on planets, though these act more like bonuses to improve your fleet.
The ship-to-ship combat takes place in each system. The map is a group of hexes filled with asteroids, planets and warp portals. Your main ships are larger and can fire torpedoes, lasers, and plasma cannons: The latter two will be used for direct hits, while the torpedoes run off and can be detonated on later turns. Your ships can also dispatch fighters, which aren’t very powerful but have a wide range.
The strategy is very naval: You’ll keep your large ships at a distance and send in your fighters to surround the enemy ships. The combat had a lot of depth to it, though, and you may find that other approaches work just as well.
Your objective will change from mission to mission: Although most missions have you working to defeat other fleets of ships of varying sizes, others aren’t straight combat. There are escort missions, missions where you need to prevent a smaller and faster ship from escaping, and an asteroid maze.
Diplomacy isn’t nearly as vital to this game, as the game plays out as a series of missions where you influence planets. As other players end up boxing you in, you’ll have to pick who you can dominate and who you’ll need to partner with until your fleet is strong enough to plunge the knife in their back.
There are other ways to win, such as making wonders on your planets, developing the most advanced technology, or growing your population. None of them are as satisfying as dominating your opponents, though. I wonder if the development team added in those other victories so as to avoid associating the Civilization brand with a straight strategy game.
What’s Good: Excellent strategy. Variety of mission types.
What Sucks: Shoehorns in Civilization conventions, obscuring the fact that it’s a strategy game.