Dragon Age 2: Importing Origins Savegames

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Yes, I know I keep re-using this shot. I’ll get some more screen grabs soon. For now, you’re stuck with Flemeth the Dominatrix.

On the off chance you didn’t already know this, although Dragon Age 2 does not continue the story of The Greywarden, Origins’ protagonist, it does let you import the state of the world you left behind from the first game. I’ve just gone through the process and thought some of you would like to know exactly what choices you made in that game are imported. I don’t necessarily know all the variations on these choices, as the list I got only shows what I specifically did, but you ought to be able to extrapolate from the following list, which does include heavy Dragon Age: Origins spoilers…

Italics refer to direct quotes from the in-game list:

- Connor was freed from the demon. This refers to the little boy in Redcliffe possessed by a demon. You could also have killed the boy to save the mother’s life or gotten a mage to help you save both.

- Mages were recruited to the army.

- Dalish Elves were recruited into the army.

- Harrowmont rules Orzammar. There was some other dwarf dude you could have crowned. I forget who was who.

- The Anvil of the Void was destroyed. This was the golemn-making device; you could have elected to preserve the forge. Of course, that would make your character a dick.

- Loghain was killed. Sure, you could have spared him, but then Alistair pouts.

- Anora is queen of Ferelden. You could have crowned Alistair or yourself. Possibly some other options?

- The Warden performed the dark ritual with Morrigan. I was already sleeping with her, so what’s the big deal, amiright? You could also have had Alistair do it, or rejected Morrigan outright.

- The Warden killed the Archdemon. I have the power! You could have had Alistair do this (or he could step in, if it’s to save your life; not a total douche, that guy).

- Amaranthine was saved from the darkspawn assault. This is from the Awakenings expansion and refers to a big outpost thingie that your decisions could have lead to ruin. I saved the day because, well, I am just that good. (You heard it here first.)

- The Architech is alive. More Awakening content. Dude wasn’t all bad, but you could elect to kill him.

- Warden’s Keep was reclaimed. I’m assuming this refers to the Warden’s Keep DLC (and having completed it), but I’m not entirely sure.

- Shale was discovered. Shale is an NPC from the Stone Prisoner. You know, the “DLC” (it’s totally core content to the game) that you got for free so long as you didn’t buy used. Who knew we’d so soon be referring to this as the good old days. F$$$ing EA/Bioware and their pre-order DLC extortion tax. Sigh.

- King Cailan’s corpse was burned. This comes from the Return to Ostagar DLC. I assume the options are to burn his corpse or ignore it.

That’s the list. It’s possible there are options from some of the DLC I did not purchase (the Leiliana one, for example), but probably not. (I did play Witch Hunt and imported that save, but no items from that carried over.) I’m good with this list as it does reflect the big decisions I made throughout the game. I have to admit I’m curious if they’re all reflected in some way in this game and how that might be. Most likely, it’s just quick hints in dialog rather than anything substantive, and I’m good with that.

Update: I should also have noted there are three “pre-built” histories from which you can choose. They are as follows:

- Hero of Ferelden: A young man from a noble family rose to become a Grey Warden, then ended the Fifth Blight by killing the Archdemon himself–and surviving. He always strove for the greater good, and placed his friend Alistair on the throne of Ferelden.

- The Martyr: Ferelden will forever remember the young Dalish elf who died to kill the fifth Archdemon. Even though she had reason to be cynical, her actions always benefited others. She left a kingdom ruled jointly by Alistair and Anora.

- No Compromise: A ruthless dwarven noble took command of Ferelden’s Grey Wardens, then let nothing stand between him and victory. He exiled Alistair, sent Loghain to his death against the Archdemon, and left Anora as Ferelden’s ruler.

Not much love for dwarves in the Bioware offices, I’m guessing.

Free Game Music

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Hey, do you like music? Yeah? Do you like game music? What about free game music? If you do, I’ve got you covered on multiple fronts.

First up, Ubisoft is giving away the Beyond Good and Evil soundtrack. Maybe you played it a long time ago, maybe you’re playing the newly HD-afied version, maybe you’ve never played it all. In any case the music is good, so you should get it. Plus, it costs nothing.

Second, remember the Presidents of the United States of America? They did Lump and Peaches and that awesome cover of Video Killed the Radio Star. Yeah, well now they’re doing songs about Pokemon. Can’t Stop (Catchin’ Them All) is the new Pokemon theme song and it’s a doozy. It reminds me of the Animaniacs song about the presidents, which is a very, very good thing.

Shorter is Sometimes Better- The 10 Hour Campaign versus The Illusion of Content

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Pictured is one way that Red Dead Redemption could have been improved. No, not by Jed Buell’s Midgets, but by it being shorter.

Over the past several years most AAA games, barring anything developed by Bethesda, Rockstar, and BioWare, have been offering shorter campaign experiences supplemented by multiplayer or extended play modes. With skyrocketing development budgets and the impetus to produce the next big blockbuster, the days of the 20 hour single player campaign- let alone the 40-50 hour one- are gone. And I say “good riddance”, particularly as games become more filmic and dependent on qualities such as pacing, direction, and visceral impact.

When Platinum Games’ incredible Vanquish released last year, one of the most common complaints from the internet peanut gallery was that its four to six hour campaign was too short. The usual forum cries ranged from “rental” to “ripoff”, with most bandwagon hysterics failing to acknowledge or understand the kind of game the cocaine-bender-of-a-shooter was intended to be. Yes, the campaign was short and indeed it was shorter in comparison to most modern examples. But it was also insanely paced, tightly directed, and sharply focused- not to mention that score attack and challenge modes extended the replay into an arcade-like experience and multiple difficulty levels double or even triple the play value. You wouldn’t want a game like Vanquish to be an epic 20 hour game filled with meandering story, repetitive missions, and long passages of doing nothing. I spent $60 on the game and I never felt shorted by the brief campaign. I felt exhilarated. All killer, no filler.

But many gamers chafe at paying full retail for a game that isn’t offering these extended story modes, mostly because everyone has these apocryphal (and likely exaggerated) stories of spending fifty to a hundred or more hours on Final Fantasy VII, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, or Baldur’s Gate. I think my legendary tale of game duration is probably Phantasy Star II, I swear I put a hundred hours into that one myself. But how much of that was actually in playing the game, as in engaging the gameplay and moving the narrative or character progression forward, and how much of that was in wandering around lost, talking to inconsequential NPCs, fiddling with equipment, looking at shop inventories, engaging in random encounters or simply grinding? It seems to me that many of these mythical hours spent playing the long games of days gone by was wasted in a quagmire of illusory content that may not have actually existed.

The open world design concept has added many hours of play (if not content) to some current designs. But how much of a game like Red Dead Redemption is meaningful content and how much is just filler and empty padding to extend the length of time it takes to play the game and to enable Rockstar to claim that they’ve released an “epic” game with countless hours of gameplay? After ten hours of side quests including plenty of dreadful flower picking, I realized how much of a sham it was to suggest that there was this vast frontier to explore in the game- let alone that there was anything approaching a focused or well-written Western experience.

I’m at the point in my gaming life where I’ll gladly take a ten hour, tightly controlled campaign with good writing, tight scenario design, and great gameplay over a twenty or more hour one that has me doing what amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of story and character progression. Some games are more appropriate for a longer experience- I’m looking forward to spending 30 or so hours with Dragon Age II- but to suggest that something like Bulletstorm or a Call of Duty campaign should be more than a couple of hours start to finish is frankly ridiculous. Don’t you people understand pacing, rhythm, and narrative trajectory? You’d almost think that gamers would be more happy plunking down their sixty bucks for a sloppy, directionless game with a guaranteed 100 hour campaign than they would for a truly filmic, well-framed and executed story with tight gameplay.

In a sense, it’s the director’s cut mentality- the belief that longer is by default better. Yet in many cases a director’s cut adds footage that was intentionally cut to improve the picture. It’s not always a case where the aggrieved artist was forced to alter their work against their wishes or vision, hence the subtext behind the term “director’s cut”. Less is often more, as any creator working in any medium is aware. What does Aliens really gain from all of that rambling footage with Newt’s parents? Nothing, except length and weaker content that lessens the strength of the whole.

There is a lot to be said for games that opt to tighten up content and streamline play to focus on what is most important and instead strengthen the whole. Mass Effect 2, for example, was an amazing example of how to edit the process of playing a CRPG down to its core essentials. Citadel may only have a couple of areas, but they’re all essential and there is a story component in each one. So what if you can’t walk into some random building off in the distance to look at some things that do nothing to further the world-building or plot development. Conversely, while playing Oblivion recently I realized that for as big and expansive Cyrodil is, most of it is completely inconsequential, meaningless, and existent only to create an illusion of true content. I played a fighting class, so the extensive magic and crafting system really added nothing to my experience. And don’t get me started on all of the lore found in all of those books, none of which adds anything crucial to the story or gameplay.

I do believe there is a major difference in the discussion about game length when considering games like Street Fighter, Diablo, Starcraft, sports games, or a multiplayer-focused shooter. These are games that are much less content-driven and focused more on mechanics and skill-based gameplay. I think you can get as many hours of great gaming as you want out of these kinds of titles chiefly because they aren’t reliant on single-player modes or specific storylines. They’re like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But when the dinner bell rings on story-driven games, I’d much rather sit down to a great meal of that’s just enough than a gluttonous junk food feast. I’ll have the really nice small artisan pizza with farm-fresh ingredients over the $5.99 large from the corporate delivery chain, thanks. I’m finding more and more that once I hit the ten hour mark in most single-player campaigns, I’m ready for them to be over and I’m usually glad when they are so I can either move on to the next game or get back to playing something like a fighting game or multiplayer shooter. I do realize that for kids and folks who are more casual about gaming purchases that it’s more important to get value for the money out of a single purchase. It’s important to assess, however, where it is actually coming from- is it originating from solid, significant content or from lazy, bulky filler and false content meant to pacify consumers looking for longer playtimes and assumed value?

Add Blizzard to the "We Have No Idea How Metacritic Works" List

If you scroll down a couple of posts you’ll see the Capcom/Metacritic/Dante-Looks-Weird story. I thought that was going to be our Metacritic Post of the Day. But this one is even better.

Tom Chick is a friend of mine, and he also happens to write for us at GameShark from time to time. Tom reviewed StarCraft II and wrote what I felt was by far the best piece of criticism on that game that you are likely to find published. It was fair, well written, and perfectly voiced.

Tom is, quite simply, one of the best in the business regardless of whether or not you agree with him — that’s really not the point. Tom and I disagree all the time and he likes it when people do because that can spur conversation, which he also enjoys.

Most of the time.

Tom was recently part of a GDC strategy gaming panel and was confronted by StarCraft II lead designer Dustin Browder, who just like so many people in this industry, has no earthly idea how Metacritic works, which to me is the issue more than Metacritic itself. You have to read this one, as it drives home the Metacritic point far better than anything I can say.

The only thing missing is the resolution of that discussion, which I plan on asking Tom about on this week’s podcast. (Is that a teaser? Did I just tease you guys? I think that was my first teaser!)

Defenders of Ardania Gameplay Trailer

Hey about a little fantasy tower defense to get the blood pumping, eh? Paradox’s upcoming game, Defenders of Ardania, actually looks rather neat. Here’s some additional details from the PR:

Features include:

* A intriguing new take on the massively popular tower defense genre (game): players lead both offensive and defensive operations
* Ardania: the world of Majesty with three playable races and their unique environments
* Defense: 24 different upgradeable towers to erect against the invading enemy
* Attack: 24 varied units with diverse attributes to assemble into an offensive force
* Strong Multiplayer component with a variety of game modes for up to four players
* Interactive environment that affects gameplay
* A wide range of offensive and defensive spells

Look for this one to drop “Q2″ of this year.

Capcom Wants new Devil May Cry to be Loved by Metacritic

As we have said here before, and said numerous times on the JTS podcast, PR pays attention to Metacritic. For some PR folks, it’s an absolute obsession. Take this announcement from Capcom as reported by CVG. The story itself isn’t about Metacritic, it’s rather about how DMC fans were all up in arms about new developer Ninja Theory apparently re-imaging Dante. That doesn’t interest me in the slightest. However, this quote does:

“Lets be honest they were great games (averaging in the low 80′s on Metacritic) but not perfect. We’re now aiming to make the perfect DMC game that gets 90′s.”

So, according to Capcom, if a website that hands out letter grades (1Up, GameShark, and others) gives the new DMC game a B+ well, that’s an ’83′ according to Metacritic and you can get bet your last nickel that Capcom will not be happy with an 83. If it gets a “B” — that’s a 75. And that simply will not do.

I may be alone in this but I find that to be a hell of a statement — basing your ‘perfection’ on an aggregate website that uses its own rating system which basically alters the scores of the sites it tracks, I find fascinating. Metacritic is a tool, and a very useful one, but I still don’t think a lot of people in PR know how it actually works.

Dragon Age 2 Hi Res Pack Released

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If your copy of Dragon Age 2 is currently downloading and you’re at all concerned about how it will look on your fancy-pants PC, BioWare has rushed to your rescue with a high resolution texture pack. Downloadable now from the Dragon Age 2 patch page, the high resolutions pack will make everything explode in a shower of resolutions, high resolutions. Why these fancy textures aren’t on the game disc is beyond me but they’re not, so grab ‘em from the site and prepare to bring your DirectX 11 enabled video card to its knees. Running the high resolution pack requires a video card with 1024 MB of memory, so prepare your hardware accordingly.

The Microsoft Xbox 360 Support Experience, The Continuing Adventures

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Update here.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my most recent red ring experience. It left off with me waiting on a new power brick that they were sure would fix the problem. Hey, guess what?

Not so much…

It took a week to get the new brick and when it failed to address the problem I, obviously, called tech support. I got a gentleman who was rather difficult to understand. I explained the problem and he apologized and said they would be happy to take care of the console as an out of warranty repair. I explained that was not acceptable. I said I am already on my third console and had already paid this fee once for hardware that is market-proven to be unreliable. I said they needed to waive the fee or guarantee I received some kind of updated hardware in return. (Not necessarily a Slim, mind you. But at least one with an updated chipset. Brandon referred to it as the Jasper, I believe.) He would only guarantee that I would receive a Microsoft-certified working console. I said I’ve had three of them, so that label didn’t impress me much. He restated himself again. At that point I ended the call in disgust, only to realize I had not addressed the issue of refunding the $35 I paid for a replacement power brick I didn’t need. Of course.

I called back and got someone new. He apologized up and down and said he would find out about getting my refund. He said he wanted a “power expert” from the escalation team to speak to me and that I would be called in 24 to 48 hours. I waited a week. No call.

I called back. Bear in mind at this point that getting through an automated support que is annoying, but harmless in small doses. When you have to do it multiple times it makes you want to punch something. I explained the situation to the latest tech who put me on hold, came back, apologized, and said, “A member of our escalation team will get back to you in 24 to 48 hours.”

I was non-plussed. I explained I had been told that once already and asked if I actually could expect a call during this time. I said, if it’s going to be longer, just tell me what to expect. I said what I didn’t want was to have to call back in two days to ask where my callback was. He repeated his exact mantra two more times and I (politely) ended the conversation. He was, clearly, at the end of his script.

48 hours passed and nothing. Shocking.

But today, about 112 hours since the latest 24-48 hour guarantee, and roughly three weeks since this fiasco started, I get a call. I was told that if I sent back the power brick they had sent me (the one that didn’t fix the problem) they would refund my money. I said that was fine, but asked about what’s next. She said if I sent it back I would get the refund (again) and that once they had processed that return a representative would get back to me in -wait for it- 24 to 48 hours. Bear in mind here, in the original phone conversation in which the replacement brick didn’t work, I offered to send it back; multiple times. They already had a return shipping label in the box. It was not a big deal. He never addressed the question, insisting that I wait for the callback from a “power expert.” This call back took the better part of two weeks for them to simply say, “Send us the brick and we’ll get back to you.” Clearly, their power experts have mad skillz.

This, my friends, is what’s known as a breaking point.

I did not scream at this woman. I did not use profanity. I did, however, in terms that left no room for understatement, address how utterly unacceptable this situation had become. I explained, very clearly, my previous position about either a waiver of the fee or guarantee of the hardware, especially given the incompetence with which my case had been handled up to this point. I justified this position at great length, noting that for the cost of two out of warranty support fees, I could simply have bought a new console off the shelf. When I was done I was given a tired apology and told, “If you return the power brick you will receive a refund and at that time a representative will get back to you in 24-48 hours.” I restated with greater emphasis that whomever calls me next understand beforehand what my terms are, which elicited another duplicate response with the special addendum that Microsoft has clearly outlined parameters about out-of-warranty replacement fees and that they would only return the same hardware that they received. I ended (again, politely) the call, promising to return the power brick but stating my extreme displeasure with her company. What else was there to do? They hold a full house in this little drama; I’ve got a 10 of clubs high card and both of us know it.

At this point, I’m undecided where I go from here, although it’ll probably end with me buying an S unit off the shelf. In the world of Xbox 360 support, it’s clear that history is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you’re on your first replacement console or your sixth. There is only one question: Is this specific problem in or out of warranty? Either way, what you get back will be what you sent, even if what they’re sending is a 100% certified piece of garbage; a failure waiting to happen. And, hey, that’s Microsoft’s prerogative. But those guys spent upwards of a billion dollars (a billion dollars!) expanding a hopelessly overwhelmed support system to deal with the tidal wave of first gen console failures. They flat out admitted -backed into a corner by overwhelming evidence- that the initial console was built poorly and unreasonably prone to failure. Why then insist on keeping people, who were their first customers on release, stuck in that completely dysfunctional ecosystem? And to have to pay out of warranty repair fees for the privilege is absolutely beyond me. It’s bad hardware and they should know better where to draw the line for people that have already been through the support ringer with it more than once. This isn’t special treatment. It’s a professional courtesy that should be offered to any customer who has so spectacularly fallen through the cracks of their disjointed support system.

It would be nice if I could say they’ve lost a customer. It would be nice to shout, “The hell with you people! I’m buying a Mac! I’m going with the Playstation! I’m getting an Android phone!” Won’t happen. I’m a Windows gamer. I’m a 360 gamer. (Their phone can go jump in a lake. I’ll never buy that after this experience.) That’s just the way it is. I’ll rant here, on Twitter, on the podcast, but at the end of the day I’ll pay to stay in that ecosystem. That doesn’t make any of this shameful experience okay. The company can, and should, do better.

Oh, also, there’s this (NSFW):

MLB 11: The Show: All About the Pitching

Baseball season is almost upon us and that means I perform a few yearly rituals.

First, I watch Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary from the start up through the 1970s. After that the show isn’t as good or as accurate. Still, those first several DVDs are aces. There’s also the new addition to the doc, which is actually quite good. I then watch The Natural, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and if I have time, Eight Men Out or Major League (the original, not the crap sequel). I don’t watch these all at once but I always try to find time to watch them between February and March.

I also wait for my review copy of MLB: The Show. Today it arrived and I have been digging into it for the past few hours. I don’t do demos, or watch too many trailers when it comes to sports games because I like going in fresh.

I think it is getting more and more difficult for Sony to pepper the box with new features for this game because it’s been so good for so long it’s to the point where it just needs screw tightening. What else can they really do to this thing?

Then I threw my first pitch…

This year’s back of the box feature, one of them anyway, is called Pure Analog Gameplay.

It means you can use the right stick to pitch, hit, and throw. This isn’t the first game to use the right stick to do this, and so far in my test runs the hitting is pretty straightforward. Pull back to start the swing and push forward to swing through.

On the mound, though, holy lordy it’s something else entirely.

One of my yearly gripes with every baseball game ever made, even the legendary High Heat Baseball of a decade ago (man…that hurt a little to type that), is that throwing strikes is simply too easy. Therefore, you remove one of the most vital aspects of a baseball game — the walk. The Show did a decent job of this last year but still, walking a hitter is really only possible when you try and work corners — if you need a strike — you can throw it.

That was last year.

The new analog stuff has the potential to be a real game changer.

Here’s how it works:

You use the left stick to pick your location and you then select a pitch just like normal. Then you pull back on the right stick and a meter appears; you wait for the indicator to move to the desired location on the pitch meter (this determines the strength of the pitch (under or overthrow) and then as you move the stick up for the follow through you have to move it left or right to locate the pitch AND the speed in which you move the stick up determines speed.

And it’s tough. With a pitcher with poor control it’s REALLY tough. And I freaking love it. In practice mode I have never thrown so many unintentional pitches outside the strikezone.

My description is rather terrible so here’s a video that explains it in detail.

Neat eh?

I have been fiddling with this for the past hour and a half and I haven’t even played a game yet. It’s extremely cool, fun to use, and has the potential to add another dose of realism. Sign me up.

Next up, I take this new pitching mode and put it to the test…

Gaming on the Go- Recent App Store Finds

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Pictured is my favorite portable game of all time. It’s really bad, but I’ve had it since I was like five and it’s one of my personal treasures. Fortunately, mobile gaming has come a long way over the past thirty years. I’ve got something like 85 games on my iPhone now including Street Fighter and Resident Evil 4, and if that’s not THE FUTURE, then I don’t know what is. I love IOS games, and I think mobile gaming is a great venue for bite-sized games with interesting concepts and unique gameplay despite the overwhelming proliferation of “me too” games. Come, won’t you join me as I take a look at some of my recent App Store gaming finds?

Speedball 2

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Back when I was in high school in the early 1990s, I had a computer science class where we learned ancient languages like FORTRAN and COBOL. Every Friday, we had game day so we could play old timey games in glorious four-color CGA on the PCs. Somehow, the computer lab had a copy of the Bitmap Brothers’ crazy sci-fi sports game Speedball 2. I loved that game, and when I saw that a new version (subtitled “Evolution”) was available for iDevices, I jumped. Well, not really, I saw that it was $2.99 and waited a couple of days and then it went on sale for 99 cents.

It’s a great version of the classic game. Controls kind of suck, but that’s the case with most IOS games. At least you can choose between a digital stick and tilt. The fun, soccer meets handball meets pinball gameplay is intact, with cyborg-manned teams such as Brutal Deluxe and the Raw Messiahs beating the crap out of each other to try to throw a ball into a goal. There are also points scoring opportunities such as bumpers, light-up targets on the walls, and a multiplier ramp. And you can always knock a player out for points as well. Matches are short, quick, and brutal- perfect for mobile gaming. There’s plenty of content too, with a career mode, challenges, quick matches, and multiplayer options.

I’m really enjoying the game all over again. It’s definitely old fashioned, flawed, and sometimes frustrating but the nostalgia and simple fun of the game carries the day. It runs great on my quickly antiquating iPhone 3G. The game also gets bonus points for its loading screen- it plays a sample of that familiar groaning, grinding sound that old disk drives used to make.

Tiny Wings

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This is the game that bumped Angry Birds off its perch as the #1 downloaded IOS game, and it’s an ultra-casual game about a flightless bird “haunted by the night” (the game’s words) attempting to take wing while traversing the hills and valleys of a chain of islands. Like many of the App Store’s best games, it has a couple of key elements that spell out “success”- immediately graspable concept, simple one-touch controls, and charming visuals. It’s also addictive as hell.

The bird has two states. Touching the screen causes him to tuck and become heavier, which is what you want to do on the downhill slopes With a finger off the screen, it flaps its titular tiny wings and if you time it just right coming off an ascent, he’ll catch some (or a lot) of air and speed up. Timing a tuck on the downward trajectory at the right time will result in a smooth transition and bonus points. Hit three perfect landings and “fever mode” is triggered, which is not only a fun mechanic but it’s also a license to print money when it comes to these kinds of games. There are also coins to collect and clouds to touch for extra points.

It’s cute, it’s fun, and it fits the platform perfectly. I don’t think it’ll reach the iconic status of Angry Birds, but with some updates and extra content I think it’s got some legs. Or wings, as it were.

League of Evil

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Some folks have billed this retro-styled 2D platformer as Super Meat Boy for IOS. As far as the small level, achievement-based design is concerned, it’s a pretty close approximation. Fortunately, League of Evil isn’t nearly as taxing as Super Meat Boy and it does feel original enough to warn off any “ripoff” claims. I also like the theme and setting much better in League than in Meat.

You control a cyborg agent that can run, jump, grind on walls, double jump, punch, and do a flying kick. Your mission is to reach the evil scientist on each level and punch or kick him into oblivion. There are also optional goals that increase the difficulty of the game by way of hard-to-get briefcases and stars keyed to your completion time.

The level design isn’t nearly as elaborate as in SMB, which is fine given the limitation of IOS gaming. Controls are quite well done, kept simple and effective even when they’re not 100% accurate. Death is very frequent at the hands of spikes, spinning hammers, enemy soldiers, and so forth but the levels are bite-sized and failure only sets you back a couple of seconds. Die, and then you go again until you beat the level.

League of Evil may be my favorite platform game to date in the App Store. It’s streamlined, easy to get in and out of, and it keeps you coming back with those damn stars and briefcases. There are tons of levels and more have already been released so support is good. Can’t beat it for a buck, that’s for sure.

The Blocks Cometh

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Halfbot’s hotly anticipated (and shamelessly ripped off by another developer) The Blocks Cometh is a crazy concept for a platformer. Imagine if you were a guy trapped in the drop pit of a falling block puzzle game. Your goal is to stay alive as long as possible against the increasingly difficult rain of blocks and to ascend as high as possible. It’s almost a vertical take on the endless running game, but with lots of wall-jumping and getting squished unexpectedly. The character has a gun to shoot blocks as well, since he can and will get trapped in pockets between them from time to time.

It’s a tough game, but it’s also addictive and rewarding. Once you break your high score, it becomes very high-stakes and tense. Good platforming skills and quick-thinking pay off, and like League of Evil it keeps the on-screen controls simple.

Speaking of League of Evil, there is some crossover with both games. The hero of League is an unlockable character here, and there are Blocks levels in his game. Both games share a similar look and feel, with some great chiptunes work and cool, modernized NES style graphics.

Puzzlevania

Puzzlevania was an instant download for me, even without the safety net of reviews or user opinions. It looked like and was more or less billed as a Super Puzzle Fighter-style falling blocks puzzle with a gothic horror theme- hence the descriptive name and the big monster heads that you’re tasked with smashing. Unfortunately, the game got off to a rough start with some game-crashing bugs that rendered it unplayable. It’s all better now, and it’s a good, if not great, puzzler.

A Puzzle Quest-style adventure narrative frames the preceedings but it’s hardly as detailed. You move from location to location and duel it out with various monsters by accomplishing certain quotas in the puzzle pit, employing a couple of different magic items to shift the balance. Just like Super Puzzle Fighter, combining blocks of the same color creates larger ones and then you use crash gems to knock them out, possibly triggering chain reactions. So there is strategy and some luck in the game, and making sure to hit the right marks before the pit fills can be as stressful as it is any other similar game. There are shops and “quests”, so if you’re like me and need there to be some context to the puzzle gameplay, it’s definitely present. Great graphics and artwork give it a nice atmosphere.

All the kinks aren’t worked out yet. The controls are super touchy, which often results in accidental drops. The bizarre dialogue attempts to be funny, but isn’t. Unlike Super Puzzle Fighter, you’re not actually competing against a rival so it feels solitary even though it’s supposed to be a battle. And it still crashes and hangs up intermittently. It’s fun when it’s working and if you’ve got some patience to deal with an unpolished game, but be mindful that it’s a little undercooked.