Mini-Review of a Mini-Game: Florence

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 45 Minutes
  • Multiplayer: No

I will keep this review nice and short to match the game I’m writing about: Florence. It’s an enchanting mobile game that tells a story very effectively in around 45 minutes. Told through cut scenes and various puzzles, you walk though a period in the life of Florence Yeoh and her relationship with someone she meets: Krish. Whilst there’s isn’t really any challenge to the game it does a few ingenious things I’ve not come across before in games and it thus worth experiencing for anyone who loves narrative games.screenshot_20180502-133428.png

What I liked about it
In literal terms, most of your time in Florence is spent pressing and swiping on your phone screen – nothing new or difficult there. What pulls you into Florence’s world is how well the developer, Mountains, has matched up these presses and swipes with the activities, events and feelings that Florence is going through. These range from the obvious – swipe back and forth to brush your teeth – to new and creative mechanics like completing simple jigsaw puzzles in order to say the right things on a first date. I don’t think there are any missed steps here – the harmony between your inputs and your character’s experience is always intuitive and always just right. My favourite part of Florence was something I’ve not seen before in games; there’s a point when, in order to move on, you have to not play the game! And that (lack of) input fits perfectly with what Florence is going through. Time and time again I found myself smiling at the way the game manages to describe Florence’s emotions with subtlety and flair.screenshot_20180502-181531.png

What I didn’t like about it
There’s not much to specifically not like about Florence. The ending is slightly rushed. As a result I wasn’t quite ready for it and was left with some frustration about the way the story goes. It’s insistence on taking you back to a menu screen in between each chapter seemed odd too and pulled me out of the story too much. Otherwise the only things I would mention as drawbacks are really to do with how it is set up. It is altogether too short – whilst I’m glad it didn’t outstay it’s welcome I arrived at the end just as I was really enjoying playing. Lastly, there will be those put off by the lack of challenging game play. I’m not entirely of that opinion at all, but I do think there is more room in these sort of ‘interactive novel’ games for a higher degree of difficulty. It’s not necessary for what Florence is trying to be, but it holds the game back from real greatness.screenshot_20180503-090810.png

Conclusion
For all it’s simplicity, there are parts of Florence the like of which I’ve not found in a game ever before and that alone makes it worth playing. You’ll also find a charming and intuitive game that puts a smile on your face. If only it lasted a bit longer!Review3

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REVIEW: Bridge Constructor Portal

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS, PC, Mac, Switch, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 1 Minute
  • Time to complete: 15 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Bridge Constructor Portal is an excellent addition to the Bridge Constructor series, made fresh by an injection of portals – both in terms of the gameplay and in terms of humour. The same creative physics-based puzzles are given a new lease of life by the presence of companion cubes and turrets and other things from the Portal series, whilst at the same time the enjoyable humour of the Portal world now has a new type of game for you to enjoy. As crossovers go it is one of the least expected of recent times, but the two things fit like a glove.Screenshot_20180214-084148

Building bridges
If you’re new to the Bridge Constructor games then your task, at it’s most basic, is to design a bridge that will hold the weight of one or more vehicles as they travel across a gap. By using good bridge-building techniques, which the game teaches you well in the early levels, you can quickly build sturdy bridges. It’s a great concept, particularly on mobile, where you place your components with your fingers on the touchscreen. The brilliance of this Portal iteration of it is that this concept is now couched firmly in the Portal world. You are now ‘testing’ under the watchful eye of GLaDOS.Screenshot_20180213-134133

Over troubled water
Gameplay wise this primarily takes the form of portals, through which your vehicles can travel. They pop in one end and appear out of the other, wherever in the level that might be. Strictly speaking, this is the only significant difference that the crossover with Portal makes to the Bridge Constructor formula. To be honest, I think there’s an extent to which a player who is new to the Portal games will not truly ‘get’ the rest of what has been brought over from them – hugs with cubes, images of cakes and talk of lemons. If that is you then I cannot recommend enough getting hold of the original Portal game – it’s very high up on my All-Time Top Games List.Screenshot_20180214-083607

Testing times
For those that have played Portal, the game makes total sense very quickly. I’ve heard people say it’s not a ‘true’ Portal game. I assume they mean that Bridge Constructor Portal is not a first person ‘shooter’ and that you don’t create your own portals on the fly. But I found that those things were not really the essence of what makes for a Portal game. Doing ‘testing’ through a series of puzzle rooms, using momentum in and out of portals, the hilarious ‘coaching’ from GLaDOS – these are the things that make Portal what it is. This game feels like a totally natural part of that universe. Combine that with challenging and rewarding puzzle solving and this Bridge Constructor is more than deserving of having Portal at the end of its name.Screenshot_20180220-095309

Conclusion
This would be an excellent puzzler even without the Portal elements. The Bridge Constructor gameplay is as solid as ever – it proves its worth by getting better and better as the puzzles get harder. It’s never frustrating and always rewarding as you complete each room. Then add in a dose of Portal humour and you have one of the best puzzle games of recent months. Get it on a touchscreen device if you can but one way or another you will not be bored here. Just maybe play through Portal first!

Review4

Click here to purchase the game for Android from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Dropmix

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Android and iOS, requires Dropmix board peripheral
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 1 Minute
  • Time to complete: For as long as you are having fun.
  • Multiplayer: Oh yes!

When I was deciding whether to write about Dropmix, I was trying to decide if it’s actually a video game; it has cards but isn’t really a card game, it has music but isn’t a rhythm or melody game. It could even be argued that it is just a basic DJ tool that just has a game mode added on top. In the end, after playing Dropmix alone, with The Boy and with friends for a while I’ve come to the conclusion that at it’s heart it is a video game – and that it’s a great thing that it crosses game genres in such a way. It means that Dropmix has appeal to everyone in any situation, no matter how many people are playing or how often you’ve played.Screenshot_20180324-214042.png

It’s all in the mix
Behind the fun of Dropmix is a pretty impressive technical achievement from Harmonix – the company behind music-based games like Rock Band and one of my favourite recent games, Super Beat Sports. It comes with a large peripheral in the form of the Dropmix Board. This hearkens back to Rock Band and all the guitars and drums that it came with but that is where the similarities end. Here you won’t be playing the music, you’ll be re-mixing the music. This is done by pacing cards onto the board, each of which has an NFC chip in and that represents part of a song. Be it the guitar from It’s Tricky or the drums from Radioactive, once that card is on the board the app on your phone/tablet (which connects to the board by Bluetooth) then adds that part to the mix. The mightily impressive thing is that Harmonix has managed to do some magic by which every single part always works when added to the mix. It’s doesn’t always sound that good necessarily – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – but none of it ever truly clashes and in fact it is the things that you might imagine would clash that often throw up the best mixes. Really it’s something that needs to be seen rather than told, so here’s a very basic video of how it works:

Gamification
That is Freestyle mode, where you can pretty much mix together whatever you like and experiment and create. There are two further modes, however, that turn the experience into a game. Firstly, Party mode. Here every player is playing together with a deck of the cards to meet a series of requests that the game throws at you. It might be to play a vocal card, or a drum card, or a combination of cards. The faster you can do this collectively the more points you score – communication is key. The other gaming mode is a verses mode called Clash. Here, you are in teams, taking turns to play the cards and fighting to reach 21 points first. Both modes are a little more interesting than just basic card playing. In Clash you have as much time as you want to consider how to make it the hardest for your opponent to play whereas the focus in Party is to make it easy for the next person to play – but the need to do it fast adds the element of drama. It’s all great fun and I wondered at the beginning of my time with Dropmix if the gaming elements would take away from the music but actually far from it – it’s those moments in the middle of matches where you go ‘that actually sounds great!‘ or ‘wow, these songs do not work together‘ that are the highlight of every session.IMG_0049.PNG

Universal Appeal
Dropmix is super easy to pick up – literally, just pick up a card and place it on the board! But it has hidden depth that comes out over time. For example, each card has a rating of sorts, from 1 to 3, and in the game modes you can only place a card on top of another on the board if it is of equal or higher rating. Initially, this is just a mechanic of the game but like any good game you learn to use those mechanics over time. In Party mode, keep the cards on the board to 1 rating as long as possible. In Clash mode, jump to 3 rating as quickly as possible to make it hard for your opponent. It’s this and things like it that make Dropmix more than the sum of its, already impressive, parts. Eventually you realise that the possibilities are almost limitless. It can be a chilled and music-focused experience, alone or together, to keep tweaking and improving your mix. Or at the other end it can be a fantastic party game that keeps everyone involved due to the music being created. Dropmix can by anything to anyone at any time.

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Conclusion
There’s a bit of an outlay of money to get you into the Dropmix world – the board is not cheap. But this is still an easy game to recommend. The many hours of fun – whether chilled out by yourself or in a long and loud session with a group of friends – far outweigh the initial cost. If you like music (who doesn’t?) and you like gaming (otherwise, why are you here?!) then you should think about picking up Dropmix.

Review5
Click here to purchase the game from Amazon.co.uk:

Top 5 Underappreciated Games: Monthly Roundup April 2018

Please see here for previous Top 5 Round Ups from 2018:
January: Top 5 Rocket League Showroom Battle Cars
February: Top 5 Open World Games
March: Top 5 Mario Kart 8 Items

Recently I was in a discussion about games that you love that no one else seems to like so much. They just don’t get it, right?! So I got thinking about a way I could be sure that these games were actually less appreciated than I think they should be: Metacritic scores! If you haven’t come across Metacritic it’s a site that gathers together all the reviews of each game (and other things like movies etc) and gives them an average score out of 100. So I looked through my All-Time Top Games List and found the ones that had an average of less than 80. There were 6 in total, so here are the Top 5, plus a bonus:

#1: Mirror’s Edge – Xbox 360/PS3
Metacritic Score: 79
I played a demo of Mirror’s Edge when it first came out in 2008 and immediately knew I had to get it! I was surprised later when it didn’t get glowing reviews. It had a decent and engaging, if generic, story line and the gun play was only OK but all of this was brushed aside by how fantastic the free running was. I played the whole game quite a few times on 360 and on PS3 – it was a joy just to run through the world at top speed. If I was picking any single game to replay it would be this one, without doubt.24-03-2018_21-53-46

#2: Quantum Break – Xbox One
Metacritic Score: 77
Another game that I picked up without really seeing the reviews. I saw a couple of videos of it in action when it was released and went out more or less straight away to pick it up. I’m so glad I did. The gameplay – a combination of 3rd person shooting and controlling time – was great, it looked fantastic and the plot was far more complex than most games. Quantum Break also had 3 or 4 ‘TV episodes’ in it that advanced the story, which was something I really enjoyed but I guess maybe that concept wasn’t for everyone as it certainly hasn’t caught on!25941057304_18a8a9e06b_o

#3: Super Mario Run – Android/iOS
Metacritic Score: 76
This is one of my favourite Mario games ever. Made completely for mobile, it could be played with one thumb but still had all the elements required of a Mario 2D platformer. Perhaps the short-sharp bursts of gameplay didn’t work for people that came to it as Mario fans but as a mobile game it was perfect and the chance to play against others in the Toad Rally mode was great fun too.screenshot_20180326-160206.png

#4: Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Xbox
Metacritic Score: 79
Forget all the usual – and mostly correct – comments about cross overs between video games and other media never working. This game fit into the Buffy mould perfectly, whilst also being a superb game in it’s own right. Story-wise, it had a lot of the same actors from the TV show providing the voices and it didn’t try and reinvent the wheel, playing out like an extended episode. On the gameplay side the platforming and fighting were both top notch. It all came together nicely.Processed with VSCO with  preset

#5: Super Beat Sports – Switch
Metacritic Score: 68
This is the most recent game on this list and to be honest, unless you hate fun (?!), I cannot imagine how anyone wouldn’t love Super Beat Sports! It’s not particularly deep and the quality of it’s mini-games does vary but at it’s core it takes common gaming tropes – rhythm and sports – and combines them into something that prioritises fun above all else. I am mystified by the negative reviews.2018011618031600-B5326B1E58931254287CB2E8DA86D794

Bonus: P.N.03 – Gamecube
Metacritic Score: 63
This game only just squeezes onto my All Time Top Games list, so I can more understand that it didn’t work for everyone. P.N.03 certainly had it’s flaws – the story wasn’t really engaging at all for a start – but I just loved the smoothness and grace with which you could move your character Vanessa around. Somewhere inside it is a basic shooter but on top of that you have elements that feel like a dance game. It had that same feeling of joy from just playing it that Mirror’s Edge has, but in a less complete package. It’s hard to explain so just watch this video!

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REVIEW: Meteorfall: Journeys

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

I’ve talked before about how mobile games should shed any attempt to match their console and computer cousins and focus on what’s good about mobile gaming. We’ve had some great examples, like Super Mario Run or Old Man’s Journey but now perhaps the perfect example of how to build a game for mobile – Meteorfall: Journeys. It takes it’s style and it’s genre and makes them not just work for mobile, but work beautifully. We’re left with a deep and easy to play game that will keep you hooked to your phone for ‘just one more try’ for hours on end.screenshot_20180206-121804.png

Roguelike
Meteorfall: Journeys is a roguelike fantasy RPG built into a card game. You collect cards from various sources and use the powers those cards give you to defeat monsters, bosses and finally the main boss to beat the game. All of this is procedurally generated, so no play through is the same as any other and the meat of the game is based around a combination of planning how you want to build up your card deck and rolling with the punches that the game throws at you. There are 2 basic restraints placed on your efforts to smash all who come before you. Firstly, health – staying alive is key as there are no second chances – die and you are start all over again with a fresh pack. Secondly, stamina – each card you want to play takes a certain amount of effort for your character to deploy and you manage this by skipping cards to regain some stamina points. Some cards use this in a different way by having ‘charges’ instead of stamina points but the principle of always making sure you are in a position to play the most important cards remains the same.screenshot_20180211-132336.png

Around this base gameplay are the RPG and very light story elements. You can upgrade and/or buy better cards over the course of a play through or even give away cards. This isn’t as crazy as it may first seem – the key to getting to the final boss and winning is building a pack of cards that compliment each other and work for your play style. More of a defensive player? By the end your healing cards need to be giving you big chunks of health back to keep you going. Conversely for the more attacking player you had better be dealing huge amounts of damage for each card you play by the end or it’s not going to be enough. Story wise, Meteorfall: Journeys keeps it to a minimum – you are fighting through the hoards to reach and defeat the Uberlich and save the world. You can choose one of four characters but that really only affects the way you want to play, the narrative, such as it is, doesn’t change.screenshot_20180211-132715.png

Stay Mobile
None of this is new, I realise. This it entirely standard fare for almost any RPG, certainly any roguelike and isn’t new as a card game. Why this game is so good if how easy it is to play on your phone. It’s almost like Meteorfall: Journeys is what smartphone’s were designed for in the first place! All joking aside, it’s works like a dream – almost every action is either a left swipe to skip or a right swipe to choose. There are a few things that need you to actually press on the screen but most of your playthroughs with just be right-right-right-left-right-etc. It’s a thing of true design beauty. Not that this makes the game any easier to win. Make no mistake, the individual games you play might be fairly short, as any good card game should be, but if you are going to win out you’ll be playing for quite a while. In fact if anything, how easy to it is to physically play almost draws you into hasty mistakes when you should have thought more carefully about your next moves.screenshot_20180214-135257.png

Conclusion
All of this combines into a deep and challenging card-based RPG that is super smooth to play. You can pop out your phone for a single turn whilst waiting in a queue or sit down at home for a play session and anything in between. It’s not even mired with adverts and in-app purchases – a very small one-off price gets you into this world and you’re not going to find it easy to get yourself out!
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Reflections on 2017 – What an amazing year for gaming!

What an amazing year for gaming 2017 has been! There have been so many fantastic games released, across multiple platforms and genres. Early this year, when I began writing about the games The Boy and I were playing, I had no idea what a good time it was to start this blog! We’ve also been lucky with the retro games we’ve played, whether they were just catch up from 2016 or older games we’d never previously got around to. I have added more games to my All-Time Top Games List this year than any year before – 10 games have been good enough to get 5 stars here.lozbotw1

So here’s a roundup of the year, in reviews and awards. Please note that if your favourite game isn’t mentioned, just remember that I have probably just not caught up with it yet (Super Mario Odyssey, I’m looking at you). I’ll do a backlog catchup post later in the week to round up those.

2017 Reviews (by score and then chronologically)
5*
Forza Horizon 3
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Old Man’s Journey
Minecraft
Horizon Zero Dawn
Super Mario Galaxy
Madden NFL 18
Gears of War 4
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

4*
New Super Mario Bros 2
Puyo Puyo Tetris
Dirt 4
Fast RMX
Sonic Mania
FIFA 18 (Switch)

3*
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
Super Bomberman R
NBA Playgrounds
Gone Home
Gran Turismo Sport
Hue

2*
Magikarp Jump

2017 Awards:
Best Game: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wildlozbotw2
It was my desire to write about how good Breath of the Wild was that originally sparked the idea to start some kind of blog. This game is just endlessly entertaining, I genuinely never wanted it to stop.
Runner Up: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
There have been many great Mario Kart games over the years but with 8 Deluxe, Nintendo have perfected the formula. And for local multiplayer, there’s no better thing.

Best Platform: Nintendo Switch
switchIt’s not hard to see why the Switch wins out here given the best game awards above! But in its first year it’s fair to give the console some bonus points for the genius of its design and the ability to play anywhere anyhow, as well.
Runner Up: Xbox One.
This was a close run thing as both Xbox One and PS4 had 2 great exclusives in 2017. The PS4 loses out because it also had the biggest disappointment of the year (see below).

Best Multiplayer Game: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe2017050713184900-16851BE00BC6068871FE49D98876D6C5
As mentioned above, there is nothing even close to this for local multiplayer – in years, in fact, not just this year. It is absolute fun and the great combination of punch-the-air wins and heartbreaking losses only gets better with friends.
Runner Up: NBA Playgrounds
With Mario Kart dominating local multiplayer this year I turn to online multiplayer for the runner up. When I found a likeminded opponent who also wanted to play spectacularly – rather than just win – these games were exciting and ridiculous.

Most Unexpectedly Great Game: Madden NFL 1807-10-2017_22-39-27
I fully expected this to be just another annual edition of Madden until I played the new Longshot story mode. It was absolutely brilliant and elevated a good game to great.
Runner Up: Minecraft
I’d been avoiding Minecraft for ages – wasn’t sure if would be ‘my kind of game’. I was wrong. It’s fantastic and I spent untold amounts of hours being creative in it.

Wooden Spoon – Worst Disappointment: Gran Turismo SportGran Turismo™SPORT_20171020214155
Never before has a game given me something so good – in this case, the car handling model – and then given me no reason at all to enjoy it. Very disappointing.
Runner Up: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst
After I really loved the first Mirror’s Edge I was looking forward to this. Sadly, whilst it maintained the enjoyable free running, it lost its heart and its storytelling.

REVIEW: Old Man’s Journey

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS, PC, Mac
  • Time to get into: 5 minutes
  • Time to complete: 1.5 hours
  • Multiplayer: No

The idea of paying for a mobile game up front can seem odd these days. The vast majority of games on the Play Store and App Store let you get started initially and then either demand that you pay up to continue or put regular road blocks in your way and make it clear that paying money would make your life easier. Old Man’s Journey acts more like a console game in this aspect, expecting you to pay just under £5 before letting you download. Don’t let this put you off – this is very much a ‘mobile’ experience but it’s very much worth the money. There are two aspects in play here – the gameplay and the narrative – and it’s mainly the latter that takes this from brief distraction to great experience in it’s own right.

Screenshot_20170628-223718

Gameplay
The game is very simple at it’s core. Most of the time you are altering the landscape to allow the eponymous Old Man (we never learn his name, or those of the other characters) to travel from one side of the screen to the other. This involves working out, for example, how to get sheep to move to another hill to let him past or joining up train tracks to allow his train to keep moving. Whilst it is all very basic the game retains your interest by a combination of gentle guidance and simple charm. Anything that needs to be clicked on is usually moving or lit up slightly or something else that let’s you know to interact with it without taking you out of the experience. If you ask your Man to walk somewhere he can’t get he’ll react with a sort of ‘huh?’ with a question mark over his head – letting you know you’ve done it wrong without actually saying that or punishing you at all. In terms of charm it drips from every pore of Old Man’s Journey. Even aside from the storyline, the cute graphics, the endearing body language of the Old Man and the wonderful soundtrack all add up to a well made and engaging game.
Screenshot_20170704-135210
Narrative
The gameplay is really just a vessel in which to place a delightful and meaningful story and tell it in a subtle and wonderful way. I’d venture to say I’ve never come across a mobile game with such emphasis on the story – certainly not one that does it so well anyway. I don’t want to give anything away here in order to not ruin it but if you’ve seen the Disney movie Up then you’ll know the kind of tender, bittersweet storytelling you can expect. If not you’ll just have to trust me that it’s wonderful and you should experience it without any preconceptions!
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Verdict
Without the fantastically engaging narrative Old Man’s Journey would probably not have enough gameplay to stand up. However, that gaming is in fact the perfect compliment to the most wonderful storytelling I’ve come across on mobile. Totally worth the price of entry.
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