As game executive Bing Gordon famously put it (about) in 2010, "This is the most promiscuous app audience in the history of mankind".
This is the diary of a promiscuous gamer…
But for the past two weeks I’ve been on holiday in the middle of the Swedish forest with no internet connection.
For that reason, this is a special version of the Promiscuous Gamer, which covers only the games on my iPad that I could get to work in offline mode.
(Although a special mention to Social Point’s Monster Legends, which kept ‘sending’ me push notifications, despite the fact you need a connection to play it.)
1. Dwarven Den (Backflip)
The latest game from DragonVale developer Backflip, Dwarven Den is a puzzle digging game. The fundamental play variation is that different blocks of rock require different amounts of energy to dig.
This gameplay is layered with the use of technology items such as bombs and traps which you can use to, respectively, mine multiple rocks immediately or trap the monsters that inhabit the mines. Of course, you need tech resource to deploy these items.
Dwarven Den is a really good-looking game, with a decent early meta-structure - levelling up your tools etc - but the main obstacle I found to long term enjoyment is there’s little skill required.
At any point, you have a certain amount of resources to complete each mission’s primary goal - typically find something or someone hidden in the level. There are also other sub-goals to complete to get all three stars.
Yet the main obstacle to overcome aren’t puzzles, as we traditionally understand them. Instead, the main obstacle is your use of limited resources (particularly energy); something that’s complicated by the fog that hides the majority of each level.
Hence, you have to use - or gamble away - your basic energy resource to dig out the rocks and hope you’re going roughly the right way and that you’ll find some more energy in the level (you always do, and it’s usually enough).
But there’s almost no skill involved. You have to start somewhere - digging out rocks. After all, that’s what the game is about. However, choosing which direction to start digging in is generally signposted by the level design. Unless you’re willfully (or actually) lost, you generally complete the level.
The result is a game that you either fail through randomness (or stupidity) or complete through randomness. You can buy more resources with IAPs, but the game’s monetisation is fairly undemanding, so it’s not like it’s been designed in this way to get you to spend.
All-in-all, a pleasant but ultimately confusing, and somewhat disappointing, experience.
2. Age of Wind 3 (Deemedya)
Deemedya’s Age of Wind 3 is a real contrast to Dwarven Den. It doesn’t look anything as nice. The menus - indeed pretty much the entire UX - screams ‘placeholder’. The trading aspect of the game is totally under developed, the in-game economic structure is unbalanced and the plot is all over the place.
But, again in contrast to Dwarven Den, the basic gameplay is lovely. You start with a simple pirate ship that you control using Left and Right buttons and you have a ‘fire your cannons’ button.
Aiming is controlled directly by your ship’s movement, but you can only fire if there’s an enemy ship within the line and range of your cannons; as shown by a cone emanating from each side of your ship. The direction of your fire is also displayed by a crosshair, which shows roughly where your cannon balls will land.
And, that’s pretty much it. You ‘sail’ around, move right and left and firing off your cannons at will. The gameplay is helped by the general stupidity of the AI ships, especially in terms of their firing tactics, although this is offset by their high health.
I found it a nice example of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow in that it wasn’t long before I was taking on much more powerful fleets and destroying them with the aggressive tactic of fire one side of cannons, then tack around and fire other side while the first is reloading. And repeat.
There is a decent meta-game too in that you can buy additional ships - having a total of three in your fleet. There are also upgrades you can make to your ships and skill points you can allocate to improve general attributes.
But, basically, Age of Wind 3 is all about the gameplay action. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to play it much more, even when I have an internet connection.
3. GunFinger (Pixel Toys)
There have been plenty of first-person zombie shooters, and despite its redneck American setting, GunFinger does little that’s new.
That said, it is a thoroughly competent game. The aiming mechanic - hold on the screen to zoom in - is nice, and levels are short and organised via different weapon types. Of course, you need to upgrade your weapon and buy better ones to make progress, completing and three-star-mastering levels.
But I’m not really sure why I would play this as opposed to any other zombie FPS, aside from the fact it doesn’t need a connection.
I also wasn’t sure about the bonus item yellow ducks which are scattered through each level. Quite an obvious way of breaking the suspension of disbelief.
4. Trials Frontier (RedLynx)
I’ve been playing Trials Frontier off-and-on since its release but until now, never got to grips with it.
Partly that’s because I’m rubbish at such games and partly because the learning curve is pretty steep. Maybe that’s because RedLynx was appealing to the franchise’s large existing PC/console player base, and didn’t want to come across as dumbing down for mobile.
Nevertheless, since working out that only the rear wheel is powered, and you don’t have to press the accelerate button all the time - like durr! - I’ve become mildly obsessed with Trials Frontier.
I can’t say I’ve improved tremendously in terms of my level of skill, but I can get the silver medal on most levels - completing them without any crashes - as well as pulling off the odd trick.
Of course, as you’d expect from RedLynx, the game looks amazing and the level design is extremely well balanced (if you ignore the initial learning curve) for the different bikes you unlock.
But, just as good is the meta-game - the setting and the different characters who give your missions - and the IAP economics, which have been very smartly designed in terms of incentives to spend currency. The spin-the-wheel mechanic at the end of each level is particularly worth checking out.
As with Age of Wind 3, I will certainly be playing more Trials Frontier when I’m back in the connected world.
In Play: 4
To Be Played: 0
To-date 2014 'Life Time' Value: $33.93