Category Archives: iOS Reviews

iOS Review: Fluxx

iOS Review: Fluxx


Being in the right place at the right time is a rare luxury in Fluxx.
Being in the right place at the right time is a rare luxury in Fluxx.

I grew up playing Uno as a child. It’s a fairly simple game, as card games go, and one that can be easily learned by almost any age group. If I were asked to explain Fluxx to someone whose only frame of reference was Uno, I’d ask that person to think about Uno with the training wheels off… heading straight over a cliff edge, when zero-gravity suddenly kicks in. To play Fluxx is to not only tolerate chaos but to embrace it, and I say that with the highest level of admiration. Fluxx is a game with true mass-market appeal, a next-level Uno for those who’ve grown bored of the comparative simplicity.

Rules were made to be broken, and in Fluxx, they will be broken and rewritten with nearly every turn. Instead of trying to shed all your cards to win as in Uno, you’re trying to collect a combination of two cards that happen to match the current criteria for victory. It’s trickier than it sounds, because simple possession of the winning pair is not enough; you’ve got to put them into play as well. Did I mention they’re likely to be stolen or otherwise removed from your hand? Or by the time of your next turn, the criteria for victory may have been completely altered. You and your opponents will be offered a dizzying array of options for changing virtually every element of the rulebook. Everything is temporary, victory and defeat are never assured beyond the scope of a single turn. It’s all the fun of tossing darts at a board while blindfolded and balancing on a randomly moving platform. I’d never played the physical version of the game, but at no point did I feel too lost to follow along with the action. The tutorial is quite effective at bringing the uninitiated up to speed.

The AI opponent is available in easy (green) or hard (red) variants. Easy is clearly and wisely designed to help teach the game to new players. It will occasionally miss obvious opportunities to win. When given a choice of multiple targets for a given action, it will not always pick the highest-value target. So this isn’t Puzzle Quest, where newbies will be punished mercilessly for even the slightest rookie mistake. You’re given the luxury of realizing “ah, it could’ve won right there” and making sure you don’t fall asleep at the same wheel when your time comes. The hard AI is not nearly so forgiving, once you’re ready for a tougher challenge.

The iPhone UI sometimes obscures a hand with lots of cards.
The iPhone UI sometimes obscures a hand with lots of cards.

This being my first foray into Playdek’s iOS fare, my lofty expectations were well met. The interface is top class, and nearly everything is intuitively obvious. The aesthetics are warm and pleasing in a fuzzy 1970s kind of way. When you’ve got quite a few cards in your hand on an iPhone, things can get a bit more cramped and difficult to read. At one point I was annoyed at how slowly the cards were being dealt, and of course there was an option to change that speed. Everything about this iOS implementation of the game leads me to marvel at how much more streamlined an experience it must be than playing with physical cards. Keeping track of the ever-changing rules from one moment to the next would be a big challenge in and of itself. Put it this way: I don’t think I’d be able to finish a physical game of Fluxx during my 25-minute train commute, but many of my evaluation games for the iOS version were completed during these same trips. While I did not have a chance to try the multiplayer options, the game offers local pass-and-play as well as asynchronous online.

Besides the sometimes-cramped iPhone interface, there is another flaw worth mentioning: it never really feels like you’re developing a long-term strategy from game to game. Because the rules are so frequently randomized, you can only really strategize within the scope of your current game, and even then it’s more about wily adaptability than gritty determination. So there’s a bit of a “Groundhog Day” effect when playing Fluxx. You’ll gradually build up a portfolio of go-to tactical options based on what cards you have at any given time, but I imagine that’s about the extent of any sense of progression the game might hold for most folks. Once you’ve sufficiently familiarized yourself, luck is undoubtedly the biggest determinant of success or failure.

If you’re in the mood for lighter, more accessible card-gaming fare, you could do far worse than Fluxx. Need a game suitable to play with older or younger opponents, or just those friends of yours who may not geek out quite as extensively? You’ve found it. Just don’t be surprised if you wind up getting hooked despite yourself. Embrace the chaos, and enjoy the ride.

SCORE

4 out of 5

Links

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Review: Sorcerer Kings

One Missed Call from Gandalf
Did I just get a text message?

Sometimes, even the loftiest of intentions can fall flat during execution if you don’t temper your ambitions with pragmatism. It kills me to write a review like this because I can’t help but admire the vision of the developer. After all, what self-respecting Pocket Tactics reader could possibly find fault with a studio that describes itself as “dedicated to the development of strategy games, made in the the spirit of classic board and miniature games, and exploiting the unique environment of multi-touch devices”? Unfortunately, praise for its creator’s mission statement is the kindest thing I have to say about iPad fantasy wargame Sorcerer Kings. There might be a half-decent game buried in here somewhere, but numerous glaring problems will prevent all but the most determined masochists from finding it.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Sorcerer Kings is that it has a distinctly beta-quality, “game creation system” feel from start to finish.  You’ll begin with a flawed and non-interactive tutorial comprised of static images that look like they were created in Skitch in about five minutes. You’ll then move on to pre-game unit selection, where you’ll build your team. The game allows you to select from three different classes of units against what appears to be an arbitrary total points allowance. However, no distinction is made between types of units until after you’ve added them to your team. It’s a painfully cumbersome interface, and it sets the tone ominously for the actual gameplay.

The control scheme can be downright infuriating at times. First and foremost, there’s no undo function. Because of the obtuse user interface, it’s quite easy to do something you didn’t intend to do. I had to start over many times because of an errant tap. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the controls don’t feel even remotely native to the touch screen interface, despite the aforementioned mission statement of the developer. Something as simple as rotating a unit relies on context menus and precision tapping, marred by guesswork. Where are the swipe gestures? There’s no clear indication of when turns end. No explanation in the tutorial of what terrain does or doesn’t do, yet your opponents always seem to gravitate toward wooded areas. According to the credits screen, play-testing was performed solely by the developer and two other people with the same last name. I think that speaks for itself.

What is this i don't even
It’s a good thing we don’t teach people how to drive with tutorials like this.

Aesthetic issues are plentiful in Sorcerer Kings. On a fourth-generation iPad, the unique and pleasingly minimalist artwork by Roberto Cruz is wasted on visual elements that are often no bigger than your pinky fingernail. I’d love to enjoy the individual art assets without resorting to using a magnifying glass. I hate to dwell on visuals in a genre that usually doesn’t need to lean on them as a crutch, but the entire presentation is a mess. Unreasonably small in-game fonts sit on distracting, low-contrast backgrounds. Units might as well be postage stamps floating around the foldout map of Britannia that was included with some mid-period Ultimas. Jarringly, unit commands and in-game alerts pop up in the standard iOS window decoration, but the endgame summary window has a semi-customized look to it. Did I mention there’s no sound? None. Zero. Not even a click when you tap to confirm you’ve selected a unit.

It’s a shame that the same care and attention that went into the art assets didn’t seem to spread to Sorcerer Kings’ user interface. This must have been a great-looking game on the drawing board – but it unfortunately needs to go back there.

SCORE

1 out of 5

Links

Review: Wild Wilf

Wild Wilf is fun, yet perplexing.
Swipe fatigue.

Think of some of your favorite classic video game puzzlers. Now imagine if they were all one game. That’s the developer’s approach to design with Wild Wilf: take the proven mechanics from several hit games of yesteryear and reconstitute them into the videogame equivalent of an everything bagel. Imagine Sokoban meets Boulderdash meets Minesweeper, with a Montezuma’s Revenge aesthetic. Now picture a “turn the tables on your enemies” element, like Pac-Man eating a power pellet. Congratulations, you’ve just envisioned Wild Wilf.

The titular Wilfred Wilde1 has embarked to the New World on a treasure hunt to restore his family’s depleted fortune, in an effort to pay off debts and adequately provide for his sweetheart Marigold. It’s a cute but sparse bit of backstory in the typically plot-starved genre of puzzle games.

The jungle aesthetics of the game are pleasing, with a decidedly retro style. I played Wild Wilf mainly on an iPhone 5, whose aspect ratio is thankfully supported by the game. On the flip side of that coin, the individual tile graphics of the game are extremely small. This makes some of the functional tiles difficult to tell apart, including ones that can get you killed if used in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Playing on an iPad is much easier on the eyes.

Just in time for charity singles season.
“We Are The Wilf”

An unusually long tutorial is used to explain the many ingredients that have been cribbed for inclusion into the game. Each level of the game involves reaching an exit, with varying combinations of obstacles thrown in your way, and often requiring the collection of items on your way. The game initially appears to be turn-based, but a few of the hazards move independently of your own movements. One type of enemy even follows your movements at a fixed pace. There’s also a time limit on each level, with bronze, silver and gold medals awarded for reaching the exit in progressively shorter amounts of time. While this is a common practice in many games, particularly on iOS, the lack of iCloud progress syncing can be annoying if you’re going to be playing on multiple devices. The omission is disappointing, especially for a universal app. Also lamentably absent is Game Center integration of any kind. No leaderboards, no achievements, so your bragging rights extend to whoever’s within earshot.

Wilf can move up, down, left or right via an incremental, “one step per swipe” movement scheme.2 While this degree of precision is necessary for some of the game’s more intricate sections, it can be downright cumbersome on the more wide-open levels. The movement scheme also unnecessarily extends beyond the core gameplay and into the menu interface. Why should the player have to swipe twenty times to scroll through a list of as many levels?

At first I was quite put off by the inclusion of a time limit. I wanted to be fair, so I approached the game on its own terms. The App Store description touts its “mix of arcade and puzzle gameplay,” so it’s clear that developer Bleepy Toy was going for a hybrid style of game. The conglomeration of different puzzle game mechanics can also be an acquired taste. Whether or not it works for you will depend on a few things. Is the decathlon your favorite Olympic event? Did you enjoy such supergroup charity songs as “We Are the World,” “Voices That Care” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” This game is to puzzlers what the Super Smash Bros. series is to fighting games. If I had to compare Wild Wilf to a single game, it would be Adventures of Lolo. And much like that 8-bit classic, Wild Wilf is by turns frustrating, delightful, and challenging.

SCORE

3 out of 5

Links

1 No relation? Wilfred Wild (1893 – 1950) was a British football manager who served as manager of Manchester City from 1932 to 1946. 

2 “Update coming soon to add alternative control method for those of you who prefer ‘Tap Anywhere’”