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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Short 'n sweet reviews: Shantae, Battle Ages, Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge, Apestorm, Disney Magical Dice

Reviews by Matt S.

Welcome to this week’s short ‘n sweet reviews, where I look at a number of games that I’ve been playing that I just haven’t got the time to do give full reviews to. These aren’t necessarily bad games – not at all! But rather they are smaller or shorter games, or they might be free-to-play and therefore don’t really need a review at all. But because I love you all so much I review 'em anyway.

Enjoy! And be sure to let us know what games you are playing at the moment in the comments.

Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Sony PlayStation 4)

This is the pinnacle of the Shantae series to date. Even with that poor last level that fellow DDNetter, Matt C. would kill me for not mentioning, Shantae’s adventures in Pirate's Curse turns the humour, personality, character, and platforming variety up to 11. I loved this game on the Nintendo Wii U, and it’s every bit as good on the PlayStation 4.

Where the previous Shantae on console was an upscaled port of a handheld title, and therefore featured some sharp concessions on the big screen, such as borders on either side of the screen as it wasn’t a widescreen title, and massive pixels that you could always expect when the game is blown up a few hundred times over, this Shantae is a more native beast on the console hardware.
It’s still pixelated and clearly designed in such a way that it would work on handhelds as well, and I am still very much waiting for Shantae to make her way into a full HD environment, like what Wayforward achieved with its reboot of Duck Tales, but this is nevertheless a step up. Shantae drips with personality, character design drips with humour and a Middle Eastern-style playful sexiness, and the environments are exquisite in their detail.

Platforming is tight and varied, and the plot matches the lighthearted tone of the rest of the game. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse is a spirited little game, and by far the best 2D platformer on the PlayStation 4 to date.

Battle Ages (Sony PlayStation 4)

I don’t understand why a developer would want to produce Clash of Clans game for PlayStation 4. I honestly do not understand it. With all respect due to Clash of Clans (and I do think it deserves respect), it really is the kind of game that you slap on your phone or iPad and play for a couple of minutes at a time while watching a movie on TV. Battle Ages is, by being on the PlayStation 4, going to be the actual focus of attention, and this gameplay just doesn’t hold up for that.

As with all Clash of Clans games, Battle Ages is broken up into two sections. You’ll spend the bulk of your time building up a little settlement, by placing down buildings, and then waiting for timers to tick down so you can do something with them. One building generates cash, for example, and you’ll need to wait an hour or so for that building to finish doing that, so you can use the cash to build more buildings.
You also construct defences in this town “mode,” because the second part of the game involves building armies and then attacking other player’s settlements. This is where every flaw of the game becomes so perfectly apparent. While you can place your armies down on the map where you like, once they’re on the ground you can no longer control them. The AI patterns they behave to are atrocious, too, and they will never attack the most strategically wise enemy defences or structures.

In other words, it’s a RTS game without any strategy, and a town building simulator with endless timers to deal with. The fact that I needed to use premium-currency gems within the first hour of play or be stuck having to exit the game to wait for the cash to build up to do something else. And a game you need to exit every half hour is not really a game that works on a console.

Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge (Nintendo 3DS)

This is surely Nintendo’s most aggressive attempt to date to push amiibo on players. It’s a full featured game and entry into the minis puzzler franchise that has proven successful for Nintendo over the years, but unless you have every single amiibo that the game supports then you’re going to miss out on content.

And that’s not a good thing. Free-to-play only ever works as a concept if its constructed in such a way that it’s possible to complete the game without needing to spend money. If people then want to; either to gain superficial features or perhaps speed their progress through the game some, then that’s a perfectly reasonable trade off for the game being free.

But in this game, most of the content is locked out. Each amiibo that is compatible with the game introduces one new playable character, and each of those characters have abilities that only they can make use of – Toad can crawl through gaps, Yoshi can each enemies. These abilities are necessary to unlock and then complete a whole bunch of levels. Even on the levels that any character can complete there are cards that can unlock star levels that can only be accessed by one specific character.

This is the meat of the game. It’s not bonus levels, but rather the overwhelming bulk of the game. With ten different characters you’re looking at over $Aus150 in purchases if you don’t own enough amiibo yet. It’s a good game, with some clever, creative puzzle design that takes the Lemmings-like inspiration for the series about as far as it would be possible to push it, and all those different amiibo special abilities do give a lot of variety to the puzzles, but it’s little nasty for Nintendo to hold back a full experience unless you’ve got over a hundred dollars worth of toys.

Apestorm (Apple iPhone)

Apestorm is a clever little mobile phone game. It is simple, but it’s also supported with solid mechanics and some gorgeous production values.

Anyone who likes steampunk will want to check this game out for its aesthetics alone. You take on the role of a pilot of a steampunk-themes blimp, and are tasked with dropping bombs on buildings and other locations in order to inflict the most amount of damage possible in a single run. If you think of Angry Birds, but replace the elastic “pull back and let go” mechanics with sidescrolling action, you’re not that far off. You’ll still need to perfectly account for trajectories as the bombs start falling, and it can be equally as maddening to try to meet every possible objective in a given level.

The game controls simply, but elegantly. You’ve got complete control over horizontal movement, and also vertical speed, and you’ll need to make use of all these movement options in order to navigate through the levels, while at all times remaining cognizant that each adjustment will affect where the bombs will fall.

The amount of precision required in the later levels borders on the ridiculous, but the game controls well and never feels unfair. Apestorm isn’t a classic game by any means, but it’s a well constructed and visually striking little time waster – something that’s unfortunately a dime a dozen on mobile app stores these days.

Disney Magical Dice (Apple iPhone)

Disney’s on a bit of a roll at the moment with the mobile games. A couple of weeks ago it launched the excellent Disney Crossy Road. Now it has also released Magical Dice, a highly streamlined take on the classic Monopoly with plenty of Disney charm to it.

Your pieces are Disney characters, pulled from a massive range of different franchises, and each comes with his/her own statistics and abilities. There’s an element of grinding-or-pay-to-win, in that the better characters are easier to obtain through a premium currency lucky draw, but you will start out with characters that are good enough to get you through most of the game – obtaining these extra characters is more for decoration than anything else.

As with Monopoly, you’ll roll dice, move around a board, buy properties and hope you don’t land on your opponent’s. As a streamlined take on the game, however, victory conditions come much quicker, waits between turns are just seconds, and games are over in minutes, not hours. You’re also given some limited control over the dice results, so the element of luck is removed from the basic game a little.

Disney Magical Dice isn’t quite the immediately addictive experience that its Crossy Road predecessor is, but it is still a highly entertaining little mobile game, and it’s really difficult to resist that Disney magic.

- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld

Short 'n sweet reviews: Shantae, Battle Ages, Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge, Apestorm, Disney Magical Dice
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