Zach Gage has a knack for giving classic games an interesting twist. Sometimes that means turning the rules upside down and inside out like Flipflop Solitaire or Really Bad Chess. Other times, it means removing the tedious and boring parts of games to breathe new life into them, which is precisely what he and Jack Schlesinger have accomplished with Good Sudoku.
I started with Good Sudoku as a novice. I’ve played sudoku before and knew the rules, but it’s not a game that has ever grabbed me and stuck. As a result, as much as I’ve enjoyed Gage’s other games, I approached Good Sudoku with a healthy dose of skepticism. However, after several days of playing the game, I’ve found that stripped of its tedious aspects, sudoku is engaging to the point of being addicting and a whole lot of fun.
One of the first Mac games I ever played has made a comeback on the Mac App Store. Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha is a space-themed shooter that adds an exploratory twist on Asteroids-like controls. The game is a terrific riff on a classic arcade genre, but what holds the experience together and elevates it is the hand-drawn art and soundtrack.
Sketchfigher, by developer Lost Minds, was originally published in 2006 by Ambrosia Software, a Mac game publisher with roots in the early 90s that faded from the Mac gaming scene and finally went completely offline last year. That left fans with no way to download the app or activate existing licenses.
It’s been years since I played Sketchfighter, but as you can see from my tweet, I never forgot it. So, when I stumbled across a preview trailer for a reboot of the game, I was excited. As it turns out, Lost Minds was able to get the original source code for the game, update it for modern Macs, and release it on the Mac App Store.
If you played the original game as I did, part of the reboot’s fun is the nostalgia factor. Even if you’ve never played Sketchfighter, though, it’s a wonderful classic arcade experience. The game takes the sort of doodles so many students have scribbled in notebooks as teenagers and brings them to life on the same graph paper you’d find in backpacks.
Your goal is to maneuver a spaceship through a series of zones, avoiding obstacles and weaponry, collecting items, eliminating enemies, and fighting bosses. The controls are simple. The arrow keys control the direction your ship flies, and the space bar fires your weapons. That doesn’t mean your ship is easy to control, though. Both the flight physics and ship itself reminded me of Asteroids, which works well in this context. As you fly your ship, it drifts, carried by momentum towards walls, enemies, and other obstacles that can inflict damage, eventually leading to your demise. Along your route, there are also spots to refresh your health, which are a great place to visit before a big boss fight because once your health runs out, your ship explodes.
Sketchfighter features three save slots, so dying doesn’t mean starting over from scratch every time. Also, although I’ve only played in single-player mission mode, there are also two-player co-op and competitive modes.
There isn’t too much more I can say about Sketchfighter without giving away some of the surprises in later levels, but it’s worth emphasizing that the game’s relative simplicity is elevated above other straightforward arcade shooters by its nostalgia-evoking graphics and soundtrack. The music is a relatively short loop, but it’s incredibly catchy and the sort of tune that will stick in your head for days.
With so many games gone with the transition to 64-bit apps, I was happy to see Lost Minds take the time and effort to revitalize this small but fun corner of Mac gaming history. Updating older games isn’t trivial, which is why reboots like Sketchfighter are sadly the exception rather than the rule.
The Mac is lacking as a gaming platform in a lot of ways, but it’s perfect for quirky arcade-style fun like Sketchfighter. The game runs well on my 2018 Mac mini and has never sounded better than through my Harmon Kardon Soundsticks. What’s more, Sketchfighter is a terrific diversion when you’re sitting at your Mac and need a break. I hope it’s wildly successful and gets ported to the iPad eventually, too. It would be great fun to play with an iPad Pro attached to the Magic Keyboard with Trackpad.
Dead Cells by Motion Twin landed on mobile for the first time today with its release on iOS. The game, which the Bordeaux, France-based game studio describes as a ‘rogue-lite, metroidvania action-platformer,’ has been adapted for mobile by publisher Playdigious. I’ve been playing Dead Cells on a variety of iOS devices for the past two weeks both with onscreen controls and controllers, and it’s quickly become my favorite iOS game of 2019 so far.
Dead Cells, which debuted in 2017 and is also available for consoles and PC, is not an easy game. You play as a warrior raised from the dead, battling your way through dungeon mazes. Along the way, you collect weapons, cells, which can be used to upgrade your weapons, and other items. When you die, you lose any unused cells and some of the items you’ve collected. However, other upgrades are permanent and remain intact between sessions. Combined with levels that are partially procedurally generated and provide variety between attempts to defeat enemies, the mechanic creates a fun tension that makes Dead Cells extremely hard to put down.
Worse Than Death is a narrative-driven horror game from Toronto-based Benjamin Rivers, the developer of Home. The two games share some similarities. Both games feature creepy, small-town mysteries where you play as a pixelated protagonist in a chunky-pixel world. What’s different about Worse Than Death is that it interweaves comic book-style, hand-drawn art throughout the story including cut scenes, when examining objects, and for dialogue. It’s a unique style that helps bring the characters and their surroundings to life in a way that pixel art alone can’t.
In Worse Than Death you play as Holly, who has returned home from the city to attend her high school reunion. When she arrives in town, she stops by the local bar where she meets with Flynn, an old friend who we learn was engaged to a woman named Grace before she died in an accident.
I don’t want to spoil the story, but what seems like a typical reunion when Holly and Flynn arrive turns out to be anything but ‘typical.’ Soon you’re racing around town faced with a growing number of gruesome deaths and chased by unseen monsters from whom you need to hide to survive.
The game does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension as it progresses. I found myself jumping more than once as unexpected things happened during the game. As you make your way through the town trying to solve the mystery of what has happened, you face a series of puzzles that get progressively harder to solve, but clues are everywhere, so be sure to examine everything.
The gameplay is simple. Tap the left and right sides of the screen to walk that direction and double tap to run. Examining objects and interacting with other elements of the game is as simple as tapping icons that appear around Holly.
Worse than Death also supports MFi controllers. The onscreen controls aren’t difficult to use, but with a narrative game like Worse Than Death, I like to lean back with a controller with my iPad Pro in the Brydge Pro Keyboard so I can get the angle just right and relax. The SteelSeries Nimbus’ thumbstick and buttons were perfect for exploring the game.
I also highly recommend playing while listening with headphones. The sound design is fantastic and an integral part of the tension built by the story. Sounds come at you from every direction thanks to a 3D audio track that’s a perfect match to the game.
I also love the hand-drawn art and the way it contrasts with the pixelated gameplay. It’s a combination that makes Worse Than Death stand out from other action adventure games and succeeds in conveying strong character emotions, which adds to the tension that builds through the game. What’s more, the many hand-drawn images used in the game were drawn entirely on an iPad Pro using the app Procreate. Here’s a time-lapse that developer Benjamin Rivers posted on Twitter of the art being created:
It’s a testament to the iPad Pro and Procreate that such a large part of this game’s artwork could be done using the combination.
The hand-drawn artwork in Worse Than Death was created on an iPad Pro using Procreate.
I’m not usually a fan of horror games, but I love a good mystery and puzzles, which Worse Than Death delivers on. With simple gameplay and story-driven action, Worse Than Death is like a creepy mystery you take with you on summer vacation. Wrapped in terrific artwork and absorbing sound design, Worse Than Death is a game that shouldn’t be missed.
Today, HandCircus, the creator of Rolando, has released an excellent remastered version of the classic iOS game called Rolando: Royal Edition.
If you were playing iOS games in the early days of the App Store, you are probably familiar with Rolando. The game wasn’t on the Store day one but came a few months later at the end of 2008.
Rolando was one of the early break-out hits on the App Store. The game was downloaded by millions of fans worldwide who loved its colorful, round characters. Rolando was also one of the first games to incorporate the iPhone’s accelerometer into its gameplay in a way that was tightly integrated with the game instead of feeling gimmicky.
However, the original game was a victim of Apple’s 2017 transition to a 64-bit architecture. Although many cherished classics were updated in time, a large number of games fell by the wayside. Until today, one of the most beloved of those titles was Rolando.
Tropico is a franchise that’s been around since 2001, but today marks its first time on an iOS device courtesy of Feral Interactive. Ruling a banana republic in the Caribbean as El Presidente is a natural fit for the iPad’s touch interface. Whether you’re navigating around your island nation or building out its infrastructure, touch makes the interaction with the game’s environment feel natural and tactile in a way that pointing and clicking with a mouse or trackpad can’t. Add a steady pace of challenges to overcome as a leader, and the results are terrific.
With Game of Thrones on hiatus before its eighth and final season, fans can get their fix of their favorite characters and join in the intrigue with Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was developed by UK-based Nerial and published by Devolver Digital. The announcement of the game in August came as something of a surprise because it’s not often that a media company the size of HBO entrusts the characters and story behind one of its most popular shows to a small independent game studio. At the same time, however, the combination felt like a perfectly natural evolution of the Reigns series. Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was released today, doesn’t disappoint.
It’s not often that a game grabs me and won’t let go the way Holedown has. Once I started playing, I couldn’t stop. I have the iOS 12 Screen Time reports to prove it. Even when I’d burned through all of the game’s levels reaching the final endless one, I kept coming back for more. Holedown has very quickly earned a spot as one of my all-time favorite iOS games.
Like most great mobile games, Holedown is simple. The game is a little like Breakout turned upside-down with a dash of pinball added. Each level begins on the surface of a planet. The object is to bore a hole through to the planet’s core by launching balls that bounce off of obstacles that advance up the screen with each turn you take. If the obstacles reach the surface without being cleared, you have to start over and try again with a new procedurally-generated level.
The obstacles moving up the screen are reminiscent of Tetris blocks, but each has a hit count that shows how many more ball collisions are necessary to take it out. Some blocks fall if the blocks supporting them are eliminated, but others have to be cleared regardless of the surrounding blocks.
As you launch balls, they bounce off the blocks and sides of the screen. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of the precise aiming that is done by dragging your finger across the screen. When you’re ready to shoot, lift your finger and the balls go careening across the screen bouncing helter-skelter off everything in their way.
As you play, you collect crystals. Holedown is a one-time, paid-up-front game, so the only way to collect the crystals is to play the game over and over. There is no In-App Purchase. As you collect crystals, they can be exchanged for enhanced gameplay like the ability to fire more balls at the start of each turn, take more shots per level, and more.
As you play, Holedown tracks the depth of your mine, your progress towards the core of the planet, how many balls you can shoot at one time, and how many shots you have left. It’s information that serves the dual purpose of showing where you are in the level and helping you plan your next move.
When you get to the final level, called the Black Hole, there is no core and you can shoot an unlimited number of balls at the obstacles. The only goal left is to see how deep you can mine before the blocks crash to the surface. I finished the other levels of Holedown over the course of a Saturday afternoon, and though I’ve been playing the Black Hole level for over a week now, the challenge of seeing how deep I can dig and the perfectly balanced gameplay have keep me coming back over and over.
Holedown also benefits from a strong dose of quirky personality. There’s a little mascot that sits in the corner of the screen smiling and watching you play. If you tap it, the little creature responds with things like ‘eat your vegetables,’ ‘seize the means of production,’ and ‘work, work.’
The music plays a big role in Holedown’s feel too. The catchy electronic soundtrack pairs perfectly with the sound effects, both of which react to events in the game, which adds further life to the gameplay.
Holedown is a perfect example of a well-designed mobile game. Even if you’re deep into a long session, you can quit at any time and pick up where you left off later without losing any progress. Combined with the quirky, fun gameplay, it’s one of the hardest games to put down that I’ve ever played on iOS. If you haven’t tried it yet, Holedown should be at the top of your must-play-games list.
Zach Gage has earned a reputation by taking time-tested but tired classic games and reinventing them for mobile. Past hits from Gage like Flip Flop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess, and Typeshift zero in on what is fun about classic games and add a twist that breathes new life them. Pocket Run Pool is no different.