Archive | October 2011

Mage Gauntlet

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Over the weekend I found myself drawn into the recently released Mage Gauntlet on the iPhone. I won’t be the first to state the game’s blatant winks to the 16-bit RPG adventures, like Square’s Seiken Densetsu 3 and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on the SNES, in terms of aesthetic and narrative.

The gameplay is as expected: from an overhead view, jaunt around, swing your sword at plants and creatures, pick up objects that power up your offense, complete some tasks as you work your way through the levels, and get snippets of the game’s narrative as you go along. This isn’t the first time we’ve been in this homage territory on the iPhone (Zenonia springs to mind) but interviews with the game’s creators Rocketcat stated they wanted to get the gameplay right, and be focused on it being an iOS centric game.

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How does it shape up? The graphics are smashing pixel art, that do look like a 16-bit RPG, and it’s a style that comes through well on the iPhone. Like Sword and Sworcery the graphics are not completely lo-res, with an infusion of the iPhone’s natural resolution on elements like fonts and hit indicators and enhance emphasis. Subtle but helps with clarity on those. Colour is well used, there’s some good definition. Although there’s always the sneaking feeling you’ve seen most of it before you do want to know what comes next. It’s not all surprising, but there’s some neat turns especially in the bosses.

The music as well is spot on, each level with its own distinct theme, dripping in the genre nods, although easily repetitive if you spend a bit of time mooching round some of the later larger levels.

The gameplay itself is engaging, at least initially, drawing you into the story which drives the episodic level-by-level approach. The overarching plot is touched upon on in most levels, and then some levels carry their own specific story lines – the pig farmer and hero exchanges are a hoot, an episode within an episode. Some levels “mini plot” isn’t so great, and there’s too much emphasis on repeating the same response/joke throughout the level until some end of level resolution. The overall plot developments usually have to be gleaned by finding glowing books – a shame the characters you meet can’t have offered more of that. The main story arch lays down hints early on that all is not what it seems, possibly too early, and this takes away some of the lure to push on through the levels.

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The levels are, in the main fun, to head round and explore. The linear storyline means you’re not bombing around a massive map a la Legend of Zelda. There’s a couple of levels where the difficulty level spikes alarmingly, noticeably an orc based level, which reduces an intriguing wander, discover, and fight balance into run-through-the-level-as-quickly-as-possible, distracting from exploring. Also the balance between wandering, fighting, and plot continuation seems to lack overall rhythm.

The collection of new weapons and accessories is an obvious reward, but they’re fun to use. While the collection of hats is fun, they’re a moot point other than marking certain achievements. The ability to equip only before you enter a level means some forethought (or luck that they’ll be suitably effective). The RPG aspect of the game is pretty skimpy, three character attributes that need upgrading – that’s it. While making the game accessible, these attributes, what they do, and how you increase them aren’t explained sufficiently for a newcomer nor carry enough to engage a more hardened fan of the Square games this closest resembles. That’s a tight audience that a) knows some stuff, but b) doesn’t want a lot.

The controls are one of Mage Gautlet’s big pluses though and show that it has been thought about as a iOS centric game. The default “swipe” based movement system is a massive improvement on iPhone games that attempt to replicate a fixed joystick/joypad. The only issue, as ever, is the obstruction of the screen by your finger.

Essentially a lot of these RPG games on the iPhone (and beyond) are a tedious homage. Mage Gauntlet isn’t perfect, but it is a pretty fine effort. No doubt the basis laid down here will mean scope for a pretty fine sequel – or even update – from the learnings of what is right and what is wrong. But as it is, it’s a game well worth the time looking into and giving up some hours for.

It’ll be faster with an app, yeah Facebook?

Pick up my iPhone 3G. Open Safari. Choose the Facebook bookmark. Greeted by this suggestion:

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Thanks for that handy tip, FB.

Just a quick point: the reason I use the mobile site? On my (admittedly now bottom end) iPhone, Wifi or 3G connection, the mobile site is notably faster than your app, even with the recently relaunched UI.

The only app based function I may have used is uploading photos – but I’m an Instagram addict, it connects to the Facebook API, so my mum can still get her visual updates of her grandkids with one extra tap while I’m saving away my shots to my Flickr account, no probs.

The speed difference between the Facbook app and mobile site is such I stopped using the app to the point of redundancy – and deleted it. Wobble wobble wobble, tap, gone.

If only I was to do that to my Facebook presence completely. Maybe one day, when I get bored of the new timeline masking my compulsory behaviour to give up yet more personal data to the Zuck empire.

When mobile geolocation games tell a story

I’ve been hammering Foursquare over the past couple of months, finally giving up on my on-off relationship with Gowalla. I love you Gowalla, you sleek, sexy thing – it’s just you’re just too slow. I want to CHECK IN, and then get on with what I am there for, not wait around while you load each page like a multi-level multi-load C64 game. On tape.

Foursquare’s user base is significanty larger than Gowalla’s, a major draw as it’s not the competitive edge of “playing” Foursquare that I am in it for. Mayorships? Pah! It’s the recommendations for me, the discovery of somewhere new based on someone’s say so. Word of mouth, your friends’ endorsement is a compelling draw. Seeing when Foursquare will join up with something like Qype and aggregate all these reviews and add immediate relevance. Anyway…

One of the beautiful aspects that geolocation apps give is the opportunity to tell a story. (Gowalla clearly recognised this with their recent refocus. Still slow though.) And while there’s some distance to go before the remarks and ratings are a cohesive and more immediate whole (and have a wider relevance and usefulness) these apps have the opportunity to present themselves as “digital graffiti”.

I regularly go through Leeds train station. A stop at Starbucks lets me check in and see that the card machine is slow and it’s alright as train station Starbucks go. With the wet weather I occasionally take shelter in the Wetherspoons while I wait for my bus, and enjoy a cheapish pint.

For some reason I haven’t checked into the Wetherspoons through Foursquare until today. After all, what man seeks the virtual mayorship of a, um, Wetherspoons.

A shame, as the pub threw up this fine note when I checked in tonight.

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Truly this is the digital equivalent of scrawling on the toilet wall.