Reviews


If you’re used to iOS games that serve as simple time wasters that you can play to occupy your fingers and half your mind while the other half pays attention to a Law & Order rerun, you’ll have to set aside your expectations for Infinity Blade II (download Infinity Blade II for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad). Much like its predecessor, this is one of the rare mobile titles that delivers a game-console-like experience demanding your full attention to play.

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“You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks.”

Such is the basic description of Cow Clicker, a new Facebook game that definitely delivers what its title promises — the ability to click on a cow. Yes, there are a few other social game trappings thrown in there — you can invite neighbors whose cow clicks count towards your total, and you can purchase prettier cows with in-game “mooney” — but there’s really little besides the titular cow clicking to this simple parody game.

Cow Clicker Creator and Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost describes Cow Clicker as “Facebook games distilled to their essence” and in a way he’s right. Read that description from the first paragraph again. Replace “a cow” with “crops,” and “clicks” at the end with “coins” and you have a bare bones description of the basic gameplay in Facebook mega-hit Farmville. The same process can be applied to describe countless other popular social games. Cow Clicker even lets you spend mooney to skip the six-hour wait for more click opportunities, mimicking the way many other social games let you spend in-game money to avoid having to wait for rewards.

But Bogost’s simple parody utterly misses the point of social gaming in some major ways. Sure, in strict gameplay terms, there’s little to differentiate Cow Clicker from countless popular social games. But for million of players, the appeal of social games isn’t in the gameplay, but in the opportunity for world building and role-playing.

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Advergames on Facebook are nothing new — there are Facebook games marketing everything from cars to the distrubingly wholesome power of milk, and practically everything in between. But so far there hasn’t been a Facebook advergame that markets the field of marketing itself. Until now!

PoweRBrands is a creation of Reckitt Benckiser — the parent company of brands like Clearasil, Lysol and Woolite — that invites you to “use your innovative sales skills and marketing ideas to outperform your rivals, and work your way up to be President of the company.” Along the way, you’re told you’ll learn to “think and act like an RB person” and “learn something about global FMCG along the way” (that’s “fast-moving consumer goods” for those of you who aren’t already marketing professionals)

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Atari has added a social gaming twist to the latest revival of its venerable Missile Command franchise. The newest version of the game, released yesterday on social gaming hub OMGPOP, expands the city-defending, missile-destroying concept of the original with power-ups, achievements and, most importantly, an online multiplayer component.

Much like the original game, you have to shoot down incoming missiles raining down from the top of the screen with defensive missiles of your own, leading your shots to create chain reactions of circular explosive coronas in the sky. In the new version, however, your defensive turret is only one of up to eight shooting at the incoming threat, a first for the series.

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“The Hero League needs your help stopping The Silver Valkyrie from destroying Star City! Choose your super hero name and join the battle!”

So begins Hero World, the newest Facebook game from Rockyou, the publisher also responsible for dark horse hit Zoo World.

At its core, the game resembles nothing so much as a superhero-themed version of Mafia Wars, where you click buttons to perform missions, draining your energy to earn money and power points. These can, in turn, be exchanged for new equipment to make your hero more powerful (and better looking), new hideouts (to generate yet more money), new vehicles (to access new areas and missions), more powerful abilities and attacks, and more.

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As I write this, all the letters I type are slowly falling down and drifting ever so gently to the left in my mind. And I keep imagining a little figure in overalls, about two letters high and one letter wide, jumping on top of those letters as they appear, or bashing them from below to unlock valuable coins inside.

The reason for these odd hallucinations is Tuper Tario Tros., a Flash-based combination of two of the most addictive games in history — Tetris and Super Mario Bros. — into a game that … well, it isn’t quite as addictive as both games combined, but is awfully close.

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In the nearly 25 years since the first Super Mario Bros., the series has remained the Platonic ideal of the single-player platforming game. Sure, you could always hand the controller off to a second player in-between levels or lives, and Super Mario Galaxy added the ability for a second player to use the Wii Remote pointer to assist as a helper, but the Mario games were always primarily a solitary experience. Even as the industry shifted more and more toward a multiplayer focus — first with the popularity of one-on-one fighting games and more recently with the perfunctory cooperative and deathmatch modes that seem to be infecting and overtaking the cinematic single-player scenarios they’re built around — the Mario games were still tales of a man against his environment, of the struggle to get from point A to the princess at point B while avoiding the varied and imaginative pitfalls in between.

But even a series as old as Mario isn’t immune to the winds of change, and so we get New Super Mario Bros. Wii — a game that finally adds a man-vs.-man element to the man-vs.-environment simplicity, with support for “UP TO 4 PLAYERS!” as the box screams. The results are far from awful, but more than anything, New Super Mario Bros. Wii proves that when you mess with a Platonic ideal, the results may be less than ideal.

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Looking back from the end of the decade, the rhythm-game market of 2002 is practically unrecognizable. This was a time before Rock Band, before Guitar Hero, before even Karaoke Revolution pushed the genre toward the actual performance of recent, popular music. In 2002, rhythm games were dominated by follow-along gameplay and quirky Japanese musical influences. The J-pop-heavy Dance Dance Revolution series was at the top of its popularity, and occasional press-the-button-in-time-with-the-music Japanese imports like Parappa the Rapper, Space Channel 5 and Gitaroo Man dotted the landscape. In each case, following along to the beat of unfamiliar Japanese-inspired music served to limit the genre’s appeal to a small niche.

Eidos’ Mad Maestro!, a budget $20 release under the company’s short-lived “Fresh Games” label, wasn’t destined to explode this niche. How could it, with a focus on classical music, one of the only musical genres even less accessible to an American audience than J-pop? But for those paying attention, it was a unique and exciting take on a young genre that has had some subtle but profound influences on its future direction.

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There were Spider-Man games before Neversoft’s 2000 release Spider-Man. Most of them resembled the cookie-cutter brawlers of the day, with Spider-Man simply standing in for the street-tough protagonists, walking awkwardly down urban environments and punching and kicking anything that moved.

There have been plenty of Spider-Man games since Neversoft’s 2000 release. Most of them resemble Neversoft’s 2000 release.

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About as fun as a car museum.

Premise 1: Racing cars in real life is tons of fun. Premise 2: Most racing games are not very realistic portrayals of the real-life racing experience. Premise 3: Most racing games are pretty fun. Conclusion: An extremely realistic racing game will be even more fun than those other racing games.

As far as I can tell, this has been the logical motivation behind the Gran Turismo series since its start on the original PlayStation; a logic still in force for the much-anticipated PSP version of the game. But, as my logic professor used to say, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

Don’t get me wrong, Gran Turismo is as detailed a replica of real-life racing as you’re likely to get on a portable system. The years of development effort are apparent in the almost fetishistic attention to detail in almost all elements of the racing experience. It shows in the hundreds of lovingly crafted car models — ranging from million-dollar racing coupes to pickup trucks (yes, really). It shows in the dozens of accurately recreated racing locales, including city streets and race tracks but also dirt- and snow-covered rally tracks. It shows in the feeling of power and acceleration as you push your feather-light car forward with hundreds of horsepower, past scenery that seems too beautiful for a portable system. The fact that such a realistic and physical racing simulation has been packed into a handheld system is an amazing technical feat.

But none of it makes the game any more fun.

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