Week in Mobile: Castle Champions, Roll: Boulder Smash, and a 20-year anniversary
Every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll feature a handful of new titles released for iOS/Android and update you on the biggest news we covered that week.
Last time, Sonic dashed onto the App Store and Google Play. Now, we ruled castles, shot zombies until dawn, and squashed a lot of cows.
Wars are expensive. Someone needs to train all those soldiers, heal them when they’re wounded, and supply victory feasts -- or, I assume, condolence meals to boost morale when the winning streak ends.
That’s the foundation of Castle Champions (free for iOS) by Gamenauts, the San Francisco-based studio behind management games Restaurant Rush and Burger Rush, and Artlogic Games, which makes massively multiplayer titles like Epic War Saga. Players oversee a medieval castle, whose forces charge out to bloody the battlefield every few minutes, literally.
The time in between is occupied with expanding the fortifications upward, like building layers of a stone-walled cake, as well as renting rooms to tenants, selling goods for money and strengthening the troops. That means tending to the elevator, restocking workers with items, leveling up the rank of soldiers, sending party members on quests for rewards, fending off intruding monsters, and other tasks.
That may sound more exciting than it actually is. Castle Champions takes a very dismissive approach to its lengthy and confusing tutorial, in which a miniature hand points to various buttons and sections of the screen. You click; it points again. Virtually no context is given.
So when the visitors to my castle want to go up the elevator, I pull them up to the floor they desire. I let them off either on the left or right side -- it doesn’t seem to matter. Once the vacancies in the housing sections are full, the only sensible choice is to usher citizens into the stores, where they’ll spend cash on an endless conveyor belt of consumerism. Where they go after they reach the edge of the screen, I couldn’t begin to guess.
The people that come and go are distinguishable enough in design, but I can’t tell my squires from my archers unless I’m organizing them into teams, where I can see their names and levels. Any other time, we’re strangers. I send them out into battle and cross my fingers. Whether we do well or poorly feels like it's up to chance. And when they’re fighting the enemy, they’re doing it without my creative leadership.
Medieval life is boring. I’m abandoning my virtual people.
Yet Another Zombie Defense
It’s hard for one man to survive a zombie apocalypse, let alone take it on himself. But that seems to be the premise of Marcin Draszczuk’s Yet Another Zombie Defense from two-man Polish developer Awesome Games Studio.
The title debuted on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, and now it costs $1.99 on the App Store. Like many quality games, it lets you jump right into the action. While there’s lots of it, the structure is very basic. Your lone gunman stands around a lamppost in the middle of the night, and it’s the only object in sight. Zombies file in from the darker, inaccessible regions of the screen, but players can use the left touch stick to roam around freely. You’ll need every inch.
Morning, if you live to see it, is a chance to use all the money you collected from kills to purchase new weapons, ammo (if pick-ups weren’t enough), and fortifications. The cash stream is steady and consistent, and items frequently go on sale in the store, giving you an excuse to try out different goods.
Surviving depends on stocking the best weapons and enough ammo, as well as concentrating on building a strong defense by strategically placing blockades. Zombies can break through, of course, and with each night that passes, they come in greater numbers and are faster and deadlier than before.
The simplicity and open-ended nature of play is what makes Yet Another Zombie Defense -- which isn’t the least bit pretentious -- so addictive and fun. The virtual dual sticks work well for the most part, but the shooting mechanism can be difficult to aim, and movement sometimes grinds to a halt as your left thumb slides out of range. The game usually switches you to the next available gun once you run out of ammo, but sometimes it forces players to do this manually while also trying to outmaneuver the hungry undead.
The pistol is equipped with an infinite stash of bullets, though, so it’s reliable even when zombies are encroaching from all sides. The overwhelming hordes are part of the fun; eventually, you’re going to lose. That’s a fact of the apocalypse. But damn if you don’t try to blast your way to one more sunrise.
Roll: Boulder Smash!
History has long consisted of one disagreement after another, with neighbors turning their angry words to fists. The winners conquered, and the losers dwindled out as their whole civilizations turned to rubble. Nowhere along that timeline was a boulder with a serious vendetta.
Roll: Boulder Smash! (99 cents on iOS) by developer All Things Media changes history by letting players weed out even the most formidable foes -- the ones otherwise fit for genetic survival. The goofy opening shows an ugly bug startling a tribesman and triggering a chain reaction that launches a boulder from its resting place and onto an endless path of destruction through the ages.
The boulder doesn’t discriminate between potential casualties; the rivalries between Aztecs and Spanish, cowboys and Indians (and aliens), and even kraken and Vikings are but mere squabbles of trivial concern. Instead, any object -- living or inanimate -- is possible fodder. Other rocks are excused from the rampage, of course.
Players steer the boulder either by tilting their device or aiming a virtual joystick, and it’s good to have both options. Sometimes levels feel more suited to one method or the other depending on the degree of precision that’s needed. Changing over when you’re experiencing trouble can help tremendously.
Each cartoony world uses a different theme, populating its stages with the appropriate kinds of animals, culture groups, and buildings. Flattening them and keeping up combos induces a delight similar to playing the Katamari games, only here you’re crushing things rather than forming Franken-monster balls of organic matter and debris.
Roll also includes a Challenge mode, but it’s not nearly as engaging as the main campaign. Each level of the latter provides tips and clues for maximum carnage at the starting line, but you can also skip straight to the manic rolling.
The fast-paced experience is only hobbled by having to earn the requisite two stars to advance, which takes away a lot of what makes the game so good: smashing for fun, not because you’re fulfilling a body count.
These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.
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