Week in Mobile: Monsters Invade: Oz, Gloomy Hollow, and Home

Every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll review a handful of new titles released for iOS and Android and update you on the biggest news we covered during the week.

What mobile games are you playing? Share in the comments or tweet your experiences to @wita and @GameZoneOnline.

Monsters Invade: Oz

Monsters Invade: Oz

Every so often, you hear about a Pokémon rip-off surfacing on the app stores, but here’s one that combines pocket monsters with The Wizard of Oz.

Developer Little Box has released Monsters Invade: Oz (for iOS), an incredibly bizarre game in terms of visuals and sound that assigns players quests as they follow the winding Yellow Brick Road around a colorful 2D map. Just like in Pokémon, players experience random battle encounters with monsters, only these are much more surreal — every shape and design from amorphous blobs to candy corn. Instead of elements, players must contend with colors. Good luck figuring out that system of strengths and weaknesses.

Monsters Invade is kind of fun at first. The environments contain all sorts of weird quirks (like random penguins, security cameras, and bear traps), and the quests are a fun way to remix the traditional Pokémon formula. You even literally swipe on “XP” when it appears in battle to earn it, which is just weird. But it’s kind of cool, too.

However, it quickly becomes apparent how much this free-to-play game wants you to pay — or suffer the consequences. Just about every important activity requires gold bars, which you can acquire through play or buy with real money. However, you need more than you can earn naturally. Battles work by spinning three slot wheels and stopping the pointer on the green marker. Get to three successful spins, and you’ll receive a hit multiplier. Fail to do so, and the attack will deal significantly less damage. Stop the pointer in the red on any spin, though, and you’ll miss entirely.

Also, I strongly recommend using your thumbs for this. The game didn’t register my finger taps very well.

These encounters feel rigged so that if you do score a multiplier, you kill the monster that you’re trying to catch; if you don’t, you barely dish out any damage at all. It’s hard to strike that careful balance like you would in Pokémon. After your monster endures a few hits, you have to heal, but these resources go fast. How many items it costs to fully heal your monster varies, too, so the system feels completely unfair. There’s no consistency to it.

Worse, you need gold bars to unlock new belt slots for your monsters (think Pokéballs), but you’ll be too busy using them for everything else: evolving monsters, reviving them when they faint, buying more books to capture monsters, making your dog Toto happy so he can dig for ink (which heals your party), and so forth. You have to wait for newly caught monsters to complete their initial training before you can even use them — or you can hasten the process for gold bars, of course.

download noWhen you’re completely down and out, Monsters Invade makes you wait. Or you can, you know, pay to win.

Gloomy Hollow

Gloomy Hollow

Forget Diablo. If you like the bright, cartooniness of Torchlight better, this is your game.

Gloomy Hollow (99 cents for iOS) from developer Skyrock Games and publisher Chillingo is a great-looking action-role-playing game that’s surprisingly light on your battery power. Players start off controlling Mustache Jim, a gun-slinging sheriff, but soon acquire other characters like the hammer-wielding Smithy and the agile Rosie, who uses fans and chakrams as weapons. (And there are more.) What’s most amazing, though, is that players can switch back and forth between these characters (think of them like classes in other action-RPGs) anytime, and when you gain experience, everyone benefits. That means everyone receives a fair share of skill points, and they’re always in equal standing. And while you’re playing as one character, you might pick up new equipment for another. You never have to feel like you’re abandoning one character or you're hurting your chances of success later on just because you stick with a favorite.

This is by far my favorite part of Gloomy Hollow. I wish Diablo or Torchlight gave you this kind of freedom. But the game impresses in other ways, too. Even though you’ll play many maps in one themed region (like the Marshlands, for instance), they vary greatly, so you won’t get bored with your surroundings.

The tap controls work very well. You can hold your finger down on the screen to move and tap to target enemies. Two-finger swipes activate a primary skill, and three-finger swipes use a secondary skill. You can also equip buffs.

Even better, in-app purchases are very nonintrusive. And you don’t have to worry about hoarding potions, either. Equipment either leeches life from enemies with every attack or regenerates health.

Players can advance forward to progress the game or backtrack and replay areas to gain more experience and gold or to acquire any keys (needed to open gates in levels to fully explore them — you can also use gems for this) they might have missed. They can also revisit levels to complete simple side-quests: The quest board in town lets you accept easy jobs and collect rewards like gold or experience in exchange. So there’s a lot to do. My only gripe is that there’s no minimap. However, the game does display and update your level completion in real time — showing progress for how many enemies out of the total you've killed, how many wisps you've collected, and whether you've finished the quest goal. Those are the three ways you earn keys.

download yesUnfortunately, Gloomy Hollow suffers from some nasty glitches right now. I’ve had the game lag, temporarily freeze, and even refuse to award me earned keys or register that I’ve completed side-quests. These occasional issues are very frustrating, but because the game is so fun, I’m hoping Chillingo and Skyrock will fix these problems in a patch. And 99 cents isn’t a bad price to pay for the good you get.

These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.

Honorable Mention

Home

Benjamin Rivers’ pixel-art horror-adventure indie game Home is out on the App Store now for $3. It released on PC last year. Solve a murder mystery while shaping the story with your actions and decisions.

News Highlights

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

Nvidia’s Project Shield portable Android-gaming device is coming out on June 27 for $300.

The Walking Dead: Season One and 400 Days progress will transfer over to Season Two, Telltale Games has announced.

Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition is available on iOS, Android, and PC. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons-esque game where you play as characters that are playing the game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is out on iOS for a whopping $20.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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