golden arrow

This Golden Arrow hits its Mark – Review and Developer Interview

The mobile gaming space that was once dominated by Gameboys and Atari Lynxes (Ha!) has now been supplanted by iPhone and Android devices. Graphic advancements, miniaturization of  arcade classics and new twists on genres have made the mobile platform a force to be reckoned with. One of the most popular genres in “phone gaming” has been the “Endless Runner” one. Games like Canabalt, Temple Run, and Jetpack Joyride have been downloaded millions of times and have been on the top of numerous mobile “best-of” lists.

Their main objective is to jump or run through a space while collecting objects and avoiding falling or hitting obstacles. They are the best kinds of games for quick gaming sessions and scoreboard junkies because they scratch the “I don’t have lots of time to game” itch.  I can’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve eaten up trying to beat friends and family in my chase to be number one. For all that said, the runner grind of the collection can also be a bit boring at times. I’ve stopped playing just as many of these games because they don’t add anything to the experience besides the usual run, jump, rinse, and repeat.

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Luckily while at IndieCade East this year I came across a game that wanted to do something different with the runner genre. During the game slam, a young woman named Jenna walked up to the podium and gave a quick presentation about her game called “The Golden Arrow,” a game in which a bad-ass, monster-killing princess is the protagonist. My ears perked up and on screen was a retro, 8-bit-styled runner game that added a narrative to the timeless runner formula. I knew that I wanted to find out more about the game, and she said it would be hitting the iTunes store in the upcoming weeks.

I got my hands on the game and let me say, it really is a great game. Monster & Glitch, the one woman indie development studio headed by Jenna Hoffstein, makes a game that combines a fun, accessible playing foundation, delightful and propelling soundtrack with a charming narrative that both makes the game stand out and pushes the player forward.

The mechanics are straightforward: varying presses of the screen will determine height and duration of your jump over and across multiple platforms. Various objects will be put in your way to stop your journey, but through some quick responses and some help from smart game design you can extend your runs and get closer to your monster-killing goals.

Your score increases the longer you run but the twist is in how the story unfolds. After you run a certain distance you will receive a scroll that gives you another part of the narrative. In most runner games your progress resets after you die, but in Golden Arrow your runs are cumulative from one scroll to the next. So you will only have to travel the distance remaining after your last death. Being able to “pick up” from where you left off makes the game such a delight to play and keeps you engaged in the process. It totally removes the potential frustration that can happen in a game like this.

You can gain running speed by jumping into stars on the playfield. More important are the randomly placed rocks that you see in the world. I found that running into them slowed you down and gave you a little more control over jumping, especially if you need to make multiple jumps on a platform. Once I learned to slow down it exponentially lengthened my runs and thus my high scores. I was tops on the leaderboards for about ten minutes, until being dethroned. (Brianna, Jest, and Marmarh I’m coming for you!!)

Golden Arrow’s music also is a highlight. Wonderful vocals fill the start and story screens while pulsating chiptunes push you along your trek. Wait until you get to the 6,000 meter mark and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The story of the princess who finds her prince has been commonplace in many an enchanted tale, but there are a couple of poignant story bits there for discovery. I won’t spoil them but will say that some of them surprisingly touched me on a personal level. Once you finish the tale, you will appreciate the care with which Jenna weaves her story together.

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Golden Arrow is great because it doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel, and in many respects it didn’t need to. What I believe sets this game apart from many of the games on the market is that it didn’t try to hook me with micro-transactions or time gates. It got me hooked by giving me addictive gameplay wrapped in a fun and engaging story. I suggest everyone pick up this game on the iTunes store for the low, low price of $.99.

Also I had the chance to sit down and chat with Jenna Hoffstein and talk about the game and how it was to develop The Golden Arrow. Check out our exclusive interview here:

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Comedy Central’s Indecision: How Elections Should Be Done

In an effort to both get away from the 24-hour news cycle and prove my superior knowledge of random trivia, I downloaded the new iOS/Android game from Comedy Central and 2KPlay called “Indecision”.

The game starts with the three factions (Republicans, Democrats and Independents) on rising bars to show whose group is leading the race. This is determined by how many users have won their games based on which party they’ve chosen. You then choose your lovely avatar and customize them with all the adornments you have at your disposal. As you can see below my faux me looks amazing with his smart bowler hat and 500˚ suntan.

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Once your frankenyou is done, jumping into a game is super easy. You can play random people or, if you’ve connected your Facebook account, snagging a willing friend to play is a snap as well. Unlike many FB-connected games, this one is way less intrusive than most and will not bug you asking you multiple times for help. (Thank you 2K.)

The goal of the game is to answer questions so that you can collect “voters” to place upon a map of the United States. Each state has a number attributed to it, and the first person to 100 wins the game and helps their political party overall.

What I really like and appreciate about the game is that the questions aren’t just about recent politics. There have been questions that have gone as far back as the 60’s. This feels like it gives everyone a pretty fair playing field to work with when answering questions. I am no history buff but have done pretty well with trivia from the B.K. Era (Before Kahlief).

If you are having trouble figuring out which Vice President couldn’t spell “potato”, you have the option of using the game’s version of “life-lines”. Politically and aptly named the “Investigative Committee” and “Ballot Peek”.

You can use these as many times as you want as long as you have the money to spend on them. You can use money for life-lines and to purchase new wares for your avatar. You can earn in-game money by leveling up.

The best tactics you can use in your quest for continental domination are your “Political Aides”

These tools can be implemented to give your side a quick boost or turn the tide if you are down big.

The Filibuster: slows your opponent down when they are answering a question. This is super helpful in case of ties — the tie breaker is determined by who answered their questions the fastest.

The Recount: instantly gives you an extra three markers to place on the map.

The Smear Campaign: randomly will take a state away from your opponent.

I’ve come from behind a couple of rounds by using one or a combination of these. You have to choose wisely though because once you do they will not be available to you for a couple of rounds.

Indecision is really fun — asynchronous games like this are perfect for mobile devices. You will at some point find that you are running into repeat questions but at the end of the day you get an awesome experience that is totally free.

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BLADEPAD

The BladePad-Virtual Sticks Might Have Met Their Match

While doing my usual morning websurfing I found a link to a awesome article about a new peripheral for your iPhone. The Bladepad from Bladepad LLC has started looking for funding via Kickstarter for their combo Bluetooth gamepad/case.

Their Kickstarter page lists some of the specs and features of the control pad, here are some of them below:

– Dual Analog Sticks

– Full Console Controller Button Layout (D-pad, ABXY buttons, Start, Select, L1, L2, R1, R2)

– Full Back-Lighting (D-pad, Analogs sticks, ABXY buttons) that can be turned on or off during gameplay

– Premium Protective Case, which features a completely smooth back (no awkward bumps or raises)

– Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy Connection

– Micro USB Charging Port

– Dual Charging Cable; Charge both your iPhone and Bladepad at the same time!  (Plug the standard USB end into a power source and the other end of the cord splits into a standard 30 pin charger for your iPhone and a micro USB for Bladepad)

As of  today they are at around 11k or their 55k goal. With a deadline of August 26th they are going to need a bunch of help getting the word out. Having harped on how awful virtual sticks are and how they are killing the viability of the mobile gaming space, I really hope they succeed in getting to their goals.

I also wonder how many devs will jump on board if they see this add-on gaining momentum. It would be great to see what they could do with a “real” way to control games.

What do you think of this project? Would you back it? Let us know in the comments below and spread the word. Here is there Twitter Account

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Wizorb Makes Old School Cool Again

Retro games seem to be making quite the comeback these days; whether it be mechanically or graphically, the trend to go old school is everywhere. The lovely folks at Tribute Games not only went retro, they went retro mash-up.

Wizorb is an awesome mix of both RPG elements and a brick-breaker game. I know at first that might sound awkward but Tribute pulls it off without a hitch.

The game takes place in the magical land of Gorudo, where a unknown evil presence has invaded and demolished the village. You step in as the character Cyrus, a wizard who can control light, dark, and the mysterious magic called “Wizorb”.

The brick-breaker elements are pretty straightforward with a couple of subtle twists. The circle button will increase your side-to-side speed, helping you bounce back those obtuse angled returns while the square (light magic) and “x” button (dark magic) use your powers.

You will use them both a great deal, depending on how much magic you have left and what the situation is at the time. The way the developers integrated the use also added an awesome twist to the mechanics. If you time your button press when the orb hits your paddle you will get different results. For instance, if you hit the light magic button at the right time, the ball becomes a fireball that will demolish a bunch of blocks at once. With the X button the ball will stop in mid-flight and will be controllable with the D-Pad. This helps with trying to hit those hard to reach and out of the way blocks.

Check out this video for a better look:

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Coupled with RPG elements like collecting power-ups, enemies, and boss battles, this game brings something new to both genres and makes it a total breath of fresh air to the mobile gaming space.

Here is an example of one of the earlier boss battles:

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All this coupled with a lush and beautiful 8-bit graphical style and soundtrack makes this one of my favorite games of the year. There is enough of a challenge through the 5 areas to keep people busy while also not frustrating the player. I appreciate that especially because I play the game during my 20 minute commute. It seems like just enough time to get through a couple of stages and save my game.

Wizorb has cemented my want to see anything and everything that Tribute Games will do in the future. Thank you for making old school cool again.

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They’re playing Basketball..

With the basketball season now underway after the proposed lockout, NBA fans find themselves in the throes of the season. I love basketball and also love playing its digital counterpart. 2K Sports have held the championship belt in the b-ball gaming space for the past couple of years and have now embarked on a really ambitious endeavor: the mobile gaming market.

After playing with the game for a couple of weeks now I can say a couple of things. I appreciate the attention to detail that 2K places in all of its sports games. They pay attention to a painstaking amount of “little things” that many gaming companies leave on the cutting room floor. You can see it in their graphics, sound and gameplay, but when porting from a PC/Console version to a handheld device you also expect some degradation in all those things. This is the case with NBA 2k12 for mobile.

I wondered how their award winning game would translate to both a smaller screen and to the touch controls that iOS devices employ. I would say that for as much game as they put into this version it is hampered by the usual touch-control schemes that plague most action-based, touch-based games. There are two versions of control that you can use, “Classic” and “One Touch” controls.

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The classic controls use a virtual stick and virtual buttons for both movement, passing and shooting. Using this option gives you the most control over your players but on a smaller device takes up way too much screen real estate to let you see what you are doing half the time. I would assume that this is lessened on the iPad or any compatible tablets, but unless you have one of those devices you are going to have a rough time playing the game with these controls. They just aren’t responsive and make you feel like the game isn’t able to keep up with what you want to do. Player movement seemed sluggish, the offenses didn’t move realistically and the ability to play on ball defense seemed to be lacking in many areas.

Your other option is actually a lot better but you then lose manual control of your players all together. The “one-touch” controls basically let the AI control all movement but lets you pass and shoot. Although this sounds terrible it actually makes the game more playable, but also takes a bunch of the fun out of the game. The ability to switch on defense goes away and the AI doesn’t move the offense intelligently, so although you can now see your players better you now have a team full of NBA zombies who can’t figure out how to move when they have the ball and don’t know how to get open for a shot. Nor can they defend in any way that makes sense or is helpful.

With all that said, I think that they do put a lot of things into the game that I didn’t expect. The presentation is still very good with very cool camera cuts and replays. Player faces are pretty true to life and they do have several play modes that include full season, playoffs (with playoff-specific commentary) and auto-updated rosters. I also think that this is a great stepping stone for what could be an amazing handheld experience but they have lots of work to do. There are overlapping audio glitches, graphical glitches and their roster updates could be more timely. I think if they get these things handled it could be awesome for next year.

What I would really love 2K to work on would be a PS Vita version. I think that could seriously be great — you would have the fidelity, processing power and dedicated buttons to really have the control you want from a sports game.

For those who are wondering if they should pick this up, I would say to pass on it, or at least download the lite version of the game on the iTunes store. Although there is potential there, I would suggest you keep your wallet in your pocket.

If you have any comments on the game or the article please leave comments or feedback in the section below and if you liked it, please share.

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