Blop, a precursor to 1010! and Hex FRVR

blop_logoInterested, as I am, in the family tree of puzzle games, when I wrote up my post about deconstructing Tetris, (the one where I go a bit into the mechanics of 1010! and Hex FRVR) I’d completely forgotten about this simple little iOS puzzle game from way back in 2009. Predating my own ActionChess by about two weeks in the app store, I remember playing a ton of this simple little puzzle game called Blop when I first discovered it.

The goals are slightly different from our line-making in Hex FRVR and 1010!; this square-grid game is actually more of a match-3 than a Tetris variant. The block shapes that appear are either 4-color squares or an angle made of 3 squares. And where color doesn’t matter in 1010! or Hex FRVR, here, the color is what’s used to remove pieces from the board. The board itself is 10×10, and each level the goal for number of matching colors increases. The first level, as soon as you connect 3 of the same color, they are removed from the board. After you’ve removed a square from each grid space (there is a handy “show” button to show you where you haven’t yet removed one), then the level increases, as does the number of squares you need of the same color.

blopscreen320x480The gameplay is at your own pace, and you do see a queue of the next few pieces, so you can plan ahead to maximize your strategic brain burning. When picking up the game again after all this time, I found it didn’t quite hold my attention the same way 1010! and Hex FRVR have for so many hours. I’m not honestly sure why that is the case. The complexity is about the same, maybe a tiny bit higher, due to the color matching rather than line-making, but I found myself playing the game a lot slower than I do those others.

After being spoiled by the simple and pleasant UI from 1010! and Hex FRVR, I did have a couple of minor UI quibbles as well:
– The squares to be placed appear “hovering” on top of the gameboard. They can and do get in the way of any squares you have already placed underneath them.
– You move the pieces around with your finger, but cannot rotate them this way. Tapping on them does nothing. (There are buttons at the bottom of the screen for rotation, as well as one in the middle to drop the piece.)

I will say, the game has held up remarkably well. It functions just fine after all these years. Notably, it did see an update last back in May of 2013 that added (among other things) multitasking from iOS 4.

Update: It’s perhaps worth noting that I ran into Blop again while looking through my iOS purchases, and it was not the first time while doing so that I thought “hey, this game is actually very similar to this other game”, but I hadn’t recently written about either of those other games. For posterity, they were Unify and Claustrophobia. Zach Gage’s game, Unify, came out in September ’09. It felt to me (at the time, I distinctly remember) like a re-imagining of another early iOS game, that came out in December ’08, by David Leblond, Claustrophobia. I actually remember downloading and playing Unify when it came out, and thinking it was different enough to be its own thing, but that I liked Claustrophobia better. (I have actually written about Claustrophobia once before.)

Chessrunner & more Chess Puzzle Games

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.42.54 AMChessrunner
Yesterday, my friend Lloyd linked me to Chessrunner (reddit thread), a web-based, chess-inspired endless runner in which you start with only a king, which you have to move forward on an endless chessboard. As you move, you can capture enemy pieces and make them your own. It’s an inspired idea, and one that apparently only took developer/creator Juha Kiili a weekend to implement (in Unity). There has been plenty of positive commentary on Reddit, and hopefully he’ll flush out the idea and (ideally, IMO), bring it to iOS.

Chessrunner’s “timer” mechanic (making it an action puzzle game) is pretty cool in that the gameboard is both expanded (from the top) and shrunk (at the bottom) one square at a time. The opposing colored pieces take one move after every one of your moves. They will ALWAYS capture your king if you give them opportunity, but they are not smart enough to trap you (yet), so surviving is really all about seeing all the attack lines. And that’s why this game really does a good job (IMO) of feeling like something you do while playing chess.

Have I been remiss?
I’ve written before about various chess-inspired puzzle games. (And of course I hope anybody reading this already knows about ActionChess, which was my first app in the app store.) But I realized when I started writing about Chessrunner that there was no way to find those game mentions! (Now there is a Puzzle Chess Games category.) And furthermore, there are several other chess puzzle type games that I’ve played over the last few years that have not (yet) been mentioned here. So I wrote up some mini-reviews:

IMG_3470Pawn’d (available for $1 on iOS, or in Lite form for free) is a chess & match-3 matchup. I had a very similar design idea for this style of game as a game mode for ActionChess, but I never really put any time into it.

Pawn’d takes the concept in a lot of different directions at once, and looks great while doing it. There are three main game modes, each designed around how the game ends, and each with two more difficult variations called “Blitz” and “Master”. Additionally, there are two introductory modes that have neither variation, one called “Practice’d” (play to a certain # of matches), and another called “Clock’d” (play to a time limit). Each of the modes has its own leaderboards, making something like 22 leaderboards in the whole app. There are also a ton of achievements. Basically, if you like this concept, you can keep playing it for a LONG time without running out of things to do.

This game, possibly more than any of the other ones listed here, is decidedly worth playing, and I’ll cop to getting sucked back into it while writing this.

Chess Tower Defense
Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.41.24 AMI’m fond of telling the story about how, when asked what he thought of ActionChess, my (then 8-year old) nephew Jake replied with “Could you make it a tower defense game?” I LOL’d. Well I think it was less than a year later that you could play Chess Tower Defense over on Kongregate.

It’s graphic design is quite spartan, but the concept is interesting nonetheless. You must survive waves of attacking “things”. (They are not pieces really.) The things don’t attack your pieces, but instead march methodically toward you (downward), passing right through your pawns. Your pawns (and other pieces) can attack them, in the standard directions, and if they don’t, each thing will remove one of your hearts when it gets past your back row. Between waves, you can reposition your pieces, and buy new ones. It’s an interesting concept, and one also worth spending some time playing, if only just to wrap your head around it, I think.

Knight Defense
knight-defense-screen1136x1136Knight Defense (for iPhone or iPad) appeared in the app store about another year or so later. As good as Knight Defense looks, it’s definitely less on the chess strategy end of the spectrum, and closer to the tower defense end. It’s all real-time, so there is no turn based aspect, and you can move your pieces all over the board at will during the game. In each of the squares your pieces could attack in a real game of chess, those pieces may damage enemy pieces. Like other tower defense games, Knight Defense is played in waves, during which enemies will appear at the top of the screen and move toward your king piece, wherever he might be on the gameboard. Though they are shaped like chess pieces, the enemies don’t move or attack like chess pieces, there just run into whichever of your pieces are in front of them, and “damage” them, eventually destroying them. Your pieces can be upgraded to do more damage at once, and to heal them once they’ve themselves been damaged. This is worth playing for chess fans, (especially so for those of you who already enjoy Tower Defense), but it’s not necessarily at the top of my list.

Cheesy Chess
cheesychess_screen1024x1024Cheesy Chess (free with ads for iOS) is not turn-based or action-puzzle at all. It’s more of a static puzzle game where the goal of each level is to get your king to the other side of a small chess board filled with pieces but for one square. In as much of the game as I’ve seen, there were no captures, only moving pieces around in a very cramped and crowded grid. This felt to me like a chess-themed version of Rush Hour (a sliding block game). Admittedly, I’ve played the least of this game. The mouse chess theme is super cute though, and it’s very well-made.

Rymdkapsel review

So I was massively looking forward to the iOS release of Rymdkapsel. (Pictured above.) The game first came out on the PS Vita a while back, and I think I only heard about it when it was announced it was also coming to iOS. (Probably via TouchArcade.) Anyway, it came out last week, and I played it exactly twice. For a little longer than 45 minutes each time. There are several aspects of the game that I think are awesome. The music is great, for instance. I also find the visual aesthetic to be simply amazing. There are also several areas where I think the game falls down, and replayability is definitely my biggest concern.

Rymdkapsel is a Real Time Strategy game where you don’t control your units movement, only their tasks. The twist is that you have to place your buildings adjacent to one another, and they’re going to be shaped like Tetris pieces. There are a couple of points around the tetris shaped buildings where I think the game kinda fails. 1) You have to connect your buildings to a pathway (that you also build out of tetris shapes), but however the game determines where that building has a door into the hallway is flawed. Often the doorways will appear in a space that is not the closest to your resources, meaning your workers have to walk farther to get into the room, which can be very frustrating, especially when there are walls adjacent to the walkway much closer. 2) There are very few obstacles to building your (what is it? city? space station? abstract area?), and so the tetris aspect here is pretty minimal. The placement does factor into how long it’ll take your workers to get from place to place, and you want to optimize for that, as well as getting good coverage with your military buildings, but otherwise there isn’t much strategy (or point) in using tetris shapes for the buildings. It does look damn cool though.

My final nitpick is that the game has a very definite difficulty curve, and there is a point after which you basically won’t be able to play much longer. This in and of itself would not be a big deal… but that is the only mode of play. So the game shares this aspect with tetris also, you play until you die, and then you play until you die again. It is a race for highest points, and that’s it. There are exactly 3 achievements in the game. I would love to have seen a lot more achievements. Or some additional game modes. As-is, I will maybe play this one more time to get the third achievement. Maybe.

In other Tetris-related news, my Tetris google alert is BLOWING UP with news about Tetris Monsters, which EA recently announced for Japanese release. I think it’s gotten enough buzz that they’ll probably look into releasing it here, but I’m guessing it’ll be a while. The game is (as far as anyone can tell from the limited information available) essentially a cross between Tetris and Pokemon. I want some more information before I get excited about it, and frankly, EA’s record for taking a franchise and turning it into a freemium mess isn’t very good right now. So I’m not expecting much.

Puzzle Up, async tetromino action

I spent some time this morning writing up some feedback for a relatively new game in the app store that seemed at first like it would definitely be right up my alley. It’s called Puzzle Up, and is essentially an async version of a game where you fit a given set of tetrominos into an empty bunch of squares on the gameboard. I’ve played a few different versions of this type of game over the years, I think Zentomino was the first one I played (it hit the app store in August 2010, and was by the makers of a very popular Tangrams app at the time, TanZen), followed shortly thereafter by Doodle Fit. (Which must have done well, because they eventually made a Doodle Fit 2.)

Anyway, here’s what I wrote in a TouchArcade forum post about Puzzle Up:

I don’t feel like I have a good enough sense of what is transpiring on the other end of the game. I would like some kind of replay of their fumbling through the puzzle I sent them. (Ideally sped up, so I don’t have to sit through a seven minute animation if they took the whole time.) I know this would be difficult, but it would really help, IMO. At the very least, I think there should be an intersticial view before I start the puzzle they sent me that tells me how they did in the puzzle I sent them. There may be this screen already, but it doesn’t include the puzzle I sent, (I don’t think), and only includes their time.

Another thing is that, after a game ends, it seems like we just start another game right away, which is super confusing, and leaves me with the impression that this thing just goes on forever, and why would I continue to play it? At the very least, the app should definitely ask you if you want a rematch with the other player, maybe giving you some stats on that screen about your plays against that player. (Check out the game over screen in Lost Cities for an incredibly well done example of this.)

I’m always a big fan of stats in games, so I’d love to see more of them in general. The gamecenter leaderboard for number of victories is a good start.

In general, I think this could be a really fun game with a bit more polish. It’s like an async version of Zentomino or Doodle Fit.

I hope that wasn’t too harsh. The developer was looking for feedback. I do think showing your opponent’s turn is an important part of any asynchronous game experience, and you even see it ignored in some pass and play game modes (if there’s no hidden information, this may be excusable, because everyone could be looking on while you take your turns, but I’ve seen this problem in games with hidden information too).

As I said, Puzzle Up does have potential, but it feels like slapping asynchronous single player onto a game that pretty much already exists. Incidentally, this is pretty much what Zinga did with their recent release Gems With Friends. (Essentially, it’s an async version of TripleTown.) Puzzle Up even has some similarities to Gems With Friends in that the game is split into 3 “turns”, with each turn resulting in a score. You sum total of all three turns is your score for the game, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins.

There’s one other game that deserves a repeat mention here, and that’s Dawn of Play’s fabulous Dream of Pixels. Dream of Pixels also has a game mode similar to this style of gameplay, (it’s called puzzle mode), but the difference is that you’re still constrained by Dream of Pixel’s primary game mechanics, (which are out of scope for this rant, so I’ll let it suffice to say that you should check it out if you haven’t already). This is so much more satisfying to me, because it doesn’t feel like a game I’ve played before.

I’m neck-deep in Apple’s GameKit code to support turn-based asyncronous play in my next game, so all of this thinking is definitely relevant to what I’m doing these days.

iPad Game Recommendations

A friend of mine just picked up a new iPad, and he’s totally new to the world of iOS gaming. He wanted some recommendations, and I spent some time coming up with a list of what I’m playing regularly. Keep in mind these are all iPad or Universal games. (The list would be different for my iPhone.) Also, it’s clear my tastes are pretty short-attention-span. I have some longer-form games on my iPad, but I almost never sit down to play them.

Without further ado: these are the games I’m most often playing right now:

Three of the most innovative puzzle games I’ve played in the last year or so (these are must have, IMO):
– I Love Squares
– Slydris
– Dream of Pixels

Pick these up if you like word games:
– Letterpress
– Spelltower
– Puzzlejuice

My “sit down and play for an hour” favorites of the moment:
– Minigore 2 – A really well done dual-stick-shooter
– Ski Safari – Pretty fun/addicting skiing game
– PunchQuest – really fun game in the “endless runner” vein, I think they call it an “endless puncher”.

You should check out Spaceteam, because it’s such a neat concept (and is free), but keep in mind that it’s multiplayer (local, real-time) only. Super fun even if there are only two of you, but it plays up to 4.

Oh, and I almost forgot the board games I’m playing right now:
– Carcassonne – probably the best implemented iOS board game of all time… they are releasing a new in-app-purchasable expansion for it sometime in the next couple of weeks
– Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer – quite fun deck-building game, also playable async, highly recommended
– Qin – fun but simple-rules type abstract strategy game, playable asynchronously, (let me know if you pick it up as I’m not playing with anyone I actually know right now)
– Cafe International – card game that won the Spel Des Jahres like 10 years ago. (ditto on the async want to play people I know thing)

Let me know if you have your own list how it differs from mine!

Dream of Pixels

I have been remis on here not writing about a game I got to help beta test called Dream of Pixels. It’s been available on the app store for exactly a week today, and has received some amazing reviews and press, over at TouchArcade, as well as some other crazy prestigious places like Kotaku and IGN. The game’s designer, Ĺ˝iga contacted me months ago to say he liked Go-Tetris, and would I like to test his latest Tetris-inspired game. Of course I said yes, and I was VERY pleasantly surprised at how great it is. We’ve exchanged more than a few game recommendations in the time since, and it’s clear we share very similar game tastes. I’ll admit to a bit of jealousy at how great it looks and feels to play. It’s a brilliant game that turns Tetris on its head and does something different with our friends the tetrominos.

Dream of Pixels is an absolutely fantastic game, and if you buy one tetris-inspired game this year, it should be Dream of Pixels. If you have room for two Tetris-inspired games, then I also recommend Oppo-Citrus.

Slydris – an enthusiastic endorsement

After all the posting I’ve done about Action Puzzle games lately, I would feel remiss if I didn’t write this post. Essentially, I finally picked up Slydris after it went Universal (it was iPad only at launch, then shortly thereafter became available for iPhone too) a week or so ago, and it’s easily been my most-played game recently.

The beauty of Slydris is in its similarity to Tetris without copying (or even using) the geometry mechanics. Essentially, there are horizontal bars of varying length, and you slide them left and right to try and make complete rows (the mechanic it DOES borrow from Tetris). That’s it.

Oh, I guess there is a bar that fills up and lets you delete 3 rows at once, and there are various in-game powerup type blocks. But overall it’s all about sliding those pieces left and right, and getting them to fall into place how you want ’em.

It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen lately of simple gameplay leading to complexity.

I’ve just followed the game’s creator, Luke Schneider, aka radiangames, on twitter (@radiangames). He’s released 12 games in the last two years, which is no small feat. I hope in 2 years I will have come even close to that. (That’s one every two months, which I am sadly nowhere near at this point, 3-months into my indie stint.)

The Slydris Soundtrack is also free right now, which is quite good (listening to it now).

Posted in iOS

TouchArcade and new Action Puzzle Games

Hot on the heels of my Action Puzzle slide deck, I saw a post yesterday on TouchArcade about Fluxe, a new app that bills itself as Action Puzzle, so I checked it out, and I’ve got to say that it’s well worth playing. I won’t get too into the gameplay, since TA already did that, and honestly, reading about it didn’t do much for my understanding anyway. It’s definitely in the “like tetris” category, but it uses the line-clear mechanic rather than the pentominos. It’s only a 4-wide well/column that you’re filling, so none of the pieces are not more than 3 blocks either wide or tall.

As you can see from the screenshot, there are lines across 3 of the sides of the app. Those are timers. I know what the ones on the left and right do, but I’m not actually sure what the one at the bottom does offhand. I’ve been struggling with whether to implement timers in Oppo-Citrus, so that is a topic of interest to me.

Anyway, TouchArcade has been giving a lot of love to action puzzle games lately, with their recent review (which couldn’t have been more positive) and subsequent creator interview for the slide-a-row RPG 10000000. 10000000 looks to do for slide-a-row what Dungeon Raid did for the drag-over-like-colors-to-remove mechanic, which is to say, it just slaps D&D/RPG elements all over it. (Someone mentioned Dungeon Raid at our MN Game Devs group, and I had to admit I had just totally forgotten about it.)

I could probably have given “Action Puzzle Games with RPG Elements” its own page in the slide-deck. The first one I remember playing was Puzzle Quest, and it and its sequel have a presence in the app store, (although they’re not great ports, was my impression). TouchArcade also recently reviewed Puzzle Dungeons (which is free), and unfortunately after checking it out for a bit I’ve concluded it doesn’t add terribly much to the subgenre. (But it is a solid game if you can’t get enough match-3.)

TA also previewed what looks to be an original action puzzle game I can’t wait to try (looks like it just came out today) for the iPad called Slydris.

Word Puzzle Mashups

My friend Jason clued me in to this match-3 like word game that was featured by apple this week: W.E.L.D.E.R.

Then a scant day later I stumbled onto an interview with Zach Gage, who recently launched SpellTower, a tetris-attack style word game. The interview is pretty cool, and he says a lot of stuff I feel about missing the innovation present in the early days of the app store. I’m a bit disappointed that SpellTower is iPad only, but I may still pick it up to check it out.

I thought it funny that (in the same week) there were two new word game hybrids to add to my list of interesting word games. (Bookworm, Imangi, WordSolitaire, Word Jong, WordFu, AlphaBattle, and Wooords are all the previous ones I’ve played with any regularity, I think.)

UPDATE (1/28/2012): I would be remiss if I didn’t add a link to my latest puzzle obsession, PuzzleJuice, which is an absolutely fantastic tetris-word-game-mashup. Pieces fall with varying color parts, and when three or more parts of the same color touch at the bottom of the gameboard, you can touch them to switch them to letters. (When a whole “row” is made, ala tetris, those also change to letters.) Then you drag/draw a word from the letters to remove them from the board. Draw a large enough word, and other pieces around them will also be removed. Good stuff!

Three quick Chess-related links

Hipsta Chez
Is there room for more than one chess-based puzzle game in the app store? Of course there is! I just discovered the TouchArcade post about Hipsta Chez (front-page, no less… it was posted over a week ago, I could easily have missed this!) Hipsta Chez is game in the same family tree as Fuzzle, LinkLines, Gems 3D, etc.. only the twist is that the pieces are chess pieces, and move accordingly. I have only played the first game mode, and only one game so far, but it took over an hour, and I am now 18th on the Game Center leaderboard for that game mode. You can check out a promo video, but I think it’s definitely worth picking up. Hats off to Vasiliy Popov, who appears to be the app’s creator/developer.

I am not 100% sure how I came across this blog post by one of the developers of Chess@Home, but if it’s to be believed, a few weekends ago, (at Node Knockout, a node.js 48 hour programming competition), a team of four guys created a distributed chess AI using javascript. They’re calling it Chess@Home. The blog post is pretty fascinating.

The forthcoming Octagon Theory app
I read about The Octagon Theory over at my reliable iphone board game blog on BGG. I’m not 100% sure this is chess-related, because I haven’t played the game yet, but it’s an abstract strategy game for the iphone anyway. One of the more interesting things is that they’re soliciting developers to create AI for the thing. I’m tempted to sign up, as that sort of thing is always fun (and I’ve been meaning to learn some lua) for AGES), but there are so many of my own games to work on… we’ll see.