Category Archives: Strategy

REVIEW: Deck of Heroes

I should probably have my nerd card revoked for saying this, but I’ve never even tried a strategy card game up to this point in my life, let alone bothered to understand its appeal. I mean, I can barely stand to play ‘Go Fish!’, let alone a variant of Poker or Rock, Paper, Scissors with some form of fantastical creature drawn on them. Not that you should confuse my lack of fluency in these games as contempt or a dismissal, I just really don’t think I’m any kind of authority to be talking about them. But, here I am, with Deck of Heroes ($1.00).

Minus a storyline or any kind of roving mythology, Deck of Heroes is simply a digital card game, albeit one with a decent amount of unique cards (108) and a more well-known, well-played game serving as its inspiration (that’d be Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone). While this game isn’t as flashy and willing to raid your wallet1, Deck of Heroes does let you roll as one of four races (Human, Orc, Elf, and Undead2), then put together a team of cards from that pool, or just choose from a handful of ready-made decks.

Once you’re in-game (there’s local and online versus modes, or you can play the A.I. solo while you wait for a challenger to show up), the setup and conditions for each turn-based battle are pretty straightforward; eliminate your opponent, and survive. This involves the use of said cards, representing a particular minion / bonus perk from your chosen class. Each ‘turn’ in a game allows you to stock up on mana (your means of buying cards / effects), or add cards to your available hand to choose from.

The ‘strategic’ part comes in how you stack your cards, and where you deploy your minions. You can place a maximum of six cards on the top and bottom rows, with the top row serving as your ‘defensive line’, soaking up any incoming damage and / or attacking your enemy’s lines. Each card has its own ‘attack’ stat and ‘health’ count to consider, so you’ll need to plan your round’s moves accordingly. Minions will cancel other minions out should the numbers be in your favor, or you can whittle down your opponent’s health. Other ‘buff’ cards can amplify those choices, such as by swapping cards / rows, spawning a random minion, increasing stats, etc.

Deck of Heroes - Screen

Unfortunately, the ‘strategic’ element can be largely circumvented simply by having patience. There’s little to stop you from building up your mana pool to its max limit, then repeatedly calling in heavy hitters to quickly take out enemy minions and / or wear down your opponent’s health. That lack of serious strategy hurts the game’s single-player portion (the A.I. is perpetually one step above ‘brain dead’), but Deck of Heroes is undoubtedly intended to be played against another human opponent, either online or locally.

The end result may not as fancy as other games of this sort, but Deck of Heroes does a passable impression of a strategy card game… provided you have a friend to play against. I can’t stress that part enough. If you’re in this purely for the hope that the A.I. can provide a meaningful challenge, you’re better off looking elsewhere for your fix.

  1. Sorry, Hearthstone, your not-so-F2P ways make for easy fodder. 
  2. This is XBLIG, so you know zombies have to make an appearance at some point. It’s required by law.  😉 

REVIEW: JewellCity

As far as videogames go, both Sim City and Tetris are part of the lingua franca. Almost everyone has at least heard of them, if not played them to death in some form or port on one system or another. Pairing the two play styles into one ‘supergame’ sounds like a super idea. In fact, we’ve seen it on XBLIG before, with City Rain. Now we get a more traditional Tetris-like (and more yellow1) version from developer LittleGreenBob, with JewellCity ($1.00).

JewellCity - Screen

See this, kids? Take notes. It will be on the test.

And like Tetris, the idea here is simple, but layered. Randomized block sets fall from the top of the screen, and it’s up to you to do your best ‘valet’ impression and park those blocks in the most appropriate (and lucrative) open space. Each block costs money to play, and represents a ‘city piece’, with specific tiles for homes, shops, parks, factories, electricity, etc. As in real life, the key to building and maintaining a thriving city lies in making said city attractive to incoming tenants. Drop housing blocks next to lakes and shops, and watch your population swell. Put them by dirty factories or near a power plant, and you’ll find you can’t give the property away.

Just don’t stack too much of a good thing. Your instincts will tell you to drop the blocks in rows and attempt to ‘match’ them, but matching ‘three of a kind’ is verboten in JewellCity, and liable to trigger the very foundation of your city to come crashing down around you. Should you align three of one block type in a row or on a diagonal, those tiles will disappear, potentially taking some of your revenue— and destroying other tiles— in their wake. Clearing space and building anew is part of the process, sure, but separating whole parts of your city from a power source can have devastating effects.

JewellCity - Screen2

Even if you’re an excellent city planner, disasters (both natural and the man-made sort) will occur. Special ‘protection’ tiles can mitigate some of the damage, but often you’ll be reacting to random tiles and events just as much as you will be thinking about where to place the next block. This constant threat of trouble (and bankruptcy from overspending!2) gives the game an addictive quality, despite the amazingly-plain visuals and setup. Though besides a tally of your in-game stats and medals to be awarded, there’s little else to it.

Ultimately, you may not mind the singular focus. JewellCity won’t be winning any beauty awards anytime soon, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in brains. Playing Mayor and turning your city into a well-oiled and well-funded machine— and keeping it that way— won’t be easy, but getting there is half the fun.

  1. Developer of EscapePod. Also heavily yellow-ish / yellow-brown. Seriously, what is it about that particular color? 
  2. China won’t be around to buy up your bad debt in JewellCity

REVIEW: Evolution II: Fighting For Survival

I’m all for Evolution. The theory of it, the reality of it, the facts of it— you name it, I’m for it. Hell, when I don’t shave for a few weeks, I doubt my own evolved humanity. So by natural extension, you would think I’d be all about something like Evolution II: Fighting For Survival ($2.99). Like the original, it’s a much, much, much smaller version of Spore (think of the Microbial beginning) and / or Fl0w, focusing on crafting and… well, evolving, your very own water-based… creature1. That said, this game is more busywork simulation and trial-and-error than actual entertainment.

From the start, Evolution II allows you to create your own species, mixing and matching appendages as you please… with a little work. You see, the tutorial gives you the basics and little else, setting you loose to stumble around in the evolutionary darkness, finding out which body parts will suit your design best. While you’re given a preset species, and free to tinker with the available options2, you have to pay attention to your HP and attack power, as well as basic movement. Build a ‘tank’ that can take a lot of damage, sure, but without the proper pieces, your creature isn’t going anywhere.

Once you’ve chosen a form for your Darwinian baby, you set out to grow and expand your race, eating nearby plants and / or attacking the smaller creatures around you3. This leads to reproduction, and further evolutionary options to make your species stronger and more agile. From there, it’s rinse and repeat as you slowly take over the ecosystem. Unfortunately, achieving any kind of success in the game often ‘splinters’ your family, turning friend into foe, and the process of survival repeats. It’s an interesting mechanic in theory, but more often than not, the odds are against you. Being punished for simply existing is hardly a recipe for fun.

Evolution II - Screen

Ho, looks like we got ourselves a badass here. 

To pack more sea-salt in the wound, Evolution II is yet another in an evolving list of XBLIG games being released in ‘beta’ form. Not in those exact terms, but ‘Watch for an improved and expanded PC version’ is a nice slap in the face of XBLIG players that just shelled out $3 for your apparently imperfect (and unfinished) game. I’m no PR man, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to tell your customers that they’re paying so someone else on another platform can play the ‘real’ version of the game you just bought.

Though in the end, I suppose no one wins, as Evolution II: Fighting For Survival is a content-lite homage to already-existing and better-playing games. If you’re a Darwin buff it might intrigue, but given that the original game was just released last year, I’d question the necessity of a nearly identical-looking (and more-expensive) sequel this soon. With the developer’s own admission of a superior version in the works, there’s absolutely no reason to support this game.

  1. There’s probably a scientific term I could insert there, but I’m not that bright. 
  2. You’ll have to. The game’s randomized settings mean you’ll likely get stuck with a ‘broken’ species at the start. Fix it or don’t, evolve or die, as the say. 
  3. See, who said ‘bullying the little guy’ doesn’t pay off? 

REVIEW: STRACO: Purge and Conquest

Few XBLIGs have undergone the kind of ‘night and day’ transformation that the first episode of STRACO did, changing drastically (and for the much, much better) from its original release to version 2.0 several months later; a leaner, meaner hybrid of twin-stick shooter and Tower Defense. Now with STRACO: Purge and Conquest ($1.00), comprising episodes two and three to complete the promised trilogy, developer NVO Games has effectively bridged the gap between the first’s promising mechanics and the sequel’s comfort with those same mechanics, morphing the games into one of the finer series on the indie channel in the process.

The final acts of the STRACO saga once again place you in your souped-up stealth helicopter, rejoining with your army pals and the war machine ‘Optimus Phillip’1 to continue the ongoing crusade against Boss Noss, his multitude of forces …and those damn, dirty Zombies (thankfully, there’s more to these undead than the typical sort). Missions will take you through one hostile portal to the next, taking down all manner of tanks, air support, a zombie tree (?), and more, from small skirmishes up to some lengthy, large-scale battles.

As a hybrid genre, you control your helicopter (or speedbike, or drone, or mech) at all times, twin-stick style, while using a menu to bring up a half-dozen turrets that are deployable anywhere on the battlefield. This is proactive Tower Defense, as careful use of said turrets can and will turn the tide. More guns equals more victory, so to speak, and you can upgrade yourself and those turrets accordingly. With several guns and powerups at hand (shields, a super missile, the ability to slow time, etc.) you’ll typically use overwhelming firepower to slowly whittle down enemy forces.

STRACO: P & C switches up the formula at some points, handing out optional objectives2, or forcing you out of your comfort Heli to tackle things up close and personal. These on-foot segments are a nice change of pace, but they tend to drag on and play a little harsher without you in your better-equipped (and better-protected) vehicle. The missions are few in number, however, so no great harm done. Where harm does factor in is the difficulty, which can vary with the levels and enemy spawns. Even on Normal, a few stages repeatedly gave me trouble until I was able to upgrade my turrets and / or myself, or… (gulp), I switched over to Easy.

STRACO 2014-05-28 14-13-41-56

Pro Tip: Don’t hug the walls. It gets messy.

In addition to the 2+ hour Campaign, the new ‘Slo-Mo-Co’ minigame is a fun, clever alternative that plays like a mashup of twin-stick / roguelike / time trial. It asks you to clear a series of rooms filled with enemies, using a limited amount of your slow-motion powerup and giving you only one HP. Enemy layouts are thoughtful and challenging, with plenty of tense, strategic puzzle / fights, as you figure out how best to attack each wave with your allotted time. Both ‘Slo-Mo-Co’ and the Campaign feature online leaderboards, which should give you an incentive to go back and improve your scores.

Overall, it’s a very solid experience to go out on. Minus a few small missteps and the occasional difficulty spike to contend with, there’s plenty of content, humor, and fun to be had here. Playing from its humble beginnings, to its stronger, updated middle, STRACO: Purge and Conquest delivers a much more confident— and satisfying— conclusion… on the Xbox 360. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of it. We need more games with a heart and soul like this.3

  1. Likely Optimus Prime’s red-headed step-brother… er, step-robot…, but he’s a likable fellow just the same. 
  2. Like a race, or a homage to Missile Command
  3. This review is also featured at Indiepitome. 

REVIEW: Quinbu

Poor Quinbu (the robot-person). He gets himself his own game, Quinbu ($1.00), which is kinda cool, but with self-titled games comes great responsibility. Not only does the chap potentially inherit an entire race to rule over, one that happens to be at perpetual war with an evil rival race, but he also has to live up to the mighty legacy of his father before him.

Quinbu - Screen

Of course, the bar for becoming leader of this civilization isn’t set too high. Quinbu has no arms and no legs (he’s like a rocket with impeccable balance), so basically, any old human with full-on appendages could step up and ‘Fight Club’ their way to clan leadership. Not that this group believes in that sort of thing. A fierce warrior has no place here. You see, in order for Quinbu to ascend to the throne and become the leader his robot-people hope he can be, he needs to do something far more challenging, far more inspiringHe needs to collect loose change.

To test his skills, various arenas full of coins and ramps have been set up on the planet, with locked gates requiring a certain amount of currency to be deposited before you can proceed. There is some strategy involved in the fetching, as Quinbu’s fuel can only carry him so far before stalling out. Stages naturally have a limited amount of refuel containers, forcing you to chart the most economical path to victory. To help, a trio of camera angles allows you to spot the tinier nooks and hidden coin caches (most of which you’ll need).

Quinbu - Screen2

‘Cash rules everything around me.’

Quinbu isn’t the most agile or graceful fellow, though, sliding to a stop and turning like a stiffened tank. Later levels (twelve in all) mix in boost ramps and walled-off rooms, adding to the trouble of traversal; you’ll have to be lined up just right in some instances. And as a sort of side annoyance objective, there’s a hidden part for Quinbu’s ship in each stage that must be collected. In doing so, he can presumably rebuild his ride and escape this world of floating money posthaste.

Unfortunately, the idea and its minimal tricks lose their appeal just as fast, and Quinbu‘s slick controls (the slippery kind, not the ‘implication of cool’ kind) and shallow pursuits don’t hold up over the length of a full game. I feel bad the little dude has a full plate to deal with, but never has becoming a leader been so… meh, so boring.