Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Terraria (PC)


Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Lots of enemies, multiple bosses, good itemization
Cons: No more updates; end-game could use some fleshing out

Terraria is a wonderful little game from Re-Logic who's core gameplay resembles Minecraft in many ways. It contains exploration, combat, mining and building with blocks, but the main seperator from Minecraft is the fact that Terraria is a two-dimensional game where Minecraft makes use of 3D. Having played a lot of Minecraft, I just couldn't get into Terraria; it seemed like a watered down 2D version of a game I already liked. I didn't even open Terraria again for a few months, until my brother was playing it one day and I logged on to play with him.
 
Well, it turns out I was only half right and I actually rather like the game. Terraria seems to focus more on killing various bosses, exploring the map and moving NPCs into your shelter area, where Minecraft seems focused more on building crazy contraptions. One thing I didn't like about Minecraft was the fact that there was really only one boss creature, and Terraria has multiple bosses that can be summoned to kill over and over again.
 
In Minecraft the exploration and fighting is pretty much pointless after you beat the only boss, and all that's left is to build. Terraria kind of has the opposite problem, in that you can keep summoning bosses and working on getting the rare materials for the best gear in the game -- but once you have it, there's really not much left to do. You can't build crazy machines and contraptions to anywhere near the same degree you can in Minecraft, so your left playing player-vs-player games online or starting a new world and playing over again. Even then, you carry all of your equipment and everything in your inventory with you to new worlds so unless you drop it all in a chest beforehand there's really not much point to that either.
 
Still, it's a fun game while it lasts. You have multiple tiers of weapons, helmets, armors, leg pieces and scores of various accessories that you can find or forge at a handful of different crafting stations. Materials as basic as wood, stone and copper to collect as well as rare ones such as diamonds or adamantite. Fusing various pieces of equipment together to form new ones, building housing areas for NPCs to move into so you can buy various goods from them. NPCs move in after certain criteria are met, for example if you rescue them from the dungeon, discovered a certain item or have a certain boss defeated.
 
You can manufacture various picks, drills, saws and hammers to gather resources from around the world. In the process you can explore different areas of the map from forests and deserts to oceans and jungles. Build your little blocks up into the sky and you can come upon floating islands, or dig through them into the bowels of the earth to come upon a hellish area filled with lava. The whole world is presented in a 2D side-view, similar to Mario but with smaller blocks (your character is 2 blocks wide and 3 blocks tall, for example).
 
The graphics themselves aren't anything special, but that's the art direction of the game. They would have looked great on the NES, and having grown up in that era they have a certain nostalgic value that I like. Equipping different weapons and armor at least changes your character sprite, which I always like because it gives you a visual representation of your accomplishments when you get new equipment. There are a good number of different enemies and they're fairly distinct. You've got slow moving zombies, jumping slimes, flying eyeballs and tunneling worms. Enemies that shoot magical spells or projectiles at you, and even rare enemies that are unique and drop cosmetic items to change your appearance (you have an equipment slot for each piece of armor, as well as a social slot just for looks).
 
The background music is pretty good and there's a bit of variety to it, having somewhere around a dozen different tracks that play in different situations. The first sound you hear will be a happy and playful tune in the starting forest area during the day time. There's a serene track that plays during the night, some slow dark music that plays in the dungeon, as well as some other some faster more aggressive tunes that play during boss battles. System requirements include Windows 7/Vista/XP, a 1.6 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 200 MB of hard drive space, a 128 MB video card that supports shader model 1.1 and DirectX 9.0c or greater.
 
Much of the fun I get from Terraria is from playing with friends, and this can be done over the internet or over the LAN. You can load up a character and play it in single-player and multi-player games complete with all of its equipment, as well as any items inside a Safe or Piggy Bank in the game-world (these two items act like a shared-stash between worlds and can only be accessed by the character who placed them). You can start a multi-player game of Terraria from within the game client itself, or you can download a small server application from the website and leave it running. I wish there were a Linux server application so that I could leave it running on my dedicated server so it would be online 24/7, but since the server application is Windows only I only use it to play over the LAN.
 
Terraria is a pretty fun game, though it does get a little boring after you've forged the best weapons and armor and there's little left to do. At that point, you can enable PvP and fight with your friends online or just repeat the same content over and over again. Personally I would just set the game aside for a while and then restart a whole new game from scratch in the future. You could arguably wait for an update from Re-Logic and then restart the game, but the developer stated in February that he's no longer going to be updating the game (though the Steam page still said "Free Content Updates", which is more than a little misleading since it's been about 4 months.
 
You can easily switch between a melee character, a ranged character or a magic user with a simple swap of armor and accessories. This means there's relatively little replay value in experimenting with the different ways you can play your character. There are no stat points or skill trees either, so all of your customization comes from the armor and accessories you equip. This is nice because it allows you to play your character however you feel like without a complete restart, however the replay value suffers because of it. The PvP does help, but there's only so many times you can kill your friends (or die to them) before you get bored. This would be a 5 star game if there were more building options like Minecraft, or something (anything at all) to keep the game interesting at the end.
 
I do recommend Terraria, and it's worth of a 4 star rating. At $10 it's not that expensive, and you can pick up a 4-pack on Steam for $30 if you have some friends you want to play with. It's really fun until you've done everything, and then it's still mildly fun for a while after that. Too bad there will be no updates in the future to improve things further or add more content for late in the game.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Osmos HD (Android)




Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Refreshingly different type of game with nice audio and visuals
Cons: A little hard to be accurate with the controlls on smaller screens

Osmos HD is a fun little physics-based game developed by Hemisphere Games for Android devices as well as iOS, Windows, Mac and Linux. It's both simplistic and minimalistic, and it provides a welcome change of pace from the standard assortment of puzzle games and twitchy action titles. In fact, Osmos HD is ridiculously hard to play during the later levels if you try to be too fast because of the way the game mechanics work. It's really not like any game I can remember playing before, and that only increases it's appeal since it's refreshingly different.
 
You start off with a sort of tutorial that explains how the game works and introduces you to new game features every level or so. They call this Odyssey mode, and after you complete it you unlock the Arcade mode as well. There are 27 levels in Odyssey mode and 72 in Arcade mode, and in Arcade mode you can also play at different difficulty levels. You can even speed up or slow down time with a convenient and easy to use slider at the bottom of the screen, and this allows you to add to the challenge or help you out in a tough spot.
 
The game takes place on a two-dimensional plane representing space, and it features really smooth and accurate physics. The universe is made up of different sized motes, which are little round organisms, and you control one of them. Through most of the game your goal is to take your character, a mote, and grow it to become the biggest mote in the level. To accomplish this you must absorb smaller motes to increase your mass, but in order to move around you must expel some of your own mass to move in the opposite direction. If you bump into a larger mote it will start to absorb your mass, and if you bump into a smaller one you will start to absorb its mass.
 
Most of the motes are just kind of idle and slowly drift around, but as you progress you will run into motes with various abilities. Some of them have decent artificial intelligence and will move around trying to absorb smaller motes and become the biggest, just as you will be trying to do. Other motes will attract any smaller motes around them, and yet others will repel other motes around them. You'll even have motes that project a huge mass so that other motes orbit around them, and the physics really shine here.
 
In addition to the "become the biggest" levels which make up a lot of the game, there are some variations to add a bit of diversity and increase the fun factor of the game. In some levels you'll be orbiting in the gravitational pull of a massive mote, and you'll have to ride the orbit around and absorb some satellite motes without getting sucked into the massive one. In other levels you'll be chasing a fast mote around trying to absorb it as it speeds away from you and gets bigger.
 
The game eliminates any guesswork when you're looking at another mote that's nearly the same size as you, because motes that are bigger have bit of a red glow around the edges. The moment you become bigger, the red changes to blue so that you know you can safely absorb them. The graphics themselves are beautiful as well, and while they're all really simple they are really sleek and vivid. Animations are smooth and creamy, the physics are accurate and the whole game reeks of gloss and polish. The music in the game is just as good as the graphics, with some wonderful ambient tracks of mellow electronica that really mesh well with the visuals. You won't be muting this one folks.
 
The controls are pretty smooth, you just tap on the screen beside your mote to eject matter in that direction and propel yourself the opposite way. The game makes great use of pinch-to-zoom to zoom in and out of the game world smoothly and effortlessly, so you can get a wide overview of the level or zoom in to admire the silky visuals. It does auto-zoom a bit depending on the size of your mote, and occasionally this bugs me but it's overall a terrific design that works really well. My only other complaint with the controls is the fact that on a small screen it's difficult to be really accurate sometimes, but it's by no means a deal breaker and I've been playing this game quite a bit on my Motorola DROID 4 lately. I can only imagine how great it would be on a tablet instead.

Osmos is compatible with most Android devices that run Android 2.2 or higher and have multi-touch support. While it works on a lot of devices, it uses high-resolution graphics for a better experience on devices with a resolution greater than 320x480. If you're unsure about the game or if it will work on your device, take a look at the list of supported devices on the company's website and/or check out the free Osmos Demo first before you buy the paid version.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cut The Rope (Android)




Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Cute graphics, good physics, lots of levels, free updates
Cons: Music is a little repetitive, occasional issues with overlapping obstacles

Cut the Rope is a puzzle/physics game from ZeptoLab for Android devices (and iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian, DSiWare, etc). It's a casual game like Angry Birds that can easily be picked up and played for a few minutes here or there, but while it doesn't require a huge time investment it does take quite a while to completely finish. More levels have been being added every few months as well (and for free), so for the 99 cent price tag this game does offer quite a bit of gameplay. I play it on my Motorola DROID 4 where it runs smoothly and flawlessly.
 
The understandably limited story revolves around a box left on your doorstep, and inside is a cute little monster named Om Nom. Also in the box is a piece of candy hanging from a rope, and little Om Nom is hungry and has quite a sweet tooth. It's your task to cut the rope so that the candy drops into Om Nom's mouth -- sounds simple right? Well, sometimes it is, and other times it's frustratingly difficult depending on what obstacles are in your way and how good your timing is.
 
You see, there are more than just ropes involved, and the further you progress into the game the more obstacles get placed in your way and the more different objects you have at your disposal to help you avoid them. It's easy to cut the ropes; just swipe your finger across it at any point. Eventually you'll have spikes to avoid that will destroy the candy. You'll have spiders crawling along the ropes heading towards the candy, and you have to make sure that particular rope is cut before the spider reaches it.
 
You'll have bubbles that float up into the air when the candy is inside them, and you have to touch the bubble to pop it at just the right time. Bellows that you tap to blow the candy to one side or the other; or electricity that will destroy the candy if it touches it. Oh, and all the while you'll be trying to bump the candy into 3 stars that are placed around the level before you give the candy to Om Nom. In some levels getting all 3 stars is easy, but in others it is deceptively difficult.
 
Sometimes you'll have to be precise, other times you'll have to be fast, and later levels will often require both skills. Many times it will be frustrating as you have only a few different things to do, and none of them seem to work to get all of the stars. Try, try... try, try, try again. The physics are surprisingly accurate though, so with some trial-and-error and some careful consideration every level can be completed within a few minutes.
 
I usually break out this game or one of the other casual games I have on my phone when I'm sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office or something and am going to have a few minutes to kill. I'll play through a couple of levels while waiting, and when it's time to go I can just shut it off and not worry about losing my place or getting to a save point like I would in many other games. The controls are all real easy -- touch this, tap that -- and they execute smoothly. Occasionally you'll have something like a rope that needs cut hanging across a bubble that you don't want popped yet and you'll accidentally pop the bubble because they're so close or overlapping. Granted that's annoying, but since the levels are so short and only take 10-30 seconds each to complete you don't feel quite as annoyed having to restart the level again when it happens.
 
A good chunk of the levels take place on a single screen, but many scroll in one direction or another to expand the play area. Everything takes place on a flat plane with Om Nom usually at the bottom of the screen, and there are hundreds of levels organized into various "boxes". Each box contains 25 levels, and at the time of this writing there are 11 different boxes ranging from the cardboard box at the beginning and the DJ box at the end. Only the first box is unlocked at the start, but as you collect the stars in each level you unlock the next boxes with the final DJ box requiring 550 stars to unlock.
 
The graphics are polished and colorful while the animations are smooth. The sound effects are cute and fit the theme of the game nicely, and while the background music is nice and mellow it does get fairly repetitive. Often I have the sound turned all the way down when I play because I'm sitting in a waiting room or someplace that I don't want to bother other people, but when I happen to play a couple of levels sitting at home I usually just leave it up. You can turn off the sound and music separately though, so if it gets repetitive just turn off the background music and be done with it.
 
Cut the Rope is a pretty decent game overall, and while it's not the type of game I usually get into I really wanted a few small casual games to play here and there since my son was born. Appointments and stuff are really boring, and Cut the Rope turned out to be just the right amount of time sink to help eliminate that problem. Definitely pick it up if you're into casual puzzle games.