Game of the Week: Doodle Jump

Doodle Jump is a gdoodle100ame so simple it could be easy to overlook.  Still, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.  I suppose you could classify it as an endless runner only vertical.  Your only job (usually) is to get as high as you can.  Of course, that’s like saying that a pinball table is all about scoring as many points as you can.

In base mode, you play a little multilegged doodle character.  You jump up a fixed amount, and each time you land on a platform, you jump again.  So jump up and land on a higher platform, rinse and repeat.  There are a few twists.  Platforms are randomly placed above you and reduce in frequency as you go higher.  Any time you fall off the bottom of the screen it’s game over.  Also semi-randomly placed are power ups.  These range from simple springs and trampolines to high powered rocket packs.  Along the way you’ll encounter some enemies that can either be defeated or avoided. Like I said, simple.

What’s really great about the game is that it’s quick to play and fun each time.  So it’s a great mobile game.  It’s also great for kids since it rewards concentration.  Lima Sky has added new themes to the game.  Some are simple palette swaps while others play around with the basic rules of the game.  It’s a game my kids and I can play together and have fun.  What more needs be said?  Recommended.

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Database Update

If things have been a bit sparse around here, it’s because I’ve been working behind the scenes.  My hosting provider is disabling legacy database support.  So I have to make sure all my information is in the current database format.  The plus side is that they’ve enabled larger databases.  That should mean less trouble in the future.  Unfortunately, it means more work now.  Please let me know if you see anything that’s not working or is missing.  I appreciate the assistance.

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Game of the Week: Star Wars Pinball

I’m trying to give a little variety in the game of the week. I’m also trying to reflect what I play. I wish I had time for more grand strategy gaming, turn based tactical or even some strategy RPG’s. I have limited time and even more limited gaming time. So I try to pack as much fun in that time as possible. That means more action oriented games and open world games that are pick up and play. I also grab some fighting games (don’t bother challenging me since I don’t have time to master any of them). Often I play apps and Xbox Live Arcade/Playstation Network Games. They tend to be shorter and more focused experiences.

I picked up the first Pinball FX game right when it came out. My Dad was a big pinball player in the dark ages before video games. As a kid, I enjoyed the old silver ball, but with limited quarters, I tended to spend them on games that gave me the illusion of progress instead of seemingly random, near instant failure. Later I found a few that I liked; I seem to remember a Terminator pinball game for example. Video game pinball seemed like the perfect way for me to enjoy the game. Unfortunately, early efforts were laughable. Later efforts talked a good game, but messed up the basic physics. That may seem like nitpicking, but as someone who went on to earn a physics degree, it was a deal breaker for me.

It hasn’t been that long since they finally cracked the code on ball physics. Modern games seem to vary between excellent and spot on. This has created an interesting split in pinball development.  On the one hand we have completely accurate reproductions of physical tables.  On the other we have tables that could only exist in a video game.  I appreciate both, but due to my background, I’m more drawn to the latter.  Fortunately for me, the fine folks at Zen Studios have honed this craft into an art form.  Admittedly, some of their more experimental efforts haven’t all succeeded, but I’ve enjoyed the whole journey.

Their latest effort is Star Wars Pinball for XBLA, PSN, android and iOS (and Windows 8 and Mac).  This is the first three of ten planned tables set in the Star Wars universe.  The first pack includes The Empire Strikes Back, The Clone Wars and Boba Fett.  They are pretty straightforward tables that are easy to learn but hard to master.  I should also point out that the ESB tournament has just started.

Let’s jump in.  The Empire Strikes Back table has you playing through scenes in the movie.  You start the game trying to take out the Imperial probe droid for a skill shot. If you hit the skill shot, you can get a super skill shot by following it up with a hit on the swinging door right in the middle of the table.  The whole table is divided between the Sith and the Jedi and the Empire and the Rebellion.  You have two main ramps on each side of the table.  Just inside of those are a turn about that exits in front of a secondary set of flippers.  Those can be used to hit a pair of side ramps.  Most of the time, you use the force (magnets) to make those side ramp shots easier.  There’s also a Force target on the side to hit that’s key to many modes.

The table does quite a bit of transforming.  From the simple background graphic changes for each scene to alterations of the table and interactive elements for some modes.  Some favorites include Vader Frenzy where a central ramp pops up and Lord Vader comes out.  Your goal is to keep shooting balls at Vader while he crushes them with the force.  I also like the scene in the asteroid field where you end up shooting the same ramp trying to avoid the asteroids and a tie fighter that have descended on the table.   Most of the scenes are fun but hard to complete.  You have five scenes unlocked at the beginning.  You start them with some pretty easy middle shots followed by a shot into a large hole that appears in the middle of the table.  There are some pretty tight timers on the scenes.  I’ve only completed a few sections of two scenes.  I’ll let you know if I get better after playing in the tournament.  There is a pretty neat video mode that has you training with the laser sphere Luke used on the Millennium Falcon.  Clearly, of the three, this table feels most like the movies.

Next up is The Clone Wars based on the second version of the cartoon series.  I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I’d spent more time with the series.  I loved the first series and didn’t feel like it needed a reboot already.  This table layout is a bit more complex.  You have ramps, turnabouts, half ramps, drop holes and loops everywhere.  You have an upper and lower set of flippers that can be used to juggle the ball quite effectively.  This table is all about scoring loops.  I’m sure a player with good patience could rack up a huge high score on this table.  I’ll never know.  I like to feel I’m progressing.  That means I keep going after missions and trying to complete them.  Missions encourage you to take risky shots in short windows.

This table is a bit weird in that it makes me think I can’t count.  It seems like everything triggers either a shot before or after I expect it to.  The end result is that I’m always a bit surprised when a mode starts.  The only mode I’ve proven any good at is the mission with Darth Maul’s brother.  I can do ok with the troop transport game.  Even though I score considerably higher, I don’t feel like I’m as good at this table as I should be.

The last table is the most interesting.  It’s Boba Fett.  You play as the titular bounty hunter.  You accept missions from Jabba the Hutt or Darth Vader. Completing missions increases your fame and respect level.  The main goal of the game is to try to maximize your respect in the galaxy.

Once you unlock an assignment, by shooting the Empire lane or the Hutt hole repeatedly, you get to choose the bounty level you want.  Lower credit (read points) bounties are easier to complete but earn less respect.  Once you select a level, you have to capture your bounty by shooting the flashing lanes.  The harder the bounty, the more lanes will be lit along with a reduced time limit.  One interesting twist is that you have a backpack missile launcher.  If you have missiles in your inventory, you can launch one to automatically take out one target.  The downsides are one less missile in your inventory and an explosion that rocks the table.  Once you capture your bounty, you can collect by calling your ship, Slave 1, and shooting the ball into the hold.

There are some neat features on the table.  The central spinner is Han Solo frozen in carbonite.  There is a canyon running at an angle near the top of the table called the Sarlacc pit.  To access the Hutt hole, you have hit a ball that raises a rocker.  Once you do that, the rocker turns into the entrance gate eye from Jabba’s palace.

It’s a very challenging table, but it perfectly balances risks and rewards on a per shot and whole table basis.  That’s all I ask for in a pinball table.  Highly recommended.



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Post Secret Update

In an effort to keep comments turned on, I’ve installed some more aggressive anti bot measures on the site. One side effect of this is that the URL associated with your name is no longer available. Because of this, I will allow text only signature links back to your site/blog/facebook page. Like any link, if it looks fishy (or phishy), the comment will not be posted. Hopefully with the reduction in spam, I’ll be able to check out comment links quickly and approve the post.

Thank you for your understanding.

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Game of the Week: Assassins Creed III

I’ve played all the main games in the Assassins Creed series. I’ve enjoyed most of them. The only one I haven’t finished is AC2: Revelations. I’ll probably finish it up sometime, but after the excellent Brotherhood, it didn’t really grab me. As I mentioned previously, I was really looking forward to III since it took place during the American Revolution. It was a bit tempered when Ubisoft announced the DLC covering the tyranny of George Washington. While I appreciate a little authorial leeway, that’s just stupid. You don’t deny the essential characteristics of a person to tell a story. It would be like a tall, pacifist Napoleon or Ghandi as an assassin. I decided to pretend that DLC doesn’t exist and try to enjoy the game.

I don’t believe it’s possible to spoil something you learn in the first minute of gameplay, but if it bothers you skip this paragraph. You don’t start playing the Assassin that’s on the cover of the game box, Conner Kenway. This plot device actually works very well for the game though you could argue it goes on a bit too long. Unfortunately, it only works the first time. I’d imagine it would be less effective even on a second play through. Still, I enjoyed the prologue and appreciated that they were trying new things with the series.

I wish they’d kept that level of creativity up. Really, most of the excitement in the narrative comes exclusively from meeting interesting historical personalities. So you get to meet Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, Sam Adams, Israel Putnam and George Washington among others. It’s neat to swept up into the events of American Revolution. However, thinking back on the actual assassins side of the story was quite bland with near pantomime characters. The only morally ambiguous character is rather unlikable. Don’t get me started on the ‘present day’ storyline or politically correct mocking of the founding fathers. Good thing the real events are so compelling.

Really, this is an open world action game. And the action is good. While they promise a major control upgrade, really you just spend less time feeling out of control. Less controller bashing is good and helps you feel more like an action hero. Fighting has a good variety of weapons. Each manages to feel somewhat different while different classes of weapons feel wholly different. Sometimes there are a few too many cute gimmicks in the fighting, but if you use all your tricks, you can dispatch even the toughest enemies quickly and brutally. I sometimes wonder if we’re not getting too many choices in combat. It lets you change things up or find an arsenal that suits your style and stick with it.

Movement does seem improved this time around. Even with the variable terrain of the wilderness area, you spend much less time jumping randomly in the wrong direction. It still happens and is frustrating, but the frequency is down considerably. There aren’t the grand structures in colonial America that we had in the previous games, but they did throw in some epic rock climbing. Too bad there’s no tactical advantage in it unless your hunting down an animal.

There is a hunting portion of the game. Mostly, it feels ripped out of Red Dead Redemption. That’s probably a good thing and it lead in to one of the areas of the game that most held my interest. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the developers set up quite the contrast between Europe and America. In the Italian games, you were the noble land holder collecting taxes from your budding empire. In America, you’re a small businessman buying and selling goods trying to make a profit. While the basics of settlement building remain similar, actually throwing in an economic sim makes for a completely different (and more compelling) game. It doesn’t hurt that building your homestead is also based on helping people .

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the seafaring portion of the game. Early on, you gain command of an assassin frigate. It’s rather more technologically advanced than the other ships you face. Even fully upgraded, you often be outgunned. This makes for some fun tension as you try to maneuver to get the best of your varied opponents. It is a very simplified sim, but it’s pretty impressive for being such a small portion of the game. Trying to fight a naval engagement in the pitched seas of a fierce North Atlantic storm is a sight to behold and some of the best fun in the game.

Overall, while there are some worrying signs for the future of the series, this is the best game since Brotherhood. The flaws never conspire to bring down the fun of the game. In an open world, there’s always something interesting to do, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself until the end.

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Game of the Week Puzzle Saga

I want to do more regular updates. So I’m going to try to do a game of the week. Admittedly, most of these will be apps since that’s the bulk of my game time these days.   I’ll try to mix in some classics, indies, and big budget games as well.  I’ll probably shoot for Fridays, but if anyone prefers Mondays let me know.

First up is the game I mentioned earlier, Puzzle Saga by Flipscript.  Don’t confuse it with a game that goes by the same name on Facebook.  This is an action match three puzzler with RPG trappings.  It will inevitably be compared to Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, but it’s much faster and doesn’t have story elements.  A quick word of warning, one update added a big ad when you start up the game.  However, since the game has been free for the past month, this can be forgiven.

In the beginning of the game, most everything is locked.  You unlock things by winning battles and earning coins.  You select a hero who determines the magic you can use.  Then you select the types of units you want to lead into battle.  Initially, you have basic Soldiers and Archers, but then you can unlock Knights, Axemen, Black Mages, Assassins, Witches, Clerics, Vikings, Snipers, Priestesses, and Druids.  Each has their own attack type and can be upgraded twice, for coins, of course.   Melee units generally only attack straight ahead in their row, but range units will attack any enemy.

Each level will start with your units in a grid formation at the bottom of the screen.  You can swap two units to make a match of three or more.  Any time you match three or more, those units will attack.  If you make a match of five or more, you’ll launch a super attack.  Enemies appear in patterned waves.  They attack on countdown timers.  If you’re efficient enough, you can keep attacking fast enough that they can’t attack you.  If they do attack, the damage comes out of your hero’s hit points.  If your hero’s hit points reach zero, you can continue with a full health bar for a fee of coins or it’s game over.

After you defeat all the waves of enemies, you get ranked based on the completion time and a technique rating.  High combos, super attacks and magic attacks improve your technique.  Time is based on a par for each level.  If you come in under par, you get the full 1000 pts for time on that level.  Each second over costs points.  Technique only goes up to 200.  You ideally want a combination that adds up to 1000 or more.  That will give you an S ranking for that level.  You can advance with any completion ranking of the level, but you’ll need all S ranks to unlock the challenge mode.

You see the game is broken up into theme islands, forest, undead, ice, etc.  Each island has ten day levels.  Get an S on all of those you unlock that island’s challenge mode.  Playing challenge modes is where you can really earn coins.  There are endless levels in the challenge mode, but you have a timer counting down.  You have to complete as many waves as possible before the timer runs out.  If you complete a wave below the par time, you can actually skip a level or two.  That’s how you get the big coin rewards.

You’ll need all those coins since unlocking the upper tier units and heroes are pretty expensive.  Unlocking all units and upgrading them while doing the same for heroes would be a near endless grind if you don’t get the bonus coins from the challenge levels.  As it was, I unlocked everything without any in app purchases by moderate grinding on the ice level’s challenge.

So why is it fun?  It’s got those great puzzle cascades from games like Puzzle Quest.  With practice, you can launch near constant attacks that light up the screen with flashing animations and dying enemies.  The sheer variety of units and heroes accommodates a huge variety of strategies.  I ended up with the General as my hero.  His low level magic lets you order any column of units to attack without a match.  His second level launches every unit of a selected unit type.  His top level magic super charges all your units increasing their damage output.

Most of the fun comes  from the fast pace.  While some unit animations will lock you out from making a particular match, most of the time you can just keep making matches even while other matches are attacking.  You sort of settle into a zen rhythm of matching.  Once you find a mix of units you like, it’s pretty addicting.

In addition to the basic mode, each island has a night mode with harder enemies.  There’s also a completely separate puzzle mode that gives you limited units and moves to try to take out a set of enemies.  In short, it’s a great deal of fun at $.99, but it’s a no brainer to try it while it’s free.

Any negatives?  Well, I did have a handful of lock ups on my iPad.  Also, I didn’t find the fire island much fun, particularly at night.  Perhaps I didn’t have the right mix of heroes and units for it.  Overall, highly recommended.

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Sony Defense Force

Sony had their Playstation 4 press conference on the 20th of February. Some have wondered why the seemingly sudden announcement. Personally, I think it’s a good sign. Sony actually recognizes that they’re in trouble. They used to dismiss signs of trouble with the wave of an imperious hand. Now they’re reacting to a problem like any crisis manager would advise them to do. They went out and replaced bad news with good. They replaced rumors with facts. They took control of their narrative. Those are all good, but the most important rule of crisis management is to stop the bleeding. Don’t do any more stupid. Sony could use a break from stupid.

I admit that I have fond memories of Sony. They ruled the electronics hardware world for a while. Just about any Sony product you could buy was a quality product. Yes, they started charging a premium for that quality, but it felt worth it. I had a ton of Sony products back in the day, monitors, camcorders, diskmen, TV’s and, of course, Playstations. The fondest memories were from the Playstation 2. Action games, fighting games, RPG’s and JRPG’s, and strategy games, I played them all on my faithful PS2.

It seemed like Sony could do no wrong. Unfortunately, Sony started to think that way too. They made a whole series of decisions that reeked of arrogance. It didn’t help that they had a new generation of competitors nipping at their heels. When those competitors caught up on quality and beat Sony on price a reckoning was coming. With the disastrous launch of the PS3, it had arrived.

For a while, it seemed like they retreated into their shell. Bad behavior and financial losses abounded. It became obvious the problem wouldn’t be solved without the culture changing. Slowly that seemed to be happening. The Vita was a great product at a reasonable price point. Unfortunately, the market had changed. It might still be saved with a strong PS4 environment and the announced tie in capabilities. A price drop wouldn’t hurt either.

Based on the announcement, the Playstation 4 is much further down that road even than the Vita. The entire announcement, however clumsy, was a love letter to game developers. The PS4 is actually a reasonable answer to the complaints developers had with the PS3. It’s a standard X86 environment with standard libraries but still allowing close access to the metal. It’s got a faster drive, more and faster memory. Most of the developer commentary indicates it will be easier to program than either the Xbox 360 or its successor.

Regardless of whether it’s the most powerful console this coming generation, this new attitude could save Sony if it hasn’t come too late. I hope it isn’t because, I’d like to make some more memories.

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Puzzle Saga (iOS)

I haven’t been playing too much lately. I finally completed a full run through Borderlands 2. It’s a great game. The only other game I’ve been playing recently is Puzzle Saga on my iPad. I’ve been meaning to write up a post on why I enjoy it. For now, I’ll just say it’s like the high speed action cousin of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, a game I loved for the DS, but is now available on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and iOS. I was going to recommend it when they dropped the price to $.99, but they just went a made it free (presumably for a limited time). So go grab it now. I’ll try to do a full write up soon.

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Post Secret

I’m sorry if comments get turned off any posts.  Sometimes the spambots latch on to a post and keep posting comments.  I’m sorry if any of you are out there searching for discount sex shops or deals on beats by dr. dre.  If anyone wants to pay to advertise here, they can contact me.  Spamming the site with your advertising drivel, probably linking to malware laden sites, just annoys me.

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This is kind of cool.  Bluetooth powered stickers so you never lose that remote again.


Yes, it’s another kickstarter (ok, Indiegogo) project, but it’s already funded.  I can think of a few people who could use this as a gift.

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