I have a problem with my iPhone game playing. There are the games I think I ought to want to play on the iPhone, like the special edition of Secret of Monkey Island, or Beneath a Steel Sky — games I want to play in general, that I’m pretty sure I would enjoy, and that happen to be pleasantly cheap and portable in this format. But that’s not what I actually play. The time I spend gaming with my iPhone is usually unpredictable snippets on buses and trains. In which case I don’t want something with a continuous plot; I want something I can pick up and put down again after any stretch of play I choose. I’ve had them around for months, but the games I most consistently go back and play more of are Jigami and 7 Cities. So my recent downloads have been more in the same line. I got a free review copy of Blackout!, which has the misfortune of looking something like a Bejeweled clone in screenshots. It isn’t — you’re eliminating elements as in a match-3 game, but in a more sophisticated way that involves selecting a detonator and then drawing a (possibly crooked) line through the matching gems you want to get rid of. This is all in aid of affecting the underlying board: when you detonate a series of gems, that explodes a channel in the board beneath, which allows light to flow from sources to sinks. The graphics are very polished and the gameplay is more subtle than I expected it to be. At the same time, I find it slightly frustrating in ways that make it less addictive. For one thing, in the interests of complexity, they’ve made the game board large — larger than you can see on your screen at once. That means a lot of scrolling around to find the light sources and the sinks you want to connect them to; it also means it can be hard to wrap your mind around a strategy for the board as a whole, especially in later levels where there are an increasing number of barriers and special objects to deal with. For another, each level is on a timer, and as you get close to running out of time, the area you can see is vignetted by darkness, giving you a smaller and smaller effective area of vision — which means more and more desperate scrolling. Still, I’m having some fun with it, and it looks really pretty, so I do return to it from time to time. I also bought a copy of Mikado Defenders. It’s a tower defense game, a genre I generally enjoy, and it comes with a tasty wrapper of Japanese art style and setting. Thing is, unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t really working for me so far: the waves of enemies come on slowly, so it’s easy to get bored, and the board is small enough that if the enemies are doing really well, there’s not much opportunity to add last-ditch defenders near the goal. Maybe I haven’t found the ideal settings for it yet. This is sad to me, because I have killed a lot of otherwise boring time with 7 Cities but have reached a point with it where I can survive for more or less indefinite periods in survival mode, so I was looking for a new iPhone TD game. My experience with what I play (and therefore what I’m willing to buy more of) does make me doubt whether targeting IF to phones is really a useful way to go. It might be; it might be that we haven’t done a good enough job of putting the games out there, but they’d be well-received if we did. On the other hand, I just can’t imagine getting all the way through even a moderate-length game in this format. And the form factor (in my opinion) sabotages a lot of the strengths of IF.
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