Gears POP! Level 6

I wanted to revisit my first take on Gears POP! given the rather harsh assessment offered by Kotaku, and my own worry that I may be a little too optimistic about what others saw as a mediocre game.

But, nope. I’m still enjoying it – and Kotaku is wrong.

At first glance, reaching Level 6 probably isn’t quite at the top of the enlightenment period to be able to safely dismiss Kotaku’s rather short-sighted take on the game, but there’s quite a bit of work that goes into getting to this level. I don’t doubt that the gloss of many casual gamers has started to wear off for Gears POP!, and so the competition I’m left with are either the true believers, or the late-to-the-party types, but having understood how many games and how many win-losses it takes to get to that stage means that there is a not-insignificant amount of respect for anyone competing at what I’d consider this ‘mid-tier’ level.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I am regularly loosing quite a few games – it’s about a 50-50 split, but the shine hasn’t quite worn off as quick like it has with Hearthstone. Perhaps it’s because I still get the drip-feed of delicious Xbox achievements, or perhaps I’m still just simply enjoying the game. In either case – from either a philosophical or a business perspective – I’m still playing it, and that means something.

I’ll be interested to see if other first party studios lean into some mobile development for Microsoft, or whether xCloud will pickup the mobile audience – but in any case, it’s definitely not a flop for me.

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One OS to Rule them All

In the last 48 hours, Microsoft announced two things which tickled my fancy. The first is updates to Microsoft Office, which – as rumoured – is likely to be the implementation of Dark Mode across all of its Office products – which is great for a heavy iOS user like me. The other is that they will be holding a hardware event in New York at the start of October, again – another rumour – likely to bring with it a dual-screen Surface Pro.

As part of some comments on some news article (I have a few Microsoft-specific blogs on rotation, including MSPoweruser and On MSFT), I mentioned that I would absolutely be interested in upgrading from a Mac to a Surface if they introduced USB-C in as standard (like they have with the iPad Pro, and the MacBook). I think we’ve reached an age now where pushing ahead with the best in technology, like the USB-C, should be the norm. It’s no longer ‘innovative’, it’s standard. If I’m buying the latest, greatest product, then I want the latest, greatest offering.

But no, that’s not what the internet picked up on, did they?

Instead, and I’m paraphrasing, the response went along the lines of: well, if you like Windows so much, you should have abandoned Apple long-ago.

Now, make no mistake about it – I love my Apple products. I am yet to find a single piece of Apple hardware that hasn’t been able to withstand everything I throw at it – up-to-and-including my three kids. Consider also, that most products I use from Microsoft are now available on iOS, then it’s largely only gaming and a few specific pieces of software (like Visio) that require me to either dual-boot into Windows, or use another computer for. But that being said, I don’t hate using my Windows computers when I do have to use them either. I think Windows 10 is as close to the perfect version of Windows as I’ve seen since they launched Windows 95, and now with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, I’ve found myself using my Windows PC’s more-and-more. Couple that with the fact that most of my services are web-based, then it really doesn’t matter what hardware I’m on most of the time.

Right now, I’m writing this on my Surface 2, with my MacBook beside me showing my Google calendar for the week on Microsoft Edge Dev while notifications go off on my Apple iPhone.

All that’s missing is a bit of a Ubuntu on my desk and I’d have the whole family together.

So, like all of these other fringe arguments, my point remains the same – why is this a zero-sum issue? Why can’t I like iOS and MacOS and Windows and Linux equally and at the same time? Why and how does my decision to like one-or-more ‘other’ products lessen your enjoyment? Sure, there is enough marketing out there that will make you feel like your choice is the superior one (Remember: “Hi, I’m a Mac.” “And I’m a PC.”), but surely there is enough education out there now to recognise fluff versus feelings and preference.

Back when Xbox One launched under Don Mattrick, there were very real issues when it came to console choice. There was a clear divide about why Xbox sucked and PlayStation was better, and Microsoft adapted their product based on those decisions. These days, the products are like-for-like, and silly historical quibbles belong in the past. Right now, Windows and Mac are in the same position: like-for-like.

You don’t need to be a Mac or a PC person – you can be a little bit of both.

And tell the internet to keep their opinions to themselves.

Gears POP!

I am a sucker for a mobile game with Xbox achievements. It’s one of the main reasons why I play Microsoft Solitaire so much, and I have no qualms in touting the virtues of Wordament to any-and-all who will listen. Sadly, people don’t really take to my warped sense of digital justice like I do, and so they just end up heading back to their match-three game or scrolling through their Instagram.

Not me though. I think it took me all of fifteen seconds from when I got the notification that the pre-order for Gears POP! was ready to having the game downloaded and starting it up.

Then the connectivity issues happened.

I’m not going to labour the point because I don’t mind a few teething errors, and thankfully they corrected themselves fairly soon thereafter, which meant that after an hour of gameplay, I had already earned myself two or three achievements, and by the end of the day yesterday, I was at 9% completion.

Not bad for a very brief afternoon’s work.

The game itself is essentially just a Clash of Clans clone, though with POP! characters based on the Gears of War franchise. It just seems like a whole bunch of licensing agreements were prepared by some junior lawyers that got too convoluted and something had to be done with them, but, strangely, it works. Considering I’m really only on level two and working with characters that are, essentially, just upgraded versions of the starting set, I’m not sure how much the game will open up as I get new characters, or, more likely, I go up against stronger opponents.

Progress from here-on out will be slow, because some of the achievements require you to play into the hundreds of games, which is not insurmountable, but it will take time. Each game I played against a human tended to run down the timer, rather than being the one-sided battle that I had anticipated, with some of the games only conquering one base, or going to sudden death. If you can get some time away from the world so that you can play this unencumbered, then you are absolutely in the best position to win, though I’ll see whether that holds true as I continue playing, or whether my own inability is just waiting to shine through.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep working towards those delicious, delicious achievements.

Horse Haven World Adventures

If I’m perfectly honest, it was the Ubisoft name that convinced me to give Horse Haven a go, though I never would have normally picked this game out of a line-up.

At its most basic, it’s the same as any other world building game – upgrade here, farm this, nurture that. The hook here is, essentially, horses, which might appeal to my sixteen year old horse-loving niece, but for a thirty something bloke with a love for everything indoors? Not so much.

On it own, that isn’t enough for me to discredit Horse Haven because it operates as advertised. I don’t know how long the game has been around, but it’s operating in a market that is saturated with similar games, though, like the pull which originally roped me in, it’s the Ubisoft name which offers perhaps the greatest confident that the game will be supported longer-term.

Is it worth a go? Sure. If you are interested in the genre and want to see how the AAA developers do it, then this isn’t a bad one to pick up. If you’re done with the genre though, don’t expect anything new or exciting here.

Except horses. Lots of horses.

Toy Story Drop!

I knew this was a Match 3 game when I started playing it, but I’ll be blowed if I’m going to miss the opportunity to play a game with my old pals, Woody and Buzz!

There really is zero uniqueness to this game, beyond a few licensed characters emerging from time to time. And even then, they’re questionably simple art style seems to be based on not overheating your phone rather than keeping with the Pixar aesthetic.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game but it probably missed some opportunities in its execution. I suppose I won’t have to wait long, I’m sure there’s another Toy Story game or film or toy in the works. And another …

… and again.

Boomerang All Stars

I’m not really sure what the ‘Boomerang’ is supposed to represent in this title. It doesn’t even make it easy to find on the App Store thanks to a glut of other apps with similar titles. Where this game is likely to be found is in the same place I found it – under a niche sub-category on the gaming main page.

There’s nothing particularly ‘meaty’ about this game, and that’s ok. Not every game on mobile needs to have teeth, and this one will cater for anyone who wants some variety with some Warner Bros. characters thrown in for good measure. There is a variety of games, or sports, to play, and while they’re not necessarily anything special – they’re not all together terrible either.

All-in-all, this probably isn’t a bad game to keep on your phone if you’ve got kids around. Otherwise, the more discerning gamer is unlikely to milk much joy from this particular cow.

Wonka’s World of Candy Match 3

Truth be told, when I first saw this game on the App Store, I figured it was the third in a series of ‘Willy Wonka’ games, but as it turns out, it is simply a ‘Match 3’ game, which makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it – but my poor little SJW millennial mind is probably to blame.

That being said, this is, well, a match three game. It probably has more in kind with Garden/Homescapes than it does, say, Candy Crush. In addition to the normal matching part of the game, there is a bit of ‘base building on rails’, which, in this instance, is the Wonka Chocolate Factory.

There’s probably not enough here to keep the average punter interested in the game. I think those who might be new to the genre and haven’t been fatigued by the glut of matching games in the market might find this a good introduction, likewise that small niche of society that pang for anything and everything to do with Willy Wonka.

But for the rest of us? There’s nothing new or different here to prompt you to wake up in the morning.

It might not be a hard pass, but it’s certainly ‘don’t make eye contact’.

CSR Racing 2

At no point in the opening of CSR Racing 2 do you find out what exactly CSR stands for. Nor, too, the Wikipedia entry for the game series. And so, before you even start to comment on the quality of the racing in this game, you find yourself asking: what the hell does CSR mean?

Well, nobody can tell you with 100% certainty, but the consensus appears to be “Custom Street Racer”, and while grammatically it still gets a pass, I have to say, it’s not great to have ‘Racer Racing’ as good structure.

Perhaps the greatest sin though isn’t sentence structure, but rather the face that the most I could ‘custom'(ise) my car was to give it a lick of paint and change the rims.

Mate. GTA San Andreas had more customisation than that, and the game is fifteen years old!

The racing sets in the game are actually quite good fun. The fact that it is pretty much a tactical shifting of the gear, as well as the control of the garages demonstrate that you know your stuff.

Fortnite

You would be living under a fairly large boulder if you have never heard of Fortnite, considering it’s regularly news-shattering impact, notably the 2019 win by 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf (or his online alias, “Bugha”, which makes me think of the old Toyota Ad where various characters mutter one word: ‘Bugger’), who took home the US$3 million grand prize in the first Fortnite World Cup.

I feel like my early adoption of Fortnite was a sign of things to come. It came to market at a time when ‘PUBG’ was all the rage, and instead of trying to compete with the quasi-realistic shooter, it took things in another direction and just made them fun!

I don’t plan on rehashing the format of a Battle Royale, but it seems like there are a few new game modes up for grabs these days. For instance, my first game of the season was not a Royale as such, but rather a team death match with a score count. So, even when you died, you just respawned and got on with it. And it was as fun as classic Fortnite used to be.

Well played, Epic Games.

Chessplode

Chess has had a bit of a resurgence in the gaming spheres lately. I’ve seen a lot of “Chess 960” variations floating around – and that in itself is bringing people back to the original game.

This, however, is something different again. The basics of this game are somewhat simple – catch a piece and it detonates every other piece in that row and column – except if the King is in the same row or column as the captured piece (and then it’s a regular capture). It’s probably an unnecessary addition to a crowded market but on the other hand, I appreciate it not just being ‘another chess game.’

I had a go at both the “vs Ziri” the the “levels” modes in the game, and both played pretty much like standard Chessbots. I wasn’t paying attention in the levels at first and didn’t realise it was a Chess 960 startup, so it took me some time to claw my way back to victory but considering it was Level 1, I suspect the Chessbot was more sympathetic than normal.