Shadow Fight 3

If I’m perfectly honest – I expected this to be a poor man’s Mortal Kombat. What I didn’t expect was that a pretty fully featured combat game would be able to squeeze into the measly size of a few hundred MB and download to my phone over a lunch break.

Let me be clear: This is a very good game.

The very quick tutorial throws you in the deep end a little bit, but at the same time that feels OK. It gives you the basics and sets you out in the real world, and, yes, the real world can be quite brutal, but at the same time, you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth out of the fights. And this is a free to play game!

Given my performance in the first few fights, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Shadow Fight 3 just on account of having very little time and too many games to play, but this is an otherwise very under (or not-)rated title that is worth a look if you’re a lover of the fighter genre.

Mr Bullet

While I had a penchant for Batman growing up, truth be told, I was far more obsessed with James Bond as a kid. While Goldeneye was probably my gateway drug to the world lovingly crafted by Ian Fleming and Albert R. Broccoli, I found my favourite of the Bond films to sit with Roger Moore. There was something about ‘Live and Let Die’ which tickled every single part of my musical, cinematic and thematic Venn diagram overlap and if I’m perfectly honest, I’m not entirely convinced that any other Bond movie – including the Daniel Craig films which I absolutely love – has come even close.

Mr Bullet achieves absolutely none of this romanticised life-of-a-spy world. I just wanted to talk about James Bond. Instead, Mr Bullet is about one thing, and one thing only – it just wants you to shoot stuff.

The first levels take you through a range of what are essentially tutorial levels, with a range of different scenarios for you to base your shots around. At first, it’s just about aiming, and then it becomes about aiming at objects to cause a secondary kill, and lastly, it becomes about the speed of your shot.

I made it into the early stages of Part 2 in the game, which switches up the enemies for what, I assume, are Ninjas, and by this stage you have a fairly good grasp of what you need to do to finish a level. Most of the time, you just wait to see the satisfying pass of a bullet through an enemy head, creating a little hole as it does so.

Where this game really frustrates me – and it will be the case for many free-to-play games, is the forced advertisements at seemingly ad hoc periods throughout the game. Finish a level? Sure, here, have an ad. Wait three more levels, and then every level after that has another ad. It is an interesting design choice to let you work your way pretty much through Stage 1 uninhibited, and then start to slam you once you hit the Ninjas, but I suspect smarter marketers with more qualitative data have determined that this particular approach earns the most clicks.

Switching up where the Exit (X) button is on an ad doesn’t hurt either though, does it, Don Draper?

Archero

What an absolutely little cracker of a game this is! The simplicity in the design but the excellent combination of action and puzzle solving is where this game comes alive. With a single thumb, you control your little archer through a world of increasing difficulty, where when you stop moving, you start shooting (automatically). There is a need to balance where you are positioned in the map alongside dodging incoming projectiles and other enemies, but at the end of the day, like me, you will be overwhelmed.

It seems that the first stage needs you to complete about fifty levels, which I’m never likely to do in the space of a single day, but I can see how, over time, you would build up the know-how as well as a few upgrades to your character, well enough that you can push through to that big five-zero.

And then, I suspect, you move on to the next world.

One of the things that really floated my boat from this game were the graphics. With very much a Clash of Clans feel, the design of this title really works for it. There are some level design issues in some spaces, particularly when playing a portrait-based game and the level needs to be deeper than the phone allows, meaning that you end up shooting at things off screen and, likewise, you are unable to see incoming projectiles. Nonetheless, you are able to navigate smoothly, and the character model is quick to respond and you can see (when the enemies are on screen) visual indicators to tell you how much health is left for both your player character and the enemies.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game still on my phone after a few months. For the first time in a while, I’m actually keen to see where I can expand on the fun of this game. It is well-designed, looks great, and above all else, it is just damn good fun.

Hungry Shark

For those of you with a void in your life that can only be filled by stepping into the shoes (or fins) of a shark and eating fish and people alive, then have I got the game for you.

Hungry Shark is a little title out of a Developer you might have heard of: Ubisoft. But rather than flogging its Tom Clancy license or thinking up new world cities to stretch the Assassins Creed story to, it has this nifty little game that is all about controlling a shark as he, well, eats.

There is some other elements to this game that I haven’t quite worked out yet. For instance, I can’t quite understand what a Gold Rush is, and I suspect that there is different kinds of sharks to purchase or upgrade into. There were a few times I tried to eat things, in this instance a turtle as well as an eel, at which the screen popped up a notice that I needed a particular kind of shark.

I wonder if the same rules apply to five year old fussy eating humans as well. Do I need to upgrade to one that eats his vegetables?

Graphically, the game isn’t bad considering it is running on a mobile. The issues I saw were largely to do with frame-rate rather than textures, which is probably a conscious decision by Ubisoft to sustain visual fidelity over performance. It’s not necessarily distracting but it is noticeable, and while I’d like to be able to blame my hardware (I’m playing on an iPhone XR), I suspect that the results would be similar on most devices.

As it turns out, I picked up this game during what was an update to coincide with the Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’. If there was something special to do with that, then I completely missed it, but long-time players of the game might have a better idea what is and isn’t part of the update as opposed to the regular game.

All-in-all, a solid little time waster.

3/5 Stars

Gardenscapes Level 135

As I mentioned the other day, for a few weeks now, I’ve been getting back into Gardenscapes on iOS, which is essentially just a matching game with a bit of a narrative overlay thrown in for flavour.

I actually think that making it to Level 135 is more representative of my ability to stay with the game this long, rather than any sort of skill. All of the games like this seem to have a mechanism built in that tries to entice you into spending some real life money, and when it sees you’re not going to, it gives you a fast-tracked win and then tries again another day.

That nugget of wisdom comes to you thanks to over 135 levels of staying power.

My only criticism in the game (other than microtransactions and incessant ways to make you spend your real money – a criticism I level at most mobile games now, not unique to Gardenscapes), is its inability to skip over some rather dry narrative beats. I don’t mind tapping through a few dialogue boxes every now and then – but depending on what options you choose, you can start to feel a bit dry after the tenth line of dialogue in a game.

And so, the journey continues. It’s hard to tell where the Gardenscapes journey ends or if it’s just a never-ending road of developer updates and tweaks, but I’ll keep checking in with it as time goes on.

Besides, it beats having to try and work on my own garden!

Homescapes Level 43

When I think of some of the earliest games I played on the iPhone, a few notable titles come to mind: Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Homescapes all rung-in a new generation of gaming that made mobile phones a legitimate vehicle for contemporary gaming.

With all that in mind, I’m not sure whether I’m just a bad player or if I played more Gardenscapes than Homescapes, but I’m not sure why I’m still only at level 43!

Ah, I know what it is … parenting.

Without getting into a long monologue about contemporary parenting as a gamer, what I will say is that, often, overnight when you have a newborn, you want a quick fix of a short, sharp, but – most importantly – fun video game. Since the birth of my third child, I’ve been leaning quite heavily into Gardenscapes, cf. Homescapes, and so while they’re both great titles, I’m considerably ahead on the former.

The other thing that I think draws me to Gardenscapes over Homescapes is the story. While it’s nice that the whole narrative focuses on improving our protagonist’s parent’s home, I think it feels more engaging to be working on the expansive garden in Gardenscapes. There is real aesthetic changes rather than just the small tweaks and occasional new asset dropped into the environment of the home.

So … with that in mind … I better get back to it. This house won’t renovate itself, and the cat needs a new bed to sleep in!

AoM Forbidden Valley 1-7 Flicker of Hope

As it turns out, you can only use your ‘borrow a minion off a friend’ once a day, and so with a whole roster full of woefully underpowered heroes, I elected to mix up the path a little and head into the Forbidden Valley.

I didn’t think there was anything special about this fight – it was fairly evenly matched and both sides lost a person or two (though, obviously, I still had some standing at the end!), but my main takeaway out of this whole encounter was that I had completely missed the auto advance button on the left hand side of the screen. So, instead of trying to find the best attack/defend option on each round, I can increase the speed to 4x, let it auto-play, and I believe it’s going quicker than I’ve ever been able to get through a game that didn’t use an auto-clicker or a few player-friendly enhancements!

AoM Light Campaign 2-7 Valley of the Shadow

It’s been a few days since I last opened up Age of Magic, so imagine my delight when I logged on and got bumped to level 19 straight away. Lucky me!

Back into the throng of the fight, and this was a level that wasn’t shy about introducing quite a few enemies into the mix. The main antagonist for this level was a floating demon-like creature called an ‘Arekhon Shadow’, who was big, nasty, and did a good job of taking the focus – and the damage – off the rest of the group.

Of course, the whole fight was made a lot easier given I ‘borrowed’ a Level 41 Roland from a ‘friend’!

Super Mario Run 6-4 Bowser’s Bob-ombing Run

This is it.

This is the end.

This run is largely about both keeping on the path (to collect coins) and timing your jumps so that you turn-the-tables on Bowser, and throw his own bombs back to him. This part takes a little more practice than you would think, but once you’ve done it once or twice, you can smash through the level pretty quickly.

In short:

Step 1. Follow Bowser
Step 2. Throw his own bombs at him
Step 3. Save the Princess
Step 4. Live happily every after

And thus, we end our romp through the core levels of Mario, or the ‘Tour’ levels anyway. There’s plenty of other places to play and ways to indulge in Super Mario Run, but this brings me to the end of this adventure.

Still … plenty of other games to play!

In the wise words of President Bartlet, “What’s Next?”