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.

Polysphere

There is almost a beauty to the simplicity of Polysphere, and yet its increasing levels of complexity mean that this is not your average game. It truly is ‘art’ in a digital form.

The premise is simple, you are given a fractured shape or picture, and you rotate it in three dimensions to reform the image. At first the images invoke larger chunks of colour which help bring everything into focus much quicker, but, as you’d suspect, there are more colours, more fragmentation, and just generally more complexity as the game goes on.

I played about the first dozen levels, but once again, Polysphere is another game that is almost aggressive in its attempt to force you into a paid service, or swallow as many ads as they can force down your throat in between levels. It’s incredibly off-putting, but I appreciate the need to monetise in a complicated market with very few business models from which to apply.

But that’s not my problem. I just want to play great games.

If gaming has taught us anything in the past year, it’s that a subscription based service is absolutely the way to go. Xbox’s Game Pass has opened up a world of great independent games and titles that likely would have remained obscure and niche without being attached to the pass, and now they are brought front-and-centre. With this in mind, I think Apple Arcade probably stands the best chance of discovering some great mobile titles, but we’ll wait and see the details before lauding over it too much (but it seems like it’s definitely a step in the right direction).

Ultimate Briefcase

Well … this is certainly a video game. I can’t quite work out what the ‘end state’ of Ultimate Briefcase is, but I think it invokes a bit of an ‘endless runner’ spirit. That is, keep on going until you die … and then repeat the process until you die again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The basic movement of the game is left and right, at least in these early stages, and it involves you dodging bombs for as long as you can. At one point you are able to launch the ‘Ultimate Briefcase’ which essentially just converts it into an umbrella which will cause bombs to harmlessly explode on top of your head, as you carry on your run back and forth for no particular reason.

I am sure that there are some perfectionists for this game who like to really push themselves to reach the upper echelons of the game, or a level that is overwhelming by design, but I’m certainly not one of those people. I was happy to play it, and I’m glad I did for the sake of posterity, but I wouldn’t be so quick to spend any money on it or invest any more time in the game than I already had.

Zombie Gunship Survival

Most people who played Call of Duty Modern Warfare (before it went all silly with wall jumping and other sci-fi/futuristic pursuits) will know and love the great level where you provide aerial cover for Price and his team from the comfort of an AC-130 gunship. Bombarding a whole bunch of bad-guys with a very satisfying series of explosions, or peppering bad guys with a mini-gun offers a level of cathartic satisfaction that very few games are able to replicate.

Well, as it turns out, Zombie Gunship Survival does … and it does so quite convincingly on a mobile phone.

I think what makes this game so enjoyable is the haptic feedback you get from firing your minigun at the zombies below. I’ve only had two weapon types to play with so far – the minigun as well as hellfire missiles – but both offer up a slice of tactile joy that I can have in the bathroom as easy as I can in bed or on the couch.

Already, I can see myself enjoying a few more levels in this game. I’ve progressed through a lot of the first ‘chapter’ or ‘stage’, and built up some of my base, but – to be honest – the micromanagement of resources and people and buildings and weapons doesn’t interest me nearly as much as holding down my ‘fire’ button on my minigun and shooting zombies.

And let’s face it – who doesn’t love shooting zombies?

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