Idle Hands

I feel like I haven’t been gaming for a while, at least I certainly haven’t been writing about gaming for a while. Truth be told, much of my evening is spent trying to score just those few extra minutes of sleep that you miss when being the Dad of a teething six-month old.

This then, of course, opens up a new gaming repertoire. The late-night, bleary eyed game, one that it’s OK to fall asleep in, and still not loose a lot of story or substance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love idle clickers. My clicker-of-choice is, and remains, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms.

While it took me quite a while to work out how to play an idle clicker, something beyond the simple click-and-upgrade methodology, and learning about resets and the benefits that it entails has made the game far more strategic than I first envisioned. This means that I’m now paying more attention to things like individual hero DPS and things like race-relations, that is, which races have better buffs when aligned with others. Understanding these in a little more detail is more helpful than simply trying to leverage a guide that doesn’t take into account which quests you’ve completed and what your current buffs are, or what equipment you are using. It doesn’t take into account what point in the game you’re ‘stepping in’ on (there are a number of formation guides that have heroes in it that I either haven’t unlocked, or it assumes that I’m able to unlock them easily).

However, the thing that annoys me the most is the lack of cross-save. Right now, I have instances of Idle Champions across PC, Xbox and Mobile – all of which have varying DLC purchased and different levels of progress. Not being able to have a single source of truth is just outright annoying, and while I can appreciate the commercial benefit of allowing one to ‘double dip’ on players across platforms, it instead, to me, makes more sense to utilise the Destiny 2 and Bungie model, in which specific equipment or familiars, etc. couldn’t be used on a particular platform unless purchased on that platform. It’s not rocket science, it’s just good player-friendly practice, and it absolutely frustrates me when I can’t see it implemented any-and-everywhere.

That, plus the developers get to double-dip. I am certain that the CFOs of almost any major game publisher would salivate at the thought.

History tells me that this teething journey can go on for quite a while, and so while the rest of the world is twirling lightsabers with Jedi: Fallen Order, or flossing in Fortnite, I’ll be chipping away at my Torm’s Favour balance …

… or sleeping while my Xbox does it for me.

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.

Go Escape!

This is a fun little title where you essentially bounce a small ball over the top of spikes as gravity takes hold and it tracks downward. I thought this would have been easier than what it turned out to be, but as it turned out, there is nuance to this that requires you to master timing, speed and trajectory.

I’ll be honest, this is more fun than I thought it would be. But at the same time, it’s another ad-filled game that just takes away the short fix you need sometimes, and instead inserts a frustratingly long gameplay ad that ends up causing you to turn the whole thing off, rather than entice you into a purchase.

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’.

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.

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).

Crossy Road

If you wanted to find a game that embodies what it means to see poultry-in-motion (get it?) then Crossy Road is for you. I mean, sure, it doesn’t hurt if you have the hendurance to be able to stand the journey from one side of the map to the other – this isn’t any old pecknic.

Anyone who played Frogger back in the day will instantly feel familiar with the premise. And even if you’re not, you quickly learn that the point is to keep moving forward, preferably not in the path of traffic.

The other thing I like about this game is it’s by an Australian developer, Hipster Whale. I know Giselle Rosman from the studio does a heap of work locally to make sure that the Australian scene punches well above its weight, and it shows here. I think that Crossy Road was a good early game to showcase what Australia was capable of, and the continued growth of the industry, despite a few recent, very public collapses, there’s still a lot of heart here in our little corner of the planet.

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.

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!