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.

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.

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.