10 App Store Games To Watch [10/20/15]

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Halloween is almost upon us, but for those of you who might not like to be scared here’s a list of 10 fright-free games that can still entertain you on the eve of all things creepy.  It has been a while since I found a scrolling shooter as engaging as Sky Force 2014, but Steel Grit does a pretty good job of filling in the gap.  It’s not quite as polished, but the levels are well made, there are multiple ships to unlock and upgrade and you actually get to tap some adversaries into oblivion instead of just guiding your ship to destroy everything.  Max Capacity does a good job of making elevator simulators a cool concept.  Random upgrades make the game a fresh experience every time, and you have to love a designer that takes a queue from Willy Wonka and makes elevators that travel sideways.  The biggest surprise on this list was Lunar Flowers, which at the risk of sounding extremely sexist looked like a “girly” game from the screen shots.  It turned out to be an engaging puzzle game that at times proved challenging and ultimately sucked me in until I finally completed it.

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Lunar Flowers [9/23/15] – If you like games that straddle the line between art and interaction, then Lunar Flowers is worth checking out.  It’s definitely a game, but at times it is clear that presentation is more important than in depth game play.  In this case it actually manages to work quite well.  There is no dialog, and aside from the title no words appear on screen, so I’m not 100% sure what the point was, nor am I sure it completely matters.  Just like a great work or art, the foundation is there and you can use your imagination to fill in the details.  The game part primarily consists of connecting sets of flowers by tracing a specific pattern between them.  You’ll often have to use clues in the background to determine the patterns, however, and at times they even form the basis of puzzles you must solve.  There are even a couple of occasions where time is of the essence when you’re trying to draw the right sequence.  And just to keep you on your toes, the developers threw in a couple of puzzles that had nothing to do with connecting flowers.  The game is not incredibly long, but it’s engaging, it looks great, the music is nice and it’s free.  As with many of the games I include in this article, if you’re up for something that’s not just a cookie cutter of a game you’ve already played 100 times, Lunar Flowers is the way to go.

Lunar Flowers NetEase Games, Lunar Flowers – Free

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Black Island [6/18/15] – I grew up on adventure games, so it’s always a pleasure for me to report on a good one that I come across.  I had actually downloaded Black Island a while before this roundup, but was compelled to give it a try when the developers temporarily made the IAP free.  The game is a fun, albeit relatively short, romp across a deserted island in an attempt to discover who you are and why you’re there.  Though the overall experience is short, the pacing within the timeframe of play is well done.  The puzzles are decent, and there are only a couple of mini-games that don’t tempt you to pull your hair out.  The game uses FMV for flashback sequences, which makes for more compelling storytelling than CGI rendered people and means the video isn’t awkwardly wedged into game play with ill effect.  The graphics are well done, but while the tone of the game is somewhat dark it would be nice if the scenes were lightened up a bit so you could enjoy the visual details more.  The videos are fairly well put together for what I imagine was a pretty slim budget, and the voiceover of the main character is nicely done.  Overall Black Island is a solid adventure game experience, though it would be nice to see the story expanded at some point.  While I don’t go for 10+ hour epics when it comes to adventure games, half an hour is a bit extreme in the other direction.

Black Island Helsinki Noir, Black Island – $2.99

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Shooty Skies – Endless Arcade Flyer [9/29/15] – First off, I want to say this is not a great shooter.  You can argue with me until you’re blue in the face, but I still won’t concede that randomly generated levels are better than wave / pattern based ones when it comes to this genre.  And, this is missing one of the most important concepts of modern shooters in my opinion, the ability to permanently upgrade your fighter.  That being said, Shooty Skies is a rather entertaining game.  Thanks to designers that are clearly still kids at heart this has some of the best adversaries I’ve seen in a scrolling shooter in a long time.  The pilots and sidekicks are pretty cool as well, which makes it worthwhile to work towards earning 500 coins to unlock a new character (which really isn’t that difficult if you actually accept the bonuses the game throws at you periodically).  I do like the fact that you can either pick up weapon power-ups in the level or buy them before the level starts, and if you opt to buy them you get to use them for 2 hours after purchase.  I also think it’s interesting how you have to actually let go of the screen to charge up your super weapon, which makes it more of an acquired skill to use effectively.  The game does have a leaderboard for you competitive types, but there are currently no achievements to earn.  I’m glad I took the time to check out Shooty Skies, but I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my top scrolling shooters list any time soon.

Shooty Skies - Endless Arcade Flyer Mighty Games, Shooty Skies – Endless Arcade Flyer – Free

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Combo Quest [1/8/15] – Combo Quest is a side scrolling rogue-like lite that uses twitch tapping for combat and requires you to build up massive combos in order to succeed.  The game is rogue-like in the sense that when you die it is game over, no questions asked.  That means each run is a fresh take, which is further cemented by the fact that the options you can upgrade between each kill are randomly generated at the time of your victory.  One run you might have strong attack skills but are weak on health, and the next time you’re healthy as an ox but can’t make a combo to save yourself.  Your ultimate goal is to defeat the combo king, but that won’t be an easy task.  And since you basically have a new character every time, it might be hard to find that optimal playing configuration.  There are a few permanent perks you can acquire via IAP in the form of steeds and satchels, but for the most part everything has to be earned fresh every game.  Game Center provides two leaderboards and 11 achievements, but for a while at least you’ll be busy simply trying to conquer the elusive Combo King.

Combo Quest Tapinator, Inc., Combo Quest – Free

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Swap Cops [9/2/15] – While I’m all for complex strategy games with lots of options, when you’re on the go it’s nice sometimes to be able to play a strategy game where a single mission might only take a couple of minutes.  Swap Cops is just such a game.  You can unlock up to 12 different cops, four of which will go with you on each mission.  The three in the front row attack while the one in the back is getting healed.  If you swap the one in back for someone in front, the one moving to the front will unleash a special attack, otherwise everyone in front will just fight with a basic attack.  The key is in understanding how each of the special attacks work so that you can use them to effectively wipe out the bad guys, or in the case of saving the civilians avoid frying them in the process.  For every mission you complete you’ll earn some coins, and if you fail a mission you’ll get the option to watch a video to earn some money.  This money can be used to upgrade the health, attack and skill values of each cop as well as to unlock new cops.  The missions are conceivably endless, while a leaderboard and 15 achievements give you more definitive goals.  This clearly won’t be the most in-depth strategy game you’ll find for your iOS device, but it’s perfect for quick bouts of on the go gaming.

Swap Cops Christopher Savory, Swap Cops – Free

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Max Capacity [7/18/15] – I never really pictured myself as an elevator operator, but Max Capacity makes the job rather entertaining.  You use virtual buttons to move the elevator around, and a button to open and close the doors.  Arrows will point you in the directions of passengers that need to be picked up, and little bubbles above their heads indicate where they want to be dropped off.  The quicker you pick up and deliver the higher your tips will be, but miss a few passengers and the game is over.  For each hour you complete you’ll get to choose one upgrade such as an increase in the maximum amount of passengers you can hold or a decrease in the amount of time it takes the elevator to stop.  The down side is that all of these upgrades only apply to the current game that you’re playing, so once you lose you start from scratch.  On the plus side, that makes it feel like a fresh game every time.  There are 10 achievements to unlock and one leaderboard to place on thanks to Game Center.  The game could use a couple of tweaks like not having to actually tap on your tips to collect them or stronger alerts when a customer is getting frustrated, but overall the game is well done and fun to play.  I think it was the ability for the elevators to go sideways ala Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that really sold it for me.

Max Capacity Cloud Monster Studios, Max Capacity – Free

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Gemmy Lands [5/8/15] – I really wasn’t expecting much from this game because it looked like your standard Candy Crush Saga style game.  The truth is that Gemmy Lands is just that in a lot of ways.  You have all your typical types of levels: earn a certain number of points, clear away a certain number of tiles, or make sure a certain number of objects reach the bottom of the screen.  Yet here I am more than 50 levels into the game and still going strong.  I think part of the appeal is that many of the levels look insane when you first load them up and as a result it is quite satisfying once you beat them.  I also like the planet building aspect of the game.  As you beat levels you’ll earn gold bars and unlock buildings that you can place on your planet.  These buildings help speed up the process of rejuvenating hearts, and I think that as you get further into the game they will provide other benefits as well.  And, it’s a unique feature that other match 3 games don’t have.  The game offers 47 achievements and a leaderboard through Game Center, and you can also hook up with your friends via Facebook.  This may not be the most original match 3 game around, yet it’s managed to hold my attention far more than many others I’ve tried in the past few months.

Gemmy Lands Nevosoft LLC, Gemmy Lands – Free

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Steel Grit [6/30/15] – Speaking of “real” scrolling shooters, if you haven’t already you should check out Steel Grit.  First of all, these guys know a thing or two about making wave based shooters.  I also really like how they’ve structured the whole weapons system.  You have one main gun that you can level up between missions with the coins you earn, increasing the weapon itself, the amount of damage it does and the speed with which it fires.  You can also collect temporary boosts throughout the level, as well as a special “blow up almost everything” weapon that is activated by tapping a button at the side of the screen.  Health is regenerated slowly over time so you don’t have to worry about finding health packs in the levels.  In addition to upgrading your ship there are also two other ships you can unlock and upgrade.  One mechanic that I believe is unique to this game is that besides just moving your ship in front of the bad guys to shoot them, some of the villains require you to actually tap them one or more times to destroy them.  There are currently only 8 levels to the game, but you’ll revisit each one many times in your quest to become strong enough to take on the boss enemies.  There are challenge modes “coming soon” for each of these levels, and maybe someday we’ll even see new levels.  With what appears to be 135 achievements at this point, however, you might not need any new content for a while.

Steel Grit Polysauce Interactive L.L.C., Steel Grit – Free

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Random Heroes 3 [11/12/14] – This is the third installment in the series, and even though I own all of them this is the first one I’ve had the opportunity to play.  If you’ve ventured into the realm of Devious Dungeon you’ll feel right at home here, albeit with more of a sci-fi than fantasy atmosphere.  The game is comprised of 3 chapters, each with 25 levels.  Unlike Devious Dungeon, however, the levels in this game are not randomly generated.  To earn three stars you’ll have to find one somewhere in the level, defeat all the monsters and beat the level under a certain amount of time.  So, just making it through the level accomplishes nothing other than unlocking the next level for you.  There are coins lying around, and you’ll also get loot from attacking the monsters.  Beyond that there is a skull hidden on each level.  Coins allow you to purchase new heroes and weapons, while the combination of coins and skulls gives you the ability to upgrade what you already own.  Each hero has a special ability, and each weapon is stronger in some areas than others. In addition to completing all the levels there are 10 achievements to earn, but if you’re like me you’ll derive most of your pleasure from earning three stars on each level and unlocking as many characters and weapons as you can.

Random Heroes 3 Ravenous Games Inc., Random Heroes 3 – Free

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Polyblast [10/15/15] – If you’re tired of wave based scrollers, bullet hell shmups or worse yet, endless random shooters, Polyblast is just the relief you’ve been looking for.  All you have to do is shoot a number of black circles that are descending to the bottom of the screen.  The thing is, most of the dots are attached to some sort of white object, and if any part of a white object crosses your defense line before you’ve taken care of its corresponding dot, the level is over.  Just to make sure things aren’t too easy for you, the dots are moving back and forth along the white objects.  And, more often than not, the white objects are moving as well. Then there are the spikes and lasers that you have to deal with, as well as the occasional rogue dot that acts more like a meteor.  For your defense you have three cannons at your disposal… except they all have limited ammunition.  As a result, timing and accuracy are the keys to truly surviving this game.  There are a couple of bonuses, like unlimited shooting for five seconds if you make five good shots in a row and freezing everything but dots for five seconds.  The free download gives you access to three worlds with 15 levels apiece, and you can unlock 4 more for a 99 cent IAP.  There is a versus mode as well for two players on the same device, but at this stage it is rather basic.  Polyblast shines as a single player game, however, and provides a unique take on the scrolling shooter concept.

PolyBlast Game Cooks, PolyBlast – Free

Well that wraps up another edition of games to watch on the App Store. As always, if there’s something you’ve played recently that you feel should be part of this list, please leave a reply to this post. Previous weekly installments of our App Store Games Roundup:

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