Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Quantum Collapse

Every now and then comes a point in my life where I realize that I am currently playing way too many different games. At that time I try and prioritize which games I want to finish first, which ones I can wait on completing later, and what genre of games I could use more of. Prior to June 8th, 2009's release of Quantum Collapse, it came to my attention that I was literally starved of the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre, and the iDevices were in serious need of a hero. With the only namable titles in the genre being Warfare Inc, and Strategic Assault, I felt that a proper RTS with tolerable controls, some amount of depth, and decent looks all together would never make it on the platform. Man, am I glad I was wrong.

I grew up with the more popular PC RTS games, like Starcraft, Warcraft 1 & 2, Age of Empires, and a few Command & Conquer (C&C) games (namely Tiberian Sun). I knew right off the bat that holding a RTS on the iDevice up to its PC grandfathers would be downright unreasonable; however I did have some basic expectations. So when I excitedly booted up my copy of Warfare Inc. back in early December of last year, I was hoping for an experience that would compare similarly to C&C games, or even a touch of the Starcraft awesomeness. Instead, I got a program that was a little short on visual splendor, and no so short on control issues. I found that among all things that Warfare Inc and Strategic Assault suffered from, the controls were my biggest beef. Though with time, practice and several frustrated sessions, they became less difficult, but control is sometimes the key to survivability, and the ability to manage your control in time is the difference between victory and defeat. That's not to say Warfare Inc. wasn't fun, but the controls made the game less and less enjoyable after a while.

So what sets indie developer and one-man-army Javier Davalos's game from the rest of the competition? To start, the graphics are much easier on the eyes than Warfare Inc., The sprites are small and are detailed just enough to actually look good with the default zoom (you can zoom in a lot and out completely)The sprites are not as detailed as Strategic Assault's, as I felt that one of the few strong things about Strategic Assault was the sprites' and buildings' visuals. The landscapes look good, casting decent details of desert plains, snowy fields, desolate grasslands, fiery volcanoes and mountainous terrains to traverse. The looks of the bright spheres known as Xeron nodes (resource/currency in the game) always put a smile on my face, as I simply cannot help but say to myself "OooOooO....Shiny..." The building structures are very well detailed, and some even have little light animations or movements (Like a spinning Com-Link Satellite). The combat visuals are not bad either, with the spectacle of explosions, lasers and bullets from all unit types to be seen. And even with the flurry of missiles, lasers, bombs, cannons, turrets and units everywhere, the only time I experienced any slight lag on my 2nd Gen iPod Touch is when I had 50+ units attack an opponent's base, and it usually cleared up once they started getting eliminated.

There are 4 basic types of units to create, 3 being combat specific. You have your basic gatherers (Like SCV's in Starcraft) that provide the basic construction foundation for your base, like gathering resources and having the ability to construct buildings. One current complaint with a few that I have talked to say that the Gatherer's movement speed is just a little too slow, but once you get more and more of them harvesting, you tend not to notice, as they do carry quite a decent amount of Xeron per trip back and forth. The other unit types include your basic Infantry who are the all around cheap units, more expensive amoured units such as Tanks, Siege Tanks, and Armoured Walkers, and my favourite, the aerial units, which include units like a light armoured but quick strike craft, a dog fight specific ship, and an expensive, but deadly fighter jet. Quantum Collapse is the first iDevice RTS to feature aerial vehicles to control, which I thought was pretty cool. Some of the units even have specific powers, like the Infantry Unit has the ability to increase its run speed for 15 seconds, with a 60 second cool down, or the Armoured Walker unit that has regenerating shield powers. Also, in Skirmish mode and later campaign missions, you have the ability to research specific 'Spells' and abilities via the research center. These 'Spells' offer abilities that could very well turn the tide of an ill-fated battle. Abilities such as a hell fire, which causes damage to units caught in the fires over several seconds, a black hole-like ability that sucks up all projectiles fired near it, a disruptor field which powers down and disables all buildings in the area, or extra shield armour for all of your units and more. Learning the abilities' advantages can save you in the long run, and becomes essential in strategy. Other than that, that is about all there is to upgrade, and while this may sound a little shallow, there is one thing that does it all justice. There is seemingly NO unit cap. Not one. I've built around a hundred units to see how much I could get away with, and there was still no limit (though a little laggy when trying to move them all on the same screen). The only limit is that you can only cue 6 units per building at a time. Fortunately, it doesn't take real long for units to be created.

My favourite thing that sets Quantum Collapse apart from the others is the great control implementations, especially after the recent 1.1 update. I always had trouble keeping groups and moving certain units where necessary in Warfare Inc, and it was a little easier to group in Strategic Assault, but Quantum Collapse takes the cake on this one. Selecting multiple kinds of the same type of unit is as simple as tapping on one of those units, and if you only want to select one of those units, just double tap the unit you desire to select. At the top left and right corners, are buttons that select all Ground Units or all Air Units currently visible on your screen. Putting three fingers on the screen creates a 'Selection Triangle' allowing you to select whoever is in that triangle. Moving and attacking with selected units is as simple as double tapping where to go, while scrolling is as easy as moving one finger around. Want to make a specific group that you can select later? Tap 5 fingers on the screen, and it prepares to assign a group, then you tap again with an amount of fingers that you wish to choose as the group assignment slot (Example: I have 4 tanks, 4 Air units, and 4 Infantry men selected and I want them to be in group 3. Press five fingers to enter group assignment, then 3 fingers to assign that group to the 3rd slot.) Since you have 5 fingers (a few of us anyways) you can create up to 5 different groups. To recall the group, tap 4 fingers on the screen, then the number of the group you want (Example: I want to recall group 3. Tap 4 fingers on the screen, then tap 3 and your group is selected). Initially, this may sound extremely complicated in theory, but it is actually quite easy to get used to in practice, and if you are an RTS vet like me, you will do good to group often.

But what is Javier's most valuable and strongest weapon for Quantum Collapse? The community, that's what. Javier Davalos is an active member of, where he communicates to the forum members about any and everything involving the game almost daily. Through many suggestions, tips, and ideas, Javier is able to best update the game, featuring fixes that mattered most to us, and continues this method regularly. Future plans and updates involve an amazing multiplayer feature that will include voice chat and Wi-Fi capability, a Fast-Forward button on Skirmishes, a new playable race and many more. There are all things that we as the community felt the game could use to make it that much better. This, in my opinion, is such an important asset, and it is a shame so many more developers don't follow in his footsteps.

From up to what I have played so far, the story of the main campaign is a little mundane and slow to start, but with an open mind, it is somewhat entertaining. You play a low ranking administrator with little to no respect from you superiors until they realize that you can actually command forces well, and they send you to destroy the opposing Alien Race. The story is told through small cut scenes and a little in-game text. Nothing special, but entertaining enough to get you through the next level, and is a fair price to pay since the game play is what you?ll be craving more of anyways. There is currently no soundtrack, and I've heard little word on if anything will be implemented, though I am sure something is to come. The sounds are great though, as you hear the pulses of the 'Pew Pew' laser sounds, rockets launching, and explosions. Little beeps and blips play when you select things, or highlight units. A woman's voice repeats your actions when selecting and assigning groups, which reminded me a lot of the main woman's voice when you play the Terran on Starcraft.

Overall, you won't be disappointed when investing in this Real Time Strategy game. Casual players will find the Easy mode most enjoyable, where as RTS vets may want to start on medium (Difficulty selection on the main campaign starts on lvl 3 or 4). I have yet to try Hard in the campaign, but found that hard mode in the Skirmish battles are straight up brutal. So far I can forsee several hours of gameplay out of this game, as it offers not only a campaign, but skirmish modes for near infinite replayability. If you gave up hope on the RTS genre for the iDevices, give this one a try. I felt that it was fairly priced at $3.99, but for its current price of $1.99, that is a complete steal. If you were one of those who liked Warfare Inc. or Strategic Assault, Quantum Collapse will offer, in my opinion, a different experience making it a wonderful addition to your collection. It may not be the most perfect game, suffering mainly from the lack of a soundtrack and slow gatherers, but the polish and feel of the game play itself feels much more natural for the iPhone and iPod touch versus the competition, and with future updates, you know it's only going to get better. If you're new to the RTS genre, and enjoy strategy, pick up the lite version and see what you think. I highly suggest it for any RTS fan, and while some say they will wait for the anticipated Command & Conquer to make its debut on the app store, I happily continue to play Quantum Collapse, feeling slight sadness on what they are missing out on. See you guys soon in the multiplayer matches!

Booch138 gives Quantum Collapse 4.25 /5 stars.

This information was written solely to inform and entertain through both fact and opinion. All material written by Frank Cabello aka Booch138. 7/14/2009

Quantum Collapse Appstore Link:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Castle of Magic (iPhone/iPod touch)

Adding to their list of over 20 Titles strong, big time iPhone game developer Gameloft releases Castle of Magic, an amazing, attractive, and equally ambitious platformer for the iPhone and iPod touch. Castle of Magic was released June 12, 2009 and has since seen one update for minor bug fixes and OS 3.0 compatibility. As platformers are more on the rise in today’s app store, few actually offer an experience quite as magical as this one.

Castle of Magic’s story puts you in the shoes of a nameless boy and his friend at play. Before you know it, your friend is kidnapped by the evil wizard Nefastax, who shifts reality to a castle of, well, magic. It is then your job to go find and rescue her. Typical story, of course, but with its charming, bright and colourful look, and exceptional challenge, Castle of Magic will test your skills through 5 various worlds within the Castle, including the tree filled ‘Green Labyrinth’, the swashbucklin’ ‘Pirate Ship’, the snow engulfed ‘Cold Ice’, the delicious ‘Yummy Cake’, and the the gravity defying ‘Mysterious Space’. Each world has 3 levels, and a boss level within them. Each level, with careful exploration, and revealing all the level’s secrets, took me around 5-10 minutes each level for the first couple worlds, and around 15 minutes per level in later worlds. As I mentioned, there are secrets areas, sometimes revealing one of 3 hidden stars that you can find in each level. Also strewn throughout levels are a generous amount of little purple gems, in which act as your ‘Health’, but I will touch on that in a few. 100 of these gems will grant you 1 extra life.

The game is controlled by an on screen virtual D-Pad on the lower left side of the screen, and 2 action buttons (Attack and Jump) on the lower right side, which right off the bat annoys some, as they can get pretty rough to get used to. Though on occasion I pressed the downward stomp movement when I meant to go either left or right in mid-air, I never had any game hindering problems with the controls, and thought they were very responsive and well implemented, especially for a virtual D-pad. Castle of Magic’s platformer style seems to borrow elements of play from 2 well known titles in the genre, Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers 3, and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Scattered throughout the map you will find magical items that grant powers to your character. For instance, one power allows you to turn into a red mage that can shoot fire by the flick of a wand, or the Inuit on the ‘Cold Ice’ world, that acts as an ice climber. Think Mario 3 when getting the Fire Flower Power, or the Ice Climber power to cast similarities. If hit by an enemy while in these ‘costumes’, you will lose your powers, just like in Mario games as well. However, if you are hit without any powers active, you will lose a sum of the Purple Gems you have collected. Think rings like in Sonic the Hedgehog, if you get hit, they scatter, and you can go and get a portion of them before they disappear. If you are hit and you have no gems however, you die and restart at the nearest checkpoint, which are pretty generous throughout the levels.

The game plays simple enough, giving tutorials on controls as you start the game. My initial thoughts on the game were mind blowing, and even having finished up the game, that thought still holds true. Clocking in around 3-4 hours game play time, this game kept me interested from Start to Finish. The overall polish of the game is phenomenal, with a scarce level of technical bugs, and a soundtrack that is just too fun to ignore. The sound effects were spot-on for a magical platformer, and never got old. The graphics were crisp and amazing to look at, keeping a frame rate that I can say never stuttered on my 2nd Gen iPod touch. The overall character details were lovely, and the baddies even looked good too! The boss enemies were very well done, and several little details made the fights really enjoyable, though not the most challenging.

As I mentioned previously, the game ran me around 3-4 hours of total game play, looking, discovering, and exposing all secrets within the levels I could possibly find. One disappointment I had with the game is that collecting all 3 stars in all the levels did nothing other than boost the scores for those levels. I was hoping that maybe collecting them all would unlock a place, or open up something. And with no online leader boards or anything like that, there is no real incentive to collect them (unless you are just a perfectionist such as myself) or keep up your score. That also cuts on replayablilty as once you are done with the game, you can go back and look for everything, or start over.

In conclusion, I have to say despite a few things that could improve the game, this is a beast of a good time. I constantly found myself sneaking in as much play time as possible just to get a little further and see where I got next. The 4.99 price of admission may be a bit steep for some, but for those who bite the bullet, you will be trialed with a myriad of fun obstacles, clever boss fights, beautiful graphics, and overall the best platformer experience on the app store. Whether you are a casual gamer, or a hardcore gamer, this platformer I suggest to anyone. Here’s hoping for downloadable content for more worlds down the road!

Booch138 gives Castle of Magic 5/5 stars.

This information was written solely to inform and entertain through both fact and opinion. All material written by Frank Cabello aka Booch138. 7/13/2009