GameCentral’s monthly look at the best new mobile apps includes the charming shmup Skies Of Chaos and the surprisingly excellent Marvel Snap.
This month we’re taking a more in-depth look at the world’s best mobile releases, including the hugely promising new card warrior Marvel Snap and the great Netflix game Skies Of Chaos, along with two more exotic alternatives.
iOS and Android, included with Netflix subscription
While there’s been plenty of industry chatter about Netflix’s plans to expand its video game offerings, including a rumored focus on the service’s live titles, the current crop is similar to Apple Arcade, in that it focuses more on discrete single-player shows. This is going well so far, with the classic throughout, in the breach and the wonderful Poinbee lead the way.
This month, a new single-player game that takes its cues from the vertically scrolling 2D shooters of the past is joining the lineup. Avoiding the usual themes of space and World War II, this time you’re defending a kingdom of rabbits from a variety of flying animal invaders.
Using the same control system as the premium Sky Force games, you can tap your finger on the screen to move and shoot automatically, letting you dump trash on enemy planes emerging from the top of the screen, while flying through combinations of power-ups to release them as they explode.
And the atmosphere is truly chaotic, with enemy planes, boats, tanks, and mid-level bosses, mixed with collectibles, beautifully drawn clouds, and landscapes. Your bird has generous health standards, so mistakes are frequent but far from disastrous.
Progressing through the introduction levels, you’ll unlock the smart bomb and shield quickly, helping you navigate the more extreme sections of each level. You’ll also gain access to new pilots and upgradeable sidearms, which fly alongside your plane, unleashing more hell on your many enemies.
It works perfectly as a touch game, touch controls and satisfying sound effects let you know when each bullet is calling; It’s a great feat when there are so many ordinances flying around. Her art style is equally cool, with the cute design of her animal heroes serving as a counterpoint to the multiple explosions that fill the screen.
Like many games on subscription services, this was clearly intended to support it through microtransactions, before it was redesigned as a free download on Netflix. This means that instead of being tempted to spend actual money on their multiple currencies, upgrades now arrive in an easily earned sequence as you play through levels, which is much more satisfying.
Colorful and wickedly humorous, Skies Of Chaos presents a fun and long-term challenge, packed with entertaining characters and a plethora of new upgrades and planes. Sky Force fans, in particular, will feel right at home.
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iOS and Android, £4.49 (GameCoaster)
Dungeon Squad is fond of turning convention on its head. For one thing, you play as the villains, defending your demonic stone from a horde of noble adventurers. It is also entirely inhabited by women, with not a single male character in the game.
Unfortunately, this brings its own problems, which is that all the images are shot in a slick anime style. It’s an aesthetic choice that won’t be for everyone at all, conjuring up unpleasant images of the scary side of anime and games. Which is unfortunate because the game itself is mechanically interesting.
Dungeon Squad’s roguelite tower defense style is quite special. The heroines run on a board of hexagons that have absolutely no effect, entering in a massive dash from the right of the screen, and converging on your demon stone at the far left.
Starting with a single defensive fork, you can tap the screen to direct its magical blasts to the incoming horde, pausing to reload for a long time. The loot from each round is spent on power-ups, and depending on your luck, sometimes you also hire more demons to keep defensive fires while the monster you control keeps its ammo back.
Although there is a shop that occasionally appears between levels, most of the time you need to count on the bounty you loot from the adventurers. This gives you the choice as to which defender you want to strengthen and which skills to strengthen.
There is a lot of experience involved, because there is absolutely no training or instructions, you are thrown right into the first round and left to fend for yourself. We’re all for games that let you figure things out on your own, but that feels like a little “deep end” for the first few rounds.
Another issue is timing. After just a few hours of playing, you will find that your run lasts for over half an hour. That’s OK on the console, but on mobile it feels like a very big time commitment, a feeling exacerbated by the absence of checkpoints. Interrupt your walk to make a phone call and you’ll be right back at the starting point.
The waves of enemies are also inconsistent. One might be easily knocked out without any damage, while the next overwhelms your defenses without even seeming to really try. With no smooth sense of progression, it can feel a bit random, though for the length of distances, sometimes death is a welcome release.
There is a huge amount going on in the Dungeon Squad game. Demons are extremely diverse in their magical attacks, and power-ups come in an amazing abundance of stat upgrades and bonuses, as well as the ability to hire and swap defenders. It makes each run significantly different from the last, which due to the somewhat simplified layout of a single point defense, is too.
iOS and Android, £12.99 (long story games)
Lucy has a problem. Every night she is haunted by terrifying nightmares that cause her to collapse into an unseen land beneath. Your job is to figure out how to stop them through some good old adventures.
Starting in Lucy’s house, your first task is to find your way out of her room, before exploring the rest of the house in search of ingredients for a dream chest. Once assembled, this allows you to target different dream worlds as you fall asleep, where you are serious about finding ways to stop those nightmares.
During your waking hours, you’ll also need to choose your way around Lucy’s neighborhood, with its fun crew of eccentrics, from a village celebration with a police auction of police-captured properties and Portalio described as a ‘Tardes of filth’, to a distinct personality. A diabolical local librarian. But this is nothing compared to the oddities that you will find in her dreams.
Encountering a giant anthropomorphic talking Teddy, you’ll find yourself performing a foliage room improvisation that speaks of judgment and helps a feral crab who thinks he’s a sergeant, deeply ashamed of having a rubber band imprison one of his mighty claws.
The relentless fervor is brewed through the cheerful voice acting, which has the kind of proper Yorkshire accents you’d rarely hear in a video game. You’ll also find that despite the comedic trappings, the puzzles you need to solve can be quite challenging.
There’s a question mark at the bottom of the screen that reveals the interactive elements of each scene, but that’s the only hint you’ll get, and as with older travels in the genre, there are plenty of moments where you feel as if you’ve tried absolutely everything in your inventory. With all the props available in the scene, to no avail.
There’s always YouTube, and when you finally stumble upon a solution, you’ll usually realize that there were actually many clues pointing you in the right direction, albeit sometimes in a mysterious way.
If you enjoy being challenged, there is a lot to like about the surprisingly wide and strange worlds that Lucy inhabits. Artistic pixel graphics and cheerful rhythms give everything a lighthearted atmosphere that helps ease the frustration of spending too long on some of the more obscure puzzles.
iOS and Android, Free (Nuverse)
Although it currently appears to be in a downward spiral, Hearthstone is easily the most popular free PvP pool creator. It is a well-established and ever-popular game, and its multiple updates and improvements have resulted in an extraordinarily long-lasting engagement for many of its players. Can a newbie licensed comic can hope to compete with all of that?
In short: yes. Because somewhat unexpectedly, Marvel Snap turned out to be something of a classic in the making, bringing its own distinct personality, style, and an easy-to-learn but hard-to-master base on the genre that seemed like it was all sewn up.
Matches consist of six rounds, each of which gradually increases the available power allowing you to play more powerful cards. This means that you will start with relatively weak heroes, for example, Ant-Man or Hawkeye, before graduating in the final rounds of the likes of Iron Man and Abomination.
During each turn, you place the cards in one of three locations spread out in the middle of the board, each with its own characteristics, from playing buffs to having to rearrange the cards in your hand back into the deck. The locations also interact with the special powers of the cards you play.
All cards have an energy cost and energy level, so at the end of the game the highest total strength at each location wins. Come first in two out of three locations and you are the victor. However, some cards also have third-rate abilities.
This strength generally increases based on the other cards you or your opponent plays, but it can also interact with the effects of each location, making for an increasingly complex and diverse set of playing conditions.
If this sounds impenetrably complex, it rarely feels that way thanks to good game design. Clicking on the cards reveals their special abilities, and before you finish each turn – which happens simultaneously with your opponent, avoiding tedious waiting – you can undo any move at no cost. The courses quickly start to feel like second nature as you learn about the deck and its strengths and weaknesses.
Despite it being a card game, it manages to be consistently visually appealing, with 3D effects that extend to proper character animation during gameplay, even if the audio samples can’t do justice to its cinematic counterparts.
Inevitably, a big part of enjoying free games is their economies, and well-designed games go out of their way to make the hours of work welcoming and friendly. Marvel Snap is no exception, and while more time needs to pass before a final verdict is issued, the early signs are exceptionally promising.
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