Posted in Game reviews, Gaming

Tiny Grave iOS review: Burton-esque indie puzzler scratches undead itch

Tiny Grave should find it's way to your iOS device before Halloween.
Tiny Grave should find it’s way to your iOS device before Halloween.

With Halloween coming up, I decided to do some undead themed reviews by some indie companies. I’ll be doing a couple of other articles too featuring some great games, comics and more. With that said, I wanted to try my hardest not to use cheesy slugs to describe some of these ghoulish treats (see, I just did it) so I’ll do my darndest to keep away from the cliche descriptions. Now, on to the review:

Tiny Grave

Tiny Grave is an inexpensive puzzle game with a big heart. You play the role of Eyegore, the evil hunchbacked henchman of a mad scientist tasked with collecting body parts Frankenstein style. You’re given some charming cut scenes with admirable voice-acting, and then you move on to collecting those organs and bones.

The puzzles

After the cut-scenes, you go to the game screen. Here you are thrown into the game with little to no direction. There are piles of different icons, and you must decipher that the game works bejeweled style. Line up 3 of the same icon, and they disappear and more icons fall into place. Once you figure out what you’re doing, the game quickly becomes addictive. There is a good amount of strategy, believe it or not, to lining up 3 or more eyeballs and setting up your screen to feed more items until you reach 300.

Use your explosive vile to open up a dead board.
Use your explosive vile to open up a dead board.

Another layer of strategy (There’s no tutorial, but the developer did point out there is a tutorial in the help menu) are little vials of an explosive compound, a vial of acid, and another vial that I never used. You’ll be able to see that in the screen shots here. If you become stuck, with no way to line up your body parts, just throw some of the acid on an area, and voila! More body-parts fall and you’re back on your quest to satisfy the good doctor with much needed body parts. Be warned, if you’re irresponsible with your vials, you’ll find yourself with a game-over screen later on in your adventure (during story mode) and be wondering why. I’m assuming I ran into the game over screens because I ran out of plays. This is unexplained.

Modes

You’re able to play in story mode and endless mode. Endless is ala Tetris with a high-score as your goal.

Acid clears out an area, opening up new body parts to collect.
Acid clears out an area, opening up new body parts to collect.

Impressions

I went to a coffee shop down the road to do my review, as I often do. I want to see how immersive the game can be, and whether or not it’s good to pick up and put down. My girlfriend came with me to get out of the house and get some work done, and I told her what I was doing, so we loaded the game onto her iPad. I had a good time with the game, but I noticed her playing. She played the entire time we were out, and she kept going even after I had taken a break. I think it’s important to give her impressions, more so than mine, because she wasn’t looking to review it. She was looking to spend some time using her brain and having some fun. So what did she think?

She really enjoyed it. She played into the night, and even played more the next night. She wasn’t happy that she was only able to get C+ ratings, but she kept playing. It reminded her of those bar games where you spend 20 dollars before you know it, and two hours and more than a few pints are gone as well. I think that says a lot about the game. I look at things too analytically, and she looked at the game like the developers wanted her to see it. Again, that’s what is important.

The Good

  • Quick, fast paced game play at times. A solid amount of strategy for a $2.99 iOS game.
  • The music is top-notch. It is very reminiscent of Danny Elfman and his work on the Tim Burton films. It never grated me. Whomever wrote it has a solid knowledge of music, and I’d love to go on and on about how new instruments were introduced with counter melodies and…ok, I’ll stop.
  • Easy to pick up and play.

What I’m loathing

I don’t like that the mechanics are not introduced or explained via tutorial. I would’ve loved to know how the vials work. There are also some other little quirks that I never figured out. Like, how sometimes you are able to move the skull, or items on the top row one space. There are instructions in the help menu, so if you get stuck, make sure to check it out.

The timed mode in the story mode was super tough. It was stress-inducing tough to me. I’m not a big player of puzzle games, but I still found it a little too tough. But, that adds replay value I suppose and ensures you won’t be finishing the game in an afternoon.

 

Final verdict

Tony Grave is a great effort by an ambitious indie company and I’m glad to have played it. It’s something I don’t mind recommending, especially after seeing my partner play it for so long. She doesn’t play many mobile games, and it hooked her. So go out and buy it, it’s worth the money. Below you’ll find a link to Digital Hero games, as well as a youtube link to a video of Tiny Grave.

Tiny Grave via Digital Hero Games

Digital Hero game store

Posted in Game reviews, Gaming

Football Seasons for iOS review: Stuck on the end of the bench.

The Artwork for Football seasons, I can easily say, the very best thing about this game. By far.
The Artwork for Football seasons, I can comfortably say, is the very best thing about this game. By far.

Football seasons is a game created by Makeitapp, look them up if you have time.

I’m not a big soccer fan, or a card game player, so I wanted to start with that admission. I have, however, gained an appreciation and respect for both in the past few years. I picked up Football seasons because of my desire to switch my main focus of the blog to independent games, comics and literature and I was provided with the link by the makers of Makeitapp. Since I love sports, baseball mainly, I’m going to try to take you through a play by play of my experience with the game. An unboxing of sorts. Hope the new format works.

As soon as I start up the game, there is a prompt to upgrade. I Assume to a paid version. I choose not to upgrade. (Edit: I’ve gone back and checked for the upgrade and it must be a message for people that already had the game, asking them to download a patch. I have the most recent version) I notice right away the music is extremely loud, even on a two setting on my iPhone 5s. I notice a bit of bad grammar right away also. I believe it’s translated from Italian, and I believe the developer is Italian, so it’s not that big of an issue. Not until I reach the tutorial, where I am learning about my cards and there’s a glaring omission. “Inly”, instead of only. The article I am writing as we speak won’t even allow me to type that word with simple built in spellcheckers. So that’s a big red flag for me. A misspelled word in the very first section of a game where they’ve already asked for money.

There are four starting modes on the main screen. Solo, Online, pass and play and local. Only the solo option is available to begin with. You must win season 7 to advance to online mode naturally. That is without paying for credits. The pass and play mode costs 50 credits to buy. (note: I came back to edit this because I played through three seasons, and won 3 championships, and only earned 20 credits. That’s after sitting through ten pop-up adds at least, and watching 2 videos. To give you an idea of how much credits are, 1000 credits are $7.99. The store credits option starts with 190 credits for $1.99. The structure seems weird, and I’m not going to do the math, but it looks ridiculous. The best “deal” looks to be 3500 credits for $21.99. It don’t like that it is even possible to spend that much money, unless there are some really cool uniforms and other cosmetic stuff. That’s absurdly high for an App. You also have the option to remove adds for $1.99. Also, each of the first two “seasons” were one game long. The third was a couple of games at least.)

The fourth game mode is local, and if you can believe it, it costs 100 credits. Keep in mind, I’ve only earned 20, and it costs $1.99 for 190. That’s gouging in my opinion. It costs you nearly 2 clams to play locally…on your phone. I’m not a believer in paywalls for content that’s included.

So, I exit to turn down the still blaring theme music that is reminiscent of a baccarat or poker game. I could swear that the music is turning itself up, because I have my phone set to nearly zero, and the in game music set to barely registering, and it is still piercing through.I get the music worked out, but I’ll be darned if the audio sound effects aren’t killing me.

Never saw this card or player in my time with the game. He seems to be calling to me with those "Come bring your money or you can't really play this game" eyes.
Never saw this card or player in my time with the game. He seems to be calling to me with those “Come bring your money or you can’t really play this game” eyes.

I put together my squad by assembling my deck of cards. Ok, that was quick, I get to move on and play! I get to figure out the wonderful nuances of the world’s favorite game. Wait, I need to edit my team, I don’t know who’s playing what position. No dice. I can’t edit the selections once I’ve made them. So, I am quickly prompted to the go to the season screen, which tells me that the highest ranked team wins a match…um, ok. No skills, no abilities, just the highest deck wins? Ok, so I click the prompt, and it takes me to a screen that asks me if I’d like to earn free credits? I only have to sit through a video…ok. I put down my phone, and I assume an ATT commercial plays. I pick up my phone, and there’s now a pop up add.

Yawn, ok, finally a game now. Well, I X out of the pop up, and apparently I’ve won the game…and my season is over. There are no scores, no chance to do anything. I’ve only assembled a deck of random cards, of which I have no clue what they do. So, here we are at the end of a “season” and I’m told I’m the coach for Tuna city for next year.

Apparently my team did much better with me as coach. Obviously! Did you see the way I stacked those random cards together? I pushed that prompt, and I watched that video. I’m headed for the Hall of Fame. One “game” played, I start a new season, and I’ve reached a pivotal moment. Keep in mind that i’ve made it through the tutorial, and I’ve seen nothing remotely resembling soccer except for a soccer ball shaped prompt, and men in soccer clothes on cards.

Ok, a new tutorial screen, where I get to know about the draw icon, it lets me know how many cards Ill draw by playing the card. Great, I’m learning. I’m able to put together my deck of seven once more, and I notice a new card! It shows what looks like a train or bus terminal, with a bag left unaccompanied near the seats. Someone really needs to notify TSA. Moving on, I assemble my deck once more. This time, I notice I can look at my cards and see their information, so I look at this apparently all new deck, and I pull up the most plentiful card of them all. A grumpy looking Italian player named Difensore. Creative! He’s Italian.

I’m liking that the game isn’t taking itself too seriously, because, I’m not either. It has an old-school feel that reminds me of those games in the 80’s and 90’s that skirted using real teams and inserted humor into their games. Ok, so good old Difensore doesn’t have any special abilities, so I move on to other cards in the deck to assemble my unstoppable one-game-wonders. After figuring out that I can look at my cards, I find out that my TSA bag is actually a bench…with no abilities. Shame, that. Nothing worse than an empty bench with no abilities. I select another card, with a rather smug looking player named Attaccante. I have no idea where these names are coming from, but I’m going with it. Attaccante has no special abilities either, so I move into just filling the rest of my cards. Attaccante and Difensore both have card rankings of four, so I fill my deck with a couple of them. Oops. Looks like my draw is full after 4 cards, so I remove that worthless bench card. Stupid bench. Wait,  can’t edit my squad. But, I’m the coach. I only find a prompt that lets me move to the next screen. I tap the screen a few times and nothing. Has my team gone on strike? No…looks like the game has frozen…already. Ugh, back to the drawing board maybe? I’ll skip ahead to save you all from the drama of the details, and get past the play-by-play that I so dearly love.

 

Going back to the main screen, I notice on the first screen, a medal in the top left corner, which says Cadet, and under it “Showcase sad!!” Yeah, the showcase must be REALLY upset to use two exclamation points. I get through the menu to turn down that crowd noise again, and get back to trying to play. Now, I get to play season 2, and I’m told the first season needs to be deleted. Ok, that’s fine. Maybe that’s why the last session bugged out.

 

So back to build my deck. Follow hints, one swipe up moves your player into the cue, two fingers switches between players, and a double tap gets you the info on the bak of the card. Which by the way, features no stats or information. Ok, same deck it looks like, with that bench again. Guess where you’re going, bench? Straight to the…oh. Moving on. Now, season 2, I can select competitions. Even though I’m told it’s a pivotal time in May, I get to the game screen, and there are no big matches in May. But…you told me this was important.

So, I’m sent to use the remainder of my deck from the manage screen, and I’m told that all of the strength points in the league turn into points in the standings. Ok, isn’t that why we play the game and not just on paper? Or is this playing the game on paper? Ugh, mind melt here. There should be at least some kind of..match, or competition, shouldn’t there be? Even though they are cards? My remaining cards are made up of BENCH, and a scrub whose name I can’t check, because I can’t edit my selections after I’ve put them into the cue, and I have three copies of said scrub, and good old grumpy Difensore. At least he has a four ranking.

 

After all of this, I load out, and I’m told to blow the whistle, which leads me to the league screen, which is a cute old school radio TV hybrid, it looks like? I’m prompted to touch a channel button. The main screen shows there are still no big matches in May, and the previous screen shows fans cheering, a logo for Brazil…and no results. Ok. Here we have the cup final screen? Tuna City is taking on Milano. Awe!? No sweet play on words for the Milano Mascot? Why are all the other teams named after real cities, and I have to be Tuna City? Ok, here we go. I have two Difensores going for me and my, what’s his name? Oh yeah! Attaccante. Time to play some soccer. Wait…before I can press anything, it shows…a total? 2-nil? With the shot totals. This can’t be right. Now what? Is it simulating? There’s a channel button for plus, minus and power. I push the minus button because the plus is blacked out. On to the power button…ok…more “free” credits. I can gain three if I simply watch a video. Sure. A video for Boom Beach, which looks like a game where you can actually, you know, play? So, I X out of my pop-up add and find that I’ve “Hit the double” and I’m coach of the year. Why wouldn’t I be? Hello? My team is so good that they can win while I’m watching videos for other games. I’ll jump ahead some more for your sake now, because I have a feeling I know where this game is going.

 Continuing the chase

Ok, gotta jump in here. I’ve started my third season, played two games and the game does seem to be getting deeper, in a sense. There are three teams competing for the cup, and the team with the most fame wins. That’s a new metric. I’m told via prompts that I can view the teams to view their stats, or points. I cannot. At least not this first season, because the hints are active. There are well drawn logos and numbers there next to them that I can see. Yay, pretty pictures. That seems to be the theme with Football Seasons. Nice things to look at, but nothing to do. Videos, other game videos, really well drawn cards, but no actual…game. So, now the fame system has been implemented and I get a couple of new red cards with an arrogant looking ponytailed man named “Leader”. No special abilities, but he does have “talented” as his home country. Wow. I have two of those and play them, and at this point I’m honestly trying to get through to where the inevitable pay wall is that won’t let me advance until I spend some money. Looking at the pay structure for the in-app purchases in the app store earlier, they are pretty steep.

Ok, league screen now, and I’m told to push the “above ball icon” and there is no “above ball icon,” there are two below. No more walk through and play-by-play, I should’ve learned my lesson last time. I’m moving on to impressions, the good, and what I’m loathing. It’s clear that the cards are stacked against me in winning coach of the year with the same cards as last year. No way to get new cards, or change the results. This is where I get frustrated and buy credits. At least I think that’s what the game wants. It’s in my head.

 

Impressions

I’ve found a game with little purpose, and a whole lot of components that do not work. Prompts that tell you to click them, and they don’t work. Systems that are implemented, but don’t make sense and aren’t used again, and some shoddy language implementation. The sound, while solid and good quality, is ear splitting and impossible to set to a reasonable level without muting. There are also sounds in the game that sound familiar, like basic game assets, which, is understandable, this is supposed to be an indie company.

I played through, or tried to play through, the rest of season three, and even though some of the options open up with the hints off I win the season on my second try. I win the cup pretty handily after actually being able to play a couple of games with my deck, and I’m unable to advance because I didn’t win coach of the year. I was met with a pop-up add after nearly every screen, and even though I wasn’t offered another video, I have to think that my team was penalized because I didn’t watch it. The game has an annoying tendency to default to the start screen when the phone goes to sleep mode as well, as it is prone to do while I write my review.

 

I get an overall feel of, simply put, a money making opportunity here. The way the in-app purchases are set-up, and the lack of polish on this game, it can’t be anything more than a chance to funnel money. And even though I won the championship in the third year, I need to play it again? That makes zero sense. I won, shouldn’t I need to go the the 4th year? And one more note. For some ridiculous reason, even though I’ve assembled a deck of my best cards, after season two, your remaining cards, which are your worthless ones, are playing in what the game deems “big matches” against teams that show no visible cards. I lost 5-0 to the Horns Town, which had no cards showing in the default game screen in my second play-through of season 3. The next play-through I won.

There clearly wasn’t enough play testing done with the game, as there is no screen for the settings where you’re preparing your deck, you cannot exit or go back to rearrange your deck, and the game freezes if you click on the screen a couple of times. While technically not broken, and mostly playable, it skirts the line of playable and not playable. Even the default loading screen is set to the wrong proportions and the players featured are stretched taught across the screen. There are currently not enough reviews on the English or American version in the App Store. The game actually doesn’t even show up when you search for the title Football Seasons either.

Good:

Artwork is very well done. The team name was kind of cool, like your starting club, which is called Tuna City FC. Did I mention the artwork yet? The cards, while lacking in information, have great character design. I hope that most of the proceeds of this game go to the artist.

 What I’m loathing.

I could almost cut and paste most of the article into this section to be honest. I’m pretty upset at this game and about putting it in with other true indies in my ‘Instant Indie’ as well. But, I’ll go over the items again.

  • You can’t edit a deck once you’ve placed your cards
  • On screen “tips” that don’t let you read them because your screen moves too fast to next screen
  • Systems introduced, then not used again
  • Constant pop-up adds
  • Seasons that consist of one game
  • an obvious pay-wall that is gated and won’t allow you to progress through season 3. You have to make it through 7 seven seasons to unlock the next mode
  • A ridiculous pay structure
  • Little value and no real deck, no collection of cards. Unless I was able to unlock a different deck or better cards after buying something, or getting past a certain year.
  • Outside of a short tutorial that wasn’t spellchecked, you really don’t know what’s going on. One second it’s your cards’ skill, then it’s a fame system, then it’s neither? How do you get more cards when you’re doing the solo game?

Final verdict?

For what you need to spend to unlock everything for this game, I’m pretty sure you could buy a better game. You could definitely buy an older copy of Fifa for a console. It’s a shame that this game was made and wasn’t designed better. It really is. I hate to call something a money grab, because independent developers have it hard, and their job isn’t easy by any stretch. I spend a few hours researching and writing an article, and some games take years. But this game doesn’t give you a game. It gives you ways to spend money to play that game, and their methods are not new or clever. Give a decent game, make upgrades and cosmetic changes and perks available. It’s been done before and there is a template for it, and just because you’re supposedly small, which it doesn’t seem Makeitapp really is, doesn’t mean you can price things this way and be sly and sneaky in the way you make your in-app purchases. So, I don’t make the claim lightly. When the only thing that works in your game, is the in-app purchases, and the revenue generating pop-ups and videos, then what else can the game be. Stay away from Football Seasons. Far away.

Writers note:

I have a backlog of indie games that just didn’t cut it, or weren’t finished, so instead of bashing them mercilessly like a cynical ass, I didn’t write a review. I’m okay with that. Some games don’t make the grade. Sometimes indie games have quirks, or a lack of polish and it’s okay too. This is the first time that I’ve actually been frothing and loathing about a game through my blog. I planned initially to put the good and the bad, what makes me angry, but many of my games that I review, don’t make me angry, so I’ve left off the “loathing” aspect of my reviews. It’s back.

I reached out to Giulia Sergi for clarification on their in-app purchases before writing this article, and did not receive a response at the time I published. I let her them know that if an in-app purchase structure was annoying me, that it would annoy my readers as well. It’s never a good sign when developers or their PR people outright ignore your requests for information.

I also featured the app in my new article ‘Instant Indie’ along with some other games, comics etc. I also asked for the name of the phenomenal artist that worked with them, and was able to find the name Flavio Fausone and a translated interview with him here. That’s all for now kids!

Soccer fan? Have you played Football Seasons and have a different view of the game? Let me know.

Follow Richard on twitter for the latest game news and articles.