Tag Archives: FTP

Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight gets the cold shoulder

gd disney frozen-free-fall-little-kristoff imps

Look, I like Frozen well enough, but a part of me wishes that other Disney and Pixar franchises got the same amount of love and fanfare that this one is currently riding, such as The Incredibles and A Bug’s Life, of which the latter at least gets a cute, interactive movie inside the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom. Frozen is basically taking over the world (and Norway-land in Epcot), retail shelf by retail shelf, as well as seeping its way into videogame consoles through insidious free-to-play gem-matching microtransaction machines that I, for some reason or another, can’t resist checking out.

I began playing Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight on the Xbox 360 a month or so back, but then Fallout 4 came out and I grabbed an Xbox One and haven’t had much reason to turn on my older console since then other than to delete some downloaded games and move save profiles to…the cloud. Thankfully, much like TT Games’ LEGO romps, you can find Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight everywhere you turn, and so I downloaded it once more on my newest home console to give it another go and see if I could enjoy myself without having to spend any moolah. Paul’s golden rule is to never spend any moolah.

Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight is a match-three puzzle game. Y’know, Bejeweled…but with Disney’s characters for dressing. Or maybe the closer comparison is actually Candy Crush Saga. You are essentially matching like-colored gems and jewels to clear lines, create power-ups, and trigger combos for high scores. There are other elements at work, like trying to get specific items to the bottom of the level, a challenge I loathed in Hexic. Some levels have gems covered in frost, which can only be destroyed by clearing the gems twice. Lastly, some levels are timed, meaning the pressure is on to spot combos and keep things moving, especially near the bottom of the playing field, ensuring that a high score avalanche happens swiftly.

Ironically, I hit a wall right around the same spot as I did in the Xbox 360 version, which is in the level 20s or so, where Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight ramps up the difficulty significantly, but begins limiting the free power-ups that definitely help when you only have a few moves left and desperately need to see that crown drop down, not-so-subtly nudging you towards purchasing them with real-life cash. The pricing scheme is not friendly, asking $0.99 to add 15 seconds to a timed round, which, in reality, probably gets you four or five more moves. For some reason, I’m hardwired to try and play these free-to-play titles without using any of the extra abilities and items, to know if they are doable without them, like mostly in Pokemon Shuffle.

Also, you are given a limited number of hearts when you begin Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight, with the chance to win more by logging in every day and selecting a random tile to flip over. I think I started with 16 hearts, and every time you lose a match or do not complete the required objectives, you lose a heart. I’m down to 11 now. Once you run out, unless you win more through the daily log-in thingy, you’ll have to purchase more to keep playing. Spoiler alert: hearts aren’t cheap. Well, that sucks. Still, I’ve found an annoying way around this annoying feature, and that is this: quit the level before it is finished and restart the game, and you’ll have the same number of hearts as before. Which means once you realize things are going poorly or you aren’t going to hit that high score tier, simply exit out and return again to try once more. Not the best way to manipulate the system, but it does work (for now).

There are some other problems at work in Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight, and they fall under the graphics and sound departments. Both are lifeless and feel like afterthoughts. This is Bejeweled with a light coating of Frozen stuff, like an overworld map of Arendelle for selecting levels and these strange, barely animated versions of the characters that simply stand off to the side and watch as you make moves. Every now and then they clap, but not because you did something right; sometimes they clap when you lose. It’s on a cycle. The music is of a generic orchestral style, but not very memorable, which is ironic when there isn’t much to begin with and it repeats on each and every level you play.

The film version of Frozen took the world by storm, though I didn’t end up seeing it until many, many months later. Once I did, I got it; there’s strong, adventurous characters and an unbelievably catchy soundtrack to bop your head and pretend you aren’t singing along to. There’s warmth in all the frigidness, and a triumph to see through to the credits. Unfortunately, you’ll find none of that in Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight.

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Jane Sinclaire’s on the pixel hunt for the mysterious city of Adera

adera episode 1 gd early impressions

My mother, when she was heavily gaming on her less-than-subtly pink Nintendo DS, leaned towards titles where the main goal was to mostly find hidden objects on a single screen full of objects, with usually some cockamamie narrative wrapping to provide the player with just cause for exploring this underwater sunken ship or that ancient ruler’s treasure room. You know, mega hits like Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville and Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society. These quests occasionally featured other styles of puzzles too. I feel like Adera from Hit Point Studios fits the same mold, which is why I gave it a shot, though its production qualities are much more refined.

Adera is an episodic adventure about Jane Sinclaire, an auburn-haired archaeologist in search of her previously thought-dead grandfather, as well as the mysterious city of Adera, after receiving a message from him. The first episode, “The Shifting Sands,” is free to download and play and will take one roughly a couple of hours to complete, especially if you are searching for every butterfly and animal totem collectible like I did. I think it came out for Windows 8 a couple years ago, but I played it on my laptop, which got Windows 10 as a free upgrade some months back. All that said, the game is clearly designed for tablets and touch surfaces and still retains a lot of the language, such as instructing players to swipe left or right to move between locations when, in reality, I have to click a blue arrow with a mouse.

Story aside, as it is ultimately generic and only there to put you in exotic, mystical locations so you can slide tiles around and collect cog wheels, the cutscenes and transitions from room to room are actually quite nice. Better than I expected, to be honest. Adera also features some voice acting, and nothing atrocious stood out like in previous point-and-click adventure games, but Jane is mostly on her own in this adventure, as her partner Hawk–cool name, bro–works on fixing their broken helicopter. She inner monologues a bit, but also write in her diary; alas, the font used is tough to read, and so I skipped most of her passages.

My favorite puzzles are the same that my mother enjoyed, which are finding a list of hidden objects on a screen littered with junk and misdirection. I don’t know. There’s just something especially relaxing about these in the same way that I’m into word finds; my eyes take control and scan away, seeing things in front of other things or catching the sliver of a handle, which might belong to a knife, which, oh, look, there’s a knife on my list of things to find, click it, yes, that was it and…oh, sorry. I think I drifted a bit there. See what I mean? There’s maybe three or four of these in “The Shifting Sands.” Anyways, there’s a handful of other puzzle types to solve, but none of them are terribly hard to figure out, and the places you need to investigate–at least on the middle difficulty I selected–glow purple, so you won’t miss any key items. If need be, you can always hit the “hint” button for a clue, but “hint” buttons are for chumps.

While the first episode of Adera was free to play, it’s looking like $19.99 will snag you the other four slices of content. Hmm. Think I will pass. Unfortunately, I’m not fully hooked enough to invest that kind of pocket change, especially when I can find other hidden object games relatively easy online when I need a fix, and so I’ll leave the ponderous, courageous Jane Sinclaire where I last saw her, among the shifting sands, her pockets full of pointless animal totems.

All actions in The Sims FreePlay take time

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Life is strange, and I’m not actually referring to the episodic adventure game about angst-fueled teens and time rewinding from Remember Me developer Dontnod Entertainment, which is definitely somewhere on my mental really-must-play list. Life is Strange, that is–I’ve already enjoyed the heck out of Remember Me. Anyways, when I started playing The Sims FreePlay, I was a married man. In fact, I named my first Sim’s dog after my then wife’s family’s dog. Still with me? At some point, I probably had intentions to recreate my true-to-life family, giving everybody their own house and fashion style. By the time I got back to it, all that had changed. Now I just hit the randomize button and go from there, though I did create and name one woman to resemble Joan Cusack.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled with a few games in The Sims franchise. My favorite was probably The Sims Social, which you experienced via Facebook and had all the annoying hooks of a social media site-driven gaming experience by pestering friends for stuff, but still let you do whacky things like plants full-grown trees inside your house. I have not yet tried planting an entire forest inside my home in The Sims FreePlay, but I suspect it can get just as zany, considering it doesn’t mind that I send both parents off to work for eight hours straight and leave a baby alone in its crib, unsupervised.

The Sims FreePlay, which is not the greatest of names, is yet another strategic life simulation game in the franchise, developed by EA Mobile and Firemonkeys Studios. Basically, it’s a freemium version of the The Sims for mobile devices, with some restrictions and other differences. You begin adding people to your town, decorating their houses, finding them jobs and hobbies, and building relationships. It’s up to you to develop them and create stories, like the one I’m slowing working towards where it is just a single woman living in a drab, non-decorated house full of cats. There’s also a Sim called Oscar Skinner who may or may not be a serial killer from a Criminal Minds episode.

Unlike console or PC versions of The Sims, your actions aren’t roadblocked by simple concepts like money. Instead, everything in The Sims FreePlay takes time. Real-life time, as the games follows the clock á la Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which means you can’t send somebody to their day job at ten at night. Trust me, I’ve tried. Actually, other than that, it’s not terribly restricting. However, this sort of mechanic is perfect for a mobile game–I’m playing on my legendary Windows 8 phone–wherein I can log in, give everybody a task to do for the next seven or eight hours, and then check back later to receive experience points and money, which we all know is stupidly called Simoleons. As you add more Sims and level up, extra houses and construction jobs cost more to perform.

There’s some other currencies to keep in mind as this naturally is a free-to-play game. Say hi to Life Points and Social Points. Both of these currencies go up much slower and in more specific intervals–like through leveling up–and you can use Life Points to help complete tasks instantly that one might feel are taking too long. Personally, I’ve only used them to bake a birthday cake to help an infant become a toddler. Life Points can be earned by completing goals, hobbies, driving around town, or can be dug up in your lawn by pets, and I don’t know exactly their purpose yet, but I have a few saved up.

I am enjoying the actions in real time element of The Sims FreePlay except for when it comes to a bunch of small tasks, like grabbing a snack, using the toilet, washing your hands, and then calling a friend for a quick chat. All of these tasks take about seven to thirty seconds each to complete and help keep your Sim’s attributes high and healthy. However, you can’t stack these actions up to happen one after another; instead, you have to hang around or remember to check in to assign the next task, which can be tedious, especially once your number of Sims begins to grow higher than four. Currently, the majority of my Sims are at work, so I don’t need to check back for several hours, though a good tip is to always leave one Sim available for miscellaneous tasks.

Besides Achievements to unlock (I’ve gotten 10 out of 20), there are a bunch of in-game goals to complete. Actually, there’s an Achievement for finishing 1,000 goals, so everything is circular. Many are easy, like “bake some cookies” or “be romantic with another Sim.” Right now, there’s even a Halloween-themed quest line involving ghosts and purple monsters, though it is timed, which is unfortunate as I doubt I’ll get it all done. These at least give you something to focus on when you can’t decide what to do with an adult Sim or it is too late to send them to work. The Sims FreePlay does allow you to spend real money on Simoleons and other thingies, but it’s not pushy about it nor have I felt constricted for not dropping some cold cash. I hope that never changes; if it does, I always have my disc copy of the original The Sims coupled with a print-out of cheat codes to sate my appetite.

Also, I’ll report back if I’m successful with my crazy cat woman mission. Don’t want to leave y’all hanging.

Pokémon Shuffle’s Mega Glalie is bad game design

Pokemon Shuffle Mega Glalie is the worst

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was stuck on Pokémon Shuffle‘s level 120 against Mega Glalie, and that everything was fine because, no matter what, my pocket monsters were continuing to gain XP and grow stronger and, without a doubt, I’d eventually have a team powerful enough to conquer the annoying, Generation III ice-type levitating face and move on to level 121. Astoundingly, that hasn’t happened yet, and I’ve been, more or less, using all five of my hearts against the bloody ripper every night before bed. I’m sorry to say, but this is some really bad game design, and I can’t recall the last time I hit such a visible wall in a game.

I’m not the only one struggling. If you type both “Mega Glalie” and Pokémon Shuffle into Google, you’ll quickly get returns for posts about people unable to beat the beast, people beating it using every item and Jewel they had and only then crawling past the finish line, and people puffing their chests out like mighty lions, claiming to have defeated Mega Glalie easily, using no items at all. Uh huh. Here’s a handful of confetti. If you are to use items, which are, let me remind y’all, quite costly, many are suggesting Complexity -1s, Mega Starts, and Disruption Delays.

For me, there’s certainly a stubborn drive behind my desire to beat Mega Glalie without any items, and this is not at all to prove I am a big macho man and super skilled at matching severed Pokémon heads. I conquered all 119 Pokémon levels before Mega Glalie without using any items. Perseverance, patience, and picking the right team was all it took, and so it bugs me deeply that the same strategy simply cannot be employed here. The problem is that, within four or five turns, Mega Glalie begins freezing entire columns, two at a time, often locking you out of sweet–and powerful–combo chains, forcing you to chip away at its health until the board resets or you run out of moves. Even with a team of level 6 Pokémon, the farthest I’ve dropped Mega Glalie’s health is down to about 25%.

This level is designed for you to spend money on (either in-game currency, which takes a good while to stock, or through extra turns via Jewels bought by real-life money), unless you hit the biggest luck streak of the century. Truthfully, I was enjoying Pokémon Shuffle, which just celebrated some 2.5 million+ downloads, when it kept progressing, even if just little by little. Play a few matches every night, unlock more to play the next night. Heck, Nintendo is even adding in more levels to the base set, upping the count to 180. That’s sixty more for me to get through…or potentially never see.

I may have to try an item against Mega Glalie. Call it desperation, call it despair, call it giving in–I don’t care. I have a free copy of Disruption Delay in my inventory, acquired from…uh, doing something cool, so maybe I’ll give that a go tonight. However, if the match goes just as poorly as all previous attempts, I will forever be bitter against using items and will refrain from ever experimenting again, deleting this free-to-play Pokémon game and focusing instead on that other free-to-play Pokémon game. That one, so far, hasn’t raised any walls yet to impede my journey.

If you have any good tips on taking down Mega Glalie, please do share. If you beat this level with your eyes closed and one hand behind your back, kudos for you.

Pokémon Rumble World’s toys are free to play with

pokemon rumble world 3DS2-620x

Another month, another free-to-play Pokémon adventure to experience on the Nintendo 3DS. I mostly wrote that leading sentence as those words don’t come together too often and maybe never will again. Yes, it was only two months ago in February that I was scribbling away about Pokémon Shuffle, Nintendo’s stab at the free-to-play match-three genre. Now we’re here in April, the fourth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar, with a new free-to-play, pocket monster-starring, potential money-maker called Pokémon Rumble World.

Let me do some quick historical research. Evidently, Pokémon Rumble World is the fourth game in the Pokémon Rumble spin-off series, of which I’ve played none of them. In this one, you control your Mii as he or she helps a king with low self-esteem collect various Pokémon to one-up a local magician who has way more colorful critters than him. That’s the general set-up, and its school playground-esque plot is paper-thin, but acceptable. It’s not like the traditional Pokémon games have mind-blowing narratives. The whole point, as always, is to collect a bunch of Pokémon (719 in total) and aim for being a completionist, though you can also earn money to buy new clothes for your Mii. I already got mine a green hoodie, so I might be good for a while.

And here’s how you go about collecting all them toy versions of Pokémon: use a special hot air balloon to travel to themed locations brimming with pocket monsters. New special hot air balloons cost Diamonds, which are this free-to-play’s second currency, but are time-based to use after that initial purchase, meaning you can continue revisiting locations so long as you don’t mind waiting a bit in-between. When you select a specific area, a roulette of several stages spins around, with each stage hosting different–and sometimes rare, indicated by a star–Pokémon. As you collect more, your adventure rank increases and new Pokémon begin to appear in the wild, inspiring revisits.

Once you are in a stage, you take your wind-up toy version of whatever strongest Pokémon in your collection is and destroy everything in your path. You can do two different types of attacks, all of which vary depending on your Pokémon of choice. Personally, I really like using Chespin at the moment. Sometimes the defeated enemies turn into coins, and other times they are knocked down, ready for collecting; to do that, simply run over them. Strangely, simply moving your selected Pokémon warrior near enemies or barrels causes it to auto-attack, which I did not like. If you’ve StreetPassed with anyone, they will appear in the stage, under duress, and if you save them they will reward you with boosts or even a Diamond; in fact, I saved fellow videogaming blogger Matt Mason the other night from a wild gang of Treecko–you’re welcome. After a few levels, you fight a boss Pokémon and then return to town, replenish your wares, and head back out for more. As your rank goes up, the king will have side quests for you too.

By far, my favorite thing about Pokémon Rumble World is that it plays, more or less, with no restrictions. Sure, you have to wait for your hot air balloon to recharge to use again, but I discovered you can just visit a different location via some other hot air balloon while waiting, which leads to never really waiting. In Pokémon Shuffle, once a day, I played my five turns and moved on, but here one can keep playing, exploring, or organizing their growing list of collected toys for as long as their battery life lets them.I do worry, however, that there could be a bit too much menu-ing in this, especially once you have collected a large amount of Pokémon, many of which are seemingly duplicates, but do differ in terms of stats and attacks.

Having passed up on the remakes Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire last year for reasons, Pokémon Rumble World is turning out to be a good replacement for my “catch ’em all” itch, and the free-to-play elements are beyond easy to ignore, which makes this all the more successful. Wind me up, my Mii–I’m ready for more, as well as on the hunt for a Garbodor.

 

Gotta match ’em all in Nintendo’s free-to-play Pokémon Shuffle

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Like sand dunes eroding over time, Nintendo is slowing dipping its toes into the free-to-play market in an attempt to see what all the hubbub is about, as well as milk fans for money. Now, I never did download Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, which had a unique take on bartering for cheaper mini-games, but it sounded like, at the very least, a fresh take on giving players something free to play while enticing them to drop some dollar bills for a bit more to experience. I’ve also not given Steeldiver: Sub Wars a look, so I can’t speak for how that submarine-steered competitive multiplayer thing faired. Naturally, the first free-to-play plunge from Nintendo I’m interested in trying out is Pokémon-related.

Pokémon Shuffle is another take on the “match three” puzzle formula, but instead of lining up similar looking gems or flowers or pieces of underwear, you’ll be matching cutesy disembodied heads of all your favorite–and probably some of your non-favorite–pocket monsters. You use the stylus and touchscreen to make this happen, and the game, thanks to its vibrant, colorful look and simplistic presentation, moves at a rapid clip. Basically, you’re matching three or more heads to deal damage to whatever Pokémon you are fighting, and different types of Pokémon to do more damage by way of a weakness system. Once you beat the Pokémon, you get a chance to capture it, and the capture percentage is upped a bit by how many moves you have left by the end of the battle; of course, you could always pay to up that guarantee of a capture. Strangely, some common Pokémon have really low capture rates, which doesn’t exactly line up with the, um, fiction of games like Pokémon Y and Pokémon White 2.

The free-to-play gating begins immediately once you get past the tutorial bits. See, there are three types of currency to pay attention to: Hearts, Jewels, and Coins. The core currency is Jewels, which you can buy for $0.99 each, with a small discount for if you buy in bulk. You can then exchange Jewels for Hearts. Hearts let you play one level one time (win or lose), and you can have a maximum of five total, with one reappearing every 30 minutes. Coins are a sub-currency used to purchase one-use power-ups before a battle begins, and from what I can tell, the majority of the power-ups are way too expensive for what little effects they cause.

I think Pokémon Shuffle‘s biggest misstep is in its Hearts. Also known as the Energy system when it comes to these things. Levels generally take one to two minutes to complete, possibly a bit longer if you are really studying the board for key combos or up against a really tough encounter, like Mew, which is the random event Nintendo’s running for the next three weeks since launch. That means, especially early on, you can use up your five Hearts in five minutes and then end up having to wait two and a half hours to play five more times in a row. Hexic for Windows 8 phones, which I found pretty addicting, was similar to this, but you only lost a chance to play again if you lost a battle/level; if you won, you kept going, riding it like a pro. I once downloaded Candy Crush Saga, but only played it once or twice before deleting, meaning I can’t tell you how it compared to this–but all in all, Pokémon Shuffle seems a little too eager to immediately put the player in a standstill and ask for an investment.

I will never drop any real money into Pokémon Shuffle, but as something I’ll pick up and play once or twice a day for maybe ten minutes at most, it doesn’t offend me. Too much. I can happily ignore all its free-to-play tactics and begs, though I do wish Nintendo took a chance to thank its long-time fans and incorporate some kind of connection with the various other Pokémon games for the Nintendo 3DS. I mean, my copy of Pokémon Dream Radar is collecting digital dust, so it would’ve been nice to keep that train a-chugging. Or, heck, use those Play Coins to help purchase extra hearts or Great Balls.

Again, Pokémon Shuffle doesn’t really bother me too much because I’m not investing anything into it other than a small chunk of my day, but if I really want my match three fantastical animal heads fix, I should probably wait for Pokémon Battle Trozei, releasing next month on the eShop for $7.99. Think about how many Hearts that could buy you in Pokémon Shuffle. Here, I did the math for you–$7.99, due to the odd way they are priced, could get you 6 Jewels, which could then be turned into 30 Hearts. So, the choice is yours–$7.99 to play thirty times or play as much as you want. I know, this is a tougher choice than trying to name an Audino for the umpteenth time.

Doritos Crash Course 2, now with free-to-play gimmicks

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Over the years, I’ve stepped away from Doritos. It all really started when I got seriously ill the day Obama was first sworn into office–not because, just using that day in history to place you in the moment–and ended up vomiting a lot back in my teeny, tiny studio apartment before passing out for hours in bed while FX continuously played Troy for like six to eight hours. It was a nightmare. And I had eaten some Doritos Cool Ranch chips earlier for lunch that day, and well…they weren’t any better coming up. Ever since then, I’ve fully stayed away from all things Cool Ranch–called Cool American in Sweden, something I learned recently from Giant Bomb–but have, on occasion, enjoyed a Nacho Cheese chip now and then.

But I’m not here to just talk about chips. Doritos does other stuff, too. Like videogames. Well, they support folks making games and use their name to brand it. If you’ll recall with me, back in late 2010, a game called Doritos Crash Course was released for free on the Xbox 360. It was surprising, for sure, an energetic mix of timed platforming and region-related spectacle, but fun all around. As well as free. It’s now been a couple years, and we’re getting the sequel for free too, though it has changed quite dramatically, even if it looks and–for the most part–tastes the same.

Instead of having levels based around specific regions like the United States or Japan, they are now built thematically. The first one is a jungle, maybe Mayan-based. And the second one appears to be snowy. Don’t know what the other two look like. Originally, your goal was simply to get to the end of the course in the best time, avoiding pitfalls along the way; now, as you run left to right, you can collect Stars, tackle secondary objectives, and use alternate paths to get to the end faster and much more successfully. Stars are used to purchase things outside of the level–these can be Avatar accessories, which do come with a stat and flavor text, or additional levels, side paths, and jinxes. And then this is where Doritos Crash Course 2 shows its free-to-play side, with you being able to buy additional Stars with real money. Well, real money that you turn into Microsoft Points. But still: microtransactions.

Just like in Happy Wars, I can easily ignore all the FTP gimmicks until it gets in my way of actually playing the game. So far, that hasn’t happened, though it looks like I’ve have to return to previously completed courses to find hidden stars if I want enough to unlock more levels. No big deal. I just don’t want to have to pay for power-ups or extra Stars in hope of progressing forward. The game suffers from tiny text syndrome, which makes reading some of the level requirements and secondary objectives dang difficult, but when in full screen, the game is pretty and runs smoothly. You can now run up walls, too, which I don’t remember being in the original, and it can be tricky, though Tara found a way to squirrel hop from wall to wall which is pretty effective. Hey, we also played some local multiplayer, too, which zooms out extremely far, but we were still able to run and climb with the best of ’em.

Looking forward to checking out more. Oh, and it is still a ton of fun to slide down a slope, jump to a trampoline, and fly over some deadly obstacle to finish in first place. Mostly because my Avatar whips out an electric guitar and jams.