Rolando: When iPhone Games Came Good?


Let’s face it: phone games have, generally speaking, been completely gash. If you asked me to list the good ones I’d start struggling after Snake and Doom RPG, and as phone hardware has become vastly more capable the quality of the software hasn’t risen at all.

Rolando, however, the first ‘big’ release from dedicated iPhone game developer ngmoco, has blown me away. It doesn’t have the flashy 3D graphics that you’d expect a killer app to have, but it arguably looks better for it. Trying to cram PSP-quality games onto the iPhone is as effective as porting PS2-quality games to the PSP has been, just showing the limitations of the hardware rather than working around them. Rolando doesn’t push the iPhone’s modest 3D capabilities, but you’re not going to be hitting the walls of what it can do and remind yourself that you’re playing on a phone.

This does make it slightly ironic that the game that shouldn’t look like a PSP game does, in fact, look very much like a certain PSP game, but, unlike most knock-offs, this does it better. My main complaint about LocoRoco was that it was crying out for motion controls, and this essentially does it with that and plenty of other gameplay mechanics made possible by the touch screen.

LocoRoco still has the presentational edge, it must be said, with its infectious music and active, multilayered graphics, but when comparing this 25MB download to a pretty full UMD it’s a damn good attempt to imitate it. I have to say that I believe Rolando to be the better game, however. LocoRoco got repetitive fairly early on, but Rolando is constantly throwing new gameplay systems at you all the way through, from bonus levels that require you to rotate the iPhone – or iPod touch, as it works on that as well – through 360 degrees to touch-activated bomb dispensers and ‘draw-bridges’: bridges that you literally draw – get it? – with your finger. Continue reading Rolando: When iPhone Games Came Good?

I’m on Twitter

I’ll admit to poo-pooing the service back when I first heard of it through the constant gushing on TWiT, the recent situation at 1UP and my desire to keep up with some of my favourite departing writers has forced me onto Twitter.

Twitter Logo

It actually makes a nice complement to a full-scale blog, and I’ve been using it from my phone to update with occasional thoughts and talk about what’s going on in my life. I can also post pictures directly to it much faster than I can on here considering the limited state of the official iPhone WordPress app, so if I see something interesting on my travels and I can talk about it without violating an NDA it might pop up on there.

So follow me if you’re on there, have a look at some of the interesting ones that I’m following, and join me in enjoying the latest social network du jour until something more interesting comes along.

The Year of the DLC?

So my last informal ‘Year of the…’ post didn’t turn out so accurate, and this one could either herald a brave new frontier for gaming as retail goes down the toilet or turn out to be a damp squib that people aren’t really interested in, but I’m pretty confident that 2009 will, either way, be a big year for downloadable content.

Fable II has just had its first DLC package, Knothole Island, and I happily bought it because I was itching to play more of the game. The same thing is likely to happen later this month when Fallout 3 receives its first downloadable quest line, Operation Anchorage, and again with the other two to come in February and March, Left 4 Dead has more campaigns on the way, and of course GTA IV’s much-ballyhooed expansion, The Lost and Damned, is planned for next month.

It’s a big line-up for a traditionally slow period, cunningly placed to keep players from trading in last year’s games, and although map packs have been a fixture of this generation since the 360 launch, with the silly money being thrown around for exclusive DLC at the moment, could this be when the idea of DLC fulfils its promise? Continue reading The Year of the DLC?

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].

Best of 2008 #1: Fallout 3

Fallout 3

I may have put Fallout 3 off to finish some of 2008’s other big games, but as we move into 2009 there’s only one of those games that I’m still playing.

Fallout 3 is a slow starter, taking a good hour of talking and being taught the basics before you even hit the Capital Wasteland. It’s far longer than the equivalent opening dungeon of Oblivion – that’s Fallout 3 without guns, or so I’ve heard – and when you eventually get kicked out of the relative safety and into the big wide world, it’s even more overwhelming. It was a good few hours before I even had sufficient money and ammo to even consider taking on human enemies.

But even during this crawl, I found myself intrigued by what I was finding, being tempted to explore beyond the safety of Megaton at the risk of running into mercenaries who could burn me into a pile of ash with weapons that I wouldn’t find for hours of play and giant scorpions that I’d have to dance around and hit with a baseball bat for five minutes each.

At the risk of going over the same stuff that I said about Fable II, I just fell in love with the world that Fallout 3 presents, albeit for different reasons. It’s bleak and depressing, but it’s also liberating and exciting, and I like playing an RPG where a new town might offer great loot but equally might lead to a massive gunfight. I like the implied stories, like the charred skeletons huddled on the bed in a bombed-out house, left over from when the bombs fell. I like the exhibits in the pre-war technology museum, showing off the utopian vision of life in a Vault that’s a bit more like the brochure than the reality.

But most of all, I just love playing this game. It’s buggy as hell and, being a Bethesda game, most characters are like talking to slightly creepy mannequins, but I found the story and setting – let’s face it: those are the things that keeps anyone going through the monotony of even the best RPGs – as interesting as it was in the original games. Oblivion with guns? Maybe, but Oblivion with slow-motion decapitations and a teddy bear launcher is more than good enough for me.

So now that Bethesda has two big hitters and a successful formula, here’s to an even better Elder Scrolls V in 2010. But let’s get to the DLC for this one first, eh?

Best of 2008 #2: Fable II

Fable II

Fable II was a game that I’d almost fallen in love with from the first screenshots. I’ve always said that the first test for how much I’ll like an RPG is its towns, and Albion’s hamlets and bustling marketplaces, all distinctive and reflective of different areas of Britain, brimming with personality, are simply beautiful.

It’s the world of Fable II that I fell in love with more than anything, as I spent as much time shopping, charming the locals, and working the property market as I did adventuring and raiding ancient tombs. The story, while interesting enough and possessing a couple of really memorable set pieces, was a means to get to new places, and given that it still has you finding whole new towns right up until the very final quest, it just keeps giving in that respect.

I only wish that it could have been more cohesive rather than a collection of unconnected areas, as other games have spoilt me there, but you can’t have everything. It’s still a pleasure just to explore it.

But for a game that’s so deliberately accessible, with a combat system that’s based on rhythm as much as anything and a main character who can’t actually die, I still found it rather daring in places. There are two parts towards the end of the story that stick in my mind that act like standalone episodes, one offering a number of interesting moral choices – a theme that’s carried through to the ending, which really does present a conundrum to even the most saintly players – and one being a wonderful change of pace in the middle of the final stretch.

I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming DLC, as much as an opportunity to return to quests that I haven’t finished as a new environment to explore. But even as a standalone game, Fable II remains one of my favourites and one that certainly won’t have seen the back of me.