About This Place

First started in late 2007, Kasey's Mobile Game Review (then just a regular feature of Kasey's Korner) started as a simul-post between here and IGN. Later I realized there's no reason to post it twice, when I can use the traffic on my own site. so, here we are, in 2010, and the mobile game industry has grown a bit. What do you think?

Mobile Game Review of "Saints Row 2"

Saints Row 2 - Tequila PistolImage by THQ-Games via FlickrThe original "Saints Row" is best described as a gang simulator... Think GTA3, but with a gang, and you're about right. Defend your "hood" against rival gangs. The mobile version is extremely bad as the sprites are way too small, and it's just a bunch of "Fedex" missions... basically, go there and do something, go somewhere and do something else (deliver things, kill people, get money, never changes). SR2 tries to open things up a bit, but I am afraid the result is about the same.

In SR2, the sprites are bigger, and the game now plays a bit more like one of Gameloft's 2D games, such as American Gangster. You can actually see things on the screen. You are also given a bit more freedom. For example, average pedestrians on the street can be robbed, and you'll play a bit of a minigame (keep the arrow pointing at the frowning face) to maximize the payout. However, regular police patrols are about the city, and police don't appreciate you committing crimes in their view, causing accidents, running them over, sideswiping their car, and so on. The only way to get them off your tail is to lay low for a while, or drive through a "Forgive and Forget" (i.e. a paint shop where your car's repainted).

You'll need firepower, but switching weapons is tedious, requiring you to go into your status screen, then weapons, then select, then press EQUIP. You have to redo this every time you enter a new territory, as somehow you're reset to your basic knife when you go into another zone.

What's worse, the game has no 'save spots'. If you fail a mission, you lose all money gained during the mission, and ALL weapons except the knife. It doesn't matter if you have to do three or four things to finish the mission... Just fail the last thing and you have to start ALL over.

For example, one of the first missions you need to pick up a "friend" who will help you bomb two of your rival faction's vans. So you go pick up this friend. Except this friend insist that your car is too lame, he wants to ride "in style". So you walk around the city looking for a car to jack, but police ain't too fond of you jacking cars. So finally you got a car, then you drive the guy across the zone, go to ammo shop to pick up some C4, then drive to the first van, plant bomb, second van, plant bomb... Except both vans are guarded by gangs, who'll start shooting, and cops are patrolling as well. If you go down (and you will likely as you ARE outnumbered, and you may have forgot to equip gun as weapon), you have to go ALL THE WAY BACK to "go try to pick up friend". That's like 10 minutes wasted!

And the missions are pretty dumb, basically. There's no "cover", no "skill" in shooting" (basically, have bigger gun than the other guy so you can kill him faster). The freedom is illusory, as you must complete missions to advance the plot. Robbing pedestrians just allow you to buy more ammo for the gun.

Overall rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Graphics are better, sprites are bigger, city looks livelier
Cons: Same boring "Fedex" gameplay, stupid fight

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Mobile Game Review of "Mexican Wrestling"

LONDON - JULY 03:  Mexican Lucha Libre wrestle...Image by
Getty Images
via Daylife
Mexican Wrestling is one of those cute action games that has a lot of potential, if they had only put a little less emphasis on the action.

Basically, you're the new kid on the Lucha Libre (free style wrestling) circuit and you will want to fight all 26 guys, in order of ability, to make it to the top of the heap. Another wrestler will advise you on the way, but most of what he said will be obvious.

And the action is simple... single tap toward enemy is advance one step. Double tap toward enemy is "charge", single tap in the opposite direction is block. Double tap in opposite is step back. Up is to "grapple", down is the kick, and OK is the punch . Grapple leads to the choke, which is a matter of timing. If you time the chokes just right, you can initiate hold or throw. Hold does less damage, but is easier to perform. Throw is harder as you have to keep balance, but generates more damage. The idea is to wipe out the other guy's endurance before he does it to you. Then you can hold him down for the 3-count.

The first guy is deaf and blind (ha-ha!) but he has good instincts. Well, you get the idea. The guy at the end is good at everything so you will have to be VERY good to defeat him, and all the others before him.

Regular punches and kicks serves to remove the "power", measured by number of chili peppers. Power regrows as you land more hits and receive less. Having more peppers around means you do more damage when you do your throws and holds. However, the enemy attack is relentless (except for the blind guy) and you'll need to be quick on the button to hold on to your peppers and counterattack.

Between matches you can use the macho points you earned to upgrade your wrestler, from basic abilities to special moves so you don't repeat yourself, and thus cause a "reversal" where the enemy attacks you instead.

All in all, Mexican Wrestling is a touch little action game with a hint of RPG (upgrading your skills and moves). However, there's a bit too much emphasis on action, and the end result isn't as good as could have been.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: easy to learn, cute look (2D sprites), cute theme
Cons: hard to master, some lag in controls, looks a bit backwards

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Mobile Game Review of "KARNIVALE"

Carnival lightsImage by _Robert C_ via FlickrImagine... you just went to sleep, and you woke up at this seemingly abandoned Karnivale, except there's the keeper... He said there is freedom if you beat all the games to claim grand prize at each game, and there are three zones, each with 3 games. If you win a lot of small prizes you can trade up to the bigger ones, so even if you are pretty lousy persistence pays off. Will you ever get out of this place?

This slightly creepy setting serves as the backdrop for this collection of minigames called KARNIVALE. And that's all it is: a collection of minigames. Some are just reflex, others are timing... None are so hard that'll frustrate (unless you didn't read the instructions), and as stated before, persistence does pay off even if you aren't that good at certain things.

The game is almost black and white, got that "faded photo" type of look, and slightly hand-drawn cartoon look. You can customize your avatar, and as you play, unlock additional outfits. However, they have no effect in the game that I can see.

The game is designed for a normal size screen so I ended up with two black boxes beside the game on my LG enV, not good, not good...

Games are responsive enough, music is lamentable.

All in all, this collection of minigames fails to come together as a cohesive whole. While the story has a shocking twist at the end (think "The Sixth Sense" or O. Henry stories) it ultimately fails as an overall game.

Overall rating: 5.5 out of 10
Pros: Cute story, avatar, and shocking ending, games are paced and not too hard
Cons: Why would any body replay this at all? No widescreen, no overall game

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More Mobile Game Previews! (and more Q&A)

Saints Row 2Image via WikipediaSome more previews for you...

Saints Row 2 -- the "gang sim" returns with bigger sprites and more GTA type action... But can it solve the problems of its predecessor? So far, don't think so, as this game is just a bunch of "go do this" and "go do that", just like the previous one.

KARNIVALE -- you woke up at this strange Karnivale, and the keeper promises freedom if you score grand prize at all the events... So it's a bunch of minigames....

Mexican Wrestling -- action wrestling game that includes kick, punch, hold, defend, charge, rope action, and if you do manage to hold the other guy, you can do special holds and throws. Defeat all 26 wrestlers and be declared the champion... or go down trying. Pretty fun game... if a bit too action-y.

And here's some rant from the editor...

The problem with a lot of mobile games is often they are just cut-down versions of their big-box brothers. Colin McRae's DiRT is the best example... In order to do max market, Glu decided to use a 2.5D engine (i.e. Out Run, using sprites to simulate 3D) and basically ignored the essence of rallying and rallycross.

It is especially disappointing when one have SEEN a perfectly solid 3D WRC game, named WRC 3D, also reviewed here, that gives you full control of different cars, different courses, and so on. And it really IS full 3D... With ups and downs and jumps and so on. Compared to WRC 3D mobile, DiRT mobile is a piece of ****.

Now Guitar Hero for mobile... That's a GOOD port. While it's shrunk from the big versions, all the game features stayed the same (except no strumming), and it even has more downloadable tracks, just like the console versions.

Mobile game developers should consider their audience and what they can deliver before serving up ****.

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Mobile Game Review of "Colin McRae's DiRT"

Colin McRae: DirtImage via WikipediaColin McRae's DiRT was a tour de force on the consoles and PC, giving you a taste of rally, rallycross, hill climb, and so on with buggies, rally cars, and his R4's. Is the mobile version any good? I hate to say this, but not really, not when we've seen much better.

You see, this adaptation is something closer to Outrun, with the 2.5D sprites pretending to be 3D, than true 3D. We have seen true 3D driving games like WRC 3D Asphalt 3, or even Jet Ski Racing, so this retro-looking game is already sub-par.

Once you're in the game, the main menu is rather reminiscent of the console version, until you realize that it's simply polygons floating. There are basically two modes... The "Career" mode, which you compete in ten different events with different cars. There are always 3 other cars on the course, and you need to stay ahead of all of them. While the courses are varied, like Sinkiang China, Alps, Switzerland, Desert of Arizona US, and so on, you don't actually *do* much. All you do is left turn, right turn, and make sure you don't counter-turn too much so you end up sliding all over the road and lose too much speed. You don't really even have to use the brakes.

Some of the events, that put you in a slower car can be tough, but most races I beat the first time through.

There are additional events, like time trial (hit all checkpoints before time runs out), knockout (last place at end of lap is eliminated), and chasedown (overtake the opponent and stay ahead until the end). However, they are all quite easy to finish.

Finally, there's "quick game", which is random car on random course of career mode, and exhibition game, where you can pick which car on which course type and course.

Honestly, there isn't much game here. Only ten races, I finished it all in like a couple hours, with all the extra events. And that's it.

As stated before, the sprites for the cars are UGLY and sometimes blinks and flickers as cars get close to each other. Turns are a joke, and sounds are horrendous. There are also no elevation changes, except for the occasional "bumps" where the car kinds hops a little bit, while you hear a feet stomp on sand. I swear that's what it sounds like. Argh!

All in all, DiRT as a mobile game really blows. This is a SAD tribute to Colin McRae, one of the greatest rally drivers. Go buy the console or PC version instead. I've seen the PC version down to $10 or so. Forget about the mobile version. It's not worth your money.

Overall rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Looks rather like the console cousins
Cons: Way too cut down, graphics way too retro, don't FEEL like DiRT

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Mobile Game Review of "Cars! Radiator Springs 500" mobile

Cars Road Trip - Lightning McQueenImage by kurros via FlickrThe Cars! (Disney animation) franchise inspired yet another game, and this one got ported to mobile. Is it any good? Sort of. Its main draw: a course editor.

While it's "called" a "500", implying you race 500 miles, in truth the race is divided into 15 different sub-races, each going several laps around a particular course about the town of Radiator Springs. Each is different, and there are certain minigames thrown in to help alleviate the stress of racing. Add powerups and you have a pretty nifty racing games for kids.

As always, you are Lightning McQueen, and you are out to win the race against all comers... And they are from all over... Rally Champion from Sweden, Drifting champ Koji from Japan, Fast sports cars from Europe, and more. Each of those cars have special abilities. Some can accelerate THROUGH puddles and drift, some are not slowed by mud puddles... McQueen can drive backwards if he spins out. It's cute.

The courses are littered with powerups and obstacles. Powerups are stuff like nitro boost and "wrenches" (collect 3 and you can upgrade your acceleration or top speed by one level). Hitting puddles or oil slicks and you can spin out. Mud puddles slow you down. Cones and barriers slow you down too... But speed pads are like free nitro boosts. There are also occasional jump ramps which also act like speed pads. On long races you'll need to pit, and when you pit, you need to do a memorization... Five items are shown, each would be large or small. After a few seconds, you need to "recreate" the pattern. Success (or failure) will determine your pit time.

Race itself is on a semi-3D. Cars themselves are bitmaps, though the course is... well, what I call two-and-a-half-D. It's 2D trying to look like 3D, and for the most part it is successful, and you'd be too busy racing to really notice. However, there are no elevations (i.e. no up and down, just FLAT) and not much roadside scenery like trees and such to give more sensation of speed.

It's a bit of fun to play, but perhaps a bit too easy, as I finish all 15 races and the minigames (where McQueen learns tricks like accelerate OUT of a oil slick, jump barriers, and so on) and finished first in all 15 races. There doesn't seem to be any higher difficulty level for added challenges.

All in all, Radiator Springs 500 is a kid's racing game that would quickly bore an adult. It's arcadish, and kid-friendly, and that's best thing I can say about it.

Overall rating: 6.5 out of 10
Pros: Proper use of Cars! characters, easy arcadish controls
Cons: Could have better graphics, arcadish race not for all

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Mobile Game Review of "Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader '09"

"Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" is a game show on American TV, where players match wits with common trivia questions and see if they can do better than some 5th graders. It's basically similar to "Millionaire", except this tops out at 100,000...

Basically, you pick a kid, and then the question. Each kid specialize in two subjects. You decide which subject to pick. The trick here is you can "cheat" 3 ways... You can peek at the kid's answer (which can be wrong), you can copy the kid's answer without peeking, and finally, if you both answer wrong, you are automatically 'saved'. The cheat only works once each though...

Questions are typical trivia like "What's the current name of country which was known as British Honduras?" (Answer: Belize)

Graphics are rather primitive, as the kids are cartoony, and in fact the whole thing is cartoony. At least it uses the whole screen on the enV, and not just the middle part.

All in all, this trivia game lacks the flair of other trivia games. You can find better, really.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Good gimmick with 5th graders, easy interface
Cons: You sure these are 5th grade questions? Lousy look overall.

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Mobile Game Review of "Star Wars Force Unleashed 3D" (mobile)

The logo for Star Wars: The Force UnleashedImage via WikipediaYep, Force Unleashed is now avialable for mobile is it any good? Surprisingly, it works quite well, even though deep down it's basically a rail shooter.

You all pretty much know the plot already: Darth Vader had a "secret apprentice", who was unnamed here, but was called "Starkiller" in other other versions. Vader first told the apprentice to help eliminate some remnant Jedis, who's likely attacking a TIE fighter factory. However, no one must learn of apprentice's existence... EVERYBODY, including Imperial guards, must be eliminated. As you can guess, that's just chapter 1 out of 6, and there are a couple twists and turns that even I didn't quite see coming.

Boiled down to the essentials, the game is basically series of battle scenes where a battle is played out. In the battle, you go up against a bunch of enemies, and you have an objective. Usually, it's just to get to the exit, by killing all enemies. Sometimes, it's a bit more involved, like how to break down a door. You have only force grip at the beginning, but as the chapters go, you will learn force push/pull, force lightning, force drain, force heal, force speed, force confound, and so on. So how do you deploy the force? By hitting a pattern on the keypad. It's easier to show you.

For example, to "cast" force heal, you need to do a "diamond". Look at the numeric pad, it'd be 42684 (or 26482, or 68426, or you can go the other way around as well). If you want to do a force push, it's 5684. Force speed is 8462 (it looks like an S too).

After you finish the "weave", if it's a defensive power like heal, it goes into effect immediately. Offensive powers needed to be "cast" by hitting SPACE or OK or 0, depending on your handset.

Depending on the item being used and the specific force power, your force "meter" will be drained a bit. When you run out, you can't do any more force powers, until they regenerate.

Enemies will be shooting at you, and you defend by hitting the 4 corner keys. In case of the numeric pad, it'd be 7913. A red circle with specific quadrants will light up and you need to press the respective "defense" key to deflect the attack, and sometimes the deflected shots will kill other targets, just like the movies.

Not all enemy will be in range of your force powers initially, so you may have to defeat the front few in order to reach the remainder. And some enemies may be invulnerable to certain force powers. It is up to you to figure out which attacks work against whom.

So a battle goes like this... Starkiller runs up to this path, where there's a bunch of Clone Troopers. Starkiller engages force grip, two guys floats up in the air, third, further back, keeps shooting. Starkiller defends against a few shots, force threw the two off to the side, who drop to their deaths. Starkiller advances on the third guy, who's now in range. Starkiller does a force pull, pulling the guy within lightsaber range, and one sweep (automatic) finishes the guard. However, several more take their place both ahead and behind. Starkiller goes defensive and the reflected shots takes out one, two, then all three guards...

You can imagine you'll be hitting the keys A LOT, and yet, you don't need to aim or anything. It's all about weaving the pattern, and deciding which force power(s) to use. Some, like AT-ST walkers, are vulnerable to combinations, or can only be stunned, not defeated outright (unless you can force push one off a ledge, not that easily arranged). Others will succumb to a variety of attacks... Push, pull, grip/toss, lightning...

For anything else I'd say this "cellweave" user interface is gimmicky. For something as mystical and fantastical as "The Force", this is right on. I can imagine this game mechanic being used to cast different spells, or create units, and so on. It is an innovation.

Each level is also VERY cinematic, yet shows you exactly where the enemies are, esp. with the force indicator above each enemy. Gray means "out of range". Blank circle means "not affected by current force power". And so on and so forth. It's not simply an overhead view, but a variety of views, some ground level, others higher up, lower down, from front, back, side, different elevations... It's almost like participating in an action movie.

At the end of the level, you come upon a boss, who will have a bunch of attacks up his sleeve... Either lots of enemies, or some special attacks you need to deal with. You'll see prison wardens, Jedis, Shadow Guard, and more. But the battle mechanics are the same... Find out what sequence of force powers the boss is vulnerable to, then use them without getting hurt too much (use force heal if possible).

As for the plot... It can get a bit melancholy as this is one of those sad endings that actually makes sense, even though it ties up a few things a bit too conveniently. You see... Starkiller knows that he's a slave, and he's NOT fully on the Dark side of the force just yet... By the finale, he will make the ultimate sacrifce... in order to save the Rebellion from being crushed by Vader before it was even formed. And let's just say... he has enough Force pull to pull a TIE fighter... and something even BIGGER... MUCH bigger. And clearly, this game lost a LOT of stuff from the other "more complete" versions, yet the ending is one of the best available on a mobile game... VERY... melodramatic.

All in all, I like the innovation of this "weaving" as a battle technique, though I don't quite like the rail-shooter aspect of the game, as I wish a bit more freedom to explore, but I understand why it's done so.

WARNING: you need the unlimited data plan, as each of the chapters must be downloaded separately, even after you download the main program. And if the chapter refuse to download properly, you'll need to restart the program and try the download again. All those bytes can add up quickly.

All in all, Star Wars Force Unleashed 3D really does have you feel, momentarily, like a Jedi, yet without waving light saber around. The six chapters are a bit short (done in a couple hours, with no bonuses other than the "boss" levels being replayable as a 'survival battle'), but that new "weaving" combat is innovative enough. I can give this an 8.0 out of 10.

Overall rating: 8.0 out of 10
Pros: "weave" the force attacks, views are VERY cinematic
Cons: weave feels somewhat gimmicky, heart of a rail shooter

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More Mobile Game Previews!!!!

Colin McRae's 1996 Subaru Impreza 555, followi...Image via Wikipedia DiRT by Colin McRae -- finally ported to mobile by Glu, is it any good? Chopped down from original, or something that pretends to be?

Cars! Radiator Springs 500 -- this game also got ported to mobile. Does it retain the charm of the movie at all? Or is it a childish arcade racer?

Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader '09 -- the gameshow namesake gets mobile game adaptation and updated for '09. It's basically "Millionaire" with some kids as your foil.

Star Wars: Force Unleashed 3D -- yes, this baby's coming to mobile as well. Will it be good? Bad? Or just ugly?

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Mobile Game Review of "Hamster Mansion"

Hamster Mansion goes for cuteness for an action puzzle, and it's a fine balance between cute and way too cute.

Basically, as one of the final few hamsters left in the city, where gophers reign supreme, you must reclaim the glory of the Hamster Mansion by reclaiming parts and items from various stages, collect stars and nuts, avoid enemies such as thieves, bugs, spiders, and environmental hazards like sprinklers, fetid water drops, and more. You'll also meet other hamsters and other characters on the way. You can then use the parts you collected, to rebuild hamster mansion into your dream, with multiple chambers, tubes leading here and there, water feeder, hamster wheel, and much more.

So what's the GAME about? Basically, it's a little bit Mario, a little bit Mega Man. You're this pretty harmless hamster, except if you can jump ON a bug, you can eliminate it. Jump across a spider's thread, and it'll fall. Can't do anything about bees, pirahnas, and so on though, or stuff like fetid water drips, sprinklers, and so on. You can actually climb walls and ceilings like a fly, and you'll often need to, in order to reach special places. Explore every nook and cranny as some contain surprise tunnels with more nuts and sometimes, hot sausage, which allows you to use your breath as a flamethrower to kill bugs, for a VERY limited time.

So the idea is jump, run, and climb around to reach new spots, explore across screens of hazards, avoiding them as you can, and hopefully reach the "end" before you run out of lives. If you run out of lives, you simply go back to "the junction", and the level resets, so you can start over and over.

Graphics are pretty cute, but I am afraid the exploration is a bit tough. A LOT of the exploration is into very hazardous areas, and with limited lives to explore the entire level (which are huge, spanning several screens) it can be quite a challenge until you learned all the path you needed.

You can customize your hamster in the beginning, which should help you stay attached to it. Unfortunately, I found the levels way too big, and lack of a "save" function means I have to do the same section over, and over, and over... and that just gets boring. Kids may like it more, but I don't.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Cute hamsters, customization of mansion and hamster, cute abilities
Cons: Way too repetitive, basically forces you to be PERFECT AND explore

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Spore Origins: How to create the uber-Spore for Arena mode

Gameplay screenshot.Image via Wikipedia As someone who has maintained a spore that has occasionally snagged the first place (yes, I was rated #1 for a couple hours a few times, and within top 10 and top 100 many times as well, look up "ShaYu" by "kschang" and you'll see it), I've decided to share a few tips playing SPORE Origins.

First... Keep your spore as SMALL as possible. This is counter intuitive, but believe me. A smaller spore is harder to hit, and thus, more survivable. How do you keep it small? Take almost as many wounds as you grow. This is quite difficult as in the earlier stages all you do is EAT, but try to take a few damage before you eat the last bug to exit the level.

Second, select max defense. If you can look at the top ranking spores (yes, including mine), they are ALL defense specialists. You NEED the ability to shrink into that inpenetrable ball of armor. It does come in handy. However, it doesn't work that well on enemies with eyes, as they can see your spiked state and just stop. However, it works well enough in murky waters and against those who have no eyes.

The rest can be balanced between offense (you do need the stun/needle), movement (you do need the tail for speed).

This one is good for all-around defense and its "stun" is good for general offense, and works well enough in all arenas. It is a bit more vulnerable in very busy arenas with a lot of food as some enemy spores can run away to refuel, but if this can stay close it can basically joust the other spores to death before the other can refuel, esp. those with level 3 sensor (attract food).

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Mobile Game Review of "Rise of Atlantis"

Rise of Atlantis is another variation on Bejeweled, except this time, they added a bunch of variations and some backstory about travelling through the ages, assembling the artifacts, so you can raise Atlantis from the depths. Blah blah blah. You can also collect some "powerups" which you can use to break the impasse. Is it actually worth playing? Sort of.

Rise of Atlantis is your basic variation on Bejeweled, or "connect-3 by swapping a tile with adjacent tile". You can make triples, quads, or longer. However, the objective here is not to score points, but to make sure the artifact pieces, represented by white diamonds on the board, drop off bottom of the playing field. As the field can be irregularly shaped, the task is not that easy, esp. when special pieces, like locked, double-locked, frozen, and double-frozen pieces are introduced.

However, you can call upon special powers to destroy some blocks. You get a "laser" which periodically recharges so you can destroy randomly about 10-15 pieces on the board. Other powerups can give you more time (you ARE on a timer), blow up a certain area, swap a tile with another, and so on. The objective is, of course, to drop every single artifact piece through the bottom. By assembling it all, you reassemble the artifact, and when you get all of them, you can raise Atlantis.

The gameplay itself is classic bejweled, except for the special tiles and the powerups. Every "period" have their own unique tiles. However, n my LG VX9900 enV, the tiles are small enough, that with the double-locked or double-frozen, it's hard if not impossible to read the tiles.

Also, there's no fancy shmancy load screens and such at end of each level to entice you to raise Atlantis from the depths. No cutscenes and no aminations. No "bait".

All in all Rise of Atlantis is an also-ran. You'll probably get more mileage out of Puzzle Quest Warlords instead.

Overall rating: 5.5 out of 10
Pros: easy to pick up, some cute variations
Cons: some tiles hard to read, nothing THAT new

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Mobile Game Review of "Soul of Darkness"

GameloftImage via Wikipedia Soul of Darkness has you, Kael, an avowed vampire hunter, fell in love with Lydia, who has severe amnesia, and under attack by vampires. Kael saved Lydia, they fell in love, and lived a few years... Until she had nightmares, and then a vampire lord came calling and took her away... Kael vows to save her... Even though it may just be possible that Lydia is a vampire herself...

And thus starts "Soul of Darkness", an action-RPG for mobile phones from Gameloft. It is an interesting game with a lot of things to do, combination of fighting and puzzles. There are even occasional "transformations" that you need to utilize to defeat some nasties. There are also occasional "rail shooter" sequences. It's a good smörgåsbord of gameplay, and it's pretty long, not bad.

The game is 2D, with a similar engine to Assasin's Creed mobile, though the sprites are a bit smaller to fit more action on screen. This time, due to more weapons, the action is not really compromised. You can jump, run, crouch, and so on. You also have two weapons: a fire sword, and an ice lance. Both can be upgraded in terms of power, combo, criticals, and magic power. Every enemy you kill and bonus you discover, you gather "soul chards", which is your currency to upgrade. You can also discover life and magic gems, which adds to your life and magic bars if you find enough.

As you move about the levels, you'll notice some beautiful parallax scrolling backgrounds, and very fluid moving enemies. Some zombies break open the ground then emerges from the round. Gargoyles fly at you with either spears or bombs. Vamps teleport close to you to suck your blood and avoid your retaliation. Then there are werewolves, vamp lords, and more...

The "magic" basically are "alt-fire" modes for your weapons. The "fire" one is a circle of fire all around you, could be used to break floors or nearby enemies. The ice one throws "ice spears" that can be used to climb places that normally you can't climb to. It can also be used to freeze water elementals and springs.

Transformation gems can be found that will allow you to transform into something else, perhaps to walk on ceiling as a bug, or swim as a fish, and so on. Those are good for puzzle segments.

All in all, Soul of Darkness has a very Japanese feel to it, and is one of the better action-RPG games to hit the phone market. I can give this one an 8.5.

Overall rating: 8.5 out of 10 (!)
Pros: simple to pickup, action RPG with fighting and puzzles
Cons: end-game may be a bit TOO hard

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More Mobile Game Previews! (and a bit of Q&A)

Soul of Darkness -- Gameloft mines the Vampire lore for an action RPG that's got a very Japanese feel. The result is a mobile classic that's part puzzle part combat, excellent side-scrolling parallax graphics, and actually feels pretty long, a shortcoming in most mobile games. Action is fluid, and there's even console-style cutscenes with big dialog bubbles. Hero can sometimes transform into other creatures such as fish or bug and do special things. I'd say this game is pretty good!

Rise of Atlantis -- lousy variation of Bejeweled. Supposedly you finish all these puzzles to get artifacts that'll help raise Atlantis from the depths by going all around Ancient Middle East, from Babylon to Egypt... blah blah. It's just a SILLY excuse to have you play Bejeweled on irregularly shaped boards, and try to drop the "stars" through the "bottom". You sometimes can try to retrieve specials as well, like "bomb", "zap", "time", which respectively "destroys pieces around blast area", "zaps all pieces of that type on the board", and "puts more time back on the timer". Still, don't feel that special. Not that good.

Hamster Mansion -- Hamsters are almost gone from the city... and Gophers are moving in, and they're not nice. However, there is hope... You. You must explore various parts of the city, bring back special items to return Hamster Mansion to its glory... Basically you run around, climb ceilings, and so on. Sorry, not that good.

P.S. Some people asked me if I actually "finish" all the games I reviewed. The answer to that is "no, not always". Usually I try to "finish" it if I can. However, if I can't finish it (I don't claim to be an excellent player) or I can see how the game is going to work out, I'll just tell you my impressions.

P.P.S. In "Galaxy on Fire 3D", I've actually made it to EVERY SINGLE PLANET (5 planet per system, 25 systems per quadrant, 4 quadrants). That's a lot of "mileage". As a result of this accomplishment, your fuel is "free". In other words, there are no more charges to fly to another station. If you need a bribe to get in, that's your problem. :D And now combat is completely a letdown... I finish missions with difficulty rating of 129 easily. Guess I *could* write a strategy guide if I want to...

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Mobile Game Review of "TextTwist Turbo"

Image representing RealNetworks as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase, source unknown TextTwist Turbo is an improved version of RealArcade's TextTwist, now adapted for the mobile platform. So that's the "twist"? Given a bunch of characters, it's up to you to create as many of the actual words as possible. No acronyms, abbreviations, or such. Only real words 3 letters or longer. There's a "minimum" you can score that allows you to move to next level, or you can keep playing and find more words and move on when you want to.

You can see how many words you've revealed so far, and since those are alphabetized, they will help you figure out what words you HAVE NOT figured out. And if you need more help, hit the "twist" button (usually left soft key) and you'll scramble the available letters, hopefully inspiring you toward more words.

Unfortunately, that's all there really is to the game. I guess it can help you a bit with your vocabulary... but as a game, it's rather boring and disappointing.

Overall rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: You'll learn lots of vocabulary on short words
Cons: Too simple, no "twist"

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Mobile Game Review of "TwinkleTown"

Transmission lines in Romania Of which the nea...Image via Wikipedia Twinkle Town is a series of logic puzzles with the backdrop of a very light-hearted "battle" between "good" and "evil". Basically, a professor has invented a way to power houses from lightning storms, and the town is bright... when the electric company guy flew over saw that the town is not paying him, and decided to sabotage the whole thing. The town went dark, and the professor needs YOUR help to reset the connections and bring every building back to light.

The game basically has two modes: the "connect the path" mode, and "crossbar" mode. Both are logical puzzles that needs a little bit of explanation.

Connect the Path mode, known as "timing" in the game, has you guiding the electricity by completing the path. Normally, it's just vertical, horizontal, but they also added right-down, left-down, right-up, and left-up, for total of SIX keys. When you come to a Y-split, you can go either way, but you better choose quickly and wisely... Going into a deadend means level restart. Then add specials like "reverse flow", which reverses flow of electricity for one junction, "power area" which powers all the lights in the area, special requests like "zap the rats", and you have to really watch your step. You can't queue the commands either. Only the immediate next junction can be selected. Oh, did I mention that you must guide the electricity down to where the professor is? Guess not. When electricity picks up speed due to long flow, and distances between junctions gets shorter, and you aren't too such which keys to press... It can be frantic.

The crossbar mode is another logic puzzle that appeared before in various brain teasers. Basically, the electricity moves down these parallel power "bars". It will always move DOWNWARD, but if there's a crossbar it will move across as well. Thus, you need to place the crossbars strategically to pass them through certain items, avoid the gaps or bombs that'll end the trip, power more lights, and even pick up speed (in order to avoid the power man) as you make your way down to the professor.

The "story mode" is the campaign where you play competition where you need to turn the entire town's lights back on, one house at a time. Every few houses, the powerman challenges you to a special duel, all have to do with aligning power flow.

The loading screen itself is a "shoot-em-up". Basically, send the professor up like "space invaders" and try to "shoot" the powerman's plane out of the sky. It's a cute way to make the wait time more "bearable". Though asking for 200 hits? Gee.

Grpahics are good 2D sprites, a bit cute, but very visible. It's just those SIX BUTTON CONTROLS I worry about in the "complete the path" mode. When the level gets long, ONE small mistake will force a redo, and that is just frustrating. Music is cute at first, boring later. As stated, controls are okay to bad.

All in all, Twinkletown is a new wrapper on "snake" and similar logic puzzles, but with a bit more "action" twist. It's mostly average though, nothing to really special to recommend it, except very well done loading screen, and some rather inventive backstory.

Overall rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Logic puzzles are easy to learn, and pacing is good
Cons: That's all there is? Been there, done that.

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Mobile Game Review of "SPORE" i.e. "SPORE: Origins"

Yep, "THE" SPORE, from creator of the Sims and all that. Due to its limited nature, it's sometimes known as "SPORE: Origins". This is the next BIG thing. Now available on mobile, before they hit the consoles and PCs. How does it fare? You wonder.

The mobile version is but a SMALL portion of the game that is on the console or PC. Basically, it's the "spore to microbe stage" of the full game. However, it is quite challenging in itself.

Start as a tiny spore, survive three levels, and you can get to improve yourself. In the levels, you need to survive by eating smaller stuff to accumulate DNA, and avoid larger stuff. Improvements come in 4 categories: vision, movement, offense, and defense. You can also choose to customize appearance by modifying color, texture, and size(s) of body (and each segment, if you have multiple segments). If you have added appendages for movement or combat, you can choose where to put them as well. Cycle continues: every 3 levels, improvement. Some levels have special challenges, such as "kill a boss predator by eating his tail", or "kill the superlarge critters by teasing other critters into it so when it dies you can eat the remains".

The surrounding changes, from the primordial soup to volcanic crevices to deep sea to beaches. The critters will change as well. Some critters will shoot, others scoot really fast, others morph (green phase is poisonous, blue phase is delicious), and so on.

Once your spore has made it to the beach and survived the final "level", you've finished "evolution", and unlocked "survival" and "arena" modes. However, the game is NOWHERE near "finished", unless you want to leave it.

Survival mode is the most arcade-ish of the game. Basically, you take your grown-up spore and try to survive as long as possible against other critters, with occasional powerups.

The 'fun' part of the game is in 'arena', where you take your spore and pit it against other people's spores, and they have an AI controlled battle, and see who ends up on top. Thousands have already signed up for EA online account, and you WILL need Internet connectivity through your phone to play this way. Basically, watch your critter battle and cheer it on and groan and all that. The AI basically jousts, but it will run away, eat some smaller critters to replenish itself, and use special powers like electrify. However, it is a passive experience.

You can't just "put" a new spore in the Arena. You must play through Evolution mode to have that spore available in Arena, and your entire battle history is recorded, how many wins, how many losses. If you win, you can send a "victory cry" to the other user. Or you can just go for a rematch. It's a full online community, almost, except there's no chatting in the game. You can do "find", "challenge", random match, rank match, and so on.

Graphics are excellent for a 2D game, and parallax scrolling makes the game look more 3D than it is. Little details abound. All the critters have eyes (many have a LOT!) and the eyes blink. Those that have visible mouths will 'chomp', the flagella will flutter to propel, spikes will deploy, and so on. And on my LG VX9900 enV the game is full screen except for small status bar on top.

The actual play is not as much fun though... It's basically "snake", except you don't grow larger, and you don't worry about running over yourself, just a lot of other nasty critters out to eat YOU. In fact, there are only the direction pad, OK (dash to eat locked-on critter), and right soft button (to fire the weapon, if any), and that's all the controls. So you basically go back and forth, avoiding big guys and eating small guys. And that's it. It's the special challenges that makes things more interesting. As mentioned before, some levels have you eat a boss, or tease other predators into hitting the really big critters so you can eat the remains, and so on. Those keep the game from being monotonous, but some of those are also extremely hard. It's possible to make a wrong move, and die within 5 seconds as a predator decided you're too tempting to let you pass.

Sound is more New Age than Electronic, which is good, but it repeats too soon. I basically play with it OFF.

All in all, SPORE is one of those games that has that "try again" feel, rare on the mobile games. Even when you "finish" the game, you just feel that you need to do it all over again so that you can get ANOTHER Spore up and running, and this one will fare better in the arena, or so you hope. And every spore you generate will be different... And that is the amazing part.

Overall rating: 9.0 out of 10 (!)
Pros: easy to learn, impossible to "master"
Cons: some levels extremely hard, arena too "passive"

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More Mobile Game Previews!

Power lines in Suffolk England in twilightImage via Wikipedia TextTwist Turbo -- from RealArcade, they give you some letters, you figure out how many words you can make from these letters. There are LOTS and LOTS... so the longer ones are worth more... How many can do you?

Twinkle Town -- logic puzzles disguised as a light-hearted fight between good and evil, i.e. professor who gets free electricity from lightning, vs. "power company saboteur", fighting over this town's holiday lights. You need to complete the circuit and guide the power to the professor so he can repower the town... Some puzzles are extremely tough due to number of keys needed.

SPORE -- yes, THE SPORE. In fact, you'll get a review next. It is out for the cellphone. You don't get the full game here... Just the part from the single spore in primordial soup up to the part where you grow big enough to land on a beach. Dodging other predators, evolving your own set of offense, defense, motion, or vision. When you're through evolving your creature (i.e. survive all 20 levels) you can pit your creation against other SPORE players in Arena mode, or play the arcade "survival" mode where you last as long as possible with poewrups.

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Mobile Game Review of "USA TODAY Word Txtpert" by Namco

A standard telephone keypad.Image via Wikipedia Word Txtpert is actually two games in one... Txtpert, which is sort of crosswords combined with timer and phone keypad, and Word Down, which is sort of Txtpert meets Tetris. Unfortunately, neither game really catches the feverish pitch in the better word games like Wordox, due to a tiny game board, though difficulty level can be set higher.

Default size of board is five by five, and you are given the "numeric equivalent" of the letter as the clue. For example, 2 is A, B, or C (look on your phone keypad). You usually have to solve 4 words hopefully in just a few seconds. You can score bonus points for knowing certain obscure words, and for "accuracy", as in finding the right combo the first time instead of flipping everything a couple times over. You care allowed 2 cheats per puzzle if you have NO IDEA what's going on, but you will lose the 2000 fair bonus if you *do* use the cheat.

The categories are widely varied, and there are quite a few proper names in there, like "European River names", "US City Names", and so on. Some are quite obscure, while others are rather obvious.

Word Down basically is Tetris meets Txtpert, with dropping blocks you must assemble into words before they overwhelm the drop zone.

All in all, Txtpert doesn't quite have the magic of Bookworm or even Wordox to keep you playing, despite the invocation of USA TODAY as a sub-brand.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10 (including +1 for Word Down's inclusion)
Pros: not that hard to learn either game
Cons: too simple, Txtpert has some odd proper nouns included

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