Currently playing

I have completed Dark Souls.

Praise the sun, bitches!
That is to say, I have earned all 1000 gamerscore from the thing. I will confess that I did this with help - a big weapon exchange program between myself, Mike and Leanne for example - but I was very much looking forward to dotting the i's and crossing the t's on that one. I'm thinking DLC now but I reckon I'll stop short of an SL1 run - those guys are nutters!

With that out of the way, my gaming is divided between a slow crawl through GTA V - only slow because I'm savouring it - and a series of games on my iPhone.

The iPhone is a very convenient gaming platform. It's always around and the style of game tends towards just fitting a session in around whatever free time you happen to have. I generally have two or three games on the go.

At the moment, those games are Puzzle and Dragons, Tiny Death Star and Clumsy Ninja. They are all Freemium games and I am compelled to play them with varying degrees of success.

Match 3


When magenta attacks!
I'll start with Puzzle and Dragons. It's a match-3-esque puzzler where you fight monsters, level up your own troop and evolve them thanks to the fiendish gacha mechanic.

The match-3 section is simply brilliant. It's not just a Bejewelled rip off. Instead, you can drag a piece around as far as you want within a given time limit. Any piece that you drag this one over will swap places, meaning that with the correct application of skill, you can position almost every other piece on the board just where you want it to be to cause maximum combo damage. This is incredibly tactile and satisfying.

The rest of it is a typical Japanese offering of countless menu screens that house your various monsters. Defeating monsters can reward you with eggs which are essentially copies of that monster for you to have. Monsters can be levelled up between quests by sacrificing other monsters to them. Bonus XP are awarded for sacrificing monsters of the same elemental alignment and there are increased chances that the individual will also increase it's skills by sacrificing identical monsters.

Monsters can also be gained by expending currency in one of the two egg machines that produce random monsters of differing rarity.

As well as your own monsters, you are also allowed to take along one of your friend's monsters on each quest. In fact, it doesn't have to be someone you know - you'll get the choice from a bunch of random people if none of your friends are playing. This friend roster also serves another purpose. It delivers the social punch.

Not only can you see which of your friends are playing (so you can feel free to discuss all things puzzly and dragony with them the next time you meet up without fear of boring them senseless), but you can see how well they are doing - which, in turn, gives you a great sense of how well you are doing. It allows you to see exotic beasts from far away that, thanks to the randomness of the gacha, you do not have. It also allows you to see how powerful they are in combat and you can get a decent sense of camaraderie when their powerful beast pulls you through a boss fight your pitiful band had no chance of completing.

I am playing this game because I want to level up my dragons. Not only because, well, they are dragons and I like levelling them up, but so that I can hopefully impress my community of friends with my (currently laughable) collection. Also, I should stress again that the match-3, actual game bit, is very well done indeed.

I don't mind the gacha mechanic at all. I didn't mind it in FIFA or Mass Effect either. I couldn't see myself spending money on it as it's far too much of a risk, but I don't mind grinding for a booster pack or two. There's something so compelling about unwrapping a mystery package or buying a lottery ticket. You just don't know what might happen...

Star Wars


I find your lack of Supply Officers disturbing
Tiny Death Star is a Star Wars-themed re-skin of Tiny Tower. You build floors on the Death Star to attract little pixelart dudes to move in, generating revenue for even more floors. Each floor is themed - residential floors allow you to house more Bitizens; Retail, Service, Food and Recreational floors allow the Bitizens to work, generating revenue whilst Imperial floors conduct the more shady aspects of the Empire's business and are built below 'ground'.

Each floor is themed to some part of the movies - from an ice cream vendor called Scoops of Hoth or the Mos Eisley Cantina to the Trash Compactor or Detention Level. Each Bitizen is also similarly themed - pixel art versions of all of your favourite Star Wars races* as well as known heroes and villains all make an appearance. You can also dress them up, should you so wish.

New people arrive and you use the elevator to take them to the floor they wish to go to. If they go to a residential floor and there's enough room, they will move in and they can now be used to staff up your other businesses. If they go to a different floor, they can buy one of the things on offer there. If you drop them off below ground, you can use them to hurry up whatever item you're currently producing in the sinister Imperial levels.

The rest of the game consists of ensuring that each floor never runs out of stock - a process made tricky by the fact that you cannot restock a floor until it has totally run out of that particular item and only one (of three) items can be re-stocked at any one time.

Everything else is timer based. You click (tap) on things and timers start, at the end of which you will be rewarded with whatever new thing that timer was associated with.

It's pretty mindless stuff and, if it wasn't for the theme, I really wouldn't be interested.

I am playing this game because of the theme and because I didn't play Tiny Tower, but I think I'm nearly done now. I've seen quite a few of the floors. I think I'm waiting for some of the other heroes to turn up and unlock more of the quite cute cutscenes, but other than that... The fact that Leanne is still playing is a bit of a draw, but that's about it.

Ninjas


Okay, so this bit is fun for a while
Clumsy Ninja is very frustrating. I'll start with the positives though - the tech is unbelievably cool. The way your ninja reacts to being poked, prodded, thrown, tickled, dunked or otherwise abused is outstanding. I love my ninja.

The game sees you buy equipment to train up your ninja. I think it's something to do with his ninja girlfriend being kidnapped or something so you're having to train up to go and rescue her, but it's not clear.

Each item of equipment allows your ninja to learn particular moves. These animations are played out when the ninja uses the equipment. Thanks to the tech, it appears that the ninja can be better at some of them. For example, when he starts out punching a rice sack, he will lay into it with pathetic slaps and fall over if he tries to kick it. After a couple of sessions, he'll start dancing around a bit and landing a few more confident blows.

But that's it. That's everything the game has to offer. You unlock better animations that, once you've seen them, play no further part in the game as the next item of equipment has different animations and you start again.

The sensei offers words of encouragement and lays down particular quest type instructions, but each of these is purely 'buy the next item on the list' - an item cunningly priced to be out of reach unless you dig deep or grind.

I would absolutely love this game if there was something to it. Something to actually do with all of this hard-earned ninja-skill. But it's entirely disposable. I can't send my ninja off on quests. I can't get my ninja to pit his wits against yours. In fact, my ninja doesn't even know that yours exists. Everything you buy feels temporary or disposable. There's nothing to do with any of it once it has been mastered and even if you could, there's no-one to show it to. Perhaps I'm wrong and there's this whole epic quest at the end, but there's nothing I've seen so far that indicates there's anything else there and my little dude is level 17. I've unlocked the map and can travel to new locations** but so far zip.

This is why it's so frustrating. It's such a missed trick. With even a very rudimentary game layer on top of it, this thing could have been a world beater but for whatever reason, they didn't go for it. Instead, they just put out a bog-standard, freemium grinder that doesn't even do the social stuff that most others do. Actually, one other thing that it doesn't do that other freemium titles do is beg for money - which is good. Instead, it does it much more subtly - by insisting that you build an item that only gets unlocked on the following level. This means you either have to grind or pay up to get the item early.

I'm playing this because... I'm not sure. Professional courtesy? I can't help wondering if it's really fallen between two stools. There's no game there, so gamers, once they've seen enough of the animations or had enough of the gouging, will leave it alone. There's no social aspect there, so the enticement to become a whale (a cornerstone of the freemium model) is absent. With no whales, I'm not really sure who it's being aimed at. Perhaps this is just early - the intention being to layer in a whole bunch of cool features later on. In which case, I'd recommend steering clear until then - ATM, it really puts the M into MVP***

* Plus some that you really hate. I'm considering a very strict no Ewok / Gungan policy on my Death Star.
** Or the 'change the look of the background' button.
*** Minimal Viable Product. A baseline product that you ship knowing that you're going to add features post launch.

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