BlueStacks introduces GamePop Mini, subscription based ‘free’ game console

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With many hardware developers looking to bring mobile gaming to the big screen, mobile virtualization company, BlueStacks, is announcing GamePop Mini, a second vehicle to deliver its GamePop mobile gaming service. The console will be provided for free as long as the user pays a $6.99 monthly subscription free. (more…)

Pokki, Zynga and Acer partner to offer arcade preloaded on new PCs

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Despite the industry shift from desktop gaming to mobile platforms, Zynga is still trying to reach players on computer platforms. The social gaming company has begun a partnership with SweetLabs, developers of free arcade platform Pokki and computer manufacturer Acer. The Pokki gaming platform will come preloaded on Acer PCs with all of Zynga’s desktop games available to download. (more…)

Tetris Blitz review

Tetris Blitz app iconTetris Blitz is an iOS and Android app from Electronic Arts (EA). The game is now available for free with ads on the Apple App Store and Google Play and carries additional in-app purchases.

Electronic Arts’ previous attempt at a mobile Tetris failed to make fans believe the classic fast-paced puzzle game could make the transition to a touch screen device. The reflexes and precision required to succeed when the pace increases proved to be something touch controls weren’t ready to handle. Tetris Blitz, EA’s new venture into the world of Tetris, makes key changes to the classic formula and the experience is much better because of it.

Tetris Blitz is a far cry from the arcade style of classic Tetris. The entire premise of Tetris Blitz is that each round is played in two-minute bursts. This allows for quick sessions, much like PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz. Blocks still drop from the top, but their pace is much slower than previous games, giving players a chance to plan their moves carefully, rather than rely on reflexes. When the blocks start dropping, players are greeted with three outlines of where the block could fit. If none of them are worthwhile, the block can be rotated and three new positions will be offered. When a player finds the best spot, they can tap on the outline and the block automatically drops into that position. Once an entire line is filled, it vanishes, and higher blocks fall down. The controls make Tetris Blitz feel simpler, but the core gameplay remains intact. Once the two-minute round is over, the score is calculated and players can compare their results to their friends, if they’ve logged into Facebook.  (more…)

Zynga releases Running With Friends

running with friendsSocial games developer and publisher Zynga today announced the release of its seventh game under the “With Friends” brand, an endless runner titled Running With Friends. The game should be available to download for free from the Apple App Store starting tonight and tomorrow morning.

Set in a cartoon-style re-imagining of Pamplona, Spain, the game puts players into the town’s famous Running of the Bulls Festival. Gameplay is very similar to Temple Run, Vector, Subway Surfers, and other games in the endless runner genre. It’s particular similar to the latter in that the device is oriented vertically, with the camera behind the character, allowing the player to swipe and tap in order to dodge obstacles across three lanes.

While it may be similar to other endless runners, Running With Friends is also adding several new features to the formula to keep it fresh. The social element of games has always been Zynga’s primary concern and Running With Friends is no different, allowing users to do as the title suggests and play with their friends asynchronously. The level for each round of the game is randomly generated, but players who compete with friends will compete over the same randomly generated level. The player who gets the highest score by running farther and collecting more stars, wins.

(more…)

Nimble Quest (iOS) review

nimblequestNimble Quest is a new iOS game from Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes developer NimbleBit. It’s available now from the App Store and, like the developer’s other titles, is a free-to-play game with additional in-app purchases.

Nimble Quest is a significant departure from NimbleBit’s two previous hits in several ways. First of all, while the aesthetic is still heavily based around retro-style pixel art, the higher resolution of the new game makes it look more like a title from the 16-bit era than the chunky 8-bit style of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Alongside the change in aesthetic comes a change in play style, too — rather than being a relatively conventional “tap and wait” business sim both Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, Nimble Quest is an arcade action game. Specifically, it’s a cross between mobile phone classic Snake and the venerable arcade RPG/shooter title Gauntlet — and it’s excellent.

Basic gameplay in Nimble Quest is very simple. Play begins by selecting one of several different hero characters, each of whom have their own strengths, weaknesses and special abilities. When the game proper starts, the hero character begins walking around an enclosed arena and is unable to stop. Swiping in a particular direction on the screen causes the character to start moving in that direction — though like Snake, it’s impossible to simply reverse your direction, and only horizontal and vertical movement is allowed.

Enemies spawn into the arena at regular intervals — some as individuals, others in snake-like formations — and the player must defeat them to progress. Each enemy defeated adds to a bar at the top of the screen, and when this bar fills the level fills with gems to collect for a few seconds before proceeding to the next arena, which has a different graphical theme and enemies. As players progress through the levels, they unlock new heroes that they can use as their “leader” in subsequent games. (more…)

Nitro (iOS) review

Nitro is a new iOS game from Z2Live, Inc. It’s available now as a free-to-play download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases of in-game currencies.

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Nitro is an arcade-style racing game with a Gran Turismo-style car-upgrading metagame wrapped around it. Players compete in various races against computer-controlled opponents, Game Center friends or random online players and earn money and resources with which they can upgrade their vehicle or purchase new ones. As players progress through the single-player campaign, they earn access to more and more powerful vehicles with which to assert their dominance on the various racetracks available in the game.

The racing sequences unfold with some good quality, fluidly-animating 3D graphics. The visual fidelity isn’t up to recent releases such as Real Racing 3, but neither is it a bad-looking game — though it still requires an iPhone 4 as a minimum, so 3GS owners are out of luck. The game is controlled using a combination of touchscreen “pedals” for acceleration and braking — one on each side of the screen — and analog tilt controls for steering. The controls are responsive and work well. Steering hard in either direction causes a “drift” bar to appear on screen while the player’s vehicle skids sideways — filling this causes a speed boost when the car straightens up again, which is an essential tactic to use in tougher races. The player also has a nitro boost which can be used by tapping it on the screen at an opportune moment. For the most part, the races work well, but some walls seem a little too “solid,” bringing the player to a complete and immediate standstill after just clipping them rather than simply reducing their speed. If this happens, the races are often much too short to be able to catch up with one’s opponents. (more…)

Outland Games (iOS) review

Outland Games is a new iOS game from Uber Entertainment, creators of the popular Monday Night Combat series of MOBA games on Xbox 360 and PC. It’s available now as a $0.99 download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency and booster items.

Outland Games

Outland Games is an endless runner set in the Monday Night Combat universe, in which players take on the role of the series’ Assassin character as she attempts to traverse a perilous obstacle course and win her freedom. Gameplay is very simple, consisting of only two controls — tapping on the left side of the screen causes the Assassin to jump while tapping on the right side causes her to attack. The Assassin can “double jump” by tapping the jump button in mid-air, and using an attack while in the air allows her to suspend herself for a moment — a technique that is sometimes necessary to clear large gaps.

(more…)

Bips review

Bips is a new Facebook game produced by Denki but wholly developed by Denki alumni at Ludometrics. The game was originally prototyped by veteran Scottish developer DMA Design (now Rockstar North, best known for the Grand Theft Auto series) back in the late ’90s, when it was known as Faster Worm Slow, and was subsequently released on interactive TV services by Denki. The new version is intended as a “21st century arcade game” — a title with retro sensibilities inspired by the games of the ’80s and ’90s, but with what Ludometrics refers to as “modern attributes.”

Bips’ gameplay is extremely simple. Players take control of a tiny dot that continuously moves at 45 degrees to the horizontal, either up and left or up and right. Pressing and holding the space bar causes the dot to reverse its vertical direction, and bumping into yellow walls at the edge of the screen causes it to reverse its horizontal direction. The aim of the game in each level is simply to collect all the sparkling dots in an attempt to score as many points as possible. Much like the classic mobile phone game Snake, a trail behind the player gets gradually longer as they continue to survive, but unlike Snake there is no means of crashing into your own tail. (more…)

Ruby Blast review

Zynga has a way of doing things with its original games: observe the market for popular trends, then release its own highly-polished take on the genre. It’s honestly surprising that the company hasn’t turned its hand to the consistently-lucrative “match-3″ arcade puzzle genre before now, but Ruby Blast changes all that with a variation on the formula popularized by Wooga’s Diamond Dash.

Zynga’s approach often draws accusations of cloning, and it’s easy to see why — but in many cases, the company takes the time to add its own twist on the formula its new game has been “inspired by” rather than simply making an exact copy. In the case of Ruby Blast, the game combines elements from two different puzzle titles: the frantic group-clicking of Wooga’s Facebook-based Diamond Dash with the “digging” mechanic from the “Diamond Mine” mode in PopCap’s standalone PC and Mac title Bejeweled 3.

Gameplay in Ruby Blast is very simple and easy to understand, though Zynga feels it necessary for the player’s first two full games to have intrusive tutorials get in the way rather than just letting them play. Against the clock, players must click on contiguous groups of three or more gems to make them disappear. If the destroyed group is adjacent to a layer of bedrock at the bottom of the screen, the rock is also destroyed. If all the rock above the on-screen line is destroyed, the player “digs down” and is rewarded with additional time. Bonus items such as score multipliers and rubies (which act as experience points) may sometimes be found within the rock, and as the player gains in levels, they gain access to various powerups to make the process of clearing the board easier — though these need to be “charged” before use by matching gems of a specific color. Like most other “Blitz” puzzlers,  these powerups cost soft currency to activate. Up to three powerups may be used at any one time, but they are all level-locked and may not be acquired early through expending hard currency as in some other games.

The game monetizes through sales of both soft and hard currency. Soft currency is reserved for the activation of powerups, while hard currency is used to purchase 15-second “time extensions” at the end of a game or refill the player’s energy bar, which is expended five points at a time. Social features include the seemingly-obligatory weekly tournament and the ability to earn more rubies (and thus level quicker) the more of a player’s Facebook friends that are playing.

One of the most noteworthy things about Ruby Blast is its excellent presentation — though a high degree of polish is not unusual for a Zynga title. The game makes use of Flash 11, allowing the game’s special effects to be rendered by the computer’s graphics processor rather than the CPU itself. This means very smooth animation as well as visually-pleasing special effects such as the game going “out of focus” when the player performs a Facebook action such as viewing their notifications. It’s certainly a noteworthy step forward in presentation for Facebook titles, even if the gameplay is rather familiar.

The quick-fire play and addictive nature of “Blitz” puzzlers coupled with the good presentation and solid gameplay is likely to make Ruby Blast a big success on Facebook. It remains to be seen whether or not it will be able to dethrone the more well-established big-hitters of the arcade puzzle genre, however.

Ruby Blast is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData as it is so new. Check back shortly to follow its progress with detailed breakdowns of MAU, DAU and user retention figures.

Play

Zynga doing what it does best — a highly polished twist on a well-established formula.

Zynga gets in on the match-3 game with Ruby Blast

Zynga’s next arcade title, as our sources told us, is a match-3 game called Ruby Blast.

Ruby Blast is Zynga’s second social arcade game in as many quarters; the first being Bubble Safari, which is currently tied with Texas HoldEm Poker as the No. 1 game on Facebook by daily active users. Ruby Blast is the first collaboration between Zynga Seattle and Zynga China. We got to spend some time with the game in a hands-off demo during a recent interview with Design Director Jonathan Grant.

Ruby Blast stars an archaeologist named Ruby digging for magic gems in a tropical mine. The gameplay features classic match-3 mechanics: Players click on clusters of at least three matching gems, clearing them and causing the leftover columns to drop down. Bedrock at the bottom of the screen can be demolished by clicking on adjacent bomb gems, clearing all of the rocks delivers a time bonus.

Each match costs energy to play, and players can spend soft currency on up to three powerups to use during the round. When Ruby Blast launches, there will be four different powerups, but a fifth is  coming soon. Each powerup provides different types of play bonuses — like clearing large areas of gems or rearranging the game board — and can be triggered once players fill an energy bar on the right side of the screen, accomplished by clearing gems of the same color.

Grant says the game’s social mechanics are designed to foster competition with their friends. Player experience is earned by collecting rubies in the game, which are tracked via the game’s ruby leaderboard. Ruby Blast also has weekly tournament leaderboards, where players compete with their friends to earn high scores in the game. The weekly tournament leaderboards will clear each week and the top three scoring players earn in-game rewards like extra currency.

Match-3 games are certainly popular on Facebook right now, with Wooga’s Diamond Dash, PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz and King.com’s Candy Crush Saga all appearing on June’s Top 25 Facebook games list. What could help Ruby Blast stand out from the match-3 crowd, though, is its planned synchronous multiplayer mode. Grant won’t say much more about this mode, but he says it’s planned to launch in the game before the end of the year.

Zynga’s also hoping that Ruby Blast’s visual style distinguishes it from other match-3 games on Facebook. Zynga developed the game in Flash 11, allowing the developer to take advantage of Stage 3D technology. As a result, all the in-game special effects will be rendered by the computer’s GPU and the dynamic graphics will hopefully be more appealing to players than the pre-rendered effects that are normally used in such titles.

Ruby Blast is will launch on both Zynga.com and Facebook sometime later this week.

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