Forbidden Garden review

Forbidden Garden (also known simply as Evil Game) is a Facebook game from Russian developer RedSpell and published by 6waves. It’s the follow-up to the company’s previous title Astro Garden (also known as both Nano Farm and The Big Farm Theory), which we reviewed here. It’s available now for anyone to play on the social network, and is currently featured on the front page of the App Center.

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Forbidden Garden is essentially the same game as Astro Garden, but with an “evil” twist. Players take on the role of a generic villain or villainess and must gradually build up their evil base to assert their dominance across the land while attempting to bring various evil schemes to fruition. This is achieved in largely the same way as in every other isometric-perspective building-centric social game out there — harvesting resources, constructing buildings to provide income, clearing garbage and gradually expanding across the land.

The core gameplay is not all that original or interesting, then, but like its predecessor, Forbidden Garden adds a few interesting twists to the mix. Once certain buildings have been constructed, for example, tedious tasks like harvesting resources can be automated, freeing up the player to go and do more exciting things. Other buildings open up new gameplay features — for example, constructing a library allows the player to research new technologies on a Civilization-style “tech tree” to improve their capabilities and capacity to do more things at once. Certain quests also advance the game’s unfolding story, which centers around the player character’s attempts to become a universally feared evil overlord.

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Dessert Shop review

Dessert Shop is a Facebook game from Shinezone, who for some reason has omitted its name from almost everything to do with the game. It’s available now on the social network, and is presently highlighted on the front page of the App Center.

Dessert Shop

Dessert Shop is a simple management game in which players take on the role of a pâtissier (or, if they so wish, a pâtissière) that has just opened a new establishment. Through collecting ingredients and combining them together into various recipes, they are able to satisfy their customers with a selection of tasty treats and make money in the process.

Basic gameplay in Dessert Shop is along the same lines as other typical Facebook “Sim” games. Unfolding from an isometric perspective, the game tasks players with placing items which “grow” ingredients every few minutes, harvesting these ingredients and then using them on special cooking stations to create either complete dishes or more complex ingredients that go into other dishes. For example, wheat can be harvested in garden plots, then sent to a grinder to make flour, which can then be used to make other recipes. The items which “grow” ingredients aren’t necessarily plants — special shelves provide the player with basic ingredients like sugar and milk every few minutes, presumably representing deliveries in thematic terms.

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The Wizard of Oz (iOS) review

The Wizard of Oz is a new iOS release from Spooky Cool Labs and Warner Bros. Interactive. It’s an adaptation of the company’s Facebook-based game of the same name, which was in turn an adaptation of the classic movie. The game is free to download from the App Store and carries additional in-app purchases.

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We last reviewed The Wizard of Oz in its Facebook incarnation here, and noted that although it was well-presented with attractive 3D graphics, high quality music and an impressive number of clips from the original movie, its core mechanics were, for the most part, fairly unoriginal.

The Wizard of Oz is essentially a citybuilder for the most part, with players cast in the role of Dorothy shortly after her arrival in Oz following the “twister” at the opening of the movie. Players split their time between helping to rebuild and populate their own renamable take on Munchkinland, and helping Dorothy travel along the Yellow Brick Road on her way to meet the eponymous Oz.

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Dragon City (iOS) review

Dragon City is an iOS game from Spanish developer Social Point. It’s a port of the company’s popular Facebook game, which we reviewed here, and is available now as a free download from the App Store with additional in-app purchases. By signing into the game with Facebook, players may pick up where they left off and sync progress between the mobile and social network versions of the game.

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Dragon City, for the unfamiliar, is a game in which players construct habitats and then populate them with dragons. These dragons can then be bred together to create other types of dragon, or used to battle other players. The eventual aim of the game is to collect all of the available dragons in the game, of which there are well over 150.

In our previous review, we noted that Dragon City had a lot of potential, but that its lack of narrative progression, drab quests and unbalanced difficulty curve marred the experience to a significant degree. While the Facebook version has evolved a little over time and the iOS version incorporates some of these improvements (while seemingly stripping out access to some other features such as the “Dragon Book” tracking which breeds the player has collected so far), many of the most significant issues are still present and correct — most notably the lack of story progression and any sense of “theme” to the quest objectives. Given the attractive, well-animated and cartoonish nature of the game’s visuals, this is a shame; the presentation would make it ripe for a bit of characterization, but the game’s text remains somewhat dry and businesslike for the most part, with a few exceptions in the dragons’ flavor text. (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…)

The Croods (iOS/Android) review

The Croods is a new iOS and Android game from Angry Birds creator Rovio. It’s a tie-in with the new Dreamworks movie of the same name, and is currently available as a free download from the App Store and Google Play, with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency.

The Croods

The Croods sees players taking control of the prehistoric family from the movie and guiding them through various misadventures as they attempt to become self-sufficient and invent various items. Basic gameplay revolves around trapping ten different types of animal, feeding them the correct food to tame them, building them a home and then feeding them to make them produce useful items. These items are then subsequently used to build other structures, trap more types of animal and invent various items which unlock new areas on the game map.

Players’ progression through the game is measured through the usual experience point system, and also through a sequence of quests (here rather aptly referred to as “chores”) provided by one of the characters from the movie. Players earn small quantities of experience points for everything they do, but practically speaking they will have to complete the quests in order to progress at anything approaching a satisfying rate, since quests offer significantly higher rewards than single actions. (more…)

Castle Champions (iOS) review

Castle Champions is a new iOS game from Gamenauts. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency.

Castle Champions

Castle Champions is pitched as what would happen “if Tiny Tower got bloody” and that’s actually a rather accurate description — players alternate their time between managing a castle tower in a very similar fashion to Nimblebit’s runaway success, and engaging in combat with rival teams of warriors. Because the player is thrown into combat every few minutes, there’s a stronger feeling of “structure” to the experience rather than mindless tapping and restocking in the pursuit of nothing but the more efficient acquisition of currency — here, you’re not only building a tall tower, but also training troops and heroes to send into combat.

The tower management aspect of the game requires the player to construct various types of room to perform different functions. Residential rooms house people who can staff commercial and industrial rooms; commercial and industrial rooms provide income when staffed and fully stocked. Meanwhile, the main addition to Tiny Tower’s basic formula comes in the form of military rooms, whose residents can be added to the player’s battle team rather than the workforce. Military rooms also allow the player to level up their forces in exchange for soft currency. (more…)

Real Racing 3 (iOS) review

Real Racing 3 is a new iOS release from EA and Firemonkeys, a studio born from the merging of original Real Racing developer Firemint and IronMonkey Studios, the latter of which was responsible for some of EA’s better mobile offerings. The new game, unlike its premium-price predecessors, is a free-to-play title with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, weighing in at just under 2GB in size once installed.

Real Racing 3

Like its predecessors, Real Racing 3 is a racing simulation with an eye on realism, particularly on the graphical front. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the best-looking games on iOS, even on slightly older hardware such as the iPad 2. Car models (including some impressively-rendered interiors) look very much true to life, and the various circuits are recognizable as their real-world counterparts. There is a degree of draw distance pop-in on some objects (at least on iPad 2, the device used to test the game) but in practice during races things are moving around so much that this is barely noticeable. (more…)

Dragon Up (iOS) review

photo-2Dragon Up is a new iOS game from East Side Games. It was tested in the Canadian App Store prior to Christmas, but is now available worldwide as a free download from the App Store.

Dragon Up is heavily inspired by Tiny Tower — even East Side Games has said this — and the influence of Nimblebit’s runaway success is almost immediately evident in the flow of gameplay. Essentially, Dragon Up is a game about making as much money as possible as efficiently as possible. This is achieved by purchasing and hatching new dragon eggs (the equivalent of building new floors in Tiny Tower) and then sending these dragons on various “quests” (the equivalent of stocking floors with saleable items in Tiny Tower) until they come back and vomit up their earnings for a set period of time. Like Tiny Tower, dragons continue to produce income even while the game is not active — the player will be informed as to how much they have earned upon their return.

Dragons have a particular amount of energy with which they can go on quests, and must rest when they run out. Regular visitors to the dragon cave (the equivalent of the people in the elevator in Tiny Tower) bring food to the dragons, which rewards them with experience points. Feeding a dragon its favorite food — an item which matches its color — will give it additional experience. Leveling up dragons allows them to partake in more rewarding quests, and various treasures may also be found to improve their abilities. Occasionally normal visitors will be replaced by wizards, who will provide a variety of benefits such as restoring dragons’ energy or automatically feeding them their favorite food — normally, the piece of food a visitor gives a dragon is randomized. (more…)

Alice’s Mad Tea Party (iOS) review

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is a new iOS game from Poppin Games, the developers of Peter Rabbit’s Garden. Like its predecessor, the game is a premium-priced ($1.99) game with additional in-app purchases of hard currency, and is currently enjoying a brief period of being available for free until Feb. 20. It’s available now from the App Store.

Alice's Mad Tea Party

Alice’s Mad Tea Party is very similar to Peter Rabbit’s Garden in more ways than one. For starters, both games feature absolutely beautiful presentation, with hand-drawn artwork that is very distinctive and bursting with character rather than adopting the usual vector-based “Flash game” aesthetic seen in many other social games. Both games also feature high-quality sound, animation and story sequences to give the player a feel of progression.

And, sadly, both games also feature tired, derivative gameplay that would be better off in a true free-to-play title, because they certainly don’t offer sufficient entertainment value and unique features to justify a premium price point — especially with the amount of in-app purchases available. (more…)

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