Ah the post christmas drought, where everyone is still reeling from the barrage of AAA titles that were released just in time for the holiday season and nothing else is scheduled to come out for weeks. Often this is the time where I catch up on titles from the previous year that slipped my grasp but this time around I managed to do much of that over the christmas break. So I wandered the Steam Winter sale (something which is incredibly disappointing when half of the titles are already in your library) and came across Hocus, a curious little game whose puzzles take inspiration from the mind bending drawings of M.C. Escher.
The principle of the game is simple, you have a red cube and you need to get it into the little red ditch. Of course it’s not as simple as clicking on it however as the path to get to the goal isn’t as straightforward as it might look. Instead you’ll have to figure out which pieces cross where, how your perspective is being twisted and which parts of the impossible drawing are real. It’s a mind bending exercise in throwing away your preconceived ideas of geometry and figuring out just how all the bits and pieces actually fit together, something that can be a quite complex challenge once you’re in the thick of it.
Whilst Hocus most certainly started out as a mobile game I really have to commend the amount of work the developer put into the steam version of their title. The game has been fully reworked to make use of the PC platform rather than just being a straight port dump like so many others are. This goes hand in hand with the beautiful minimalistic stylings, both in terms of the game itself and the background music. This just seems to be the start for Hocus too as the developer has promised to deliver a level editor in the not too distant future.
In terms of actual game play Hocus is most certainly a satisfying challenge, providing you with numerous puzzles to try your wits against. The difficulty curve isn’t entirely linear though as some puzzles, even though they look complex on first glance, are by far the easiest. Indeed it was the seemingly simple puzzles which presented me with the most grief, probably because they really only had one true solution. Hocus’ puzzle design also fits the mobile platform better than the PC, due to the fact that it starts to feel a bit repetitive after a longer session.
Hocus is a great puzzler, one that benefits greatly from the developer’s commitment to the game and the community that has cropped up around it. The minimalistic stylings are a perfect fit for this kind of game, focusing you directly on the challenge at hand. The puzzles themselves are no trifle either and are sure to provide a challenge for even the most non-linear thinkers among us. If you’re looking for another time killer for your phone or just enjoy a good non-Euclidean styled puzzler then Hocus is definitely a title you should check out.
Hocus is available on iOS and PC right now for $0.99 and $1.99 respectively. Total play time was approximately 1 hour.
Ah Razer and OUYA, two companies I once liked and respected who have both done something to draw my ire. For Razer it was their shameless price gouging tactics for Australian citizens, something which they continue to this day. OUYA simply smoldered its way through all the goodwill I had towards them, ultimately delivering an unfinished product late that has since lumbered along in a kind of zombie state. There had been rumours that OUYA had been courting Razer for a while now, hoping to find a buyer, but like all acquisition talks both sides were rather mum on the details. Today Razer has announced that they will acquire OUYA and use them to bolster their own efforts in this space.
The deal has said to be an “all cash” acquisition meaning that Razer has used its own cash reserves to pay off all of OUYA’s investors. This pegs the asking price at somewhere around the $33 million mark which sounds like a lot however Razer was just valued somewhere in the order of $1 billion meaning an acquisition of this size won’t put much of a strain on their purse strings. Still I and many others really didn’t see how OUYA could fit into Razer’s business model which, for the most part, is centered around gaming peripherals more than platforms. As it turns out Razer may be looking to OUYA to fix it’s Forge platform which, funnily enough, is encountering many of the same issues that OUYA struggled with.
As part of the acquisition deal Razer will take on the software branch of OUYA but will drop the hardware business. This makes sense since Razer is, in essence, already selling a competing platform but also because the OUYA in its current state is heavily outdated and unlikely to provide much value as another product line. The OUYA store will be integrated in Razer’s Cortex platform, along with the 200,000 user accounts and all the games currently published on the platform. The OUYA brand name will remain but will transition to focus more on becoming a publisher for the Cortex platform more than anything else. Overall it seems like a great outcome for OUYA but I’m not convinced that it’ll do much for Razer.
The Razer Forge’s launch was, to be blunt, a complete disaster as the console proved to be buggy and largely unusable on launch day. Sure the base functionality seemed to work fine however that’s not something that’s unique to the Razer Forge and indeed other products will provide that at a much more reasonable price. Things get worse when you compare it to, admittedly slightly more expensive options, like the NVIDIA shield which received universal praise for the quality of all aspects of the product. Whilst the OUYA team might be able to help fix these problems I feel like they’re already several steps behind the competition and throwing more bodies at the problem isn’t going to solve it.
It may be my dislike for both these companies speaking through but in all honesty the only people that won out in this deal where the investors who were likely staring down the barrels of a soon to be bankrupt company. The Android micro-console market just doesn’t have the legs that everyone hoped it would and the market is already saturated with dozens of other devices that do a multitude of other things than just play games. I will be very surprised if Razer manages to make their Forge TV anything more than it currently is, even with the supposed expertise of the OUYA team behind them.
Time waster style games were once the bastion of Flash games hosted on sites like Newgrounds. Since the introduction of smartphones they’ve slowly transitioned themselves away from the web and instead found a comfortable home on everyone’s mobile device. Thus it seems kind of odd these days to play a time waster style game on the PC as they’re no longer the platform of choice for this genre. Still when deciding on whether or not I should get Hook on my mobile or my PC I opted for the latter, if only because I rarely find time to play games on my mobile these days. Interestingly though Hook seems simple enough that it can service both platforms without needing to make any concessions with either.
Hook has a very simple premise: you have to pull all the wires back without any of them colliding with each other. You do this by pushing a trigger that initiates the pulling and, if you done everything in the correct order, it’ll slide all the way back. Other than that there’s not a whole lot more to speak of and the base game comes with a grand total of 50 levels to make your way through. If you’re a power gamer this won’t take you much longer than an hour to accomplish although I’m sure if you got this on the mobile you could stretch out that play time over the course of weeks if you were so inclined.
Hook, like many other minimalistic puzzlers, has a very clean and simple aesthetic. I’m sure part of this was an artistic choice but later on it becomes obvious that the lack of distinction between visual elements is actually a key element of the game play. The background music is similarly simplistic, swelling and fading as you solve puzzles or make a mistake that triggers the level to refresh again. I’m sure some would like the option to change the colour palette but in all honesty I don’t think I’d bother.
As I described before the mechanics of Hook are pretty simple, pull all the wires back without any of them colliding with each other. The puzzles start out pretty simple, literally just clicking any of the buttons in any order will solve them, but after that new mechanics start getting dropped in every 10 puzzles or so to spice things up a bit. Most of these additional mechanics come in the form of ways to block off paths however there’s also a few that break the line, forcing you to retrace the paths again. It would be easy enough to brute force the puzzles however if you make one mistake (or 3 in the later ones) the puzzle refreshes, forcing you to restart from the beginning.
There’s a pretty simple algorithm you can use to beat every one of the puzzles contained within this game although executing it may be a little easier said than done. What you first need to do is find the line that can be moved first, usually one without anything blocking it. Then you need to block off all other paths so that only it gets moved. Then from there it’s simply an iterative process to eliminate the rest of them. Using this process I was easily able to breeze through all 50 puzzles in just over an hour, something that many other reviewers have been able to do. This is probably one of those games that could benefit immensely from a level editor and Steam Workshop integration as I’m sure the community would be able to come up with infinite puzzles that would be orders of magnitude more difficult than the default set.
Hook is a great little puzzler with an unique mechanic. The puzzles, whilst not especially challenging, are rewarding enough that I felt compelled to blast through them all in one sitting. It’s shortness is something of a detraction, especially considering that the addition of a level editor and a way to share user created levels would ensure a near endless supply of content. Still for the asking price I don’t think anyone will really mind the lack of content as $1 for 1 hour of entertainment is pretty good by anyone’s standards.
Hook is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and PC right now for $0.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with a total of 1 hour playtime.
PC ports of mobile games have mostly been of low quality. Whilst many of the games make use of a base engine that’s portable between platforms often those who are doing the porting are the ones who developed the original game and the paradigms they learnt developing for a mobile platform don’t translate across. There are exceptions to this, of course, however it’s been the main reason why I’ve steered clear of many ported titles. The Silent Age however has received wide and varied praise, even after it recently made the transition to the PC and so my interest was piqued. Whilst the game might not be winning any awards in the graphics or game play department it did manage to provide one of the better story experiences I’ve had with games of this nature.
You’re Joe, the lowly janitor of the giant research and development corporation Archon. For the most part your life is pretty mundane except for the wild and wonderful things that your partner in crime, fellow janitor Frank, tells you about. One day however you’re called up to management and, lucky for you, it’s good news! You’re getting promoted, taking over all of Frank’s responsibilities because you’ve shown such dedication to your job (with no pay increase, of course, you understand). When you go down to inspect the place where you’ll be doing your new duties however you notice something strange, a trail of blood leading into one of the restricted areas. Following that trail starts you on a long journey that will eventually end with you saving the world.
The Silent Age comes to us care of the Unity platform however you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was an old school flash game that had been revamped for the mobile and PC platforms. It shares a similar aesthetic to many of the games from the era when Flash reigned supreme with simple colours, soft gradients and very simple animations. On a mobile screen I’m sure it looks plenty good although on my 24″ monitors the simple style does lose a little bit of its lustre. Still it’s not a bad looking game by any stretch of the imagination but you can tell which platform it was designed for primarily.
Mechanically The Silent Age plays just like any other indie adventure game with your usual cavalcade of puzzles that consist of wildly clicking on everything and trying every item in your inventory to see if something works. The puzzles are really just short breaks between the longer dialogue sections which, interestingly enough, are all fully voiced. There’s a small extra dimension added by the time travel device, allowing you to travel to the past or future at will, but it’s nothing like the mind bending time manipulation made famous by some other indie titles. Other than that there’s really not much more to The Silent Age something which I ended up appreciating as it meant there wasn’t a bunch of other mechanics thrown in needlessly. It’s pretty much the most basic form of an adventure game I’ve played in a while and that simplicity was incredibly refreshing.
The puzzles are pretty logical with all of them having pretty obvious solutions. There’s no real difficulty curve to speak of as pretty much all of them felt about on par with each other, although there were a few puzzles that managed to stump me completely. Usually this was a result of me missing something or not recognizing a particular visual clue (a good example being the pile of wood in the tunnel under the hospital, it just looked like background to me) so that’s not something I’d fault the developer for. Some of the puzzles were a little ludicrous, requiring a little knowledge about how some things could potentially interact, but at least most of them wouldn’t take more than ten minutes or so of blind clicking to get past. Overall it wasn’t exactly a challenging experience which I felt was by design.
The PC port was a smooth one as pretty much everything in the game worked as expected. The 2D nature helps a lot in this regard as there’s a pretty good translation between tapping on the screen and using a mouse cursor but I’ve seen lesser developers even manage to ruin that. There was one particular problem which caught me out several times however which was that my mouse, if it strayed outside the bounds of the main window, would not be captured. So every so often I’d end up clicking on my web browser or whatever else I had open on my second monitor at the time, closing the game down. A minor complaint, to be sure, but one that’s easily fixed.
The story of The Silent Age is one of the better examples I’ve come across recently, especially for a mobile title. Whilst it’s not exactly the most gripping or emotionally charged story I’ve played of late it does a good job of setting everything up and staying true to itself internally. Of course whenever you introduce time travel into a story things start to get a little weird depending on what model of causality and paradox resolution you ascribe to and The Silent Age is no exception to this. However they manage to stay true to the rules they set up which is more than most high budget films are capable of. Overall I’d say it was satisfying even if it wasn’t the most engaging story.
The Silent Age is a succinct story told through the medium of video games, one that manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that have befallen its fellow mobile to PC port brethren. The art style is simple and clean, reminiscent of Flash games of ages gone by. The puzzle mechanics are straightforward, ensuring that no one will be stuck for hours trying every single item in their inventory to progress to the next level. The story, whilst above average for its peers, lacks a few key elements that would elevate it to a gripping, must-play tale. Overall The Silent Age was a solid experience, even if it wasn’t ground breaking.
The Silent Age is available on PC, Android and iOS right now for $9.99, $6.50 and $6.50 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 2 hours of total play time and 71% of the achievements unlocked.
I used to be spoken for when it came to short time waster puzzlers as none to could topple the venerable 2048. You see it’s not so much that the game itself is that challenging or intriguing (although I will admit it too me far too long to get my first 2048 block) more that I had seen others get really high numbers and I wanted to do that to. So, whenever I found myself with 5 minutes to burn there I’d be, combining blocks together, trying to get my score higher. Since changing phones however I’ve lost my score and this has opened up the opportunity for another contender to take its place. Unium, with it’s deceptively simple concept, is one I’ve lost a decent amount of time to over the past couple weeks and could very well be a contender for my time waster of choice.
The objective is simple: you have to fill in all the black blocks on the screen and can only do so by drawing a line. If the line crosses itself it’ll turn black and you can only cross another line perpendicularly, meaning any corner square is essentially fixed as you left it. There are well over a hundred different grids for you to try your hand at with a limitless supply of new puzzles now being delivered through the Steam Workshop, created via the in game editor. As a concept it’s very easy to grasp however the puzzles, even when they look simple, are anything but requiring either a lot of trial and error or a laterally thinking mind to complete.
Graphically Unium is very simple with the colour palette limited to just the gradient between black and white. For games like this simplicity in the presentation is something I’ve come to appreciate as it means that details aren’t lost in seas of colour or other visually confusing elements. Apart from that there’s really not a lot to say about it how it looks as once you’ve seen the first puzzle you’ve seen all the game has to give you visually. The minimal soundtrack in the background is a nice touch however, even if the menu sounds seem like they were sampled at bitrate far below what they should have been.
The puzzles start off pretty simple, showing you the basics of how to fill in all the blocks and throwing you a few curve balls every now and then to get you thinking differently. Once you’re past the initial set of easy puzzles however things start to get really interesting as you’ll often not be able to just figure it out as you go along. Indeed it’s past that point when Unium starts to show its chops as a real puzzler as the puzzles no longer accommodate a range of solutions, instead only allowing a few ways for the puzzle to be solved. I have to admit that there were a few puzzles that stopped me dead cold for quite a while although now I figure I’ve cracked the secret for puzzles like this (for the most part).
The two most important aspects I found for solving any of the harder puzzles was the start and end of the line and the direction in which you were solving the puzzle (which could be roughly described as clockwise or anticlockwise). There are some puzzles that, unless you pick the right start and finish positions, are simply unsolvable as those two blocks have unique properties that the rest of them don’t. The direction has less of an impact as any puzzle should be solvable in forward or reverse, however I often found that if I was tackling a problem in one direction switching it to the other side would usually trigger an insight into how the puzzle was meant to be solved. That might just be how my brain works however but it’s definitely something I’d recommend trying if you’re struggling.
Unium is a great little puzzler, presenting an extremely simple concept that’s easy to grasp yet incredibly challenging to master. It might not be the most visually interesting game around however it’s minimal aesthetic means you’ll be keenly focused on the problem at hand rather than ogling all the pretty colours. The now limitless stream of puzzles is sure to give Unium staying power far beyond its original station and I’m sure there are going to be some incredibly frustrating puzzles coming out of the community. If, like me, you were looking for a replacement time waster then you won’t be disappointed with Unium.
Unium is available on PC, iOS and Android right now for $1.99, $2.49 and $2.49 receptively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2.4 hours total playtime.
Microsoft has been pursuing its unified platform strategy for some time now with admittedly mixed results. The infrastructure to build that kind of unified experience is there, and indeed Microsoft applications have demonstrated that it can be taken advantage of, but it really hasn’t spread to third party developers and integrators like they intended it to. A big part of this was the fact that their mobile offering, Windows Phone, is a very minor player that has been largely ignored by the developer community. Whilst its enterprise integration can’t be beaten the consumer experience, which is key to driving further adoption of the platform, has been severely lacking. Today Microsoft has announced a radical new approach to improving this by allowing iOS and Android apps to run as Universal Applications on the Windows platform.
The approach is slightly different between platforms however the final outcome is the same: applications written for the two current kings of the smartphone world can run as a universal application on supported Windows platforms. Android applications can be submitted in their native APK form and will then run in a para-virtualized environment (includes aspects of both emulation as well as direct subsystem integration). iOS applications on the other hand can, as of today, be compiled directly from Objective-C into Universal Applications that can be run on Windows Phones. Of course there will likely still be some effort required to get the UX inline but not having to maintain different core codebases will mean that the barriers to developing a cross platform app that includes Windows Phone will essentially drop to nothing.
Of course whether or not this will translate into more people jumping onto the Windows Phone ecosystem isn’t something I can readily predict. Windows Phone has been languishing in the single digit market share ever since its inception and all the changes that Microsoft has made to get that number up haven’t made a meaningful impact on it. Having a better app ecosystem will be a drawcard to those who like Microsoft but haven’t wanted to make the transition but this all relies on developers taking the time to release their applications on the Windows Phone platform. Making the dev experience easier is the first step to this but then it’s a chicken and egg problem of not having enough market share to make it attractive for both ends of the spectrum.
Alongside this Microsoft also announced the ability for web pages to use features of the Windows Phone platform, enabling them to become hosted web pages with enhanced functionality. It’s an interesting approach for enabling a richer web experience however it feels like something that should probably be a generalized standard rather than a proprietary tech that only works for one platform. Microsoft has shown that they’re willing to open up products like this now, something they never did in the past, so potentially this could just be the beachhead to see whether or not there’s any interest before they start pushing it to a wider audience.
This is definitely a great step in the right direction for Microsoft as anything they can do to reduce the barrier to supporting their ecosystem will go a long way to attracting more developers to their ecosystem. There’s still a ways to go to making their mobile platform a serious contender with the current big two but should this app portability program pay dividends then there’s real potential for them to start clawing back some of the market share they once had. It’s likely going to be some time before we know if this gamble will pay off for Microsoft but I think everyone can agree that they’re at least thinking along the right lines.
I’ll be honest here: my faith in OUYA has long since faded away.
Wind back 3 years and you’d get a completely different story; the idea of a console freed from publishers and big money marketers appealed to the guy who wanted to see the indie renaissance turn into a full blown revolution. I wasn’t alone in thinking this and many of the backers saw the OUYA as the key to unlocking a console market for indie devs that, back then, wasn’t really available. The late release to backers and dated hardware meant that it wasn’t much of a platform indie devs wanted to find themselves on which meant that users really couldn’t find much to love about the console either. Couple that with the fact that the major consoles are now extremely friendly to indie devs and the OUYA has lost the mission it was the champion of. The result of this is that OUYA has been struggling and now it’s looking for someone to rescue it.
Over its life OUYA has taken in some $23 million in both Kickstarter funds as well as venture capital making it quite a well funded startup comparatively. A quick search around will reveal a lot of vanity metrics, like the fact they’ve got over 1000 games and 40,000 developers signed up but no where will you find number of units shipped nor any solid figures on how many titles developers are able to move on the system. Indeed even those metrics they tout paint a pretty grim picture of the OUYA as only 1 in 40 developers signed up to the program have actually released a title on it, a mere 2.5%. Mix in the conversion rate of users actually on the console and it’s really no wonder that they’re looking for a buyer as the revenue on their sales, both hardware and software, can’t be good.
Thinking back on it though there’s really no one defining problem that I can point to that really soured OUYA, more it was death by a myriad of little problems that just compounded the impending irrelevance it was facing. Not getting the console into the hands of the enthusiasts, I.E. the backers who were genuinely excited to see the product come to life, long before anyone could get their hands on it meant that when it did finally release there was no Kickstarter fuelled fanfare to go with it. Taking as long as it did to release meant the hardware was long since surpassed and whilst it was sufficient at the time it quickly started to show its age. The quality of the console, whilst decent for the price point, wasn’t great and only helped to compound the idea that it was a gimmick and not much more. All of this, and more, has meant that the OUYA has just faded from the greater gaming community’s conscious and I don’t think it’s likely to return.
I won’t pretend to have a solution for their woes as I don’t. As far as I’m concerned the ship has long since sailed on the OUYA idea and now, with the major console players coming onboard with better support for indie developers, there really isn’t any room for them to play in. Today most people would much rather just play Android games on their Android phone and, should they want it, pairing it up with the controller of their choice. If OUYA manages to find a willing buyer I’d be very surprised as I can’t really see a future for OUYA that ends with them becoming a successful niche console.
My Xperia Z managed to last almost 2 years before things started to go awry. Sure it wasn’t exactly a smooth road for the entire time I had the phone, what with the NFC update refusing to apply every time I rebooted my phone or the myriad of issues that plagued its Android 4.4 release, but it worked well enough that I was willing to let most of those problems slide. However the last month of its life saw its performance take a massive dive and no matter what I did to cajole it back to life it continued to spurt and stutter making for a rather frustrating experience. I had told myself that my next phone would be a stock Android experience so I could avoid any potential carrier or manufacturer issues and that left me with one option: the Nexus 6. I’ve had this phone for just over a month now and I have to say that I can’t see myself going back to a non-stock experience.
First things first: the size. When I moved to the Xperia Z I was blown away by how big it was and figured that anything bigger would just become unwieldy. Indeed when I pulled the Nexus 6 out of the box it certainly felt like a behemoth beside my current 5″ device however it didn’t take me long to grow accustomed to the size. I attribute this mostly to the subtle design features like the tapered edges and the small dimple on the back where the Motorola logo is which make the phone both feel thinner and more secure in the hand than its heft would suggest. I definitely appreciate the additional real estate (and the screen is simply gorgeous) although had the phone come in a 5″ variant I don’t think I’d be missing out on much. Still if the size was the only thing from holding you back on buying this handset I’d err on the side of taking the plunge as it quickly becomes a non-issue.
The 2 years since my last upgrade have seen a significant step up in the power that mobile devices are capable of delivering and the Nexus 6 is no exception in this regard. Under the hood it’s sporting a quad core 2.7GHz Qualcomm chip coupled with 3GB RAM and the latest Adreno GPU, the 420. Most of this power is required to drive the absolutely bonkers resolution of 2560 x 1440 which it does admirably for pretty much everything, even being able to play the recently ported Hearthstone relatively well. This is all backed by an enormous 3220mAh battery which seems more than capable of keeping this thing running all day, even when I forget that I’ve left tethering enabled (usually has about 20% left the morning after I’ve done that). The recent updates seem to have made some slight improvements to this but I didn’t have enough time before the updates came down to make a solid comparison.
Layered on top of this top end piece of silicon is the wonderful Android 5.1 (codename Lollipop) which, I’m glad to say, lives up to much of the hype that I had read about it before laying down the cash for the Nexus 6. The material design philosophy that Google has adopted for its flagship mobile operating system is just beautiful and with most of the big name applications adhering to it you get an experience that’s consistent throughout the Android ecosystem. Of course applications that haven’t yet updated their design stick out like a sore thumb, something which I can only hope will be a non-issue within a year or so. The lack of additional crapware also means that the experience across different system components doesn’t vary wildly, something which was definitely noticeable on the Xperia Z and my previous Android devices.
Indeed this is the first Android device that I’ve owned that just works, as opposed to my previous ones which always required a little bit of tinkering here or there to sand off the rough edges of either the vendor’s integration bits or the oddities of the current Android release of the time. The Nexus 6 with its stock 5.1 experience has required no such tweaking with my only qualm being that newly installed widgets weren’t available for use until I rebooted my phone. Apart from that the experience has been seamless from the initial set up (which, with NFC, was awesomely simple) all the way through my daily use through the last month.
The Nexus line of handsets always got a bad rap for the quality of the camera but, in all honesty, it seems about on par with my Xperia Z. This shouldn’t be surprising since they both came with one of the venerable Exmor chips from Sony which have a track history of producing high quality cameras for phones. The Google Camera software layered on top of it though is streets ahead of what Sony had provided, both in terms of functionality and performance. The HDR mode seems to actually work as advertised, as demonstrated above, being able to extract a lot more detail of a scene than I would’ve expected from a phone camera. Of course the tiny sensor size still means that low light performance isn’t its strong suit but I’ve long since moved past the point in my life where blurry pictures in a club were things I looked on fondly.
Overall I’m very impressed with the Google Nexus 6 as my initial apprehension had me worried that I’d end up regretting my purchase. I’m glad to say that’s not the case at all as my experience has been nothing short of stellar and has confirmed my suspicions that the only Android experience anyone should have is the stock one. Unfortunately that does limit your range of handsets severely but it does seem that more manufacturers are coming around to the idea of providing a stock Android experience, opening up the possibility of more handsets with the ideal software powering it. Whilst it might not be as cheap as other Nexus phones before it the Nexus 6 is most certainly worth the price of admission and I’d have no qualms about recommending it to other Android fans.
My phone is a pretty boring place, filled with productivity applications that are more focused on work than pleasure. It wasn’t always this way, indeed I used to find all sorts of weird and wonderful titles to play on my phone mostly because I had the time to play through them during the hours I’d spend in transit to work every day. However I simply haven’t had that time to myself any more and so the world of mobile games has passed me by, with likely many good titles falling by the wayside. Today I finally make the return back to the platform and if there are many more titles like Monument Valley I believe I’ll need to make an effort to stay.
You are Ida, princess of a realm long forgotten. The world you inhabit is beautiful but barren, bereft of almost any signs of life yet filled with the signs that many have been here before you. Somehow though you can’t help but feel responsible for this and the quest for forgiveness is what keeps pressing you forward. So many questions lay before you, who built this place, where are they now and what led to their apparent downfall?
Monument Valley is a fantastic example of minilmalism, combining solid colours, soft gradients and simple lighting effects to great effect. Every puzzle screen has its own unique style to it which means that the game never gets visually boring or confusing. This is complimented by the use of Escher-esque style drawings with impossible structures and non-Euclidean geometry which, whilst also being amazing samples of this style of work, also function as the game’s main puzzle mechanic. Overall Monument Valley makes a great visual impression, one I’m sure many other games will draw inspiration from.
The core game play of Monument Valley is in the style of other non-Euclidean based games like Anitchamber or The Bridge (although it’s much closer to the latter) where you’re required to figure out how the rules of the geometry in your world work. The things start off relatively simple, only requiring you figure out that your perspective is the key, however you’re quickly thrown into the deep end where the world never behaves as you’d initially expect it to. The puzzles are very well laid out however as you’ll often be introduced to the prime mechanic in its most simple form at the start of the puzzle before you’re introduced to a use case that will require some lateral thinking on your part. There’s also a lot of visual red herrings to ensure that the puzzles aren’t too obvious but they’re uncommon enough as to not be overly frustrating.
This all culminates in a game that’s an absolute joy to play. The beautiful visual elements combined with the inherently non-intuitive puzzle elements just gave me this feeling of exuberance that few games have. There were so many times I’d be stuck on a puzzle for a few minutes before figuring out the solution which would give me a grin that wouldn’t go away for a long time. Probably by far my favourite puzzle out of the lot was the box as the way it was designed evoked this child like excitement in me every time I opened it in a different way. It speaks volumes to the developer’s ability to create an experience that is as fun as what they’ve created.
Monument Valley does suffer from a few usability issues, at least on my Xperia Z. A lot of the touch controls felt like they were either far too sensitive, making me spin the puzzle pieces wildly with little input, or not sensitive enough, leaving me to think that certain pieces couldn’t be moved. I’m willing to admit that this might be a hardware issue rather than something wrong with the game itself however it did make some sections more frustrating than they needed to be. Since I’m on Android though your mileage may vary as I’m sure some more mainstream handsets will function better than my now aging Sony.
The story elements are pretty light on in Monument Valley, told only in the snippets before each puzzle and when you find the old lady hiding wherever she is, but it’s enough to elevate the game above other pure puzzlers. Given Monument Valley’s rather short length it’d be unfair for the story to develop much more than it did but I definitely feel there’s potential for this world to be expanded upon more, possibly with additional puzzles. Needless to say I’d love to see Monument Valley get the full release treatment as I believe the concept still has a lot of legs in it.
Monument Valley is a testament to what the mobile platform is capable of creating, combining gorgeous minimalistic graphics with great game mechanics to create an experience that’s up there with many high budget titles. Whilst it falls short in a couple categories, namely it’s overall play time and so-so controls, it makes up for it in spades in almost every other regard. It’s not a game I’d recommend for everyone, indeed any minimalist title is exclusionary by nature, however for lovers of good puzzle games you really can’t go past Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is available on Android and iOS right now for $4.99 and $4.99 respectively. Game was played on a Sony Xperia Z with about an hour of total play time.
I’ve only really owned one tablet, the original Microsoft Surface RT, and try as I might to integrate it into parts of my life I honestly really can’t figure out where it fits in. Primarily I think this is a function of apps as whilst the Surface is capable in most respects there’s really no killer feature that makes me want to use it for that specific purpose. Indeed this is probably due to my heavy embedding within the Android ecosystem, with all the characteristics that make my phone mine persisted across Google’s cloud. With that in mind when ASUS offered me a review unit of their new Transformer Pad TF103C for a couple weeks to review I was intrigued to see how the experience would compare.
The TF103C is a 10.1″ tablet, sporting a quad core, 64 bit Intel Atom processor that runs at up to 1.86GHz. For a tablet those specs are pretty high end which, considering the included keyboard signals that the TF103C is aimed more towards productivity than simply being a beefy Android tablet. The screen is an IPS display with a 1200 x 800 resolution which is a little on the low side, especially now that retina level displays are fairly commonplace. You can get it with either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage which you can easily upgrade to 64GB via the embedded SDHC slot. It also includes the usual affair of wireless interfaces, connectors and sensors although one feature of note is the full sized USB port on the dock. With a RRP of $429 (with street prices coming in well under that) there’s definitely a lot packed in the TF103C for the price.
As a full unit the TF103C is actually pretty hefty. coming in at a total 1.1KGs although the tablet itself only makes up about half that. The keyboard dock doesn’t contain an additional battery or anything else that you’d think would make it so heavy, especially considering other chiclet style keyboards come in at about half that. Considering my full ultrabook weighs in at about 1.5KGs it does take away some of the appeal of having a device like this, at least from my perspective. That being said I’m not exactly the biggest tablet user, so the use of two different form factors is lost on me somewhat.
When used in docked form the TF103C is actually quite capable, especially when you attach a mouse to the dock’s USB port. I had wondered how Android would fair when used in a more traditional desktop way and it actually works quite well, mostly since the web versions of your typical productivity applications have evolved a lot in the past couple years. The keyboard is probably a little on the small side for people with larger hands but it was definitely usable for quick tasks or replying to email. It falls a little short if you’re going to use it on your lap however due to the fact that the screen can’t be tilted back past a certain point. It’s still usable but it’s a much better experience when used on a desk.
The quad core Intel Atom powering the TF103C is extremely capable, as evidenced by the fact that everything on it runs without a stutter or hiccup. I threw a few of the more intensive games I could find at it and never noticed any slowdown, commendable for a tablet in this price range. When you’re using such performance however the battery life does take quite a hit, knocking the rated 9.5 hours of run time to less than 4. That being said it managed to stay charged for about a week when it was idle making it quite usable as a casual computing device.
All in all I was impressed with the capabilities the TF103C displayed, even if I couldn’t really see it replacing any one of the devices I have currently. There’s a few missed opportunities, like integrating a battery into the keyboard and allowing the screen to tilt more, however overall it’s a very capable device for the asking price. I could definitely see it having a place on the coffee table as something to be used when needed with the added keyboard dock capability coming in handy for more grunty work. It might not end up replacing the device you have now but if you’re looking for a decent tablet that can also be productive then you wouldn’t go wrong with the TF103C.
A review unit was provided to The Refined Geek for 2 weeks for reviewing purposes.