It’s time for another Core Dump! In this one, a fascinating programming puzzle game, a couple of knock-offs (which are nonetheless addictive), and a couple of tabletop games turned into apps. Let’s get to it!
Cargo-Bot — free for iPad
Cargo-Bot is a fascinating puzzle app based on programming. You have a robotic arm, some crates, and several spots where you can stack crates. Each level has a particular goal state. Get your crates to match the goal, and you pass the level. Simple, right?
Well, it is at first. Your available commands are left, right, and down. If the arm is empty when it goes down and it finds a crate, it will pick it up. If it’s holding a crate and goes down, then it lets go. However, if the arm tries to go too far to the left or right, or if it tries to stack crates too high, then everything falls apart. You get four programming lines, and you also have the ability to call another program as a command.
Harder levels let you modify commands to run only if the arm is holding a particular color, or if it’s empty, and so on. You’ll also need to learn to use a programming stack by calling a program within itself — sort of like the “GOTO 10” command, except that it “winds up” the stack and then unwinds when it hits certain conditions. This was actually the hardest part for me to figure out, because the game itself doesn’t explain how this works. I ended up looking up hints online, because the in-game hints just talk about using the “stack” without really going into any details.
One cool feature is that if you manage to find a solution that is shorter than the previously-known shortest solution, the app lets you export your solution as a movie, which you can then upload to YouTube with a link to the app. Another interesting fact is that Cargo-Bot was programmed entirely on the iPad, using an app called Codea. I haven’t looked into Codea yet, but it seems like a nifty idea. Only two complaints about Cargo-Bot: first, that some programs that require a lot of repetition can take a long time to run, even on fast-forward, but you just have to sit and wait it out. Secondly, the difficulty level shoots up suddenly once the stacks are involved. For a non-programmer like me, the beginning levels were ones that I could figure out with some trial and error, but the later levels seem like they need a tutorial to really explain how the stacks work.
If you like puzzle games, though, this one is pretty awesome, and may even get your kids thinking in terms of programming.
Ninja Fishing doesn’t have great graphics, and is kind of a rip-off of a couple other games (like Fruit Ninja, for instance). But I can’t stop playing it. Here’s the gist: you cast your line and tilt your device so the hook avoids fish and goes as deep as possible. Once it hits a fish (or the maximum length of the line) then it heads back up, and you tilt back and forth to catch the best fish. When the hook’s full (or you’re back at the surface) then the fish are flung up into the air — along with the incongruous dynamite — where you swipe to slash them up into, presumably, sushi. Collect coins to buy longer lines and heavier weights so you can fish in deeper waters and catch more valuable fish, or even a giant squid.
Earn (or buy) the whopping $90k to purchase the time machine and you’ll get to fish at Dino Island: it’s actually a lot of fun discovering cartoony versions of real prehistoric sea dwellers. My kids have been looking up trilobites and helicoprions, so there’s at least some educational value here. The main motivation is finding all the different fish: I’ve enjoyed showing my kids what a real scorpion fish looks like (no scorpion tail) or showing them videos of pistol shrimp (which don’t actually wear tiny cowboy hats).
For a different sort of undersea adventure, try Glowfish, an arcade game that has you swimming around to rescue your buddies from the nefarious Dr. Urchin. I have to admit, I didn’t entirely get the story here, but when you defeat enemies then they release (or turn into?) little blue sea creatures that trail along behind you, then helping you defeat other enemies. The control scheme is quite easy to use: joystick on the left, and a shield/trail toggle on the right depending on which type of fighting you want to do. The more pals you have with you, the bigger enemies you can take on, but you’ll need to let them go home in order to open doors deeper into the levels, making you vulnerable to attack again. As you progress through levels you’ll also collect Glow Chums, little creatures which will travel alongside you to help you find coins or defend you against enemies.
The full version has 50 levels, some of them quite large, and there are a lot of secret areas and puzzles to figure out along the way. The app is fun to look at, too, with lots of atmospheric effects, shifting color schemes and shadows that obscure your vision, even some levels that look like a view from below with light filtering down from the surface of the water. I’ve really been enjoying this one, though there are some levels that are quite a challenge.
Subway Surfers — free for iOS, with in-app currency purchases
Subway Surfers is another game in the vein of Temple Run, but this time you’re a spray-painting hoodlum running from the guard, playing chicken with trains. Instead of a tilt mechanism, though, it’s all swiping: left and right switch between the three tracks, and you can jump over and roll under barriers. But watch out for those trains: one smack and it’s game over. The graphics are pretty cute and I like the way the game looks, but it doesn’t really add too many new tricks. Unlike Temple Run, you don’t really get multipliers for the coins, which means that gradually increasing prices of upgrades aren’t compensated with greater earning power — I’m sure that’s to give you an incentive to spend real money on the in-app money, but I refuse. I will say that my kids are more interested in playing this than Temple Run, because the swipe controls are a lot easier for them to handle, particularly on the iPad.
I’ve played various hidden object games, mostly from G5 Entertainment, and many of them have a similar mechanic: you find stuff, you get a little bit of dialogue to advance the story, and then you look for more stuff. The execution is different depending on the game, though, and so some of them I find more enjoyable than others. Lost Souls: Enchanted Paintings has a good mix of the object-finding and puzzle-solving. The plot involves a mother whose young son is kidnapped by an evil wizard and trapped in a painting. She travels to different lands through magic paintings in order to find the painting scraps to rescue her son.
In each world, though, you find evidence that the wizard Ethiel has been there, wreaking havoc on the inhabitants. So you help the folks you meet, and then they give you things that will help you on your search for your son. The dialogue and plot can be a bit clunky at times, and some of the tasks you’re set to do are weird (like helping this guy make soup before he agrees to help you) but at least some of the hidden object searching is related to actual items you need to accomplish some task. The images are gorgeous and the interface is pretty easy to use. I enjoyed this one better than Paranormal Agency, one of the other hidden object games, which seemed really odd and felt like it had a lot more pointless searching.
Yaniv — free for iPhone, $1.99 in-app purchase for Pro version
Yaniv is a card game with very simple rules that can still be quite engaging. I’m actually considering trying it out with actual cards sometime because all you need is a deck of cards and a score pad. It’s an Israeli card game with murky origins which has gained some popularity worldwide (and undergone a lot of name changes). The goal is to be the last person to go over 200 points, by having the smallest hand value at the end of each round. You must have fewer than 7 points to go out (“Yaniv”) but if you call “Yaniv” and another player has an equal or even lower score, then they call “Assaf” and win and you get hit with thirty points.
Everyone is dealt five cards. On each turn, you either call “Yaniv,” or you must throw down card(s) and then take one. You can throw a single card, or you can throw a straight of at least 3 cards in the same suit, or any number of cards of the same value. Then you take a card — either face down from the deck, or from the previous player’s discard (though if it’s a straight you can only take one of the end cards). There is luck involved, of course, but a lot of the game involves pressing your luck: do you take a high value discard because it matches cards you already have, so that you can throw down several cards in one turn? Or do you pick up from the deck, hoping to get a low number? If you see your opponent has only two cards in their hand, how long will it be before they finally pick up something that makes their hand less than 7? If your cards are less than 7, do you call “Yaniv” or do you let your opponent call, hoping to give him extra points for “Yassaf”?
The app has a tutorial which gets you up and running very quickly. You can play solo against computer opponents, or against other players online through Game Center. The Pro version (for $1.99) removes the ads, but also lets you add “slapdowns” which offers another way to get rid of cards, and also gives you the Pro difficulty level against the computer. A cool, quick card game with a simple, straightforward implementation.
Fertang — $1.99 iPhone or iPad
Fertang is a 2-player board game that’s a cross between Checkers and Chess. You’re trying to capture your opponent’s pieces, but there are some twists. There are three types of pieces: squares can move in straight lines orthogonally, triangles can only move diagonally, and circles can move in any direction. However, the number of spaces a piece can move is determined by the number of pieces in its stack.
Every time you capture a piece, you stack your piece on top of it, up to a maximum of 5 pieces. Once a stack is 5 pieces tall, it is locked down and cannot move. The object of the game is to own three stacks of 5 or more pieces. (The “or more” can occur if, for example, a 4-stack captures another existing stack.) The four spaces in the corners of the board are “super tactical squares,” which let you move any number of spaces.
The game is an interesting concept and plays pretty quickly, though the app is fairly bare bones and not extremely attractive. You can play single player against a computer (with 3 difficulty settings) or against another player on the same device. There is no online multiplayer and there aren’t a ton of options, but if you want a challenging abstract strategy game for your iPad, this is one to consider.
Pirate Lines — Free version, or $.99 for full version.
The game of Dots and Boxes is a classic pen and paper game that really doesn’t get played as much any more, although in my opinion it does offer more choices for moves than tic-tac-toe. I’ve had the chance to try out a few apps based on Dots and Boxes, and most of them haven’t seemed to really add anything over just playing on paper. Pirate Lines does add a few fun twists, enough to keep my kids interested in it, though I’m not sure how much I’d really want to play it myself. The first few levels are just different arrangements of dots, but as you progress through levels you’ll encounter boxes with various icons in them. Claim the box with the treasure chest and you get 2 bonus points. Get the cannon, and it will fire at the adjacent square, destroying an opponent’s point. There are several types of special squares, including a skull that subtracts points if you take it. Play solo against the computer or challenge an opponent on the same device, via Bluetooth, or with Game Center. There’s a free version of the app, or you can get 48 levels for $.99, plus an additional 48 levels as a $.99 in-app purchase. One caveat: at one point while my daughter was playing the computer, it couldn’t decide on a move and just froze up for a long time. We ended up just quitting the app and restarting.
Disclosure: GeekDad received review codes for Glowfish, Fertang, and Pirate Lines.