Time for one more Core Dump before the end of the year. In this edition, I’ve got a match-three game with a story, a remake of a classic martial arts fighting game, fun with typos, and more! Oh, and one healthy serving of cooperative chaos. Which ones are worth spending your iTunes gift cards on? Keep reading to find out!
SpaceTeam – free universal app; optional in-app add-ons
If you only download one app from this Core Dump column, make it SpaceTeam. I’ve grown to love cooperative board games, and in recent months I’ve discovered a few real-time cooperative games like Damage Report, in which you have a very limited amount of time to complete certain tasks. SpaceTeam is like that: you’re flying a ship with other teammates (the game plays 2 to 4 players), and you have to flip the right switches in time or things start to fall apart.
But here’s the catch: the instructions you get usually don’t correspond to switches on your own screen. Sometimes they are (like the “Engage Primesucker” instruction on the screenshot above) but more likely you’ll be yelling at somebody — anybody! — to turn on the Octolaser. Meanwhile, somebody else is frantically trying to get you to set the Epsilontrap to 2 but maybe you were too busy warning everyone of the oncoming asteroid. Successfully complete enough instructions and you’ll move onto the next level. Miss too many and your control panel starts falling apart, oozing slime, and klaxons sound … and then you all die in a fiery explosion. At least you get a posthumous award at the end.
The best part? It’s free. Grab three friends and have them download this now. Guaranteed to stress you out, in a good way.
Letz is a mash-up of match-three games like Bejeweled and word games. You swap two adjacent shapes, and if you get at least three of the same type in a row, then they vanish and everything drops down. The difference here is that some of the shapes have letters in them: collect the letters that appear at the top of the screen to spell the goal word and complete the level. The goal words are then used to help spell out a story about the evil A. Nalphabet, who has trapped all of the letters (except for the brave Zed, who is out to save them).
As you collect other letters, they appear in a stack to the side, which can be used to spell extra words for bonus points (and achievements). It can be a bit overwhelming on “expert” mode, which makes you spell those words yourself as you’re also trying to focus on the match-three portion of the game.
Letz is filled with goofy allusions to Willy Wonka and Mr. Freeze (the Ah-nuld version), and the British narrator lets you pretend that Michael Caine is telling you a story. The game’s difficulty increases as you go, and achievement hounds (like me) will spend a lot of time replaying levels to get all the bonuses. One major complaint: if you switch away from the app in the middle of a level, you may find yourself starting over when you return.
Monsters, Inc. Run – $.99 universal app; optional in-app purchases
Take control of Mike Wazowski and Sulley in this run-and-jump game. Mostly you control Mike, unless you grab the scare token to bring out Sulley, who crashes through enemies and barriers (but is also too big to walk across certain platforms). Collect coins to buy upgrades, and you can also search for Boo’s missing ball, teddy bear, and sock. Run through levels of Monstropolis, the jungle, or the ice cave, or try endless mode and see how far you can make it.
Monsters, Inc. Run isn’t necessarily an innovative game — you just tap to jump, hold longer to jump higher — but if you like this style of gameplay, it’s fun to jump not the world of Mike and Sulley. Collect enough coins (or buy some) and you can unlock other scare teams like Lenny and Phlegm.
I typically spend an hour or two reading through GeekDad posts most evenings to look for misspellings, punctuation gaffes, and other typos. So it’s kind of silly for me to play a game in which I’m basically looking for errors in papers supposedly written by college students … but I did anyway. The plot of The Grading Game is that you’re a teaching assistant for an evil professor who hates his students. In order to earn your income (and pay off your big college loan), you have to fail students by finding enough errors in their papers to bring their grades down.
Each paper starts with a 100%, and every mistake you find reduces the student’s score. You have to get below a C to pass the next level. The papers are grouped by the subject matter: The Guinness Book of World Records, ramen noodles, Nolan Bushnell. So not only do you train your eye for proofreading, you’ll also learn some fun trivia as you read the papers.
The app isn’t perfect; I did find at least one error that it refused to believe was wrong, and it doesn’t seem to care whether you use American or British spellings. Most levels give you 20 or 30 seconds, which is okay for a game but isn’t the best training for real proofreading. When you find an error it’ll flash on the screen how many errors are left, but then the message goes away; I’d prefer to have a count somewhere, but I suppose in a real proofing job you wouldn’t know how many errors there were to find.
Still, I found the game addicting, especially once I unlocked a few of the other topics so I got some variety in the subject matter. Of course, I don’t really need to play this — I do this all the time anyway. But I’m thinking maybe I should assign it to some of our writers to make my job a little easier.
Karateka – $2.99 universal app
Karateka, that classic videogame by Jordan Mechner, has been transformed from a high-middle-low/punch-kick-block fighting game to something that’s more of a rhythm tapping game for iOS, Steam, PSN, and XBLA. The plot is the same: a warlord has captured Princess Mariko, and her true love has to battle a string of warriors (and the warlord’s hawk) to save her.
The difference is that instead of choosing your move, you now tap at the right time to block the enemy’s attack; block successfully and you’ll get a chance to strike back (by tapping, of course). The familiar triangular energy meters are back, but there’s also a chi meter that fills up to let you stun your opponent. The animation is pretty nice and there are a few cutscenes that reflect the original. However, I can’t help but feel that there’s something lost in the translation — it seems easier to just tap at the right time than to block the right height at the right time.
One interesting change is that when you die, the game isn’t entirely over (as it was in the original). The True Love is thrown off the cliff, and a monk is shown climbing up the cliff to take his place. If the monk is killed, then the Brute shows up. You get the most points for winning as the True Love, but you can keep trying as the Brute. There are three different endings depending on who rescues Mariko. One final note: you can run right up to the enemies now; no instant kill if you’re not in fighting stance when you approach them.
Here’s a little game about herding farm animals into their pens. You control them by chasing the animals — they’ll run away from the spot on the screen you’re touching, but your influence only extends so far. Each animal has different traits: chicks are pretty fast but susceptible to foxes; sheep can jump over fences and pits; cows have to be lassoed and pulled.
The graphics aren’t great but it’s pretty fun (and challenging!) to herd the animals around without being able to control them directly. This is a weird farm, though. There are deep pits, spinning bridges, randomly placed fences, and even coyotes in time-locked cages. Get your animals to the pens before you run out of time, and don’t lose any to beasts or pits. Get enough stars to unlock further levels.
Here’s a little physics puzzler in which you’re a little cube of green jelly who apparently eats hard candy. Your sticky arms attach to the red buttons, and then you can stretch and fling yourself around the level to collect candies and avoid hazards. The little cube of jelly can grow up to three “arms,” and slicing through one can fling you as well.
The controls can be a little weird, like when you’re trying to grab and fling the jelly but instead slice an arm and fall off the screen. There are sixty levels to pass and some of them are pretty tough. It’s not my favorite physics puzzler but it’s good for some casual gaming.
The Legend of Momotaro – $2.99 iPad only
Momotaro is a traditional Japanese tale about a boy who springs out of a giant peach, and saves Japan from a band of ogres with the help of a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant. This adaptation by Ghost Hand Games is lovely, with an interface inspired by a scroll. You can scroll left and right to move from scene to scene, and within each scene you can scroll the text up and down. The images shift as you scroll through the story, moving the characters around the scene.
Tapping on objects throughout the story can bring up unfolding origami flowers that teach bits of Japanese culture. Most of them are Japanese words; you’ll also learn some of the language of flowers, with various flowers that symbolize some aspect of the current scene. The illustrations are beautiful and have a cut-paper look, and the retelling of this classic folk tale is enjoyable.