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By: Inkle Studios

Reviewed on Android, Also available on iOS

Overall Review

Mobile games have been getting a bad rap for years. A huge percentage of the population views them as free-to-play throwaway games. This makes a lot of people very hesitant to spend money on a mobile game. This is unfortunate because there are some real gems out there. One of the best of them right now is 80 Days.

80 Days is a resource management game hidden within a beautifully illustrated visual novel. The premise is built around the classic novel “Around the World in Eighty Days” by Jules Verne. Players take on the role of a steward for an eccentric British gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in less than eighty days. This is no real problem now, but since the story takes place more than 100 years ago it presents some serious logistical challenges.

Players need to make careful decisions about riding by car, boat, airship, underwater train, or even walking city (Yes. I said walking city. Head towards Calcutta. You’ll see). The different modes of transportation all vary by duration, departure schedule, and comfort so you will need to balance them carefully to make sure you don’t run out of time or money. You’ll also need to keep your boss happy. If he becomes too uncomfortable the game is over!

The game starts in London and as the game begins you are provided with a few different routes of travel to choose from. You select your mode of travel and are tasked with deciding your next route upon arrival. You can do this by purchasing maps or even exploring the city. You have to be careful not to spend too much time exploring though, because you might lose a whole day waiting for a motorcar or train to come back and depart! The excitement of arriving at a new city and figuring how much time I had before I had to run was a highlight of the game for me.

All of this is wrapped up with gorgeously drawn backdrops for each of the featured cities and modes of transportation. The minimalist art style is very reserved in its use of color, but it is strikingly beautiful regardless. If you are a member of your family has any interest in illustration you could spend hours looking at this game.

With all of that said the hidden strength in this game is its potential as a teaching tool. We live in an era where world geography (and to some degree even local geography) is not a heavy focal point. This game forces players to learn it in order to be successful. It certainly would not replace a geography curriculum, but it is far less costly than most sets of flash cards and will be far more engaging for the user.

80 Days globe

The 80 Days world map is minimalist, but includes everything you need to play!

Family Gaming Assessment

I consider this game to be family friendly. It is a visual novel so there is very little in the way of inappropriate imagery. Some of the cities you encounter are in war-torn areas, but there is nothing to be concerned about.

Concerned parents can play through the game once be3fore sharing it with their children, but this is more than appropriate for almost every family.

Playability Assessment

80 Days is a challenging game that is almost unplayable unless the player is a very good reader. They could randomly select destinations, but there are clues hidden in conversation that are vital to success.

This is, however, an excellent game for parents or older siblings to play WITH their children. One party simply reads the text and players can discuss the different options. The clock does continue during most phases of the game so people will need to think and negotiate quickly, but that is half of the excitement!

Conclusion

In a world dominated by mobile games that are free to play this is a game that is worth every penny and more. There is a lot of entertainment here for less than five dollars.

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Publisher: Disney

iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Overview:

Disney Hidden Worlds, a free-to-play and official release, takes players to the sky island of Inkspire, home to the Inklings, who craft Disney worlds out of magical ink. Each themed level represents a well-known Disney film. The game includes classics like Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast, but also modern releases such as Tangled and Frozen.

As play starts, a mischievous ink villain has sabotaged the various kingdoms, threatening to alter their plots. To save them, players must work through each world, scene by scene, repairing missing pieces and righting the story.

Obviously, this set-up serves as an excuse to revisit familiar Disney favorites, which is always fun and nostalgic. However, it doesn’t feel gimmicky at all. Inkspire and the Inklings have a quirky style and personality unique to themselves. They fit well among the Disney characters and universes we already know, and I found myself genuinely interested in their story on its own. There’s also a particularly positive emphasis on creativity, art, and imagination that really shines.

Regarding gameplay, Disney Hidden Worlds is a hidden object game. It presents players with a still image taken straight from the film and a list of objects hidden throughout the scene. The player must find and tap these items, gaining bonus points for speed and accuracy.

It’s a test of observation that’s surprisingly varied and challenging. Players will find some objects in places that make sense but may be easily overlooked, like a bird’s nest in the trees, while they will also have to look carefully for other items hidden in just plain silly places, like a cheese wedge supporting the roof beams. To mix things up, particular scenes contain timed challenges that unlock bonus rounds.

When completing scenes, players collect bottles of ink and other materials used to repair pieces stolen from the story. Every piece requires specified materials and takes a certain amount of time to complete. Once finished, these can be used to unlock new scenes and advance the level.

Since these crafts require multiple ink bottles, players must replay scenes before it’s possible to obtain the items necessary to move on. To maintain a challenge, the list of hidden objects changes, even when the scene remains the same. Only the list changes, however. Objects remain fixed; previously listed items will be found in the exact same place as before. This quickly starts to feel tedious. Yet, at the same time, it becomes a great test of memory and helps strengthen recall skills.

 Family Assessment:

As you’d expect from Disney, content is appropriate for children of all ages.

 Playability Assessment:

Since the game only requires tapping, controls are easy. However, there’s quite a bit of simple story text, so reading comprehension skills are a must.

Regarding difficulty, some objects are easy to find, while others purposefully blend into the environment and are actually quite hard to spot. This tests patience as much as observation. Luckily, there’s a hint button that will highlight any remaining objects. This keeps everything accessible for younger children, though I admit that even I needed a hint now and then. Since an object’s location within a scene never changes, the challenge becomes more about memory once it’s been found.

 Conclusion:

Disney Hidden Worlds creates a new adventure out of the joy of revisiting classic Disney tales. The game appeals to Disney fans and provides a fun alternative to watching that DVD “just one more time.”

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Publisher: Supercell

Release Date: August 2012 for iOS, October 2013 for Android

Overview

It’s been out for a few years now, but Clash of Clans still boasts an active community of players. With a special Halloween-themed update released last week, it’s not too late to give it a try.

Clash of Clans is an easy to learn, if a bit simplistic, entry in the strategy genre. As town chief, players spend their time building up a village and assembling an army of fantasy creatures. Players take on both roles of protagonist and antagonist as they defend their home from attack, while also raiding and plundering the villages of other players. To survive, they need to master both an offensive and defensive strategy.

Gameplay starts with the village. It collects and stores resources used for building projects and army training. Collectors harvest gold and elixir on their own over time, though the player determines their efficiency through upgrades. Once constructed, buildings require little oversight and the player focuses energy on village defenses.

Villages remain vulnerable to attack by other players’ armies, which steal any unprotected resources. Walls and cannons provide a simple defense in the beginning, but higher levels grant access to an advanced arsenal including a variety of guard towers and booby traps. Upgrades to existing defenses increase protection and refine their appearance, transforming a sticks-and-stone village into a robust fortress.

The game’s simplicity works very well here. Each piece’s use is straightforward and easy to understand, but it’s in how they’re put together that they become more sophisticated. This makes it accessible to the player who wants to hurry up and go fight goblins, while presenting plenty of tools to players who enjoy analyzing and tinkering with every element of their defensive strategy. This is where creativity comes into play. With imagination and planning, tactically-minded players can directly manage everything, perfecting their village layout to surprise invaders in new ways. It’s as simple or complex as you want to make it.

Protecting the village only makes up part of the puzzle. Players must also muster a diverse army if they want to rise in rank on the leaderboard. In the single player campaign, players raid the Goblin King’s villages for gold and elixir, overcoming unique defenses and traps each time. In multiplayer, players can also raid the villages of other players, either gaining or losing victory points according to the outcome.

Multiplayer raids form a major component of the game, especially after joining a clan. Clan members take part in two-day “wars” against opposing clans. On the first day, members exchange troops and ready defenses. On the second day, they raid the enemy’s villages. At day’s end, the clan with the highest score wins, and its members enjoy the spoils.

Offensive strategy in Clash of Clans entails less hands-on control. Players choose which units to deploy and where, but cannot issue any additional orders. Troops act autonomously, bashing an obstacle to dust before attacking the next object in sight. This means that sometimes a warrior starts destroying a stone wall even if he’s standing right beside a gleaming heap of coins or is being blasted by a cannon corps. However, advanced unit types prefer to strike specific targets like walls or treasure, balancing this.

Therefore, strategy relies less on control and more on making smart decisions about who to send, where, and when. As a spectator to the chaos, players may feel helpless at first, but lost troops replenish quickly, making it easy to learn from mistakes. The unpredictability provides a challenge, especially as the maps become more complex. This may frustrate players who want to interact directly during combat or enjoy micromanaging tactics. On the other hand, it makes combat–strategy aside–incredibly simple to control. It only takes a tap. For younger players, that means a large enough army will eventually smash through anything. It’s fun to watch and exciting not to know exactly what will happen next.

Family Assessment

On the surface, the game is cute, colorful, and bright. Depictions of violence remain benign and cartoonish. Characters only attack buildings and objects, not each other. Characters that die turn into ghosts and vanish.

Ultimately, though, the game is about war. Specifically, destroying other players’ villages to steal their stuff. Despite this, the game is very forgiving and fair. There’s no permanent destruction or loss. Buildings remain intact, and lost resources quickly renew. It feels more like a competition than a war, but the central themes may concern some parents, especially of younger children.

As with many free-to-play games, Clash of Clans features countdown meters on its building projects, and allows players to spend real money to speed up progress. The system feels fair and isn’t exceptionally prohibitive. However, parents will want to check their device’s pay lock.

Parents should also be aware that there is an in-game chat feed. Most chatter regards joining clans and shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Playability Assessment

The controls don’t require any more reflex, speed, or precision than it takes to navigate the device itself. Playability mainly concerns the ability to strategize.

Though advanced players can find ways to make strategy more complex, the game remains simple enough that it’s accessible to a wide range of ages and skill sets. Players need to manage resources, but the system also manages itself. Though problem-solving skills will benefit players as they figure out what troops are best against which defenses, a big enough army will eventually get the job done no matter what. Frankly, it’s fun to watch the army destroy things, whether they win the battle or not.

Conclusion

Clash of Clans is a delightful and simple introduction to the strategy genre, while giving players the tools to get creative and imaginative. Players who need fast-paced or hands-on combat will be disappointed. While it may also disappoint those looking for an intellectual challenge, it provides light and whimsical entertainment without a steep learning curve.

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Publisher: Gameloft

Release Date: September 10, 2014

Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Overall

Which Spider-Man is in Spider-Man Unlimited? All of them—or close to it. The makers boast that the game contains more playable Spider-Men ever. How do they manage that? Handy narrative magic, of course. Spider-Man’s nemeses, the Sinister Six, have opened an inter-dimensional rift, threatening to destroy the world as we know it. Spider-Man must recruit alternate versions of himself from across the dimensions and defeat each member of the Sinister Six one by one. Unfortunately each member is recruiting his own dastardly alternates, meaning the road ahead will not be easy.

Spider-Man Unlimited plays like an infinite runner, but isn’t endless. You spend missions collecting vials, avoiding obstacles, and punching enemies. The courses also have segments of web-slinging across buildings and freefalling from rooftops. It’s lively and responsive, perfectly capturing the feel of Spidey’s acrobatics.

The comic book art style looks clear and vibrant on touch screen devices. There’s impressive detail in the various environments. Regarding gameplay, the variety of enemies and obstacles prevents missions from feeling tedious and repetitive.

The game’s three modes accommodate different types of players, letting you play how you want. If you prefer to focus on ranking on the leaderboards for unique prizes, there’s event mode. If you want to rack up a high score to dominate your friends, there’s unlimited mode. If you’d rather collect as many Spider-Men as possible and complete each issue of the story, you can.

The Spider-Man recruitment mechanic will be familiar to anyone who plays collectible card games. The random summoning process means you never know who you’re going to get. Each version of Spidey has a distinct look, unique bonuses, and a ranking based on rarity. There’s also a description of his place in Marvel lore. This appeals to longtime Spidey fans but remains fun and informative for newcomers.

The game brings a bright and energetic experience. This remains consistent throughout, but the more the game advances, the more constricting the developer’s money-making tactics become. It’s a shame because there’s nothing to complain about when considering the game itself, but these restrictions soon start to spoil what’s otherwise a pleasure.

There isn’t much in Spider-Man Unlimited that the free-to-play model doesn’t limit. It’s possible to play without spending any real money, but if you’re looking to advance the story mode with reasonable speed it’s not realistic. In-game currency is readily obtainable through play, but not in helpful quantities when facing the costs necessary for advancement. The price in real currency isn’t much better. It takes just under $5.00 to summon a rare character and about $10.00 to increase a rare character’s level cap. But if you enjoy just being able to play, the non-story modes provide rewarding challenges without the prohibitive level requirements. I particularly enjoy the competition of event mode and find it entertaining on its own.

Unfortunately, even those looking just to play soon hit another limit hard and fast: the Spidey Energy Meter. No matter the mode, every round of play consumes an energy point. Even successfully completed rounds deplete the meter, which maxes at five points. A point renews every ten minutes. An average round of play lasts about 30-60 seconds, so at best you’ll be waiting almost an hour for five minutes of play. This may be a common feature in free-to-play apps, but a game unforgiving of split second slip-ups is the worst place for a mechanic like this. While you can purchase energy refills for the equivalent of a few cents, you’ll hit the same problem five rounds later. Prepare to be frustrated.

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This game has “Unlimited” villains too!

Family Gaming Assessment

As you’d expect, the game contains plenty of comic book style violence. It’s the bloodless punches and kicks typical of the superhero genre, nothing you wouldn’t see on a similar children’s cartoon. Dialogue is geared toward a young audience, so there’s nothing to worry about here either.

Playability Assessment

Storyboard sequences require reading comprehension skills but can be skipped easily.

The controls are simple to learn and intuitive. However, the fast pace calls for quick reaction speed and precise motor skills. Combined with the skimpy energy meter, this makes the game nearly impossible for younger children to play since they can’t just get up and go again.

Parents, please make sure to activate your device’s pay lock. It’s incredibly easy and tempting to rack up in-app purchases in a matter of minutes.

Conclusion

The game itself is fun, fast-paced, and addictive. Spidey fans will appreciate the sheer amount of lore. There’s not much to lose since the game is free. But the money-making tactics are incredibly obvious, obstructive, and overshadow an otherwise well-made game.

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Coffee Stain Games

Reviewed on PC, available on iOS, Android

 

Overall Review:

Goat Simulator is the result of an internet joke that went too far. The developer, Coffee Stain games, released a trailer for the game as a harmless prank with no real intention of releasing an actual game. The response across the web , however, was so positive that they decided to “finish” the game and release it.

I need to make one thing clear up front before I move on: This game is really, really dumb. It’s dumb in an insane, best friend from college who you don’t talk about much anymore kind of dumb. With all of that said, Goat Simulator is a lot of fun for people who enjoy doing seemingly random things and watching the ensuing chaos unfurl before them.

The core experience for Goat Simulator is straight forward. You control a goat as you run around various urban and rural environments. The “goal” of the game is to earn points by completing challenges. These challenges range in difficulty from performing a back flip to racing a bike. Players can also earn even higher scores by chaining different challenges together very quickly. This adds a certain level of creative thought to the process if they are chasing high scores.

With all that said, the real appeal for this game for most players will be running around the different environments and just seeing what will happen when they interact with the different objects. You see, your goat character is completely indestructible so the idea of head butting an oncoming semi results in your goat being flung harmlessly across the level. I let my two sons take a spin with the game and they spent the entire time just running around head butting things, seeing what happened, and laughing hysterically while they did it.

Family Gaming Assessment:

Goat Simulator is not a “violent” game by definition. You can run around the different levels and head but people, but there are no injuries. The people simply get up and continue with whatever they were doing beforehand.

The only real concern is that there are literally no consequences for any action taken in the game. This, combined with how hilarious the game is, might give some parents reason to be concerned. I know that my wife had to help settle down the massive giggle fit that our boys had while playing the game.

Playability Assessment:

Goat Simulator is a fairly straight forward game to play. The controls will be second nature to any child who has played Minecraft before.

There is some reading involved if players want to complete challenges, but it is entirely possible to enjoy this game without ever intentionally completing a given challenge.

Conclusion:

It is hard to recommend Goat Simulator to anyone because of how dumb it is. It is not an experience that will become “required reading” for players as they age. But, it is certainly a lot of fun.

One area where I see Goat Simulator as a great alternative is for younger teens who are asking to play sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto because they want to be able to just run around and do whatever they want. This presents those players with an opportunity to do wild, and largely stupid, things without the ability to shoot strangers and go to strip clubs. It is by no means a direct replacement, but it could hold them off and earn some laughs in the process!

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By Kate Drake

Playdots, Inc

Most recently updated March 26, 2014

For android 2.2 and up, available on iOS

Overall Review:

Dots: A Game About Connecting is a very simple, yet enjoyable game. There are three game modes: Timed, Moves, and Infinite. Each mode employs a different strategy, but the game is easy to learn, easy to play, and has a lot of replay possibilities as you try to beat your high scores and the scores of your friends. The graphics are a simple and nice design. Unfortunately, the sound effects can be repetitive, playing the same notes in a melody as you connect each dot, but they are quiet and calm, so aren’t bothersome.

Family Gaming Assessment:

Dots is a completely family-friendly mobile game. The graphics consist of colored dots (you can choose a white or black background) and the lines which connect them. This is a game simple enough for very young children to play.  Yet it is also a game that older kids will enjoy while trying their hand at strategy and working to beat their high score. As a grown up, this is a great game to play when you are waiting for short periods of time, since you can play “Infinite” mode and will still be able to put the game down at any time.

Playability Assessment:

The controls are very simple: connect two or more dots by drawing a line between them. If you make a square or rectangle, you clear all dots of that color from the board. While “Timed” and “Moves” mode have strategy to them (getting the most dots cleared in each mode is a bit different), “Infinite” mode is just connecting dots for as you’d like to play. Each dot you clear gets added to a bank of dots that allow you to buy power ups (for no offline money), which can aid you in the game.

Conclusion:

Dots: A Game About Connecting is a calm, fun, and free game which is family friendly. The game helps to teach some basic strategy, while not being over complicated or requiring much memorization. It is playable by people of all ages, and it is  fun to compete with yourself to see how many dots you can clear in each game.

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Developer: USTWO

Released: April 3, 2014

Reviewed for iOS

Overall Review:

There is a common idea running around that all mobile games are low quality time wasters. This may be true of a lot of the free-to-play titles that reach the app store, but it is far from a universal truth. Tablet gaming is just another medium that talented game designers can use, and as such there are some exquisitely beautiful games, and Monument Valley is one of the best examples in recent memory.

Monument Valley tasks players with guiding a young girl named Ida on an abstract journey across MC Escher inspired environments. Each level has various points of interaction that might raise, lower, or rotate the different parts of the level (or the level itself). The solutions are not obvious unless you are willing to abandon your preconceived notions of perspective within a three dimensional space. For example, a stairway might connect to a platform in the foreground in one position and the background in another. My sons actually had a bit of an advantage in this game because they didn’t have thirty plus years of experience screaming at them about what “made sense”,  they were willing to experiment more openly and when things defied their expectations. It wasn’t as mind twisting for them as it was for me.

All of these environmental puzzles are strung together through an ambiguous narrative where Ida is returning geometric objects to the ruins of a fallen civilization. Nothing is ever definitively spelled out, but that in itself matches the rest of the experience.

Family Gaming Assessment:

The abstract art style is hauntingly beautiful and lends itself very well to family play.

The stages have no real fail state so death never happens. In fact, the worst thing that ever happens to Ida is being squawked at by a crow person.

Playability Assessment:

Monument Valley is full of challenging puzzles, but none so difficult that they are unsolvable. Once players train themselves to look for interaction points in the various levels, the solutions tend to spell themselves out logically.

Text is mainly used for story exposition, so reading is not really necessary to play the game. However, it is likely that children who are too young to read the story will have difficulty understanding the puzzles themselves. They will still be able to get through the game eventually, but their success will likely be a function of luck and time.

Conclusion:

Monument Valley is an excellent experience priced at $3.99. This is more expensive than a lot of the other titles on iOS, but I believe that the game is strong enough to be worth it.

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Disney Mobile

Reviewed on Android (also available on iOS)

Overall Review:

Just about everything that Disney has done recently has focused on the acquisition and marketing of characters. They bought Marvel and LucasFilms. They released Disney Infinity and put dozens of characters on store shelves. They have released multiple mobile games that were all built around Mickey and the gang. They have seemed intent on taking full advantage of their cast and trying to use them to help drive sales. I can’t disagree with the strategy. Its not as though they don’t have great characters to work with.

This makes it all the more peculiar that they would choose to quietly release Disney’s Lost Light on mobile platforms. It is a game that is filled with Disney charm, but is without any of the standard Disney trappings. There are no Mickey ears to be seen here.

We are treated, instead, with an adorable hand-drawn squirrel that looks like he might have gotten pulled from a scene with Sleeping Beauty. Our squirrel friend is along for the ride with us and helps to celebrate our success and lament our losses. He isn’t quite an avatar. We aren’t necessarily supposed to “be” the squirrel. But, he is a charming companion none the less.

Disney’s Lost Light is a touch screen puzzle game that will look familiar to anyone who has had a smart phone. Small bubbles rise from the bottom of the screen, each with a number in the center. Players are tasked with swiping across the different bubbles to link them (and have them grow accordingly). Bubbles are cleared when groups of matching bubbles equal in size to their corresponding number are all touching (two bubbles labeled “2,” three bubbles labeled “3” and so on).

The opening stages are very forgiving and spend a lot of time teaching and reinforcing the basics. As the game progresses players will experience different challenges that help to prevent the game from getting stale.

Family Gaming Assessment:

There is nothing here from a content perspective that should concern parents. The game involves popping bubbles on a forest backdrop and watching a squirrel either celebrate or be sad.

No one should be concerned here.

Playability Assessment:

This is a very challenging game. Players need to be able to recognize numbers and patterns very quickly and will need to adapt to the rising bubbles as they come. Children may grow very frustrated depending on how well they do with this genre, so you will want to watch them with this one until you are comfortable that they will be graceful in defeat.

Conclusion:

Buy it if you and your family enjoy the genre. It is hard to turn down a game of this caliber that is only $1.99.

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