Ben 10 gets his wheels with Galactic Racing

If you have a small boy aged between about 4 and 7, you’re likely to be very familiar with Ben 10. Just quickly, for the uninitiated, Ben 10 is Ben Tennyson, ‘an ordinary boy’ who finds a weird alien watch, which turns out to be Omnitrix (or the Ultramatrix as it becomes in later series). This alien device turns Ben into a number of aliens, including one that blasts fire, one who looks like a weird wild space dog, and various others.

Ben-10

Anyway, if you’re looking for a gift for a boy of this age (and some girls) generally you can’t go too far wrong with Ben 10.

So it was with great excitement that we found ourselves trying out the game on the Wii at home, with my five year old, who luuurves Ben 10.

Mario Kart is a favourite in our house – primarily I think because it’s a game we can all play, it’s pretty simple to understand, and doesn’t require too much in the way of brain power.

We suspected that Ben 10 Galactic Racing would be the same. And in some ways it is. You get to choose your character (Ben can transform into different aliens mid-race), your vehicle, and you choose which track of 25, set across five different planets, you’re going to race on.

The graphics are a bit of a letdown – at least on the Wii version. I couldn’t believe just how pixlelated they are. However, surprisingly this didn’t seem to bother Arron too much, and he quite happily drove around the tracks.

There are a variety of power-ups available and these take a while to get to grips with – and the controls are different from those used for Mario Kart, which takes some getting use to as well. It’s actually quite a challenging game, considering what age its target market is.

Surprisingly, Arron has not asked to play the game again since we tried it out for this review – yet when we first had Mario Kart he was like a thing possessed. So while kudos goes to the developers for actually putting quite a lot of thought into what is essentially a kids’ game, maybe they have just missed the mark. Having said that, the extra difficulty may make it a good game for an older child who still enjoys Ben 10.

Tales of Monkey Island HD iPad

For a franchise that has been going since I was 8 years old, Monkey Island has had a surprising degree of longevity. Whilst I’m sure some of this is fuelled by the nostalgia of those in the age group most likely to have iPad level disposable income, a large part of the franchise’s continued success is the quality of the gameplay and story telling.

Tales-of-Monkey-Island-HD

In the tradition of the great old movie serials with cliffhanger endings, Tales of Monkey Island unfolds over five chapters with each episodic installment raising the stakes.

In Tales of Monkey Island, hapless pirate Guybrush Threepwood embarks on a quest to find the voodoo exfoliating artifact, La Esponja Grande, after accidentally releasing the pox of LeChuck on the Caribbean’s unsuspecting population (and his wife, Elaine). Along the way, Guybrush fends off a relentless pirate hunter, matches wits with a malicious marquis, overcomes fearsome foes with sabers at sea, and is nearly digested by a giant manatee while hunting down the pox-eliminating sponge.

Unlike movie serials, however, Episodes 2-5 are available for £3.99 per episode on the AppStore straight away, so there’s no need to wait week by week for them to make up an ending.

Whilst I don’t enjoy Monkey Island in the same way I used to (and as I was 8 at the time that’s for the best) the gameplay, story telling and general humour have evolved in such a manner that I can still enjoy it 20 years later.

The first episode of Monkey Island Tales HD is available for free on the iPad until July 22nd.

Tales of Monkey Island HD

Hexathrill puts you right in the F1 hot seat

We’ve all heard of the six degrees of separation analogy, but when it comes to Formula One simulators, the buzz words are ‘six degrees of freedom’. Apparently these are the desired numbers you need if you really want to know what it feels like to drive full throttle around the Nurburgring.

Hexathrill

The architect of all this wonderment is Cruden who builds the technology for the professional simulators used by most of the world’s leading motorsport teams. Yes, they use simulators before going out and testing their car because it’s a lot cheaper than writing off millions crashing the real thing. Off course these are hugely expensive state of the art beings, (well after all there are six degrees of freedom to be factored in) but someone at Cruden realised that there could be even more commercial opportunities here by creating a cheaper slimmed down version for the entertainment business.

Hexathrill then, is a scaled down more portable version of the real deal, designed specifically to be used where floor space is at a premium, such as family entertainment venues, or more excitingly, the corporate hospitality market and although it comes in at a fraction of the cost of its bigger brother, it’s still around £90,000.

But the truth is you get a lot of firepower for your money. You get your full six degrees for a start, and the promise of probably the most authentic racing car experience available. “Cruden is trusted in motorsports and is a growing player in the entertainment business having sold simulators to theme parks, karting venues, simulation centres, malls and private individuals around the world,” says Frank Kalff, Cruden’s commercial director. “Hexathrill is designed for venues where floor space is at a premium and where there customers want the most sophisticated simulators at a more affordable price”.

Launched at the recent Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo in Orlando Florida, you can expect to see this baby powering up around the world’s amusement parks in the very near future.

Pucca Noodle Rush iPhone app review

A someone who has played Get a Better Lover and Go Densha Go! I’m sure you can build a game around most things. But being a waitress? Even I was a little sceptical. But as I watched a whole weekend disappear to Game Dev Story, an engrossing game that simulates people sitting in an office making computer games I was prepared to give Pucca noodle rush a chance.

Pucca-Noodle-Rush

If you don’t know Pucca (and take a look at the screenshot above – she should seem pretty familiar) she is the 10-year old niece of three Chinese noodle house owners … and also the face of a multimillion dollar cross platform franchise, originally from South Korea and featured on lunch boxes, pencil cases, tv shows, bill boards and now iPhone apps (and a Wii game which we’ll be reviewing next week hopefully).

The game plot revolves around Pucca trying to save her uncle’s noodle restaurant when a tough rival opens up across the street. You control Pucca who is in charge of customer service, which means seating customers, taking orders, serving up, clearing tables, pocketing the cash and of course chasing away the ninjas hired by meddlesome rivals. Like any time management game, there are numerous split second decisions to make when seating customers: prioritise friends, loyal customers, and take rivalries and thorny personalities into account to avoid trouble.

A host of familiar characters from the Pucca-verse, including Abio, Chang, Ssoso and of course Garu (if you enjoy playing with the game, I’d spend ten minutes boning up on the Pucca-verse) will show their faces along the way, either to lend you a helping hand or to try to throw a spanner in the works.

Seating people, taking their order and collecting their empty dishes is the crux of the game and once you give over to the charming silliness, it’s a cute distraction that is deserving of your £1.79 – especially if you are a Pucca fan.

***Update***
The Pucca app price has just been slashed to 59p. So if you are keen then jump on it.

I am of course, waiting for the game about reviewing iphone apps. Guaranteed 10/10.

Virus Strike: Interview with indie developer Neil Ferguson

With over 100,000 apps, the App Store is officially massive. So when you put together a game like Virus Strike, a competition-winning Bejewelled/Flight Control/Tetris/Dr. Mario mashup, how do you go about getting it noticed? In fact, how do you go about getting it made? We spoke to Virus Strike’s indie developer Neil Ferguson.

Virus-Strike

The Game

Virus Strike itself is a pretty simple concept. Red, green and blue viruses drop from the sky. They keep piling up until you hit the “death” line – if you don’t kill some viruses after hitting the line, you lose.

To kill a virus, you need to direct the colour-coded the anti-viral into the correct colour virus. You can draw a line to direct the medicine, or tilt the screen to affect its descent. Be warned, however – tilt the screen and all the viruses shift in that direction too, making it more difficult to direct. And if you hit the wrong colour virus, it multiplies, firing viruses over the screen and messing up your perfectly-laid out virus-scape. Eep.

Luckily, you can manipulate where the virus falls in the same way as the anti-virals, meaning you can move viruses of the same colour into one place. If viruses of the same colour are touching and are hit by an anti-viral, it establishes a chain reaction which destroys all the viruses in the chain. I imagine it’s a bit like how curing small-pox felt – especially as you watch your score jump up.

The Interview

Where did the idea come from?
screenshot1-320x480

I came up with the idea for Virus Strike about a year ago. I’d been playing a physics-based game called Linerider, as well as Flight Control. It occurred to me that combining a line-drawing physics-engine with a match 3-type game might be fun to play, so I had a look through every single puzzle game in the App Store to see if anyone had done it. It took me hours – several days, in fact – but I couldn’t find one. Only then, when I knew I had an original idea, did I start developing Virus Strike.

You cite Bejewelled and Flight Control as inspirations, but how did you come about working out the gameplay dynamics and variables for Virus Strike?

I did a lot of prototyping to try and figure out the specifics of the gameplay dynamics. My wife, who’s a journalist, helped me a lot here. She instinctively had a sense of how to create a game narrative for the user and she played the game slightly differently from me, which was useful.

I pretty much ran everything past her and we did a lot of brainstorming together. We’d often head down the pub for a ‘meeting’. Then I’d stay up late prototyping our ideas until 2am and wake up my wife to test them.

I tried four colours, instead of three, as well as bigger viruses and different speeds, and went for the combination that best made for a game that was easier pick up and play. However, I probably will introduce more colours in the future, as well as different virus-sizes and speeds. The great thing about the App Store is that it’s quite easy to release new versions of an app.

What’s the structure in terms of personnel over there? Just how many people does it take to make a game of this calibre?

I am the sole programmer (and the architect, designer, video creator, website developer and MD of the company). A friend, Russell Moore, did the graphics. Donna Ferguson, my wife, did the PR and marketing and helped with the testing and designing the game. The music used in the video was created by someone called Kevin Macleod, hence the reference, but I’ve never met him – he gives his music away for free on his website http://incompetech.com. So overall, it really only took one person (me!) with a bit of help from family and friends.

And how long did Virus Strike take to put together? At any point was it radically different from the final product?

It took about a year. But this was because I developed it in my spare time. Most of the time I was prototyping to develop the specifics of the gameplay. It was never radically different from the final product but a very progressive process. I didn’t know what the end result would be when I started; all I knew was that I wanted to produce a match 3 game with line-drawing and a physics engine.

Once the game has been created, where do you go from that? What’s it like to be an indie iPhone game developer?

It is very difficult for indie developers to get people’s attention without being featured in the App Store – and I didn’t have any budget for advertising my app. But my wife wrote me a press release when I launched Virus Strike which did pretty well. I’m pretty lucky in that she’s a journalist so she knows how to write a good story and to come up with angles that will get other journalists interested. We paid $20 to get the release distributed by PRMac and it was well worth it – it got picked up all over the place, and many sites simply copied and pasted in the press release in full!

I also entered Virus Strike into a competition specifically for indie developers that I found on Facebook called Wiley’s iPhone App Challenge, and to my surprise, it won the grand prize! I got around £600-worth of prizes, which is great, but the fact that I can now say it’s an award-winning game is the most important benefit to me.

I think being an indie developer is a good thing though. I found I could use this to my advantage as journalists respected this fact and were willing to give the game a chance. Once they’d played it, the game usually did the convincing!

What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in developing the game?

Once I’d figured out the basic game mechanics – the line-drawing, the colour-matching and the physics-engine – the biggest problem I faced was structuring my original concept into a challenging game that was easy to pick up and play.

I think it’s important to have an idea of how long each play of the game should take, and how challenging it should be. It needs to get more difficult, but at the same time it’s also got to be fair – the players need to feel like it’s their fault that the game was lost. And there needs to be a sense of progression as the game goes on, so players feel like they are accomplishing something as they play more games – whether this is a higher score or another type of reward.

One of the most problematic things for me was figuring out how the game should end. Unlike Tetris, it doesn’t make sense for the viruses to pile up right to the top of the screen, as it becomes impossible to play at that point.

I introduced the ‘death line’ to stop this, but I didn’t want the game to end abruptly as soon as the viruses crossed the line. So, after a lot of testing, I decided the game would enter ‘Alert Mode’ once viruses piled up over the death line, and that mistakes would be costly at this point. You’ll know from playing the game what I mean!

There’s definitely one stand-out game from the industry – Angry Birds. What’s your opinion?

I think Angry Birds is a great game – but it definitely needs more viruses! Seriously though, I think Angry Birds is very well-suited to the iPhone. It has a physics engine, a simple but strong name and is very addictive. It’s also very easy to pick up and play for a few minutes when you have spare time. I tried to do the same with Virus Strike.

Finally, do you have any tips to make me better?

To get more points, send the wrong-coloured antibody to viruses at the beginning of the game to create large groups. Draw horizontal lines above the multiplying viruses to contain them. Tap the screen as soon as you’re finished with a line to get rid of it so it doesn’t interfere with future viruses. Don’t forget to tilt the screen to make viruses roll down the lines faster. If you’re over the death line, isolate antibodies by drawing circles around them if you are in danger of them hitting the wrong colour.

Top 10 iPad games

With the official UK and international iPad release more than a month old, we thought we would give you a run down on the best games that have been keeping us entertained for a month now. We trawled through the iTunes store and here is our top ten. We’ve tried, tested and reviewed all the iPad games below ourselves to see whether the revised iPad editions are better than their smaller iPhone cousins.

iPad-games

1. Pinball HD

Pinball HD is revised version of the iPhone app which allows you to have a two different views; one following the ball or you can have a full HD view of the table – it’s incredibly simple, but that’s why we love it so much. There touting community scoring so you can spend endless hours trying to crack the top ten.?Price £1.79

2. Mirror’s Edge

We loved Dice’s Mirror Edge when it free-roamed into our lives 18-months ago on the Xbox – you play sassy Faith, the coolest parkour-post-woman in computer game in history. Though this is a 2D variation, it still true to the original and is well worth a launched day purchase.

Price £7.49

3. Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse Episode 1:The Penal Zone

For point-and-click adventure fans the iPad is a dream come true, offering up what amounts to the perfect platform for the genre. The arrival of Telltale’s third season of Sam & Max for a bargain price is great launch title. In fact the new season actually premiered on iPad in the US and was a real coup for the platform.

Price £3.99

4. PadRacer

PadRace is a very clever game; as the iPad is the race course and you have to use your iPhone to control the cars on the iPad. It’s a great way to get your mates involved but will require one iPad and four iPhones. But the developer has announced that you will only need one app for a four-way race. Start your engines.Price £2.99

5. Top Gun

Paramount Digital Entertainment worked with Freeverse to bring the iPhone’s Top Gun game to the iPad, complete with upgraded graphics and new content. The slightly corny game follows a new recruit who’s looking to become the next Top Gun through a flight school that’s taught by instructors Maverick and Iceman. There’s also apparently a hidden volleyball mini-game for players to find.

Price £1.39

6. Real Racing HD

With heavy-weights like Need for Speed and Asphalt 5 ready for racing – it’s the plucky outsider Real Racing HD that get the thumbs up from us. With the fantastic in-car view, which gives you the sensation that you’re playing it something larger than the 10? screen.

Price £5.99

7. Worms HD

Team 17?s fantastic Worms is ready for the iPad launch with a lick of HD paint – with the large screen Worms’ most enjoyable aspect is the social play and friendly competition. And with some sharp visuals to boot this is classic Worms at its best.

Price £2.99

8. Roswell Fighter HD

If you want to relive you misspent youth playing top-down shooters then Roswell Fighter HD is more than likely to satisfy you.

There are three different difficulty levels; loads of power-ups and the controls are intuitive with your finger controlling the fighter plane. Be warned finger cramp is a distinct possibility. Price £1.19

9. Let’s Golf HD

It’s no Tiger Woods but Let’s Golf HD is a great arcade golf game and with multiple holes it great value for money. Controls come in two varieties and with the options to change club, add spin to your ball – it’s worth a purchase if you think you’re the next Tiger Woods.

Price £2.99

10. Command & Conquer Red Alert

The iPhone version of C&C was a bit pointless due the lack of a decent size screen, but this is a thing of the past with iPad version securing the award of best RTS on the iPad. This isn’t just some stripped back version it’s the full Command and Conquer we know and love. And if have penchant for collecting Iron Ore and making buildings then you need this game.

Price £7.49