Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: September 18, 2016

 

One more week after this one, where did the summer go? Hi, guys, it’s me, Kyle. I’ll get to the games in a bit, but I wanted to remind everyone that I’ll be taking a breather after next week before posting new free video game reviews in the autumn. Jim and I will be ramping up our TV show coverage, and I may need a few weeks to get prepared. Here’s another Geekly Free Video Game Summer post; I wanted to merge tabletop games with video games, so this week’s post will be free video games based on tabletop games.

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Pokemon: Trading Card Game (TCG) Online

Pokemon: TCG Online does a great job of transferring the game from the table to your mobile device. That can be a good and bad thing. There have been countless releases of Pokemon: TCG in the past two decades and Pokemon: TCG Online has samples from many of those releases, which leads to unbalanced power with the decks players construct, especially when you challenge opponents online. Of course you could play block format (only the sets released in the past year) but you’re still subject to opponents who have been collecting cards a lot long than you. When you’re first starting out, you will lose—a lot.

The game also includes legacy (last several years) and unlimited (any card from any Pokemon release) and you’re likelihood of winning a game diminishes with each group of cards you add to the card pool, but you could play with that awesome Wobbufett—if you have that awesome Wobbufett, that is. The gameplay is the classic Pokemon: TCG gameplay.

Players summon Pokemon with one as their main Pokemon and up to five on their bench, should the main Pokemon get defeated. Pokemon need energy cards attached to them to perform their abilities so energy cards are the second most common, and the rest of a deck consists of trainer or support cards that do various things to support the Pokemon on your team. At the beginning of each match, both players draw ten cards from their deck and place them face down, which make up their rewards, and the first player to earn all ten of their reward cards wins.

Okay. Most of you probably didn’t need the gameplay refresher, but it is addictive—as most Pokemon products tend to be. I didn’t mind the trip down memory lane with Pokemon TCG Online. It’s a solid TCG and if you have any interest in Pokemon, I recommend it; you also don’t have to keep binders of cards: space saving idea.

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Neuroshima Hex!

I covered the tabletop game Neuroshima Hex over a year ago (here’s a link) and not much is different with the app version, except that the app makes the game easier to play and more accessible, and that’s always a good thing. Players take command of a faction and the game is played 19 honeycomb grid. Instead of cards, players use hexagonal tiles to denote their forces. Each player starts the game with their headquarters tile with 20 hit points. Players win if they are the first player to lower their opponent’s HQ to zero hit points or if the tile draw pile is exhausted, whoever’s HQ has the most hit points wins.

Players take turns playing tiles. Most tiles are unit tiles. They’ll deal damage on whatever face (of the hexagon) they have a triangle. Short triangles are melee attacks and only work on adjacent units or if the HQ is adjacent. Long, skinny triangles are ranged attacks which hit the first enemy unit (or enemy HQ) in the direction the triangle is positioned. Every unit also has a number which denotes their initiative (how quickly they act); the higher the number, the faster the unit performs their attack. Once the board fills up with tiles or a player uses a combat tile (a burst symbol on the tile), the two armies fight. Units with the highest initiative perform their attacks first and play continues in initiative until every unit gets an action.

And it’s the computer’s calculations during combat that makes the Neuroshima Hex app more enjoyable than the original tabletop game. I almost always forget a unit or two, or an ability. Playing online negates human error, and my brain doesn’t have to crunch as many numbers. Neuroshima Hex packs a lot of game and strategy in a small amount of time (10-15 minutes). If you want a new-age Chess with a faint war theme, Neuroshima Hex might be right up your alley. I highly recommend it.

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Summoner Wars

Oh, this is the game that put Plaid Hat Games (Dead of Winter, and Mice and Mystics) on the map. I enjoy Summoner Wars, and the free-to-play app does a great job of transitioning the game to mobile platforms.

Similar to Neuroshima Hex, players take control of a faction, each with strengths and weaknesses, only this time you’re playing in a fantasy world and you’re a summoner. Summoner Wars’ gameplay is miniatures without the miniatures. You manipulate cards, which represent your units, on a 6×8 grid. You have your customary attack, defense, health, and movement you’ll find in any miniatures game, and most units have special abilities you can exploit. The first player to lower their opponent’s summoner card’s health to zero wins.

Summoner Wars doesn’t try to reinvent miniatures battle. If you’re looking for a more in-depth miniatures game, you’d be better off looking elsewhere, but Summoner Wars is an accessible game for folks who are interested in miniatures as a game type, and it’s fun. If you want to play more than the fire elves, you’ll have to pay money to unlock other factions, but the free version of Summoner Wars offers a lot in terms of strategy and replayability. You may not be able to play as other factions, but you can play against them. This is another game I highly recommend.

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Zombie Dice

There had to be one game I didn’t like in this group, and Zombie Dice is that game. I like the original tabletop version of Zombie Dice (I reviewed it a while ago; here’s a link), but the app version doesn’t measure up to the fun of rolling dice and pressing your luck. The pressing your luck aspect is still present but I tend to not like games that use a lot of dice rolling in a video game, especially when you can tell whether or not the games cheating.

Players take on the role of a zombie. You role dice, which denote humans, and the first zombie to eat 13 brains wins. Now, there are three results you can get on a zombie die: brains, shotgun blast, and footsteps. If you roll brains, you ate one brain. If you roll a shotgun blast, you got shot or hit by a human; you only get three shotgun blasts before you lose your turn. If you roll footsteps, your prey escaped. When it’s your turn you grab three dice and roll them. After any roll you can choose to keep your brain total and pass your turn or you can continue to roll, but if you roll three shotgun blasts, your turn ends, you lose any points you gained this turn (keeping your total for the game), and play goes to the zombie on your left.

Zombie Dice is a simple, press your luck game, but it’s a blast. The app isn’t as much fun. Since there are only three results, it’s easy to tell when you roll far too many shotgun blasts, while your computer opponent tends to roll far too many brains. Hmm. Feel free to pick up the physical copy of Zombie Dice (you can find it at most supermarkets today), but don’t bother playing the mobile app.

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Boss Monster

Boss Monster is yet another tabletop game I’ve reviewed in the distant past (here’s a link), and this is another app that does a great job of capturing the essence of the original.

Players are the boss monster at the end of a video game. You build your dungeon, attract video game heroes to your dungeon, and collect souls. If your dungeon fails to defeat a hero, you receive a wound (or two if it’s an epic hero). If you receive five or more wounds, you lose. The first player to collect 10 hero souls or the last boss monster standing wins.

There isn’t much to add from the original review, except that the Boss Monster app runs slow. The original game can take a while to pay (about 20-30 minutes for a card game, which is a little on the long side), but the extra time it takes for heroes to travel through dungeons in the app makes a typical game run about the same time as the original, and there’s usually only one human character. That’s way too long for a solo-mobile game. I like Boss Monster but the game needs to speed up its processing power. I’ll still keep it in my permanent collection, but Boss Monster is one of those games I have to be in the mood to play. I’d prefer to play the original tabletop version.

That’s one more week down and only one more to go. I’ll try to get some free-to-play MMORPGs under my belt for next week. Let’s end the Free Video Game Summer with a bang. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: September 9, 2016

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Hello again. It’s me, Kyle, and I have another week of Free Video Game Summer. I’ll take a break later this month, mid-September is the beginning of autumn, and continue this series as an ongoing free video games post—I’ll probably write posts for this series with less regularity, perhaps once every other week or something—but until then here’s another theme-less Video Game Summer post in which I’ll probably figure out a recurring theme half-way through the post. Oh, well.

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Smash Squad

I downloaded Smash Squad toward the beginning of the summer and waited until a good group of games to pair it with presented itself. There aren’t any. It many ways it’s not your typical free-to-play video game and in other ways it is. Let’s start with what makes Smash Squad unique: its concept. Take a finger flick tabletop game like Flick ‘em Up and merge it with a superhero game where you can upgrade your heroes and you get Smash Squad.

Your squad is composed of pog-like discs. Each of these discs has health, attack, and defense and you flick them (pull back in the opposite direction of the way you want to shoot your disc) at your opponent’s discs. If you take out their discs before they take out yours, you win. Ah, this is such an interesting game mechanism. I love flicking my discs at other people’s discs. This mechanism is done well and it makes Smash Squad stand out from the horde of other free games. But what’s underneath Smash Squad’s shiny new mechanism resembles many other games.

There’s an energy system. Instead of the player not being able to compete for a while, each disc/hero has energy and you can’t play them until they have enough energy to compete. This functions the same way as other free-to-play games, but once you advance in rank and have plenty of heroes, you could play Smash Squad more regularly than you would other games of its ilk.

You can also upgrade your squad. Smash Squad has several levels of items—of varying rarity and cost to purchase with real-world money—that players can use to upgrade their squad. It’s always difficult to see how many crystals, jelly beans, or whatever the item you can purchase is costs when there are odd currency exchange rates. Like many free-to-play games Smash Squad monetizes pain and suffering. You don’t have to spend real-world money, but you will have to wait some time to unlock certain goodies.

Overall, the good outweighs the bad and Smash Squad offers a unique gaming experience. It may not be your thing, but you should give it a spin—or a flick.

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World Zombination

World Zombination is a tower defense game that allows players to control either the humans, the defense, or zombies, the horde of enemies. Let’s face it, you’re going to want to play as the zombies. No offense to the humans—they’re already on the defensive—but few games allow you to play as zombies or as the enemy horde attacking the tower defense. I did play as the humans as well as the zombies, and World Zombination does a good job of presenting a tower defense game with a twist: your towers move. But the zombie side of things makes this game shine.

You get to load out your zombie power-ups and deploy your horde in strategic places to overwhelm those pesky humans. While it can be satisfying to fight off the zombie horde, it was more satisfying to gobble up brains. Ultimately there’s little difference between the two sides. You get a lot of the same power-ups. The objective is the only thing that changes when you go from human to zombie or vice versa. But it’s the objective that makes playing as the zombies unique.

Now, World Zombination has a lot of the same things we see in other free-to-play games: wait times for power-ups, hard to obtain in-game currency that tempts players to spend real money, and energy recharging that can be cut down if you use the same hard to obtain in-game currency. You’ll have to be patient, or be willing to spend real money, but World Zombination provides a singular tower defense experience, especially when you factor in player-versus-player game modes.

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Batman: Arkham Underworld

Okay. I just said that no other tower defense game besides World Zombination allows you to play as the enemy horde. Well, Batman: Arkham Underworld does that, too. In fact, Batman: Arkham Underworld plays a lot like World Zombination with a different theme and skin. This time, you play as Batman’s rogues.

Batman: Arkham Underworld isn’t a bad game, it provides an experience similar to World Zombination, but Batman’s rogues as a theme doesn’t work as well as a zombie horde. It’s one thing to unlock a new zombie type and power them up. It’s another when the game treats Batman’s rogues like World Zombination treats its zombies; they aren’t unique enough to justify the theme. Batman: Arkham Underworld plays like your controlling a zombie horde masquerading as Batman’s rogues’ gallery.

Batman: Arkham Underworld has many of World Zombination’s features, and you can find some solid game play. It’s not as if Batman: Arkham Underworld is a bad game; the theme doesn’t match the game mechanism. Still, if you like Batman and enjoy the idea of a playing as the side seldom played in a tower defense game, you may like Batman: Arkham Underworld. And it’d be redundant to have both Batman: Arkham Underworld and World Zombination.

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Ghostbusters: Slime City

Ghostbusters: Slime City cashes in on the summer blockbuster Ghostbusters, but you won’t find many of the characters from the original movie or the reboot—human characters that is; Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man make appearances. Ghostbusters: Slime City has the most action of any game I’ve covered so far, but it maintains the level-up aspects of your equipment as well as your headquarters and a bank, and I’m not sure the mini-games make much sense.

Beyond the weird mini-games like feeding Slimer hot dogs and gaining money, the core game play is busting a bunch a ghosts by pointing and swiping on your touch screen. Your ghostbuster will run out of power and you have to take your finger off your screen for them to recharge their battery and when you have power, you continue to point and swipe. At random moments you’ll trap ghosts—I’m not sure how the game determines which ghosts you trap—but most ghosts are blasted with your proton ray. You get a few minutes to bust the target number of ghosts you need to bust and then you either beat the level or have to replay it. Ghostbusters: Slime City is a straightforward game. It doesn’t add any new game play or offer an engaging story—although there is one the game shoe horns into the gameplay—but if you like Ghostbusters and busting makes you feel good, you may want to give Ghostbusters: Slime City. This game doesn’t cover enough new ground to be staying in my permanent collection.

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Spider-Man Unlimited

Spider-Man Unlimited is Temple Run with a Spider-Man skin. There’s nothing wrong with that premise. In fact, Spider-Man Unlimited does a great job of incorporating new game mechanisms to the Temple Run model that are suited to Spider-Man. Web slinging is fantastic. Battling enemies is intuitive but challenging. And the dynamic level generation keeps players on their toes.

That last point can be a good or bad thing. I like being challenged by a game, even if it’s a free-to-play game, but you can get stuck on a level for a really long time and instead of being able to memorize what’s going to show up next on a map, because you died several times on a stage, Spider-Man Unlimited does a good job of changing up the level each time. You could be fighting enemies and dodging obstacles one play through of a stage, only to be web slinging the next time.

A free-to-play game wouldn’t make money without having power-ups, enhancements, and boosts for your heroes, and Spider-Man Unlimited uses the customary difficult to obtain in-game currency, energy recharge times, and the like. Again, you can spend a lot of money getting through things—and Spider-Man Unlimited can be frustrating enough to make you want to spend money—or you could be patient and clear the level without spending money.

Regardless, Spider-Man Unlimited adds enough to the Temple Run formula to make it uniquely Spidey, fresh, and worth a quick play.

All right. We’re almost done with Free Video Game Summer. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: September 2, 2016

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Hello. We don’t have a theme for this week’s Free Video Game Summer. There’s just a lot of small games. That means that these reviews won’t be too long—for the most part—so let’s get to it.

PocketPolitics

Pocket Politics

Pocket Politics uses the same set up as Kongregate’s previous game, AdVenture Capitalist. I reviewed AdVenture Capitalist earlier this summer and liked it, but that was the PC version of the game, which is the far superior version of the game. I downloaded the iTunes app and there were more stumbling blocks in terms of ploys to gain people’s money and these schemes rear their heads here in Pocket Politics.

Looking beyond these money-making practices, the main game mechanisms from AdVenture Capitalist are still in place. You tap businesses to open them and generate money, hire managers to tap businesses for you, and purchase upgrades to boost your earnings. This set-up worked for AdVenture Capitalist because it matches the game’s theme. The same can’t be said of Pocket Politics. Most people know that money talks in politics, but it’s not the one-for-one of the original and these same game mechanisms fall flat even before you factor in the shady ways power-ups work. Play AdVenture Capitalist on the PC and skip Pocket Politics.

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Big Bang Racing

Big Bang Racing is a fun little racing game in the mode of Mod Nation Racers or Little Big Planet Karting. The controls aren’t as good as a 3D racing game—this is a side-scrolling racing game—but they’re also not too difficult to pick up and master either. Where Big Bang Racing shines is in its customization.

Not only can you trick out your cart, you can create your own levels and play levels designed by your friends. This makes for endless content. And with a global community, you’ll find hours of enjoyment. Big Bang Racing isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of other games that capture the adrenaline of pedal to the metal racing, and I would’ve preferred some power ups besides turbo boost (there may be more if I were to play longer) but for a free, kart racing game, you can’t go wrong with Big Bang Racing.

Snakebird

Snakebird

Snakebird gets its name from the titular character who’s a gooey amalgam of a snake and a bird. At its heart Snakebird is a puzzle game. You navigate levels by sliding your snakebird over hills and into caves. It’s a simple and fun concept, but the game can get frustrating.

There’s no hint system that I could find, so players could spend hours—days if you take breaks—on a stage before clearing the level. That’s not a deal breaker for me, but it could be for many other people. In fact, Snakebird doesn’t waste much time before plunging its players into difficult to solve puzzles. It can be brutal game, so beware. But if you can get pass its unforgiving puzzles, Snakebird can be fun.

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Winter Fugitives 2 Chronicles

Like Big Bang, Winter Fugitives 2 Chronicles is another simplified version of a popular game type: stealth. If you like sneaking around in Thief or Metal Gear Solid, you might enjoy the stripped down Winter Fugitives 2 Chronicles. Players control a prisoner trying to escape. You have to avoid guards (who have cones of vision you must side-step) and look for the occasional key, found in desks, safes, or crates. You have the option of knocking out guards and subduing them, but you run the risk of not gaining the level’s bonus, and you typically want the bonus. Other than that, there isn’t a lot of complexity to Winter Fugitives 2 Chronicles. Try not to be seen. The gameplay is tight and it can scratch the itch of a free-to-play stealth, mobile game.

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Jelly Jump

Jelly Jump is another game with a simple concept. Players control a jelly cube and must jump (tap the cube) at the right time to make to the level above them; instead of side scrolling, Jelly Jump top scrolls. You only have a short time to make your jump because you may get closed off from the level above you (draw bridges) and water is filling the bottom of the screen. It’s a fun little game.

You could pay $1.99 and eliminate ads that periodically show up, but the ads in Jelly Jump aren’t obtrusive, you can get by with the free version. The gameplay may be simple but it can be intense. Several times I got my jelly cube stuck in a draw bridge and frantically tapped the screen to free it. It’s odd how a simple game can elicit a response like that. For a little game Jelly Jump can get your blood pumping, and it’s worth a quick play.

PowerHover

Power Hover

Power Hover puts you in control of a guy on a hover board, restoring power to the countryside. Each stage has you swiping to avoid obstacles and pick up electricity. If you collect enough electricity, you can power up the local power stations and people regain their electric power. This is yet another simple concept game, but Power Hover does a good job of providing tight controls and gameplay, and players know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. That’s always a plus.

While Power Hover isn’t as deep as Big Bang—few free-to-play games can offer that much content—it does provide plenty of fun. That’s probably the theme of this week’s games: strip away a game style to what makes it work. Power Hover may be too simple for some gamers, but for what it is, it works.

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Nonstop Knight

It’s funny how some of these games do exactly what the title says. Nonstop Knight is a game where the player controls a knight who runs through a dungeon, killing creatures, whether you control them or not, hence the title, Nonstop Knight. This title has more going on but that doesn’t make it a better game.

If you’ve been following Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer, you’ll know that I don’t care for games that give me little agency as a player. Nonstop Knight plays itself. Literally, you don’t have to play the game for your knight to kill goblins deep in the dungeon in which you’re crawling. It’s a game that’s on rails, and I don’t care for it. Sure, AdVenture Capitalist suffers from this a bit, too, but the player still has to make choices. If you’re logged in, you can pull off some combat moves, but Nonstop Knight doesn’t give players any meaningful choices. You don’t even control your character. Skip it.

We don’t have too many more weeks left. Hopefully, I can keep this up. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: August 21, 2016

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Hi, guys. I didn’t forget you, I’ve just been dealing with housing issues (my house is constantly under construction) but you don’t want to know about that. You want more games. This week’s Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer is brought to you by video game versions of collectible card games. I know I cover tabletop games with my other reviews, but there are plenty of free-to-play video games that use the collectible card game model. Just to clarify, you collect cards (of varying rarity) in a collectible card game and make decks out of the cards you collect. It’s a decent game model for a free-to-play game and there are plenty of free-to-play collectible card games out there. Let’s get started.

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Final Fantasy Portal: Triple Triad

Full disclosure: there’s a lot more to the Final Fantasy Portal besides Triple Triad, but the only thing I’m covering here is Triple Triad. Ah, I loved Triple Triad in Final Fantasy VIII. It’s the collectible card game within the role playing game. Players would collect cards of characters found within the game and challenge random non-player characters to card duels. The rules are simple.

You play on a 3×3 grid. Every card has four values for each one of its sides (left, right, up, and down) and these values are printed in the upper right-hand corner of the card. You play cards in the 3×3 grid and if your card’s value on one side is greater than your opponent’s you take control of their card (kind of like Othello). Whoever owns the most cards at the end of the match wins. In the original game, players only obtained characters from Final Fantasy VIII, but Final Fantasy Portal’s version of Triple Triad includes all numbered entries in the Final Fantasy franchise and that’s a lot of fun.

The original Triple Triad weaved in elemental play—the card based on the Brothers summon had an earth element and its values were doubled against cards with a lightning element—but Final Fantasy Portal’s Triple Triad omits elements and adds same and plus to the gameplay. Same is okay; if you play a card that matches the values on cards that share two or more sides, you flip over any opponent’s cards adjacent to the card you played. Plus functions similarly to Same but you add the values of the cards on all sides and if the sum is the same, you flip over all opponent cards. I hate the Plus rule.

Plus can negate any good card you may have. If one side is an 8 and the other is a 9, all your opponent has to do is play a 2 to the 9 while playing a 3 to the 8; both sides would equal 11 and you just lost some of your best cards. You can dictate which rules you play in versus mode, so you can avoid the Plus rule and it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Triple Triad, but how hard would it have been to assign an element to each character? Still, Final Fantasy Portal’s Triple Triad is a faithful port of the popular Final Fantasy mini game. And wouldn’t want to construct a deck with the best characters from Final Fantasy lore? This one’s staying in my collection, but I’m not sure how often I’ll play.

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Order & Chaos Duels

On the surface, Order & Chaos Duels looks like a Hearthstone clone, but there’s more going on beneath the surface—not much but a little. Like Hearthstone, you assume control of a hero who has their own innate ability and you’re trying to knock your opponent’s hero’s health to zero. You cast minions and spells to buff your minions or debuff your opponent’s minions. All of this should sound familiar to Hearthstone fans. Order & Chaos’s twist is that it matters where you play a minion.

You have five locations (one row consisting of five spots) you can play your minions, each minion has attack and health, and if you lower your opponent’s minion to zero health in a spot or there is no minion in the spot, your minion attacks your opponent directly. This simple addition offers more strategy, and that’s a good thing, but I never felt as if I had agency in a game of Order & Chaos.

Sure, you set up your minions to defeat your enemy, but unlike Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, there’s no way to counter anything your opponent does—or at least these counters are few and far between. Most of the time you’ll set up your minions during your planning phase, pass the turn to your attack phase, and once you’re done attacking, your turn’s finished.

There are also alternate ways of winning in both Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering (namely you helping your opponent run out of cards: milling their deck) that just doesn’t exist in any tangible way in Order & Chaos. The play styles don’t offer much variety either, so I’d say Order & Chaos is a pass.

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Epic Cards Battle

I’m not sure if Epic Cards Battle even qualifies as a collectible card game. Sure, you collect cards but you don’t build a deck so much as you pick your best card or two and play them ad nauseam.

If I didn’t like the lack of agency in Order & Chaos, I hate the lack of agency in Epic Cards Battle. All you do is pick the card(s) that has the best combination of attack, health, and speed and see these cards battle it out on their own with no input from the player. Some of these characters/cards have special abilities but gameplay boils down to those three statistics and whose cards have the better of those statistics. Epic Cards Battle puts more emphasis on scantily clad women than it does gameplay. If you’re into that sort of thing, Epic Cards Battle might be a decent game. If you want something more from your gaming experience, I’d skip it.

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Card Lords

Card Lords combines elements from several games in this review and it does so in a satisfying way. It could be that it deploys a similar art style as Card Wars 2 (which I’ll cover later: foreshadowing, baby) and I like that art style, but it does use the best part of Order & Chaos, which is “card placement matters.”

Akin to Epic Cards Battle, Card Lords has players select their best cards. Unlike Epic Cards Battles, it feels more like you’re building a deck, or at least assembling a team with abilities that play off each other well. There’s a lot of repetition to Card Lords’ gameplay but it’s enjoyable in small doses, and players will get small doses because Card Lords also uses the ubiquitous energy resource found in free-to-play games. You’ll play a few matches before you have to wait an hour or so—or spend money (and that’s how the developer’s get paid). But unlike most free-to-play games that use energy, you don’t have to wait long; it’s literally an hour or less.

The last element Card Lords introduces is developing your cards. You can power up your cards so they’ll gain special abilities (another thing we’ll see again in Card Wars 2) and you get a sense of developing your team/deck. You also have slightly more control in Card Lords than you do in the previous two entries (Epic Cards Battle and Order & Chaos), but it still doesn’t have as much strategy as I would like. There are few moments when you wouldn’t use your cards’ special ability as soon as it’s available to you and battles still come down to who has the best stats. Still, Card Lords is worth a look.

Cardstone

Cardstone

Cardstone is a Rogue-like dungeon crawl that just happens to use cards as its means of combat. You collect cards as you journey deeper into the dungeon, but if you die, your deck resets and you have to rebuild your deck the next time you enter the dungeon. That’s curious.

Cardstone plays more like a deck-builder game (a game with set cards and you build your deck each time you start a new game) instead of a collectible card game (a game where you build your deck over time and your deck remains the same unless you make changes to it). I like the idea of a free-to-play deck-builder game, but I’m not sure if Cardstone’s combat works as well as I would like.

Players face a new creature in the dungeon with each round. Sometimes a creature will run away if you have too high a level—you do gain levels and increase your health, even if your deck resets—but when a creature stills around, you cycle through your deck on a timer. Every three or four seconds, you draw a new card from your deck. You’ll see that card rotate on the screen until you use it or it disappears (gets discarded). This mechanism leads to players drawing healing cards when they need to deal damage and damage cards when they need healing. It doesn’t matter early in the dungeon, but the deeper you get in the dungeon, the harder your opponents get and the less likely it is you’ll get the right cards. Funny how that works. This perceived cheating by the AI makes Cardstone the most frustrating game of this bunch. I don’t know how many times I fought a creature to a first one who deals damage wins scenario, only to draw into five consecutive healing cards. Note: do not play Cardstone if you’re easily irritated.

I like Cardstone’s concept but I’m not sure how long it’ll stay in my collection. It’s another game that’s worth a look. You may find it enjoyable.

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Dengen Chronicles

I was intrigued when I first downloaded Dengen Chronicles. It’s a collectible card game, but the cards are hexagonal shaped and the board is laid out like a honeycomb. Unfortunately, there’s little to no strategy.

Like many other games in this list, the winner of Dengen Chronicles boils down to who has the best stats: attack and health. But the board factors into the equation. Character/card placement matters, but it matters in the worst possible way. During the first turn, whoever has a character/card in the top point of the star deals damage first to the first, opponent character/card located clockwise on the star. So, whoever gets to play their card/character first typically wins. Sure, the next round shifts who deals damage first to the next point clockwise on the star, but by then the damage is already done.

Dengen Chronicles overlays a convoluted element chart on the board. Each section of the honeycomb represents a specific element and only characters with that element can be played there—you get bonus attack if they have multiple copies of that element printed on their card—but all you have to do is build a deck that has a strong showing in the first, third, and fifth elements, and you can dominate most games.

The only issue with that strategy is that everyone tries to use it (player versus player) and who wins is the person who goes first. At that rate you may as well flip a coin and call heads or tails instead of playing Dengen Chronicles. For me this game is a strong pass.

CardWars

Card Wars 2

Full disclosure: there is a physical, printed version of this game and I haven’t yet played it, but I have seen Adventure Time and like the Card Wars episodes. Card Wars 2 is one of those few games where I don’t ever mute the game. John DiMaggio’s Jake the Dog walks you through the tutorial and the rest of the cast voice the characters they portray in the cartoon.

The game itself is a good representation of the Card Wars found in the animated series. They’ve got everything, including Jake’s favorite element: Corn. You can pick any element you want to play. Each element has a distinct play style, which is something that’s missing in many of the other games on this list. You can even mix-match cards from various elements to build an awesome deck, and it’s a lot of fun to experiment. Compared to the other games on this list, Card Wars 2 is a must play.

But Card Wars 2 isn’t all sunshine. It uses an energy system, which isn’t bad, and players can also upgrade their cards. I’m not against upgrading cards either but how you upgrade cards matters, and with how Card Wars 2 is set up, you could spend real-world dollars trying to upgrade your cards the preferred way. The first way you can upgrade your cards is by leveling them up. The problem with this method is that your decks are capped off at a certain numeric level, based on your player level. So if you level up your cards, you might only be able to put a 40 levels of cards in a deck, and if you have a card you want to use that’s level 40, one card could be your entire deck. The better way to upgrade your cards is to enhance them, and to do that you’ll have to collect items and merge them with your card. These items are difficult to acquire and this is where Card Wars 2 tempts players to make in-game purchases.

If you’re patient with leveling yourself up as a player and then leveling up your cards, Card Wars 2 can be enjoyable and free. If you’re impatient, you could spend a lot of real-world money or you could get frustrated. Card Wars 2 is the most enjoyable game on this list and a must play for an Adventure Time fan.

Well, I hope this longer group of games makes up for the couple of weeks I missed. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: July 31, 2016

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I’m still trying to figure out when I should post Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer. It’s been a little over a week, but I haven’t forgotten about you guys. This week I’ve played a lot of smaller games that seem to have a similar theme: run and survive.

SeaHeroQuest

Sea Hero Quest

Okay. I’m starting with the one game on this list that doesn’t have a survival mechanism, but Sea Hero Quest’s an interesting game. Well, it’s a simple game, but its real-world mission is interesting. Sea Hero Quest is backed by Alzheimer’s Research, and it tracks players’ progress as they perform brain cognition and memory games. The data collected from the game’s users is given to assist with a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Don’t worry. The users remain anonymous, and the data isn’t used for anything other than Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Here’s a link to their terms and conditions: http://www.seaheroquest.com/en/terms-and-conditions

If you want to learn more about how Sea Hero Quest is using its data to aid in dementia research, click on this link: http://www.seaheroquest.com/en/dementia

This game isn’t that involved, nor should it be. It has a cute story about a sailor out to sea, you play some time-waster mind games and clear levels. There isn’t too much going on with this game on the surface, but the game’s real mission of scientific research has led to over 2 million people downloading and playing Sea Hero Quest, which has in turn provided 786 decades worth of dementia research data and counting.

Sure, it’s a time-waster game, but you won’t find another time-waster that’s time well spent.

RunAround

Let’s Go Run Around

Let’s Go Run Around’s game play is exactly what you’d expect from a game entitled Let’s Go Run Around. A cape-wearing astronaut runs around the perimeter of your mobile device, and you tap your screen to make him jump over obstacles.

It’s a silly game, but the controls are solid. My only major complaint with Let’s Go Run Around is the same gripe I have for most games of this ilk: little to no saving of player progress. You’ll spin your wheels for a while before getting to a checkpoint, and it’s the pain of having to start over that coaxes players to spend money on a free app of this type. You’ve played those last five levels and you don’t want to replay them, so you spend a dollar to gain an extra life.

Dying happens a little too frequently and checkpoints happen a little too infrequently for my taste. I won’t be keeping Let’s Go Run Around in my collection, but I did enjoy it.

IntoTheDead

Into the Dead

Let’s Go Run Around may be on the fringe of the run and survive motif, but Into the Dead hits that motif in the gut. You’re navigating a forest of zombies, slipping past them, picking up weapons, and mowing them down to clear a lane.

Similar to Stampede Rodeo, which I covered a few weeks ago, Into the Dead players are given mini-goals. They gain experience with each goal they clear and if they earn enough experience, players can unlock different game modes and power-ups. What I like the most about Into the Dead is its variety of controls. I prefer tilting my device to move and tapping to shoot my weapon, so that when I touch my screen, I know I’m firing my weapon, but players have the options of swiping or tapping for movement too. You’re sure to find a control configuration that works best for your play style.

The game itself is a zombie, 3D version of Pac-Man. I like Pac-Man a lot—this won’t be the last time we’ll see Pac-Man on this list—but the formula loses something by switching from third person to first. By doing this Into the Dead cranks up the tension the first few times you play it; you feel as if you are a zombie apocalypse survivor. As you grow accustomed to dying—and you will die a lot, just like Pac-Man—death means less and the tension wanes as you respawn. When you no longer have that tension, you’re left with no one to root for. You don’t have a cuddly yellow buddy.

Into the Dead is a solid game. It’s worth a trial run, but I’m not sure it stays in my permanent collection.

RollingSky

Rolling Sky

These next two games are similar in play style. You control a constantly rolling ball in Rolling Sky. You’re tasked with moving the ball around or through obstacles that also move in and out of play. As soon as you fall off—from a surface that disappears suddenly—or the ball pops—from a spike that appears just as quickly as disappearing surfaces—you must start over from the last checkpoint you crossed.

If I didn’t like the pain of losing progress through the rare nature of checkpoints in Let’s Go Run Around, you can guess what I think about the frustration generated through the scarcity of checkpoints in Rolling Sky. I don’t like this business model. Yes. These games need to make money for their developers, but some free-to-play game developers are monetizing pain and frustration, and it’s not a good look.

Game play wise Rolling Sky is another solid game. If you liked Marble Madness from the classic Nintendo or arcade, you’ll enjoy Rolling Sky. But be prepared to play the same levels.

SmashHit

Smash Hit

With Smash Hit you’re running through an ice cave, flicking marbles at sheets of ice that act as obstacles. If you run into an obstacle, your run ends and you start over from the last checkpoint you crossed. Sound familiar? I shouldn’t like this, but Smash Hit does the best job of checkpoint intervals. Starting from the last checkpoint you crossed isn’t that bad. It’s challenging but not anger inducing.

You can even fire a marble at an occasional ice stalagmite or stalactite and gain additional marbles. I like the design of Smash Hit’s levels and its simmer of frustration. It’d be the perfect free-to-play game on this list if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s more of a free demo than a free-to-play game. You can only start from the last checkpoint you crossed if you pay $2 for the game’s full-version. Two bucks isn’t a lot, but darn you, Smash Hit. Why did you show up as a free-to-play game? Next.

Pac-Man256

Pac-Man 256

As I said before I like Pac-Man a lot, and Pac-Man 256 is a very good, modern, free-to-play variant of the game. Pac-Man 256 is a 3D version of the classic. You move through an endless maze, with older portions of the maze cut off from you because of a new ghost named Glitchy, who looks like a gaming glitch, eating up the old maze. The original ghosts are in this game too, and Pac-Man 256 does a great job of capturing their personalities/nicknames—that’d be the ghost personalities as they were better described in Japanese—and some of their personalities are enhanced from the original.

Blinky (the red ghost or “chaser” in Japan) continues to chase you until you can shake him. Pinky (the pink ghost or “ambusher” in Japan) sits at a crossroad and ambushes you if you get in his line-of-sight. Inky (the blue ghost or “whimsical” in Japan) tries to anticipate where you’re headed and runs toward four pixels ahead of where you are—or something similar to that. And you can still play a game of chicken with Clyde (the orange ghost or “feigning ignorance” in Japan) who either tries to catch up to Blinky if he’s far from you or makes a bee-line for the bottom left corner of the maze, which is effective when you consider that you’re forced to move up (because of Glitchy eating the maze), while Clyde’s moving down. Yeah, I’m a bit of a Pac-Man fan.

The odd thing in Pac-Man 256 is that Pac-Man takes on an aspect of the original Blinky’s “Cruiser Elroy” mode. In the original, Blinky would speed up when so many pellets were left on the board and in Pac-Man 256, Pac-Man speeds up with each consecutive pellet he eats. Another deviation from the original is that some portions of the maze won’t have a pellet and that forces players to make a quick decision of which route they should take. Is the speed boost worth getting caught? It’s an interesting twist to the original.

Of course there are power-ups in this game. You still have the super pellet, which turns all ghosts dark blue and allows you to eat them, but Pac-Man 256 adds stealth, giant-sized Pac-Man, bombs, tornadoes, and several other manner of quirky super powers. You can upgrade these power-ups and the time it takes to upgrade them—you can’t use a power-up while it’s upgrading—tempts players to spend real-life money to speed up the process, but the real money maker is the game’s original Pac-Man skin.

Pac-Man 256’s base game adds a blocky, pixelated art to the original. It’s pleasant and close enough to the original look, but if you want a more authentic look, you’ll have to pay a dollar. That’s not a lot of money for an upgrade, but Pac-Man 256 should’ve included the original game’s look in the base game. There are plenty of other purchasable skins for the game (like a Lego version, Pac-Man in an office, and a Tron inspired board) that the original Pac-Man look as an in-game purchase reads like a cheap money grab. It’s a small amount of money, but it’s still a money grab.

My only other minor complaint would be that the touch controls were not as responsive as I’d like them to be. Most of the time when Pac-Man died it was my fault, but once every nine or ten deaths, the game wouldn’t respond. That’s not bad, but one could get frustrated.

Overall, Pac-Man 256 is a great game. I’ve had a copy or version of Pac-Man on most of the computers or devices I’ve ever owned. There are other versions of Pac-Man available for this generation of devices, but Pac-Man 256 is a fun one and it’s staying in my collection.

That wraps up another week of free-to-play games. Until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: July 18, 2016

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Sorry I’m late with this week’s post. My head was in the clouds and as a result, we’re headed to the stars with this week’s Geekly Free Video Game Summer. Let’s get to some games that are out of this world.

Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes

Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes

I have to admit that I spent more time with Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes than I did with the other games on this week’s list—I’m a bit of a Star Wars geek. There’s also a lot going on in this game.

Players accrue two forms of energy and countless forms of in-game currency. If you’ve read our “6 Things to be careful of in free-to-play games” (here’s a link in case you missed it), you’ll know that more than three currency types in a free-to-play game denotes a cash grab. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is a cash grab, but it’s enjoyable none-the-less.

Intellectual properties owned by Disney have a history of fun, free-to-play, cash cow video games—I’m looking at you Marvel: Contest of Champions—and that’s not a bad thing, so long as you know what the game is tempting you to do. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes’ main campaigns—yes, there’s more than one—are scaled, with regard to difficulty, in a satisfying way. I could see some players getting frustrated and buying boosts to shave time off of developing their characters for the main quest lines, but the Galaxy of Heroes’ main source of frustration rests with the Galaxy War and Battle Arena game modes.

Both the Galaxy War and Battle Arena are player versus player game modes. It makes sense that PvP game modes would be more difficult than most of the other game modes, but the Battle Arena is where Galaxy of Heroes separates the players who pay for boosts from the ones who don’t. I’m sure you could earn enough experience to do well in the Battle Arena and it’s not vital that you place in the top 50 players, but it helps if you place high in these game modes and it’s obvious that you won’t unless you spend real world dollars. Don’t worry. There are other ways to develop your characters and get stronger. If you resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be a world beater in the Battle Arena, you’ll find that finishing in the top 1000 isn’t bad for power ups.

Did I mention that this game has a mountain of game modes? Well, it does. I’m almost level 50 and I still haven’t unlocked all this game has to offer. There might be too much going on for my liking but Galaxy of Heroes eases players into new game modes, so learning any new game modes is easy enough, and the inclusion of extra game modes serves to bridge the divide of paying and non-paying customers to some extent.

The last game mode I’ll mention is guilds. Guilds are popular in free-to-play games and I should probably write an article on what makes a good guild or guild mode at some point, but let’s stick with Galaxy of Heroes for the moment. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes doesn’t have the worst guild set-up, but I wouldn’t mind a little more feedback for guild activities and there’s something cheap with the guild gold introduced when you join a guild.

For the most part participation in your guild doesn’t feel any different from playing on your own. There are raids that you can assist with—if one of your guild leaders starts a raid—but the chief way to contribute to your guild is to perform menial tasks like using energy fighting in Cantina Fights. Well, if you log in during the day, you’re going to use energy fighting in Cantina Fights whether you’re in a guild or not. Sure, a daily task for your guild might dictate which game mode you’ll play more of that day, but I prefer guild modes in other games that make guilds use the same currency players use for their own progression. It makes for fewer forms of in-game currency and guild members talk more about how they’ll contribute credits toward group goals; they have to balance personal and group success.

Despite a few flaws, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is fun and I recommend it. Just be mindful of how the game is trying to coax players into spending real world money. It’s okay if you want to spend real money on a free-to-play game, just be careful. You could spend a heap of money on in-game purchases.

Star Trek Timelines

Star Trek: Timelines

Star Trek: Timelines is disappointing. It could easily be the one game that’s head and shoulders above the rest on this list, but crashes and load times make it difficult to navigate.

Perhaps you’ll have better luck than me—I’m playing Star Trek: Timelines on iOS—but I have to wait at least thirty seconds any time I want to load a new area, the game logs me out at pivotal moments, and often the game doesn’t save my progress and I have to retrace my steps. Technical difficulties aside, Star Trek: Timelines is a deep and engaging game that most Star Trek fans will enjoy.

All of the Star Trek iterations jumble to form a timeline mess, and you are in charge of various Star Trek crew members who have the skills to correct the timeline. Unlike several free-to-play games I’ve played this summer, Star Trek: Timelines has a story and that story’s pretty engaging. From what I was able to play, it felt as if my choices mattered. One of the first battles you’ll encounter is with the Klingon Federation. At one point you can help Worf’s son Alexander, but there are multiple ways you can choose to help. I’ve not seen this in too many free-to-play games, and it irks me that Timelines kept crashing. Timelines also employs John de Lancie to reprise his role as Q from The Next Generation and that’s exciting. Oh, man. I wish I could’ve played more of this game.

Star Trek characters excel at various tasks, and missions in Star Trek: Timelines require crew members who have medical expertise, scientific knowledge, engineering know-how, combat experience, leadership qualities, and/or negotiation skills. Usually, there’s more than one way to solve a problem, and that’s wonderful.

What’s not-so-wonderful is dilithium crystals. There had to be one currency or form of energy that goads players into using real-world dollars, and dilithium crystals’ iconic make them a good choice, but Timelines could’ve made dilithium crystals attainable through weekly log-ins. You don’t need dilithium crystals, you can use other, easier to obtain currencies (or the passage of time because dilithium crystals are used to rush production and missions) to get most of the items you can purchase with dilithium crystals, but there’s a difference between not having enough dilithium crystals to something and not having any because you refuse to pay.

I hope Star Trek: Timelines gets an update that will stabilize the game on iOS. It’s a great free-to-play game that’s marred by technical difficulties.

Pixel Starships

Pixel Starships

Pixel Starships takes the concept of Star Trek and applies cute, pixelated characters and starships. It’s a neat game with a large community—you’ll find a guild or two or fifteen you join and pal around with—but like Star Trek: Timelines and even Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes above it on this list, Pixel Starships suffers from technical difficulties, and it proves difficult to succeed without spending real world money.

You’ll have to spend time—lots and lots of time—to upgrade rooms on your ship so you’ll have the means with which to raid other starships, or you could spend cash to speed up the process. Pixel Starships starts off well enough but the wait times mount fast. Not only do you wait for upgrades, you have to wait to battle CPU opponents. You could also launch a player versus player match, but you end up with the same issue as Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes: players who pay win more often than players who don’t. Unlike Galaxy of Heroes, there aren’t too many ways to bridge this gap.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I had issues upgrading my starship. I’d click a room to upgrade in my ship, the computer would take my resources, and then the game wouldn’t apply the upgrades. Pixel Starship experiences rolling game crashes. They don’t happen all the time but they do happen in bunches.

Pixel Starships doesn’t stack up to the other games on this list as well as I would like. The divide between paying and non-paying gamers is too great, and technical difficulties slow down an otherwise good concept. The crew and ship are customizable and the game has character. I can see how gamers could enjoy this game. If exploring the galaxy in a cute pixelated starship appeals to you, Pixel Starships has depth of play. For me, Pixel Starships gets a half-hearted endorsement.

That’s another week of free-to-play games. I hope you enjoyed it, and until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly’s Free Video Game Summer: July 8, 2016

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This week’s free video game summer was preempted by the Fourth of July—Happy Fourth of July, guys—so I played a lot of simple free games this week. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

SquaredanceAppIcon

Squaredance

Puzzle games aren’t for everyone and Squaredance is tough even by puzzle game standards, but when you solve one of its puzzles, it’s a rewarding experience. Like most good puzzle games, the game play is simple to learn but difficult to master.

This is a typical level in Squaredance. The top graphic is how the puzzle looks at the beginning of the level.

Squaredance Video Game App

You merge like color balls stuck inside containers of various shapes and sizes by shaking the containers (swiping left, right, up, or down). If you can merge all like color balls together, you clear the level. Simple, right? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Squaredance plays like a sliding tile puzzle game, except that you can get the puzzle into an unwinnable state and that’s what breeds frustration.

Sliding tile puzzle games allow you to play your way out of bad situations, while Squaredance stops you dead in your tracks. Fortunately, the game lets you know when you’ve played yourself into a corner. Unfortunately, this happens more often than not. I enjoyed Squaredance in small doses. I’m not sure if it’s worthy of non-stop play, but hey, if you like puzzle games (sliding tile puzzle games in particular), Squaredance is solid.

Give-It-Up-2

Give It Up! 2

Give It Up! 2 is another simple concept game with an addictive quality. You play as an inkblot bouncing on a series of trampolines, avoiding obstacles. Your inkblot will jump from one trampoline to the next without you doing anything, but you need to tap your screen at the right time if you want it to make a bigger leap over spikes or up an incline. Like I said, it’s a simple concept but like Squaredance, it’s not easy.

I don’t know if my reaction time wasn’t good enough or you have to slap your screen (I missed several jumps when I could see the obstacles far in advance), but Give It Up! 2 has some issues with its controls. It doesn’t screw up often but it’s enough for me to mention it; some controls will be wonky. It deploys endless play, which is fine, but checkpoints can be difficult to reach and most games, as you try to find the right timing, you’ll find yourself starting at the beginning of the same track, so the game play can get repetitive fast. If you stick with it long enough and learn the timing, Give It Up! 2 gets interesting and it’s well worth it.

I enjoyed Give It Up! 2. It reminds me of a bare bones Patapon. I’m not sure if it stays in my collection, but it’s good for a quick play.

SoccerHitApp

Soccer Hit

I like soccer. I played soccer when I was younger. Heck, I’m named after a former United States national soccer team player: Kyle Rote Jr.. I wanted to like Soccer Hit, but it’s not soccer, not even on a cursory level.

Your only strategy—yes, only strategy—is to avoid controlling the ball. You want your opponent to have the ball and slide tackle them. Players don’t get up after you slide tackle them, so you have a clear path to the goal if you manage to slide tackle everyone on the opposing team. Perhaps I’m biased, but it’s insulting to the athletes who play the game to make a video game that insinuates that soccer players never get up after they get hit. Sure, soccer players have a reputation of being floppers but it’s a difficult game and the players are tough.

Okay. My rant’s over. Let’s get to Soccer Hit’s gameplay. In a word it’s unintuitive. Dribbling is either impossible or too difficult; yet another reason to not control the ball. You can’t position your players, or at least not well, when you have ball control. Instead, you pass or shoot the ball by sliding your finger in the opposite direction of where you want to kick. Like I said, unintuitive.

Half the time my shots or passes fly the opposite way I want them to go. Even when you can commit the controls to memory—and that’s hard to train your brain to think that way—you’re still playing hot potato with the ball because slide tackles always take down a player.

Soccer Hit is borderline unplayable. I won almost all the games I played (once I figured out the controls) but those victories were hollow. The only thing positive I can say about Soccer Hit is that the name’s spot on. You’re playing a soccer-inspired game and you hit people. For me this game’s a hard pass.

Tennis Bits

Tennis Bits

I’m not as into tennis as I am soccer, but it’s Wimbledon time and it makes sense to review Tennis Bits. It’s an easy to learn, casual tennis game. If you’re looking for an in-depth tennis simulator (there are plenty of them out there), look elsewhere. But for what it is Tennis Bits is surprisingly strong.

Yes. It has the trappings of a free-to-play game. You earn in-game currency to purchase character upgrades, new players, and apparel. But Tennis Bits is fun and oddly rewarding when you finish a long rally: win or lose. Unlike Soccer Hit, Tennis Bits boils down what makes tennis a sport and turns it into something accessible for a wider audience.

The cute characters don’t hurt either. I chuckled when I unlocked a headband and played this game a lot longer than I care to admit. The controls are solid, but I had a few issues figuring out how to return a serve and volley. Positioning accounts for a lot in tennis and Tennis Bits doesn’t have the best tutorial. Still, it’s an easy game to pick up with some skills you can master to take your game to a higher level and it’s a lot of fun.

I’m not sure if Tennis Bits will remain in my permanent collection but it earns some play time if you’re a tennis fan who wants to play a quick match or if you have a Wimbledon itch that needs scratching.

That’s another week of free video games. I hope you enjoyed it, and until next we meet, thanks for reading.