After being in rigorous beta testing across multiple countries since July, Activision and Tencent’s Call of Duty: Mobile is go for iOS and Android devices everywhere but mainland China, Vietnam, and Belgium. Battle across recognizable maps, fight as iconic heroes like Ghost and Soap, and participate in a battle royale the likes of which you’ve probably seen before.
It’s free to play; it’s mobile; it’s what a console Call of Duty might look like if people weren’t so down on microtransactions and loot boxes. They really should have subtitled it “Mobile Warfare.” Beneath the icon in the iTunes search results it says “Visceral Multiplayer!” which sounds like a thing Call of Duty players are keen on.
The game runs in landscape mode instead of portrait (wide instead of tall), which was a great decision, Mario Kart Tour. The gameplay isn’t too shabby. It looks nice on my iPhone XR. It’s all aiming and auto-firing, but it works well on a small touchscreen
The focus is on progression, with new gear unlocked as players climb the ranks and access new loadout slots. Weapons have experience levels as well, with better mods and attachments unlocked at higher levels. There’s a store filled with cosmetic stuff to purchase and play with, daily login bonuses, special events—basically plenty of things to clutter up its nice-looking home screen.
Players can purchase in-game currency with real cash to help them make their soldier and weapons look all pretty. There’s a “Cash Back” event going on right now that involves getting bonuses for purchasing currency and makes me feel like I am trying to finance a car every time I load up the game. This is Activision and Tencent, so expect plenty of ridiculous things to buy and ways to buy them.
As for the Battle Royale, it supports up to 100 players, pulls together map locations from across many different Call of Duty games, and isn’t unlocked until level 7, which might take me a while. You’ll probably get there first. Let me know how it is.
Styled after Nintendo’s new Switch Lite, the 8BitDo Lite is a controller so ultra-portable that it’s got two directional pads instead of analog sticks to keep it as thin as possible.
The 8BitDo Lite features all the functionality of a full-sized Nintendo Switch controller, only instead of analog sticks, it has D-pads. That means these should take the place of analog sticks, perfect for games that don’t actually have analog control anyway (and probably not the best for those that do). Unlike the Switch Lite itself, the D-pad isn’t replacing the four-button array on the left side, which is still there. It’s a weird-looking controller for sure.
Though obviously designed to match the more colorful variations of the Switch Lite, the $25 controllers, available for preorder now and shipping October 30, also work with PC, MacOS, Android, and more, with a switch on top that swaps between Switch and Xbox-compatible functionality They connect via USB-C cable or Bluetooth, and they feature a programmable turbo function, in case one needs a button to be pressed repeatedly in rapid fashion.
It looks weird, but also pretty damn cool. I can’t look at pictures of these for too long without the overwhelming urge to bite into them. I’m thinking the turquoise tastes like spearmint.
And the yellow one probably tastes like lemon meltaway candy.
Another possible outcome is they both probably taste like plastic. Even so, I am curious to test the accessibility of those R2 and L2 buttons, situated as they are along the top of the controller instead of behind the triggers or on the back.
Consider me intrigued. I own a couple of 8BitDo controllers for my Analogue retro Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles, and they have yet to let me down. Looking forward to getting my large hands on these odd-yet-pretty things later this year.
Mario Kart Tour is a fine racing game. The graphics are lovely. The simple touch controls are fine once you get used to them. It’s overflowing with colorful Nintendo brand polish. Mario Kart Tour is also a free-to-play game with a microtransaction-fueled gacha collection mechanic and game options and rewards locked behind a paid monthly subscription. If that second part doesn’t bother you, you might have a good time with Nintendo’s latest mobile game.
“Nintendo games still don’t feel right on mobile,” wrote Gita Jackson in late 2017, commenting on the strange dissonance felt while playing games like Fire Emblem Heroes, Super Mario Run, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp after years playing the deeper console games in those series. Two years later, after Dr. Mario World and now Mario Kart Tour, and that dissonance remains. Games we’ve spent years playing on Nintendo consoles feel weird on phones and tablets. Especially when a game like Mario Kart gets turned on its side.
In part, I mean that literally. What an odd choice, taking a game we’re used to playing in landscape mode and making it portrait. The narrow screen makes it more difficult to see competitors coming up alongside your racer. It’s not a great view on my iPad. It’s even worse on my skinnier iPhone. Having played the game for a couple of hours now, I still feel the urge to turn the whole thing around in my hands.
I’m used to holding down the accelerator button as I race through Mario Kart tracks. That’s not what happens in Mario Kart Tour. Karts move forward automatically. All I have to do is tap left or right to steer (there’s a gyroscope steering option but it’s rubbish). It takes a while to get a feel for how and when to start drifting, and different kart models have their own handling profiles, but after four or five races it’s not bad.
As alien as Mario Kart Tour can feel at first, it’s not really the gameplay or screen orientation that makes it feel like the awkward cousin of a proper Mario Kart game. It’s the structure. It’s collecting stars awarded for achieving high scores in races to unlock new circuits. It’s tracks where certain racers have distinct advantages over others. Musician Mario, one of the special racers available during the game’s New York City-themed opening event, has a special power that grants him two Bob-ombs instead of one when he collects that power-up. Looking at his racer page, we can see which courses grant him three items per power-up box.
Certain racers having a distinct advantage over others in certain situations isn’t great. The game’s gacha feature, in which players can spend in-game currency for a chance to unlock rare racers, means that players who pay more have a better chance at having the right racer, kart, and glider combo to get maximum bonus points on any course they play. That’s verging on pay-to-win, even though there’s no real-time multiplayer in the game—currently, players race against computer-controlled ghosts with real players’ names attached to them.
Mario Kart Tour isn’t quite as greedy as it was during beta. The test version of the game Ethan Gach played earlier this year had a stamina/energy meter, one of the most obnoxious free-to-play mechanics, as well as premium currency called green gems that offered players better rewards the more they purchased. The launch version of the game lets you play all you want. The green gems are now rubies, and doesn’t seem to reward you for buying more of them. Instead, there’s a $4.99 monthly Gold Pass subscription that grants players better rewards for completing races (including extra rubies), exclusive vehicles and equipment, and access to more challenging 200cc races.
Is an optional monthly subscription better than earning rewards for buying currency? Not really. Especially when Mario Kart Tour launched just days after Apple Arcade, a subscription service with more than 70 high-quality, microtransaction-free games for the same $4.99 price. Apple Arcade is mobile gaming without all the bullshit. Mario Kart Tour is a Nintendo game with a big extra helping of bullshit.
According to app data website Apptopia, Mario Kart Tour shattered launch-day records yesterday, with more than 10.1 million installs across iOS and Android devices. The idea of a free Nintendo mobile game is an attractive prospect for many, many people. I wonder how long that will last.
Nintendo’s latest free-to-play mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, launches tomorrow on iOS and Android. Every two weeks the nickley, dimey racer will test players in tours, special races inspired by real-world locations. The first destination is New York, New York, where players can earn Musician Mario and Super Mario Odyssey Pauline as playable racers.
New York City, huh? Kind of the obvious place to kick off a world tour, but the course looks nice and the racers even nicer. Mario is decked out in a jazzy sort of suit.
While Pauline should probably be wearing a helmet or something.
The New York announcement comes courtesy of the first installment of the official Mario Kart Tour News. It’s hosted by Lakitu. You know, the jerk who drops stuff on your head in proper Mario games. This Lakitu is particularly charming, but he doesn’t fool me.
Gram Games’ Merge Dragons is a very popular free-to-pay mobile game about combining three things into better things and spending money on dragon gems. Merge Magic, out today on iOS and Android, is a new game about combining three new things into better new things and spending money on magic gems.
It has new art, new challenges, a fancy garden to decorate, and the possibility of running into evil witches, all wrapped around the same incredibly compelling merge mechanic that makes my wife stare at her phone for hours on end and kept our editor-in-chief occupied for a couple of weeks before he snapped out of it. Combining plants and statues and eggs into better plants and statues and eggs is oddly exciting. It’s what made Zynga buy Gram Games last year. Remember Zynga?
I’ve fiddled about with Merge Magic for about an hour this morning, turning plants into other plants and lifting the curse that keeps my garden from looking as pretty as it possibly could. I’m concerned about my cursed garden and ready to match more things to make it less cursed. You should probably run. Fast. No, faster than that.
Konami quietly announced a new Castlevania game at the Tokyo Game Show last week, called Grimoire of Souls. Before you get too excited, you might want to check out the trailer first.
It’s coming to phones and phones only, and while it features appearances by series favourites like Simon Belmont and Alucard, it also looks like a DeviantArt user took a Castlevania IV screenshot and painted over it.
Grimoire of Souls is coming to both iOS and Android.
Which came first, the name Hamsterdam or the game Hamsterdam? However Muse Games came up with the name for this charming tap-and-swipe beat-em up, it fits. Once little Pimm starts doling out the beatdowns, it’s like, “Damn, hamster.”
Released earlier this month for iOS, Android, Switch, and PC, Hamsterdam is a story of sweet revenge. When the vile Chinchilla Marlo and his gang of thugs kidnap his grandfather and start terrorizing the town, tiny fighter Pimm steps up. He scurries from stage to stage, taking out rodent thugs with rhythmic combinations of punches, kicks, and counters.
A single button or tap of the screen causes Pimm to attack. As Pimm punches and kicks, a circle expands around him. Hitting the attack button at the right time charges a KO meter at the bottom of the screen. When the KO meter fills, Pimm can target one of the on-screen enemies with a devastating blow. As enemies attack, players flick their analog stick or swipe towards them to counter. Should they block, holding down the attack button activates Pimm’s charge attack, breaking the bad guys’ defense.
It’s a simple fighting system that works well. When all of the elements come together during a stage—countering enemies, finding the rhythm of attacks, nailing the quicktime events that occasionally trigger during intense battles—it’s super satisfying.
Built with portable devices in mind, Hamsterdam has the structure of a mobile game. Players guide Pimm through numbered levels, each featuring a set selection of enemies to defeat and special objectives to complete. Boss battles in each stage mix up the action, tasking Pimm with dodging bombs and waiting for openings or driving a tiny hamster car while avoiding projectiles. Each level lasts a couple of minutes, so it’s the perfect game to squeeze into the cracks of the day.
Hamsterdam does not, however, have the economics of a mobile game. There are no microtransactions. It’s $1.99 on Google Play and iTunes, $7.99 on Steam, and $9.99 on Switch. That’s it. There’s an in-game store where players can purchase special hats, jackets, glasses, and gloves for Pimm, but the currency can only be earned by playing.
There’s something endearing about adorable cartoon characters doling out brutal justice. It’s the contrast between soft and cuddly and hard and dangerous. I was worried my enjoyment of Hamsterdam wouldn’t extend beyond the clever name, but the game’s kept me entertained long after the novelty of the punny title faded.
Editor’s note: In case you’re wondering, The game has nothing to do with The Wire.
Barely a year after launching in the West, free-to-play mobile RPG Star Ocean: Anamnesis is shutting down. Players have until November 5 to finish collecting characters before Square Enix pulls the plug.
Star Ocean V was not good. Instead of Star Ocean VI, we got Star Ocean: Anamnesis, a mobile gacha game in which players collect characters and form fighting squads. Switching focus to mobile made fans sad, but the mobile game wasn’t too bad. Just not good enough to continue. Square Enix announced the impending closure today via the game’s official Twitter.
In-app purchases are now disabled. Gems, the game’s premium currency, will be usable until the end of service, after which they’ll disappear forever. Hopefully, the next time we see the Star Ocean name pop up, it’ll be a return to greatness instead of a short-lived flash in the pan.
Subscriptions are all the rage, and it’s easy to see why. Everyone loves a “buffet” model for content—see Netflix, et al—where you can just pay a single reasonable monthly fee for unlimited access to a body of stuff you’re interested in, be it documentaries, 90s-era TV shows, or (now) apps.
You’ll soon be able to subscribe to major services from Apple and Google, which will let you pay a single monthly fee to access lots of apps that would normally cost you money to buy or subscribe to individually. And these services—at least, Apple’s so far—will also let you play games that you won’t find on competing smartphone platforms.
Neither Apple nor Google have spilled the full details of their services yet. (Heck, Google is just starting to test its own offering, Google Play Pass.) With the smartphone wars getting ready to heat up again this fall, both offerings are incredibly compelling reasons to pick one platform over the other. But which do you go with? Let’s examine everything we know about these subscription services so far:
When Apple Arcade debuts—possibly alongside the expected September release of iOS 13, but potentially as late as November—it’ll (obviously) be geared for games, not apps.
Apple hasn’t announced pricing for the service, but I’d expect eager gamers will have to cough up at least $10 monthly for the pass. That’s comparable to what Apple charges for Apple News+, and it would put the subscription service right in the middle of competing entertainment services like the slightly more expensive Netflix; Google’s Statia streaming service and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service (just for consoles); or the slightly discounted Hulu, Disney+, or PlayStation Now services.
Since Apple is big on services nowadays, as they represent roughly twenty percent of the company’s revenue and offering some slight relief for slowing iPhone sales, a $10 monthly subscription fee feels right. Any higher, and I’m not sure an overwhelming number of gamers will be very inclined to pay $15 for smartphone games—no matter how interesting or exclusive they are—when they can have a more compelling subscription service in front of their TVs.
Similarly, I doubt you’ll see this service priced at $5; Apple wants more revenue than that, and it also wants to establish Apple Arcade as a premium product. From a marketing standpoint, a mere five bucks a month doesn’t make the service appear all that fancy, even if it would be a great deal for smartphone gamers.
Above all else, the most compelling reason to pick up Apple Arcade—beyond the list of games, which I’ll get to in a second—is that these titles will be free of bullshit mechanics like in-app purchases to bypass progress, annoying timers that gate your gameplay, or irritating video advertising. If you’re tired of seeing these in every title you play, maybe $10 a month (or whatever) doesn’t sound so bad after all, especially when game developers start designing exclusively for this kind of a setup instead of stripping free-to-play titles of annoyances and relanching them in Apple Arcade.
As for the games themselves, here’s the list of Apple Arcade titles the company has confirmed so far, courtesy of Macworld:
Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree
Beyond a Steel Sky
Down in Bermuda
Enter The Construct
Frogger in Toy Town
Kings of the Castle
No Way Home
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm
Projection: First Light
Sayonara Wild Hearts
The Artful Escape
The Bradwell Conspiracy
UFO on Tape: First Contact
Where Cards Fall
There’s no word yet on which ones are exclusive titles, if any. And this isn’t the final list, either; expect to see around 100 games or so arrive with Apple Arcade’s official launch.
Google Play Pass
We just heard that Google started testing its own app subscription service today, so we’re still ironing out all of the details. First, and most importantly, note the use of the word “app” instead of “game.” That’s intentional, as Google Play Pass will give you access to a lot more than just games on your device. According to Google’s description of the service, which a tester sent along to Android Police:
“Explore a curated catalog spanning puzzle games to premium music apps and everything in between. From action hits to puzzles and fitness trackers, with Google Play Pass you unlock access to hundreds of premium apps and games without ads, download fees or in-app purchases”
While we don’t have a full list of apps or games on the service, or even the ones Google is initially testing, a cursory look at some of the app icons in Android Police’s screenshots indicates that Google appears to be unlocking access to titles you can already find within Google Play: games like Stardew Valley, Terraria, and Monument Valley, for example.
These are also all titles that also exist on iOS, so it appears that Google is focusing a little less on the exclusivity of its subscription service. I would still expect Google to have some Android- or Play-Pass-only apps and games to entice people to sign up. At the very least, I’m sure there will be some exclusive deal or two that brings an incredibly popular app under Google Pass (crossing my fingers for Spotify, even though that’ll never happen).
As for the price, Google’s early test lists the Play Pass at a mere $5/month—an incredible value that basically means you’re paying the equivalent of one high-quality app or game a month for access to a lot, lot more. That feels like a reasonable purchase for most people. Heck, that’s one-and-a-half Stardew Valleys (a game you will already sink way too many hours into if you get hooked).
That’s not saying that Google (or Apple) charging $10/month for a subscription service would be out of the question. The actual difference between $5 and $10 a month is minimal—just another coffee—but the perception of that difference is huge. I know I’d be a lot more amenable to paying $5 for a subscription service that grants me full access to apps and games without any IAPs, advertising, or other annoyances.
Consider waiting on these services before you make that next big smartphone purchase
Were I on the fence about going Android or Apple for my next smartphone, Google’s cheaper subscription service could be a pretty compelling argument to hop over to a new Samsung or the upcoming Pixel 4. If you’re a big gamer, though, the exclusivity of Apple’s Arcade could be similarly enticing.
Can we make up your mind for you? Likely not. I’d definitely make it a point to check on the status of both services before I pick up a new smartphone this fall. And I would even recommend postponing that purchase to see if a competing platform’s subscription service offers a killer deal for your favorite apps or the games you’re most interested in playing.
The battle for your subscription dollars is just starting up. Unless you’re a loyalist to Android or iOS, you should wait until the dust clears a little bit before you pick a side—you might be able to save some serious cash for your apps and games, even with that monthly subscription fee.
As I’ve recently put on record here, I think Tokaido is the best digital board game. Its stay at the top might be short-lived, though, because Raiders of the North Sea, out this week on PC, Switch and mobile, is very good.
I reviewed the board game last year, and loved it; it’s since become one of my all-time favourites, a regular on my crew’s rotation to the point we’ve now got all the expansions and even a fancy game mat. All of which I’m saying to make this clear: I am starting these impressions from a position where I’m already a very big fan of the game.
Even taking that into account, though, this is still a terrific adaptation. Like Tokaido, it’s just the right kind of game for this type of conversion, complex enough that it has a world and characters to bring to life, simple enough that it’s perfect for putting on your phone and killing 20 minutes with when the opportunity arises.
And like Tokaido, it’s a game where the primary challenge is against the game’s design and systems rather than direct interaction, so you’re not missing too much by competing against an AI rather than a human opponent.
The best thing Raiders has going for it, though, is simply the quality of the adaptation. The worst board game conversions are lazy ones, that simply recreate the tabletop experience and do little more (Terraforming Mars’ recent outing being a big offender), and the second-worst are those where even if a bit of effort has been put into the adaptation, the board game was simply not suited to the particular strengths (and weaknesses) of a video game platform in the first place.
I’ve already explained how Raiders gets past the latter issue, and the former is taken care of with a beautiful digital conversion of Mihajlo Dimitrievski’s iconic series art, which brings the game’s coastal map to life with moving ships, animated sieges and flowing water.
Wait, what’s this game about again?
Raiders of the North Sea is a simple but elegant worker placement game, where the objective is to gather crew and provisions in your home region before setting out to raid the surrounding countryside. It’s played by putting a worker down on a building to perform its action, then picking up a different worker to perform a second action. That’s it, that’s literally all you do, and it’s great.
Perhaps to make the whole package seem a bit more video gamey, Raiders has added a campaign mode, something the board game original doesn’t have. It’s nothing big, so don’t expect cinematic cutscenes or 3D action sequences. Instead it gives you ten missions that mess with the core game’s rules, giving you challenges like playing on a smaller map or adjusting the worth and scarcity of certain resources. Like I said, it’s nothing major, but for experienced players (or those looking for a bridge between the tutorial and a full game) it’s a fun little addition.
I’d imagine the bulk of player’s experience though will simply be playing sessions in the main, full game. Since I’ve already reviewed it I’m not going to go over it again, but what I will say is that controlling Raiders couldn’t be simpler. You just drag a meeple to drop it, then you drag one off the map to pick it up, while the UI governing your hand of cards, crew, resources and the overall state of the game is fast, clear and smart.
I’ve been playing both the PC and Android versions and, while the PC edition is fine, it’s also more expensive than the mobile editions, which play better anyway since dragging your finger across the screen is quicker and easier than dragging a mouse cursor. The nature of the game, and its quick-save capabilities, also lend themselves more to a mobile experience than setting in for a session on a desktop.
I’m going to give Tokaido some time at the top—both to see this game’s staying power, and whether Tokaido’s long-coming Crossroads expansion ever makes it to mobile—but for now Raiders is mounting a serious challenge as one of the best mobile board games out there.