Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Feature Friday #14 - Gravity Lab!

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


First impressions are tough. So are second impressions. Sometimes you can immediately get a sense of what you’re walking into, other times not so much. That first line is an example of the latter, so is Gravity Lab, the game I’ve been playing this week. At its core this is just a three-star physics puzzler, but it’s also much more than that, and also a little less… Sorry, very confusing, I’ll explain. 

Visually, Gravity Lab is stunning. It’s really high quality 3D animation, and uses the Unity Engine as well as any game I’ve seen. Seriously, the opening cutscene instantly made me like this game (great first impression!). Then I started playing, and immediately wanted to go back and watch the cutscene a few more times. The first dozen or so levels of this game are absolutely… unimpressive. In fact almost the entire first Lab did nothing to differentiate itself from Angry Birds or the scores of other physics puzzlers out there, besides having really nice graphics (that would be a bad second impression…). Whether it was the graphics, my curiosity, or just the fact that I’d sat down to play this game and wanted to give it more than a couple minutes, I kept playing. It's a good thing too, because when I did, I found something pretty great. 
Oooohhh pretty...
I still wouldn’t say that Gravity Lab revolutionizes gaming or even the physics puzzler, but it certainly has enough going for it to keep me occupied, the problem is that it took quite a while getting there. The game has you drag and shoot a little robot named Steve around a zero-G space, hitting blocks and collecting stars. Steve can’t touch the stars or he zooms away, but the blocks nab the pointy little things and are your keys to success. The levels get interesting when the blocks start changing their gravitational pulls and outside forces like portals and trampolines are thrown into the mix. 

I blew through the entire first Lab in one train ride, needing more than one try on just a handful of the first 30 levels, and feeling largely unsatisfied. In fact, it took until the very end of the opening Lab to find any challenging puzzles at all. As I said earlier, this changed over time and I’ve since found myself stuck on levels for frustratingly long, but I believe the lag in getting to this step could be a major turnoff to less patient players. It seems the developers weighted the quantity of levels over the quality, but may have miscalculated. 

The decision to back-load the better (and more challenging) levels is a curious one, but it’s almost certainly an impact of the developers’ larger plan for the game. As a free-to-play title, Gravity Lab utilizes one of my favorite monetization methods: selling additional content. You can play the entire game for free if you go start to finish, or you can pay $3.99 to unlock later Labs, extra levels, and a whole bonus game. This is certainly an explanation for the boring levels being first - the developers are tempting you into paying if you like the overall gameplay, but are craving more of a challenge. It also allows both paying and non-paying users to have the experience they want with the game, and even stays away from that gross pay-to-win label. Buying all the levels will also allow you to play Gravity Lab offline, a uniquely shrewd feature unavailable to non-paying customers.
I will say that after getting to the bonus levels I was a little underwhelmed, but that’s not as negative as it may seem. The chase to unlock the bonus stages was such a challenge in itself that unless the prizes were phenomenal it wouldn’t really compare. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, but that does say how much I enjoyed nearly perfecting the game in the process. There are both bonus levels and a completely separate bonus game. The levels feature both green stars - which only Steve, not the blocks, can capture - and red stars - which can't be touched at all - and several different kinds of challenges. The bonus game, meanwhile, is essentially an endless runner mode (okay, it’s not technically endless, but I don’t think I’ve made it more than a quarter way through, so it might as well be) that’s been the hardest thing so far. You can buy extra lives and continues for the bonus game, serving as the only IAP other than the level unlock and plenty of hats.

Overall, this is a really good game that makes a great first impression visually, and a really so-so first play through. If you can make it past the first twenty or so levels you’ll really like Gravity Lab, and if you can’t, well there’s still the tutorial to watch over and over. Even ignoring the first chunk of levels which you should fly through, the game provides a lot of depth and a fair amount of replayability, and it’s definitely worth a look. 


Gravity Lab is available for free on both iOS and Android. You can also get it on BlackBerry World for $0.99, making it two weeks in a row that I’ve played a game that’s actually available on a platform other than iOS and Android, so that’s cool. 

Josh Dombro Community Manager

Friday, June 6, 2014

Feature Friday # 13 - Worm Run

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


I feel like my last two posts have been fairly negative, so with June starting I’m turning over a new leaf. Great timing too, because the game I’m playing this week is awesome. That game is called Worm Run, and it’s an endless running/jumping/flying platformer that flat out crushes everything it sets out to. I’ve discussed endless runners before (and probably will again), but I don’t know that any of them have been as complete as Worm Run

The comparisons to Jetpack Joyride can’t be missed, nor should they. Halfbrick created one of the best endless-whatevers, and I don’t think I’m assuming too much in saying the game had some influence on Worm Run (you’re flying a jetpack after all…). That doesn’t take anything away from Worm Run, though, and in fact makes it even more impressive, since it improves on pretty much every aspect of an already great game. Instead of autorunning and only maintaining the character’s elevation in a control scheme that hasn’t changed since the early days of Flash, Worm Run puts you in total directional control of your doomed little flyer, apparently named Zeke. You can run forward and backwards as well as control your flying with directional swipes. I think the coolest part of all is that you have to constantly swipe to keep your speed up, turning games into a flurry of thumb-flying action. 

Worm Run is fast and really fun, and would be a pretty sweet platformer game on it’s own, where it takes an extra huge step, but also stumbles a little, is the chase. On an ever-changing map littered with Grubies (from the developer’s name - Golden Ruby), navigating the spikes, lava pits, and other sources of imminent demise would be something of a challenge, but there’s of course the titular worm to deal with first. Everything about your enemy is perfect - its looks amazing, completely contrasted by both color and size against the background and runner, and moves in a way that optimizes both difficulty and fairness, while remaining visually interesting and physiologically accurate. The worm is able to chew through the platforms which stall Zeke, but is also forced to wind its way around the edges instead of cutting corners - this makes certain areas mad dashes but buys you time other places. 

It’s true that these controls are better than almost anything I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. The omni-directional movement is a little loose, and I swear there have been times that I’ve hit a gap only to be bounced off because my swipe wasn’t interpreted as I intended. This happens in plenty of games, but it's particularly frustrating when you’re trying to constantly avoid imminent destruction and have just a split second to outrun a giant evil worm. But I digress, if my sole complaint is that occasionally this game feels a little too hard, there isn’t really much to complain about. 

Worm Run is great, and has been for a while, seeing as it was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in December 2012. This is noteworthy, as only 35% of Kickstarter games are successfully funded, lower even than the 44% success rate for all projects (full data here). This doesn’t mean that all games are hopeless or that Worm Run is one of a kind, but there are certain things developers looking for crowdfunding can do, and Golden Ruby did enough of them right.

In fact, the developers did just about everything right, and made a really incredible game. I thought I’d seen it all from endless runners, but this isn’t just an endless runner. Simply put, Worm Run is a very well made game that looks great and plays even better. It very much allows for pick-up-and-play gaming, but has enough depth to keep you playing for quite a while. Stop reading, start playing it now.


Worm Run is available on Android and iOS for $0.99, and Windows phone for an even more ghastly $1.49! While free-to-play is nearly universal in the endless-whatever genre, the quality here really warrants the price tag if you’re at all a fan of these games. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Art Direction in Video Games - A roadmap for finishing your projects

These notes were inspired by the idea that it's difficult (near impossible?) to complete art for a game. The challenge is keeping the team inspired while working against deadlines, disagreements & lulls of creativity. 
  • Commit to a vision: If you have the luxury of time on your hands, create a style guide before other artists join the project. This forces you to actually think about what it is that you are doing and trying to accomplish, visually. Strive for consistency and clarity in style, shape, size, line, color, perspective and anatomy. Sell the team and yourself on the gestalt and the fiction of the game. Sounds daunting? Here’s a trick to take the pressure off; If you’re still trying to figure things out, schedule it in to your daily routine. Dedicate an hour at the end of each day for a week to reflect, curate, itemize and resolve your work. You will be left with the beginnings of an elegantly compiled style guide. 
  • Alignment in vision: Aim for each artist to have a clear understanding of what the game should look like. Distribute the style guide and have an open forum to discuss the visual direction that has been chosen and why. Hold art "town hall" meetings to get realtime feedback from the team about the overall look and feel of the project. Great ideas tend to be presented by team members when asked for feedback on artistic decisions that have already been made. Remember that alignment in vision is a living process. It involves many opinions and may never be fully realized. Aspire to give artists a visual and mental starting point rather than having them start with an intimidating blank canvas.
  • Play to strengths: Amidst a hectic production schedule, where artists may feel less inspired, enabling them to do what they do best can significantly increase engagement. If an artist excels at sketching, then allow them to focus on that skill. If they show an interest in other artistic areas, such as painting, work out a tactical plan to exercise that skill. For example, dedicate 90% of their time towards what they do best, and allow 10% for skill development. Keep your team strong and flexible.
  • Chunks, not bites: Rather than having artists complete daily isolated tasks, think of their contribution to the team in terms of chunks of work. Aim for significant outcomes from each artist. Let them know how their work fits in to the big picture and benefit's the project. Taking ownership of a large portion of work is empowering and acts as motivation through the daily grind.
  • Keep things moving: More is lost through indecision than wrong decision. Aim for rapid iteration. Avoid getting caught up in the beauty of just one image. When it feels right, move on to what needs more attention.
  • Celebrate the milestones: Show that deadlines matter. Successful delivery is something to celebrate. This could take the form of a presentation of all the work done by the team in a meeting or on a visual board. Let them take a step back, see how it all came together and appreciate it.  A round of applause goes a long way.
  • Work is for the game: Remind yourself and others that the work you are doing is for the game. It is dangerous to fall in love with an isolated idea only to have it be misaligned with the overall direction of the project. Check-in with the Design and Product teams frequently to make sure you’re staying on track.
  • Play the game! Each artist should be playing the game that they are building. If it is too early on and a build is unavailable, the Art Lead/Director should understand enough about the game to describe it in detail to the team. The artists should know the context for which they are creating art. Inspire them with a written synopsis and reference images that capture the spirit of the project. Daily interactions with the Game Design & Product team also provides a healthy dose of inspiration. Immerse your team in the theme of the project. Artwork should not be done in a vacuum.
Obviously not every single point will apply to all teams and all artists, nor is this list entirely comprehensive. The important thing is to create a roadmap like this one for yourself, with what's best for you and your team. If you're planning ahead and doing what you set out to, you'll be just fine.

- Ricky Baba
Art Director, Kiwi, Inc.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Feature Friday #12 - Guide The Light

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


Mobile gaming has changed immeasurably since Apple opened its App Store almost six years ago. It seems that with each new year we’ve seen several different paradigms that take the platform in a direction, only to be shifted again by the next trend. It’s been the features that don’t dictate gameplay, but provide value across genres that have prevailed while other gimmicks faded away. These are things like Game Center achievements, friendly and encouraging character animations (even if they don’t have anything to do with actual game itself), and an emphasis away from actual story, opting instead for a common theme to hold the game together (think Temple Run - they never even explain why you’re running from those Demon Monkeys...). All of these aim to provide depth to a game, while simplifying the actual gameplay into the ever popular bite-sized pieces mobile gamers seem to crave. Sometimes, though, it backfires. Guide The Light is a pretty good puzzle game that gets in its own way with features like the ones listed above. 

At its essence, Guide The Light has you use mirrors to connect different colored beams from one point to another. Of course there are intricacies and special abilities to make this more complex and challenging, plus a few that nearly ruin the whole experience (more on this later), but that’s the premise. It’d be perfectly fine if they kept it like that, but the developers decided to add in the aforementioned “staples” of mobile games. The Game Center achievements basically amount to “You solved this puzzle” and most of the animations serve only to slow down the game. I suppose I appreciate that there’s some kind of theme to it all - you’re trying to recover jewels from the pyramid, and various traps are set to put an untimely end to your expedition, or something like that - but my attention to detail (or lack thereof) shows the overall relevance to the game itself. I don’t feel a need to belabor this point, so I’ll leave it as this: if you’ve made a good game, don’t feel that you need to put gimmicky features in it just because everyone else does. 
I've achieved so much!
For my next point, let’s handle the good game aspect. Guide The Light is a good game, but not a great game. In addition to the mobile features it shoehorned in, later levels have some really annoying aspects that detract more from the game than they add. Guide The Light has depth - 50 levels total - and most of the advanced items succeed in making the game challenging, in the right way. Boxes that produce multiple colors, double-sided mirrors, and motion-activated walls all force you to get creative when solving later puzzles. On the other hand, booby-trapped barrels and walls, plus creeping spikes and crawling spiders lead to constantly restarting the level, and slow the game down to a crawl. It’s true that I wouldn’t have reached these misguided challenges if I hadn’t enjoyed the ones I played first, but that doesn’t change the fact that these end up making incredibly more frustrating. 

Another feature to help me through the tough times was the Vision Crystal, the once-per-fifteen-minute get out of jail free card. Yes, set on a 15 minute timer (which you can pay to remove), you’re allowed to watch a video depicting exactly how to beat the level you’re currently stuck on. I’m torn because although it’s easy to detest the pay-to-win strategy, I appreciate the relief in skipping some of the levels that drove me equally crazy. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like the developer is acknowledging the game’s faults and weighing them against the users’ inherent distaste for cheap monetization tactics. True, the solutions are probably online somewhere, but this leaves a weird taste in my mouth at the very least. Despite my compaining, I’d imagine anyone looking to get something out of the game will use this feature sparingly, making it more of an irritant than a real concern. 
Dun, dun, dun!
It might be hard to believe, but through all this I mostly enjoyed playing Guide The Light. As I said earlier, the criticisms all come from getting too far into the game and being subsequently disappointed that the later stages didn’t live up to initial (high) standards. For a puzzle game, it’s solid, if not spectacular. As a story-based adventure, on the other hand, it falls completely flat. If there’s a lesson to be pulled from Guide The Light, it’s do one thing well, not several things okay. 


Guide The Light was developed by Phasic Labs and published by AppyNation. The game is only available on iOS, and goes for $0.99. It's a pretty good purchase for a while, and if you're into colorful and tricky puzzles, is definitely worth a buck. There's also a free version, so you can check the game out before you buy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Feature Friday #11 - X Invasion 2

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


Everyone talks about the good ol’ days. The air was fresher, the grass was greener, games were more fun and they didn't ask you for money (you know, except for that big ol’ price tag on the front). There are a lot of good older games, granted. There were also a lot of really bad games and just kind of okay games that gamers in 2014 would never put up with. I won’t name names, but I’ll say that I’ve played some “classic” NES and SNES-era games in the last year or so that made me question a lot about my childhood… Presumably in an effort to recoup the past, developers have added increasingly more “old school cool” devices to their modern games, some good, some not so good. This week I played a game that found a way to do both, simultaneously impressing and infuriating me. That game is the flying, jet-fighting, bomb-dropping, alien defending simulator X Invasion 2

Everyone Jonesing for their 90’s or early-2000’s fix can find solace in X Invasion 2’s old school graphics and sound effects. The game screams retro - pew pew pew! (yes, those are actually the sounds of ships firing) - and hits the mark pretty well. It’s level-based and does a great job stretching the tutorial over the first half-dozen or so levels, showing all the aspects of gameplay without dumbing it down too much. The developers at Viderea, Inc. did some really great, untraditional things with the level design and that did a lot to keep the game fresh. I’ve played plenty of jet-fighting games, and most consist of the same few elements: flying, shooting, upgrading your plane, then flying and shooting some more. X Invasion 2 has most of these, but notably leaves out the whole upgrade-and-buy-new-planes aspect. The lack of this RPG element is bittersweet for me - I like that they’re trying something new rather than relying on traditionally successful models, but I think they chose the wrong feature to leave out. 
Come on, this was great!

I love that there’s an order to the levels, and consequently, that the game dictates which plane you’ll be using. I like that they simplified things and took the choice out of the users’ hands. I don’t even mind that they ommitted one of my favorite features - upgrading your ships and weapons - which also happens to add depth to the game. Where I think they missed the mark is in not allowing for any kind of progression or improvement. I didn’t notice this for a while, I was just going through the campaign, struggling a bit, but generally passing levels after no more than a few tries. Then came level 15…  

I don’t have a problem with difficult games or seemingly impossible levels as long as there’s a way to improve your chances of success. As may have realized by now, X Invasion 2 left this out, intentionally or not, and as a result I still haven’t beaten level 15. Ah the good ol’ days, when you’d get stuck on a level and be left with three options: 

  1. Pressing on, sometimes indefinitely. This offered a sense of satisfaction in eventually overcoming the challenge, but at the risk of going insane and diminishing your overall enjoyment in the game. Whether the game allowed grinding until you could improve your character enough to pass the challenge, or simply playing for so many hours that you’d exhausted every possible way to fail, this rarely felt wholly good at the end of it all. 
  2. Cutting and running, or “Do you value your sanity and your time more than your pride?”
  3. Buying your way to the finish (what we now call pay-to-win). Back before the internet and free-to-play, the shame of admitting defeat lasted much longer than the satisfaction of advancing in the game (when applicable).
I had no idea they still made strategy guides...

Now it could just be me (though I really doubt it isn’t), but I’d like a few more choices. I think that one thing modern gaming has done really well is fend off this stagnation and give users a chance to keep playing without going insane. Sure, plenty of games exploit this too, relying on the aforementioned pay-to-win, or finding other ways to soullessly eat money and/or patience from their players, but there are plenty of ways to do this the right way too. X Invasion 2 has an Arcade Mode, and that’s a good start, but I’d really like a way to get past level 15 at this point without diluting the game with an easier setting or the ability to buy progress directly. This lack of observable improvement is disheartening, and if I hadn’t been trying to make a point with this article, I probably would’ve stopped playing long ago. 

This used to fly a lot better in past decades, but there are at least two legitimate reasons for that. First, games were much less prevalent than they are now, so your choices were pretty much grind your way through this game, or don’t play video games. How long did you spend trying to beat Street Fighter II for the first time on SNES? There were no (acceptable) cheat codes or powerups that would help you win - success relied on improving your reflexes, anticipation, and strategy. It’s largely the same argument for X Invasion 2, but that’s exactly my point. If you couldn’t beat Street Fighter and decided to give up, you could play Mortal Kombat or… well that was about it for consoles. Sick of X Invasion 2? Here are dozens of other games just like it that you might have better odds with. 

The other argument for sticking with a game goes much deeper into the psyche. Sunk cost fallacy and loss aversion are two extremely human conditions that thoroughly describe why people have done things they don’t like for a long, long time. It can basically be summed up as:
People don’t like feeling that they’ve wasted something, particularly money, so they’re more willing to suffer through that something they’ve invested in (i.e. a bad game) than something else they’ve gotten for free
Since so many mobile games today (including X Invasion 2) are free to download, and therefore represent virtually no loss, users are significantly more fickle, and developers must work harder to keep them. Enter modern monetization tactics and pick-up-and-play game styles popular in mobile gaming today, and the rest is history. 

All this doesn’t negate the good, innovative things that X Invasion 2 does. Its accelerometer works as well as any I’ve seen, and the devs came up with a cool control-firing system that uses two hands in a non-awkward way, while actually improving gameplay. Firing is on the left, speed is controlled by sliding up or down on the right, altitude depends on the angle of your device. It’s that simple, and it works really well. Another small thing that I really liked, X Invasion 2 is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, not some anonymous terrain-less fictional world. While most of the map looks like Google Maps from about 2001 (hey I said the graphics were old school...), they built up notable landmarks around SF - Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, I think even Town Hall - and you can even take pictures of them while flying around in Tour Mode. 

All that said, X Invasion 2 is a pretty fun game, for a while. I had a lot of fun exploring different level types, and I thought the night vision, cloaked, and bombing levels were really impressive. Eventually though the game burnt itself out by not providing a way to improve or advance, and left me little regret when I stopped playing for good. The developers had a great start, and if they continue to update it, this could be a lot more than a niche flying game with some fun levels. Let’s hope they do.


If you’re looking for an old-school flying game that’s going to beat you up a few times, X Invasion 2 is awesome. The devs did a lot of fun things, and I really enjoyed playing this game for a while. Multiple game modes provide some longevity, but ultimately not as much as I would’ve liked. Still, if you want a good way to spend a few days this is definitely worth checking out. It’s available on iOS for free and does contain banner ads, but no IAP. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Stories from GDC

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is a great place to hear about what is happening in the gaming industry. As a writer, I was most interested in the narrative track, and I sat in on 7 different talks about Narrative in Games. I’ve listed my favorite highlights from three of them below. 

Video Game Rx: Narrative as Therapy 
Kim Shashoua (Researcher, Therapist (MsWi)) 

I came into this talk not sure what to expect, but Ms. Shashoua was a great speaker, and had some very interesting things to say about therapy in games. Ms. Shashoua discussed games as both active and passive therapy to players. I really enjoyed her discussion on how game companies can be more active by understanding how their games affect those who might have a mental illness. She broke it down into Virtual Narrative Therapy (education on dealing with emotional and mental problems), Passive Narrative Effects (see description below), and Active Skill Acquisition (purposely giving the player tasks that can be used in life). 

One of the topics I found the most interesting was: 

“Passive Narrative Effects: 
Repetition leads to learning. The more you see something the more you expect it in everyday life. 
Minorities are not the only ones who benefits from seeing different types of characters in games. Games can cause problems when expectations don’t match reality.”

When someone only sees a subgroup of people in a stereotyped fashion, when they interact in life they will fall back on the stereotype when dealing with people. If they see people in various different roles and attitudes, they are more likely to be opened minded about the new type of person that they meet. One example the speaker gave was a young man who only sees a specific type of helpless female in games, will become ingrained with the idea that all women are helpless. 

Mobile Game Storytelling Lessons 
Erik Marcisak, Sr. (Narrative Design - Eidos Montreal) http://www.marcisak.com/index.htm

This talk went over lessons learned in mobile game play that could also be used for all video games. Mr. Marcisak discussed that in mobile it was imperative to keep everything concise, and how that now makes him a better writer for all games. There were three things to keep in mind when writing dialogue. 

“When writing dialogue for Mobile it’s good to keep in mind three things: 
1. Clicks: How often a player needs to click to get through the dialogue (Lower is better). 
2. Meat: The important stuff that the player must know. 
3. Fat: Words around the important information.”

Knowing how to strip the fat to fit dialogue to a tiny screen can really improve a writer’s ability to find the important parts of every conversation. 

Love/Hate Relationships: New Approaches to Romantic Relationships
Chris Dahlen http://savetherobot.com/

Mr. Dahlen discussed how to change up the way we deal with relationships in video games. Right now, in many games there is a single scale that will go up and down, but doesn’t allow for different types of interaction. 

He wanted to use Romantic Comedies as the basis for a multiscale chart for dealing with relationships in games. The player is allowed to mess up the relationship, but they can still end up with the other person as long as they are trying. The characters can be flawed, and the relationship will still work.  

The Other Talks:
User Responses to Narrative-Driven Games
Fasih Sayin, PhD (Producer/Game Systems Designer, Crytek) 

It's Not in the Writer's Manual: A Q&A Session for New Writers
Chris Avellone (Creative Director, Obsidian Entertainment), Vander Caballero (Creative Director, Minority Media), Toiya Kristen Finley (Narrative Designer/Game Writer and Consultant, Schnoodle Media, LLC), Elizabeth LaPensee (Game Designer and Researcher, Independent), Jill Murray (Director of Narrative Design, Ubisoft), Jonathon Myers (CEO & Creative Director, Reactive Studios)

Making Storytelling a Fundamental part of the Gameplay Experience 
Thomas Grip - Creative Director, Fictional Games

Fewer Tifas and More Sephiroths? Male Sexualization in Games
Michelle Clough  http://michelle-clough.com/

- Trisha Huang
Game Writer, Kiwi, Inc.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Feature Friday #10 - Elements War

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


At first glance, Elements War looks like your typical mobile game - it’s got great graphics and utilizes the smartphone’s touchscreen. Sure, there’s a bit of the Bubble Bobble feeling, given that the game runs on colored orbs, but other than that, nothing nostalgic about it. Not long into the game, actually the first time you fail a level, the game hits you with the Old School: “Continue?” Okay, Elements War doesn’t use this exact word, but it charges soft currency, the game's only currency, to keep playing. Now before you grab your torch and pitchfork, take a second to think how this differs from decades of arcade games and pinball machines (I’ll give you a hint, it doesn’t)…  

I get the counterargument: this game costs $0.99 up front, how dare the developers charge for more? Aside from the fact that it’s pretty hard to make a living selling things at a dollar apiece, this is a blanket statement that doesn’t pay any attention to the game itself. In a week of playing Elements War I haven’t once been even tempted to buy more Gold. The game’s economy is very well-balanced, and there are several things to do while you earn more spending power. The game is broken into Story Mode and Chaos Mode, as I often do, I began with the Story. This is a bit of a misnomer, there’s no actual story, but this phase of the game progresses in stages and levels. Story Mode features 80 total levels, broken into 8 worlds, each representing a checkpoint. Fail at Level 1-1? Start over. Move on, but fail at 1-2? Here’s the fun part. You’re given the choice of starting over from 1-1, paying 50 Gold to start the level over, or paying 100 Gold to get one more shot from where you failed.

Pretty cool, right? Instead of making the decision to autosave after all the levels or none, the game puts the choice in your hands. How much are you willing to spend to keep your progress? Elements War forces you to put your next quarter on the machine or step away. Except that it doesn’t… 

Not only can you choose to start the world over if you’re out of Gold or simply elect to hold onto it, you can also head right over to Chaos Mode. This is the arcade-style, never-ending gameplay that serves as a great way to wrack up Gold while getting used to all the titular elements, even if you haven’t unlocked them in Story Mode. That may be a little confusing, let me explain the game a bit because it’s actually pretty great. 

You control elements (duh) - fire, ice, electricity, etc. - and your job is to pop these little colored bubbles. Sounds simple, is relatively simple, but also surprisingly satisfying and at times extremely challenging. Each world introduces a new element, and each element has its own feel and abilities. Their common feature is that the element continues a chain reaction after making contact or popping a bubble (this varies by element), making it possible to destroy dozens of bubbles, even bosses, with no more than 3 tries. Oh yeah, there are bosses. This is cool, at the end of each world there’s a new boss, and the last world is nothing but big guys. These are as varied as the elements, and take different strategies to wipe out - some reincarnate, others split into clones, some just take a ton of damage to pop - all are really tough. 

The game does a lot of other little things really well, and a few things not so well, or at least a little confusingly. The sound effects are really fun - popping the bubbles sounds a little like jingle bells exploding, this is weirdly pleasant - and Elements War lets your music override the game’s sound. Also, as well as the game’s economy is balanced, they still confirm every single time you buy a continue. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve played that don’t do this, instead snatching my patience along with bits of IAP. 

Where the game has let me down a bit is the UI and timing of things. Every time you beat a level you have to wait while it tallies your points and score to date. The timing and responsiveness of the Restart button could also use some serious work. These seem like minor complaints, and they are, but when you end up playing the first level of a world a couple dozen times, the seconds add up. More importantly, it just feels sloppy in an otherwise highly-polished game. I’ll also say that Elements War seems too reliant on luck or chance. The gameplay focuses on chain reactions, but in my experience, physics and strategy only get you part of the way there. Lastly, Game Center integration would seem to be an obvious feature of a game like this, but Elements War lacks any sort of leaderboard at all. This is a curious omission that would seem fairly easy to resolve in future updates, I’ll keep an eye on it… 

Despite a couple really minor flaws and equally negligible complaints, Elements War is a really solid game. It uses an old school mechanic in a really non-slimy way and absolutely crushes the arcade feel. This kind of decision won’t work for every game, but these developers went forward by looking back, and made something totally rad, bro. 


Oh yeah, those developers… Elements War was developed by WYN Soft and is available on both iOS and Android for $0.99. The dollar price point might turn some people off, but I can’t overstate the fact that that’s all you’ll ever need to spend, and the game is really pretty fun. The devs have also promised to add more levels, if and when you beat Story Mode, so there should be more value for your purchase if you stick around. Even as it is currently, Chaos Mode provides a lot of replayability and really makes this game a keeper. 

Josh Dombro Community Manager