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Saturday Specials: That’s Special Edition

Rating 4.00 out of 5
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Okay, I’ll freely admit that I’m running out of titles already (actually, I think I ran out after the first installment).  But hey, it’s the reviews that matter, and not the title of the article, right?  Anyway, this is another mish-mash week.  These games really have nothing in common, and they range from freemium to not so free.  The one thing they do all share, however, is my stamp of approval.  Did they want that?  Probably not, but I gave it to them anyway.  First up…

Dragon’s Lair

Dragon’s Lair.  Since its release in 1983 and subsequent port to many different home systems, I think I’ve owned the game for at least 3 different systems.  Amazingly, I never get tired of playing through the game.  For those who may not actually be familiar with this piece of video game history, you play the unwitting hero Dirk The Daring, who must rescue the fair Princess Daphne from the clutches of the evil dragon Singe.  The game plays out through a series of traditional hand animated sequences, and at key moments you must direct the action simply by pressing one of 5 buttons – up, down, left, right and sword.  If you press the wrong button, or press the button at the wrong time, chaos ensues and you’re treated to an often humorous death scene.  If you prevail you move on to the next scene.

Most people find this lack of true control frustrating, but I find it unique and different.  It’s like you’re the director of a Saturday morning cartoon, and that’s a feeling you can’t even quite capture with cell shading in a 3D environment (though Dragon’s Lair 3D did quite a remarkable job).  There are Arcade and Home versions included with the iPhone incarnation of the game, and personally I prefer the Home version.  Home follows a more traditional route where dying just puts you back at the beginning of the current section of the game you were in, whereas the arcade version, which I believe has less scenes, compensates by randomly placing you somewhere when you die.  In the Arcade version you really have no idea how far along in the game you are.  In both versions I was disappointed to see that they took out the concept of lives, as it makes the game a lot easier to beat.

Wacked In The Head, Yeah, Yeah

Wacked In The Head, Yeah, Yeah

After more than 25 years this is still one of the best looking games in existence.  3D is cool, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s a certain magic when it comes to fine traditional animation that no computer can top.  The characters are so well designed, and Dirk’s facial expressions make him one of the greatest bumbling heroes in the gaming world.  The only real negative to the way the game is constructed is that the way the death scenes are interjected looks tacky, and often they seem like they have been cut off before they can finish.  The sound effects only enhance the majesty of the cartoon world.  It would be interesting to hear Dirk speak, but his silence other than grunts, groans and shrieks actually makes the character more whimsical.  There is some outstanding music that plays during the menu, but I’m guess that’s an “after the fact” thing because the game itself is silent in that regards.  Interestingly, I never really noticed that before.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m rather fond of this game.  Even after having played it to death on a couple of other systems, it’s still one of the best iPhone games I’ve played recently.  It’s certainly not for everyone due to its limited control scheme, but if you’re a fan, you’re nostalgic, or you’re open to new gaming experiences, you really should give this one a try.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Pet Shop Girl

I don’t normally review lite versions of games, but I liked this one enough (and didn’t realize it was a lite version when I downloaded it), that I decided to talk about it briefly anyway.  The premise is that you decide you want to open a pet shop, and you borrow the capital to buy the shop from your uncle, who happens to be a pirate.  You either have to earn enough money to pay your uncle back the booty you borrowed from him, or you’ll be doomed to sail with him for the rest of your life.  What I like about this game is that it’s a combination of match 3 and time management, which I’ve seen in other match 3 games before to an extent, but I think Pet Shop Girl takes it to the next level.

Crabs, Horses and Koalas, Oh My!

Crabs, Horses and Koalas, Oh My!

As customers come into the store they will request an animal that they want to buy.  You must match three or more of that animal to make a sale.  As long as the animals are touching, they don’t have to be in a straight line (though no diagonals are allowed).  If you match more than 3 you can actually make additional money on the sale.  Upgrades allow you to get pets that make more money and “power ups” that do things like raise the happiness level of clients or make an automatic sale when it comes down to the wire.  You can also make matches outside of sales that will fill up stars, and you can use stars to unlock additional locations for buying pets and power ups.  You only get 11 days with the free version, but you can upgrade to unlimited days for $1.99 or unlimited plus a bonus unlockable location for $2.99.

The graphics are cute, but what do you expect from a game with a playing board full of fuzzy little pets?  The character drawings are pretty good too, though the patrons don’t quite have the personalities you’d expect from time management clients.  Sound effects are okay, but again lacking a bit in personality. I am impressed with the music.  Certainly not the best an iPhone game has to offer, but there are at least two or three different tunes that get swapped around during game play, and that’s pretty unusual for this type of game.

Overall, Pet Shop Girl is a nice mix of time management and match 3.  I haven’t taken the plunge yet to purchase the full version, but I think I will pretty soon.  I’ve played through the 11 level demo twice now and it was just as fun the second time around.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Hoggy

One of my biggest complaints about the gaming scene on the iPhone is that there aren’t enough platform games.  This one has actually been around for a while, and I’ve finally gotten around to playing it.  I should have checked it out a lot sooner.  You play Hoggy, a purple blob whose girlfriend has been captured.  To rescue her you must conquer worlds contained within 45 jars scattered around the main catacomb of rooms.  The caveat is that Hoggy eschews the traditional “run and jump” mechanism of most platformers.  Instead, while you can move Hoggy left and right, the only way to move up and down is to change Hoggy’s direction of gravity!  Tapping the screen will cause him to flip his position up or down.

To collect the key in a given world you must eat all the fruit in that level.  There will be plenty of critters around to try and stop you.  Touching any of them will cause you to die and restart the level, unless you are in block mode.  There are times where you’ll have to use creatures to solve puzzles, though.  There are also items that will transform you into a brick, which will help you break through certain barriers.  And there are plenty of other elements to help you solve puzzles as well.  The nice thing is that while challenging, most of the worlds are pretty short, so it’s not too much of a burden having to play them several times before beating them.

Make The Platforms Disappear

Make The Platforms Disappear

The graphics have a definite Super Mario Bros. feel about them.  The main character is really cute, especially when he’s chomping down on fruit or sweating it because he’s too close to the edge of a cliff (not that he can fall off or anything).  The characters as a whole are well animated.  My favorite animation, though, is when Hoggy gets hit by a critter and splats into the screen.  The sound effects are pretty cutsie as well, but it all works together to provide a fun atmosphere.  The music has a NES / SNES quality to it, and is quite enjoyable.

Hoggy is a fun little platform game, where every level is a puzzle to solve.  I love that they’ve done something other than the standard jump and run mechanics, and the graphics and sound are light hearted and amusing.  For seasoned veterans the game might be a bit simple, but it should provide a sufficient amount of challenge for the average player.  It’s definitely been worth my while.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Next week might actually have a theme – it all depends.  I’m still waiting for one of the games that’s supposed to go into the article, so if I don’t get it in time I’ll have to come up with something else.  Doesn’t the mystery just give you chills?

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