App Review: Minecraft – Pocket Edition

While Minecraft is an amazing success story on the PC, this iOS version is stripped of a fair bit of what makes the original game so successful. Users can build structures until their hearts are content, but there’s no challenge for them to face. The monsters are gone, as is the ability to mine and craft items. It’s akin to being invited to a party, but walking into an empty building. If you haven’t tried the game, this isn’t the way to be introduced to it. If you have, you’d still have to be a massive fan to enjoy this version as it stands now. Hopefully, as the build progresses, there will be more to do — especially at this high price.

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App Review: Snoopy’s Street Fair

Snoopy’s Street Fair is positively charming and does a good job of utilizing the familiar Peanuts characters to create a fun, simple simulation that can engage players of all ages. It also boasts lots of extras, like collectible cartoon strips that never get old. However, the fun qualities are quickly overshadowed by the game’s aggressive way of encouraging players to buy in-game currency at high real-world prices. It’s quickly obvious that this is an app that’s much more concerned with separating you from your money than it is about providing enjoyable memories. It also encourages you to recruit friends from Facebook or Game Center to join you as you play.

This ponzi scheme-like marketing is old hat in the world of Facebook games — and has even been done before in the app store — but being nickel-and-dimed every time you start to have fun quickly can take the wind out of your sails.

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App Review: Mage Gauntlet

Imitating the style of a 15- to 20-year-old game is a risky bet these days, but Rocketcat Games nails it with Mage Gauntlet. From the artwork to the storyline to the levels, this feels like something that could have come from the mid-1990s — and that’s meant as a compliment.

There’s plenty of action (almost too much), plenty of loot, and a nice selection of magic spells to choose from. The story (which is much longer than you’d expect) is deliberately silly, but quickly hooks you. It does sometimes feel like you’re on a treadmill while playing, though. But played in short doses, this is an RPG that you’ll find yourself returning to regularly.

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App Review: Monkonomix

Attempting something new in the dropping puzzle genre is certainly admirable — and Monkonomix has the gem (pun somewhat intended) of a good idea, but it falls short on execution. Barely legible onscreen text and the lack of a clear objective and tutorial in the early levels throws the player in the deep end without any solid idea of what they’re supposed to so. An onscreen question mark pulls up a help screen, but even that information is less than crystal clear.

The game’s attempts at humor are hit and miss. The attitude of the main character is one that might alienate some parents and seems out of place with the otherwise family friendly puzzle game. Should the developers go back and rework how players are introduced to the game, this might be worth your while — but as it stands now, it’s an easy pass.

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App Review: Infinity Blade II

It would have been easy for Chair Entertainment to simply rest on its laurels with Infinity Blade II. The first game, after all, was a smash hit. And while there is a certain sense of sameness with this sequel, there are also new role-playing elements that make it feel less like a treadmill. The game is once again a graphical tour de force and still caters well to the quick-play philosophy that iOS gamers embrace. Unfortunately, some of the original game’s weaknesses remain. Though there are a number of weapons and spells at your disposal, there’s not a lot of variety in the battles, which makes long sessions with the game sometimes feel a bit repetitive (though not nearly as fast as the original).

Ultimately, that doesn’t drag down the game, though. Like its predecessor, this is an app that is great looking and a fun action title, broken into digestible segments that keep it from getting frustrating. And the added emphasis on story, while at times confusing, is a nice new touch.

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Game Review: Carnival Island

The Midway makes a smooth transition to the PlayStation 3 in Carnival Island, with some familiar favorite games as well as modern spins on them to make them a bit more lively. The game is incredibly upbeat, which is a nice change of pace, but it’s also a lot of fun for both kids and adults, making it a great family gaming choice. Instructions are spoken aloud, so kids who can’t read still know what to do if they play by themselves, also. While it’s easy to play for long stretches, adults might find the games to be a bit repetitive, even with the variations, but kids won’t be able to get enough.

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App Review: A Charlie Brown Christmas

While the nostalgia wave and smart release timing are likely to give A Charlie Brown Christmas a boost, don’t let that distract you from the truly wonderful nature of this app adaptation of the familiar television special. Narrated by Peter Robbins, the original voice of Charlie Brown, and featuring innumerable voice clips from the show, it’s a faithful retelling of the story and certain to charm both children and parents who remember it from their own childhood.

Beyond the story itself, there are plenty of extras, like the chance to decorate your own Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Word and note highlighting serve as educational prompts to children as they peruse the text and play with Schroeder’s piano. And touching illustrations on screen make them spring to life. It might start a bit slow, but by the time you get to the familiar Peanuts theme, you’ll find yourself smiling.

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App Review: Hardest Game Ever – 0.02s PRO

The smartest thing the developers of Hardest Game Ever – 0.02s PRO did in making the game was give the player an infinite number of chances. You’ll need them, but you won’t mind, since the series of mini-games the app presents are both fun and addicting. That’s not to say they’re easy, though — by any means. It may not be the actual “hardest game ever,” but it is demanding, and that’s the heart of its charm. Replaying the games again and again doesn’t really get old. It’s a terrific time killer for people who only have a few moments to play.

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Game Review: uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition

uDraw Pictionary: Ultimate Edition is a faithful video game recreation of the classic game and creates a modern twist on family game night. While drawing with the uDraw tablet peripheral isn’t as natural — or as fast — as drawing on paper, it adds a twist to the game that many players will enjoy. It’s certainly better than using the controls on a typical game device — even the Wii.

The game offers several gameplay modes to cater to a wide audience and stays true to its family roots by offering different difficulty levels of clues for kids. Some of the wacky things that can happen in the harder Pictionary Mania mode include the lights going out as you draw, the drawing surface rotating, and you are given a limited to the amount of ink to use. The game’s biggest failing, though unavoidable, is that clues appear on the TV screen. Some players might be tempted to sneak a peak while others have their eyes closed. And in a game whose fun lies in guessing and bad drawings, that could spoil some of the fun. If you and your family can resist that, though, this is one of the most family friendly titles on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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App Review: Zombieville USA 2

If you’re looking for a plot-driven zombie game, Zombieville USA 2 isn’t it. If, however, you’re looking for a straightforward battle against hordes of the undead, it’s right up your alley. The violence in the game is nonstop, but cartoonish — almost cute. And the selection of weapons is refreshingly wide. What’s best about the game is there’s no set way to play. You can storm into the thick of battle, guns blazing, or spend most of the level’s allotted time running away.

Especially noteworthy is the game’s cooperative play mode (via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), which makes it a social app. And kudos to the developers for bypassing the easy in-app purchase route, forcing players to earn their upgrades.

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