Tag Archives: iOS

1935: Brave Frontier: Pete’s Completely Unofficial and Possibly Inaccurate FAQ

I like writing guides, as I’ve discussed before, so instead of making some “hilarious” walkthrough of my tedious daily routine as I’ve done in the past, I thought I’d write something actually useful to someone: a guide on what I’ve learned about the game Brave Frontier, which I’ve talked a little about recently, and which isn’t entirely forthcoming with all the information you might need to get the most out of it during play. Without further ado, then.

What is this game?

Brave Frontier is a free-to-play mobile RPG from Alim and Gumi. It’s available for both iOS and Android devices. There’s a linear story to follow, but it’s mostly a game about collecting and upgrading “units” — various heroic characters and monsters whom you can recruit into your team, level up and evolve into more advanced forms of themselves.

Do I have to pay to play?

Brave Frontier has an energy system that depletes as you take your party on quests, with later quests or those with larger, more significant rewards costing more energy to take on. If you have insufficient remaining energy to take on a quest, you can either use a “gem” to restore it completely to its maximum level, or wait for it to regenerate at the rate of roughly one point per three minutes. As you level up, you’ll gradually gain more maximum energy; one point every few levels, and a more significant jump every five levels.

Gems are also used for “rare summons” — immediately acquiring units of higher rarity levels — and restoring the separate, much shorter energy bar for the player-vs-player Arena mode.

Depending on how casually you play, you’ll probably find there is no need to pay for gems — especially in the early levels, when you level up quite quickly and your energy bar is fully restored on each level-up.

How do I get gems?

You can pay for them, but you also get one free every so often; specifically, for completing an entire area in the main story campaign, sometimes as a daily login bonus reward if you play for several days in succession, sometimes as a “Brave Points” bonus for earning points by completing daily objectives.

How do I get units?

There are three ways of acquiring new units:

1) Receiving them as a drop from a quest. With the exception of daily and special event dungeons, these are usually very low rarity units.

2) Acquiring them through “Honor Points”. You receive honor points when you borrow another player’s character to fill the sixth slot in your party, with 5 points awarded if they’re a stranger and 10 points if they’re on your friends list. You’ll also receive honor points when other people borrow your character to use in their party in the same way. 100 honor points equates to one “free” summon, but again, these tend to be quite low rarity for the most part. It’s usually best to save up your honor points until there’s a special promotion on promising specific units you wouldn’t normally be able to get through these means; the game will make you aware of this when it’s available.

3) Acquiring them using gems. 5 gems equates to one “rare” summon, which will net you a unit of three-star (“Rare”) or higher rarity. These units will probably form the backbone of your party, but note their “cost” value; when building your party, the total cost of all the units you use cannot exceed your current cost cap. Cost cap increases with your player level alongside your maximum energy.

How do I make units better?

There are three things you need to do to improve a unit: level it up, level up its Brave Burst, and evolve it.

Levelling it up requires you to “fuse” it with other units. Each unit fused to the base unit gives you a particular amount of experience based on what it is, with slightly more experience being given if its elemental type matches that of the base unit. More valuable, rarer units are worth more experience. The most experience can be acquired from units that drop in the “Metal Parade” dungeon in the Vortex Gate; keys to unlock this are issued in the Administration Office in Imperial Capital Randall every weekday except Wednesday, so be sure to go and pick them up as often as possible. Note that when you unlock it, the Metal Parade only stays open for an hour, so only unlock it when you have enough energy to make the most of it!

Levelling up a unit’s Brave Burst — its unique special move — relies a little more on randomness than standard levelling. A unit has ten levels of Brave Burst, with some more powerful and rarer units able to acquire a Super and Ultimate Brave Burst after this. To level up a Brave Burst, perform fusion, and look for material units that say “BB UP?” or “BB UP!” on them. “BB UP?” units give a small chance of levelling up the base unit’s Brave Burst when fused, while “BB UP!” units will guarantee an increase in Brave Burst. Generally speaking, units that are appropriate to use for levelling up a Brave Burst can be identified by the type of Brave Burst they use. Healer units require other healers to level up their Brave Burst, for example, while attacking units require other units with offensive Brave Bursts.

Evolving a unit is the process you perform when a unit reaches its level cap. The level cap is determined by the number of stars the unit has, or its rarity. Three-star units have a level cap of 40, for example, while five-star units can be levelled to 80. Note that there’s a “Zel” (currency) cost every time you perform fusion, and this gets more expensive the higher level a unit is. There’s also a Zel fee to pay at evolution time.

To evolve a unit, you must collect the required additional units. These are usually found in the Tuesday daily dungeons in the Vortex Gate. For lower-rarity units, you’ll need Nymphs; as you progress through the tiers, you’ll need Spirits, Idols, Totems, Pots and Mecha Gods. Initially you won’t know exactly what evolution materials are required for a unit, but once you’ve encountered or acquired the units in question once, they’ll be revealed for your reference. Refer to the Brave Frontier Wiki to find the specific units you need if you get stuck.

Keep an eye out for special units such as Frogs — these provide significant, one-off bonuses when fused without requiring a level-up. Some increase attack power, some defense, some recovery power, some HP. Some even open up a second slot for equipping Spheres.

How should I build my party?

It depends how much effort you want to put in. I use a single standard setup for everything I do; it has a mix of different elemental types, a healer unit, a unit who can boost the acquisition of Brave Burst crystals during battle and a unit that can boost attack power. This is good for most situations.

The main quest is split into dungeons that tend to be centred around a single elemental type, so if you want to optimise your party you may wish to build a full party of each elemental type, then choose the appropriate complementary element to the enemies you’re facing. Remember, elemental weaknesses are a one-way circle for the most part: fire beats earth beats lightning beats water beats fire (and so on). Dark and light have a reciprocal relationship, meanwhile; they both beat each other.

Special events and daily dungeons are often more challenging than the main quest, so you’ll want to bring along your best units for these. For the Metal Parade, you’ll want to bring units that hit a lot of times, since the most damage you can do to a Metal unit with a single hit is 1 point.

Pay attention to the unit you choose as Leader, too. Not only do you get the benefit of their Leader skill, which is usually a passive buff of some description, this will also be the unit you loan to other players. In other words, you want your Leader unit to be as attractive as possible (stats-wise or, if you’re feeling shallow, the prettiest girl) to encourage people to use it and provide you with Honor Points.

Note that different instances of the same unit can have different “types”, so be sure to pick one that you’ll find the most effective. “Lord” type units are balanced. “Anima” type units gain more HP than usual when levelling up. “Breaker” type units gain more attack power than usual. “Guardian” type units gain more defense power than usual. “Oracle” type units gain more recovery power than usual.

How do I fight?

Fighting is a simple case of tapping the unit’s status bar to cause it to attack; there’s no need to wait for one unit to finish its turn before triggering another one, either. In fact, if more than one unit hits something at the same time, a “Spark” is triggered, increasing the amount of damage by a significant amount.

After all your units have taken a turn, you’ll receive Brave Crystals (BC) and Heart Crystals (HC). The former are randomly distributed throughout your party and increase their Brave Burst gauge. The latter are likewise randomly distributed and restore hit points. After this is done, the enemy gets a turn. Note than many enemies — particularly bosses — have more than one action per turn, some of which can hit your whole party at once.

You can use items to turn the tide of battle; remember to acquire these from the Town before you leave, and use them before triggering any attacks, since you can only use them at the start of your turn.

Use Brave Bursts wisely. Although you get a bonus to the amount of BC and HC dropped if you “overkill” an enemy, there’s little sense in unloading everyone’s BB on a single fairy. If you can dispatch a group with normal attacks, do so and save your BB for larger groups or bosses. Also make sure you familiarise yourself with your units’ Brave Bursts before you get into battle; not all of them are offensive in nature!

How do I level up quickly?

Remember you level up separately from your units. Benefits of levelling yourself up include a higher energy cap, a higher “cost” cap (allowing you to include more, rarer units in your party) and a full restoration of your energy bar and arena orbs.

You get experience for every “Quest” you complete, whether it’s in the main quest or the Vortex Gate. Vortex Gate quests are usually worth more experience than you’d usually get for that amount of energy spent in the main quest, but they’re often tougher — and you get nothing if your party is defeated before you beat the boss.

The fastest way to gain experience is with the weekly Karma dungeon on Mondays. Not only does this drop absolutely tons of Karma, a currency used for upgrading the Town and unlocking more effective equipment and consumable items, but also provides a significant amount of player experience. There are three “levels” of this dungeon; start at the bottom and work your way up. You will require some seriously powerful units to be able to defeat the boss at the end of the level 3 dungeon, so don’t jump in there unless you’re absolutely prepared.

How do I get more money?

Two ways. Firstly, there’s a weekly dungeon at the weekend that drops a lot of Zel. Secondly, every Wednesday you can pick up a Jewel Key from the administration office in Imperial Capital Randall. This can be used to unlock the Jewel Parade, which works in the same way as the Metal Parade: it stays open for an hour, after which you’ll need another key to get back in, so only open it up when you have the energy to use.

Jewel Parade drops Jewel-type units, which are completely useless for anything other than selling, so take full advantage of this. Acquire as many as you can before the Parade closes, then sell them off for vast profit.

How do I win in the Arena?

You don’t have direct control of your units in the Arena, so all you can do is make sure you send your best possible units for the job: it’s a good idea to have a healer unit of some description, as this can turn the tide of a battle in your favour. It’s also a very good idea to take units with powerful Brave Bursts that can attack the entire enemy party at once, and any units that can provide buffs or increases to BC drop rates are useful, too; generally speaking, whoever gets to Brave Burst first will usually be the victor so if you can push yourself into a position where that’s more likely to be you, you’ll be golden.

What do I do in the Town?

Three things: acquire raw materials, upgrade the town’s facilities, and buy/craft things. The Synthesis shop sells consumable items such as health potions and temporary buffs; remember to “equip” these to your hotbar before entering a difficult quest, as they will make a huge difference. The Sphere shop, meanwhile, allows you to create equippable items that either add special effects to your attacks or increase stats and resistances. Don’t neglect these; they can make an otherwise seemingly weak character into a valuable member of your party.

Should I play this game? It sounds stupid.

It is kind of stupid and ultimately fairly pointless — but if you’re someone who enjoys collecting things, making them fight other things and making on-screen numbers gradually get bigger over time, you’ll probably have at least a bit of fun with it. It has some lovely art and great music, too.

Can I add you as a friend?

Sure. Type in my ID — the easy-to-remember 9630492642 — and we’ll both get happy nice things to share.

Where can I find out more?

The Brave Frontier Wiki is a terrifyingly comprehensive resource of information for this game.

1931: Further Tales from the Frontier

Screenshot_2015-05-03-20-39-48I’m quite surprised that a free-to-play mobile game has managed to maintain my attention for over two weeks now: you may recall a short while back when I talked about Brave Frontier, and I’m still playing it today.

I think the reason it’s “working” for me is that I’m not attempting to make it the focus of my gaming life or anything, but it’s something enjoyable to do during brief moments of downtime — sitting on the bog, waiting for pasta water to boil, being unable to get to sleep, that sort of thing. It also helps that it’s a fairly solid game at its core, too; it’s not the deepest game in the world, but it has enough substance to keep it interesting in short bursts.

What I find curious about it is that it’s essentially Pokemon with all the fat trimmed off, and yet while Pokemon didn’t hold my attention at all across the three installments I’ve tried — Red, Gold and Y — Brave Frontier has managed to keep me interested, and I think it’s because of all the stuff that’s been trimmed out from the Pokemon formula.

Pokemon, to me, always feels like it’s not sure what it quite wants to be. It has the structure of a traditional RPG, but then the collectible, tradable and upgradeable aspect of a trading card game. It is arguably more widely renowned for its competitive metagame than anything significant it brings to the storytelling table, though it has managed to spawn a number of anime series and movies since it first burst onto the scene. The “JRPG” side of it and the “collectible monster battling” stuff always seem to be somewhat at odds with one another, and I think that’s what’s caused me to lose interest in them partway through every time I’ve tried.

Brave Frontier, meanwhile, focuses on the collectible battling side of things almost exclusively. There’s no exploration, no wandering around caves, just battles of various descriptions and, between those battles, upgrading your units to be more powerful, stronger and capable of taking on tougher opponents. It’s satisfying to build up a team that works together, whether you’ve been trying to go for a specific angle (all the same elemental type, for example, or perhaps a strongly defensive group that can survive against hard-hitting enemies) or whether you’ve been working with the hand you’ve been dealt, as I have been.

And the game presents you with interesting, meaningful choices to make every time you boot it up. I still dislike the use of “energy” bars in free-to-play games throttling your play sessions, but as I noted in my previous post about Brave Frontier, this game makes use of it as an interesting “risk/reward” mechanic by presenting you with the option to effectively “gamble” your potential play time against the possible rewards available.

You can spent small amounts of energy working your way through the “Quest” mode, which is a linear sequence of battles of gradually (very gradually) increasing difficulty tied together with a surprisingly not-that-bad, if cliche-tastic storyline. In doing so, you’ll acquire a selection of not-very-good units (that can be used as “fusion fodder” to upgrade various aspects of your actually-good units) along with the game’s currencies, and you’ll also get a decent amount of experience.

Screenshot_2015-05-04-20-25-02Conversely, the daily dungeons that pop up throughout the week each cost significantly more energy to participate in but offer their own unique special characteristics and greater, more predictable rewards — the Monday dungeon, for example, offers significantly greater amounts of experience points than usual, providing you with the ability to level up your “Summoner” character quite quickly, in turn increasing your energy stock and the amount of “Cost” points you’re allowed to spend on building your party; other dungeons throughout the week offer units that are required to “evolve” level-capped units to their next tier, large amounts of gold coins or various other rewards. Part of the thing that makes the game interesting is that you have to discover the value of each of these dungeons for yourself; it may not be immediately clear why you’d want to hunt down elemental idols, for example, but once you figure it out you’ll know that you need to check in on that particular day to get your hands on some.

There’s a certain amount of random-number generation (RNG) at work, of course, but as any MMO player will tell you, that’s sort of part of the fun in a perverse, masochistic sort of way: imagine how much more satisfying it is to acquire something you’ve been trying to hunt down for over a week rather than having it handed to you on a plate. It’s frustrating and annoying at times, sure — I’m currently in the aforementioned situation as I attempt to track down the last “Evolution unit” I need to upgrade my party member Selena into her next tier of power — but, as manipulative as it is, it keeps you coming back for another try.

Oh, and I’ve reached a stage now where my party is winning in the player-vs-player “Arena” significantly more than it loses now, which is satisfying to see. But then the game took me down a peg or two by throwing a boss at me that absolutely obliterated my entire party within a few turns. Time to get busy with the Fusion, I guess…

1921: Keeper of the Records

I’m not sure what’s inspired me to check out a few popular mobile games recently, but hot on the heels of Brave Frontier, which I talked a bit about the other day, I decided to take a peek at Square Enix’s newest attempt to make a free-to-play mobile Final Fantasy game after the absolutely atrocious Final Fantasy: All the Bravest.

Final Fantasy Record Keeper was initially a little offputting by its association with DeNA; my past experience with this company is that they churn out identikit free-to-play games — mostly of the “gacha” variety, where you randomly draw various things each day in the hope of collecting a complete set, and can pay more to get more draws — that tend to be devoid of gameplay, polish and indeed any reason to play them whatsoever.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to discover that Final Fantasy Record Keeper is actually a solid, interesting game in its own right. It’s not a narrative-heavy Final Fantasy game, mind, but it’s pretty up-front about this. What it instead provides is the “gacha”-style collecting mechanics that DeNA have so much experience with combined with some actual gameplay, with mechanics and everything.

The basic formula is pretty simple. Over the course of the game, you assemble a team of characters from past Final Fantasy games, reimagined in 16-bit era pixel art in the case of the more recent installments (VII onwards). You equip this team with “relics” (equipment) and abilities, then take them into a dungeon to work your way through a series of battles and eventually defeat a boss. There’s no exploration involved; a dungeon is simply a string of predefined enemy encounters, with each costing a particular amount of “stamina” to participate in, meaning that your play sessions are throttled after a particular amount of time and until either your stamina recharges or you pay up to immediately refill it.

This is pretty much business as usual for gacha-style games, but Record Keeper actually fleshes out the battles with something akin to Final Fantasy’s traditional “Active Time Battle” system, whereby battles are both turn-based and real-time at the same time: characters’ “time bars” gradually fill, and when they’re full, they can take an action. (In a twist on the original formula, somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII, they then have to charge the bar again before the action is actually performed.) While this is happening, enemies are making use of their abilities in the same way.

The battles are fairly straightforward, though the ability to exploit elemental weaknesses and challenge special objectives during boss fights makes things a bit more interesting than just tapping the “attack” button over and over again. Where things get interesting is in the customisation aspect, which is always the strongest part of any gacha-style game.

In Record Keeper, the things you “draw” each day (or exchange the game’s premium currency for) are the relics, not the characters. These items of equipment have set bonuses to various stats, and certain characters can only equip certain types of equipment. You can level up equipment by sacrificing unneeded items or specific upgrade materials, and when a piece of equipment reaches its level cap, you can combine it with another instance of the same item to buff it up to the next rarity level and then begin the levelling process all over again with a higher cap. Certain pieces of equipment also have special abilities attached to them, all of which are unique to particular characters and based on their iconic moves from their respective games.

Alongside this, the abilities your characters can use have to be crafted using orbs you find in battle. Each character can initially equip just two abilities, and initial abilities only have two uses, meaning you have to carefully think about whether you really need to use that ability when you’re in a dungeon, as they don’t recharge until you leave, are defeated or are victorious. Abilities can subsequently be upgraded using additional orbs, however, which makes them more effective and gives you more uses of them; they can also be swapped around between characters, too, so if you make changes to your lineup the newcomers don’t have to start with crap skills.

Alongside all of the above, you then have the makeup of your party to consider. Characters get large bonuses to their stats and experience points earned if they are from the game the dungeon you’re currently playing through is from — for example, Cloud is much more effective in Final Fantasy VII-themed dungeons, while Kain is much more effective in Final Fantasy IV-themed dungeons — but have certain restrictions on what abilities and equipment they can use. Level up an ability too much and you might find a favourite character is no longer able to use it, so you have to be a little bit careful and plan ahead.

Like Brave Frontier, I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick with the game, particularly as it appears to be devoid of any sort of social features and thus the incentive to compete against — or cooperate with — other people. For the moment, though, it’s an interesting “collection”-style, battle-centric RPG featuring characters and settings from a series I’m very fond of — though I’m a bit disappointed that, as usual, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV are ignored thanks to their “online game” status as opposed to the series’ more traditional single-player installments.

You can find out more about the game and get links to download it — it’s available for both iOS and Android devices — on its official website.

1915: Brave New Frontier

I’ve been out of the mobile gaming, umm, game for a while now because my stint working for the now-apparently-defunct Inside Network opened my eyes to the revolting realities of mobile free-to-play games and how people in suits and sneakers genuinely thought that games where you tap on something every two hours and then have to spend money were somehow innovative.

I’ve made no secret of my general distaste for this business model, but having left it alone for a little while, I’ve felt more able to come back and look at some of these games with a slightly less jaded pair of eyes. I looked at one called Valkyrie Crusade over on MoeGamer a while back a year or so ago and was surprised to find myself having a reasonably good time — though at the time of writing, I haven’t touched it for a few months now.

More recently, someone I follow on Twitter had been posting some screenshots and enthusiastic noises about a game called Brave Frontier (iOS, Android), so I decided to download it and give it a shot. It has an appealing, colourful art style with a combination of pixel art sprites and super-deformed chibi-esque character art, and promised to have a little more in the way of “gameplay” than many similar titles, most of which revolve largely around collecting “cards” and then tapping a “Continue” button repeatedly until you run out of energy or patience.

Brave Frontier isn’t massively different from this formula, but the simple addition of a bit of interactivity to the formula immediately makes it a more interesting, enjoyable game that is ideal for dipping into for a few minutes at a time while you’re on the toilet or waiting for public transport.

Here’s how it works. You’re given an initial few units, one of which is reasonably good and the rest of which are a bit shit, but fill out the slots in your party reasonably. You can take these through “quests”, which are sequences of a few battles in a row, culminating in a boss fight. Battles are very simple: you tap on a party member to cause them to attack, and if you time your taps correctly so that multiple units hit at the same time, you cause a “Spark” which deals additional damage. Units also have elemental types that have a significant impact on both attack and defence power.

When all your units have attacked, you get to grab all the goodies that fell out of the enemies while you were clobbering them. These include the game’s various currencies, health points and Brave Burst points, the latter of which fills a gauge and allows a unit to perform its unique special move. Health points and Brave Burst points are assigned randomly so you can’t guarantee a particular unit will be able to perform their Brave Burst on command, but you can force an enemy to drop more of these shards by ordering your party to focus their attacks on a single enemy, cause an “Overkill” and obtain additional rewards. This, of course, leaves them open to attack from the remaining enemies.

You repeat this process through a series of battles, with your units not automatically healing or recharging between. You fight a boss — most of which so far haven’t been significantly tougher than the main enemies — and then you get rewards, which include materials and additional units.

Outside of quests, you can “fuse” units together to level them up — they don’t gain experience simply through battle like in a regular RPG. Fusing “metal” units of the same element as a unit provides a significant bonus to the XP they receive, and when you get a unit to its level cap (which varies according to the unit’s rarity) you can “evolve” it into a more powerful incarnation by using materials. You can also use materials to craft useful items and equipment for your units, and one of the game’s currencies to upgrade the village you call home base — this provides you with resources every so often, and also has a bunch of facilities you can unlock over time, providing you access to more and more items and equipment as you upgrade it.

The game makes use of the free-to-play model’s beloved “energy” system, which means you’re only allowed to play a certain amount before you either have to pay up or wait for it to restore. Now, I’m not a huge fan of this system, but so far in Brave Frontier it’s been fairly unobtrusive, with energy consumption pretty much matching up with the average length of a play session. In other words, by the time you’ve run out of energy, you’ll probably want to go and play or do something else anyway. Interestingly, there are a bunch of “dungeons” that you can take on that require significantly more energy to enter than normal quest battles; the rewards for these are significantly greater, however, as is the overall challenge level. This means that you can choose how you spend your energy rather than it being a “flat rate” — do you blow 50 points at once for the chance to get your hands on some rare, useful, powerful goodies, or do you make steady progress through the main story to unlock access to new areas and acquire “gems” which can be used to recruit the more powerful, more rare units?

I don’t know how long I’ll stick with the game, but it’s enjoyable enough at present, and the art style is lovely. If you happen to be playing, feel free to add me as a friend using ID 9630492642.

1473: Ruined

Oh, EA. Why. Why. Why. Why.

I am, of course, talking about the new iOS version of Bullfrog’s classic Dungeon Keeper, which was released today and is, of course, utter bobbins.

Why? Because it’s a free-to-play mobile game.

And yes, I think we’ve reached the stage where it pretty much is reasonable to brand free-to-play mobile games a universally bad thing, because the fucking awful ones far outnumber the very, very few good ones. In fact, I can’t think of any good free-to-play mobile games offhand, whereas on PC I can name plenty.

Dungeon Keeper does every offensive thing it’s possible for a shitty free-to-play mobile thing to do. It has wait timers, it has premium currency, it has the ability to purchase resources and other things rather than collecting them yourself (by, you know, playing the game) and worse than all the monetisation crap is the fact that they’ve taken a game that was originally an interesting, fun and original idea and made it into something utterly predictable and boring.

Dungeon Keeper is clearly aiming to ride the coat-tails of popular “midcore” strategy games such as Clash of Clans but this isn’t a particularly good thing, either; Clash of Clans is an unashamedly pay-to-win title whose “top players” ride high in the leaderboards for no other reason than the fact they have paid more money into the game. Thousands of dollars, in many cases.

This is the second time EA has trawled Bullfrog’s back catalogue to “re-imagine” them for iOS — the first being Theme Park — and it’s the second time it’s proven to be a complete insult to the memory of a great game. The people behind this monstrosity should be disgusted with themselves — as profitable as free-to-play games are and as much sense as they make from a business perspective, there’s no getting away from the fact that the games themselves are complete shit, being devoid of any real depth and compromising good game design in the name of being more exploitative .

Stop it, EA. The people you’re hoping to court with these games’ names are the people you’re pissing off the most.

1372: The Good Old Days of the App Store

I’d been pondering this a little recently, but I actually confirmed it for myself today: the games on the App Store of today are not a patch on those that were on it when it first went live.

Oh sure, they’re technically more impressive, with all manner of lovely “console-quality” (whatever the fuck that means) graphics and download sizes that will easily fill up a lesser phone, but there’s really something missing from modern App Store games that was there in spades in early titles.

The title that really drove it home for me was a game called Tilt to Live. This was a score-attack action game that some described as “the iPhone’s Geometry Wars“. It’s not quite an accurate comparison, since Geometry Wars is a twin-stick shooter and Tilt to Live doesn’t involve any shooting whatsoever, but they share a couple of important similarities: they’re easy to understand and super-addictive.

Tilt to Live, lest you’ve never had the pleasure, sees you controlling a small arrowhead-shaped… thing as it attempts to fend off the unwanted attentions of its red dot rivals. In order to destroy red dots, you have to pick up powerups, each of which has a specific effect. Nukes explode at the spot where you picked them up, for example, taking anything caught in the circular Missile Command-style explosion with them, while lasers take a moment to charge before firing a broad beam in the direction you’re travelling. As you progress through the game, you unlock more and more different weapons which are then available from the outset in subsequent playthroughs; the more weapons you have, the easier it is to maintain a combo of dot-killing without stopping, and consequently attain higher scores.

Tilt to Live is so genius because it’s built for its platform. It uses nothing more than the iPhone’s built-in accelerometer, tuned to perfection, and all you have to do is tilt your device around like one of those old “Labyrinth” games. Nothing more than that. There are a couple of other modes, but in essence, all you’re doing in each of them is tilting to move your arrow and attempting to avoid red dots. Simple. Addictive. The perfect mobile game.

Tilt to Live was far from the only game from the App Store’s early years I have fond memories of, though. The early stuff from ngmoco was fantastic, for example — titles like Dr. Awesome (essentially tilt-controlled Qix), Dropship (Defender meets Thrust meets Geometry Wars) and Rolando were all top-notch games that were pretty much essential purchases in the early days of the App Store — everyone who had an iPhone downloaded them, and Apple even featured them in advertising for both the iPhone and iPod touch, the latter of which it looked for a while like Apple was attempting to position as a serious handheld gaming device.

So what happened? Why have I largely lost interest in what the App Store has to offer today? Well, this is probably a gross oversimplification of the matter, but essentially I believe things started to go downhill with the addition of in-app purchases to the App Store.

I remember being skeptical about the supposed benefits of in-app purchases when the upcoming new feature was first announced — it sounded awfully like what triple-A publishers were doing with downloadable content for console games, and that was something that a number of teams had proven could be done very, very wrong. Oddly, initially only paid apps could have in-app purchases, meaning that free apps were always just that — free, though sometimes ad-supported.

Nowadays, of course, the words “free” on an app more often than not mean that you can download the app in question for free, but are often then expected to cough up extra, particularly in the case of games. In-app purchases have gotten so out of control on iOS that it’s rarer not to see a game have a “Get More Gold” button allowing you to purchase in-game currency. And, of course, the moment you see that “Get More Gold” button, you have to start questioning whether the game has been deliberately made more grindy and inconvenient — experts call this “adding friction” or “fun pain” — in the name of squeezing a few extra pennies out of you.

Herein lies the issue, I think: modern App Store games are designed to be money-making machines that trick people into thinking they’re having fun, then encourage them to open their wallets to have even more fun. It’s all a ruse, of course; the “fun” is more often than not an illusion created through carefully-paced rewards and ego-massaging, and the “pain” is created by suddenly denying the player access to these rewards that they’ve come to accept. It’s good business design, but bad game design.

Compare and contrast with a game from the App Store’s earlier era such as Tilt to Live, or ngmoco’s early games. These are games designed for pure fun — and more to the point, they’re highly creative, interesting, distinctive games. Not one of them is a predictable “tap on everything, then wait until you get a push notification to tap on everything again in three hours” title; while some are inspired by classic retro games (or even more recent games such as Loco Roco in the case of Rolando), they each put their own twist on things, respecting the player’s time and wallet in the process — in other words, once you bought these games, they wouldn’t ask you for money again, except in some rare instances such as in Tilt to Live where the developers later added a whole new game mode and sold it rather than bundling it in as a free update.

One of the saddest sights in the App Store is, I think, the massive decline in quality that ngmoco’s titles have taken since those early days. Games like the aforementioned Dr. Awesome and Rolando were genuinely excellent games that helped to define the platform; now, however, all ngmoco does is churn out some of the most tedious, derivative, copycat titles in the entire industry, all in the name of exploiting the social gaming bubble. RIP ngmoco; I thought you were going to be the next big thing in creative indie games at one point, but it was not to be.

True creativity and distinctiveness in the App Store isn’t dead; but with well over a million apps and games on the App Store now, and the charts dominated by free-to-play titles that have effectively bought their rankings rather than earned them, it’s getting harder and harder to find them. How sad.

1336: Where’s My Paid-For Version?

Disney released a sequel to its popular iOS game Where’s My Water? recently. Where’s My Water?, if you’re unfamiliar, is supposedly one of the best iOS games out there, and even managed to pick up an Apple Design Award at WWDC in 2012. It’s an extremely popular game that was well received by both press and public alike, and spawned a couple of spin-off games prior to the recently released official sequel.

The official sequel is, inevitably, free-to-play, unlike the 69p original. Said original did have in-app purchases, yes, but they were mostly actual additional content — new levels and so on — plus, until recently, the game was continuously supported with weekly challenges that kept the game relevant over time. (The removal of these weekly challenges in the most recent update has annoyed a bunch of players, incidentally, but surely they can’t expect Disney to continually support a game from 2011 forever.)

Where’s My Water 2 has, unsurprisingly, been torn a new one by App Store reviewers for being free-to-play — and with good reason. Like Plants vs. Zombies 2, there is not one single convincing reason why making it free-to-play is a good thing for anyone except Disney. At least you can play Plants vs. Zombies 2 for as long as you like, however; Where’s My Water 2 adds the ultimate insult of incorporating an energy mechanic into the game, effectively blocking people from continuing to play every few levels unless they pay up.

hate energy systems. They were a fucking pain in the arse when I had to review mobile and social games because they meant I could only play the game for a certain amount of time before having to leave it for several hours (because I sure as fuck wasn’t paying), and they’re a fucking pain in the arse if I just want to enjoy a mobile game these days. They’re a slap in the face to the player, and effectively a sign that the developer/publisher of the game don’t trust their player base to actually slip them some money if they’re enjoying themselves. It represents the absolute worst of everything about free-to-play, and it needs to stop.

I’m glad that App Store reviewers are starting to speak up against things like energy systems and excessive in-app purchases, because it’s getting out of control. I find myself actually wanting Where’s My Water 2 to fail, because it will teach Disney a lesson. This may sound harsh — I haven’t played Where’s My Water 2, so for all I know it could be a great game, and I’m sure the dev team worked hard on it — but this continuing trend of games that hold their content hostage needs to stop. Rather than it being an incentive to download and try something for myself, I will now actively avoid games on the App Store that are “free”. And since most of the games on the App Store are now “free”, this means I’m simply avoiding most of the stuff on the App Store, which is probably doing a great disservice to the few people out there who are doing great work, and who are treating their players with respect.

You want to see how to do free-to-play right? Go play Card Hunter.