From Pajitnov, With Love

I quite like Tetris. I think it’s one of the few timeless games that has managed to find its way into the hands of people from about three or four generations – and do you know what? It’s still just as fun as it ever has been.

I was a little surprised to see in the past week that EA’s Tetris Blitz would be ending in April this year, and instead the product had been licensed out to a new company, N3TWORK.

Um, excuse me? Rude!

There’s not many games that have stood the test of time on my iPhone. Even The Simpsons Tapped Out was taken off there some time ago, and Gardenscapes is only hanging on there by a single nostalgic thread. Tetris Blitz, however, has stayed on my screen for a few years now. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly religious-level of playing, but certainly once a week or a fortnight, I’d whip it out and see what kind of score I could get with the free boosts that I had collected, or, if the mood grabbed me, what kind of boosts I was willing to cash in on.

Do you know what I’m not willing to cash in on though? $8 of hard-earned money to be able to play Tetris on my phone without ads. GTFO, N3TWORK.

One of the benefits of having the large companies control gaming, is that they are less tied to marketing, or advertising, revenue. Sure, they still put ads in games, either as banner ads or as opportunities to recover a life or get some extra power – but they don’t put them up as a barrier between the player and getting into the game. They want you in their ecosystem to tempt you into micro transactions. Not to bombard you with cheap, crappy mobile ads.

N3TWORK, it seems, couldn’t give a toss what I think. Ads before a game, it is!

I have some other issues with the game, all of which are (allegedly) to be addressed in future updates, but I have to say, unless you don’t want iOS users switch over day-and-date you have your ‘full’ release, then be prepared for a multi-pronged onslaught between xCloud, Apple Arcade, Uplay Plus, and any one of a number of subscription services out to take consumer’s disposable income. You also need to try and deliver, at the very least, a like-for-like product.

Right now there is no Facebook Connect, no different game modes, and limited settings. I assume there is an Apple ID / iCloud connector somewhere working in the background … but I’m not convinced. I feel like this is something that could, and should, have been done prior to launch.

Perhaps I expect too much.

I’m going to keep the new Tetris on my phone for now – if only to hold out hope that it’ll get better. It’s a very thin, tenuous hope, but if Blitz is to be retired, well, it might be all I have.

Tetris has survived this long on my phone. There’s a very good chance that this’ll be the year it does not.

Toss a Coin to your Witcher

If there was one thing I loved about The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, it was Gwent. I don’t think I’m alone – I think everyone who played the game either loved, or didn’t really have any attachment to – Gwent, though from the people I spoke to … many, if not most, fell into the former camp.

Now that The Witcher series has dropped on Netflix, to mixed reviews, it’s little surprise to see The Witcher III concurrent players spike. Hell, even I re-downloaded the game, if not to try and recreate the series, but just to revisit what is being considered the well-deserved ‘game of the decade’.

Now that I have a little better context to the origins of some of the characters, I also considered another playthrough of the core game – that is if it wasn’t 90-plus hours long just to get through the main story, and without any real achievements worth cleaning up along the way, I admit that my appetite just isn’t really there for another hard slog.

(The Witcher 2 is another story though – I started this in the last 24 hours, but that will be something I’ll save for another blog post.)

What it is there for though, is Gwent. And so in addition to putting W3 back on the Xbox, my iPhone slogged through a few gig of download today to put Gwent back on my device, and already I feel a little more in love with the game than I did back when it first launched. It’s unclear how many quality-of-life improvements have been made to the game since it launched, but it certainly seems like an accessible, fun alternative to Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering or the myriad of other CCGs in the market.

For a rather saturated market, I quietly hope that Gwent manages to stay the course. Almost all of the major CCGs have big corporate backers: Activision, Bethesda, Wizards, etc., and Gwent has CD Projekt Red which gives me some comfort – but at the end of the day, an unprofitable game is an unprofitable game, and so I fear its longevity is directly related to The Witcher‘s success as a franchise.

In the meantime, I’m going to have a red hot go at having some success this ‘season’ on Gwent to see where I land. Even if I play terribly, there seems to be more incentive to progress than something like Hearthstone, which just seems to mock my inadequacy rather than encourage me to do better. Let’s see if that feeling is the same at the end of the season than it is now.

On the Road Again

I remember when I undertook the Achievement a Day challenge, with some fondness, needing to locate a selection of a games that I could play on the road without needing to take my entire Xbox console with me. Bear in mind, this is a couple of years – an eternity in tech – before xCloud or Game Pass for PC, where my options would have been a little better. Other than a few first party games and one or two iOS games, it was, largely, a case of strategically finding well-paced console games (such as the Telltale series’) and saving the others for emergencies (such as Christmas).

These days, I’m less attached to the Xbox ecosystem, though it still remains my platform of choice, but hitting the road across the last two weeks has forced me to re-examine my mobile game library, and find a few solid titles that I could enjoy while on a plane and in flight mode (which ruled out online titles like Hearthstone and Call of Duty Mobile), as well as something a bit ‘meaty’ to satisfy my gamer lust.

I’m not entirely convinced I managed to meet that brief.

For the most part, my gaming life over the past few weeks has consisted of Gears POP! and Tetris Blitz, bath staples on my mobile, but other than the occasional path towards an achievement on Gears, the pair don’t really offer much substance. Recently, I’ve been considering a play through of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on iPad considering I haven’t really managed to ever finish it, but that takes away from the excellent backwards compatibility option available to me on Xbox, or the comfort offered by playing on PC. But, still, as history tells me, it might also be the only way I’ll ever get the game finished. I haven’t made a decision about the best approach to take – but it’s food for thought.

What these past few weeks have highlighted to me though is the need for me to shift back to PC over Mac. It’s a hard thing for someone like me to say, considering I’ve had the same Mac since 2012 and it runs better than any PC I’ve ever had. It is exceptionally hard for me to point to a PC, or more specifically a laptop, manufacturer, and say that they build machines ‘as good as’ a Mac – but it’s also been a while since I’ve really tested the market. Dell, including Alienware, look awfully tempting these days.

The reason for the shift back to PC is simple. Well, it’s two reasons really. (1) my existing game library is huge and in desperate need for some love; and, (2) Game Pass for PC is increasingly awesome. Imagine being able to smash through some AAA new games like The Outer Worlds while on the road for a week.

It sure beats Tetris Blitz.

I hope to be a little more active on this blog. I had a brief hiatus while I attempted NaNoWriMo for this month, but to be honest, taking so much time away from my family and on the road just made it too hard to land, so I think – unless I can write 30,000 words in a week – I’ve probably failed for 2019.

And that’s OK. There’s plenty of other writing and gaming to keep me busy!

Pokémon Rumble Rush

I make no apologies for my love of Pokemon, and when its a game that links in with The Pokemon Company, as well as my Nintendo Account, then I’m philosophically obliged to give it a red hot go.

I’m not sure what void this game fills, but it’s a fairly mindless romp into the world of Pokémon. It’s possible that, down the track, there might be integration with the Pokémon Bank and the other Nintendo titles that use the Nintendo Network. I love to see this sort of integration in mobile gaming, and I’m optimistic to see how Xbox does more of it in the coming months with xCloud, and not to mention iOS updates to allow for use of the Xbox and PS4 controllers.

Time will tell if developers pick up and support it, but I shall remain optimistic!

Go Escape!

This is a fun little title where you essentially bounce a small ball over the top of spikes as gravity takes hold and it tracks downward. I thought this would have been easier than what it turned out to be, but as it turned out, there is nuance to this that requires you to master timing, speed and trajectory.

I’ll be honest, this is more fun than I thought it would be. But at the same time, it’s another ad-filled game that just takes away the short fix you need sometimes, and instead inserts a frustratingly long gameplay ad that ends up causing you to turn the whole thing off, rather than entice you into a purchase.

The Kreator

I don’t know whether this game is supposed to be called The Kreator or simply Kreator. There is some marketing inconsistency going on with this title, but in any event, I think it’s fairly clear that this is a whimsical take on the word ‘Creator.’

From what I can gather, the actual creation in this game comes from manipulating your small, yellow orb about an ever-rotating world, at which point any pre-existing flora on the surface ‘grows’ a bit when you touch it. Voila! ‘Look what I have created!’ It’s actually not quite as exciting as that, but I think that, in terms of connection between the title and the actions goes? Well, this is it.

While growing plants is nice and all, the substance of this game comes in the form of taking the aforementioned dot and collecting more yellow dots. Repeat ad nauseam. From time to time there’ll be a missed dot which turns evil, or you’ll collect some white guardian angel dots which help save the day, but there’s no huge narrative to explore here. No compelling protagonist. You collect dots.

Do I love it? No. Do I hate it? No. It is what it is. The reviews on the App Store tout this game as the perfect way to end the day or any one of a number of cathartic environments that need a quick mobile fix.

Super Mario Run 4-3 Danger High and Low

We’re back underground now, and this was a fairly ‘bouncy’ level (my kind of level). There’s some elements here that need more work to master – like the bricks which seem to hide some of the coins. The trick is to be the ‘big’ version of your player character who can then jump and break the blocks … but the pace of the game (it is a ‘run’ game, after all) means there’s a need for both timing – perfect timing – and not to mention actually finding a mushroom to promote yourself to the ‘big’ version.

AoM Light Campaign 2-1 Shepherd Stone

And so, we kick off Act 2. What I found interesting about this was that it was only one round – which made for a fairly quick encounter.

That being said, it was a nice warm up for what is to come. Enemies are certainly a ‘touch’ harder here – so this will be a world that is as much about balancing daily rewards and coins (and levelling) with the tactics of the game itself.