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Pakistan-based developer We.R.Play has a pretty nifty challenging "finite runner" game coming out this Wednesday, November 26th, called Hex:99. The goal is to navigate a ball moving at high speed through a series of obstacles, dragging horizontally to move around everything that gets in the way. The game travels at high speed through futuristic environments, with the goal being to try and reach the 1999 distance in one piece. Check out the trailer below:

The game will be kind of like Smash Hit [Free] in that the app will be free to download, but checkpoints will be disabled unless you pay $2.99 to unlock them and remove the ads. The game is theoretically beatable through persistence, and while you can expect similar trap layouts each time, they are always randomized. Heck, I'm pretty sure beating the game with checkpoints enabled is going to be an endeavor in and of itself, so good luck. Quick reactions will be the difference between life and death in this one! People who love a challenge will want to check this out on Wednesday once this launches.

Angry Mob Games is working on their first original title since Muffin Knight [$0.99 / Free], an ambitious-looking game called Toysburg will be going into beta testing soon. Players will play as a toymaker with a special power: turning kids into the toys they want to play with. This feels like the kind of concept that could power a horror movie, but hey – it's a bit more whimsical here. The game's got a mission-based structure, where they'll explore the town of Toysburg, finding kids to help and helping to create new toys for them. But there's also an inspiration from sandbox games, where it's possible to use different parts to help build the different toys. Here's a 3 minute long preview:

Toysburg will be free-to-play, will boast a cameo from at least Guerilla Bob [$0.99 / $2.99 (HD)] though there's plenty of other cameo opportunities should they choose to go for them. Angry Mob Games is looking for beta testers on our forums – go check out the thread for the instructions to sign up if you're curious in giving this one a shot before it releases. The game's looking rather ambitious, so we'll be keeping an eye out for this one in the coming months.

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The fourth and final installment of Forge Reply's digital gamebook Joe Dever's Lone Wolf [$0.99] is now officially available for download, just as we learned it would be earlier this month. The new installment, titled Act 4 - Dawn Over V'taag, will run you $4.99 if purchased on its own, or if you've previously bought a Season Pass it will simply be available for download. Here is a trailer detailing the Dawn Over V'taag episode.

We've been updating our review of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf as each new Act becomes available, and we'll be locking Shaun in the basement with Act 4 so we can bring you an updated version of that review shortly. The initial launch version of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf was impressive in many regards, but it also had some pretty serious balancing and difficulty issues. Thankfully those have been mostly smoothed out with updates, and Lone Wolf is definitely one of the more entertaining digital gamebook adaptations on iOS. Check out the new Act and keep an eye out for an updated review soon.

If you've been paying close attention to developer Nitrome on social media and teh Interwebz, you've no doubt noticed that they've been teasing a new game for some time now. Over the past couple of weeks, they've released brief teaser trailers for the game, but nothing that actually gave away what type of game it was or what it was about. Not even a name. Well, that changes today as Nitrome has officially unveiled their new game as Gunbrick, and they've released a new trailer that actually shows the game itself in action.

My first thought after seeing the trailer for Gunbrick was that it was Brickroll [Free] meets… oh I don't know, Mega Man maybe? Contra? Basically, rolling brick platformer meets awesome, pixely action game. Whatever the case may be, Gunbrick looks sweet, and Nitrome makes great games like Icebreaker [$2.99] and 8-Bit Doves [$0.99] so I feel pretty confident in getting excited. They hope to have Gunbrick available in early January, and in the meantime you can check out the game's previous teaser videos on Nitrome's YouTube channel if you missed them before.

Gamebook developer Cubus Games is only on their third swing at the genre, but they've already become a player worth paying attention to in that sphere. So far they've released the off-beat horror tale The Sinister Fairground [$2.99] and the crazy yet awesome sci-fi story Heavy Metal Thunder [$2.99], both bringing themes and unique writing styles that helped them stand out in an increasingly crowded field. Their newest game, Necklace Of Skulls [$2.99], is an adaptation of a 1993 book by veteran gamebook author Dave Morris, whose name you might recall from inkle's recent take on his book Down Among The Dead Men [$0.99]. It carries on the same strengths as Cubus's earlier releases, with an adventure through an exotic backdrop of Mayan mythology, relayed in captivating fashion by Mr. Morris's usual top-shelf writing.

You play as Evening Star, though you have some degree of control over who exactly Evening Star is. When you start the game, you're presented with a choice of four different character types, and depending on which you choose, your path through the game will have to be somewhat different. The proud and assertive warrior can go far with his knowledge of proper etiquette and folklore, while the crafty huntress is more well-suited to the wilderness than civilization. Whoever you choose, your main goal is the same. Your twin, Morning Star, has gone missing while on an expedition, and you need to find out what happened to him. The story connects to an issue of larger importance, of course, and while the initial quest doesn't exactly seem easy, things get a lot more complicated along the way.

Photo 2014-11-21, 17 31 11Your journey will take you through a few cities and towns, perhaps a forest but perhaps not, probably a desert, potentially through the underworld itself, and if you're good enough, certainly a wizard's palace, amid other locations. It's highly unlikely you'll get to see every location on a single playthrough, but the game makes you aware of them by including them in the chapter list, tickling at your curiosity. My first playthrough, I noticed that I skipped the forest chapter, so I started a new game just to see what was in there. I really like how Cubus lays out the contents of the book this way, since I'm sometimes not sure if I've seen everything in any given gamebook. The locations themselves are vividly described, giving a real sense of a connected place where all kinds of unexpected things can happen. Writer Dave Morris apparently visited the region before writing this book back in the day, and it shows in the thoughtful attention to detail.

Necklace Of Skulls is considerably lighter on combat than Heavy Metal Thunder, with only a handful of battles to be had even if you go looking for them. Even though combat is a relatively small part of the game, Cubus has come up with a nice way of handling them without resorting to the old stand-by of rolling dice. Each turn of battle, you and your opponent can each take three actions. You have a set number of maximum stamina points that restrict how many of those actions can be attacks. Attacking uses two points of stamina, while defending restores one point and resting restores three. After you choose your three actions, your opponent's actions will be revealed, and the results for the turn will be tallied. The ideal goal here is to defend when your opponent attacks, attack when they're resting, and rest when they defend, but unless you're playing a sorceress, you have no way of knowing ahead of time what they'll do. Perhaps a tell along the lines of how inkle handles combat in Sorcery! [$4.99] might help this system reach its full potential. I don't have a problem with using dice in games, but I like seeing new ideas, and this one certainly shows promise.

Photo 2014-11-21, 17 31 06Aside from that twist on combat, Necklace Of Skulls plays pretty similarly to traditional gamebooks. You'll read some text, make some decisions, try to manage your inventory like a psychic, and gather the clues you'll need to make your eventual winning run. Compared to efforts from developers like Tin Man Games, this game is a bit light on options. You can adjust the font size and play around with the volume settings, but there aren't any cheat options to help you through. The game gives you three different save files, checkpoints frequently to allow you to recover from a big mistake, and lets you restart any chapter, which I think offers a reasonable compromise for those who don't like their gamebooks to be too difficult. It's a fairly challenging adventure, and like many gamebooks, you'll probably have to do a few dry runs before you have all of the information you need to win. There's a bit more replay than most gamebooks since each of the four character types needs to do slightly different things to succeed.

I like the subtle ways the presentation enhances the experience. Instead of using music, you're instead treated to the ambient sounds of whichever location you're currently in. The art is beautiful and vibrant, contributing greatly to the atmosphere established by the words. Each piece of art has just a few touches of animation, bringing the pages alive without being too distracting. You also have easy options to share your progress on Twitter or Facebook, if you're into that sort of thing. The game will even reward you for doing so by giving you a little extra cacao, the currency your character uses. Unfortunately, there's no support for Game Center here. I hope it's something Cubus looks into for their future books, as achievements give an extra incentive to poke around every choice and option. That said, the chapter selection does show you how many sections you've uncovered out of the total, so you can certainly set yourself to filling that out as an extra goal once you've completed your mission.

Necklace Of Skulls is an enjoyable adventure with an interesting theme and sharp writing. On top of that, this is an overall excellent conversion on Cubus's part, enhancing the existing strengths of the work without taking away a thing from it. Gamebook fans should have quite a nice time untangling its mysteries, along with anyone who is intrigued by its unusual Mayan setting. It's nothing that will convince those who are turned off by these kinds of games, since it sticks pretty close to conventions in terms of its mechanics and how it unfolds. As an example of the genre, however, it's a fairly strong one.

A little more than a year ago, id Software updated two of their old iOS ports–Doom Classic and Rage HD– with 4-inch widescreen support and support for Apple's then-new iOS 7 software. Both games had quietly disappeared from the App Store at least a month prior to the updates, which was scary for me as I'm a massive fan of the Doom iOS port. I was delighted to see them return with updates, and hoped that id might see fit to update some of the other games in their iOS catalog.

Well, over the summer, Wolfenstein 3D Classic [$1.99 / Free] was also quietly taken down from the App Store. My first thought was "I hope they're doing for Wolfenstein what they did with Doom and Rage!" Well guess what? That's exactly what they did, as just yesterday Wolfenstein 3D Classic returned to the App Store with iOS 8 and widescreen support. Even the lite version of Wolfenstein has received the same love.

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Both Wolfenstein 3D and Doom are absolute classics and the granddaddys of the first-person shooter genre. Their more simplistic nature also means they work incredibly well on a touchscreen, and I've always loved having portable versions of each with me at all times, just in case the urge to blast some Nazis or hell demons struck while on the go. I'm very happy that both are in good working order now. I guess all that's left for me to beg id Software for is iOS ports of Doom II and Quake, and I can die a happy man.

What separates the great games from the good games? There's an intangible aspect of making a game feel fun to play that can be difficult to pin down when trying to describe it, and even more difficult for a developer to create. But when a developer nails it down, it's truly sublime. Crossy Road [Free] absolutely nails how a game should feel, which makes it endlessly replayable, and my current go-to pick-up-and-play game.

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The game is essentially a randomly-generated take on Frogger, where players initially control a chicken trying to cross highways and rivers to get as far as possible, because the world is endlessly scrolling behind them, and an eagle will come and swoop them up, which is a good enough reason to get in gear. Someday the eagle will come for us all, or we'll get hit by a train, or swept into rapids. Such is the course of the universe.

Really, the game is just the same core concept as Frogger, and on the surface, it might be difficult to think how this is so special. It comes down to structure and feel of the game. As the title's similarity to Flappy Bird may have tipped, there's a bit of an influence there. The scoring is simply about how far you get, and you have only one life, rather than multiple. I think these changes make the game rather accessible, and built for quick sessions.

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Crossy Road utterly nails how a game should feel. Tapping to move forward has a great feel to it, with just a bit of whimsy to it with the bouncing. When you get hit by a train, you really feel the impact. There's so many subtle details added to make the game just have a good feeling to it. The characters having their own cosmetic effects goes a long way towards making this game feel pleasing. Having Game Center friends' scores show up while playing is one of my favorite features, and looks great integrated into the world. Even the retries are quick and with the stylish flash of the title screen to get everything reset and restarted. There's also the option to "conserve battery" which reduces the framerate, which means that you don't have to trade battery life in exchange for the stylistic aspects. Either way, the voxel-based visuals are simple-yet-fantastic.

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I've already seen complaints about Crossy Road's free-to-play aspects, and I think the nature of such complaints are utter poppycock. Crossy Road's free-to-play monetization is based around playing as different characters, which is pretty much cosmetic. The characters do more than just exist as costumes, like the Mad Wizard will blow up trees, and the eponymous hero of Forget-Me-Not [$1.99] has flowers to collect. And some characters make the game play at night. These characters can be bought for $0.99 each, or earned randomly in a lottery system, where 100 coins will unlock a new character, with coins earnable through gameplay, video ads, and a regular free gift.

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The controls work great. Tapping goes forward, with swiping used to go in any of the four cardinal directions. This does mean that going horizontally quickly requires some quick swipes, which isn't always the easiest thing to do, but it's also a good reminder that it's maybe not the best idea to be running horizontally. There's Everyplay video sharing, but it's an odd implementation in that it doesn't record individual runs, it just has an on-off switch for recording. Whether people like this better than recording individual runs is a good question, but it's definitely unorthodox, and I like the idea of having my best run recorded whether I remember to enable recording or not. At least this means the feature is easily-disabled for those who don't want it enabled.

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The game can thankfully be played in any orientation, which makes this great for playing one-handed on iPhone or with a propped-up iPad on a table in equal measure. That goes a long way toward making this game feel so great – it's adaptable to however you want to play it.

The character lottery does give out duplicates, however, and that kind of bugs me, but other than that, this is exactly how free-to-play should work! You don't get any ads unless you consciously choose to view one. And the aspects to spend money on are 100% optional, you can spend the entire game just playing as the starting character and get the same caliber of experience as someone who bought every single character outright. I think it's an amazing balance between having those free-to-play elements, but also making them so that players who don't want to participate don't have to. Also, I hope more characters make cameos in later updates – there's just Forget-Me-Not and the hero of Epoch [$2.99] right now, and I'd love for more characters to show up, as games referencing other games is my favorite thing.

Crossy Road is a simple game, but there's clearly a lot of work that went into making it one of the best 'simple' experiences that can be enjoyed. This is already the kind of game where I'm going back and forth with people for high scores, and sharing my high scores to Twitter. I've become absolutely hooked to this game, and I don't see that ending any time soon. It does a wondeful job at balancing out being accessible, and a free game that both can be played for free, but isn't necessarily afraid to try and make a little money, either. Play this game.


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