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Let’s talk about mobile games for a second.

 Most are utterly terrible, with the exception of a few gems like Angry Birds or Plants Vs. Zombies. Apple has the best marketplace for mobile games, keeping in mind 95% of the apps are crap. If a game does well on iOS, you can expect to see a version on the Android Google “Play” marketplace. Another 3 months after THAT, the Amazon appstore might get a version of a game, that will likely never be updated.  Amazon has an incentive program called Amazon coins that you earn for purchases in the Amazon Marketplace. Each coin=one cent. 

Today (10/16/13) if you want to earn $4.60 in Amazon app funny money, “purchase” these 23 FREE apps. You don’t need to download; each app “purchase” (free)earns 20 cents. I highly recommend you spend this $4.60 on good games like The Room, Plants Vs Zombies, or maybe Angry Birds Star Wars. I can’t in good conscience advise anyone to spend any time on the following 23 apps, with one exception.

 

Here is a list of the 23 free apps that will earn you  Amazon coins for a total of $4.60 in Amazon app credit. I inexplicably tried each app for 5 minutes and wrote a short review

 

Pocket Mine

I’m a miner. The ceiling moves down constantly. My pickaxe breaks unless I spend more $. So I die. Deleted.

Shooting Showdown

I’m a gun in a gunstore. I can shoot other guns. Or targets. Oops, only 7 bullets. Buy more? NO.

Laugh & Learn TM Where’s Puppy’s Nose? for Baby

Fisher Price commercial with scarily happy characters. Nightmare fuel.

Fun Run – Multiplayer Race

Game required registration with Facebook before I could play. Nope. Out.

SpongeBob Diner Dash

Actually pretty fun. Frantic resource management. I kept forgetting to put away dirty dishes.

Zombies Ate My Friends

Dress up your zombie hunter. Fight cute zombies in cute stages. Meh.

Guncrafter

I’m building guns out of wood blocks. (?) Now I’m stuck on inescapable ad screen. Unlock full game? HAHAHA

Jackpot Slots- Slot Machines

I would say this is the methadone for slot addicts, except you can still spend real money.

Despicable Me: Minion Rush

Spent 2/3 of 5 minute review downloading additional content. Followed byloading screens. Actual game was a decent runner.

Houzz Interior Design Ideas

Like a Pinterest for interior decorating ideas. Let me contain my excitement. How U ZZZ…

Can You Escape

Hidden object/puzzle game. Spent most of my 5 minute review rearranging a horse. Cleared first room, will probably play more.

FIFA 14 by EA Sports

Took over half an hour to download. Looked and sounded amazing for the 20 seconds before it crashed.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out

If you have over 100 updates, you don’t deserve to call yourself a mobile game.

Hill Climb Racing

I broke my Hillbilly’s neck in Hill Climb Racing. I hope Bobby-Sue got lots of royalties for drawing the levels.

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Temple Run 2

Actually pretty good. Simple play mechanic, great graphics for mobile. Falling death scream hilarious.

Angry Gran Run

Same game as Temple Run 2. Except everything looks terrible. Guaranteed to make your grandma angry.

Pic Collage

I made this. Yay.

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Subway Surfers

Another Temple Run knockoff, this one with adorable street urchins tagging everything in site. I can’t.

Facebook

Mark Zuckerburg is a NSA tool, and I’m also a tool for  already owning and using this app.

Pinterest

Look. I tried. I even made a board of creepy clowns. I’m just not pinterested.

Jetpack Joyride

Genuinely fun endless runner type game. Actually controls well for touch. First game I can recommend.

Accuweather

67 degrees, sunny with 3 mph SSW wind. The ads tell me to shop at Home Depot in my new Mazda.

PicsArt Photo Studio

MAKE IT STOP

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So would you play a free browser based game? The strongest reason is that because of their limitation of running on a browser, they often shine with creativity instead of eye popping graphics. Browser games are often short, giving you a satisfying experience in a single sitting. Lastly, all of these games are free! As we reach the sunset of this current console generation, gaming pennies are being saved toward the $500 consoles coming out this fall, and these free games are most welcome.

 

The Republia Times

http://dukope.com/play.php?g=trt

This game places you as a newspaper editor in an opressive regime. Basically, you are in charge of printing propaganda. Randomized stories appear in a simple feed, and you must select which stories to highlight, as well as how big to make the story on the page, and what placement it gets.  Sometimes you’ll have bad luck, and all of the randomized stories seem to paint your country’s leadership in a bad light. After each day, you see a mockup of your paper, and get instant approval ratings.

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Candy Box

Ah, Candy Box. First of all, please don’t confuse this game with the fiendish “free-to-play” Candy Crush.  This entirely text and ASCII adventure starts with a simple line stating how many candies you have and giving you the choice to eat the or throw them on the ground. By the end of the game, you are vanquishing multiple foes with your flaming sword on an epic quest. I encourage you to start this game, play for 5 minutes, then let it run quietly overnight, and see how it opens up. It even has a simple save feature. Give it a shot!

http://candies.aniwey.net/

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Frog Fractions

I saved the best for last. Do not let this game fool you into thinking it is a simple educational game about frogs and fractions. There is SO much under the surface of this game! Your first clue about the devious programming is in the upgrades menu, where the game argues with itself over the virtue or lack there of  in buying the auto-targeting frog tongue. Speaking of upgrades, I left you a big clue in the picture about how to really dive into this game. I don’t want to say more, because this gem has many surprises that you should experience first hand. If you play just ONE of these free games, make it this one.

http://twinbeard.com/frog-fractions

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Many games have referenced the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012. Most recently, Assassin’s Creed III incorporated this date as a time of great upheaval, a reversal of the natural order, and a great cataclysm. As with most doomsday dates, this one came and went with no major disasters, no magnetic pole shifts, sunspot flares, meteors plunging into the ocean, or zombies.

Every year my family likes to have an informal holiday party in late December. The first one was memorable for burritos and wine (not a gastricly satisfying combo) and the board game Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The last few years, we’ve borrowed Festivus from the Seinfeld Show, with a simple, unadorned aluminum pole, Airing of the Grievances, and Feats of Strength. A Festivus for the rest of us. This year to mark the end of the Mayan calendar, we celebrated End of Us Festivus.

I tried to come up with a simple end of the world scenario, and let my house be the storybook. While I had fun decorating, as usual it was the energy and enthusiasm of our guests that made the party a blast to host. I never imagined we would go through 5 MREs for the Feats of Strength for example. If you were with us last night, thank you for helping to make the end of the world a blast.

 

Finally, a reason to power up my Playstation Vita! I like this system, I really do. It has a great screen, great hardware in general, and finally dual analog sticks. There haven’t been any games I’ve purchased for my Vita since launch, until Retro City Rampage. For anyone with a Vita who lived through the 80s, this is a must purchase title.

When I was twelve or thirteen, I had two favorite things; NES games and Saturday morning cartoons. I still remember how excited my brothers and I were when Burger King sold single Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle episodes on VHS for $3. We wore those tapes out, never tiring of blaring the theme song on days other than Saturday. Retro City Rampage gives me the same feeling, like I snuck a piece of 1987 magic into 2012 that I can play whenever I want.



Retro City Rampage
is a top down open world driving/shooting adventure that begs comparison to the original Grand Theft Auto. There are two driving control options, and shooting is either assisted lock on or dual stick.  The game controls well in all modes, but that isn’t what makes it special. All of the buildings, cars, and characters are lovingly crafted with old school sprites, all of the music is fresh work from great chiptune artists, and the game even includes alternate screen modes like an old computer monitor or an original Gameboy system. This game is a love letter to gaming and life in general in the 80s. I simply lost track of the cultural references from that decade, whether from video games, movies, music, or TV. Quick example: I’m on a mission from the game’s version of Doc Brown, reassembling the Flux Capacitor. While driving by the Thunder Hats store, I jump out of KITT from Knight Rider and steal Peewee Herman’s bike. The game also has many special stages patterned after classic Nintendo NES era games.

Old computer CGA monitor mode

All of the pop culture nods and game modes are great, but fortunately the game is fun to play as well. I often play for 10-15 minutes, completing just a few missions, and have a great experience.

Tight controls, short fun missions, a colorful and humorous world, retro-nostalgic sprites and chip-tunes combine to give the player great bursts of pick up and play fun.

Retro City Rampage is available on Wii, Xbox, PC, and Playstation 3, but the sprites look great on a smaller screen, and the quick play sessions make it easy for me to recommend the Vita version. It should be noted that this is one of Sony’s first crossbuy titles, which means if you buy either the Vita or Playstation versions, you get the other version free as well, and you can move game saves between versions! No matter what platform you decide to play Retro City Rampage on, you are in for a great time, especially if you remember the 80s with fondness.

 

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The modern gamer has many independent puzzle platformers to choose from, and an unending amount of digital boxes to push and virtual switches to pull . While Papo and Yo has these boxes and switches, it sets itself apart by jumping past the obstacle of the TV screen, and tugging switches in the player’s heart.

As Quico, you explore a colorful version of Brazilian slums aided by his toy robot, Lula. This unlikely setting for a game under Minority Media‘s art direction becomes a wonderful place to explore as seen through a child’s eyes.

Quico explores this landscape finding switches, doors, and gears drawn in chalk by a mysterious stranger. Interacting with these chalk symbols allows fantastically dramatic changes to the environment. One room shanties fly through the air, stacking to form a bridge, or crawl like spiders to bridge a gap. The puzzles have a dreamlike logic, and stacking boxes changes from the mundane to a child’s daydream.

Early in the game, we are introduced to the giant pink Monster. He seems mostly indifferent to Quico, occasionally tossing back a kicked soccer ball, or in sleep, allowing Quico to bounce on his tummy to reach a high spot. Monster’s indifference changes terrifyingly after he spots poisonous frogs. Monster devours the frogs, and instantly becomes a flaming, rage-filled version of himself, attacking Quico ruthlessly, throwing him around like a ragdoll.

The game’s title hints and the end of the game leaves no doubt as to who Monster represents. Hopefully many of you reading this will play the game, so I will not fully discuss the ending. As I watched the credits roll, I pondered with sadness my relationship with my estranged father, and I think my 8 year old daughter summed up my feelings succinctly. “Sometimes you have to let the people you love go.”

 

Nintendo’s new portable console launched last week, the 3DS XL, and I thought I’d share my quick impressions. The XL plays the same software as the original 3DS, so are the changes enough to spend an extra $30 on this model?

The obvious difference between models is the size. The XL includes a screen that is 90% larger than the original model, which when unfolded becomes about the dimensions of a small tablet like a Nook or Kindle, although more square. I found the larger size fit more naturally in my hand than the original. I was concerned the larger screen would mean larger pixels, and indeed the pixels are larger when I compared the two machines beside each other. When I stopped comparing, and simply played a game on the XL, I quickly forgot about the pixel sizes, and enjoyed the larger field of vision. I find it easier to keep the 3D viewing angle in the sweet spot in the XL, and it would be hard for me to go back to the smaller screen.

The next difference that stood out to me was form. The original 3DS has an unfinished, industrial look to it, almost as if it was the prototype model given to developers. It is square on some surfaces, beveled on others, and the top screen overbites the lower significantly. In contrast, the XL is perfectly symmetrical, thin, and has rounded, smooth edges. This may not seem like a big deal, but it affects the next area of contrast.

So which portable console fit better in my pocket? The answer might surprise you. The XL is clearly larger than the original 3DS because of its larger screens, but it was considerably thinner. The uneven edges of the original 3DS coupled with the Nyko extended battery made the original 3DS create a much larger bulge in my pants than its sleek newer cousin. Some would say that this is not a fair comparison because of the added bulk of the battery, but I would argue the extended battery is necessary to use the 3DS as a portable system. I was getting about 3 hours of playtime per charge before I added the extended battery, which often meant I missed gaming opportunities if I hadn’t charged the night before.  With the extended battery, I got about the same amount of play time per charge as I do with the new XL, about 5-6 hours.

Original 3DS bulge

3DS XL Bulge

So which system would I buy now, assuming I had neither, and knowing what I know now? Without hesitation, I would pick the 3DS XL over its smaller, undercharged cousin. Better form factor, better graphical presentation, and better battery life make this the system Nintendo should have launched. The larger screen really does make enough of a difference to make me go back and play some DS and 3DS games  I never finished. Once again, as with the original DS versus the DS lite or the Game Boy Advance versus the Game Boy Advance SP, it benefits the consumer to wait for the second version of Nintendo’s handheld console.

 

 

 

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PAX Prime is a great event that lets gamers try out games that won’t be in the market yet, socialize with other gamers, go to concerts, play old school games or board games in the freeplay rooms and generally have a good time. The passes are reasonably priced at $65 for all 3 days of the weekend and $35 for an individual day.

Last year, there were quite a few shady characters outside the convention center shilling passes for anywhere from $100-150, and even worse, it turns out a lot of these were fakes, which led to people being ejected from PAX, and greater scrutiny of everyone’s badge, which meant longer lines.

This year, the 3 day passes sold out in about 4 or 5 hours, and by the time I finish typing this, the single day passes will probably be sold out as well. Part of the reason that the passes sold out so quickly may have to do with a League of Legends Regional Finals on the first day of PAX, but I suspect a large percentage of passes were bought by people who have no intention of enjoying PAX. Douchebags like this guy, this guy, or this guy.

I really loathe scalpers.

 

This week, North Korea will launch a “satellite” that tests their country’s intercontinental ballistic missile system.
The $850 million spent on the launch could have bought 2.5 million tons of corn of and 1.4 million tons of rice, which would have been lifesaving for the estimated third of North Korean children that will be permanently stunted due to malnutrition. Clearly over-nourished Kim Jong-un plans to continue his father’s policy of aggression, striving  to unite North and South Korea, and strike out against the Western world.

Homefront for Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 places the player in a near future where Kim Jong-un succeeds in conquering and creating a Unified Korea, and through a series of nuclear strikes, disrupts American infrastructure effectively enough to allow its million man army to splinter America, and occupy several key areas.

As a resistance fighter, the player escapes from a processing facility, travels through war torn suburbs to a safe house, hijacks a convoy of fuel tankers, and retakes the Golden Gate bridge. While not a huge story arc, the plot serves adequately to move the action forward.

It was gutwrenching to see an airstrike on an average looking American neighborhood, and motivated me to fight. It was compelling to play through boarded up homes, overgrown backyards, and abandoned playgrounds. I also enjoyed a firefight in a computer parts big box store.  Store displays come in handy for cover!

Homefront offers little in innovation to the first person shooter genre. Weapons feel very similar, the only major difference being that some have better scopes than others. Enemy troops are mostly content to stay in one spot until you shoot them, sometimes even with their backs turned. There is a brief stage where the player controls a helicopter, but for the most part, Homefront is a standard shooter.

I don’t typically play multiplayer, and I suspect that may be where the majority of the game’s content lies. Although it was a short 4 hours, I enjoyed my time finishing the campaign of Homefront, and could recommend it to those who are looking for a quick experience, and are interested in the setting.

Liked
Simple, short story. Play Red Dawn in a modern setting!

Disliked
Dense AI, boring weapons.

If I could change one thing:
The horrors of war were overemphasized in a few scenes. There doesn’t need to be children crying in a videogame.

 

The Legend of Zelda is the game that sparked my life long hobby of video games. Way back in 1985, I stood before a demo model Nintendo Entertainment System in Sears and played through the first two dungeons of the game in one sitting (standing). From that day on I was hooked. I loved the world of Hyrule,  searching through each screen to find the secret treasure or hidden passage, fighting monsters, collecting Rupees so I could buy tools to explore further. I convinced my family to buy their first ever 13 inch color TV, and I mowed lawns all summer to buy that first NES, all so I could bring home The Legend of Zelda.

legend of zelda baby outfitlegend of zelda link to the past

I still have a great deal of nostalgia for the Legend of Zelda. My mother-in-law knitted a wonderful Link outfit for my son, and I have framed maps from the Legend of Zelda and the Super Nintendo sequel, A Link to the Past hanging proudly in my gaming den. Naturally I was thrilled to hear the Land gallery in Portland was going to be hosting a Zelda inspired exhibit called The Legend of Zelda: a Triforce Tribute.

It was wonderful to see so many different artist’s interpretations of my favorite video game, and if you live in the Portland area, I encourage you to visit Land gallery before April 21, 2012. If you can’t make it, Land will be selling many prints of these works, and I hope you enjoy the gallery below.

 

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Every gamer has had the experience of being immersed hours into a compelling game, only to find themselves realizing their eyes are glazed, their shoulders hunched, and they are in a word exhausted. Even if we are doing what we love, we can be overstimulated, and need a break.

Occasionally I find myself exhausted from media and culture. There is always a new show to watch, someone is always saying something inflammatory on twitter, I have podcasts to catch up on, movies to watch, games to play, websites to visit, stupid cat videos, facebook updates…

STOP

That’s what I did for 90 minutes.

And it felt great.

I visited Float On tonight, and gave my body a hard reboot. No light, no sound, no sensation. Just me, alone with my thoughts, gently supported in buoyant, warm water.

The private room I was given was furnished with a shower, bench, robe, towel and other amenities, but the dominant feature was the sensory deprivation chamber. Similar in appearance to a sauna, a small hatch opened to reveal an 11 inch deep pool filled with blue-lit water.

Once inside the chamber, I pulled the hatch shut, turned off the blue light, and floated. The water is saturated with 950 pounds of Epson salt, and heated to about 94 degrees so it feels body temperature neutral. The sensation of floating is unlike lying in a bed, or even a bath tub. In both cases, you feel your body weight pressing against the surface below you.  In the chamber, I was weightless, free.

Floating in space.

My thoughts swirled around like leaves blowing in the wind, then settled for a while. Like the unbroken surface of a pond, my mind would be calm and still for a moment, and then an unseen pebble would send ripples of ideas out from my center.

As I first lay still and unmoving, I felt like my body was spinning clockwise, then counterclockwise, with no transition. Then I didn’t really feel my body at all. It began to be hard to tell where my hand ended and the water began. I had fun imagining myself melting into a glowing blue ooze, and I just drifted for a while. I don’t feel I ever fell asleep, but there was a period of time where I could not identify any conscious thought.

And that felt great.

Eventually the attendant turned on music in the speakers below me, and I turned on the blue light and opened my eyes. As soon as I could collect myself, I got out, showered, dressed, and slowly readjusted to the ever increasing stimuli as I left the lobby to the street, then to my car. I had to consciously speed UP to the the speed limit, but while my limbs felt pleasantly heavy, I was not tired or sleepy, in fact quite alert.

It was a great experience, and as I type this into the glare of a computer monitor, I find myself wanting to schedule another float in space.

 

 

 
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