I’ve never been a big mobile game player, but I ended up working in a mobile games company, so I’ve been trying to expose myself to more games in this market and attempt to gain an ever-better understanding of them. One of the ways I’ve been doing that is in trying out new games, seeing what they do wrong and right, and try to draw conclusions from them that I can use in the future to make our games better. One of the resources I’ve been using for this is TouchArcade (not sponsored), and their columns listing the new iOS games of the week.
This resulted in me playing a lot more new games during my daily bus rides, but I also feel the need to discuss them somewhere and keep a log of my thoughts instead of just internalising them. So, Commuting Cognition. These will be brief, bus-ride-long thoughts on these games, and should be seen less as reviews and more as first impressions. They also may not be daily, depending on how full the bus is that day.
Flippy Hills is a level-based platformer, i guess you could call it, that has you control a chicken by tapping it to somersault, then tapping it again as it lands to continue flipping. It has its roots in stunt-based games but with the tweak that your only means of movement is to stunt; fail a flip, and you must restart the level.
The mechanic is surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it, and surprisingly deep for how simple it is. It’s all about timing your next jump at the correct angle less than the correct time, so it’s often advantageous to let the chicken tilt forward a little bit after landing before jumping again, instead of trying to jump immediately as you land. They also added a second mechanic which allows you to do a 180 in midair by tapping the left side of the screen, which slows you down a little bit and allows you to correct your landings.
Early levels have visual tutorials in the form of ghost players performing the actions, which is a very nice way of doing them. They also have reminder text in further levels, in case you forgot, or skipped that particular level by paying coins; the latter always being a welcome accessibility option, but i have to question the wisdom of allowing players to skip tutorial levels that explain key mechanics, especially when it’s easy to do so accidentally with nary a confirmation window.
The aesthetic is also a big part of why the mechanic works, not just because it looks silly and fun, but also because it’s super satisfying to see the flips chaining off of each other during the entirety of the levels. Of course this aesthetic is also prone to skinning; Flippy Hills eschews gacha models in favour of a traditional shop, which i am increasingly less favouring of. Shops items with different costs just make me want to save for the biggest thing, so i end up never spending anything.
There’s another curious monetisation decision that caught my interest: at some point a popup appears asking whether you’d like to pay to get rid of the ads, which is standard, but once you dismiss it it renews its offer, throwing in some extra coins. It does this a third time before disappearing. The popup didn’t appear to me again so i’m unsure if this would be the behaviour every time, which would become annoying, but a one-of promotion of this type (with added lingo like “One-time offer!”) is rather interesting.
Adventures of Flig is three games in one scattered about progressive levels: a lane runner game, an air hockey game, and a maze game. Spoilers: none of them are particularly great.
Each level starts off with a still image explaining the controls. The first level was the lane runner, so the image was basically a mess of arrows. It was so effective that i only realised you could jump once i hit rocks blocking all three lanes. As lane runners go this is pretty standard, with the downsides of the animation framerate being uncomfortably low, and the level being far too long and becoming boring. This was the only lane runner level i got to play so i’m not sure if anything is added to it, but first impression wasn’t great.
The level path then branches of, and one of them leads to a maze game. At this point i had no idea there were different game modes, so i got very confused for a while. You control a blue spider which i struggled to find for the longest time, and must lead it through a maze with either virtual directional buttons or the accelerometer. The buttons felt wrong for some reason, and i can’t quite put my finger on why, but i think that their hitboxes were just too small and i kept missing them, but it made the experience far more cumbersome than it should’ve been. I then retried the level to try out the accelerometer controls and they weren’t much better; their sensitivity is far too low, forcing you to really tilt your phone about to get anything out of it. As for the maze itself, it was basically a straight path with nothing to hinder you, so it just felt like a waste of time.
Then came the first air hockey level. Here the striker snaps to your touch position, meaning you can swing it about arbitrarily fast, which looks ridiculous when compared to the slow-moving AI. These levels are also far too long, the winner being the first to score 7 goals, about 2 or 4 too many for what it is.
Have i mentioned the ads? There’s a lot of them. I also lost sound a couple of times, probably because i close the phone a lot to take notes, but no other games ever game me issues because of that.
The next level was another air hockey one, but this time the opponent throws pellets at you, which stun you for a couple of seconds when hit. The problem with this one is the lack of feedback; you can never really tell you were stunned until the controls refuse to work, which feels awful. I assume there’s probably some sort of visual animation, but it’s hard to tell because YOUR FINGER IS ON THE STRIKER.
The next level was ANOTHER air hockey one, but this time you also get to fire stun pellets. You do this by tapping the screen, which means you have to stop moving and probably get hit before you manage to shoot.
The next level was YET ANOTHER air hockey one, at which point i uninstalled the game.
Swim Up is a chopper game, with the difference that your fish can only go up when tapping, and doesn’t fall back down when releasing. You’d think the only-going-up would be pretty obvious from the name of the game, but it’s oddly unintuitive at first.
They chose to have a health system, which is an odd choice for this type of game. Instead of losing as soon as you hit a wall, you only lose a point of health, which you can recover later on by eating smaller fish. This is odd not only because it goes against the genre standard, which there’s nothing wrong with, but also because it considerably lengthens the game sessions. When the mechanic is this simple and the game doesn’t do much with it, session length works against you as the game becomes increasingly dull. The tiny health fish are also pretty tiny and easy to miss, which may have been a conscious decision but feels pretty cheap.
The little feedback means that you can hit a wall and take a while to notice, which in turn means you end up losing a few chunks of health until you correct it. This could’ve been fixed in several ways, most easily by having your fish automatically swim to the centre of the screen when hit. They certainly had the technology, because at some point i got a fast forward powerup that put the fish in auto-piloting mode, while going in incredibly uncomfortable frame-skipping fast-forward.