The newest edition of the widely successful Humble Bundle has launched, and, sticking with the recent trend, comes complete with Android versions of all six included games.
For those not in the know, the Humble Bundle is a collection of indie games sold on a ‘pay what you want’ basis. It’s great for emerging developers to really make their mark on the gaming community and potentially get a huge following for their games and studios, but it’s also great for consumers, giving them the opportunity to get a fantastic deal.
The current bundle (on sale until March 20th) includes six games, NightSky HD, Solar 2, Dynamite Jack, Beat Hazard Ultra, Super Hexagon and Dungeon Defenders. Purchasing the bundle also gives you access to DRM free PC versions (compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux) and the soundtracks for certain games, however this review will focus on the Android versions.
NightSky HD is a puzzle platformer with a solidly coded physics engine and a refined, minimalistic art style. You control a black orb that you guide through a multitude of different areas full of different puzzle elements and obstacles such as jumps, loops, interactive terrain, vehicles and even a few pinball flippers.
The game is relatively entertaining, although a lot of the early levels are very similar which can lead to the experience feeling rather repetitive. It also doesn’t offer up a huge deal of challenge, although this does fit the relaxed feel of the visuals and audio.
On the subject of visuals, the art design of NightSky is certainly one of my favourite parts about it. The world is very stylised which makes it very easy to tell what is going on, and the different backgrounds on show as you roll through the levels really complete the overall aesthetic.
One minor gripe is that the default control layout makes it almost impossible to actually play the game, even with a fairly well written tutorial explaining how it’s supposed to be done. The problem is easily fixed with a simple setting to turn on virtual buttons, but it would have been nice to have those buttons as the default control method.
Solar 2 presents the player with an open ended universe that they are free to explore at their leisure. You start off controlling a small asteroid but by absorbing matter you can quickly grow into a small planet, and then eventually into a giant, life bearing planet, complete with it’s own space fleet that will attack enemy planets on your behalf.
The gameplay of Solar 2 is completely non-linear and players have complete freedom to undertake any missions they want in any order, or alternatively, to just explore the gigantic universe that the game makes available.
On the whole, the experience is very relaxing and it brings back fond memories of Osmos (Which, incidentally, was featured in a previous Humble Bundle.) however Solar 2 feels like it lacks a certain level of polish. The touch controls are sometimes shaky and some of the text is very hard to read. The developers of the game (Murudai) do recommend playing on a tablet, but while this may fix the problems with readability it wouldn’t do much to help the control issues.
Solar 2 also suffers from the problem of getting stale quickly. There’s a lot to explore, but most of it is just the same things in different colours, and, while some of the missions are fairly fun, they are very short lived and never fundamentally change the gameplay.
In Dynamite Jack you play as a prisoner who is trying to escape from underground mines. Your job is to navigate Jack through various levels, sneaking past guards who will kill you on sight. Throughout the game Jack only has two tools at his disposal, a flashlight (required so you can find your way through the otherwise pitch black levels, but risky because it makes it easier for the guards to spot you) and an infinite supply of bombs, that can be used for noise distractions, blowing up certain walls or killing the guards.)
The game is reminiscent of the original Metal Gear from the late 80s, and brings a very refreshing revival of the top down stealth genre. Levels are relatively short, but are numerous enough that the game should keep you entertained for at least a few weeks; particularly with the addition of collectable data cartridges to unlock bonus levels.
Jack is controlled entirely by touch screen buttons, and the simple nature of the game makes this more than easy. The virtual joystick for movement is responsive and accurate, which makes a welcome change, and there are two buttons for the flashlight and bombs, allowing you to hold the device however you want. An option is also included to draw a path on the screen which Jack will follow, but while this is an innovative idea I personally found that it made me make mistakes far too often, so opted for the joystick instead.
Dynamite Jack is one of the better games in the bundle, and it provides the perfect balance between being able to play on the bus for 10 minutes while also being great for an elongated gaming session. The later levels also provide a good degree of challenge, and the light at the end of the tunnel (in this case literally) is often a very welcome sight.)
Beat Hazard Ultra
A classic arcade shooter where the levels are determined by your music. In concept this sounds brilliant, and, while top down shooters aren’t my favourite genre, I still had a lot of fun playing Beat Hazard. However, the Android version is met with a few fatal flaws.
The first major problem is that music stored on your Google Play account is not accessible by the game, even tracks that you have stored for local use. This isn’t actually the developers fault, Google doesn’t provide an API for streaming service, but it still makes the concept of a music powered game a little pointless for those of us who live in the cloud.
Secondly is the control scheme. Beat Hazard Ultra comes with two methods of control, both using virtual joysticks in different capacity. Single Stick only allows you to control the movement of the ship, turning and firing are automatic. This suffers from over-simplicity and makes the game feel a lot more like a video clip where you have minimal input. It also creates targeting problems, where the ship will just fire at seemingly random targets without any preference for destroying bigger threats first. Dual Stick mode also allows you control over the turning of the ship, however the fire button is the same as the turn button, so it’s impossible to turn without firing or vice versa. Neither of these control modes are ideal, and the precision of the virtual joysticks leaves a lot to be desired.
Luckily enough, the PC version of Beat Hazard Ultra doesn’t suffer from either of these problems, but if your only gaming device is Android powered then don’t expect to enjoy this game very much at all.
Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave
Dungeon Defenders is one of the more technologically advanced games in the bundle and at maximum settings the world it creates is good enough to rival some fully fledged console games. The premise is fairly simple, it’s a tower defense game where you also control a hero. It is possible to play the game in co-op mode with up to 3 other people, although unfortunately I was not able to try this.
There are four character classes available, and each one has their own set of abilities which are unlocked via a persistent leveling system, encouraging you to replay levels multiple times and giving the game a large potential lifespan. Unfortunately, despite the twists provided the tower defense genre is as stale and repetitive as it always has been. Dungeon Defenders is nice enough to look at and there are no major problems with the controls, but there just isn’t very much to keep you coming back for more. It could be argued that not being able to play co-op is part of the reason I grew so bored of it, but for mobile games there is always a chance that playing with friends won’t be an option, and the developers really should have taken this into consideration.
Another fault with the game is the sound design. Many of the audio effects are very low quality (particularly the sounds of players taking damage) and they don’t match up with the well designed visuals. This just adds to the fact that the whole experience feels somewhat lacking and unsatisfying.
Super Hexagon is hands down the best Android game in the bundle. The concept is fairly simple, but the game itself is incredibly difficult. You guide a triangle around the sides of a hexagon and dodge walls that continually fall from the sky at increasing speeds.
One game will last for roughly a minute, which, in my opinion, makes for a perfect mobile game. There are no time constraints for a play session, and you can very easily pass the device around a group of friends to try and get the best score.
There really isn’t much else that can be said about Super Hexagon, and it’s much better explained in video form (Super Hexagon Trailer) but I’ll close with this: The fast paced gameplay combined with the fantastic visual and audio design of Super Hexagon makes it one of the best mobile games I’ve ever had the pleasure to play.