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Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition review — Scaled down but still great

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition

Because of how beloved the series is with gamers of all kinds, there’s never going to be a lack of Final Fantasy titles on mobile. The problem that Square Enix has run into with ports of newer additions to the console franchise is how to get them onto devices with lots less memory and muscle under the hood. With Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, the company has devised a pretty ingenious solution, keeping the story and the gist of the gameplay intact while streamlining or eliminating other parts of Final Fantasy XV as needed. The result not only works like a charm, it provides a blueprint for how the brand can continue to thrive on phones and tablets down the road.

The most notable difference between the Pocket Edition and its console counterpart is that it’s not an open world affair. The tale of Prince Noctis and his companions Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis is much more on rails on mobile, with each main quest propelling the narrative forward. That’s not at all a bad thing, as the most dramatic story beats are reached in much more prompt fashion, which could even be a selling point for anyone who sometimes get frustrated at how long it takes some Final Fantasy games to get to the point.

Square Enix makes up for the constraints on the story by adding in side quests that Noctis and company can tackle while in towns or rest stops. In-between those, there are sequences where the group is riding from place to place in their car, the Regalia, which seem extraneous but actually provide some of the best moments to appreciate how amazing it is that the voice acting survives the port intact. There are also speech bubbles on the screen so you can play with the sound completely off, but you’ll want to take in the dialogue and the typically strong soundtrack as much as possible.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition

Combat has also been simplified to allow Final Fantasy XV to fit on mobile devices, but an argument can be made that it’s still really faithful to the original. That’s because you still only control Noctis, guiding him in movement by simple taps and activating special abilities based on prompts that pop up on the screen. The companions have their own abilities that can be utilized when available with just single taps, and a skill tree allows you to focus on powering up Noctis or spreading out experience/leveling games among the whole squad. The game also does a nice job not throwing too many different gameplay elements at you at once, instead introducing them gradually as you advance.

In fact, the game does such a good job leading you along that you finish the first chapter, the only one available for free, before you even realize you’re done with it. The chapters have a tendency to end on dramatic cliffhangers — this is a Final Fantasy game, after all — and you have to pay to unlock additional chapters. An interesting pricing structure offers a couple chapters at just 99 cents (at least at the time of this review) before charging more for later ones. You can also unlock the entire game for $19.99.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition

Yes, that’s an awfully hefty price for a mobile game, one so large that it does make one wonder whether it’s worth it to take the plunge or simply buy the console version of Final Fantasy XV, which by now can be had for less than its original price. Still, if seeing the game on mobile is what prompted you to want to give it a try in the first place, it’s well worth trying out the initial, free chapter to see if you want to invest more money and time into it, as well as to marvel on how a full-fledged RPG can be translated to touchscreens without compromising all that much.

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Mad Skills BMX 2 review: One touch, two pedals

Mad Skills BMX 2

BMX racing isn’t something most of us can just go out and do. It takes talent, athleticism and bones that aren’t old (though that only applies to some of us, granted). It would be a lot more fun if you could just do it with one finger, which is exactly what Mad Skills BMX 2 allows you to do. The simple controls, speed and graphics are all inviting, but some frustrations in the system of advancement bog things down just a bit.

A five-race tutorial circuit eases you into the moves you need to master your bike, and there aren’t a ton of them. With simple arrow buttons, tackling the tracks is a snap as you just tap and hold down when going downhill or over rollers, tap up at just the right time and tap down to land jumps faster and get back up to speed. Your rider pedals all the time automatically, no leg muscle required.

Every race in Mad Skills BMX 2 is a one-one-one, heads up duel with one other rider. While your time is important — and better times earn you more rewards — your number one goal is to beat the other bike to the finish line. Every region has multiple tracks, with a boss battle against a particularly tough AI opponent waiting at the end. Winning that can earn you a new bike, so they’re definitely crucial.

The bikes you already own can be improved as well, with speed, pump and jump stats that can all be boosted with the game’s standard currency. A nice variety of cosmetic upgrades is also unlocked as you play, so you can trick out both your bike and your rider’s gear as you see fit.

Mad Skills BMX 2

Bike upgrades turn out to be pretty important, because while you can defeat opponents with better bikes through superior skill, that only works to a certain point. Earning enough currency to make your bike faster can initially seem like a bit of a slog, but there’s an option to watch videos to earn more, and you can also go back and set faster times on previous tracks to rack up more on top of that. Alas, you’re likely to be bottlenecked at the boss battles, more or less forced to go back and grind through levels you’ve already beaten in order to advance.

Mad Skills BMX 2 is also very interested in selling you premium time, where you pay a few bucks a month to rid yourself of ads, earn more currency and XP for every race and get a new bonus track weekly. It doesn’t seem like a horrible deal, but it would be nicer if it wasn’t constantly in your face, and you’ll probably find out pretty quickly if you feel like it’s something that’s right for you.

Mad Skills BMX 2

One thing the game could also do better is let you know about its asynchronous PvP races, which you’ll find in the Quick Play mode. These races allow you to take on the bikes and riders of other real players, but overall, they feel like a bit of a missed opportunity for a much more robust multiplayer mode of some sort.

That said, if you don’t overthink it or expect the world, Mad Skills BMX 2 gets the job done when it comes to quick, fun bike races that aren’t overly complicated. It’s fine for a quick action fix, as long as you aren’t stuck at a race you can’t pass, and as we said at the top, it definitely beats the wear and tear of riding bikes off ramps in the dirt in real life.

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Secret Kingdom Defenders review – Oriental odyssey

Secret Kingdom Defenders, the latest title from Doppler Hat Games, may not be massively original under the surface. But it sure is a lot of fun.

Arriving just in time for Chinese New Year, it’s a grid-based strategy experience – yet one that favours real-time battling over a stodgy turn based system.

The plot, as peripheral as it is, revolves around a monk who must go out on an adventure and…well, lets just say I wasn’t kidding when I said the story was peripheral. It’s simply an excuse for you to get to the actual meat of the game – the battles.

Levels are self-contained, and you must beat them in a linear order across a world map that – naturally – unfurls the further you progress. This aspect of the game is clearly presented, and fortunately so are the battles.

As mentioned earlier this is a grid-based title – with this alluding to the 9×9 square you place members of your team onto before the side on skirmishes begin. Your squad consists of various different characters, and here’s where things get interesting.

You start off with a rather shabby crew of journeymen (and journeywomen), who have weak attacks and powers – as you’d expect. However they allow you to grow into the game and understand its mechanics, with different characters being skilled at specific roles.

One is ideal for throwing themselves into close range fisticuffs for instance. Another is better placed near the back of scuffles, firing projectiles from afar. And so on.

Defeating enemies – that approach across three planes – is therefore usually just a case of placing the right squad members in the right spots. But the “right spots” varies from second to second due to the real-time nature of the battles.

You can move warriors by swiping and tapping, and considering the swift pace of fights and the busyness of the battlefield this is refreshingly easy to do. The aforementioned clear and colourful presentation helps no end.

In any case the battles can be hugely satisfying once you’ve progressed a little further into the game and can create exactly the team you want. Picking a specific set of heroes that then perfectly pull off the plan you had in mind is immensely satisfying.

Now the game isn’t perfect. To progress beyond a certain point you’ll have to either dip into the game’s realm of in-app purchases or repeat battles over and over to get enough loot to level up your existing squad.

It’s to the game’s credit that you’ll probably do this willingly, as the combat is so consistently enjoyable. There’s even an online PvP element that’s completely free.

So although the freemium aspects may put off some, Secret Kingdom Defenders is by and large a genuinely accessible strategy game with an enjoyable oriental flavour that’s well worth trying.

You can download Secret Kingdom Defenders on Google Play and the App Store for free now.

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Caravan War review: making you a happy camper

When future paleontologists examine the fossil record for the year 2008, they’ll discover the first stirrings of an explosion in the evolution of videogames.

How come? Because of the iPhone of course. The sudden presence in absolutely everybody’s pocket of a powerful touchscreen device forced game developers to invent about a million new genres that simply weren’t possible in the age of sticks and buttons.

Tower defence, while technically not a new genre, really found its niche on touchscreens, with games like Fieldrunners and the peerless Kingdom Rush series keeping countless gamers up into the night.

But it’s a long time since Fieldrunners, and the genre has evolved, breeding with other genres to create new and exciting entities. Entities like Caravan War.

Caravan War is a tower defence game, but only about half the time. The rest of the time it’s a resource management game. Let’s start with that.

The aim of the game is trade. The caravan of the title is a small convoy of traders taking goods to their destination so that they can be exchanged for gold and other goodies, including chests that contain hero cards.

Before sending this convoy on its way you need to build a Headquarters, and while you’re at it you’ll also need to put up a Mill, which produces the goods you sell, an Academy, which trains the people who guard your caravan, a Tavern, where you can recruit new players, a Garage, where you can store vehicles, and many more buildings besides.

You start off looking down at a 2D isometric environment with specific sites that can take a building, and over time you fill it up with bustling activity.

Once created, the buildings themselves grow whenever you apply an upgrade, and the inhabitants can often be upgraded too, in the form of promotions for the guardians and bandits who do your fighting for you. You can also upgrade your towers, vehicles, weapons, and so on.

Upgrading your Headquarters increases the number of convoys you can have on the road at once, but these won’t have much chance of success unless you fortify your caravans with weapons and guardians, which you can do via the ‘convoy’ icon.

And you can’t send convoys out without cargo, which you make in your mill, but also steal. This is where the tower defence comes in.

Tapping on the ‘ambush’ icon takes you to a preview of a caravan trundling along obliviously. Tapping on ‘attack’ lets you ruin the caravan’s day.

In a layout that will be familiar to most mobile gamers, your enemy will march along a set path. There are places along the sides where you can mount towers that automatically pummel your enemies as long as they’re in range, and there are other places where you can drop bandits of various kinds.

Destroying the caravan entirely is the aim, but even if you don’t finish it off you get to keep the stuff you managed to steal, including lovely cargo to use in your own trades (as long as you can pull the trade off without being ambushed yourself.)

The bulk of Caravan War is multiplayer, with a guild system if you feel like being sociable and availing yourself of news, jobs, and business. However, there’s also a single player campaign to work your way through, and this is essential if you want to reach your maximum potential in the multiplayer.

That’s because whenever you complete one of the campaign’s ten worlds you get a new tower or other item, improving your chances of success in the cutthroat world of caravan-based fantasy trade.

The first few campaign missions are straightforward, just as it’s straightforward to ambush an inexperienced player, but as the difficulty ramps up you need to think carefully about where to place your towers and which bandits you want to field for battle. These skills are indispensable in the real world.

Caravan War isn’t entirely original, and it could reasonably be described as plain in the looks department, but it’s a neat mashup of two genres that work well on mobile and it gives you plenty to do.

If you’re looking for a different take on the category that boasts megahits like Clash Royale, it’s worth giving Caravan War a look.

You can download Caravan War on Google Play and the App Store now.

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Light a Way review: Trip The Light Fantastic

It takes a little while to work out what kind of game Light a Way is. From the screenshots you’d assume it’s a side-scrolling platformer, though the narrative and customisation heavy description makes it sound more like an RPG.

While it is indeed side-scrolling, and it does indeed contain RPG elements, Light a Way is actually a much more modern genre of game. Like many of the most strangely addictive titles of the last couple of years, Light a Way is a cookie clicker.

You play as Little Girl (you can pick your own name after the intro, but we stuck with the default), a Guardian whose task it is to rid the world of Dark Beings. According to the backstory, these evil Dark Beings consume the lovely Beings of Light, though there isn’t much evidence of this in the gameplay.

In fact, most of the Dark Beings are harmless-looking blobs that appear to be paralysed. They are powerless to prevent you and your growing band of adorable companions from bludgeoning hem to death with your finger. If you skip the pretty, comic book intro, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re the bad guy.

You walk along, encounter a blob, tap furiously on it with your finger until its energy bar reaches zero, and then repeat the process. Between bouts of tapping you spend the points you earn on upgrading your character, increasing your power in readiness for the progressively more robust blobs in your way.

As your level increases you’ll acquire more and more extras: first come the red, green, and blue Fairies, which expel three kinds of deadly light when you tap on baddies. Then the Lumis, which hover around expelling light automatically.

You can upgrade these separately to increase their killing power, and more and more new ones become available as you advance, surrounding your character with a festive swarm of glowing sprites. They also learn special skills at certain levels, and you gain access to your own set of skills through ten different Staffs, each of which has its own unique power.

And that’s not all. There are also Spells, Runes, Lightstones, Blessings, and Treasure. Many of these things are upgradeable, meaning there’s a huge amount of stuff to keep your eye on, and a huge number of upgrades and unlocks to chase.

Whenever a new item is available a red mark appears on the relevant menu icon, making your housework pretty painless. As well as upgrades these red marks sometimes let you know that you’ve completed an achievement or earned a time reward. These often come in the form of Diamonds, which you can also pick up by killing the intermittently appearing Erebus.

To be honest, we could go on for hours about the various intricacies of Light a Way’s ecosystem of upgrades and items. Anybody who has played a decent mobile ARPG recently will recognise the library of menus, spells, gems, perks, runes, and other paraphernalia, plus the grunt encounters punctuated by more challenging bosses.

However, the gameplay is less usual. The baddies in Light a Way represent no danger whatsoever – they just sit there, take a beating, and then die. As your Lumis inflict damage, you don’t even have to tap on the screen. Progress is inevitable – tapping on the screen just makes it happen faster.

But then again, most mobile APRGs let you finish battles automatically. The clicker mechanic is just a novel approach to a genre that relies much more on the joy of upgrading than it does on action, and it works surprisingly well in this case.

Light a Way definitely falls into the casual timewaster category of mobile games. There’s no challenge, no skill is required, and despite the wealth of options the upgrade system is fairly consequence-free. As long as you keep tapping the upgrade buttons when they turn green and claim your rewards whenever you see a red mark you’ll be fine.

However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of casual timewasting, and Light a Way is a beautiful and imaginative way to zone out for a while.


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