Friday Linkaroud–Items of Interest

(c. Gettyimages)

“Good, Bad: I’m the Guy With the Gun”: Ash is coming to the App Store S-Mart in a new Army of Darkness game from Backflip Studios.

Snakes & Lattes: I’m not sure if I wrote about this place already, but even if I did it’s worth a second post. Snakes & Lattes is a boardgame cafe in Toronto. No, they don’t have free Wi-Fi, but they have about 1,500 boardgames for the use of their customers. Wish I had one around the corner.

Maybe Cliffy B. Lost a Bet?: One of the semi-interesting news items this week was the collapse of the 3-month-old MMO APB (All Points Bulletin), which sucked its development house, Scotland’s Realtime Worlds, down with it. APB failed for the most sound of reasons: it wasn’t particularly interesting. Now the rumor is that Epic Games is buying the rights to APB. Maybe hugely successful companies need to inject a little FAIL into their corporate bloodstream now and again, just keep them on their toes.

This Was Probably Inevitable: And since I’m smart enough not to open a debate on the Israeli/Palestinian issue on my gaming blog, I’ll just post a link and move along. 

“And Then the Captain of the HMS OpenFeint Saw Apple’s Game Center Up Ahead and Yelled “ICEBERG!”: Alas, too late. In a move that was surprisingly to absolutely no one, the suddenly-redundant OpenFeint has opened shop for Android devices. Apple’s new Game Center community features are not yet up to speed with OpenFeint’s, but they will be, thus making OpenFeint’s future on Apple devices extremely sketchy.

Kegerator Not Included: Although this one looks cheaply made, I have to say the idea of a “Pub in a Box” set of classic English pub games is an idea whose time has come. (What, no dartboard?)

Propaganda!: The artists at Irrational Games have outdone themselves creating imaginary propaganda posters for BioShock Infinite, currently slated for 2012. They did their work well: I had to pause and work through the meaning they were trying to convey, alternately offended and impressed. It’s rather nauseating to see symbols like George Washington, lady liberty, the Boy Scouts, and the cross used as grotesque nationalistic/racist propaganda. However, they seem to be a logical aspect of BSI’s story, which posits a floating cloud city created by America  in the 19th century, which subsequently devolves into civil war. Irrational is walking a fine line here, but they’ve shown themselves up to the task of deftly handling complex and controversial ideas in the past.

News From 1910: I’d much rather live in a world where the top 3 news stories were these rather than these. I suspect that Mrs. Joseph Thomas was cut to the quick to read that her dainty Bridge luncheon, served at card tables, was only entertaining “informally.” Also, why was the Domino Club meeting “unusually pleasant?” Did the last meeting culminate in a knife fight after Mrs. Daniel played Chickie Twos?

“Look, Larry… Have you ever heard of Vietnam?”: Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam is only being released as downloadble content. Hey, it worked for Battlefield: 1943.

Seize Your Tweets: The Twitterstream Digest compiled by Seize Your Turn provides an excellent compilation of the gaming news and blog activity.

Chess News for the week.

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App O’ The Mornin’: Spikey’s Bounce Around Review

This one was a bit of a surprise. Surprise is good in my line of work, because after you’ve seen the upteenth “run-to-the-right” game you begin to get a little cynical. (Have I missed it, or has no innovative soul yet broken new ground and made a “run-to-the-left” game? Please don’t tell me: I just love the idea that it might exist.)

Spikey sat on my device for a long time before I played it, and for the most sound of reasons: I didn’t like the icon. (Oh don’t act like you never do it.) I also found the graphics unappealing. After spending time with it, I think the strange color palette and cutesy butterflies-and-flowers theme is maybe some kind of retro joke that eluded me at first glance.

At least, I hope so, because underneath its peculiar veneer is a puzzle game that actually does something different, and provides almost maddening degree of difficulty at times.The goal is to fire an alternately bouncy and sticky little ball in order to free butterflies trapped in glass jars. Flowers, vines, and other objects appear on the screen, and the more of these you collect, the higher your score. As you get deeper into the game, new factors are added, such as rubber bumpers, wasps, and other environmental elements.

You can’t shoot Spikey quite all the way to the top of the screen, so you have to use his ability to stick to some surfaces and bounce off others in order to reach the tough spots. There are a limited number of shots per level, and creating the proper sequence of shots in the right direction can be almost insanely challenging at points. It’s impossible to know how to do this from just looking at each puzzle, so you have to experiment in order to get it right.

I’m usually not a fan of puzzle games that require multiple trial-and-error attempts to solve. Spikey is a rank offender in this category. There are puzzles which can’t be solved without nailing every shot, and sometimes failure to nail a shot isn’t really your fault. Due to the structure of the puzzles and physics of the game, a simple mis-calculation can ruin an entire setup.

This didn’t really bug me in Spikey. It simply adds an element of dexterity to the basic puzzle design, and gives it kind an arcade-puzzler feel. The challenge becomes not merely one of logically figuring out the proper moves, but also successfully executing each move. I’m okay with that.

Spikey’s Bounce Around combination of ballistics, sticking, bouncing, and collecting–with things to avoid and limited shots–is not quite like any puzzler I’ve played. Sure, it’s a variation on familiar themes, but it combines those themes in an interesting way, and fulfills the most basic requirement of any puzzler: it makes you want to keep trying and moving on to the next level.

There’s a free taste available as a Lite version, and the full version costs $2. Give it a shot!

Hoyle Playing Cards: A Closer Look

Brown & Bigelow has been around since 1896, manufacturing various printed products and promotional items, primarily advertising. They started printing playing cards in 1927, and their Hoyle brand became so famous that they changed the name of the company to Hoyle in 1975. In 2001, USPC aquired the card line and the Hoyle series, which had grown to include a long-running series of computer and video games, books, and other products.

The main card bearing the name of Hoyle Playing Cards is an American-made card comparable to Bicycle in weight, finish, and durability. It’s a good , durable coated paper card, and I can understand how it developed a solid following over the years.

Hoyle Playing Cards use a completely different set of face-cards, with a finer line and a more angular, modernist art style. Notice in the pictures below how the Queen of Hearts has squared fingers (as though she was drawn by Mike Mignola) and a more disapproving expression. The strong black outlines show an artist skilled with pen-and-ink, and capable of drawing an expressive line. (As a classic comic fan, I’m a huge admirer of artists with a strong pen line. I think the ink line of Charles M. Schulz is one of the high points of 20th century art.)

Hoye’s have a distinctive card back depicting Poseidon with a trident and clam shell. There’s no particular reason for this, but it looks dang spiffy.

Queen of Hearts: Bicycle (left) & Hoyle (right)
Corner detail