iPod Gems: Chinese Checkers, Crystal Defenders, Trivial Pursuit
Just in time for Christmas, the last week brought three new Click Wheel iPod games to the iTunes Store—none of them particularly exciting, but none especially bad, either. Dutifully, we checked all three of them out for this week’s edition of iPod Gems; here are the details.
Unambitious and inexpensive, Apple’s $1 version of Chinese Checkers demonstrates the company’s new approach to discount iPod gaming: reuse much of the same assets to put a nice spin on classic table games. The prior week’s release of Reversi showed how the concept would work: you get to choose a background and a styled skin for the game itself, and then play with simplified controls as a single audio track plays in the background.
We can’t claim to be as interested in Chinese Checkers as we were in Reversi. You’re assigned one of six colors of marbles that are supposed to be moved one-by-one from one corner of a six-pointed star to another, while five other players attempt to do the same. Much of the time is spent either plotting how to move one marble from its current spot as many places as possible towards that other corner, jumping if possible over opponents’ pieces, or watching as opponents do the same. To us, this isn’t really compelling gaming, but some people may disagree.
The only real frill in this title is the skinning feature. Apple has reused the music - both the in-game track and the title screen track - directly from Reversi, used five similar board skins (metal, rock, wood, glass and stone), and reused thirteen background images ranging from a pasture to outer space scenes. You can also play the game in either vertical or horizontal orientation if you’re using the fourth-generation iPod nano; other iPods are stuck in horizontal mode, not that it matters much to the gameplay or presentation. If the board game interests you, give it a shot for a dollar; despite the repurposed content, it’s a fine value for the price. iLounge Rating: B.
The iPhone has been inundated, arguably oversaturated, with “tower defense” games; however, Click Wheel iPods haven’t yet had the same titles. For those who aren’t familiar with the basic game concept, you’re presented with a map, a collection of weapons, and a “tower” or map exit to defend. Then you’re given turns to set up or boost your weapons using money generated by defeating hordes of enemies who move from one side of the map towards your tower or exit. Every turn, the enemies get tougher and/or faster, so you need to keep building up your weaponry to stop them from breaching your defenses.
Square Enix’s Crystal Defenders ($5) is a Final Fantasy-inspired tower defense game. You’re given a variety of over 200 maps, a collection of different types of characters rather than just weapons, and certain positions on the map that you’re allowed to populate. Crystal Defenders provides the road for the enemies to follow, as well as the enemies, and you need to just populate the sides of the road with heroic characters to defeat the waves of enemies. This pattern continues on and on as you level-up your characters and increase their numbers.
For Final Fantasy fans, the draw here will be that the environments, characters, and enemies come from Tactics A2, with orchestral music and an optional “crystal” theme that requires you to protect crystals in addition to exits from stage to stage. You win a wave if there are still crystals remaining when all of the monsters have either escaped or been defeated; they take crystals when the escape. While most of the initial success comes from pre-planning stages such that the hordes don’t survive to reach the exit, later stages require more mid-turn strategy to increase the strength and number of your forces as monsters progress.
Aesthetically, Crystal Defenders is a nice enough looking game. If you’re using the fourth-generation iPod nano, you can view the title either in vertical or horizontal mode; maps always consume roughly the same central portion of the screen, and other iPods all present the title in horizontal orientation. Controls are fine, using the Click Wheel’s touch surface for scrolling of a cursor that can be used with the central Action button to select characters for placement and powering up, as well as to end turns and start the attack waves. It would be easy to picture the game playing better on the iPhone with touch-based controls, but Square apparently didn’t want to make the effort to use the full screen or advanced controls of that device.
If you’re a Click Wheel iPod owner and like Final Fantasy Tactics-style titles, Crystal Defenders is a fun introduction to the tower defense concept with solid graphics, audio, controls, options, and longevity. It’s a good value for the $5 asking price, though it won’t blow you away. iLounge Rating: B+.
What would a week be without another Hasbro-licensed board game port from Electronic Arts? Eventually, they’ll have to run out of old titles, but for now, we have Trivial Pursuit ($5), based upon the 1980’s trivia question sensation. Which celebrity got married in a Scottish castle? What, in baseball, is a can of corn? Pick from three multiple-choice answers, and if you’re right, you keep playing; if you’re wrong, it’s your opponent’s turn.
Trivial Pursuit breaks from the strict Q&A format by introducing a wheel-shaped board with quiche-shaped player pieces, starting all players in the center and having them roll a die to move outwards from the hub to colored spokes and the edges of the wheel. At each end’s spoke is a large space where answering a question correctly earns you one of six colored pie pieces; winning the game requires you to get all six pieces and then return to the central hub for one final random question. Beyond the trivia questions, the major challenge is rolling the die precisely enough to land on the pie piece spaces and then back at the hub; bad rolls alone can easily cost you the game, apart from your knowledge of answers to the 1,000 questions. The questions are contemporary where appropriate, but as with every edition of Trivial Pursuit, the answers are of course subject to some change and inaccuracy as the years go on.
While the Click Wheel iPod has had iQuiz as a cheap, then free trivia option, Trivial Pursuit’s gameplay and base of questions are both stronger; the pace of the title is also better. The aesthetic touches, however, aren’t. Once again, EA has put very little effort into making the in-game animation or board movement interesting; getting a pie piece leads to such puny in-game fireworks that you’ll wonder why they even bothered to put them in at all, and the dice rolling remains bland. The only frill here is the inclusion of Pursuit mode, which changes up the wheel-shaped board for a series of multi-path courses with a pressured countdown timer on your answers. This mode, and the pass-to-play multi-player mode, may make the game more interesting in the absence of more compelling audio or video.
Overall, Trivial Pursuit is a decent little title that, like the others mentioned today, won’t knock anyone’s socks off. It’s a no-brainer, minimal effort sort of release that players will enjoy if they like the original board game, but won’t find to be as strong a use of the iPod hardware as many of the best titles we’ve reviewed. iLounge Rating: B-.
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