Batman — The Telltale Series ($5) — Telltale Games’ new Batman title got off to a slightly rocky start a few weeks ago, with many users reporting bugs, lags, and crashes uncharacteristic of the company’s normally solid titles. Fortunately, a couple of subsequent updates have rectified most of these, although you’re still going to need a fairly modern device to properly enjoy the game — the company recommends at least an iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, or iPad Pro. It’s an episodic interactive graphic adventure that takes the player into the gritty world of early Gotham City, with the player taking on the role of Bruce Wayne and interacting with venerable Batman characters such as Alfred, Harvey Dent, Vicki Vale, and Lt. Gordon. The storyline is dark and gripping and combines fight and action sequences that are played out with time-sensitive taps and swipes, and storyline sequences with time-sensitive multiple choice dialogue options that affect the outcome of the plot — and the ultimate fate of Batman and Gotham City. It’s an interesting and immersive storyline — pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the company that created the critically-acclaimed The Walking Dead. The initial $5 purchase gets you the first episode, with additional episodes that will be released over time for $5 each, or in a five-episode multipack for $15. I’ve already bought the multipack.
Oz: Broken Kingdom (freemium) — Demonstrated during Apple’s September iPhone 7 launch event as a key new title to take advantage of the new hardware, Oz: Broken Kingdom is an RPG that puts the player in the classic world of The Wizard of Oz, in an era after Dorothy’s classic visit. Oz: Broken Kingdom introduces a new character instead — Ophelia Shen — who will fight alongside the legendary heroes of Oz: the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Scarecrow. Fans of the classic RPG genre will appreciate the turn-based combat with some nice twists for equipping, leveling up, and evolving characters. Each of the player characters has their own unique traits primarily focused on magic, armor, strength, and agility, which provide bonuses against enemies of other specific classes — for example, magic is best used against armor — although specific abilities for each character also focus these traits. Ability cards are gained after each battle — or by dropping coins in the Emerald City fountain — and can be used to add new abilities to a given character or increase the potency of current ones. Players choose their best combatant for each battle and load up the character’s abilities as appropriate for the enemies they’ll be fighting. Characters can also be “evolved” as they level up to increase their attributes, and different classes of gems can be discovered or crafted to add additional bonuses. The graphics are also absolutely stunning on the iPhone 7 Plus — the main reason Apple chose to demonstrate the game at their release event. Oz: Broken Kingdom uses a “freemium” model, but it’s one of the less invasive ones we’ve seen — the game will certainly try to encourage you to spend real-world currency by offering you specials, but unless you’re a hardcore player who wants to spend hours at it, it’s balanced enough to be quite playable for free. One of the things I particularly like about the game is the ability to pick it up and play it in short bursts. You can get lost in it if you really want to, but often a great mobile game is something that’s still a lot of fun to just jump into whenever you have a few minutes.
Star Trek: Timelines (freemium) — Having gone to Gotham City and the land of Oz, this third title takes us into another classic fantasy/sci-fi genre. Star Trek: Timelines is an interesting, albeit somewhat heavy-handed nod to all generations of the Star Trek universe, using a time anomaly scenario to meld characters from every series in Trek history. Although it’s a lot of fun hearing John de Lancie provide voice narration to host the epic as Q, the nature of the game feels more than a bit contrived to appeal to hardcore Trek fans that dream of a universe in which James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Ben Sisko, Kathryn Janeway, and even Jonathan Archer can all hang out together. The space battle graphics are impressive, but many of the quests and battles involve little more than choosing the appropriate crew members from your roster — again, across all of Trek history — to match their skills to the objectives at hand; you can put together an away team of Dr. McCoy, Wesley Crusher, Tom Paris, Ezri Dax, and Trip Tucker, for example, but honestly, beyond cute pictures, stats, and the rare quip of dialogue, the rest is pretty much left to your imagination. After a while, the character selections also get a bit silly — for example a lot of almost irrelevant characters will make appearances (Abraham Lincoln comes in from The Savage Curtain, for example, as well as Ambassador Fox from A Taste of Armageddon), and there are multiple versions of some characters based on minor variations in single episodes (“Age of Sail Crusher” and “Angel I Riker” come to mind). Star Trek: Timelines also leans far too heavily on the pay-to-play aspects — you’ll reach a point where you need to actually pay money for “dilithium crystals” before you can advance beyond certain levels, and the game doesn’t appear to offer any way to earn these in the game itself — you’ll have to spend real-world money, although a $4 “monthly card” subscription will net you 100 crystals per day. In short, this game trades almost entirely on the Star Trek name, and while hanging out in the Trek universe with an almost ridiculous potpourri of crew variations can be a lot of fun for hardcore fans, the game is ultimately less impressive than it sounds — it feels more like a piece of fan fiction than a complete game.