Tag Archive: iOS


After a series of lackluster releases, the fortunes of Telltale changed for the better when its landmark first season of The Walking Dead dropped. It was a gritty, moving story that redefined narrative in video games, and it seemed for a time after that, Telltale could do no wrong. There have definitely been more successes than not when taking licensed properties and crafting original tales around their episodic, choice-driven formula since then—the Walking Dead, however, appeared immune to the occasional misstep seen in other series. This leads us to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the third full season of the saga which just released its final episode. Although it is still one Telltale’s stronger efforts, it pales in comparison to the previous two seasons.

The character of Clementine, the common thread through the first two seasons, is still present here to keep us connected, but takes a noticeable backseat as players control new character Javier “Javi” Garcia. Javi’s family has a close encounter with a walker early in the outbreak, which proves to be a turning point for him as a person. He takes it upon himself to care for his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew for the next several years as the walker threat spreads. When Javi—with family in tow somewhere between Baltimore, Maryland, and Richmond, Virginia—come across the wrong set of humans in a junkyard, however, they quickly realize the living is just as dangerous as the undead.

Unsurprisingly, the narrative across A New Frontier’s five episodes provides a lot of highs and lows for our characters. Keeping in line with previous Walking Dead games, there are a bevy of heart-wrenching moments, difficult decisions, and surprises to be had as you try to guide Javi and his family to some sort of safe haven. The limited time you have to make decisions ramps up the tension more than ever before, as Javi will often have to think quickly in terms of what to say (or what not to say) and where to go.

The only issue with this system in A New Frontier—and this is something that has crept into Telltale games before—is that sometimes some of the descriptions of what you want to say will cause you to make a choice, but then your character will say something you did not expect at all. If I choose “tell [insert character] off” then I’m expecting a few sentences laced with expletives, not for my character to suddenly reveal private information meant to hurt that individual on a deeper level. The result then may lead to something truly unexpected, but it’s frustrating when it stems from a choice you feel you really didn’t make.

Thankfully, those instances, at least in my playthrough of the season, were relatively few and far between. Something that plagued the narrative far more was the inconsistency of the writing quality as a whole. Each episode, even the double-long two-parter that kicks the season off, had plenty of those great moments I mentioned earlier—but unlike previous Walking Dead games, it felt like there were dramatic tonal shifts between episodes and writing teams. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final episode, which only had one lead writer instead of a full team. This episode had humor pop up in the weirdest places, which seemed to really undercut everything that had happened up until that point. The narrative for this season also relied more heavily on plot devices than in previous games. For example, each episode usually featured a couple of flashbacks. Some were used to fill in the nearly two-year gap for Clementine between Seasons Two and Three; others were trying desperately to add depth to the new cast of characters, who still ended up being far less interesting than any group we’ve previously played as. The device was neat early on, but already felt overplayed by the time episode four rolled around.

Speaking of devices, poor Clementine was relegated to deus ex machina this go around instead of the powerful, beloved heroine she was becoming after Season Two. She would come and go as she pleased during each episode, and it felt like whenever Javi had gotten himself into the most trouble, Clem would show up to find a way to bail him and his bumbling family out before continuing her own agenda elsewhere (which we almost never see). Admittedly, this could be a sore spot for me due to the attachment many of us have developed with this character over the years, but it felt like one of the better characters in video games was being underutilized.

That said, one new device the game added that I enjoyed was that those limited interactions with Clem played heavily into how much she helps you later on in the game. In fact, after seeing how all my decisions affected my playthrough, I was shocked that half of the audience alienated Clem by the end of the game, leading to many questions for potential new seasons that will hopefully switch the focus back to our darling Clementine. This added some much needed weight to the largest decisions you have in the game early on, and was a pleasant surprise.

The rest of the gameplay in A New Frontier was rather by the book otherwise. Telltale has gotten away from the puzzles of point-and-click adventures of the past, relying far more heavily on quick time events now. Although this helps greatly with the pace of the story, it removes almost any challenge from the game, making it feel less like you’re playing a game at all. Depending on how much you’ve invested in the narrative, this could be a potential turn-off if you’re looking to test your brainpower more than your reflexes. It also needs to be said that Telltale’s proprietary Telltale Tool game engine continues to show its age in the worst ways. There is nothing more immersion breaking than when someone is hurt in the game and the animation jumps when the blood splatters. I understand that Telltale has become a well-oiled machine in terms of being able to crank out episodes at a breakneck pace compared to just a few years ago, but it’s clear the game engine can no longer support the creative engine.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier isn’t the best season we’ve gotten of Telltale’s The Walking Dead—it’s strong narrative, although inconsistent at times, is still one of the more compelling and well-thought stories Telltale has produced, however. It took some chances with new plot devices, many of which I felt did not work, but this will hopefully provide opportunities to try other ideas that might work better instead. If you’re a big fan of these Walking Dead games, you’ll be happy you’ve played this, but like me, it’ll probably only make you want a new season as soon as possible where the focus shifts back to Clementine.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.30.17
7.5
It’s a solid third season for The Walking Dead, but we’ve seen so much better. Cheap plot devices and inconsistent tones in the writing hurt the overall quality of the narrative, and the Telltale Tool continues to show its age in the worst ways. And, for diehard fans, Clementine will still find a way to steal the show from the new cast.
The Good A New Frontier continues to show why The Walking Dead is Telltale’s most compelling property.
The Bad The Telltale Tool continues to show its age; writing inconsistency between episodes.
The Ugly My crying face—Telltale is too good at making you care about a character and then killing them off.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – The Complete Third Season is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, iOS, and Android. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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It’s extremely difficult to appease Batman fans, and I’m admitting right from the get go that I count myself amongst the most hardcore of them. It’s almost tradition now for every new version of The Dark Knight to suffer some backlash—especially from those of us who are as obsessed with Batman as he is with fighting crime. Fans of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original gun-wielding, rooftop leaping lunatic from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s hated Adam West’s camp-filled romps in the ‘60s. Those fans in turn disliked when the comics crafted a noir vibe and turned back towards some of Finger/Kane’s roots in the ‘70s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ take on the character. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s film version of the Caped Crusader in the 80s all had their haters, too. So, when it finally came time for me to play Batman: The Telltale Series, I was both excited and worried about what the latest take on Batman might bring to us, knowing it would be extremely difficult for me—even though I’d like to think of myself as a more open-minded fan—to come away satisfied.

Batman: The Telltale Series is best described as a transitional adventure between “Year One” and “Year Two”. What this equates to in Batman’s history for those unfamiliar with comic book parlance is that he’s taken his lumps in that first year of crime fighting, and just now is starting to come into his own as “The Batman.” It’s also when the supervillains start to show up; classic foes like Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker all make their presences felt by the end of the game, along with the traditional mobsters that Batman had to deal with in his early days. The bulk of the game’s narrative, however, centers on Bruce Wayne needing to clear his family name after a new bad guy reveals that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) wasn’t the philanthropist that Gotham necessarily saw him as.

Being a Telltale game, the narrative does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of one’s enjoyment of the product—or lack thereof. And right from the start, this was a decision that started to turn my opinion sour. With writers running out of ideas now that Batman is wrapping up his eighth decade of print, the idea of questioning his origins and casting doubt on the sanctity of his purpose has been done countless times in recent years of the comics. The easiest way to do this is to attack Bruce’s parents, and I have always taken issue with this.

One of Batman’s greatest appeals is his mission; his obsession is one that we as fans mirror back onto him. He makes a vow on his parents’ graves to wage an unending war on all criminals as a child, and the fact he follows through on it and lets it dictate his life is twisted and unhealthy, but in an odd way also very pure. It’s a child lashing out against a cruel and unjust world for the love and security that was ripped away from him in a random act of violence. When you remove this, you simply have a maniac in a mask. Yes, that’s what Batman really is at his core, but you greatly lessen his appeal when you strip away one of his founding dimensions, and undo a lot of the great work that those came before had laid out. Simply put, if something isn’t broke, stop trying to fix it.

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And I understand the appeal of wanting to do it. Attacking Bruce’s family also attacks his money source—Batman’s true greatest superpower. His inherited wealth has always been Bruce’s deus ex machina, allowing him to get out of more situations than I could count no matter the era. It’s like putting Superman under a red sun; it’s a classic comic book gimmick to take our hero out of his comfort zone. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when your powers are so closely tied to your origin like Batman’s are, it’s more apt to blow up in your face.

One thing Telltale did do a fantastic job of, though, was trying to pay homage to a lot of great Batman media over the years. The font in the title graphic evokes memories of Batman: The Animated Series, and the superb voice acting from this cast is on par with the legendary voices from that groundbreaking series. Although still well within the parameters of Telltale’s signature cel-shaded art-style, Two-Face’s design is largely based on that seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Penguin’s feels more akin to what we’ve been given on FOX’s Gotham. And, several gameplay elements like Detective Mode—more on that in a bit—borrow from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. One other element that Telltale touched on from the Batman: Arkham series is taking a previously-established comic book canon character and trying to pass them off as a new villain. The worst of it, though, is this character was never a Batman villain to begin with.

This leads us to the main villain of the story, a new character dubbed Lady Arkham, which I will try to refer to as vaguely as possible to avoid giving away her true identity. Even with my distaste for the Thomas Wayne bashing, the first two episodes of Batman: The Telltale Series were actually quite compelling. When Lady Arkham reveals her true self in episode three, the series takes a marked turn for the worse. I don’t know if it comes from Batman’s license holders at Warner Brothers, or if there’s just a general fear of introducing new villains into the Batman universe outside of the comics, but the disappointment at the revelation of Lady Arkham was even worse than when we all realized within the first 15-minutes of playing Arkham Knight that our foe was Jason Todd. At least, at that point, he was a villain in the comics.

Lady Arkham’s true identity was always a close ally of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and twisting her like this felt like it was just cheap shock value for us hardcore fans who never suspected her because of our familiarity with the character. If Telltale had created an entirely new character with Lady Arkham, keeping her network seemingly as powerful as Batman’s and as long-standing as Bruce Wayne’s—but minus the preconceived notions from her true identity’s long history in Bat-media—I think she and her Children of Arkham could’ve been a welcome addition to the Rogues Gallery (in the same way Talon and the Court of Owls was a few years ago, and Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins was in the ‘70s). As is, she feels like a throwaway character used simply to establish Telltale’s new universe while not wasting any of the classic villains, thus weakening the entire story arc as a whole.

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The series also takes a turn for the worse on the technical side of things starting around her reveal. Telltale’s game engine continues to show its age, and does so markedly as this series progresses. The first couple of episodes are mostly glitch-free, but by the time we reach episode five, the choppy cutscenes, dropped audio lines, and general lag after decisions are made make finishing the game almost a chore. I understand that Telltale prides itself on its products coming out on every playable device imaginable. At some point, however, the studio needs to take some of this licensing money and invest back into tech that is optimized for modern consoles, and stop giving us this lowest common denominator garbage.

From a gameplay perspective, the bulk of the game remains around Telltale’s iconic choose-your-own-adventure multiple-choice scenes that change character interactions and dialogue depending on the decisions you make. Some additions we haven’t seen before in a Telltale game, and some that are even exclusive to Batman: The Telltale Series, were included here, though.

Detective mode, the special lenses that paint the world in a blue hue and allows Batman to recreate crime scenes, makes an appearance here. Similar to the Batman: Arkham games, examining clues will help Batman figure out what exactly happened in and around a crime scene, and piecing things together properly will help him decide what to do next on a case. Telltale also smartly allows you to link clues together this way to make it feel more like you’re actually solving the puzzle yourself. You also use Detective mode before certain ambushes, allowing Batman to plan out how he wants to clear a room before starting the quicktime button-mashing fest that helps him to defeat thugs unscathed. It’s just different enough from the Arkham games, but it still feels very much like you’re Batman while using it, and was a pleasant surprise.

Unlike a lot of other Batman projects, this game also does a great job of balancing life as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas the Bruce Wayne parts of most movies, TV shows, and even comics can lean towards the mundane, the sequences here were just as intense and action packed as those where you’re dressed as Batman. Sometimes, they were even more difficult, since you don’t want to give away your secret identity. I loved the idea of there being branching paths, and you can even choose to confront certain individuals as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, which results in the dialogue obviously changing drastically. I only wish there were more of these choices as well as more Detective mode sequences, with it feeling like there was only maybe one per episode of either of them.

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Batman: The Telltale Series had a lot of potential. There were some clever ideas, and some nice tribute Easter eggs to Bat-media of the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to overcome aging, glitch-ridden technology and some weak narrative decisions in a narrative-centric experience. Therefore, it’s now time for me to try to find some Bat-Telltale repellant and see if I can’t get this game off of my bat-addled brain.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.13.16
6.0
The bigger a Batman fan you are, the less you’re likely to enjoy Telltale’s take on The Dark Knight. Combined with the obvious age Telltale’s engine is showing, this simply isn’t their best effort.
The Good Weaves elements from so many different Batman iterations over the years into one cohesive product.
The Bad Cheap plotline twists will leave some fans unhappy. Telltale’s engine is really starting to show its age.
The Ugly Selina Kyle’s apartment. I can’t stand a messy woman.
Batman: The Telltale Series is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I’m sure like many gamers of my generation, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopas with Mario was the first video game experience we had. Over 30 years later, Mario’s moves and looks may have been consistently upgraded, but the simple joy of jumping on an enemy’s head and running for the flagpole goal remains ever satisfying no matter the system. So, with Mario appearing over on a mobile platform for the first time ever in Super Mario Run, I’m sure a lot of us were more than willing to make the leap with him. While the game may have the look and feel of a proper Mario, however, there are enough questionable decisions here to have made this one of my least-favorite trips to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Like the start to almost every Mario adventure, Princess Peach invites Mario over to her castle, and Mario arrives just in time to see Bowser kidnap his beloved. Again. This time, Bowser also proceeds to lay waste to the entire Mushroom Kingdom, reducing it to rubble and scattering the Toad population to the winds before he escapes to his fortress.

The bulk of Super Mario Run is comprised of 24 stages across six worlds in the game’s Tour mode. The first three stages are free to everyone who downloads the game, which I appreciate because it gives you a pretty solid taste of the game before you decide if it’s something you want to drop $9.99 for—a steep price to pay when talking about mobile games usually.

As the name would suggest, the game is an endless runner—Mario never stops moving normally, and all you have to do as the player is tap the screen to make him jump. There are special blocks carefully placed in the game that will pause everything, but if Mario misses them, he just keeps running and jumping at your command. The only other time he’s not sprinting to the right is in certain Ghost Houses and Boom Boom battles, where a wall jump will start Mario heading in the other direction.

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Despite Mario’s legs always churning like a locomotive, a lot of the classic platforming challenge we’ve come to love from the series remains, and never being able to stop actually adds a new layer of difficulty to the gameplay. Of course—as Super Mario Run has more of a casual flair—there are no lives to lose or no real consequences for failure (unlike Mario’s console outings). Still, there is challenge here, since you need to beat a stage in order to advance. Timing your jumps on or over enemies becomes critical as moving platforms and other obstacles are added to each subsequent stage. And, in order to collect the three sets of five special coins (pink, purple, and black) that are scattered in each stage, you’ll need to use every trick the game gives you to grab them successfully. Since only one set of coins appears at a time, if you’re obsessed with collectibles, you know you’ll have to play through each stage at least three times to nab them all.

If collectibles aren’t your thing, then one downside to the full game of Super Mario Run is that even with the challenge steadily ramping up, it shouldn’t take you more than two or three hours to knock out all 24 stages. Drabbing all those aforementioned collectible coins does change the stages slightly (platforms and enemies move to make the new coins challenging to reach), but if you’re not a collectible fiend, you’re likely to end up disappointed at those coins being the driving force behind the main game’s replayability.

There are two other modes that do try to keep you coming back outside of the Tour mode, with the first being Toad Rally. In order to try to lure the scattered Toads back to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario can spend a Toad Ticket—easily earned via a daily bonus and completing stages—to take on the ghost of another player in a particular stage. If Mario can outperform the ghost by collecting more coins, defeating more enemies, and just generally progressing farther than the ghost in the time given, then Mario will lure Toads back with his impressive feats and bolster the population of the player’s particular Mushroom Kingdom. If Mario loses, some Toads may leave your Kingdom, so there is a risk involved—but luring back more than you’ve lost helps level up your game, potentially leading to expansion.

Why would you want to expand it, you ask? Well, Mario can also spend collected coins to help rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom in Build mode, where you’ll use Toad Houses, statues, hills, flower fields, and other items to help bring the Kingdom back to its former glory. Build enough structures, and have enough Toads, and you can expand the Mushroom Kingdom via Rainbow Bridges. You can also unlock new characters this way, such as Luigi or Yoshi, and each handles a bit differently than Mario in the main game. If world building is something that appeals to you, Toad Rally and Build mode work together to offer an interesting alternative to just replaying all the levels again and again.

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Personally, though, I didn’t find this to be enough to make me want to keep coming back to Super Mario Run. World building really isn’t what draws me into a Mario game. I admit I could see myself grinding for all the collectible coins to get more playtime out of each stage, but Super Mario Run has some technical shortcomings that really came to be fatal flaws which would keep me from doing this.

The first is something that I’ve been noticing with more and more mobile games lately, and that’s the fact that they have trouble performing on older mobile devices. I originally started playing the game on my iPad 2, and the game would lag terribly and crash after every few stages. I talked with some friends who had also tried it on older gear, and they had the same issues. When I switched to my iPhone 6, however, everything changed for the better. The lag and crashing issues dissipated, but let this serve as a warning to anyone without a more recent phone or tablet to play on.

The other technical issue is absolutely unforgivable in my book, and really soured my opinion of this game: the fact that it requires you to always be online. I think Nintendo has gotten a lot of their priorities confused lately; Super Mario Maker for the 3DS doesn’t let you go online to share stages you’ve created, and then you’ve got Super Mario Run, a mobile game, requiring you to always be online. I even put my phone in airplane mode to double check, and sure enough, you can’t even get past the title screen if you’re offline—an error message just keeps popping up, even if you paid for the entire game and not just the three demo stages.

I understand that you need the online aspects for the Toad Rally mode and the ghosts present there, but the fact you can’t play the main game offline is puzzling at the very least. With the holidays coming up, I thought Super Mario Run was going to be releasing at the perfect time considering all the long plane flights and car trips I’ve got coming up, and I’m sure I’m not the only one traveling over the next couple of weeks. The fact that I can’t play the game in a car, subway, or bus if I’m using a device without cell service, or on a plane at all—places where people are most apt to want to play mobile games—feels like Nintendo shooting Mario in his foot. This is one of the worst examples I can find of always-online gameplay, and it really hampers Super Mario Run and the potential enjoyment of it tremendously.

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Super Mario Run has a solid core as a mobile game. The endless runner style is nothing we haven’t seen before, but adding Mario’s classic platforming challenge created an extra degree of difficulty we don’t always get with the genre. Unfortunately, this was the brightest spot for this game. Even with all 24 stages, the main game is short, and relies heavily on collectibles and side options like rebuilding the Mushroom Kingdom to keep you coming back for more. Couple this with the fact that it needs to always be online to even be playable, and I think Nintendo really misses the point of what mobile games are supposed to be. Super Mario Run isn’t the worst mobile offering I’ve seen, but it could—and should—have been so much better.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Nintendo EPD/DeNA • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 12.15.16
6.0
Super Mario Run does a nice job of capturing the feel of a classic Mario game. The fact that it needs to always be online in order to play deters me from grinding through its collectible driven-gameplay, however, since it limits when and where I can actually play the game—defeating one of the primary purposes of playing a mobile game in the first place.
The Good Challenging platforming that will instantly remind you of other Mario games from over the years.
The Bad The always-online aspect is infuriating how much it can hinder when and where you play.
The Ugly All the times I wanted to say, “that’s what she said” whenever someone mentioned you can play with it with just one hand.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS platforms and coming later to Android. Primary version reviewed was for iPhone 6. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I’ve had mixed feelings when it has come to the GO series of mobile games from Square Enix. I loved Hitman GO, but was disappointed with Lara Croft GO. So, when it was announced that Deus Ex would be getting similar treatment, I obviously was hoping it would channel the former more than the latter—and it seems my hopes were answered.

Deus Ex GO opens with series protagonist Adam Jensen on a mission for Task Force 29. He must infiltrate an office building under attack by terrorists and save a man named Novak who is being held hostage. Jensen is too late, however, and Novak is executed. But, as is often the case in the world of Deus Ex, there’s more going on than meets the cybernetic eye. As Adam’s detective instincts kick in, he starts asking questions and pulling on loose threads, uncovering a dastardly plot that he must put a stop to.

It’s hard to tell exactly where in the timeline Deus Ex GO lands, but considering Adam is already working for Task Force 29, it has to at least be close to the beginning of Mankind Divided. If so, this serves as a nice way to help flesh out the universe even more, offering another way to bring some light to the lesser characters around Adam and the state of the world in 2029.

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Just like in previous GO games, Deus Ex GO plays out across dozens of levels. In this case, every new location is comprised of a few levels that Adam typically has to infiltrate as he digs deeper into this latest conspiracy. Each one has an overlay of dots on it, and Adam can move to them one at a time like spaces on a board game. Enemies and obstacles move at the same time as our hero, however—and if Adam moves the wrong way into the path of either, he dies and has to restart the level.

What I loved about Deus Ex GO is that, right from the start, it lets you know it’s not pulling any punches. Even putting aside the couple of times you’ll likely die when new enemies or mechanics are introduced (and you learn via some trial and error), Deus Ex GO is challenging, forcing you to re-think strategies often. There were even a few moments where I admit to getting suck and using one of the two “hacks” the game starts you off with, which can be used to automatically solve a level (with more available for purchase via microtransactions). It’s a brilliant brainteaser of an experience, and I enjoyed figuring out how to turn turrets, soldiers, and robots against each other—and to my advantage—as the game went on.

Of course, what’s also so great about Deus Ex GO is that it plays into the themes of the main series well. Stealth and hacking are at the core of Deus Ex, and Adam’s repertoire is built around this. By collecting well-placed charges around levels, Adam can activate powers—more of which he acquires as the game goes on—that assist him in advancing past each stage. From remote hacking terminals that change paths or turn turrets friendly, to making Adam invisible for one movement, or even later on to a gun that removes an enemy from the field, it felt like Square Enix Montreal was able to boil down the core of Deus Ex and put it in this neat little package.

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There’s also a lot of content here considering how long it might take you to figure out some of the puzzles if you don’t use the hacks. There are literally dozens of levels, plus daily bonus stages with rewards if you can beat every bonus stage during a particular week. It’s sad that the map editor didn’t make the launch of Deus Ex GO, but being able to build my own maniacal deathtraps and share them with friends adds way more replayability than previous GO titles, and I can’t wait until that arrives.

Unfortunately, like a poor stealth run in Mankind Divided, Deus Ex GO does trip a few alarms. The most noticeable (from a technical standpoint) is that the game crashes relatively frequently. It seemed around every few stages or so I’d be catapulted out of the game and back to my iPad main screen. I’m sure bugs like this will be smoothed out in the future, but it did become annoying after the third or fourth time it happened.

There’s also the fact that this is the GO series’ third game, and I think it’s time to start upping the presentation a little. The simplicity of a board game worked for Hitman GO, because it felt like Square Enix Montreal went all in with that motif. As they moved away from that in Lara Croft GO and here, and started crafting scenes that look like they belong in their respective character’s worlds, I can’t help but feel they then should go full boar with the presentation if that’s the way they want to go. It was so dull just looking at a static picture of Adam Jensen as single lines of dialogue popped up on a gray screen—give us some cutscenes between stage shifts, record some voiceovers, offer up a motion comic or two, or something.

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Deus Ex GO might not be running perfectly here at launch, and the presentation is a tad lackluster, but the gameplay provides a fun and challenging experience worthy of the franchise. With dozens of stages available at launch, along with weekly challenges, and the post-launch map editor on the way, there’s plenty of content that’ll keep you coming back for more once all the pieces are in place. As is, Deus Ex GO is a solid puzzler that should serve as a nice fix for those Deus Ex fans always on the move.

Publisher: Square Enix • Developer: Square Enix Montreal • ESRB Date: N/A • Release Date: 08.18.16
7.5
Does a great job of channeling the core of the Deus Ex series into a fun and challenging mobile title. Glitches and poor presentation hold the game back, though, at least here at launch.
The Good Puzzles are no pushover, while staying true to the Deus Ex universe.
The Bad A lot of crashing and instability. Presentation needs work.
The Ugly How much I want to see the map builder feature, which isn’t coming until a future update.
Deus Ex GO is available on iOS and Android. Primary version reviewed was for iOS. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

A temple better left untapped

Last year, Hitman GO’s board game aesthetic and challenging puzzles provided a breath of fresh air for everyone’s favorite bald murder machine while still channeling the stealth and tactics the main series is known for. Not satisfied with just giving Agent 47 the tabletop treatment or continuing to build new boards for the burgeoning spin-off franchise, Square Enix Montreal decided Lara Croft could use her own GO-style makeover. Unfortunately, they should have stuck with the assassin.

Lara Croft GO sees the titular tomb-raiding heroine in search of an item called the “Atlas of Beyond”. While exploring a temple that supposedly houses the artifact, Croft accidentally awakens the Queen of Venom, a gargantuan snake so large that it could slurp Lara up whole with one snap of its massive jaws. She must now find the Atlas while dodging both the Queen and the temple’s many traps if she has any hope of telling the tale of her latest adventure.

Lara Croft GO is almost nothing like its predecessor, making it all the more curious that it carries the GO name brand. The change you’ll most likely notice immediately is the scrapping of the board game motif. Even though it is broken up into stages, the tomb that Lara is exploring is one world that tries—and often fails due to a lack of general explanation—to convey a continuous narrative. The characters are no longer simplistic tokens, but fully realized models that move like you’d expect from more traditional games. The stages themselves have lost all notion of being part of a tabletop setup besides the path lines drawn for Lara to follow as she and the enemies she’ll encounter move one spot one finger swipe at a time. This gives the game an art-style more reminiscent of a cheap Tomb Raider knockoff than something that has an entirely original look to it like Hitman GO did.

The only other gameplay aspect besides movement that carries over between the two GO games is that Lara can only kill enemies from the side or from behind. Giant spiders, snakes, and humanoid lizard people are some of the creatures Lara will encounter while searching for the Atlas. Confusingly, though, Lara carries her iconic dual pistols throughout the game. It makes little sense for her to be wielding them if she can only attack from the side or from behind. And if she finds a spear or a torch, then she can approach enemies from the front or from a distance. Since when are torches and spears more powerful than guns? I found it to be an odd choice to say the least that this was the one rule brought over.

Lara Croft GO also at no point feels like it tries to do justice to the Tomb Raider games. Hitman GO’s strategic requirement lined up perfectly with what Hitman is known for. My hope was that LC GO would find a way to incorporate some sense of exploration, or branching paths at least, to pay homage somehow to Tomb Raider. If Square Enix Montreal had kept pushing the board game feel of everything, maybe they could have gone with a Betrayal at House on the Hill style, with random tiles being added to the world mid-stage the more Lara explored instead of everything being laid out on a single path for you from the beginning. This also could have helped with replayability, but as is, Lara Croft GO is too linear an experience to be that enjoyable, and completely ignores what it means to be Lara Croft.

While on the subject of replayability, this is something that Lara Croft GO sorely lacks. Hitman GO offered up multiple objectives per stage, allowing players to continue forward if they wished after accomplishing the hit, but rewarded players who could master every stage, which often required multiple playthroughs. LC GO has rewards, too, with alternate costumes for Lara if you find the various hidden items on each stage. The problem is that all 120 of them are in plain sight as you advance, and only need a fourth-wall breaking tap—as in Lara doesn’t need to be anywhere near the collectible—to retrieve them, making them nigh-impossible to miss.

The one saving grace Lara Croft GO has is its puzzles. About 40 different stages will test your mental acuity as you navigate through winding temple paths, looking for the proper solution to the problem placed before you. Switches that control moving platforms, trap doors and crumbling pillars, even large boulders that roll after Lara and timed doors that threaten to cut you off from advancing will all need to be overcome if you hope to escape. The stages are broken up into five different sections of the temple and ramp up in difficulty at a steady pace that will push you, but should never break your will to keep going. All told, I was able to one hundred percent Lara Croft GO in just over four hours, so even the most complex puzzles weren’t the greatest of challenges.

Lara Croft GO is a decent puzzle game to kill a few hours with, but lacks all the finer things that made its predecessor in the GO series so much fun. It abandons the GO aesthetics, and at the same time, fails to channel anything about the Tomb Raider series beyond the setting—making me question why Square Enix thought Lara would adapt at all to this format to begin with. Even for the mobile price of $4.99, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend this to anyone but the most fervent of Lara loyalists.

Developer: Square Enix Montreal • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 08.27.15
5.0
Lara Croft remains a poor choice that never fit for the GO-style that was established with Hitman GO last year, even if you can find a bit of fun in the short, simple puzzles.
The Good Inventive puzzles that ramp up nicely in difficulty.
The Bad A lack of overall challenge. Fails to capture the essence of the Tomb Raider series or continue what was started with Hitman GO.
The Ugly It’s been so long since we’ve seen Lara made of so few polygons.
Lara Croft GO is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Primary version reviewed was on iOS using an iPad 2. Review code was provided by Square Enix for the benefit of this review.

Simpsons did it

We all know by now that taking a movie, TV show, or comic book and trying to turn it into a game rarely works. More often than not, it ends up being a huge mess that neither fans nor developers end up happy with. Occasionally, though, someone hits it out of the park and the risk pays off. One media property that’s still trying to hit gaming gold is Family Guy.

We’d rather sweep games like Back to the Multiverse under the rug than celebrate them, so Fox looked to change the series’ digital luck like they did with the Griffins’ Animation Domination cohorts, the Simpsons, and Tapped Out. Instead of EA Mobile, Fox tapped (no pun intended) TinyCo, the creator of TinyMonsters, to bring the mobile digital revolution to Quahog. Instead of breaking new ground, though, they simply decided to retread what’s already been done over in Springfield.

Right from the get-go, you can tell that Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff is a carbon copy of The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Sure, some minor tweaks are present, like the story and characters obviously tailored to fit Family Guy, but starting with Peter and Ernie the Giant Chicken destroying Quahog in their latest brawl the same way that Homer destroyed Springfield by letting the power plant have a meltdown, this is just another free-to-play city builder with some Sunday-night flair.

The gameplay consists of rebuilding Quahog in any way you deem fit. You’ll be laying down roads, rebuilding houses and businesses from the show, and sending your favorite characters off to do various tasks in an attempt to earn currency to build up Quahog bigger and better than it was before. If you don’t want to wait for an hour for Chris to finish picking his nose or six hours for Mort to do Peter’s taxes, you can use real-world cash to buy premium currency or “clams” to make everyone almost instantaneously finish what they’re doing. The app also features a social aspect (explained as being part of Stewie’s multiverse) where you can invite your Facebook friends to join—and, if they do, you can visit their unique Quahogs and earn extra money and XP.

The payoff of hoarding cash and visiting friends is hopefully forwarding the “story” of rebuilding Quahog and unlocking some original animation and dialogue. The humor here is definitely a bright spot if you love the show, and Quest for Stuff even introduces its own set of zany, one-off characters, but I would’ve loved some more voice acting besides the prerecorded one-liners that get repeated constantly.

A major difference between Quest for Stuff and that other Fox animated-sitcom-inspired city builder is that each character also has bonus costumes that give them a new set of actions. Performing specific activities or having particular buildings also gives you bonuses to unlock even more costumes. Peter dressing as a “lady of the night,” Quagmire stripping down to a Speedo, and Lois going commando (not that kind of commando—like a soldier) are just some of the different outfits available.

Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff also tries harder not to turn into a game where you’re constantly waiting for quests to finish up. You rarely have to endure 12- and 24-hour tasks in order to finish quests that advance the game as you continue to unlock more of Quahog’s unique denizens and structures. This is a double-edged sword, though, since I also found that my Quahog got very cramped very quickly. I was constructing buildings faster than I was unlocking land—the exact opposite issue I often face in Tapped Out.

Despite the glaring lack of originality, The Quest for Stuff isn’t a bad game if you simply take it for what’s it worth: a free-to-play title that’s great for killing 5 to 10 minutes on your lunch break. But it won’t get you through a long plane flight. It won’t kill all that time wasted sitting at the DMV. It won’t get you through that boring meeting at work as you pretend to take notes on your iPad.

But dropping into your own digital Quahog for a couple of minutes a day will probably give you a much-needed chuckle as Bonnie twerks for way too long on a backyard stripper pole, Quagmire lets his pet gerbil loose, and Peter stuffs his face at the local burger joint. If you’re a fan of Family Guy (and considering you don’t have to spend any money on this), there are probably a lot worse things taking up space on your mobile device’s hard drive right now.

Developer: TinyCo • Publisher: TinyCo • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 04.10.14
6.5
The lack of originality is evident from the opening animation, but in small doses, The Quest for Stuff can provide fans of Family Guy a welcome chuckle here and there, and that makes it worth the free download.
The Good Captures the essence of the show’s humor.
The Bad A lack of originality; only good in short intervals.
The Ugly Meg.
Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff is available on Android and iOS devices. Primary version reviewed was for iOS using an iPad 2. Review code was provided by TinyCo for the benefit of this review.

Sources close to Microsoft, as well as a recently pulled job listing, point to Microsoft wanting to go cross-platform with Xbox Live according to a report from The Verge.

People who own a Xbox One or Xbox 360—and the three of you out there who have a Windows Phone—understand how Xbox Live allows for multiplayer matchmaking, a cross-platform friends list, and, of course, all those precious Achievements. As it stands now, though, it’s a pain in the neck for developers to make games for the platform due to the lengthy and rigorous certification process Microsoft puts titles through.

As part of a movement to try to win back developers and make it easier to get more games on Xbox Live, Microsoft now apparently plans to build a platform to allow for Xbox Live functionality to extend to iOS and Android.

“We will create a modern framework that is open-source, lightweight, extensible and scalable across various platforms including Windows Store, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android,” a job listing for the project read before it was yanked from the interwebs.

Microsoft has already experimented with Achievements on these platforms before with Wordament, a word puzzler that came to iOS at the end of 2012 and hit Android just a few months later.

Expanding other Xbox Live services onto iOS and Android and dropping some of the shackles from the certification process could lure back some of the folks turned away by Microsoft’s old way of doing things. This holds especially true if the thought of importing already established friend lists and Achievements from consoles could draw in more gamers.

Slip slidin’ away

When it comes to arcade-style racing games, few have proven as everlasting as Ridge Racer. Over three decades of existence, the series has permeated nearly every gaming platform imaginable, including mobile. With the franchise returning to a casual platform for the first time since 2010, however, Namco Bandai knew they’d need a lot more than brand recognition to overcome the stigma usually associated with app-based racers.

Ridge Racer Slipstream tries to overcome this by doing its best to deliver everything we’ve come to expect from the series—simply pared down in order to fit phone and tablet parameters. From the second the game starts and franchise mascot Reiko Nagase’s introduction video plays, Slipstream looks and sounds like so many other Ridge Racer games before it, even if it looks like a slightly older game in the series due to the technical limitations.

Slipstream also features a lot of typical arcade-racer motifs, such as made-up cars that require drifting to fill up a nitro bar that can help you speed through the game’s fictional tracks. The titular “Slipstream” feature adds some semblance of strategy: You can gain speed by drafting behind cars, and a special symbol on the HUD appears to let you know just how well you’re staying on your opponent’s tail. In the end, though, it’s all about getting first place after three laps in order to advance through the various tournaments in Career mode.

The game offers a ton of options, not only in how you customize your cars’ look and performance, but in how you handle them as well. Four different control schemes are available—two with the touchscreen, and two by tilting your device. I found using the iPad itself and tilting it all over the place reminded me of the good old days in the arcade when I’d sit in a padded chair in a pod and grab an actual steering wheel. I just wish I’d had a stand I could’ve rested the iPad on, since I got tired of holding it up after a while and had to change the control scheme. I found all the options responsive and accurate when it came to how I wanted my car to handle, though, so it’s all a matter of personal preference, really.

Unfortunately, while Slipstream may offer a lot of options to drive with, there’s not a lot here for you to actually drive. Only a dozen cars and 10 tracks (20 if you count mirror options) are available through the single-player mode’s 108 races. And while the game’s $2.99 price tag doesn’t warrant the numbers you’d get from true console or arcade racers, it’s a bit too measly a number to leave me satisfied.

Besides cars and tracks, there’s also not much to the game beyond single-player. Sure, you can check out time trials and use social features to share with your friends and let them know how you’re doing, but that’s it. The lack of a true versus mode really puts a crimp on the replayabilty.

The worst part about the game, though, is the microtransactions. To be fair, Namco Bandai has designed Slipstream so that players can beat the entire game without spending a single cent more than the initial download price, which is uncommon in racing apps. It just becomes a bit of a chore after only a few races, since the game encourages players to spend money to unlock more cars, more parts, more tracks, or consumables like nitro boosts to help win races. And there is, of course, a two-currency system that locks several of the better cars behind the “premium” (harder to acquire) option. I appreciate the fact that the microtransactions aren’t necessary, but Slipstream sure does try to make it tempting.

Ridge Racer Slipstream is probably one of the better racing apps out there, but that’s not necessarily saying much. The actual act of racing is fun, and the control options are a nice touch—almost everyone should find one they’re comfortable with. The game also pays homage to previous Ridge Racers by maintaining the series’ look and feel. But, like so many other mobile racers, microtransactions can muddle the fun. And with so few car, track, and mode options, it’s easy to tire of the experience quickly. If you’re just looking for something to kill a few minutes a day and don’t mind the grind, though, Ridge Racer Slipstream is a decent value for its purchase price.

Developer: Namco Bandai • Publisher: Namco Bandai • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 12.19.13
7.0
This app stays true to Ridge Racer’s arcade roots, but the lack of content coupled with the grind of unlocking everything—which is only conveniently alleviated by microtransacations—is a major speed bump in this otherwise smooth ride.
The Good Multiple control schemes appeal to wide range of players.
The Bad Grinding through races to avoid microtransactions. No versus modes.
The Ugly Definitely not race queen Reiko Nagase. Nice seeing you again foxy lady.
Ridge Racer Slipstream is available on iOS and coming later to Android devices. Primary version reviewed was for iOS devices (iPad 2).

Oh my darling, Clementine

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS REVIEW MAY MAKE REFERENCE TO EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE DURING SEASON ONE OF TELLTALE’S THE WALKING DEAD. IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED, I IMPLORE YOU TO GO PLAY IT AND THEN COME BACK. ALSO, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG? IT’S BEEN OUT FOR A YEAR ALREADY. WELL, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! GO! THEN COME BACK.

Last year, Telltale captivated gamers everywhere by capturing the essence of what makes The Walking Dead comics great: human drama that just happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. In the process, we got to know—and fall in love with—protagonists Lee and Clementine. Their unique dynamic is what kept many players going to the very end, when Lee finally succumbed to his infection. Clementine’s story was far from over, though, and now in Season Two, instead of serving as her protector, we get to play as Clem herself and see just how the world around her begins to take its toll during some of her formative years.

It’s been a little over 12 months since we played the end of Season One (the first time, anyway) and six since 400 Days, so in order to get players back into the groove of surviving the end of modern civilization, the episode starts off by punching you in the gut several times with some sequences you will not see coming. If you thought you might coast for a while and get your bearings playing as Clem, you’d best think again.

This sink-or-swim approach is a brilliant move by the gang at Telltale, as it serves two purposes. Not only does it prepare you for what’s to come over the rest of the episode—both in terms of point-and-click gameplay and dramatic tone—but it also forces you into Clem’s shoes faster, preventing you from “meta-gaming” scenarios as though you were still protecting Clem (a possible side effect of your role in Season One). This habit would be harder to break later on if you became used to that idea, and the game would be less immersive as a result.

I admit that, going into this first episode, I was afraid I’d fall into that mindset myself—and that there’d be a disconnect between me and playing as Clem because of it. Due to the nature of the first few scenarios in the episode, however, I quickly found myself playing out conversations as though I were actually Clem. I was still “protecting” her, but mostly because I was protecting a part of myself. I didn’t have the time to think on a meta-scale. Thus, when things finally did slow down, I was already in the mindset of thinking as Clem and continued on that route.

I also thoroughly enjoyed many of Clem’s conversation choices. If I wanted to maintain her innocence—since she still isn’t even a teenager—the game offered options for that path. If I wanted to wear some of Clem’s emotional scars on her sleeve a bit more, I could do that, too. Other times, Clem displayed more adultlike logic, showing off her accelerated maturity due to her past experiences. I personally chose this path, and was pleasantly rewarded when it led to a particularly entertaining conversation between Clem and a sassy older woman. My Clem doesn’t take s*** from anybody!

For all the good Telltale does in this opening episode’s story, they did make a couple of questionable design choices. The most notable—and disappointing—is the lack of ramifications from the decisions you made in Season One and 400 Days. While the “next episode” teaser at the end of All That Remains does seem to hint at this situation being rectified, I would’ve loved something more than a couple of dialogue choices reflecting back on what happened down in Savannah.

Part of this could be the idea that new players may be coming on board, much like how some people start watching the second season of a TV series after hearing how popular it is. The problem is that by trying to cater to a new audience, Telltale might be ostracizing their returning fanbase with this more generic entry point for the series.

If anything, making a lot of references to prior events could compel people to go back and buy and play Season One. Even if players don’t have a Season One save, this episode has a scenario generator at the beginning that plays out the major choices so that players can experience Season Two without fear of punishment or missing out on content. So, why not reward your loyalists a bit more and throw them a bigger bone?

I also felt like the episode ended at an odd point. In Season One, every episode had a very natural conclusion. All That Remains’ end comes out of nowhere, and it’s incredibly jarring. While it works as a cliffhanger—and I understand that the next episode will begin with some major conflict—there was an earlier sequence that would’ve made much more sense as a “natural” ending. But ending there would’ve made this experience a bit too short, and as it stands now, the episode’s only 90 minutes long, so it seems that Telltale wants to make sure players are still getting their money’s worth.

Despite these couple of questionable choices by Telltale, their Walking Dead series continues to be a narrative powerhouse. Even though there’s only an hour and a half of content here, there were several instances that I had to pause the game, walk away, get a drink, and then come back. I simply couldn’t power through and ignore the events of this episode, and I found myself frantically worrying about Clem now—just as much as when I was protecting her as Lee.  Fans of Season One have no excuse not to go out on and get this first episode of Season Two, and while I think newcomers should still play Season One first, they’ll be OK using this as a jumping-off point as well.

Developer: Telltale Games • Publisher: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.17.13
8.0
All That Remains is a fine way to kick off the second season of The Walking Dead. Telltale made some interesting design decisions putting players in the role of Clementine, and most of their choices—but not all—work out nicely.
The Good The story immerses players from the get-go.
The Bad Lack of ramifications from previous episodes.
The Ugly How easy I found it to play as a little girl.
The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 1 – All That Remains is available on Steam (PC/Mac), XBLA (Xbox 360), PSN (PS3), and iOS. Primary version reviewed was for Steam (PC).

Everyone loves a fiesta!

I admit that I’m a bit new to the Rayman series, only having played the most recent ones. But once the limbless wonder works his magic on you, it’s hard not to develop an affinity for Michel Ancel’s iconic character. So, when the opportunity arose to take Rayman from the controller to a touchscreen, I was curious.

Rayman Fiesta Run is the follow up to last year’s Rayman Jungle Run and continues in that game’s footsteps, replacing the precision platforming we’ve come to know on consoles with an endless-run dynamic. At first, this worried me greatly, given how tightly Rayman controls on consoles—it’s one of the major reasons I’ve gotten so addicted to his games. After several hours tapping furiously at my iPad, however, I can tell you that the endless-run motif isn’t necessarily better or worse; it’s simply a different way to enjoy Rayman and his world.

In order to get used to this new mechanic, the game strips Rayman of many of his basic moves at the start—all you can do is tap to jump, wall jump, and run. This helps you get into the rhythm you need if you’re going to collect all 100 lums and four Teensies per level. Multiple paths and familiar obstacles to overcome lend even more replayability since the only way to truly beat the game is to collect everything in each level and its twisted “Invaded” counterpart.

Knowing when to tap—and when not to—might sound simple enough, but it’s harder to master than it seems, so it’s great that the game takes it easy early on. But when Rayman starts getting abilities back—like gliding and punching—the difficulty ramps up fast. You must master performing each move in conjunction with multiple taps to ensure that Rayman sails through the world smoothly and collects everything along the way.

Fiesta Run also does a great job of utilizing the phenomenal art and music for which the series is known. Even though the areas are all new, they’ll be familiar enough that fans will appreciate listening to their favorite level music set against recognizable backdrops.

I’m afraid that Fiesta Run isn’t all one big party, though. The game is surprisingly short, even with multiple playthroughs of each level. Seventy-two levels sounds like a lot—and if this were a console Rayman game, it would be—but here you can get through the entire game in only a few hours.

The boss levels also disappoint. Bosses you have to run from are huge and beautifully designed, but they’re never really a threat, since you just keep running. The level layout isn’t really anything different compared to what you’ve played up to that point, either, so the entire concept of a “boss” area is really lost after the level’s brief opening cinematic.

I’m also a bit surprised that the game doesn’t tie back into the console versions. It’s not really a negative, but with so many companies releasing apps with or around a recent release that can unlock costumes or extra items or a minigame when you link them, I’m just surprised I can’t transfer lums from Fiesta Run to Rayman Legends or earn extra trophies or something along those lines. I could use those additional trophies and lums, too, because it’s not easy trying to get to the 11th level of awesomeness or unlock every character in Legends!

Sometimes, though, simple is the way to go—and Rayman Fiesta Run proves that. Its user-friendly control scheme should provide nothing but fun for fans of the franchise, and even if you’re not a huge Rayman devotee, the game’s cheap price tag of $2.99 makes it a worthwhile download if you’re a completionist with a few hours to kill.

Developer: Ubisoft Casablanca • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 11.7.13
8.0
Simple and to the point, Rayman Fiesta Run follows proudly in its predecessors’ footsteps. The endless-run dynamic is a nice change of pace for fans of the franchise—I just wish the party could’ve lasted longer.
The Good Enough challenge and collectibles to compare favorably to its console brethren.
The Bad Short enough to be blown through in only a few hours.
The Ugly Just missing that last lum before crossing the finish line.
Rayman Fiesta Run is available on Google Play, Amazon App Store, and iOS devices. Primary version reviewed was for iOS devices, specifically using an iPad 2.