This is a combined review of 3 exciting games, we will be reviewing Ace Combat Xi Skies of Incursion, Across Age & A.D.D. – Addictive Dumb Distractions
Despite the somewhat serious way it presents itself, the Ace Combat series has always been more about arcade action-packed dog fighting that true flight simulation. The result has been a consistently fun and well-received franchise spanning many generations of consoles, handhelds, and now, mobile phones and MP3 players. Ace Combat Xi upholds the series’ reputation, despite the technical problems that affect the game on some older devices.
Ace Combat puts the player in the cockpits of fictional and real-world aircraft while moving through a story straight out of the mind of the craziest anime writer. The fiction is long and elaborate and Xi does little to ease you into the plot. Making matters more confusing is that Xi is actually a midquel, taking place within Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, the PSP game that Xi seems mostly based on. Fortunately, the story is relegated to short, text-based mission briefings and occasional banter between nearby fighters. Seasoned fans will appreciate the careful attention to continuity while new fans will not even notice or care. It does nothing to lessen the awesome flight and fight gameplay that makes this title such a success.
Tilting the iPhone to steer your plane and pressing on-screen buttons for various actions is as intuitive as it sounds. Granted, there is a learning curve, but it’s offset by the generous auto-aim and your missiles’ uncanny ability to lock on and home in on their targets, almost negating the need for guns. There are also easy and expert control types, with expert giving you sharper turning and more precise control over the throttle and braking.
In addition to the buttons, there are several onscreen maps, arrows and gauges showing enemy position, altitude levels and even an auto-pilot to help you stay stable while protecting your allies and gunning down hostiles in the air or on the ground. It all adds up to a game whose controls push the already incredibly enjoyable concept of free-roaming air combat over the top.
You can choose to play the game in a first-person perspective, but know that if you do you will be missing out on the great-looking ships you pilot through equally stunning environments. Engines glow red when you speed up, parts shift around in response to your movement, and if you ever find yourself rapidly plummeting towards the ground or ocean, the resulting explosion will look appropriately terrifying. The in-game graphics are nicely complemented by a slick opening movie and stylish interface reflecting the publisher’s affinity for higher production values.
This eye candy comes at a high price, however. Audio stuttering along with some big crashes on our iPhone 3G appear to be frame rate issues similar to the ones that plagued one of Namco Bandai’s other major iPhone games, i Love Katamari, at its launch. However, the game ran beautifully on several iPod Touches. Until these devastating 3G glitches are patched, though, we can’t give Ace Combat our highest recommendation.
Gameplay-wise, Ace Combat Xi’s big flaw is the tragically short length of the single player campaign. There are only five levels, each with time limits of five to ten minutes, and the ability to replay them on three different difficulty levels in free mission mode. Initially, there are only three planes available, but you can extend your playtime by unlocking and even purchasing new ones, each with new stats. However, you can speed your way through the first playthrough in under an hour and probably see and try all the game has to offer in a day. It’s an excellent experience, but for some it may not soar to the lofty standards of a five dollar purchase. Multiplayer, usually a staple of the Ace Combat series, would have been immensely appreciated here.
Even if it is a little light on content, Ace Combat Xi Skies of Incursion is a fantastic game that is worth playing whenever there is time, provided it’s running well on your device. Thousands of feet from the ground, blasting down the evil forces of Leasath from Southern Cross XFA-27A on your iPhone can be great fun, even if you have no idea what that means.
Games like Chrono Trigger and Day of the Tentacle revolutionized time travel in gaming, a concept that has since been used in numerous ways. The idea of being able to change how the future will turn out by fixing a problem before it happens has provoked the interest of just about everyone. Across Age does a good job of playing off this concept, but comes up short in its overall execution.
Across Age tells the story of two young and ambitious adventurers. There’s Ales, a confident young knight, and Ceska, a grand mage who at the start of the game has not yet been able to fully harness any of her powers other than time travel. They have a common goal: defeat an evil mage who has been erasing people, landmarks, and even entire towns from history. In order to do this, they must collect three hourglasses that will allow them to control time. It’s a pretty generic story, but it does have its moments, such as when Ceska’s only living relative, her grandma, gets erased.
The biggest gameplay change between Across Age and similar Zelda-like RPGs is your control over multiple characters. In order to proceed through dungeons and collect items, you must utilize the two characters’ special abilities. For example, Ales can pick up Ceska and throw her over holes and ledges so that she can release a bridge for him. Other times an enemy will be immune to one character’s attacks and must be killed by the other. You can split the characters up whenever you like, but to team up again they must be next to each other.
Time traveling also plays a big part in the game. Since only Ceska can perform this spell, only she can move through time. Portals allow her to go to the past or future and alter the state of the environment, removing objects or collecting items. In town, she can use the pool of rebirth to bring an item to another time period, thus altering it.
However, Across Age suffers from some major issues that keep the best parts from shining through. The most immediately noticeable problem is the controls. The tiny analog pad makes movement stiff and imprecise. People with larger hands will have a particularly hard time. The buttons are equally small, and the menus could use work, as they are quite clunky.
Exciting combat in an action-RPG is a must, but Across Age also lets us down on this front. Ales attacks enemies simply by running into them. The goal is to attack diagonally so that the enemy can’t fight back as much, but this doesn’t always seem to work. Ceska is a bit better, with multiple spells she can cast from a distance. Boss battles have you using both characters simultaneously, but switching between them quickly is a pain and often results in your death.
Some elements of the environment also are poorly considered. For example, in many areas holes and water must be avoided, or else you must restart the room. Falling through these is far too easy and breaks the flow of the game. Enemy placement is also an issue, with some arranged so that Ales can’t come at them diagonally. Luckily, the game allows you to restart in a simplified version of the room if you die, but it doesn’t make up for unfair encounters.
Once an enemy leaves your line of vision it respawns, and due to the sheer amount of them, this can lead to tough situations. We don’t mind them coming back after leaving an area, but fighting through the same enemies over and over again due to excessive backtracking becomes a tedious and time-consuming task. The lack of a map can also send you wandering back through enemy-ridden rooms many times until finding where you need to go, especially in some of the maze-like areas.
Instead of aiming for the experienced, hardcore audience, Across Age is good for newcomers with its straightforward level progression and few distracting side quests. By taking out the need to micromanage numerous stats, items, and abilities, Across Age is great for casual play. Also, the ability to save anywhere is a big plus for any iPhone game.
RPG experts will definitely still find some enjoyment in Across Age, but otherwise we can’t recommend it at a high price point unless some of its issues are cleared up.
The parental warnings on the app description for ADD: Addictive Dumb Distractions sound like they’re describing a Tarantino movie: drug and alcohol references, profanity, sexual content and nudity, realistic violence. We don’t know what Apple’s got its rainbow-colored thong in a bunch for, because there’s nothing in ADD that isn’t in greater abundance in the American Pie movies, six of which are available to download on iTunes. No, what’s wrong with ADD is that it’s too short and repetitive, not that it’s too crude.
We actually enjoyed the juvenile humor of ADD. In a breakneck series of 70 or so microgames, which are divided into channels in the game’s main mode, you’ll pull out gooey boogers, blast your buddy’s head off with a shotgun, and scrub away bubbles to reveal a busty woman in the shower. It’s goofy and often surprising, but we do wish ADD could really roar with a true R rating.
As much as we liked the tone of the game, as an actual game it’s far too short and unsatisfying. The unchanging microgames start to repeat very quickly, often within the first dozen of each round, and a few of them are so utterly simple that once you know what to do they’re impossible to fail. For example, one has you firing off cannons. Just tap each of the four to shoot, in no particular order. While you might be halted for a few seconds the first time you come across this challenge (lewdly titled “Rub My Cannon”) you will almost certainly never fail it twice.
Compounding the game’s weaknesses are the lack of gameplay modes. The default campaign mode, confusingly titled “practice”, has you work through sets of challenges held together loosely by themes such as food, sex, or culture. However, without any real structure, these microgames can feel like total throwaways that you’ll be loathe to repeat when they come back again and again. If the game at least increased the challenge level by speeding up (like in the WarioWare games on which ADD is obviously based) then it would help introduce some necessary variety.
ADD does have hardcore (one life only) and quickplay modes, but you can still beat the game in about an hour. Also, since most of the microgames lack a challenge, you may not feel the need to master them just for the sake of online leaderboards. While ADD pushes the envelope in terms of its gross and suggestive content, it doesn’t manage to be a stellar game that we’ll want to revisit in the future.