This is a combined review of 3 exciting games, we will be reviewing Assassin’s Creed Recollection, Assault Squadron & Astronaut Spacewalk

Assassin’s Creed Recollection

Collectable card games are an acquired taste– especially since the whole concept rests on acquiring more cards. Inevitably, this means shelling out loads of cash to bolster the deck. Given the popularity of Magic: The Gathering and the countless other similar games, CCGs are still going strong and now Ubisoft is taking a stab at the genre with Assassin’s Creed Recollection.

While it would be easy to dismiss Recollection as a cheaply thrown-together bit of marketing fluff, there’s enough style and polish here to make this a solid offering for any CCG fan. Putting aside the entire history of Assassin’s Creed, this is a rather innovative take on the standard card game genre. It doesn’t hurt that the presentation is excellent and the historical elements of the game are really interesting.

Recollection uses a sharp and clean interface that hides any clutter beneath a series of small buttons and well-designed play spaces. This is a two-player game, where the player’s cards are available on the lower left, the active cards on the lower-right, and the battles take place in the middle of the screen. The game is, at heart, a battle for territory with three specific areas to conquer in a match.

The object is to take over two of the three areas by earning ten points in each area. To do this, you place character cards that can exert influence in an area. Location cards can help earn gold and influence faster by providing a background to the player’s half of an area, and there are special-unit cards that provide bonuses to other cards.

The most distinctive part of Recollection, however, is that it’s all timed. It takes a certain amount of time for a card to be ready for play once taken out of the deck or after it’s been used. Everything in the game is subject to a waiting period. Game time is divided between whole and half days, and the counter is a marker on a center line of the screen.

Adding this time-based strategy element makes Recollection stand out. While a day in game time only equates to a minute or two in real time, it adds a feeling of hurry up and wait. Since you can see what cards your opponent is gearing up and putting into play, constantly changing up strategies and trying to place cards before they do is essential.

Card combat is another major element, but (like most such games) the outcome is based on the stats of the cards in play. So, you might immediately know what the outcome will be, but still have to wait for the timer to run down.

Recollection is a game that rewards players for understanding its complex and layered rules, but the tutorial only gives the basic overview. This will mean a lot of trial, error, and frustration for most players– especially those unfamiliar with the genre. So, the learning curve is decidedly steep. Also, since this is a collectable card game, it’s pretty easy to guess how Ubisoft’s revenue system works. While it is theoretically possible to earn purchasing points for new decks through extensive play, players will almost certainly need to outright buy new decks in order to bolster their personal deck for online play.

It’s easy enough to get through the single-player game with only the included cards, but online is a totally different environment, where most players have far more exotic and powerful cards. That said, the online play functionality is excellent and makes the game worth the admission price if competition is appealing to you.

While Assassin’s Creed Recollection isn’t likely to prove interesting for non-card fans, it’s a surprisingly solid and well-done example of a collectable card game. The presentation is terrific, the rules deep and strategic, and the inclusion of online play is laudable. Unfortunately, the game is iPad-only, which seems like a misstep.

Assault Squadron

If you made a list of all the fantastic features you’d love to include in the iPhone shooter of your dreams, it would read just like Assault Squadron’s feature list. An energetic licensed soundtrack, computer-generated cutscenes that mimic the finale of Return of the Jedi, and 100-multiplier combos for your online high scores: Check, check, and check.

Assault Squadron seems to have crammed in just about every excellent feature except the kitchen sink, but it’s a bit short from start to finish. While the entire game is eminently replayable, with Chillingo’s Crystal network providing the infrastructure for online high scores and achievements, plus multiple ships and difficulty levels, there are only six short levels that comprise the whole game.

They’re thrilling, though, and playing through once is not enough to appreciate their artistic detail. You start the game in space, with a typical Gradius or Raiden arcade style (your view will actually shift from top-down to side-scrolling at various points). Then, in an interesting change of scenery, you’ll dive down to the Earth’s surface, then finally underneath the crust to battle a giant alien drill.

After every few levels, you’ll be treated to sharp cutscenes that show off Binary Mill’s expertise at CG cinematics. Though they’re more focused on action than storytelling, it’s a great reward to cap off every other major boss battle.

If you love the frantic ‘bullet hell’ genre of shooters, this is a game made for you, but even newcomers can set the difficulty for casual and enjoy the beautiful scenery and soundtrack. Assault Squadron may be a short ride, but it’s a great one, and for pure action it’s hard to beat its soaring sense of style.

Astronaut Spacewalk

You’re an astronaut who’s been sent into space on a shuttle mission. You put on your suit, secure your booster jetpack, and stand before the vast, cold, zero-G emptiness. You’ve been dreaming about this day since you were a child, and your heart is pumping like mad under all your heavy gear. You take a breath and kick off into the void, completely untethered and terrifyingly, thrillingly free. It’s only then, as you fuss with your jetpack’s controls and start to spin and twirl faster and faster away from the shuttle, that you realize you have no idea how to work your jetpack. You really should have read the instructions.

That’s a public service announcement for astronauts thinking about going on a spacewalk unprepared. The first time you play–take our word for it–you’ll be unprepared.

Your job in Astronaut Spacewalk is to drift around the shuttle or satellite you’re tasked with maintaining, snatching up floating debris and making vital fixes to the hull. The idea is to use precise jetpack boosts to carefully maneuver from one waypoint to another in each level. Navigate to them all, and you’ll unlock the next level, which sends you to a different space structure, be it a satellite, Skylab, or the Russian MIR space station.

But back to those controls. Even if you’re a NASA employee yourself, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed when you first boot up Astronaut Spacewalk. The screen is divided into a brain-busting grid of buttons with tiny, abbreviated labels. It’s confusing enough that it could crush the spirit of any aspiring astronaut before trying the game. There’s an operation manual you can page through from the main menu, but it’s 12 pages long, with tiny print and intimidatingly detailed diagrams. However, we urge you to spend some time at least studying the button layout, because that’s the biggest barrier of entry to this game.

Maybe the button layout is imposing on purpose–to weed out the unworthy?–but it really is needlessly complicated. The left side of the screen has buttons to move you forward, backward, up, down, left, and right. Each tap of a button makes your backpack release a puff of propulsion that pushes you in the corresponding direction. The right side of the screen has buttons to turn or rotate your astronaut on all axes, complete with pitch, yaw, and roll. The middle of the screen is dedicated to the camera controls, which make your view pan around your character or re-center on his back.

We were able to grasp what was going on in about five minutes, after sending our astronaut off into the hopeless black void a couple of times. One thing that helped us was to commit the location of the “null” button to muscle memory. The earlier you discover this button the better, because no matter how fast or out of control you wind up spinning, null stops it. Be warned, though, that pressing null uses electricity, which you have in limited supply.

That’s all there is to the game–propelling yourself around real manmade structures in outer space–but it’s really pretty awesome. Unlike most iOS games, you won’t find any aliens or sci-fi action here, but the game doesn’t need it. All the intensity comes from the threat of losing control of your astronaut, or of running out of fuel or oxygen and being stranded in space. It’s actually pretty thrilling, especially when you factor in how much progress you could lose in a level if you mess up. In addition, the crazy-good graphics and background radio chatter create a highly engrossing environment.

But we can’t help wishing they’d done something to simplify the controls a little. At the very least they could’ve bound the camera controls to swipes instead of buttons. And there’s no excuse for this game not having a walkthrough-style tutorial. With controls this complex, the game’s static manual is both off-putting and insufficient. Lastly, any time you come bump into a physical object in space, be it your shuttle or the Hubble telescope, the physics get a little awkward.

Astronaut Spacewalk is not for everyone. It was designed for gamers with patience, focus, and dedication. Don’t come to this game looking for action, because you won’t find any. Don’t come to it thinking you’ll be able to blast through the levels on the first try either, because you won’t. Good lord, you won’t. But if you like a game that asks a lot of you and gives a great deal of satisfaction in return, you’ll find a unique, wonderful gaming experience here.

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