This is a combined review of 3 exciting games, we will be reviewing Avadon: The Black Fortress HD iPad, Avengers Initiative & Awesome Saucer

Avadon: The Black Fortress HD iPad

Role-playing games generally fall into one of two camps. There’s the open-ended, real-time Western-style, and the linear, turn-based Eastern-style. Both can be fairly predictable, barring a few changes to the characters, story, or environments. They usually come from big publishing houses, too. Avadon defies all these modern conventions and attempts to be a hybrid breed, which is especially sweet coming from an independent developer.

Avadon: The Black Fortress HD is a cross between open-world and linear gameplay styles, featuring both turn-based and active battles. It was also developed by a single person, Jeff Vogel. It immediately sets itself apart from the pack, but it may also be a hard sell for anyone looking for a tried-and-true RPG formula.

Visually, Avadon is the very definition of basic. Despite the HD moniker, this is a modest, 2-D isometric world that’s not exactly teeming with color and life. Animations are simple, and even on the large iPad screen, some sprites just look a bit too small. Due to the graphics and turn-based gamplay, Avadon feels decidedly old-school. That can be a good thing for the iPad, since there’s not much in the App Store to compare it with.

There’s also no in-game music in Avadon, although this is by choice. The game contains some intro tunes, but then it goes silent apart from ambient noise. It’s a questionable design choice– music can be distracting, but we’ve also grown accustomed to hearing a soundtrack as we journey along our epic quest.

Even though it was designed by a single person, this 30+ hour game is jam-packed with role-playing goodness, and has more character than some games built by huge development teams. You begin by choosing a class with its own set of spells and abilities, and you’ll continue to refine and add to these via skill points. You’ll also pick up additional party members along the way, rounding out your skill set.

Battles can be played in more than one way. Avadon is generally built around a turn-based system, so your characters will take turns moving and executing attacks. However, you can choose a more active approach using action points, like in Fallout. Once you’re used all your points, your turn still ends, but it makes for more engaging battles. There’s also the requisite loot and armor drops, which we found add significantly to the gameplay.

In addition, the game’s story is incredibly fresh. It’s well-written, and you’ll want to read everything rather than just skim or skip over the text. There’s also a lot of player dialogue choice, like you’ll find in console games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Whenever you’re asked a question, you can respond with varying degrees of attitude, from pleasant and polite to gruff and harsh.

The game itself is linear in its overarching quest, but these choices do affect how people begin to perceive you, and that alters the game to a degree. There are also extensive side quests that are more than just fluff, so we recommend fully exploring the game rather than just staying the course.

Avadon isn’t a typical RPG, and at the same time, it may not have mass appeal. At $10, you might be tempted to pass it by and wait for the next blockbuster with name recognition. But if you’re looking for a deep RPG, give Avadon a shot. It’s not superb, but it is special.

Avengers Initiative

On the App Store, fun and original ideas are often rewarded with massive success. They’re also the target of me-too clones that aim to replicate that success, minus the originality. Just look at the dozens of Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Tiny Tower clones for just a few recent examples. Marvel’s Avengers Initiative is a straight-up copy of Infinity Blade, but in the end, the main question we have to address as reviewers is not, “is this game completely original?” but “is this game actually fun?”

And yes, Avengers Initiative is a total blast. Turns out, Infinity Blade’s swipe-based combat is the perfect avenue for a superhero beat ’em up, especially one starring the Hulk. Marvel could have borrowed an older gameplay style, like DC’s Justice League with its 80s arcade action, but Avengers Initiative is a fantastic game that slightly builds on Infinity Blade’s best features.

If you’ve played Infinity Blade, you barely need to bother with the tutorial in Avengers Initiative, because it’s mostly the same. There are a few clever additions, like the ability to use your stamina (shield blocks in Infinity Blade) to land punches that wouldn’t otherwise connect. Also, you can restore your health in mid-battle, something that always seemed missing from the Epic/Chair games.

The battles in Avengers Initiative are perfectly suited for your character, the Hulk. He can trade powerful punches with the toughest-looking monsters and villains, but he’s also spry enough to dodge their heavy attacks. It is a little more difficult to anticipate some of your enemy’s attacks in Avengers Initiative, though, because the direction of a swinging punch isn’t as readily apparent as the direction of a sword slash.

In addition to the combat, and your endlessly circular attempts to level up your character through repetitive fights, the real reason to keep playing Avengers Initiative is the fun story. You’ll face a series of minions on the way to two supervillains, Wendigo and Zzzax, who will be roughly the same level as you when you fight them. But the third villain, Abomination, is significantly more powerful than you, forcing you to replay the first part of the game until you’re able to defeat him. When you do finally defeat Abomination, that’s not the end– there’s one more high-end boss for you to fight.

To bulk up, you can collect the game’s in-app currency the exact same way you do it in Infinity Blade– by tapping on it in the background and defeating enemies in combat. But you’ll also be able to Hulk out on giant crystals scattered throughout the levels, which offers a fairly enjoyable minigame if you just want to hit something that doesn’t hit back.

Marvel also gets their hooks in you with a half-dozen different ways to customize your character. You can purchase different costumes for the Hulk, with unique attributes, and mix-and-match so extensively that it looks like the Hulk got dressed in the dark (as opposed to his usual torn-pants look). You can boost your stats further with augments, which are like the gems in Infinity Blade 2. Needless to say, you can spend a whole lot of real-world money if you want to skip the grinding and get straight to the wins. Every upgrade or item is available for sale.

If you don’t want to play Avengers Initiative because it’s an unofficial clone of Infinity Blade, that’s up to you. We try to support originality and creativity in gaming, too. But without Wolfenstein 3D, there would be no Half-Life. Without Pitfall, there’d be no Super Mario Bros. And without Infinity Blade, there wouldn’t be Avengers Initiative. Marvel’s game stands on its own due to the brilliant graphics, fun storyline, and dozens of extra features and Easter eggs for comic fans. Avengers Initiative is a clear Must Have if you love the Infinity Blade style of gameplay, even if playing it gives you a persistent feeling of deja vu.

Awesome Saucer

Awesome Saucer is a game that gets right back to what so many of the earliest arcade games were about: blasting the bejeezus out of everything which crosses your path… in space.

But while the premise is simple and back-to-basics enough, the developers at Nebuleux Games give you quite a bit to work with. You begin with two different selectable weapons, and you can unlock more as you progress. Each has its own unique destructive capabilities, from strange lasers, swarming energy blasts, and all manner of science fiction wickedness in between, plus power-up items that further enhance their abilities. These weapons are fired automatically when you line up a target in your sights, though you can also make use of the “fire” button to shoot willy-nilly into the void of space.

Plus, your flying saucer is quite maneuverable: you control the horizontal and the vertical with the left virtual thumbstick, while the right essentially rotates your center of gravity. Or, to put it another way, you can control which way is “down” to your saucer. Throw in buttons for selecting weapons, boosting, braking, and changing your perspective between inside and outside the ship, and you’re set to rocket into the great unknown and blast… the great unknown.

Indeed, the enemies you’re charged with terminating are even described on the game’s official website as having their “true nature” be unknown. Each foe is basically some sort of light, many of them appearing as different flares and twinkles, and they move along in their own unique patterns trailed by colored or rainbow-like beams. Until you acquire a radar a few levels in, they can be difficult to track when there are many, due to all the twisting and overlapping trails.

Your main goal is to eliminate all of the enemies in a level, which is tracked by a number at the top of the screen. Completing the level with time remaining affords a bonus to your score, but what they don’t tell you is that you must finish all of your enemies off with time remaining, or else you will not be allowed to proceed. Why the round doesn’t simply end when the time expires is anyone’s guess, as it seems pointless to continue once the clock ticks down.

Making all the necessary kills in the time provided can be tricky, too. The left thumbstick feels less responsive when when moving right than when moving left. The problem can be alleviated somewhat by using your left index finger to move the stick, but that results in holding the iPhone in a slightly awkward manner. Fortunately, unless you use the boost, brake, or select buttons a lot, this is largely balanced out by the guns’ autofire.

On the bright side, the earlier stages are fairly easy, allowing you to get the hang of moving your ship and blasting everything around you within the time limit before advancing to more difficult fare. Plus, the time limit increases as you proceed, which also makes blasting every light in sight a little easier.

Unfortunately, around level six, things became a bit more frustrating. Up to that point, it seemed that the enemies were not very interested in our ship; we merely had to hunt them down and terminate them. But at this point, they begin fighting back, and we weren’t even aware they had actually begun attacking until we were dead, and it’s a one-death type of game. Also, the game suffers a little bit of lag on the 3GS model iPhone we used for this review.

All in all, Awesome Saucer offers a fair bit of bang for your buck, but isn’t without a few niggling issues. It’s not quite as “awesome” as the name implies, but blasting away at the passing lights with different types of weaponry proves to be fun and addictive, at least for a little while.

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