This is a combined review of 3 exciting games, we will be reviewing Block Rogue, Bloodmasque & Bloons TD 5

Block Rogue

Sokoban games– games where you push boxes around to clear a path from the beginning of a level to the end– are fun, but rarely does one stand out from the rest. In fact, we can’t recall the last one that wasn’t a collection of puzzles selected through a menu system. Block Rogue is different. Not only does it lack a home base menu, but once you sink your teeth into Block Rogue’s story mode, you’ll be hard-pressed to put the game down.

Block Rogue’s story mode consists of a pyramid dungeon with 325 puzzle rooms. However, since there are many branching pathways, you’ll only play 25 of them in a single play-through. Each room has a mirror that gives you some background on yourself, plus all of the possible final rooms contain an orb that tells you where to find a page to the ‘Book of Lore.’ Every room you complete and any containing book pages are marked on your minimap so you can explore a new path next time.

You get a couple of options when starting a new round. First, you can choose between random levels and pre-made levels. Note that if you choose pre-made levels, you’ll have to replay some of the same stages multiple times. Also, you can opt out of a difficulty curve and start with challenging levels from the get-go if that’s your thing. There’s also an endless mode where you can keep playing randomized levels for as long as you’d like. This is a nice feature, but story mode is more rewarding, and it’s long enough to give you plenty of variety.

Speaking of variety, Rogue Block has quite a few level mechanics missing from your average Sokoban game. A room might contain boulders that roll until they hit a wall, laser-spouting demons, brick walls that shift up and down when you flip a switch, or more. Using these elements together is often key to completing a puzzle. If you make a mistake, you can undo your last block or boulder move or restart the puzzle.

While we weren’t impressed with its tiresome swipe controls, Block Rogue successfully offers up an intriguing story mode with fun progression. This is a game that hardcore puzzle lovers ought to push their way toward right away.

Bloodmasque

When you think of Square Enix, the developer of games like Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Chaos Rings, the last thing you would ever think of coming from them is an Infinity Blade-style game where you can take a picture of yourself, stick your face on a character and fight vampires in the streets of Paris. But these are the days we live in, and Bloodmasque is the game we’re playing. It’s an interesting mash-up of ideas that more or less comes together in a fun and unique game.

One of the first things Bloodmasque has you do, right as you boot it up, is to take a picture of your face and place it onto a character model. You can change things like skin tone, facial expressions, hair, hair color, and even the shape of your face. It’s probably the most interesting way of bringing a player “into the game” that I’ve ever seen, but it was entirely successful as I was never able to make myself look like anything more than the Toxic Avenger’s slower, uglier brother.

Part of the problem with this is that even though you have a bunch of options to change how you look, they’re all pretty superficial. You really don’t have a whole lot of control with morphing your face to make it fit right or look entirely believable in the predetermined face shapes available. My face ended up looking like some sort of weird death mask. I’ve seen pictures and videos of people who have managed to make it look great, but for me it just wasn’t happening. Luckily, you can use one of the many generic faces the game provides, alter it with the same options, and after that you’re off to the races.

Even though the face gimmick wasn’t entirely successful for me, the area where Bloodmasque is phenomenally successful is with its incredibly cool story and the interesting strategy that’s involved with the gameplay.

Bloodmasque is set in Paris in the early 19th century. The world has been overrun by vampires and vampire/human crossbreeds, and regular humanity lives in constant fear that their bloodsucking overlords will wipe them out entirely. Over time a small but dedicated team of vampire hunters and resistance fighters rise up all across the globe in order to push back against the evil. Bloodmasque follows the exploits of you and other fighters in Paris as they deal with the vampire threat and prepare for the rumored return of the powerful vampire queen.

It’s a great story, with a plot full of twists and turns, political maneuvers, ever changing allegiances, and really intriguing lore to give some weighty history to your constant battles against the vampire scourge.

The gameplay is pretty similar to Infinity Blade, but with enough changes to make it seem a little less dated in some respects, but more repetitive in others. As with Infinity Blade, you move around the map finding quests (aka battles) to do and loot to pick up. You can also find question marks that when tapped give you a little more background on the world at large.

When the battles actually happen is when you’re presented to both the old and new ways of doing things. You fight enemies by doing nothing more than tapping repeatedly on the screen to swing your weapon, and swiping left or right to dodge. It’s a simplistic take on the Infinity Blade style that can get boring rather fast, and the game doesn’t always register your taps and swipes as easily as it should. But where Bloodmasque gets really interesting is with the other elements you can bring into battle.

See, every vampire is part of a certain blood clan and those bloodlines bring certain benefits with them. Before you start every battle you’re able to choose a different bloodline to align yourself with, and since some bloodlines are opposing forces to other bloodlines, choosing the right one gives you certain benefits during battle. You can choose one that gives you more damage, or one that gains you more loot. Different blood clans also have special attacks that you can use during battle. Just like in Infinity Blade, once your power meter is filled you can unleash a devastating special move that if you time it just right has the potential to inflict an ungodly amount of damage on your enemies.

On top of this, you’re able to recruit other members in your battle, for a total of three, and they can give you benefits depending on what clan they’re with as well what special abilities they have from their equipment. What’s even cooler about this is that the other party members can be computer generated, or they can be other players made by real people. There’s a whole blood-bond system that allows you to form bonds with other players and you can take advantage of their talents when you have the chance. It’s a surprisingly complex system that if used right can be a great boon to how you play the game. I’ve had other players form bonds with me even when I wasn’t playing.

If you’re victorious in battle and you’ve successfully staked your foe and siphoned their blood and shared it with your friends, you gain experience from the blood you’ve collected. Your character can then potentially increase in level and blood-clan abilities. You can even gain blood from other players that you’re bonded with, even if you’re not currently playing.

There are so many ways that you can affect your success in battle that half the fun of playing is experimenting with what works. Whether it’s different equipment with special abilities, different blood-clan powers or what players you bring with you, the game provides you with a wealth of options of play around with.The gameplay system is deceptively simple but actually quite involved and complex.

The games big downside is in buying new equipment. Most of the really good stuff (like better stakes that net you and your party more blood) is pretty expensive, and Bloodmasque wouldn’t be an iOS game if it didn’t have an alternative currency– in this case it’s Blood rubies– that you gain at a snails pace. This can lead to the inevitable grinding and constant searching through the map for more rubies if you don’t want to spend more money on top of what you’ve already paid for the game. Of course you can buy more rubies through an IAP, but that sort of thing just rubs me the wrong way.

Bloodmasque is a bit of an odd duck. While I didn’t get much out of the photo aspect of it, I’m sure others will have a great time with it. But what really stuck with me was the intriguing gameplay, the blood bond system, and the cool story. To top it off, the graphics are usually stunning and the voice acting, when it’s present, is surprisingly good. Sure, the simple tap-based battle system can get annoying and the slow pace of gaining gold and blood rubies is obnoxious, but all of the other positive aspects that surround those negatives make Bloodmasque so much fun to play that I ran down the battery life of my iPad on more than one occasion. Bloodmasque is just a heck of a lot of fun to play.

Bloons TD 5

Monkeys, balloons, and sharp objects — what could go wrong? In Bloons TD 5, not much. This tower defense game isn’t innovative, but it does everything right.

There’s no getting around it: if you’ve played tower defense games, you’ve played this game several times before. It works exactly the way you’d expect it to work, so much so that developer, Ninja Kiwi, doesn’t even bother with a tutorial.

First-timers might get a little lost without that tutorial, but the initial levels move slowly and there’s plenty of time to pick up the game. The balloons move down the track from one end of the screen to the other, and you place monkeys armed with darts to shoot the balloons. Every balloon popped gets you a small amount of cash, every level gives you a little more cash, and you spend your money to buy upgrades and new monkeys.

It’s the depth that makes the game worth playing. There are over twenty maps to play at three different difficulty levels, plus an endless horde mode and a limited cash mode. There are eighteen different towers of monkeys to build, plus a small host of ‘special agents’ that you can hire using in-game currency. Add in 10 ‘special missions’ and 250 ‘random missions’ featuring unusual combinations of the maps and the rules, and you’ll be putting a lot of hours into the game before you see everything.

The monkeys cover all the strategic bases of a tower defense game with a variety of cute themes. There are cannons, spike droppers, monkeys slowing the balloons down with glue guns, monkeys in boats for the water levels, and monkeys patrolling the air in planes and helicopters — not to mention the wizards, ninjas, superheroes, and boomerang artists. Each monkey has two upgrade paths, giving you plenty of options to increase damage, push balloons around, or deal with specialized enemies like hard-to-kill lead balloons and giant dirigibles.

There is one limit to the cornucopia of destruction. No matter which variation you play, the same sequence of balloons will come out every time on every map. This helps you plan your strategy, but it also means you get about the same amount of money in every game, and must always be preparing for specific boss attacks like the big dirigible in level 46. You’ll find yourself playing the same strategy a lot, because it’s what fits your budget and the enemies that you’re expecting.

Fortunately, the different maps keep things fresh. While the early maps make it easy for beginners to repeat their success, later maps change up the game with multiple paths, teleport portals, and other sneaky tricks. Solving the puzzle presented by each map is a highlight of the game.

Beating a map earns you in-game currency and tokens, which can be used to tweak the game’s settings or buy the special agents. These agents are super-units that can help you get over the hump if you’re stuck on a map, but they are an optional complication that you may just want to ignore. You can also buy tokens or currency with an in-app purchase, but there’s no pressure or need to do so.

Bloons TD 5 is the perfect example of a well-made sequel. If you’re bored with tower defense games, this one won’t change your mind. Otherwise, you’ll find a lot to like in this barrel of balloon-popping monkeys.

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