Browsing Tag

casual games


The latest way my day job is eating my brain

Willow Swift

Willow Swift

I’m a big fan of several releases by Big Fish, my day job employers, as y’all know. The last several months, my big favorites have been Fairway Solitaire Blast and Gummy Drop–but both of these games have to move over now, because Dungeon Boss has just rampaged its way into my affections.

It’s another free to play game, available currently only on iOS and Android, and what I’m digging about it is how it invokes my fondness for nethack and old-school D&D–by taking a dungeon adventure and distilling it down into a stream of never-ending boss fights. You get a cadre of heroes to play with, and your goal is basically to cut a swath through increasingly more difficult dungeons. You get 2-4 starter rooms in the dungeon, and then you get the boss monster(s).

The mechanics of the game are super-easy. Combat is turn-based and conducted just by tapping on your target monsters. There are also a host of side things you can do in addition to the main combat–there are specific quests you can fulfill, and you can also go player vs. player by building and defending your own dungeon, and raiding the dungeons of other players.

Design-wise, I find all the characters rather ridiculously adorable. I particularly like how, when you launch a level, your characters (two, three, or four on the various dungeons I’ve played so far) go boinging into place and sometimes do somersaults. It further amuses me that some of the characters who wear robes do not have any visible feet, so they look like they’re levitating instead of walking. And I’ve unlocked enough characters in the game now that I can have my pick of warriors, spell casters, rogues/archers, or fighting beasts. There are also several female characters. WOO!

My favorite characters so far: Willow Swift, Lady Nimriel (elven archers represent!), Abigail the Brutal (I love the juxtaposition of ‘Abigail’ and ‘Brutal’ in her name, and her special fighting attacks are awesome), and Black Diamond (who has a rather distinct Black-Widow-ish vibe about her).

I’ve just blown a good chunk of this past weekend playing this thing, and may have been overheard bellowing “WHO ELSE WANTS SOME?” after a particularly tasty fight with a big pack of boss monsters. ;D

So yeah, if your idea of fun includes whacking the daylights out of dungeon monsters and stealing their stuff (because as the game points out, that’s what HEROES DO lol), give the game a look. And if you jump in, feel free to shoot ‘annathepiper’ a Friend request!

(Disclaimer: I AM an employee of Big Fish, but this post is entirely my own devising and does not represent any official position of my employers. Just so we’re clear on that, mmkay?)


Big Fish has game bundles now for iOS 8!

We just deployed this to sync up with iOS 8 coming out, and since I did the testing on the pages for it, I shall take this opportunity to point at this and go HEY LOOK A SHINY THING!

Namely, if you’re an iOS 8 user, you can now install some of our games in app bundles. Buying them in a bundle means you get all of them more cheaply than if you bought the individual games. But if you buy the bundle, the individual games will then deploy to your Apple account, and show up as individual games on your iOS device.

We advertise the bundles on our site even though you do have to click over to the iOS app store to actually get them. We have a total of nine bundles available–two each for English, French, and German, and one for Japanese. So if you want to see some examples, here you go:

To the best of my knowledge you DO have to have an iOS 8 device in order to be able to install bundles–I’ve tested this via an iPad running iOS 6, and the app store claimed that the bundles weren’t available to me. So if this is something you’re interested in, be sure you’ve updated your device to iOS 8.


Plants Vs. Zombies 2: An almost complete review

Finally did grab Plants Vs. Zombies 2 for my iPad 2, and I’ve been playing the hell out of it, pretty much as expected. I was a little dubious going on, since this is a Free to Play game and the whole Free to Play concept does make me sort of make this face: o.O

That said, PopCap was swearing up and down that you’re supposed to be able to complete the game without having to make any purchases. So far, I can attest that this seems to be the case. As of this writing, I’ve completed the three main levels but haven’t unlocked the boss level yet.

So what then is different about playing this game vs. playing the original?

The Free to Play experience is a big one. You will find that a lot of the familiar plants you got for free on leveling up in the original game are now plants that you have to unlock. And by ‘unlock’, I mean, you can either buy them immediately to get them, or else you can play through to the point in the game to which you get to unlock them for free. I found this only slightly annoying–I DO love that Squash that whomps on zombies, I do love it so–and have so far been generally pleased at the pacing of when you get what plants.

Some familiar plants from the first game behave slightly differently than their first game versions, too, so keep an eye out for that. For example, the twin sunflower is no longer an upgrade to the standard sunflower–it’s its own plant. So you can’t plant it on top of a single sunflower.

There are also plenty of new plants, several of which are highly entertaining. I like the Snapdragon that spits fire a LOT, as well as the Lightning Reed.

And, of course, this game in theory has an actual plot (above and beyond OHNOEZ ZOMBIES ARE INVADING YOUR LAWN, that is). You’ve been recruited to come with Crazy Dave from the first game on a time travel jaunt to try to locate his missing taco, so he can eat it again! Because of COURSE Dave has a time machine, and of COURSE the whole point of this is to find his taco. It’s really rather adorable. Now how you get from this to zombies in Ancient Egypt, the Pirate Seas, and the Wild West, you got me! But who cares? They’re ZOMBIES and if you played the first game, you absolutely know what to do.

Be on the lookout for zombies with new attacks, too, based on whatever world you’re in at the moment. Ancient Egypt has Pharaoh zombies that can steal your sun, Anubis zombies that can generate new gravestones, archaeologist zombies with torches that can set your plants on fire, and zombies in sarcophagi which are real hard to take down. Over in Pirate Seas, you’ll find the zombies keep saying “BRAINS AHOY”, which totally made me giggle. And be on the lookout there for zombies carried by parrots who can fly over your plants, and the tiny zombie you may remember from the first game as being carried by the Gargantuars now being shot out of cannons. And in the Wild West, I’m deeply charmed by the Saloon Piano Player zombie, who, once he starts tinkling the ivories, gets all the zombies currently on the screen dancing. Also, two words: ZOMBIE CHICKENS.

Music-wise, many of the gameplay themes are familiar, yet with amusing variations and new instruments depending on which world you’re in. Listen for the squeezebox in Pirate Seas and the banjo in Wild West.

They’ve tweaked Crazy Dave’s appearance a bit, as well as the appearance of pretty much all of the plants, yet everything still looks generally familiar. And I like as well that once you finish playing a level proper, you can keep doing side branches of it with interesting puzzles in order to pick up more stars and keys to unlock yet more stuff.

Also: as near as I can tell the whole front-facing camera thing does indeed ONLY come into play if you want to add a photo to your player profile on game startup. Which I didn’t even bother to use. I just tried the UI just to see what it would do, and it gave me a message saying that the photo would only be saved to “this device”–which makes me think this feature is entirely unnecessary. For my money, they should have left it out in order to make the game available to generation 1 iPads as well.

On the whole though this game is definitely entertaining, and while the sheer fact that I’ve seen these game mechanics before does diminish the freshness a bit, nonetheless all the new additions are delightful. Especially the zombie chickens. Here’s hoping the game will be deployed out to other platforms and that a version will deploy to desktops, in particular. I totally want this thing on my Mac, and I want to give them money for their work!


PSA: Plants Vs. Zombies 2 has shipped for iOS!

The good news: Plants Vs. Zombies 2 has finally shipped from PopCap!

The bad news: It’s iOS only, at least for now. I’ve been poking around and see at least one mention of a tweet from PopCap staff that indicates that they’re releasing to iOS first with other versions to follow later. (Source.) However, no word yet on when this is going to happen.

The good or bad news depending on your iOS device type: Apparently the game requires a front-facing camera. My friend Kaye on Facebook reported that she couldn’t install it on her first-gen iPad, because it complained about that lack of camera. Why in the world the game wants that I couldn’t tell you, but, be advised, those of you with older iOS devices.

The good or bad news depending on how you feel about free-to-play games: The iOS apps are free-to-play. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, that means you can install the games for free, but they’ll make their money selling you oodles of in-game powerups. According to what I’ve read, you are supposed to be able to play through the whole game without having to buy anything.

The HIGH-larious news: PopCap put a zombie ad on the Space Needle. BWAHAHAHAHA.



By request: my favorite games!

I got asked this question on Twitter, by way of being cc’d on a general question out to 50+ women asking what games they liked and what platforms they’re played on. I’m not actually 50 yet, but since I’m within reasonable distance, I promised my Twitter friend I’d do me a post about what games I play and how!

First and foremost, as long-time online pals of mine will know, I’ve been a lifelong player of Nethack, an ASCII-based dungeon adventure game that goes back into the dawn of Internet time. I started playing that thing on my very first computer back in college in 1987. I’m STILL periodically playing it on my Mac. There are ports to iOS but I haven’t tried those yet.

Aside from Nethack, my gaming interests fall into the general bucket of “casual games”, i.e., the sorts of games you can put onto your PC or Mac or mobile device, play at your own pace, and not have to worry too strenuously about game mechanics. Big recent famous examples of these are Angry Birds and Plants Vs. Zombies, both of which are indeed my bane and my delight. I love PvZ so much, in fact, that I’ve played the damn thing five or six times through on different platforms. (And it doesn’t help either that Popcap keeps adding new achievements!)

And, as many of you also know, I actually work for a casual games company in my day job, i.e., Big Fish Games. Which has upped my casual gaming habit considerably, I’m here to tell you!

Big Fish sells hundreds and hundreds of games, most of which are developed by other vendors. But we develop a few notable lines of games in-house too. I’m a HUGE fan of our Mystery Case Files series, a long-running series of games in the “Hidden Object” genre of casual gaming. (Hidden Object games being the sort where you have an adventure to play through, and many of the screens in the adventure involve a scene of jumbled objects. You have to find a specific list of objects in order to solve the scene, and often, you then have to use one or more of the objects you find to complete necessary game actions.) The earlier MCFs are less complex; the later ones have gotten cleverer not only in terms of plot, but also in terms of variety of puzzles to solve and necessary interactions with in-game characters. The last couple of MCFs have even featured live footage of character actors.

I’ve played the MCFs up through 13th Skull; I still need to play Escape From Ravenhearst (warning on this one, it’s significantly darker in tone than the rest of the series, as well as in comparison to the vast majority of games we sell, so be aware of that) and the newest one, Shadow Lake. Of the ones I’ve played, my favorites are Return to Ravenhearst and Dire Grove. Return to Ravenhearst was the very first MCF I played, and I was impressed not only by the story (I thought at the time, “gosh, I’d love to read a novel version of this”), but also by the soundtrack, which was recorded by an orchestra in Berlin. You can in fact buy the soundtrack on if you want it! Dire Grove, meanwhile, had an excellent storyline and I’ve been having particular fun trying to play a French build of it, to improve my French vocabulary.

Another Hidden Object series we do is the Hidden Expedition series. These are more adventure-based than the MCFs, with less emphasis on paranormal/supernatural stuff. Like the MCFs, though, they’ve gotten more complex with the more recent installments. Of these, my favorite hands down is Hidden Expedition: Amazon, which, again, I’ve played on multiple platforms. Devil’s Triangle is fun, but be aware that it has a cliffhanger. Fortunately, its immediate sequel–Uncharted Islands–is also available.

One non-Hidden Object game we did in-house that I adore is Unwell Mel. This one’s a “Match 3” game–and if you’ve ever played Bejeweled, you know how a Match 3 game works. What I like about Unwell Mel is the schtick that the character Mel has every disease in the book, and you’re the doctor trying to cure him. So all the levels you need to solve are filled with various little germs and/or food that Mel has eaten, and it’s really all rather charming and adorable.

And I can also highly, highly recommend our Mahjongg Towers game for iPad owners. Great work on that one, in playability and design and music. It works very well with the iPad’s multi-touch gestures as well.

I don’t often play games we sell on behalf of other vendors, but I have sampled several. Of the ones I’ve checked out, so far my favorites are the Dana Knightstone series (in which you’re playing a novelist, Dana Knightstone, solving mysteries; the games are arranged in a novel-like structure, and that’s fun) and the Empress of the Deep ones. Both are Hidden Object adventures.

I’ve played casual games on XP, Win 7, Mac OS, and iOS, and so far my favorite experience is actually on my iPad. The touchscreen is an excellent way to play a Hidden Object game, and the iPad’s got a big enough screen that a Hidden Object scene isn’t cramped–which makes objects easier to find. Especially when you can zoom the screen in and out with the appropriate finger gestures.

What about the rest of you out there? If you’re a woman in my age group or older, I’d be particularly interested in what games you like to play to relay to my friend–whether you’re a console gamer or a casual gamer, both, or something else entirely! What are your preferred gaming platforms?