Grand Prix Story (Review)

Last year I reviewed Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story which put you in charge of an upstart video game development team. I loved every minute of it, but when I conquered the game I was left wanting more. Thankfully it wasn’t long after that Kairosoft released another sim game that appeals to me, and that game is Grand Prix Story.

The idea behind Grand Prix Story is simple. You want to become the best racing team there ever was, though you start with absolutely nothing at your disposal and have to slowly crawl your way up the racing world’s ladder in order to achieve any success at all. Basically this is Game Dev Story, but with cars instead of games.

Your task is to hire drivers and mechanics to develop and research new cars and technologies in order to win various races and progress through championships that become progressively harder as you go. Naturally you’ll need money to hire staff, and you’ll be forking over more dough to each of them since every NPC demands a salary. Every development, research item, and upgrade also costs money. This game is essentially a giant vacuum that is sucking your digital money up like Cookie Monster does with cookies. To cover the costs of your endless activities, you’ll pretty much be entering races non-stop.

The best part about the races in this game? You get to watch them! This far exceeds having the race simulated and then being told what the results are. Qualifying laps for races are unfortunately simulated, but they are pretty representative of the quality of both your car and driver. If you have a good combination with adequate stats, then you should qualify on pole or near it. The times you will see in qualifying seem to be completely random though! Pole sitters may manage thirty second lap times on tracks that normally take upwards of fifty seconds to complete a lap of. To make things even stranger, the qualifying times are never close. The driver on pole may set a time of forty five seconds while the guy starting in eighth may have set a time that’s a full minute behind. On such short tracks, it feels a little odd to see these numbers. It’s not too big of an issue in races though, because the actual racing is always very close.

So what do you use prize money for in this game? First, there is hiring drivers and mechanics. You’ll be deciding who to hire based on their attributes. Higher numbers are obviously better, so you’ll want to hire the best people you can find. Half the fun in hiring drivers is in their names. They are mostly all parodies of real life drivers (mostly Formula 1). After playing for a little while, I was fielding two drivers named Kimi Kone and Mike Shoe. Anyone who has paid any attention to Formula 1 will know which two drivers are being parodied with those names! It’s quite funny to see that Kairosoft tried to capture their appearances in sprite-form here, as Mike Shoe very clearly looks like a little pixelated Michael Schumacher.

After you hire your staff, you can periodically train them by having them go jogging, reading, or even joyriding. Each activity costs a small sum of money and will increase the stats of your staff member peforming the training. Note that if you train a staff member too much in a short period of time, you’ll deplete their energy and leave them performing inadequately until their energy bar recharges.

R&D is where you’ll sink most of your money. Researching new cars (and then building them) can put a serious dent in your team’s wallet, but the results usually pay off if you have competent staff members working on your projects. When you’re not racing, researching and upgrading will be taking up all of your time. As if reseearching and upgrading cars wasn’t enough, you’re also responsible for doing the same with individual car parts such as engines, tires, and other performance enhancing parts. It then costs money to outfit your cars with researched and upgraded parts.

When you’re first starting out, this game will suck you dry. I wasn’t even playing for ten minutes before I was given “extra funds from a bank account” or something of the sort, because apparently my assistant was terrified that I was going to run the team into the ground despite the fact that I didn’t feel like such a thing would happen, nor did it ever occur. Grand Prix Story will turn you into a poverty-striken team boss for the first hour or so but, after that, you’ll find yourself comfortably staying afloat with ease. As was the case with Game Dev Story, you will reach a point in the game where you simply start dominating and become unstoppable. However, unlike in Game Dev Story, that point is harder tor each in Grand Prix Story due to all of the various car parts and pieces that you have to micromanage alongside taking care of your staff members. As far as depth goes, there’s definitely a lot more of it here than there was in Game Dev Story. There’s really no comparison, though I do miss the fun process of making games in Game Dev Story. Developing cars is fun here in Grand Prix Story, but it’s not as entertaining. However, the racing sequences are far better than Game Dev Story’s equivalent, which was simply reviewers awarding scores to your games.

Graphics are typical Kairosoft fare. There’s nothing truly spectacular looking as all graphics are 2D backgrounds and sprites. Still, Kairosoft’s graphics always have a really charming personality to them and Grand Prix Story’s visuals are no different. The appearances of some of the staff members made me crack a smile (Mike Shoe especially), and some of the cars look really interesting. It’s also fun watching your crews working busily in the team garage.

Sound isn’t stellar, but it is a definite step up from what I had to endure in Game Dev Story which had pretty subpar music and sound effects. Grand Prix Story doesn’t exactly have good music or sound effects, but they’re still somewhat endearing and enjoyable. I wouldn’t say that they’re grating or repetitive, but you’re also not missing anything by turning your volume down.

Grand Prix Story is definitely worth checking out if you’re into Kairosoft’s sim games or like racing management games in general. This game isn’t nearly as deep as the more serious management sims out there, but it’s still a lot of fun when you want to manage a racing team on the go.

Final Score

8.5/10

Pros:
+ Graphics are charming, cute and simple. It’s hard not to like them.
+ Immense amount of R&D will always give you something to work on.
+ Races are fun to watch, especially when they’re close.

Cons:
– Not as much customization as there was in Game Dev Story.
– Music and sound aren’t worth writing home about.
– Questionable times in qualifying sessions will puzzle most players.

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Game Dev Story (Review)

Why are you reading this review instead of playing the game?!

Throughout 2011, I heard about Game Dev Story an awful lot. Professional reviewers were praising the game and apparently it was selling really well on app stores. Well, about half a year after the game’s release on iOS, I decided to dust my iPod Touch off and check the game out.

So, what is Game Dev Story? A very basic summary is that you are in charge of a video game development company (games, staffing, etc.) and must turn it into an industry crushing behemoth! Does this sound fun? Well if you have a fondness for simulation games (think anything by Maxis) or just video game development in general, then this game should definitely appeal to you.

Players start off with a pretty small office to work out of and, right off the bat, your secretary will ask you to hire three employees to get the company started. Potential hirees all come with various silly names that poke fun at the entertainment industry (Donny Jepp, Stephen Jobson, Walt Sidney). These NPCs all have job-specific titles such as coder, producer, writer, and so forth. Each title implies what field the characters excel at. Each hirable NPC also has four main statistics – programming, scenario, graphics, and sound. These four statistics will, ultimately, be the deciding factors in who you hire and who you give passes to. They will determine how good your employees are at designing your games. The programming statistic generally improves overall development of the games and the proposal writing of each game. Scenario affects how creative your games will be, which is vital in the grand scheme of the game. Graphics and sound are, predictably, the graphics and sound of your games.

Players will have to choose which consoles are right to develop for and when.

When you start, employees will have very low statistics. Because of this fact you should not expect your games to succeed very much in the beginning and they will, at best, just cover lost expenses.However, as you gradually make more money off of your stinkers that you release, you’ll be able to level up and train your employees so that they become more skilled. Leveling up is pretty basic and simply uses research points, a sort of currency you earn from simply working on and debugging games. Training is a different story and requires you to spend your company’s actual money. You can choose various activities for your employees to train in, and all will increase at least one of the four statistics possessed by them. Eventually, simply leveling and training your employees becomes less and less beneficial over time and, once they appear to be at their limits without having oodles of cash thrown into training them, you have to command your secretary to bring in a batch of new applicants who are hopeful to work for you. In most cases, you will have to fire an existing employee to hire a new one, but this is rarely a problem since the new employees are usually better except for very late in the game. The only downside to firing long time employees is that you may feel a little sad letting go of an employee that you’ve had working for your company since the start of the game.

In terms of actually making games, there is a fun amount of options here. You get to choose the console to develop for along with the game’s name, genre, and theme. Want to make a cowboy RPG called Space Goons? Feel free to do that! If the RPG genre and cowboy theme are both popular at the time of the game’s development, then Space Goons could easily become a smash hit! As the years go by, the general public will be more partial to certain genres and themes than others. One year they may want action games and the next they might want racing games. It is not essential to give the public what they want because, if your staff is skilled enough, the game will succeed regardless. Still, adhering to the demands of the public will usually always net you at least 25% more in overall sales. You really can’t say no to that, can you?

Winning the coveted grand prize at the Global Game Awards will be high on your list of objectives to fulfill.

Every now and then, new consoles will be announced by companies that parody real life corporations (Senga releases the Exodus, Sonny will unveil the Playstatus, etc.) and you will have to pay handsome licensing fees to develop for these new devices. Since older consoles will eventually become obsolete and stop selling entirely, it is essentially to jump ship to newer and better consoles when you have the funds available to do so.

There are two annual events that are eventually introduced which also parody real life counterparts. GameDex is an annual convention that is clearly Game Dev Story’s version of E3. You can choose how much to spend on your company’s booth and presentation at Game Dex, or you can choose not to go entirely. This will, however, affect your popularity with the fanbase you’ve amassed over time. The second event is the Global Game Awards. This is basically the Oscars, but for games. There are a few categories to win (including the silly “worst game of the year”), but players will ultimately want their games to win the grand prize of the award show which is simply titled “the grand prize.” By winning it, you will be rewarded with a nice one million dollar prize. This is very helpful at the start of the game, but tends to feel pretty miniscule later on. The problem with this is that you are incredibly unlikely to win the grand prize for a few years at least and, when you do, it just isn’t much of a big deal anymore.

In terms of presentation, I have to commend this game for having a very cute look to it that is a breeze to navigate. Graphics are very reminiscent of the 16 bit era and are exceptionally easy on the eyes. Since Game Dev Story is a Japanese developed game, you can of course expect a few colourful and silly looking scenes which should make you smile. The sound of the game is a different story though, and I had to turn the music off within minutes of playing. It truly is horrendous to listen to, and the sound effects are only marginally better.

Fictional magazine reviewers will rate your games upon release and this can drastically affect your sales.

Ignoring the fact that this game has pretty bad music and sound effects, the rest of the package is really incredible. If you like simulation titles, then you will have a lot of trouble putting this game down as you will frequently find yourself saying “I’ll just make one more game, but then I have to get up” only to find yourself making five, six, maybe seven more games before you manage to put your iOS device down! The gameplay truly is addictive, but in a very pleasant way. Is Game Dev Story worth checking out? Without a doubt. Hop to it, folks!

Pros:
+ Amazing replay value with each game being a new experience.
+ Graphics are charming, cute, and simple.
+ Very easy game to pick up and play with no prior experience.

Cons:
– The sound is bad. Really, really bad. Final score isn’t 9+ because of it alone.
– Certain gameplay aspects become pointless over time.
– It’s not available to console and PC gamers!

Final Score

8.6/10

Flying Hamster (Review)

“An excessively crazy and cute side scrolling shooter that anyone can pick up and enjoy.”

While poking around the Playstation Store’s Minis section for something to play on my PSP, I happened across a curious sounding title. Flying Hamster. I read the description and realized that the game was side scrolling shooter, like Gradius or R-Type. Considering the fact that the player assumed the role of a hamster, I just had to check the game out to see what it was like. Well, after playing the game quite frequently on my PSP, I can say that it’s a pretty fantastic shooter.

In Flying Hamster, you play as a hamster who is constantly trying to rescue his girlfriend hamster from the clutches of evil. Just before the start of each level, the protagonist’s girlfriend is captured by the boss of the next level. It’s all done in a really adorably cartoon-like anime style that you can’t help but chuckle over. The game’s cuteness is so over the top that it is absurd. That does not mean that the game is just a cute little romp for kiddies, no. While the presentation of the game may be very sugar coated, there is a very dark sense of humour in this game. In the first level, cows that use their udders as machine guns attack the player, and in the following level that is set in the desert, penguins with parasols try to shoot down the player with pistols. Yes, you read that right… Penguins in the desert.

The joy of Flying Hamster is that it makes practically no sense at all. The game is just mindless fun, and it plays like something straight out of 1990. If the graphics were a little lower quality, this game could easily pass as something straight out of the Super Nintendo’s library. That is in no way a bad thing, since the Super Nintendo had a healthy amount of fun shooters. Flying Hamster is perhaps even more enjoyable than any shooter on the SNES. The game’s insane levels of quirkiness help it along quite a lot, but the gameplay is also extremely solid. Controls are very fluid and precise, so missing your targets or failing to avoid incoming projectiles will always be your own fault.

Flying Hamster is divided up into roughly half a dozen stages which are all themed. Throughout the stages, the player will have to dodge all sorts of zig-zagging enemies and projectiles while shooting down obstacles and stage bosses. The bosses are pretty fun in this game and definitely make you smile. The bosses start out moderately easy with a giant owl that shoots homing lasers from it’s eyes, but the game will quickly ramp up the difficulty slightly, though the game never becomes as difficult as other games in the genre. I think most of the reason for this game being fairly easy is the fact that you are able to take three hits before dying instead of just one, and the powerups are pretty darn powerful.

My two favourite power-ups are the beer and the fire. The beer will make the player squirt little dabs of beer, but when it is charged up, prepare for projectile vomit-like streams of beer! It’s a prett gross (but hilarious sight) and, fortunately, it’s strong as hell too. The fire is in the same boat as the beer. If you fire it without charging it, you’ll just shoot off weak little shots, but when the fire attack is charged, our little hamster spews a steady stream of fire that obliterates everything in it’s way! There are many other power-ups to collect, such as homing bees and boomerange bananas. All of them are pretty silly and should put a smirk on your face.

The presentation is what really sells this game, though. The graphics are ridiculously cute (just look at the screenshots in the review) and the music is so light-hearted and fun. It really is impossible not to be captivated by this charming little game. I had a recent play session of the game where I hooked my PSP up to my TV and everyone in the room got a kick out of all of the hilarious and silly things happening on the screen.

I honestly cannot give this game a low score or not recommend it to anyone. It’s such a lot of fun to play, and the crazy presentation of the game even appeals to people who don’t like side scrolling shooters. For only a few bucks on the Playstation Store (as well as on the iPhone App Store), you really can’t go wrong with having this game in the palm of your hands.

Final Score

9/10

Peggle Series (Review)

“For fans of Breakout, Pinball and Puzzle Bobble, this is as good as it gets.”

In 2007, PopCap released a little puzzle game that borrowed gameplay elements from several other popular games. This game would come to be known as Peggle, and would be ported to various consoles over time and, in 2008, spawned a sequel called Peggle Nights.

Rather than just reviewing the original Peggle or the sequel, or even any specific version, I’m reviewing every Peggle game instead because, face it, there are very few differences between any of them. Peggle Nights barely even changed from the first game, but that’s not really a bad thing.

So, what is this “Peggle” all about? Well, it’s all about aiming a ball 180 degrees (half a circle) and firing it at coloured pegs. It sounds really simplistic, and it usually is. Simplicity does not equal easy, however.

There are two pegs, blue and orange. Blue pegs are more plentiful and increase your score exponentially. Orange pegs are not as plentiful, and this is because in order to clear a level, you have to shoot and destroy every orange peg.

There are two additional “special” pegs as well. The yellow pegs grant you special abilities and the purple pegs increases the points you will receive for hitting every other peg on the same shot.

Regarding special abilities, what you can use depends on the “animal helper” that you have. If you are playing adventure mode, then you are assigned a different one every ten levels, but if you are playing any other game mode than you can manually choose who to use. These animal chracters don’t serve a lot of purpose other than to give you a different looking avatar at the top of the screen and to grant you different power ups. The unicorn’s special will grant you super precise aiming while the dragon’s special replaces your regular ball with a fireball which demolishes every peg in it’s path.

Levels start out easy, but after clearing about twenty or thirty, the difficulty will jump up significantly. Peggle never gets so hard that you’ll have any rage quits or anything, but it can be difficult enough to challenge you a great deal and make you complain that your shot “shouldn’t have gone there” or “should have hit that peg” and so forth.

That reminds me of the physics. They are quite unpredictable in Peggle, even more than you’ll find in any Pinball game. In order to plot where the ball will go, you will have to stare long and hard at the screen. This isn’t very fun and, like most people, you’ll probably just take whatever shots look best without analyzing the trajectory of the ball too much.

Peggle really shines in multiplayer modes, which I think may only be in the console versions. Essentially, the person who ends up with a higher score will win the level. This means that the person who destroys all orange pegs won’t necessarily be the winner. A little bit of strategy is involved, and it’s good fun.

As I said in the header, anyone who likes Breakout, Pinball, or Puzzle Bobble should enjoy Peggle quite a lot. This game will appeal to many others though, considering the fact that it is a PopCap game. Go over to their website and download a free demo of whatever Peggle game you happen across first if you have never done so. Peggle is quite fun and should be enjoyable to almost everybody.

Final Score

7.9/10

Plants vs Zombies (Review)

“PopCap’s latest smash hit is their finest work yet.”

I have long enjoyed PopCap’s modestly priced puzzle games, ever since the first Bejeweled. After Bejeweled 2 and Peggle, I began to believe that PopCap could not be topped in the realm of puzzle games. While this is probably true, I never expected them to expand into another genre and make themselves very, very comfortable. Last year, PopCap released Plants vs Zombies, a tower defense based strategy game that may just be not only the finest tower defense game ever, but also PopCap’s best game to date.

There’s not much of a story to tell. In Plants vs Zombies, you take the role of a suburban home owner in a neighborhood that is being invaded by zombies. The zombies, naturally, want to break into your house and eat your brain. Where this game gets weird is with the introduction of your yard full of plants which you must use to stop the zombies from reaching your house. I don’t believe they ever explain why your garden comes to life, but I suspect it is probably a side effect of the zombies being brought back to life from the dead. Throughout the game, you’ll “bond” with your clinically insane neighbor who gives you tips on how to beat the zombies.

Plants vs Zombies is not a difficult game to learn. Players must plant sunflowers which provide them with sun points. These points work like money. Each plant that you can deploy costs a certain number of points, and when you have enough, you are able to plant one in your yard. There are many different kinds of zombies, ranging from zombies with buckets on their heads, to pogo stick riding zombies, and finally, Michael Jackson look-a-likes who call upon dancer zombies. To combat all of these zombies, you’ll need to use your head and deply the appropriate plants. Pogo stick zombies leap over plants and straight towards your house, but by setting a large walnut down, the pogo zombie will bump into them and fall down. It is not uncommon to see the odd zombie or two appear on a zamboni in later levels, which mow down all plans in whatever row they are making their way down. How do you stop that? Set down a spikeweed and it will pop the zamboni’s tires. Almost every zombie has a weakness like this, while many plants do not work well against particular zombies. Using the right plants at the right times is very important and, in some cases, is the key to sucess. Later levels make the player adjust to having a foggy night yard, a pool in the center rows of the yard, and eventually even fighting off the zombies on your roof. Some levels combine many themes, such as a foggy yard with a pool at night. These levels force the player to think much more than normal and work in the game’s favour.

Graphics, as they are in most PopCap games, are completely two dimensional and very friendly even on aged computers. Even on maximum settings, this game should still be silky smooth on older systems while still looking very nice. It’s worth noting that the plants are drawn very well, with most of them possessing a sort of cute charm. Zombies, despite their silly designs, look fantastic as the shamble towards you. When the stage is full of many different kinds of plants and zombies and the action becomes hectic is when this game truly shines and, for a two dimensional bargain game, looks absolutely fantastic as your plants all fire their own respective projectiles, breaking off of the approaching horde of zombies.

One area which this game truly shines in is the sound department. PopCap did a stellar job with the sound effects for Plants vs Zombies, as I don’t recall ever hearing a single sound that I disliked or found annoying to any degree. Everything sounds pretty good, especially the moans from the zombies, who also occasionally utter “brains” like any respectful zombie would. The music is, more or less, all well above the average benchmark. Though there is a playful, silly nature to most of the music tracks in this game, there is also a sense of dread and urgency layered in each track as the action picks up. It’s great music for a tower defense game. It all just sounds so silly and never takes itself seriously, but still manages to convey a serious threatening tone as the zombies approach. If Tim Burton ever made a tower defense game, this would be the soundtrack.

In terms of replayability, there’s lots to do. After completing the main game, you can replay it again and have your neighbor play a larger role by choosing your plants for you. There are also minigames and survival exercises, as well as a relaxing zen garden. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which you can use to spend in Crazy Dave’s shop to purchase new plants and upgrades. Even after beating the game, I found that there was still several hours worth of content still waiting for me.

Overall, Plants vs Zombies is just plain fantastic. It is currently my favourite PopCap game as well as my favourite tower defense game. The game is a blast to play and the atmosphere is very immersive for a game of this kind. If you are a fan of PopCap or even just tower defense games, you owe it to yourself to give this gem a try. At only $10 on Steam, you really can’t go wrong. Alternatively, you can also pick this game up on your iPod Touch or iPhone, and I can’t think of a better way to spend your time on the go!

Final Score

8.5/10