The Agent Reviews A Game: Hungry Dragon

Live every fantasy fan’s dream; roleplay as Smaug.
Source: Ubisoft

So a lot of my essays lately have been focused on LGBTQ+ – specifically transgender – issues due to their impact on my life. However, I realize that some people might need a break from the heavy topics and just have some fun. So, let’s get back into one of my increasingly favorite topics; mobile games.

In my side mission to find entertaining distractions that I can play anywhere I damn-well please (a big deal in previous months with no reliable Wi-Fi of my own), I’ve developed a sort of affection for fun and simple little games on my phone. And they don’t get much more simple and fun for me than Hungry Dragon.

Yes, from the company that gave us Rayman and Assassin’s Creed comes a manic mobile game with a simple premise; You dragon, they crunchy. EAT. THEY. ASS.

I was immediately grabbed by the visuals. A lot of mobile games claim to have great graphics, but they lack the charm that Hungry Dragon has. All of the detailed texturing means nothing if the design is uninspired. And luckily for this game, the dragons are given so much personally and variety ranging from genuinely intimidating to cartoonishly wicked that almost everyone will have their own favorite.

As for the gameplay, it’s a simple endurance game. You fly around the world eating anything you can fit in your gob – humans, livestock, goblins, OTHER DRAGONS, etc. – while dodging hazards like hunters, mines, and larger predators. Eat enough at once and you breathe a massive gout of flame that makes quick work of everything in your path. Keep eating and avoid starvation for as long as you can to get cool loot.

And the loot is indeed cool. You’ll end up unlocking pets that give stat bonuses, costumes that change how each dragon plays, and larger dragons that grant access to different pray and new areas of the world. Again, there’s enough variety and the designs are inspired enough that you’ll quickly find your favorites.

One of the things I appreciate most about this game though is it’s one of only, if not THE only mobile game I’ve played that doesn’t harass you to play it on its schedule. I’ve railed in the past about my disdain for games that force daily login goals just to keep players and how they make a simple game feel more like work. There’s no sign of that in Hungry Dragon. All you ever get is the occasional notification that an egg you’ve been incubating is ready to hatch. It makes for a much more casual, laid-back game perfect to unwind to after a long day.

While this is easily one of my favorite mobile games at the time, I have my qualms with it. For one, the graphic intensity of the game does tax my phone slightly resulting in some minor loss in frame rate. It’s not enough to ruin gameplay, but it does break the immersion for me. What’s more, I feel the lack of a competitive multiplayer mode is a bit of a missed opportunity. Games like Agar.io proved that people quite enjoy the concept of a player-eat-player competitive game.

Other than those minor points, however, this is a solid mobile game that I have yet to find myself leaving. It’s relaxed, it looks amazing, and it’s just silly fun to inhale an entire village only to find your controls have suddenly been reversed because you accidentally got tipsy on the town drunk. Download this game – you will not regret it.

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The Agent Reviews A Game: Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen

Needs some work on the translation there, hon… but you’re just so sweet and adorable…
Source: Ma.Gi.E. in Wonderland

Well, folks. It’s time to put my credibility as a gamer to the ultimate test.

In my tireless search for a passable mobile game, I found one in the one place I and every other gamer has been told since birth we would never find a fun game. So here comes the big ass truth bomb; my favorite game on mobile is… A DRESS UP SIMULATOR.

The plot of Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen is… bizarre and pretty nonsensical. our heroine Nikki and her cat companion Momo find themselves, for reasons unknown to them and us, transported to the fantasy world of Miraland – a world where rivalries and disputes are handled, not with violence, but with one-on-one fashion competitions (silly, but edenic in a strange sort of way) living in the aftermath of a “nine-day war” of stylists competing for three worldly treasures. Obviously, the story is not the main draw of this game; par for the course on mobile.

The writing and voice acting aren’t much better, unfortunately. The dialog is stilted, the script has quite a few grammatical errors, and voices are so forcefully twee and cute that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a rerun of Rainbow Brite from the 80’s. So why do I like this game so much?

Simply put, it handles all of its gameplay mechanics amazingly. Unlike every game of its kind I’ve seen in the past, the scoring during the judging never feels arbitrary. The game lays out very clear standards and goals to achieve with each level. You’ll be given a theme to match (office, sport, traditional, etc.) and examples of what aspects of your outfit you will be most heavily judged for (cuteness, liveliness, maturity, etc.).

Plus, judgings aren’t passive events. Both you and your opponent can make the game more challenging with active skills. You can flash a smile to win judges over or kill your opponent’s confidence by throwing some critical shade. It’s less a passive fashion contest than it is spell casting management in an MMORPG.

Of course, even if you think the main story missions are arbitrary, there’s still the multiplayer competitions. New themes are regularly selected and players will judge each other in pairs based on who they think best matches the theme for the current contest.

You’ll be encouraged to craft and customize your clothing (so be weary; you may not want to throw out that old pair of jeans just yet), interact with and join a stylist’s association (this game’s equivalent of a guild), and – of course – gather daily login rewards which normally kill the mood for me, but are worked in well here. You earn so much in-game currency and clothing normally that you won’t be too terribly hurt if miss one day. Plus, the reward system itself seems highly forgiving. I swear I missed a day here an there with everything going on in my week. But when I got back, I didn’t lose any progress. Now that’s user-friendliness!

If there was any complaint I had to levy on Love Nikki, it’s that it still approaches it’s gameplay from a “dress up games are for girls” perspective with how cute it’s trying to be. But, to the game’s credit, there are a number of fashion-forward men in the cast and “unisex” is one of the many style options available. So it’s not as narrow-visioned as it could be and it doesn’t come off as closed off.

So yeah, a dress up game wound up being one of my favorite things to play on my phone while waiting for my shift to start and I suspect it would be yours too. Granted this is all coming from the bias of someone who dedicates every Wednesday on Twitter to showing off their makeup and new clothes, but if you have the same interests, this will be right up your alley. It just goes to show you that you can’t just write off a genre as worthless because of a history of bad eggs. Who knows? Someone may have fixed the problems that plague it before.

Three Ways That Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Fails

An accurate recreation of the, “Oh s***, I’m f***ed,” face I made when I saw just how dickish this game would be.
Source: GameRant

If it’s one thing that my history with mobile gaming has taught me, it’s that almost every game with the word ‘Mystery in its title is going to be a disappointment. What little mystery there is in the story or gameplay will almost always be weak and unengaging.

But it hurt even more when this truth befell Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery because this was a series of books and films that meant so much to so many. This was, for many people, how they or their younger kin were introduced to the realms of fantasy storytelling. Sure, it was just a story at the end of the day. But it was a story that held weight. To see that fall victim to the lazy industry mentality of, “push it out the door quickly to make a buck sooner” cuts exceptionally deep.

At this point, you’ve likely seen the tending Twitter posts and Facebook memes surrounding this game. But I want to strip away that protective varnish of humor and expose the raw and acidic sting of buyer’s remorse surrounding this travesty in order to provide a sort of ‘big book of do not’s’ for future app developers. So, where did Hogwarts Mystery go wrong?

Mismanaging the energy mechanic

One of the most consistent complaints I’ve seen from people regarding Hogwarts Mystery. It seems almost inevitable that you’ll be in the middle of a story mission or a class when… “Oops, you don’t have enough energy to finish this task. Oh, you say you’re on ticking clock? and if you wait around for your energy to rebuild, you’ll lose? Guess you better hand us ALL YOUR MONEY and PAY for the privilege to play if you don’t want to be strangled to death by the Devil’s Snare.”

I rarely see money-grubbing behavior on this level. You aren’t given enough resources to complete tasks without paying for it and if the bothered to fix it, the game’s main challenge would disappear. This is one of the most blatantly transparent cash grabs I’ve ever seen in a mobile game. Or rather, it would be if not for…

Mismanaging character customization

Have you noticed how ridiculously expensive most of the character customization options are? Seriously, 4000 coins for a haircut? It’s taken me four chapters just to get half of that. 100 diamonds for a basic pair of glasses? That’s REAL money for a simple, unimpressive cosmetic detail most people will overlook.

Most of these things require, once again, in-game purchases if you want them. This means even MORE transparent cash-grabbing. I really don’t think this was the kind of business model J.K. Rowling had in mind when she wrote the first stories on an old manual typewriter while trying to care for her daughter alone with no job and fighting the clinical depression that would later inspire The Dementors.

Combat is almost purely luck-based

The big thing that could have saved this mess was the dueling mechanic. The fact that many missions teach you spells you can use in duels was actually really exciting; like you were recreating the feel of being a Hogwarts student.

… And then you actually have to duel.

Dueling is nothing more than a rock-paper-scissors game where the victor wins the right to slap the loser in a magical game of Rochambeau. The only “strategy” comes when you get a whole TWO choices for attacks. Even Pokémon let you have four attack options per character and let choose which ones you wanted to an extent.

I know this is going to be a much shorter essay than what I normally give, but I was genuinely caught off guard by the massive amount of NOTHING this game had to offer. It wasn’t engaging, there’s no real mystery as advertised, and every mechanic seems based around parting you from your money first with fun being a tertiary goal at best. And it doesn’t matter that they heard the criticisms of the players and lowered their microtransaction prices; if a restaurant offers you an appetizer of cat s***, you don’t stick around for the main course.

Don’t play this game, don’t give them your money. If the choices are between this game and a Reductor Curse targeting your genitals, I suggest looking the witch or wizard pointing their wand at your junk in the eyes and telling them, “it’s still not as bad as Hogwarts Mystery.”

The Agent Reviews a Game: Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack

This blank, boring promo offend ALL of my senses as a graphic designer. But as for the game…
Source: Google Play

Well, color me surprised. Here I am, hunting for the ONE good mobile I can enjoy, and it was hiding right in front of me.

In my defense, everything about Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack screamed, “don’t play this; it’s garbage and we REALLY didn’t care about it beyond a paycheck.” Every piece of promotional material attached to this game is some of the most bland-looking, generic marketing wank I’ve ever seen. Even the title is so generic, I had to review and analyze screenshots like they were courtroom evidence just to make sure I wasn’t looking at footage from a different, equally generic looking game.

That said, when I actually got to playing it, I was surprised at how well it held up.

As the title ham-fistedly tells us, Space Shooter: Galaxy Attack is a space-themed shooter. You may recall my frothing at the mouth rage towards the last mobile shooter I played. Well, I was able to detect a trace of enjoyability through my fury-blurred vision and decided to look for other shooters to try in the hope that they would correct the mistakes of Fastlane. And, for the most part, Space Shooter nailed it.

The controls are AMAZINGLY responsive. My main problem with  Fastlane was that it didn’t actually track your finger which led to a lot of easily avoidable deaths. Space Shooter wins by default by having your ship lock to where ever you tap your finger, allowing for tight maneuvers and rapid response to threats.

And by god are their threats to be had. This game is just shy of a Touhou Project level bullet hell shooter – especially when you get to the boss fights and SUPER ESPECIALLY in Boss Fight Mode when they get amped up to eleven.

Oh yeah, there are multiple modes to play. There’s a ‘story mode’ (in the loosest sense as there is no plot) with three difficulty levels -Normal, Elite and Veteran. Boss Fight Mode has you rechallenging the bosses in the story with new ridiculous firing patterns that put your skills to the test, the Arena and Trial Modes give you a chance at snagging glory on a global leaderboard, and Endless Mode gives you a chance to grind some coin out of the alien menace to upgrade your ships.

Honestly, speaking of Endless Mode, that may be my only hang up with this game so far. Endless mode is WAY too easy. With a fully powered-up ship, I can cruise through over 200 waves while barely even touching the screen to steer. It’s pretty obvious that it exists only for level grinding.

Really, the thing you’re going to want to play this game for is the PvP. Yeah, this has a competitive multiplayer mode where you and a friendly rando from around world race against the clock to snatch the highest score. I thought it was totally mindless at first, but there’s actually a fair amount of strategy involved. What the fastest way to clear this wave to pull ahead of your opponent? Do you stick with your favorite ship to clear waves faster or grab the ship change power-up for a quick point boost?

As for the ads and pay-to-win shenaniganry I railed against in my Fastlane review, they are all completely optional here. Yes, there are buttons urging you to buy other games everytime you die, but they’re incorporated into the game over screen directly so as to be as unintrusive as possible. And if there ARE long video ads to watch, the game gives you the option to ignore them if the promise of extra coins or reviving your ship doesn’t appeal to you. Even the prices in the in-game store were more than fair; the starter pack is a steal at 99 cents.

This isn’t the sort of game that will hold me for long periods of time and it doesn’t compare to the big budget or even indie PC games I prefer to spend my time on. That said, I can’t state enough just how amazed I was that this seemingly hokey game that looked like it was made just to rake in a quick buck turned out so good. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good mobile game to hold you on a long road trip or waiting room visit.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that the ol’ chestnut of ‘less is more’ really does hold true in the mobile gaming market.

The Agent Reviews a Game – Fastlane: Road To Revenge

“THIS ISN’T GTA. NO SIR. NOTHING LIKE IT. ROCKSTAR GAMES? WHO’RE THEY?”
Source: Google Play

Uuuuugh… This year was even worse than the last. It’s been a year of terrible politics, rising ignorance, and shifty practices in all of the most crucial parts of our lives. I mean, I know it’s unrealistic to expect the world to form a Xanadu Bureaucracy of the Seraphim Incorruptible, but we could at least TRY to be reasonable and work towards a mutual benefit.

Basically, what I’m getting at is that I need to beat up on an easy target to make myself feel better before we get to 2018. So, please forgive me as I continue my futile search for a REALLY good mobile game.

Fastlane: Road To Revenge can be easily summed as, “what if GTA was also The Fast and The Furious and we make it a top-down Shoot’em Up?” And honestly only the last third of that sentence has any appeal to me and was the only factor in me installing it on my phone (other than the fact that I was without my PC for a month and needed some form of entertainment).

Now that’s not to say the premise is wholly bad, merely that it’s shallow. This seems to be a running theme among mobile games; story and character development are tertiary to simplistic gameplay to entice potential players and *gag* microtransactions to line the dev teams pockets. There’s IS a good story to be told here about gang violence and the criminal underground told through the aesthetic of automotive culture. The problem is that it’s a story that’s been done before and the fact that it gets sidelined makes me think that the folks at Space Ape Games are well aware of that and just wanted to get it out the door ASAP.

But what about that gameplay though? Well, it plays well enough. As stated, it’s a top-down Shoot’em Up in the same vein as the old school arcade shooters I grew up with like Galaga1941, and one of my personal favorites Dragon Spirit. You hop into your ride and race through your rival’s streets shooting up enemy cars for cash to improve your car and take back your city. On paper, it sounds quite exciting. But in practice…

Well, first off, your movement is limited; your car seems to be fused to the bottom third of the screen. this wouldn’t be a problem normally as you would want to as far back as possible to give yourself ample time to dodge incoming attacks. But the screen is so small and the action moves so fast near the end of a level that you can’t react in time and you’ll have to start over from the beginning.

Now, you’d think that this would be mitigated somewhat by the use of that nifty health bar in the upper left corner of the screen, right? NOPE. That’s only for ramming other cars. Everything else – barriers and missiles – are a one-hit kill. Oh sure, regular bullets don’t insta-kill you. But they only seem to show up when you’re already dodging traffic and do so much damage at that point that they might as well be fatal.

The hell of it is that none of this would be a problem if I could just control myself properly. You swipe your finger to steer yourself around, but you expect that to mean that your vehicle tracks your fingers position on the screen. Again, NO. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve swiped my finger between incoming missiles or stopped going to one side only to STILL grind against a wall and got screwed and killed by terrible tracking.

The only way to survive the onslaught is to upgrade your car and power-ups. Granted most of the stuff can be bought with regular in-game cash – stronger guns, power-ups, armor, ETC., but better vehicles and spreadshot guns which you NEED to make any progress are locked behind a paywall. Oh, you could level grind for DAYS to try to get the gems to pay for them or sit through the “optional” ads that pop up EVERY TIME YOU DIE hoping to get some, but let’s be honest with ourselves – you’re expected to buy them directly and pay for the privilege of in-game progression.

This is easily the most frustrating game I’ve ever played on mobile. It’s a shame too because it could have been a fun time waster if nothing else. But between the weak story, unfair difficulty curve, janky controls, and money-grubbing tactics, this is a game I’ll be happy to leave behind. Thank god this was a free download or I might have actually gotten upset.