Hearthstone for the iPhone

hearthstone-iphone

Hearthstone released for the iPhone just a couple of days ago, and I’ve already clocked 5+ hours…. all of which may or may not have been during the work day. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not great at Hearthstone. It’s not the deepest or most difficult to understand or even master card game out there, and like all card games you are only as good as the cards in your deck. Since I haven’t been into the idea of playing a lot of Hearthstone on my PC, as I’d rather play on the go, I’ve held off playing and thus haven’t earned cards. So take this review for what it’s worth — not that of a Hearthstone master, but rather an iPhone 6 Plus gaming enthusiast and still a fan of the game.

Hearthstone on my iPhone 6 Plus runs well enough. I have moment of slow-down, and loading times aren’t fantastic. These feel like something that I bet will be patched within a couple of weeks. This delay and often finicky nature of the touch controls has lead to more than one mistaken selection or card placement resulting in my utter defeat. The image above is actually of a match I was playing today. I mistakenly healed myself because the touch control let go when I was dragging it to my minion.

Blizzard’s implemented of the game on the iPhone does, overall, work. A few extra steps like having to click on my hand to bring it up, and touching to hold cards to see what they do adds to the time it takes me to execute my turn, but over time as I learn cards these will be less of an issue. The extra steps are a little annoying, but at the same time I’m willing to put up with them having Hearthstone in my pocket where I go.

What I love most about this whole thing is how integrated the Battle.net experience is, and the fact that I am playing on my phone with people on their computers, tablets, or phones. I have full access to my friends list and can chat, see what everyone is up to, and whatever I do on my iPhone is completely linked to my exact same Hearthstone account anywhere else. Wonderful integration that has, thus far, worked flawlessly.

Yeah, Hearthstone isn’t perfect. As a card game you can rip it apart. It’s pay-to-win, governed by incredible meta game, luck., etc… but it’s hard to beat free, and it’s hard to beat having it on my iPhone. The pay-to-win aspects are no different than the hundreds I’ve spent on MTG cards. I’m just trying to convince myself that a digital version is essentially the same thing when my brain is telling me it’s not. Bottom line, I have to spend money on cards for Hearthstone to realize its full potential.

Keen and Graev's Review Score:

Nintendo Smart Device Games & Multi-platform Gaming Network

nintendo-smart-device-games

Huuuuuuge news coming out of Tokyo this morning! Nintendo has formed a massive partnership with mobile gaming giant DeNA to bring Nintendo’s IPs to smart devices as well as develop a multi-platform gaming network spanning across PC, smart devices, Wii U, and 3DS. This news is INCREDIBLE for people like me and Graev who have always wanted Nintendo to finally get into some form of online service.

Nintendo has always been afraid of diminishing the value of their handheld consoles like the New Nintendo 3DS XL by releasing games on platforms like the iPhone, but with this multi-platform gaming network perhaps allowing all of these devices to interact in some way, it can only strengthen the power of their overall trend toward ‘mobile’ gaming.

Here are a few key notes from the announcement:

  • All apps/games will be new games (not ports) based on the Nintendo IPS and will utilize the characters, etc.
  • ALL of Nintendo’s IPs are up for grabs
  • The games will be designed toward “more premium experiences” on the smart devices (aka the higher priced games)
  • The multi-platform gaming network will be an”online membership service”
  • Nintendo gets 10% of DeNA, and DeNA gets 1.24% of Nintendo

I’m stoked. I love my iPhone 6 Plus, and I love my New Nintendo 3DS XL. If I can get nintendo games on my iPhone then I can ‘game’ more inconspicuously in places where busting out my 3DS is a little less socially acceptable than staring at a phone. I’m betting it’s only a matter of time too before Nintendo’s eShop will be available on their ‘online membership service’ allowing us to download these “ports” of games they supposedly aren’t working on right now. Give it time. It’ll happen.

I’m also really excited for the possibility that Nintendo may actually have something a little more like Xbox Live. It will be a platform that connects all players regardless of their device, and it will perhaps finally allow for the multiplayer experiences I’ve been wanting in my Nintendo games.

Seabeard App

seabeard-app

Take elements of Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and everything annoying about In-App Purchases (IAP) and you have a “free” game called Seabeard. Seabeard is all about restoring your island to its former glory. You do so by clearing out overgrowth, restoring ruins, building new houses, and bringing commerce back to your empty corner of the map.

Gameplay is simple: You tap the screen to move and interact. You can decorate buildings, obtain pets, harvest farmable items, explore dungeons, craft recipes, do quests, go fishing, play mini-games, and the typical stuff you’d expect from a game of this type. Watch the video below from the creators of the game for a visual presentation of what you’ll find.

I really enjoy Seabeard’s use of islands. Your have your own island home that you are trying to build up, but you can travel via ship to other islands. Traveling between islands provides an opportunity to play sea-based mini-games where you can earn prizes ranging from gold to rare crafting materials. If you choose not to play a mini-game, you are lifted up by a zeppelin and carried to the next island.

seabeard-islandsOne of my favorite features is the ability to set up vendor stalls on your island to sell your goods to the game itself or to other players. I don’t mind the concept of having to put items up for sale and waiting 5 minutes to an hour for them to sell. I also don’t mind having to earn additional slots. I think this system works well for Seabeard, and it’s something I can see working well in other games. Selling your items to other players is also a novel feature for devices like this, and allows people like me to get my friends and family playing so that we can help each other build up faster.

Seabeard is one of the best graphical presentations I’ve seen on the iOS. The stylized visuals are captivating, the game runs flawlessly on my iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m once again challenging my previously held belief that phone games have no chance of providing a full-featured gaming experience. Seabeard is capable of providing the exact same experience found in games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. The key word here is capable.

 

In-App PurchasesWhere Seabeard falls short is in its use of IAPs. The game starts out decently accommodating. Wait 10 minutes here, 5 hours there, spend a few hours earning coins to afford the next building, etc. Then suddenly you hit this wall where it’ll take several hours of doing the same repetitive tasks before earning enough gold to move on. Conveniently you can purchase Pearls or Gold from their cash shop, but the rates are so ludicrous that you’d quickly spend hundreds of dollars before even putting in a decent amount of time into the game. IAPs take what could be one of the best games ever made for phones and warp it into a cash grabbing annoyance. My heart was crushed when this realization came crashing down on me right in the middle of enjoying the game.

If Seabeard was available for $20 I would be telling everyone I know to get out there and buy the game. Totally worth that price. But now I’m stuck in this weird position of telling people they may as well avoid playing it because they’ll only be disappointed after about 3-4 hours of play.

Despite its enormous and unavoidable flaw, I really do hope people try this out and realize the potential for creating a fully-realized game of this calibre on mobile devices. I like having this type of game with me on my phone — a device I carry with me everywhere — and I like knowing I can pick up and play for 30 seconds or 10 minutes then slide it back into my pocket.

In-App Purchases

In-App Purchases

I’m playing a lot of mobile games these days now that I have an iPhone 6 Plus. Playing on the iPhone 6 Plus screen is way more fun than the iPhone 4. I can actually see stuff and my fingers aren’t blocking 40% of the screen. I’m not really a “mobile gamer” though, so I’m not inclined to spend more than $0.99 on an app, and even then I won’t buy ones that aren’t on a huge sale and critically acclaimed – Terraria for $0.99 today, for example.

The apps I tend to play are “freemium” which means they have In-App purchases (IAP). The IAP are generally the same type of thing you’d expect from a F2P game like League of Legends, or something a little more insidious like the type of model found in a F2P MMO. The worst of the lot are the IAPs tied to the “waiting game.” Freemium apps are notorious for being timer games where the main gameplay element is actually just waiting for time to pass. Token, Pearls, Doodads, or whatever the in-game currency for that particular app can be earned in-game at a tauntingly slow pace (only there to make put you in pain) or bought from the store. Spend the premium currency and the timers speed up.

Mobile games, the games meant to be ‘on the go and quick’ end up being slow and tedious upkeep games. It’s this weird juxtaposition of time and convenience, and that’s what makes mobile gamers the perfect prey for this type of business model. In order to keep a game that should be quick and convenient actually quick and convenient, money has to be spent.

IAPs have become a license to make bad design decisions or in many games entirely bad games. Games that would be AMAZING — even better than so many PC/Console games — are destroyed by IAPs having to dictate design direction. It’s sad because had the game simply been sold for $5 or $10 or heck even $20 I would have happily bought the game rather than feel like I have to be nickeled and dimed (many times to extreme sums of $$$) just to find the level of enjoyment I could have by paying the initial cost.

I truly believe we are entering an era where mobile devices are capable of providing as-good or better gaming experiences. For that to happen these games can not continue to exist predominantly as IAP waiting games.

iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 6 Plus vs. Galaxy Note 4

I’ve had the same iPhone 4 since 2010, and I’m finally looking to make an upgrade. I’ve never felt the desire to be the type of consumer to upgrade my phone every time a new model comes out. I’m definitely not the type of person to follow the tech blogs and watch unboxing videos explaining the specs of each new phone. The whole cell phone race is something I’ve always avoided entirely.

My iPhone 4 is a little small, it’s sluggish with all of Apple’s iOS updates adding new features pushing the limits of its capabilities, and I’m simply ready for something new. My dilemma now is which of these new phones do I choose: iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Here’s what I use my “phone” for these days:

  • Texting – I use this excessively on a daily basis to communicate with family, work, etc.
  • Internet – My phone is constantly one access point to the internet these days. I’m on the go a lot and I need a quick way to look something up.
  • Games – I’m playing a lot of games these days like Boom Beach, Star Wars Commander, and Clash of Clans.
  • Organization – I like a good calendar and tools to keep me organized.

I can already tell you without much research that all of the phones out there on the market handle these things well. But now that you know that what I normally do, I can tell you a bit more of what I want it to do.

  • Take amazing photos. I’m a lot more active now that I’m engaged, and I’m going places and doing things worthy of documenting with photos. I’ve come to realize my iPhone 4’s camera is not quite as good as some of these photos I see out there lately.
  • Video chat. I want to face time and be able to video chat with my fiance and family.
  • Integrate more with the rest of my life. I feel like my phone has always been detached from everything I do. I’m a PC user which means I’ve been in this weird juxtaposition of technology having an iPhone.

I can tell you now I’m already leaning toward the iPhone 6, but here are my thoughts on all of these devices after playing around with them in the store.

iphone6vs6plusiPhone 6

The iPhone is a solid phone. I’ve used iOS for years. I’m used to it. The phone is larger than my iPhone 4, has a lot of upgrades, and would easily do everything I want it to do. My problems with the iPhone 6 are that it’s … another iPhone.  Is it different enough? I’m not one to ever spend lots of money in an app store, so despite being a pure iOS user for years I haven’t really invested so deep that my switching costs are too high to matter. That said, I still have lots of apps and keeping things consistent would be nice.

Pros: I’m comfortable with the iPhone. It does what I need.

Cons: It’s another iPhone.

iPhone 6 Plus

The “phablet” version of the iPhone. It’s big and has better screen resolution than the basic 6, but is it too big? I have large hands, but I don’t know if I want it to feel like a tablet in my hands. I don’t want to have to always use two hands when using it. I put my phone in my pocket and I’m not sure whether or not this is too big to fit nicely in my jeans, slacks, or shorts. All of my thoughts on the iPhone 6 apply to the Plus as well.

Pros: Big screen with great resolution. It’s the iPhone experience I know.

Cons: Too big to fit in my pocket? Would it be cumbersome? It’s another iPhone.

note4Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Alright… here is a tough one. I’ve never used Android except for these past few weeks as I’ve played with a Galaxy tablet I borrowed. I went into the store and I tried out the Note 4 and immediately felt somewhat turned off by the ‘experience’ of the operating system. However, I like certain features.

I like that it’s linked into my Google accounts. I’m a heavy Google user. I like the feature where multiple apps can be open on the screen at a time or ‘minimized’ and quickly brought back up. I think the Google app store (Play store?) is fine. A few years ago it was trash and this wouldn’t even be a debate, but there really isn’t much of a difference now in app offerings. It has a stylus… I’m a little weirded out by that.

Pros: Great features that trump the iPhone. It’s connected to Google and probably integrates best with my life.

Cons: It’s huge. It feels more like a tablet. I don’t like the overall ‘experience’ as much as the iPhone.

As I mentioned before, I’m leaning toward the iPhone 6. It will fit into my pocket nicely, do everything I need, keep my experience consistent, and integrate with the other people in my life despite not quite integrating well with things I do on other devices.

Anyone out there have experience with these devices and want to share your insights? I’ll probably buy within the next week or two.