Ever watch one of those late night jazzercise infomercials? They generally feature a bunch of folks prancing about on screen bedecked in spandex, really getting into the workouts and the music and the whole experience. Out loud you’re saying “...Huh” in a derisive sort of way but in your head, deep down, you’re wondering—they’re all so chipper, aren’t they? There must be something I’m missing.
I get that way about the Farming Simulator series. The butt of so many jokes, its inexplicable popularity outside of the U.S. is nothing short of mind-boggling. Farming Simulator 14 (that’s 2014, not the 14th incarnation) recently landed on just about every platform under the sun, but the iOS variant was only $3 so I figured I’d take the plunge. And you know what? It’s not for everyone. Or for most, I gather. But there’s something a little bit magical here—provided you’re the patient sort.
Oh man do I love stealth games. There’s something a little magical about lurking in the shadows, picking locks or hacking nondescript terminals and spending inordinate amounts of time crawling through tight spaces. That thoughtful pace, the careful observation of your surroundings, getting the jump on the opposition: great fun if you’re the sort of person who enjoys biding their time. For others it’s likely an interactive-ish analog of watching paint dry.
Stealth Inc. aims for a healthy middle ground. Equal parts puzzler and platformer, you play a clone bedecked in appropriately stealthy goggles tasked with outwitting homicidal test chambers. Your only tools are the shadows—robots can’t incinerate what they can’t see. Which means plenty of glorious skulking, dashing past sluggish security cameras, and pushing curiously convenient rolling pillars about to block a sentinel’s field of view.
Just one more click, I say. And that’s how they get you, isn’t it? “They” in this case being the clever minds behind Desktop Dungeons ($15, PC or Mac), a game that exists somewhere in the gulf between roguelike and puzzler, with a bit of kingdom-building tossed in for good measure.
Lurking behind ho-hum visuals and simplistic mechanics is a fiendishly good time, one that’ll soak up hours of your day in ten minute increments. It’s also pretty funny, which is nice.
Tower defense games have always been a bit daft: waves of baddies throw themselves at stationary murder-spires until you whittle them down to naught, or the sheer mass of their corpses overwhelms your firepower.
“What’s my motivation?” a soldier might say, as they chug along proscribed paths, wielding weapons they’ll never fire while marching towards a goal they’ll probably never reach.
Anomaly 2 has the answer. But first, it must turn the whole tower defense convention on its head.
Everyone remembers Tamogotchis. While they offered no real purpose beyond tickling my latent need to organize and nurture a needlessly intricate system, they did a pretty good job of holding my attention. For a time, at least: you could only optimize those feeding and care cycles for so long before realizing you’re kind of spinning your wheels, having long since run out of things to do.
I run into the same problem with most Nimblebit games. Pocket Trains and Pocket Planes push all the right buttons, but once you’ve constructed a transportation empire that spans a few nations you start to realize that pushing any further means doing much of the same, only on a larger scale. Tiny Tower was always the worst offender. Build commercial spaces to raise funds. Use those funds to build residential spaces, attracting new residents who’ll staff your commercial spaces. Rinse and repeat until pressing the button that’ll raise and lower the elevator to dizzying heights becomes too onerous—then you delete the app and find something else to kill time with.
Jared writes for PCWorld and TechHive from his remote outpost in Cincinnati. More by Jared Newman
Valve is teasing a few more details about SteamOS and Steam Machines, while saving the bigger news on its living room gaming invasion for early next year.
According to Engadget and The Verge, Valve will announce the first Steam Machines during the CES trade show in January. These devices will be produced by third-party hardware partners, and will range from low-end consoles—most likely with integrated graphics—to high-end gaming rigs. The first commercially available Steam Machines will arrive in mid-2014.
For now, Valve is testing out SteamOS, the company’s Linux-based gaming operating system, on prototype hardware given out to 300 lucky users. The prototype is a little bit larger than an Xbox 360, The Verge reports, and it packs an Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan graphics card. The details on this particular Steam Machine are academic, as Valve has already said that it won’t sell it to the masses.
Some might argue that Kairosoft games are a bit… well, similar. Fire up anything from GameDev Story to Ninja Village and you’ll find an identical user interface coupled with nigh identical motifs: build some sort of workstation which produces goods, hire employees to work, converting those goods into cash. But here’s the thing: familiar as it all feels, each game offers a fresh take on the simulation experience—Pocket Harvest takes the tried-and-true system and applies it to the exciting world of farming.