Hey guys! Sorry again for the late installment, here. Coming off a week on vacation, it’s hard to get back into the groove of writing again. I wish the idea of “vacation” would make my mind go “Yay! I can finally get some writing done!” But alas… that’s not quite how it works. So instead, we get this recAPP for June just a week or two before you’ll get July’s! Hopefully, you’ve been keeping well in these hard times – and hopefully, you’ve been listening to our newest podcast (featuring Allan and yours truly) in my absence. June brought some fun new apps that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, so I hope you find them as exciting as I did!
Disney Sorcerer’s Arena
My first game this month had me super excited about this recAPP. I’ve had my eye on Sorcerer’s Arena since its surprise release (at least to me) back in March, and while I know we usually like to focus on smaller gems and the hidden treasures of the App Store, I couldn’t resist the urge to finally give this one a shot. Thankfully, I was far from disappointed, as Disney Sorcerer’s Arena may very well be the best turn-based combat game I’ve played on a mobile device. The game plays very similar to games like Raid: Shadow Legends (remember that beauty?) Players form a team of Disney characters and send them into battle, each with their own special attacks and defensive spells or buffs. Not only is the gameplay enjoyable, but as a massive Disney fan, it’s simply delightful to watch the likes of Sully, Captain Hook, and Princess Jasmine fight a gang of hyenas and Davy Jones. The first time I saw one of the Flying Dutchman’s crew members fighting alongside a Kakamora from Moana, I couldn’t help but chuckle. This game is just a hodgepodge of nostalgia and excitement for a person like me, and to top it all off, the upgrades and gear systems are basic enough to feel deep, yet user-friendly. I’d say this is a great “baby’s first turn-based strategy game,” but it shouldn’t be considered “for babies.” Sorcerer’s Arena feels like a harmless, approachable alternative to the more complex titles the genre has on offer amidst the App Store.
Now, I know this entry will be extremely niche, considering the VR market isn’t too populated right now, and only some of you out there will really benefit from what I’m about to talk about. That being said, for my fellow Quest/Rift owners out there, this app is a virtual reality paradise! Having recently purchased myself an Oculus Quest for my birthday, I dove headfirst (literally) into this app. I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of their marketplace, which offers daily deals and titles consolidated neatly into various themes, like rhythm or action games. The daily deals frequently include bundles of titles, which helps newcomers like me amass quite a solid library. The Oculus Store has a fairly large assortment of games, and I was genuinely pleased to see each game description including a “comfort” level for VR users. This helped me determine which games to show my non-VR ready family and which ones to take on myself. Other than games, the Oculus app includes a neat feature that can broadcast the headset wirelessly to devices like an Apple TV. This made showcasing the device even more intuitive, and it cemented the Oculus app as an essential addition to my phone. I look forward to experimenting more with my headset in the coming years, and I know this app will be a necessity every step of the way.
Okay, non-VR users, you can come back now!
On a recent episode of our Week in News podcast, Josh pointed out to me the existence of a Steam app. After hearing it’s pretty good, I checked it out for myself. Happily, I can confirm it gets the job done and lives up to that seal of approval. With the Steam app, you have the convenience of Steam’s entire dashboard in your pocket computer. Just to list off a few features: you can check the status of your friend list, send and receive messages, browse the store for new games (including those on your wishlist), and access your entire games library – complete with playtime totals and achievements. Now, I’ve seen some half-assed companion apps in my day. Remember the original “SmartGlass” for Xbox 360? The thing was barely used the way it was advertised before it was ultimately turned into the Xbox app, and even then it doesn’t always get the job done. That app feels clunky and unhelpful, as do apps like Ubisoft Club and Nintendo Online. Frankly, the only video game companion app I’ve enjoyed thus far is PlayStation‘s (free plug for that app! Go check it out!) But yeah, Steam’s app is nearly perfect. My only qualm was a lack of wishlist accessibility, but once I discovered that (you can find it under the “Library” menu), I realized this app can do no wrong. Thanks, Josh!
Pokémon Café Mix
Allow me to take this recAPP off the rails for a moment as I shamelessly bank on topical media over following the rules! This past month brought us the announcement of three new Pokémon apps, and while I considered writing an entire side feature on them as a whole, I’ve opted to review the two that were released in June, right here.
Starting with Pokémon Café Mix, this “original puzzle game” adds a new flavor to the typical match-3 formula. Following in the footsteps of games like Disney Emoji Blitz – or even Best Fiends, which I mentioned last month – Café Mix tasks players with tapping a Pokémon’s cute little face and spinning them about like a virtual washing machine, in order to create the biggest combo possible. Each level contains a new puzzle that, while full of multiple Pokémon types to fill the screen with colorful chaos, doesn’t feel much harder than the last. In fact, the entire game grew stale quickly (which was honestly to be expected), as the challenge simply isn’t there. Every level’s objective revolves around achieving a high combo within a certain number of moves. Unfortunately, unless you’re a child, you’re not going to have much difficulty doing so. The diminutive amount of joy Café Mix provides is complimented by its wonderful art style, which draws the Pokémon we know and love as picture book characters, with a watercolor palette that’s as pleasing to the eye as it is to the soul. This game was made for the casual puzzle gamer, and if you have a fondness for Pokémon, well then it’s certainly worth a try for their adorability alone. Seeing Charmander in a little barista apron unabashedly brought a smile to my face, and for that alone, I can’t help but recommend it, even if the “puzzle” aspect of Café Mix feels bland and forgetful.
Speaking of kids and their love of simple things, Pokémon Smile is Nintendo’s latest attempt to corner the market on childcare. Quite possibly the most basic and… strange concept for a video game, Smile tasks children with, you guessed it, brushing their teeth! Now, you may ask yourself, “Graydon, certainly you didn’t play a teeth-brushing simulator made for children!” Well, dear reader, you must be new here, for there is no amount of humiliation I won’t undergo for the sake of a good article. Sadly, I’ve returned from the frontlines of Pokémon Smile with a bad taste in my mouth – and I know it’s not halitosis because I brushed really well. In fact, I brushed better without the use of Pokémon Smile, and that is without a doubt the saddest result of this whole excursion. While holding my camera up to view myself brushing whilst wearing a Squirtle hat, and watching an entire Pokémon fight sequence play out in my mouth, I completely lost track of the task at hand. Once I finally came to and realized the cartoon brushing instructions in the corner of the screen, I laughed at the comical simplicity of these directions and noted how there’s no way a child would possibly have clean teeth at the end of these two minutes. Furthermore, catching a Pidgey and finding out I can’t use him as my fighter the following day really crushed my spirit. All in all, Pokémon Smile may get your kid to do just that, thanks to its visuals alone, but don’t expect that smile to be very shiny. At least I got some great pictures out of it!
I’ve done every kind of promotion possible for Beyond Blue, save actually reviewing the thing. I talked about it in my PAX East piece, I streamed it on launch day, I’ve championed it multiple times on podcasts and in our VGU group chat, and I’m even working on a YouTube series for our channel. This game is beautiful, emotional, and downright important. From the makers of one of my favorite indies, Never Alone, I’ve truly been looking forward to this game for years. Imagine my surprise when the game got a “sneak peek” released on Apple Arcade a month before the game’s full launch. Having tried the app after playing the actual game, I must admit I didn’t play it through entirely. The mobile version is literally a slice of the full game, and having just played it, the story was so fresh in my mind that I wasn’t about to replay it all over again. That being said, anyone with an Apple Arcade subscription should download this immediately. While it does have an immense file size, the graphical quality and dedication to the console version make it all worth it. My only gripe is the fact that I can’t play the full game on mobile. I would’ve happily played through it again with this control scheme – not to mention the various dialogue lines that were cut from the full game, which is unfortunate because they added to the experience. This game deserved a mention and absolutely deserves to be played by lovers of nature and peaceful exploration games. Beyond Blue is a modest masterpiece.
It feels so weird reading this month back because I truly wrote that section about Beyond Blue over a month ago. Again, I apologize for the delay here and I’ll try to do better in the coming months. I guess this Coronacation is getting to me these days! That being said, I hope you’re all staying safe and healthy still, and I hope these apps keep you company until next month. I’ll see you then, and remember: wear a mask!
(For last month’s recAPP, check it out here!)