Humble Bundle with Android 6 Review
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: June 21, 2013
It is interesting to look back on how gaming has changed within my lifetime. It used to be you practically needed a dedicated console or quarters to enjoy this interactive medium. Now you can find games for almost any electronic device with a screen and some input method. Sometimes these games are exclusive to a platform, and sometimes they are not. In the 5+2 Humble Bundle with Android 6 bundle, only one game is a platform exclusive.
Humble Bundle is a company that puts together bundles, typically containing independently developed video games and their soundtracks that can be purchased at any price, and the money you pay can go to the developers, Humble Bundle, or charities. For this bundle the two charities are the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play.
To encourage people to pay more than the minimum, Humble Bundles typically include games that require you beat the average (BTA) to purchase. In this case there are five games you get at any price and two BTA games, hence the 5+2 description. The five games you get at any price are Aquaria, Fractal: Make Blooms Not War, Organ Trail: Director's Cut, Stealth Bastard Deluxe, and Pulse, with Pulse being an Android exclusive game. Beating the average gets you Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut and Frozen Synapse. Every game's soundtrack is included with their purchase.
Part of the appeal of Humble Bundles is that the games they include are almost always DRM-free and you get versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux, if they exist. As this is a 'with Android' bundle, you also receive an Android version of each game as well.
As the bundle is only offered for two weeks, I will not be playing these games to completion, but until I feel confident in my ability to review them. This can take minutes or hours, depending on the game. Because the bundle includes Android versions of the games with the PC versions, I will play them on both platforms (with the exception of Pulse because it is only available on one platform). The Android device I am using is my Verizon Galaxy Nexus, which you can read the TalkAndroid review of here: Verizon Galaxy Nexus review – Does it live up to the hype?
With those points addressed, we can get into the reviews and see if any one of these games make the whole bundle worthwhile.
As a name like Aquaria would suggest, this game is set underwater and you play as a mermaid. Being underwater means you have free-reign for your movement, as you can simply swim up and down as needed. Being an adventure game though, there are some paths that are initially blocked, but after acquiring the proper skills, you can unblock them.
In this game your skills are tied to what is called the Verse. The Verse is a mystical energy that permeates the world around you, and by playing the correct songs, you can harness it. The first song you learn channels the Verse into a protective shield for you. Later you learn how to pick up large objects and become filled with energy, giving you offensive capabilities. As a regular mermaid you have no ability to attack, but you are able to swim fast enough to outrun most anything.
The graphics on both the PC and Android version look quite good and preserve the game's hand-drawn style. This style does work well for the game, as you are mostly free to explore and take in the beauty of the world. On the PC you do have some graphics options within the game, such as resolution, the fullscreen setting, and even V-sync. Additional options can be set from a launcher. The Android version does lack some options, by the nature of being on a smartphone, but you are able to control some graphics options. Unfortunately I cannot include any screenshots from the Android version as some elements, including most of the gameplay, were not captured. (User interface elements were, but you could not see the character or environment.) You are also able to remap the key bindings on PC, which like graphical settings, can be missing in multi-platform games.
The music is very fitting for an underwater game, at least according to the standards set by other soundtracks during underwater scenarios. Notes often have a reverb to them, as though they are traveling through a medium like water, as opposed to air. There is an assortment of instrumental sounds used, but either by processing or design, they sound artificial.
The gameplay itself I found enjoyable, but I must stress that it is not very exciting. There are moments of action, but I largely was experiencing peaceful exploration. Of course I only played for about two hours, so it may change later. There is a specific reason I stopped playing at two hours, and I do want to speak about it.
For many activities in Aquaria you are told by on-screen tooltips what to do. The save system, however, leaves out a very critical piece of information. The game uses a checkpoint-like system for saving, with large red crystals being the places you are able to save. That much it tells you and every time you run through one of these crystals, a smaller graphic of the crystal appears and flies to your mini-map. I took this to mean that the game was saving automatically to the save slot I had selected the first time I saved. That is not the case. To save you must actually double-click the red crystals, both on the PC and in the Android version. Why that graphic and animation when you pass through the crystals even exists, I do not know. At about two hours in I came across a boss, died, and ended up losing all of my progress, because I thought I had saved just a moment before. The actual save mechanic is explained within the help text, but I only saw this after losing those two hours of gameplay.
Now that you have the benefit of my experience with the save system, I have no negatives to say about the PC version. As I said, the gameplay is enjoyable but not very action filled, so you may only find yourself playing it to pass time, and not with great fervor to finish. The Android version, however, I do have to make an additional comment about. The controls are, for me, less than ideal. The default touchscreen controls can be difficult to apply with large-ish fingers on a smartphone-sized screen. Enabling the virtual-joystick did not do much to relieve my control issues. The joystick itself was placed so far to the side, where it cannot be moved from, that I was occasionally finding my thumb slipping off-screen. Of course if you do not drag your fingers further than needed, this will hardly be a problem, but that is my habit to ensure the joystick is pointed in the correct direction.
Overall, the game is worth playing; more so if you greatly enjoy more artistic, less-action-filled games. With the great value you get from the bundle to begin with, I can say it is worth getting for this game alone, if you want it.
Fractal: Make Blooms Not War Review:
Fractal represents the only puzzle game in the bundle with its geometric, sometimes randomly generated field of hexagonal blocks to push. The object is to push the blocks into a larger hexagon, consisting of seven blocks, called a bloom. Blooms can overlap for bonuses, and each time a bloom is made, it will push out additional blocks, allowing for screen-clearing chain reactions.
The gameplay is mechanical simple, though it can become quite challenging over time. Additional colors, changing shapes of the game board, and the limited number of pushes will force you to think strategically, instead of just randomly pushing blocks until you win. While the mechanics are simple, the game does not come right out and say that, so if you go in blind (which you cannot if you have read this far) it may take a push or two to figure it out. Not a real issue for the game, but something potentially worth noting.
The graphics are somewhat minimalistic, with contrasting colors and simple patterns. Despite their simplicity, on my monitor they look as though they do not scale well, even at the best settings (which are set by a launcher, and not in game). Edges I would expect to be hard and linear appear to blur and round at corners. It also looks like anti-aliasing was being inappropriately applied. Granted this is probably not going to be noticeable to most people, but some of you will spot a lack of crispness, at least on the PC. On smartphones you may not even notice this, due to the higher pixel density of their screens. Possibly a larger Android tablet would show this.
The in-game soundtrack is appropriately ambient, as it is not supposed to drive you, but provide some background noise for those who want it. The soundtrack the bundle includes that you can download and listen to separately however, is a bit faster paced with a rhythm that will outrun your thoughts in the game. At least I have not heard the specific fast-paced track in the game yet.
What makes Fractal shine is its apparent simple, but actually deep gameplay as seemingly minor changes can greatly affect the challenges you face. It is not the best smartphone game for those with larger fingers, but is doable, so overall I can recommend this game to everyone interested in puzzlers. Go ahead and purchase the bundle if only for this.
Organ Trail: Director's Cut Review:
(If you do not get the reference, I am not telling you.)
Organ Trail is an 8-bit zombie survival game that has you and up to four in-game friends (not multiplayer, just named characters) try to get across the country to find refuge from the zombie horde. On the way you will encounter zombies, bandits, zombie deer, biker gangs, zombie bears, and dysentery. If anyone in your party ever gets bitten, do not worry, you can put a bullet through their skull to save the rest of your party. You can also just kill everyone to get an achievement and conserve food; up to you.
The gameplay is simple but detailed. You have to buy and scavenge for supplies, including food, ammunition, fuel and scrap for your station wagon, money, med kits, and more. Over time your party and your car will lose health, which can be regained in different ways. Health can be restored using med kits or by resting, and repairs require either an auto repair shop at a stop or you to spend some scrap doing the job yourself. One catch to repairing it yourself is that there is no guarantee your work will be successful.
Scavenging for supplies entails walking around an area while zombies come at you. To stop them you have to shoot them using the classic 'click-and-drag' method, though in this case you do not need to drag back from yourself; your cursor can be on your target. You also have the ability to take jobs from people in towns, such as defending their homes, which has you stationary, retrieving a dropped item, which you can grab without firing a shot, and taking on bandits. The bandits and you are in a standoff, and whenever you aim to shoot one of them, you are exposed to their fire, and vice-versa. Personally I did not have much luck with the bandits, but that is just me.
The gameplay between the PC and my smartphone is more or less identical. The controls for moving are different, as you have to tap the screen instead of using arrow keys, but it is not hard to adapt to. The game definitely has a sense of humor, with people bickering, running up to you with boxes containing cake, and a zombie bear boss. It is not as though you could really expect it to be too serious? Both versions include achievements, by the way.
As stated earlier, the graphics are 8-bit, so the game looks the same between a computer monitor and smartphone screen. You can set some graphics options on the PC with a launcher, but to be honest I am not sure what the difference is.
The soundtrack has an 8-bit sound to it, but sounds more complex to me than I remember from actual 8-bit games. Nothing wrong with that though.
Thus far, I have enjoyed the game, but I will admit that part of the enjoyment may be from childhood memories. If you do not have similar memories, this game may not be as appealing to you, but I still think it is worth looking at. Perhaps those of you without those memories will not find it worth buying the entire bundle for, but the rest of you might. Just ask yourself if you do not mind mixing your memories with modern zombie pop-culture (which is referenced in the game) and purchase/play accordingly.
Stealth Bastard Deluxe Review:
Stealth Bastard is, unsurprisingly, a stealth-based game that has you leaping to platforms to avoid cameras, lasers, robots, and possibly more (remember, I am not playing these games to completion). Helping you know when your clone body is exposed or not are a pair of goggles that cycle between green, yellow, and red coloring, depending on the amount of light you are in. When you are caught, there are numerous ways you can be killed, including being crushed, sliced, and exploded by lasers. No matter what though, you explode into a gruesome pile of red goo.
The gameplay is what you would expect for a game of this genre. The level design is, in some places, clever, but in other places is less so, though that may be more the result of something else I will get to in the graphics section. I did find at least one moment when the level design appears to neglect the lack of responsiveness due to the controls and certain elements. To climb up you have to use buttons on the floor to move a platform in front of lasers. This, unto itself is not an unusual challenge for a game like this, but actually getting the timing right was difficult because of the width of the button, the thinness of the platform the button is on, and the binary nature of movement. Basically if you are standing on the button and the platform moves to block the laser, by the time you run off the button, the platform may have passed the laser. Because of how short the platform with the button is though, you also cannot just run away from the button, or else you risk falling onto another fatal laser. Simply placing the button on the wall, increasing standing room, would have alleviated this and made the challenge more about the puzzle than perfect placement.
That last issue is one many people can easily dismiss as a matter of taste. These next issues however are harder to discount. I am playing each of these games on both my PC and on my Android phone. I first opened up Stealth Bastard on my PC and, as I normally do, I went straight to the options to look at the graphics settings. The selection of options is somewhat lacking, which seems almost typical of many multiplatform games like this, but two options that are present are not typical. These options are for Video Mode and Video Scale. Video Mode consists of Fullscreen or Windowed and Video Scale is completely dependent on the Mode, so why it is even listed, I do not know. In Fullscreen, the Video Scale is set to Stretched, and cannot be changed. Switching to Windowed changes the scale to 1x, and if you change the scale it just goes to Fullscreen and Stretched. Left at that, it makes these two options odd to include in place of a single toggle. However, because of what they actually do switch between, it makes these options a great annoyance to me. When set to Stretched on my 2048x1152 resolution monitor, the amount of blurring clearly indicates it is being stretched. When set to 1x the window shrinks to 640x360, less than a tenth the size of my screen, making it hard to see some details, such as the edges of black platforms immersed in a shadow (such was the case in the previous paragraph).
With such a low resolution, I decided to switch to playing on my phone, because on its smaller screen, 640x360 will not look as bad. Of course then I found a different graphics issue. Even though my phone's screen is capable of 60 Hz, like a standard computer monitor, and does not have a weak GPU, the game was only running at 20 Hz. As with many PC games, such a low framerate made the action slow and mildly jumpy, and you cannot help but see this. The reason I know it was running at 20 Hz is because the timer, since you are timed as you run a level, was advancing in increments of 0.05 seconds; a twentieth of a second.
Another issue I had on the phone, which ultimately pushed me back to the PC, was the very odd, and in my opinion poor, controls. Movement controls were broken onto screen halves. On the right side are the jump and crouch buttons, which could be larger for my fingers, while on the left side is an invisible virtual binary-joystick. Just pressing down on the left side of the screen does not initiate any movement. Instead, if the press last longs enough, it triggers two arrows to appear, creating the virtual binary joystick. Only by dragging your finger to the left or right does it trigger movement, in either direction, with the separation between left and right being wherever you first pressed your finger. This design is aggravating as it is unintuitive and causes a lag in any movements. Attempting to control the platform mentioned previously via the floor buttons would be even more difficult with these touchscreen controls. Simply having the option of a static, visible virtual joystick would be very welcome.
Returning to the PC, if you change the key configuration, the game has a rather odd behavior of removing the key you just changed. It completely vanishes, so you cannot even visually confirm you made the change without leaving and returning to that window.
The soundtrack has a definite electronic sound to it, which fits the science fiction nature of the game. It reminds me of some 16-bit games I used to play, which is not unwelcome, but I find it unusual, as the gameplay itself does not remind me of that era.
As much as I would like to describe this game altogether, I am not sure I could then describe it fairly. The game, on its own, I could easily find myself and others enjoying, but the multiple mechanical/technical issues I have found and described make the experience less than fun for me. I do not want to make the choice between a low framerate with bad controls, a small window, or highly stretched graphics. Therefore, I cannot recommend this bundle just for this one game.
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut (BTA) Review:
Broken Sword stands out from the other games in this bundle, as it is a point and click adventure. Instead of running around a screen, you have to search out what you want to interact with by paying careful attention to on-screen prompts. In this case those prompts are blue circles and when you mouse over them, an icon appears, telling you what kind of interaction you can have with it. Sometimes you can move it, take it, or just look at it.
On my phone's touchscreen it actually is not as simple as point-and-click. Instead of just tapping on the blue circles for what you want to interact with, you have to tap on the circle to bring up the interaction icon, and then click on the icon. That is minor, but it would be nice if I did not have to move my finger to the icon, and instead just double tap the circle. Sliding your finger on the screen does switch what object you are selecting, which is nice if you want to just swipe your finger around the screen to find interaction prompts, instead of looking for the circles.
The graphics have a cartoonish quality to them, similar to that of some Flash games. It works well for a point-and-click though, as it helps interesting stuff stand out. However I do notice some stuttering, like the game is running at a lower framerate, or just not in sync with the screen. It does not hurt the experience, it is just visible. Also, on the PC the only graphics options are the window size, with the actual game being stretched to fill it. The game's native resolution is 640x480. On my phone though, which has a widescreen aspect ratio, the placement of some UI elements, such as your inventory, has been changed, allowing the game to better fit without letterboxing or stretching.
The soundtrack reflects the story-focused design of the game, with multiple themes to it, so every track does not sound the same, as is the case in some game soundtracks. This may make listening to the soundtrack outside of the game awkward, as you will be transported to different places, but it is definitely nice to see the developers put the effort into situational sound design.
Having not completed the game, it is hard for me to comment on the story of the game, which is going to be its primary feature. It did receive a nomination for Best Story in the 2009 British Academy Video Game Awards, so it at least met that high a standard. The gameplay is enjoyable though, especially with the ability to save anytime, instead of just specific places. I could easily see this game being a good commuter title, where you just play it for as long as you are on a train or bus, then save and quit at your stop. If you do purchase the bundle, be sure to look at this game. I am unable to say if the bundle is worth getting just for this game, simply because I have not completed it yet, but that should not be taken as a strike against the game.
Frozen Synapse (BTA) Review:
Frozen Synapse is a turn-based strategy game that has you issuing a complex series of orders to multiple units in an arena. You goal is to take advantage of the environment to kill your opponents before they kill you in this highly dynamic game of chess.
The game allows you to play through a single-play campaign, generate a skirmish to your liking, or go online for some coordinated multiplayer carnage. I decided to go through the tutorial and then jump into the campaign. Before you get to the mission in the campaign though, you have to go through some backstory.
Once in the mission, you will be able to issue a variety of commands to your units, including telling them where to move, where to look, to take cover, and more. Many of these are covered in the tutorial, but not everything. After you set up your units' moves, which you can watch play out independent of your opponent, you hit a button, and after some computing, every unit follows their commands. Hopefully you did a good job with your units and they are not slaughtered. If you did not and need to restart, you will find the arena and unit placement has changed, so you cannot just tweak the plan and try again.
I do not seem to quite have the temperament for this game, at least with the AI as it is. The simplest way I can put it is that the AI knows all the numbers, and you do not. It knows the range of its weapons and when something is blocking the line of fire. I have actually placed a unit in what seemed to be a great spot to kill an enemy as it passed by a window, but it just sat there as the enemy walked by, I assume because there was an obstacle. On a different turn though, an enemy positioned itself next to a wall, to provide it with cover and kill one of my units. When I attempted the same tactic, it failed because I was not able to place the unit in the sweet spot the AI used. Perhaps I would have better luck against human opponents.
The graphics are stylized with straight lines and primary colors. It works well for the game as it gives a clear contrast between different elements. One the PC the only graphics options you really have are resolution, fullscreen or windowed, and bit depth. The resolutions are limited by the way, so it will not run at my monitor's native 2048x1152 resolution. On my phone the game looked just as good, though because of the limited controls of the touchscreen, most of the commands have been wrapped around the screen, obscuring part of the arena. Also I found that the text was hard to read on my phone, so an option to increase font size would have been appreciated, but is not there. A tablet would likely not have this issue.
The controls on the PC are very mouse-heavy, which is not unexpected. There are keyboard shortcuts you can use, but it really is the mouse you will be relying on. On the phone, the multi-touchscreen does not work quite as well. Issues with precision from your finger covering the screen are obviously there, but I also encountered some sensitivity issues. At times I would try to drag the view somewhere else, and instead of doing that, the game would create new waypoints for whichever unit I had selected. I would then have to delete these waypoints before moving on.
The soundtrack has a definite electronic sound to it with synthesized tones and either processed or synthesized instrumentals. The rhythm of the music can be very driving at times, almost overwhelming your ears with its intensity, only to calm down later. You may not want it turned up too loud when playing, if you are worried it may break your focus.
Some of you may suspect I am going to not recommend this game because of what I said earlier, so I get to surprise you. I recognize the potential this game has for those who do not mind its idiosyncrasies, and even for those who do mind, I could easily see this game being fun when played with friends, where some of those idiosyncrasies will disappear. Is it worth getting the entire bundle and beating the average for? For those of you who fit the descriptions I just gave, yes. The rest of you may not enjoy it as much.
Pulse (Android Only) Review:
Pulse is the only Android exclusive game in the bundle (at the moment) but because it is in the bundle, I am going to review it.
Pulse is a music-based game that has you hitting balls orbiting a center in time with a pulse released from that same center. Straightforward; yes. Easy; no. At least on a phone screen, it is easy to lose sight of a target because your fingers are covering it up. Of course it is recommended you play it only on tablets, but who reads those anyway? (Obviously I do or I would not have been able to tell you.)
Two things I feel worth noting about the gameplay are that it is not very exact and it is limited. What I mean by it being limited is that the game is not able to import new music to play, like Beat Hazard Ultra from the Humble Bundle with Android 5. The 26 tracks the game comes with is all you get. Perhaps one could write an algorithm to incorporate arbitrary music into Pulse but whether that algorithm would work well on a phone or tablet is hard to say. Even if the algorithm existed though, balancing it with complex music so it would not overwhelm the player, could be exceedingly difficult.
The issue of it not being very exact is a more important issue. I found that I was missing some of the balls as the pulse passed through them if the pulse had not progressed far enough inside of them. If the pulse was just entering, but had entered, for example, it would count as a miss. It is definitely frustrating to miss because the area the pulse had to be in is less than the area of the target ball.
The graphics are decidedly simplistic, consisting almost exclusive of circles and disks, though successfully hitting a target will cause an explosion of other shapes. Though not well captured in the screenshots, the game also has many colors, which appear as you score, so the better you do the more colorful the game becomes. (The reason the screenshots do not capture this is that there is no screenshot button on my phone. The key combination for taking screenshots has a delay on it, making it next to impossible to take a picture at the exact moment you want.)
The soundtrack you are able to download as part of the bundle does not represent all of the tracks in the game. Both collections though feature a variety of sounds to them, from driving to more peaceful. All of the tracks have a definite techno quality to them.
On its own, this game leaves me somewhat unimpressed, at least on my phone. The experience on an Android tablet could be much better, but I do not have one. I do see it having more potential on a larger screen, but also those who will most enjoy it will be the completionists who will dive in and replay every track to perfection. If you are not one of those people, I am not sure if you should take the time to sideload the game or the Humble Bundle App to download and install it. Of course if you have an Android tablet, give it a try.
With seven small reviews completed, we can consider a review for the larger Humble Bundle with Android 6. Is it worth its pay-what-you-want price, or should you keep your money for something else? If you are going to purchase it, should you beat the average, or just get the base games? I will start with the latter.
The five base games of the bundle are Aquaria, Fractal: Make Blooms Not War, Organ Trail: Director's Cut, Stealth Bastard Deluxe, and Pulse. The game that most stood out to me was Fractal. It is a clever puzzle game that requires more depth than you may expect at first glance. Its graphics could be crisper, but this does not deter from the experience on either PCs or Android devices. I recommend the base bundle to any puzzle-game fan. Aquaria and Organ Trail are a little different though, as I feel you may want to have an interest in them already before purchasing them. If, after having read this review, these titles intrigue you, pay the money. Those three titles should easily make you feel like you got a good deal. Stealth Bastard did nothing for me but make me scratch my head over some of its design. For that reason I am not comfortable recommending it, but if you are a big fan of stealth platforms, you will likely be able to look past what I saw and enjoy it. Pulse is in the uncomfortable 'take-it-or-leave' category for this bundle.
The two beat-the-average titles, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - Director's Cut and Frozen Synapse, definitely add to the bundle, but in both case I am unsure if they add enough for the general audience. I have little negative to say about Broken Sword so if you want it, get it. If you purchase the bundle for other reasons, go ahead and try this game out. The worst that could happen is you stop playing it. Frozen Synapse I definitely had some negative points to make about, but at the same time I could see the positive shining underneath. If you are able to focus on the positives and/or work through the negatives, pay the price and get this game.
Overall the Humble Bundle with Android 6 is not the strongest bundle we have seen, but certainly has its strengths. It is hard to see why you would not want to get at least the base games, while the two BTA titles may only be worth the few dollars more to a smaller group of you. No matter how you look at it though, the bundle is a great deal and even if it had only one strong title, it would be a great deal. If additional BTA titles are added at the halfway point, as typically happens, the bundle will only get better.