Epic Island, from Backflip Studios

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While browsing the Apple App Store, I stumbled across a game for my smartphone called Epic Island. Epic Island is labeled as a rpg simulation experience, set in a fantasy world where you send adventurers on quests in dungeons. It’s a time management game, of sorts, ala Farmville and Hay Day, except, of course, fantasy rpg world setting. I’m probably not doing this great game from Backflip Studios justice, so let me try to explain.

Epic Island is a casual fantasy adventure simulation. You select a hero and start out on a single section of land surrounded by a fog. This is your “main hub” I suppose you could call it. Here you have your hero’s buildings such as a Castle (for storing treasure chests you can’t open just yet, and for receiving notifications & communicating with friends), a Blacksmith (for buying new armor, which rotates every so many hours, or forging your own out of more common gear to reach higher stats and levels), an Arena (where you can select a hero to battle against other players heroes for honor and special gear) and finally a Boasting Hall, where you can look at your achievements and collect rewards for reaching certain goals.)

Each hub, including this first starting zone, has 2 dungeons. Dungeons start at Level 1, but the more you fight the creatures within them, the higher their level will rise – just like your own – and more powerful monsters will appear. Reaching a dungeon level of 5 is considered completing a dungeon, but I’ve already gotten some up to as much as Level 7. The greater the dungeon level, the greater the reward possibilities inside the chests you get for completing each level. The only issue here is that most chests require you to use the special gems currency to open them. The special gems are the rewards you earn for completing achievements, or you can also buy them through the in-game app purchase. These gems are also how you build your army of heroes, of which there are 5.

As you level up your character and earn that gold, you’ll be able to unlock gateways to other lands. Once you move out of the starting zone, the land masses you find will have Titans. Titans are giant and powerful monsters that level up just like the dungeons, only they take longer. Titans may have millions of hit points that you must dwindle down – but unlike dungeons, Titans can be teamed up against. I know for a fact that up to at least 3 heroes can attack a Titan at one time. The only downside of Titans are that they take up a lot of time, and Epic Island is, underneath it all, a game about managing your time.

Each quest you go on or Titan you fight requires your hero be busy for a specified amount of time. For allowing your hero to perform each request, they’re rewarded with gold coins, common to epic gear, fame (xp) and faction points, once they’re high enough level to join a faction. Aside from Arenas, Factions are another multi-player aspect of the game. Every so many days, 2 new factions will go to war against one another. You must choose a side and as you complete missions, you’ll earn faction points that will contribute to the overall total of your factions power. A Pavilion is eventually unlocked where you can view the percentage of who is winning/losing and view your own personal faction points earned.

As a bonus, you can also use your earned faction points to buy special faction specific gear sets. Set pieces are sold individually but include a helm, chest piece, weapon and an off hand item, such as  shield or a magical tome. See! This game truly is epic in all that I’ve told you so far. Now, to reiterate, you don’t actually go out and do the fighting yourself, you simply decide what your hero will be doing for you, select it and send him or her out for “X” amount of time to do it for you.

So, we’ve got Arenas, which can earn you special rewards and are ranked. Faction battles, which can earn you special rewards, armor sets and potions as well. Dungeons that level themselves based on your use time so that you always have a challenge. Titans to distract you while you wait for something else to do. You can even upgrade your armor to a level of 30 using common and unused pieces of gear. It’s all very well thought out and designed that I’m just in awe that such a cool game exists.

I wasn’t aware of Backflip Studios before these last few days, but I’m willing to call them my new favorite developer for mobile gaming. They’ve also got a large library of games for you to choose from, from Backgammon to Video Poker, etc. It’s nice to see a little innovation every now and then, and Backflip Studios is bringing it to the front.

While I love this game, I do understand that everyone has their own different paces they’d  To help you get a better idea of what I’ve been talking about, I’ve included a video from the publishers own website. Good stuff!

The Flash – Episode 1, “Pilot”

** SPOILERS AHEAD – The following blog post contains a semi-review of the pilot episode of The Flash. There are spoilers within this tiny text that you should steer clear of unless you’ve seen the episode already or don’t mind little things like that. **

Following in the footsteps of the CW hit Arrow, DC Comics character The Flash races onto the small screen. I admit, I’ve only seen a few minutes of the series premier of  Arrow, but it is in my Netflix queue. But the big question I’m wondering is (despite my lack of Arrow viewings), can The Flash make a splash with audiences? Or will it fall to the ratings gods like it’s 1990’s predecessor? Well, luckily, according to Wikipedia, we’ll have the original Flash, John Wesley Shipp (now playing Barry Allen’s dad) and Amanda Pays (eventually reprising her role as Dr. Tina McGee) to give us a bit of nostalgia for the old television fans.

In the pilot episode we get a fantastic story arc, from beginning to end, of what a superhero movie should be like. Let alone this was just the pilot for a new television series, this was a fantastic stand alone episode if one were needed. The fact that there are more to flashposterfollow is just an exciting bonus. If you can’t tell by now that I’m excited by this new series, well then open your eyes brothers and sisters! I have high hopes here and don’t want anyone bashing them, but I believe DC may have found their second platform for viewers. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of their animated films and shorts, but with the creative forces behind Arrow and now The Flash, I think they could really make good on the land of television. Let’s face it, Marvel has them beat in the cinematic universe of characters and storytelling, but DC should learn to stick to their own strengths, which in this case, the CW Network seems to have struck gold with.

As for The Flash pilot episode, we’re introduced to Barry Allen as – possibly – the slowest and most bumbling man alive. His mother was killed in a freak accident in which his dad was accused of and is serving time in prison for. The detective on the case at that time, Detective West, and his family took Barry in and raised him as their own along with daughter, Iris West. Barry holds strong feelings for Iris, but she’s still looking at him like a brotherly figure and can’t see his big doe eyes when they talk. So you’ve got a bumbling young forensic CSI investigator who was raised by the detective that helped send his real father to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. That’s good television, folks!

But Barry does have a serious side, which brings us to why the Central City Police Department keeps him around. He’s very, very good at his job. Within seconds of checking out a crime scene (which he was late to) Barry is able to tell them 50% of what they need to know about the get away car. With help back at the station from the labs and some computer work, (in that super short tv time of crime scene investigation) he is able to narrow down their search for the bad guys to 4 farms that sell a particular chemical that he found in a trace of cow poop from the tire. It may sound silly, but just go with it, okay? It works in this particular scenario.

The show moves along pretty quickly (I will really try to refrain from speed puns), getting straight to the lightning storm that gives Mr. Allen his powers. It’s intensified by the fact it’s caused by a faulty particle accelerator that goes boom and rips open a hole in the space/time continuum thingy that unleashes globs of dark matter and other science-y stuff into the air. Barry just happens to get struck by a combination of this and tossed into a rack of various chemicals. I know, I know, if you’re a Flash fan, you know all this! What happens next, though, takes place nine months later when Barry comes out of a coma and has been signed over to S.T.A.R. Labs care.

The rest of the show moves along smoothly and at a awesome pace with very little downtime to get bored with. Barry’s introduced to his new powers, has to learn to adjust, meets his new allies/friends, and has a last quarter falling out with Detective West. This all comes full circle in the final few minutes when he finally confronts another meta-human that was given powers by the same storm as him. Barry’s mission is to seek out these other meta-humans who would do harm to his family, friends and city and stop them with the powers he’s been given. And in the meantime, he’s also interested in finding the true killer of his mother and setting his father free. This is portrayed in a very touching moment at the end when he visits his dad in prison. John Wesley Ship is fantastic in the few scenes he’s in and  I really hope my gut feeling is wrong about him (which is that they’re probably going to kill him off in the next few episodes.)

And now for the big secret season-long story arc I think we’ll be getting: Reverse Flash, or Professor Zoom. The yellow ball of whirling light that was responsible for Barry’s mom’s death. I’m torn here. Pictures were released today showing the actor playing him in costume. Now, to me it looks like Detective West’s new partner, Eddie Thrawn, who fans may recognize the name of as being the Professor Zoom from the comics. But is this too obvious? Maybe they’ll change it up a bit in the series and go their own way with this. There’s also the possibility of Doctor Harrison Wells. He’s obviously hiding something BIG as we saw in the last few seconds of the pilot episode. He’s got some series trust issues with the secrets he’s hiding. But could he be Professor Zoom? Judging from what the pictures looked like in the media today, it doesn’t look like him behind the mask, and it honestly only sort of looked like Thrawn. Of course, that could have just been a stuntman in the suit to throw everyone off.

So, while I’ve gushed about The Flash on The CW Network, all I can really do is beg you to watch it. Make it a hit just like Arrow has become. This is a great first episode and I think we have more goodness to look forward to. Set your DVR’s, watch it live on Tuesdays, write in and tell them how much you love it and post across the mighty internet that others should join in on the fandom. The Flash has returned and I’m all in this time, just like I was the last time.

Don’t Blog Sleepy

As I wake up this morning and read through my last blog post, written very early this morning, I realize something very important. I shouldn’t blog while sleepy.

I normally find typos as I review my posts afterward, but by golly there are sentences in that game review I’m not to sure about. For example, talking about the main character putting his pants on before going to fight.

It’s no excuse, but I do recall nodding off while typing. I can only assume that my brain and fingers thought it’d be humorous to type random things into what was already there. Very interesting.

EDIT: To make up for my usually poor first impression reviews, here is a gentleman that does a great job of expressing his feelings about the game. Visit Rock, Paper, Shotgun for John Walker’s “Wot I Think So Far: Middle-Earth – Shadow of Mordor”

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

Approved by the Tolkien Estate, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not your family-friendly fare. In fact, I’m not even sure if an M rating does it justice, considering the extend of violence that occurs within the game. It’s a button-masher, a stealth game, a fighting game, part RPG and will remind players familiar with the franchise of Assassin’s Creed. Shadows of Mordor is an open world epic adventure with a combat and AI system that will amaze you as it adapts to your adventure. Enemies will remember you, receive promotions for killing you over and over and level up each time as a reward for their actions. Oh, and there’s a story about revenge and all that in there as well.

I read and watched very little of Shadow of Mordor over the last several months. I’ve never been a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so I made a point to ignore a game based within its lore. As the game’s release date neared, though, I started taking note of the features it offered. I’m thirsty for a good next generation role playing game, and this seemed to be a cool drink of water to sate my thirst. Turns out, it’s going to end up worsening my carpal tunnel syndrome!

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The game itself is beautiful, well thought out and painstakingly created with layers of lore, dialogue, story and action. The movements are smooth and fluid, the graphics equally so. Landing combos, parrying incoming blows and moving from one target to the next flows like water around your screen with only a rare hiccup if there are over a dozen or more characters on the screen. And if you aren’t careful with your stealth and smart with choosing your battles, the number of enemies on screen will increase exponentially! At one point I believe I was fighting 20+ enemies as the first two set off an alarm and called the others. It’s maddening, and basically boils down to mashing the buttons as fast as you can to flow from one move to the next while trying to execute finishing moves without being knocked down.

To say Shadow of Mordor is violent would be an understatement. The main storyline itself is one of revenge – a slain ranger brought back from death by a Wraith with the intent of taking down everyone involved with the murder of his wife and son before his very eyes. The Wraith assists our ranger by granting him supernatural abilities and enhancing his natural ones, such as speed and agility. To aide him further, our anti-hero carries a broken dagger, a sword and a bow, all legendary with challenges you can complete from certain areas – for instance, the one I did today involved killing 10 enemies without setting foot inside the keep they were walking around in. I managed to take out 9 of them via explosions, releasing hungry hounds upon them and just shooting them in the head with my spirit arrows.

To say Shadow of Mordor is not fun and entertaining would be serving it a great injustice. It is fun, though the fact that you have such a large system of enemies to work from makes me a little wary of going back each time. These special enemies are given names, strengths, weaknesses and are promoted within the ranks like real players. All that being said, however, I have to admit the game is a bit over-the-top as far as experience goes. I’ve watched my ranger stab swords through so many spaces on enemies bodies, seen half their heads chopped off. Seen all their heads chopped off! Guts stabbed, backs shanked, legs shortened and so on. Shadows of Mordor is not for young children, weak of spirit or mind, and certainly not safe out there with everyone else.

I started playing Shadows of Mordor yesterday morning, and tonight, nearly all day. One thing I noticed is that it’s fun and addictive, but it can also quickly draw you away from the main storyline and distract you for hours upon hours on end. This isn’t a good thing, but I do assume you can go back to any location later in the game and finish up those quests if you’d so like.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not the next generation rpg I feel we deserve, but it’s ours nonetheless, until something better comes along. My only complaint with the game is that I’ve injured myself while playing, My thumbs get tired quickly from pushing the button combinations quickly while he gets his pair of pants on and then draws a sword to battle the dozen+ others that have been tipped off to your presence. Those ultra smooth combos don’t come easy, as you’ll find yourself tugging on triggers, slamming button combinations and directing your character in which direction and enemy to strike at next.

Shadows of Mordor is a fantastic pick-up-and-play story, if that’s what you’re into. It does so much more right than wrong, at least in these first several hours of the game. The story is simplified and the enemies come in floods, it seems, for those that lack the proper stealth skills. As for the smart man, exercise your thumb, you’ll be needing it a lot in close range combat, and if the story is your goal for playing, for the love of all things good, stay away from large groups of unnecessary enemies. You’ll thank me later for it, trust me!

 

A Year Later … iPhone to Android and Back Again

Last year, if any returning readers remember, I lost my iPhone 4S due to a swimming pool mishap. No more needs to be said, we’ll just leave it at that, mmkay? Lost and still shaken without my dear Apple product, I resorted to the quickest, cheapest replacement, which was a Samsung Galaxy S3. That’s right, I went from grieving iPhone widower to new Android owner. I was heart broken, but bound and determined to make my new relationship with this strange smartphone OS work.

The first two months were the roughest, of course. Adjusting to the new interface, learning what the OS could do for me, getting comfortable with the apps, app store and so on. Most importantly, though, I was finding myself falling in love with the large screen on the S3. It felt wrong, yet it felt so right. And so I gave in and let the Android world claim me. Customizable home screens, large displays, smooth and responsive to my touch … I learned to focus on these fantastic features while ignoring the blaring lack of a decent mp3 player for my podcasts. I let myself be lost in the simpler controls of the device and ignored the fact that I couldn’t easily transfer music or other documents to the device without going through a half dozen steps. I got over it because … because … well, to be honest, because it’s what I had.

Enter the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I got antsy every time a new rumor about the new iPhones would surface online. I counted the months, the weeks, the days and finally the very hours until the Apple conference finally started streaming. Oh, a brand new iPhone … iPhone 6 and the first phablet of the line, the iPhone 6 Plus were finally announced! I was having guilty flashbacks to my love affair with Apple. I would leave my Android smartphone in the other room while I looked up videos and navigated the Apple website to read more, or read articles covering hands-on reports. Could this be it?

Well, if you have any doubt, I did pick up an iPhone 6. I very nearly picked up the 6 Plus, but after holding it and playing around on it, decided it was just too big for my small, fat hands. The iPhone 6, though … we are a match made in heaven. The first thing I did when I got home with my new iPhone 6 was to – of course – go through all my settings and fine tune them to what I expected out of the iOS 8 software. iCloud, Find My iPhone, Siri … oh, how I’d missed them all. And then I began downloading the apps I’d accumulated on my Android … and that’s when I realized what I’d really been missing as an Android user.

You see, Android is the professional smartphone user’s experience, I suppose. They like their customizable screens and all the tiny little controls they believe they have over the Android system. They also enjoy it because owning an Android means you’re taking a stand against mean old Apple and their money-making ways of bleeding the iSheep dry of their hard earned money. But do you know why people pay that money to Apple? All that wonderful hard earned money? Because they get what they pay for. They get the quality, they get the well designed apps, and they get the ease of use when transporting music or downloading podcasts.

Seriously, on the Samsung Galaxy S3, I went through about 6 different podcasting apps. I finally settled on the best one, which isn’t saying much of the apps I’d sorted through, and even then wasn’t truly happy. But Apple’s iPhone? Plug it in once, choose to sync it wirelessly from that point on and you’re good to go with your music, apps, movies, books, etc. Want a podcast? No problem, there’s a whole library of available podcasts, ranked, rated, sorted and just waiting for you to browse it. Having a problem? Ask Siri, she is very good and understanding some crazy stuff you whisper into her speaker.

Other apps I owned also vary greatly between Android and Apple devices. Fitbit, WordPress and others are simply beautiful and full features on the iPhone 6 and iOS 8. On Android, they function at a bare bones minimum and you absolutely love it because, well, what else have you got?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t buy an Android – I’d never be presumptuous enough to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t buy. That’s none of my business. In fact, my mom decided not to upgrade her phone, a 4S, and instead wanted to try my Galaxy S3. She loves it! What does she love? The big screen, and the fact that the speaker you talk into actually comes out to her mouth so she, and I quote, “Feels like I’m talking on a real phone!”

Android may be great for the hipsters that want to make a stand and think they’re changing the world. But for simple folk such as myself, I want something that’s comfortable, knows what I want and how to give it to me … and that just works. Give me my iPhone 6 and I’ll be happy. I’m sorry, Android, but it’s me, not you. I think we should take a break from this relationship. It’s been real. Thanks for the memories, I’ll remember them each day as I pick up my Apple iPhone 6 smart phone and use it my way.