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iPad App Review: Frozen Free Fall

(Available in the iTunes App Store for iPhone & iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. Price: Free to Download, with buyable Power-Ups)

Since the introduction of Apps and the Apple App store in 2007, many companies have utilized “smart” products to also play to our growing need to be entertained on the go. Ergo, games for multiple mobile devices can usually be found on several.

Of course, it is usually in simple games of matching and shapes, do we sometimes find ourselves going to. When I was growing up, one game that was most entertaining, was Tetris. We had a copy for our Nintendo Entertainment System, and I always remember it as the only game my Dad would sit down and play.

Prior to the release of Frozen in late November, was the release of a game titled Frozen Free Fall. Following the same setup as games like Candy Crush, Free Fall brings you a Frozen-themed matching game, where matching 3 of a jeweled object will cause it to disappear. There are also other things that will happen if you match 4-5 of a certain colored jewel, usually with ice/frost-based results.

There are currently over 90 levels, where one can earn 1-3 stars, based on how many points you score. The levels include tasks like clearing a certain number of ice blocks, making certain items drop from top-to-bottom, and a timed level where you need to earn a certain number of points.

The game can be oriented for both portrait and landscape formats on the iPad, and each screen includes a character from the film, who also can give you the ability to utilize a special item to make some jewels disappear, or clear out certain sections of your gameboards. For those who have seen the film, you will get both young and old variations of certain characters, as well as background images taken directly from the film! There’s also a minimal amount of animation on the characters. They will do little gestures during game play, as well as give you an affirmative if you beat a level, or a look that says “sorry” if you fail.

In truth, the game does nothing really new with the matching game format. It’s a cute tie-in to Frozen, but I’m sure it is the presentation that will make people click on it (okay, it definitely WAS the presentation that made me click on it!).

Musically, you won’t find any of the film’s toe-tapping songs, or any of Christophe Beck’s score. Instead, some original music is included, with piano and string melodies, that is actually quite soothing, if a touch sad at times.

When you first start unlocking various characters, you’ll be given 2-3 special items that character can use, free of charge. The problem is that the level you’re on, will then force you to use those items. So, what you may think you can stockpile later, will most likely be gone after a few gameplays.

It’s almost like the game is doing this to whet your appetite, and make some in-app purchases.  This also seems evident in how the game tries to regulate your game play activity. At the beginning of a full gameplay session, you are given 5 lives to play with. However, once you blow through all 5, you have to wait a certain amount of time for your lives to build back up.

The in-game purchase option allows you to buy items such as a 5-pack of lives for 99 cents, as well as packs of various power-ups. The power-up packs range in price from 99 cents, to $2.99. I believe they’re trying to make people think that $2.99 is a drop in the bucket, but I could see some people falling back on them like a crutch trying to get 3 stars on some levels. If you’re not careful, Frozen Free Fall could become a rather expensive game to play/invest time in.

One person I discussed the game with, said the strategy to winning, is patience. It may take you several dozen times, but eventually, you just might get a board with the right combination to get you at least one star, if not more. If you take the game at its value as something to just sit down with and unwind to, I think it’ll help (unless you get tense in the case of the timed levels).

As of now, Level 90 leads you just past Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post (and Sauna). We can assume further updates will be coming down the line, as the game’s path seems to be following that of the one we see within Frozen. Of course, just how many levels we’ll encounter, is anyone’s guess at the moment.

Frozen Free Fall has definitely proved a good time-waster over the month of December, and is something that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. However, I strongly caution parents to watch their kids, as if you’re not careful, I could see some parents find some bills charging them for power-ups and add-ons to the game, if their password information isn’t protected.

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Game Review: Epic Mickey 2 – The Power of Two (for the Nintendo Wii)

Two years ago, with game designer (and Disney fanatic) Warren Specter at the helm of its production, Epic Mickey was unleashed. While the corporate icon with the high-pitched voice is often seen as a squeaky-clean do-gooder, Specter’s vision was of a world where gamers could decide if Mickey would make friends of his enemies, or use paint thinner on them, and melt them into a green puddle. The end product also acted as an easter egg hunt for die-hard Disney fanatics, and an informal re-introduction to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first major creation before Mickey Mouse.

In Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, we return to the world of the Wasteland, where its denizens (led by Oswald)  are still repairing their land after the destruction of the Shadow Blot.  Suddenly, the ground shakes, and cracks form throughout Wasteland. This is soon-after followed by the re-appearance of The Mad Doctor (a sub-boss from the first game), and his mechanical Beetleworx creations. The Mad Doctor claims that he has changed his ways, and has re-programmed his machines to fix Wasteland. However, the earthquakes and tremors have him concerned, and he asks Oswald to help him figure out what is causing them.

Oswald’s girlfriend Ortensia, and an orange-suited Gremlin named Gus, then rig up a communications device. With some luck, they get through to Mickey, and ask him to return to the Wasteland to help as well.

Unlike the first Epic Mickey, its sequel allows the ability for two players to take on various levels and bosses. Player 1 handles Mickey, while Player 2 takes control of Oswald. While Mickey once again wields his magical paintbrush, Oswald’s weapon is a red-buttoned remote control, that he can use to program machinery, and deliver electric shocks to enemies. I didn’t have an extra person to help me test the two-player mode, so the majority of my time was spent with the game’s AI handling Oswald.

Mickey Mouse, Gus the Gremlin, & Oswald the Lucky Rabbit start off on a new quest to save The Wasteland.

Epic Mickey 2 continues to also take great advantage of the layers of Disney history, bringing us items from the live-action and animated worlds. Mickey and Oswald also travel to various places, courtesy of projectors displaying various Disney shorts. Going through the projectors puts Mickey and Oswald into mini-levels based on different Mickey Mouse or Silly Symphonies shorts. They even include the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia. The mini-levels also have background and foreground play levels, giving players an option on which part to play, with a rather ingenious feature that some items can’t be reached without both players helping the other out.

Those who played the first game, may also remember one of the downsides to the game: you couldn’t go back into various levels once you were done with them. If you missed something along the way, you had to finish the game, and then start your mission over again from the very beginning.

EM2 does away with this frustration, leading to a (small) sigh of relief. Once the main threat has been finished off, you are allowed to keep going, and try to complete several of the game’s  sub-missions. This also leads to a somewhat topsy-turvy feel for the sequel. While the first game had its main story front-and-center, EM2 almost feels like the sub-missions for this game overpower the main story. I bet if you focused on just the game’s main story (and had no distractions), you could complete it in less than 24 hours.

An ‘upgrade’ has also been made based on the characters. Whereas the first game made-do with characters making verbal gibberish as subtitles played on the screen, EM2 has characters speaking full dialogue. Warren Spector even hinted that there would be singing, and this comes from The Mad Doctor, whose majority of dialogue is all in song. Some of the voice decisions are a little odd for the nondescript horses and cows wandering around Mean Street in the game (I swear one sounds like he’s channeling Jeff Bridges!). I did grow a little perturbed at Frank Welker’s voice for Oswald. Welker’s voice for Oswald is the plucky voice he’s used for characters like Booker from Garfield and Friends, and Scrappy-Doo from the old Scooby-Doo cartoon. There are a few times where Oswald sounds so much like Scrappy that I winced.

A familiar Electrical Parade float becomes a thinner-breathing nightmare for Mickey.

There are a couple levels I was surprised at.  One is based around the Disneyland attraction, Autopia. Laid out with twisty roadways, and various Autopia cars from different eras, it was one of the few levels that I found some enjoyment in. Plus, a fun surprise awaits you at the end if you complete all the tasks for the level. Another is called The Floatyard, and is made up of the discarded remnants from past Disney Park parade floats. I was excited to see some familiar floats and devices from the Main Street Electrical Parade.

I’ve been rather positive about Epic Mickey 2 so far, but in truth, I found myself a little more frustrated with it than the first game.

One of the issues some had with the first game, was the in-game camera, and aiming of the Wiimote to move a character, or direct a stream of paint. The controls felt progressively worse with EM2, and almost made me pine for the wonderful in-game camera of my old Super Mario 64 game. There were a few times where the camera seemed to spazz out on me, and I couldn’t control or figure just where Mickey was going to land.

Also of some frustration, are the new Beetleworx hyrbrids, called Blotworx. Trying to take numerous ones down your first time through can be quite frustrating. Thinner does relatively nothing on their exterior shells, and it is a requisite that Oswald and Mickey have to work together to defeat them. With the game AI controlling Oswald, it can take awhile for him to react as you attempt to stay clear of the Mickey-hating Blotworx robots.

Mickey and Oswald attempt to restore the underground world of Rainbow Falls.

Mickey and Oswald attempt to restore the underground world of Rainbow Falls.

And then, there are the sub-missions. You may very well find yourself going through level-after-level-after-level-after-level to retrieve objects, or take pictures for various Wastelanders in order to get their achievement or special reward. In some cases, the game offers you an easy way/hard way choice to complete some levels. If you complete the harder way, the reward you will receive will be bigger, and most likely, please the sub-mission recipient more.

For those that didn’t spring for the game’s Strategy Guide, be prepared for the chance that you are going to make some big mistakes. The completion of some of the game’s sub-missions will require that you A) Stick to rules or guidelines set by various characters, or B) Make a decision that will leave you with one happy citizen, and one upset one. In some cases, just going around thinning building walls, or breaking things, can lead to disastrous consequences, sometimes even nullifying reward opportunities.

The same goes with each of the major bosses. You can use thinner on them to take them down, or use paint to turn them good. I tried the best I could to hold out, but soon the frustration of some levels (and the shoddy camerawork) caused me to fire off thinner in anger, just wanting to finish off the bosses asap.

I can recall playing through Epic Mickey a total of 3 times, and each time as I went through, I still enjoyed it. Epic Mickey 2 however, I don’t know if I’ll give it a full play-through a second time or not. Thinking back to the first game, I recall numerous emotions that washed over me as Mickey ventured forth on his quest, notably the sibling rivalry instilled in Oswald as an older sibling who was pushed aside as the younger one got all the glory. In the sequel, I felt much of that emotional punch was missing.

Having Mickey and Oswald largely playing errand-boy as opposed to working through a solid main quest, really didn’t interest me as much. Plus, it doesn’t help that I felt enormous pangs of guilt when I couldn’t please everyone involved with the various sub-missions.

Disney Interactive Studios and Warren Spector’s Junction Point Studios, have crafted one of the few games that plays to those that have a soft spot for the studio’s heritage. While there have been some upgrades and additions made to make the game better, the interface and sub-missions may frustrate those that just want a linear-yet-emotionally satisfying storyline such as the first game.

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Final Grade: B