Snap That App: Tiny Tower

My favourite game of the moment has to be Tiny Tower from developers NimbleBit, who are well know for creating high quality ‘freemium’ games, with their last big release Pocket Frogs proving to be a huge success. Their latest offering, Tiny Tower for iOS devices, is a fun and highly addictive pixelated game that will no doubt have users hooked on its retro styled charm and simple yet engaging gameplay.

The main goal in Tiny Tower is to make as much money as you can through building new floors, opening new services and expanding your tower empire! The game begins with a quick tutorial of how to get started, which takes you through building your first residential floor and production floor, moving a Bitizen in and finding them a job. The game is really simple to play and the cute graphics and groovy music really help to keep the game fun and addictive.

Each production floor can offer a variety of shops or services, such as laundromats, coffee houses, clothes shops and so forth. You can employ a maximum of three Bitizens to work on each floor to serve the visitors that come to your tower, and with the money earned you can then restock your items that are running low to create further income. Like other games of this nature, time management is a key element with restocking usually taking anything from 10 minutes to an hour to complete. Whilst waiting for the items to restock there are other tasks to keep you occupied, such as working the elevator to take Bitizens to their desired floors, or locating particular Bitizens in return for cash. While these tasks are fun at first, they can become a little repetitive and I’m hoping that we’ll see more variety in future updates to the game (which is only on version 1.1 at the moment so I’ll cut them some slack!)

The game is integrated with Game Center with a good list of achievements to keep you busy, and you can even visit your friends towers to see how they’re doing (and compare!) One of my favourite (and slightly random!) features of the game is the inclusion of the Bitbook which, as you can probably guess, is the Bitizen’s version of Facebook! It doesn’t really aid your gameplay in any way, but it’s amusing to see what your Bitizens are getting up to! Each Bitizen has their own unique personality which can be viewed by selecting the Bitizens option in the menu (see image above). From here you can find out all sorts of information about that particular Bitizen (for example what their dream job is and how happy they currently are) along with other actions such as changing their outfit or assigning them a job.

Overall, I absolutely love Tiny Tower. I think it’s clear to see that a lot of thought and effort has been put into developing the game and I love the attention to detail that has been included (such as the Bitbook) which adds to Tiny Tower’s charm. If you’re after a new game this weekend for your iOS device then I would definitely recommend checking it out, you won’t be disappointed!

Here’s my video review for Tiny Tower:

And finally NimbleBit’s official video for the game:

Little Big Planet for PS3

LittleBigPlanet is a game exploding with cuteness, excitement, creativity, oh and did I mention cuteness? This game is adorable, so much so that every time I play it I am filled with an overwhelming sense of love for that small, hessian sack creature appropriately named ‘Sackboy’. For all the tough guys out there, don’t let that put you off trying and buying this game which, may I add, has won a host of awards including GameZone’s ‘Overall Game of the Year- 2008,’ IGN’s ‘Best Platform Game of 2008 (for PS3),’ and lets not forget GameSpot’s ‘Best Platform Game E3 2008’ just to name a few. To check out the full list of awards, hit up the official LittleBigPlanet website for more details. This is a game for all ages and genders, it’s an addictive platform game which will have you hooked from the moment you insert the disc.

Firstly, let’s have some introductions shall we? Meet Sackboy, the hessian sack filled with love, fluff and ice cream… Don’t ask, that’s his official description!

Oh isn’t he cute? Don’t you just want to eat him up with a spoon?! Ok, enough Jenny enough. Sackboy is our fearless protagonist who you will share all your adventures on LittleBigPlanet with. His appearance can change thanks to the LittleBigBoutique which your Sackboy can access at anytime during game play offering a host of sexy and stylish outfits to kit your Sack person out with. As you progress through the game, you will be able to collect a variety of clothes to turn your Sackboy (or girl) into a fashion icon. Items of clothing can also be downloaded from the Playstation Store, be earned as rewards or even won in competitions. There is also a Downloadable Content section on LittleBigPlanet’s official website where you can find content available to buy or download for free!

Upon first playing LittleBigPlanet, you are introduced to Sackboy and how to move him around by a very well chosen narrator in the form of Stephen Fry. Through a series of videos and demonstrations, Stephen teaches us how to jump, change our emotions and run in only a way that Stephen can. In my opinion, they couldn’t have chosen a better narrator as his voice just suits the game so well and adds to the ‘cuteness’ of the whole experience. It’s a shame he was only a runner up  for the award of ‘Best Performance by a Human Male: Stephen Fry as LBP Narrator’ at the Spike TV Video Game Awards in December 2008, as I think the developers hit the nail right on the head when casting Stephen Fry as the narrator.

Once you are comfortable with how to move your Sack person around, you next steps are learning about your POD and the Popit, but more about that later. Your POD is “A cross between your bedroom and your first shed.” Well that’s the official description for it anyway! Your POD is like your mothership, it’s where everything happens and where you first begin every time you play the game. You can access the Story Levels, the Community Levels, your own created levels and see who’s online all from the POD. And just like with Sackboy, your POD is your creation, it’s your blank canvas just waiting to be covered with beautiful stickers. I mentioned earlier with Sackboy that as you progress through the game, you will collect various items of clothing which will then be added to your LittleBigBoutique, well it’s the same for stickers. As you progress through the levels you will find stickers hidden everywhere. If you collect all the stickers in a certain level, you will then obtain a result of 100%.

The Popit is an incredibly useful tool for your Sack person, as it can be used to do just about anything when playing or creating in LittleBigPlanet. It is also the place to come to find all your collected stickers and outfits from previously played levels. When playing, the Popit can be used to heart a level, adorn your current surrounding with stickers and objects, or to smarten your Sackboy up with a new outfit. You can even use it to communicate with your fellow Sackboys in the level, or to get yourself out of a sticky situation by popping yourself! To access the Popit, simply press the square button on your controller to reveal your haven of goodies!

When playing, you have two options; Story Levels and Community Levels. The Story Levels are created by all those clever brains over at Media Molecule, whereas the Community Levels are created by fellow sack folk just like yourself. In the Story Levels your mission is to find out what the devil is going on with the planet’s Creator Curators and their creations, which have gone missing! A Curator only know as ‘The Collector’ is behind it all, and it is your sack destiny to find out what’s going on and to find everything that’s missing!

Your journey begins in ‘The Gardens’, which is a bit like an English Country Garden as you can see in the picture above, where you’ll be taught your first steps in LittleBigPlanet by The King and his wife The Queen, who are the Creator Curators of this green, luscious land. You’ll also learn how to collect prizes, place stickers, interact with different objects and how to avoid sticky situations, whilst all the while enjoying the sheer cuteness that is Sackboy. As you progress through LittleBigPlanet you will meet all sorts of Creator Curators in many different levels who will help you along your journey, until you meet ‘The Collector’ who will do his very best to defeat you!

The great thing about LittleBigPlanet is it’s replay value. Even when you have finished the game, you can still go back and complete it to 100% (which is very hard I tell you!) To complete the game fully you need to do the following on every level; have finished the level, collected all the prizes in a level, and ‘aced’ the level (which means to complete it without dying!) I have been playing this game for months now and I still haven’t completed everything fully but that’s what I love about this game!

Another great aspect of the replay value is the Community Levels. There are over a million community levels published, with new levels being added every 30 seconds or so, which is more than you, me and the whole of your town could ever play! And with it being so easy to browse the Community Levels thanks to the game’s tags and ratings system, it’s easier than ever to find what you fancy! Plus, if you’re feeling a rush of creativity coming on, you can release your inner Van Gogh to the sack world by creating your very own level! LittleBigPlanet does a great job of getting you started and guiding you through the necessary controls needed to create your masterpiece, which involves our favourite tool the Popit! Your level is stored on ‘My Moon,’ which is your very own little moon to store all your unpublished levels. You can also edit from here, and publish your level to the world!

Overall, LittleBigPlanet is a fun, exciting and adorable game for players of all ages, and I challenge any one of you not to fall in love with Sackboy after playing this game!

I cannot recommend this game enough, and with LittleBigPlanet 2 just around the corner, it’s certainly a very exciting time for Sackboys everywhere.

Images via LittleBigPlanet

Robin Hood Review

Written by David Burroughs

Russell Crowe as Robin Hood

“That’s a lot of French” – King John (Oscar Isaac)

Having canned the concept “Nottingham”, a retelling of the Robin Hood story from the perspective of the titular Sheriff, we instead find ourselves with Robin Hood. However, with little adherence to either the well-known myth or historical accuracy, does Ridley Scott’s new partnership with Russell Crowe stand up to their earlier collaborations?

While it takes a considerable portion of the film to spell it out, Robin Hood is not the traditional tale of Robin Hood, and those expecting it to be so will be sorely disappointed. It is an origin story. As a returning soldier form the Crusades, clearly now an unshakable part of the myth, Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe) finds himself fleeing the army with which he has served for a decade, and returning to England, finding himself entangled within the complex world of medieval politics. Along the way all the familiar faces appear, from Lady Marian to Little John and Will Scarlet, but entirely absent are the traditional conflict between Nottingham and Robin, and Sherwood Forest appears to be the home of the Lost Boys. Despite the framework of locations and characters, it is a story of conflict between England and France, at the centre of which is Robin, as he uncovers his past and fights for his country.

Seeing the return of Crowe under the direction of Ridley Scott would naturally lead us to assume that we would be seeing a spiritual successor to their 2000 film, Gladiator, but instead we find a film considerably weaker than its predecessor. Russell Crowe is almost entirely two-dimensional, his loyalties shifting visibly between self-interest and unflinching loyalty to the shining concept of a free England. Which part of England remains questionable throughout though; despite Robin’s Northern origins, Crowe’s English accent shifts schizophrenically throughout the film from Scottish, to Irish, to Geordie, before finally resting on a more recognisably Northern accent for the grand finale. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Marion, on the other hand, is initially a refreshing change of pace. She entirely succeeds in portraying a strong female lead who is clearly stuck in a situation dictated by her sex and her economic situation. Nevertheless, as the film progresses, this role becomes a little inconsistent, and at one moment we find her fighting alongside an army while at another we find her swooning over Russell’s Robin. Perhaps it’s the accents? Meanwhile, the big villain of the piece is King John’s henchman, Godfrey, played by Mark Strong.  If you are one of the many people who liked Mark Strong’s roles as criminal masterminds in Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass, then you will fully appreciate his efforts in Robin Hood – there is very little difference. As an actor who has only recently become recognisable, it is sad to see him type-cast so quickly.

Despite the three lead characters, the rest of the cast unfortunately fit too comfortably into the category of “gritty stereotypes”. The arrogant, but weak King John, played by Oscar Isaac, feels painfully similar to that of Joaquin Phoenix’s emperor from Gladiator, but we are never given sufficient reason to hate him, and by the end he is little more than shouting and one-liners. In the meantime the English nobility blindly believe in a better England and the French are portrayed as an invading hoard of murderers and rapists. Heaven forbid that the writers permit fellow country-men to turn against one another in this classic English story. The Sheriff of Nottingham is little more than a bumbling idiot, and the King of France in particular, who is the absentee antagonist of the film, appears in about three scenes, and at his most evil when he accidently cuts his thumb. The motivations, like much of the plot, boil down to a simplistic rivalry between France and England.

Despite the obligatory scene of Robin firing an arrow an absurd distance and striking a perfect hit, there is little here which one would naturally associate with a Robin Hood film. The rich are not robbed, and Robin’s kleptomania is saved purely for the dead and the church, or when it can impress Marian. What is left, once you accept that this is not a retelling of the Robin Hood myth, is a medieval political conspiracy which lacks any historical foundations. The middle of the film is predictable in its formulaic handling of relationships and character growth, and there is little substance between the two unsatisfying battles which bookend the film. Despite Crowe’s protestations that any semblance of an Irish accent during his performance was “bollocks” when interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row program, I maintain that many of you who go to see if shall find his accents as inconsistent as the rest of the plot. The finale leaves a gaping hole ready to be filled by a sequel, which if you were understandably misled by the advertising, should be the film you were expecting to see this time round. One can only hope that the ‘Nottingham’ project isn’t entirely dead, but can live on if they insist on taking this story any further.

Iron Man 2 – Review

Written by David Burroughs

Iron Man

Iron Man 2 is not The Dark Knight, and this is by no means to its detriment. The duel entries into the comic-book genre of film which we saw in the summer of 2007 set the polar opposites of what it meant to create a good superhero film. The gritty and dark world of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, which worked so well in that film, would have been entirely out of place in Iron Man, which succeeded on its own merits and through the creation a cheerful and thoroughly outrageous titular character. Placed in a post-Iraq world, Iron Man may have lacked the personal torment and grey morality which we see in The Dark Knight, but it existed in a realistic world we could relate too and which served to keep the film from losing its way. Where comparisons to The Dark Knight should be drawn are in the calibre of evolving a franchise; Batman Begins was undeniably a fairly traditional treatment of a superhero origin story, but which was built upon and almost fully redesigned for the sequel. Iron Man 2 fails in this respect; Jon Favreau’s universe remains solid across the board, but in no way pushes the envelope. What we are left with is a sequel which is entirely true to its predecessor, but perhaps to too great an extent.

Mickey Rourke as Ivan "Whiplash" Vanko

As the film begins we are reintroduced to the press conference from the finale of Iron Man. Tony Starks declaration to the world that he is Iron Man acts to establish the context of the film, a TV screen showing these events unfurl as we are introduced to the mysterious, former physicist, Ivan Vanko, while he works on constructing an ominous contraption. However, within 15 minutes, we know exactly where this film is going as the different characters and themes are quickly introduced. The American government are after the Iron Man technology. Justin Hammer, rival to Tony Stark and vying for a military contract, is similarly after the Iron Man technology. And Ivan Vanko is after Iron Man. Meanwhile we are shown a new side of Stark’s personality, as he battles with emotional and physical difficulties of being Iron Man. These are by no means complicated plot threads to follow, and by the mid section of the film they have all interwoven and merged in such a way that there is a strong, linear narrative to follow. The difficulty was getting there. The first half of the film is rushed unnecessarily, with the writers clearly understanding how the second half should play out and trying to get the audience there as quickly as possible. We are shunted from scene to scene, and often through the different plot threads, understanding each individually but each failing to receive the attention they deserve. Further issue arises in these early chapters as the film, obviously having to move beyond the grounded Afghanistan-based sections of the first film, loses itself in some unnecessary science-fiction elements. What forces Tony to act is no longer Middle-Eastern villages coming under siege from guerrilla warriors, but increasing unrealistic issues pertaining to the Iron Man technology. Once the greater plot arc is established, and allowed to advance, these issues are promptly resolved and the film can carry on, but it is these initial stumbling which show the greatest failings in the writing and direction. All in all it is a reasonably disappointing start, especially since the second half of the film shines so brightly in comparison both to the first half of the film, and the pedestrian finale of Iron Man.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

Where Iron Man 2 shines, and which saves the first half of the film, is in the actors interactions. Whilst many of these early scenes may have been unnecessarily brief, the leading actors carry their respective roles so well that all is almost forgiven. One scene in particular stands out; following an incident on a race track in Monaco, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) and Vanko (Mickey Rourke) find themselves together in a dark, featureless cell. At this point it would have been easy for either to dominate the scene, but the two react to one another in an entirely natural way based on their characters personalities, that neither takes the centre-stage. Rourke, the stoic but driven Russian, besides Downey’s abruptly thwarted overconfidence makes for a brilliant, if once again all too abrupt, collision of personas. The second newcomer to the franchise to truly shine through is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer. Having been breaking onto the blockbuster film scene for some time, Justin Hammer represents Rockwell’s first truly big break. Much like Iron Man (a role Rockwell originally auditioned for) launched Robert Downey Jnr’s career as a big budget film actor, we can only hope the same will happen for Rockwell. He steals every single scene he is in, but for all the right reasons. Much like the egotistical playboy character of Stark dominated the first film, so too does Hammer for the sequel; acting as a mirror to the Stark character, Rockwell’s billionaire entrepreneur treads the line between likable and smarmy, hopelessly striving to be, or be friends with, Tony Stark. Meanwhile, less can be said about Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the Black Widow. This is by no means the fault of her acting performance, but more the problem of the writing; positioning a variety of extras between the leather-clad thighs of Johansson’s character might make for entertaining viewing, it does little towards developing the character as a whole.  Don Cheadle successfully steps into the shoes left by Terrance Howard, taking the role and making it his own; the banter which takes place towards the end of the film between James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and Tony Stark is some of the most enjoyable dialogue from the 2 hours, only rivalled by that which takes place between Stark and Hammer.

Don Cheadle as Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, pictured besides Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer

Reprising their roles from the first film, Robert Downey Jnr and Gwyneth Paltrow, playing the character of Pepper Potts, maintain the high standards of their performances, and play off each other beautifully. They are the same characters you loved from the first, and have undergone very little change since the first instalment. Stark is still egotistical and a little reckless, while Potts still mothers him and worries. Apparently the introduction of a mechanical suit changes little within their sort of dynamic. Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, making a much greater contribution to the plot than his initial appearance, however, what few scenes he has feel as out of place as his cameo in Iron Man. As a character who will clearly be fleshed out in 2011’s ‘The Avengers’, directed by Joss Whedon, the Nick Fury of film is still unformed, his personality schizophrenically shifting from some comic relief in one scene, to a more serious character the next. Nevertheless, as an ensemble, they each perform outstandingly. Most characters are permitted some indepth one-on-one moments, which permit the relationships to be explored and personalities to be developed. A high standard is maintained, and creates a harmony among a group of actors who could have allowed their personalities to dominate, but which in reality, blend together seamlessly.

Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man, Don Cheadle as War Machine

The greatest success of Iron Man 2 is a simple one. Iron Man and Batman are often juxtaposed to one another, since both are obviously characters that fight evil without the aid of any ‘real’ superpowers. They are simply men. Men with ridiculous amounts of money, but no radioactive spiders or magic rings to speak of. Where the difference ends is in our perceptions of these characters which have been brought to the silver screen. We can admire Nolan’s Batman character, selflessly fighting the criminal underworld of Gotham City and dealing with the strain whatever way he can, but he is not a character we want to be. We want to be Iron Man. Once the film finds its way, and allows the plot to unfurl at a steady and enjoyable pace, we begin to appreciate this fact to a greater and greater extent. The action sequences throughout the film, and especially at the end, are thoroughly immersive, and rarely shake you back to reality. By the final, end of the credits scene, Jon Favreau and Marvel has established two key themes upon which to build for the future. Firstly, that rather than a pure sequel, Iron Man 2 has continued the origin story of Iron Man, and established this franchises position within the Marvel universe. Secondly, the film acts to set up the future Marvel projects, while not allowing them to draw attention away from the plot of Iron Man 2. Unashamedly alluded to are the future films which shall be emerging over the next few years, and leaves you with little doubt that there is much more to look forward to than just Iron Man 3.

Switch Easy Nude for iPhone Review

The Switch Easy Nude iPhone case offers ultra thin protection with a “state of the art” 0.8mm casing and a “revolutionary” duo UV scratch resistant gloss coating. It’s made from super strong polycarbonate material with easy touch button access, but is it as “revolutionary” as they claim? Will it live up to the hype? In a word, yes… mostly.

This case is thin, it’s the thinnest I think I’ve ever seen and it feels so good to use. Switch Easy really lives up to the tagline of, “It’s as naked as it can be” as you can barely tell the case is on (just from the feel). The back of the case feels exactly the same as the iPhone’s back, it’s really smooth and just feels good in your hand.

In terms of ports, Switch Easy got it right with their “easy touch button access” as all the buttons and connections are within comfortable reach. The headphone jack is a good size, with my AUX cables fitting in fine no problem as well as my iPhone headphones. The sleep/wake button isn’t covered but that’s not an issue and it’s easy to press. The silent button and the volume rocker aren’t covered either but again, this is no problem because I’m not particularly fussed as to whether they’re protected as long as I can use them! The USB connector and the speaker and microphone are not covered at all but this gives way to more usability with certain docks. I can use my phone with the case on in quite a few speaker docks but alas, I still can’t quite fit it in Apple’s official dock, but hey ho, I can live with that!

Now, in terms of the “revolutionary” duo UV scratch resistant gloss coating… this is a little shady. Fact number one, this case is NOT scratch resistant BUT it does a jolly good job at keeping the big scratches at bay AND the scratches it does get are actually really hard to see unless you’re scrutinising them under a certain light (as I often do). I’ll give Switch Easy their due, this case is really good at keeping the big scratches away, compared to my previous case, the Speck Candy Shell which was completely covered in scratches after only 2 days. The Nude still looks great after 2 weeks of vigorous testing (putting my phone in my bag with my keys, placing it on various surfaces, etc) and I can’t recommend it enough. It doesn’t take away from the iPhone’s slick design with brash logos everywhere. The Nude has a subtle Switch Easy logo on the side of the case which is the same colour as the case in slightly raised font so you can barely see it.

If you want a case which will protect your iPhone from the everyday scratches in life and still look good and incredibly slim, the Nude is the case for you. In my opinion, it’s the best case out there so far!

Check out my video review!

Buy the Nude case from Switch Easy