All-in-One Gamebox 35

a Touch item by J Nash (Sunday July 11th, 2010)

Publisher: Triniti
Authors: None credited
Supports Openfeint
Buy the game (59p)

I was tipped to this one by top showbiz chum S Campbell, whose wry, arched comma implied a Cascade 50 for the 90s. As Gamebox 35 doesn’t come with a horrid calculator watch, I wasn’t particularly interested. By chance events I’ve currently been awake since yesterday which has made the idea of playing 35 games in a row q funny, so in tribute to the award-winningly cancelled Attention Scum’s bit featuring a then-unknown Johnny Vegas in 24 Hour News As Read By a Bloke Who’s Been Up For 24 Hours, here’s All-in-One Gamebox 35. What will happen next?

No time for alt jokes (Hurrah! -- Everyone)

The only game where the screenshot reflects the time I played. Watch me accelerate through the page until I’m more or less snapping the title screen.

Glargh — what is this game? I’ve played it at least twice before, against zombs and mummies. Well, anyway, it’s That Game, the side scrolly shooty thing where you can jump into houses as you pass for bonus ammo and cash, then buy bigger guns in the end-of-lev shop. The ammo’s doled out based on the guns you carry (you can hold a bunch and swap between them), so it’s not worth diluting your chances by purchasing anything beyond the tier-two shotgun, which kills everything with at most two shots. There’s no sense of danger, a couple of tatty bugs (like harmlessly shooting past the dinos if they get too close and the lev ending when you reach a certain spot regardless of what’s happening at that moment), every level is identical, the three types of dino (ordinary, fast and big) don’t noticeably increase in pack size or ferocity between levs so you can easily count on finding enough ammo per run to keep your shotgun stocked, the other guns are rubbish (I saved up experimentally for a top-flight buzzsaw only to find it wasn’t a replacement emergency club but another gun, which fires buzzsaws, which are distinctly less effective than the shotgun) and I made it straight through on Normal difficulty (there’s also, er, Easy) to level 33 with £14,438 in the bank (the most expensive shop gun is £4,000) and the only moments of peril coming from idiotically trying a different gun and struggling to take a halfway decent screenshot. To be fair, around level 32 the dinos seemed to perk up slightly — I saw a couple attack from behind, for example — but this is easily the dullest version of That Game I’ve played. It feels like its own badly arranged demo. I did like the main character’s undismayable expression of indifference.

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That’s odd. It’s a portrait of me.

Remember Shift? Yep, I had the designer kicked to death too. Cheap tricks are the swiftest way to knack a puzzle game (in Shift‘s case the increasing reliance on screen-spanning insta-kill spikes as a forced timer, drowning the arrestingly bamboozling plat-inversion novelty like you were playing a Hollywood remake or something) but sometimes something slips through by accident that’s evilly worse.

In the case of Digital Heist — a nifty minimalist-graphic remix of those marble-rolling contraptions you find in Christmas catalogues, with you guiding your blob from one side of the screen to the other, then back again after pinching some cash — the prob is that the neon glowy graphics result in smeary edges and fuzzy collision detection for a pixel-perfect game of wobble and balance. You can see you made it through the gap, but you didn’t.

(It probably doesn’t help either that the room doesn’t reset when you die. It’s a bit of a catch-22, because otherwise I’d be bleating about having to wait or the inevitable black intermediate screen throwing my rhythm or something, but more often than not your instant restart will kill you again moments after you zip out of the invincibility cage because you’re supposed to be waiting for a chance in the (sometimes wildly complex) patterns. As an aside, Dig Heist is the first iThing game I’ve played that changes, utterly, depending on the control method. Tilting is clearly how it was designed; dragging means you’re trying to negotiate a split-second maze without seeing it because your spindly finger is in the way; and the virtual joypad makes the game time-savingly unplayable because you can’t move diagonally.)

Total shame, because it’s a hefty game, with 24 levels and four difficulty settings (two of which are locked, the last called “Impossible”) and a neatly simple scoring system (you have infy lives, but a running score’s kept of your failures). Friendly too: you have unlimited time to reach the cash, with the countdown alarm only blaring on your way back to the exit (abstractly reminding me of proto-heist coin-op fave Venture); and you can replay any completed level to better your overall star rating. The fundamental unnoticed blob-edge nitwittery is neatly summarised by the pause menu having Resume directly above the identical Quit button.

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Give me a minute.

Unfussy electro-plastic Tesseract, with one hundred levels against the clock over four difficulties, a built-in level designer (with sharing) and a point-missingly efficient use of available screen space which shrinks the pieces when they’re not on the board, so when you start (empty board, all pieces in the gutter) you have no idea how big anything is and have to drag the lot to make sure you’re not completely wasting your time leaving space for what you thought was an oblong half its real size.

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“If only I’d jumped from the other wall and headed for Cakeville.”

Functional Our Canabalt is Different thing (you can slide!), set to a really annoyingly edited sample of Flight of the Bumblebee. As an aside, I played Canabalt the other day for the first time on something other than my trusty little Mac. I had no idea it was supposed to be fast.

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If this were a real review, I’d have placed the guns to draw something very nearly funny.

Is this Tower Defence? I’ve played this before with zombs. It’s the thing where you run around a small map placing and upgrading guns then waves of beasties run in and your guns shoot at them and this goes on for about 2000 hours without any sense of accomplishment. Anyway, this is a sci-fi-y version of that and I have no interest in the ENTIRE GUN-PLANTING GENRE.

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If I were properly in charge, we’d hide until they went past.

HELP. I’ve been playing this for a quarter of an hour now and nothing’s happened. It’s a cute god thing where you tap bloke icons to form an army (generally split into Blokes Who Lob and Blokes Who Hit) and they wander screen left to right to beat up the other bunch wandering screen right to left, with the idea being to break through the ranks and smash up your rival’s totem pole. Every few seconds you gain enough power to tap another bloke (or wait a bit longer for a better one, or strategically rush the cheaper) and it’s attritional tit-for-tat that’s almost immediately reduced to trying to tap faster than HURRAH I WIN AFTER SIXTEEN MINUTES AND FORTY-SEVEN SECONDS OF TAPPING a computer. You can upgrade your blokes and unlock new types and carpet-bomb the arena every minute to push forward a few inches and the other blokes immediately regroup and so on and likewise and tappity-tap. It’s a bobbleheaded satire of purposeless conflict for the 90s. (Contains online multi-player, but nobody was on when I tried it.)

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One of the Challenge levels, in fact. Look at that stat line: I haven’t even cropped it to pretend it was from later on FOR YOU.

Remember hunting sims? Everyone’s snipering now, apparently. (Sniping? That can’t be right. CUE TERRIBLE ONE-PANEL CARTOON ABOUT BATTLEFIELD MISUNDERSTANDING BY QUIPPING FOP.) Hampered by the traditional failings of a genre where effectively you squint at a landscape then tap for a wobbly close-up of someone shooting at you, a bit like forcing you to play Operation Wolf through a telescope, but slick and head-shooty with helpful bits like flashing the blokes on the map if you’re clearly prodding the wrong areas. I’m also tremendously grateful for its surprisingly light jingoism.

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You can’t even pause then fly around the level to work it out first. WHAT KIND OF MEDIOCRE PHOTOCOPYING IS THIS?

Oh No Poor Lemmings, more like.

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Match-thrGET OUT.

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I can’t be holding that sword right, surely.

Hang on, isn’t this the silhouette bloke from Jailbreaker? Anyway, characterful shadow chop-socky with odd level design: you can run all the way through the minions to reach the boss, at which point you die because the idea is to build up XP via hench-thumping so you can upgrade your weaps before the final fight.

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“Quick, act natural.”

Rubbish shooter where you blow up villages of villains against the clock in murky CCTV-o-vision from your remarkable hovering aeroplane, rendered terrifyingly horrible by recent news events.

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Think how you’d design an archery game, then do it wrongly.

Bafflingly enjoyment-free target game apparently designed to be controlled as needlessly cumbersomely as possible. I liked the inappropriately tinkly music.

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The game addresses you throughout as “OU.” Home study’s picked up since my term.

The second sn — hang on. That’s DEFINITELY the silhouette bloke from Jailbreaker and Kung Fu Master. Presumably all three games are by the same authors. Come to think of it, there haven’t been any credits so far. Perhaps the publisher just kills people who turn up to show what they’re working on. (Note for publisher’s solicitors: that’s definitely actually what happens for genuine real.) That’d explain several of the games for one thing. Anyway, this is the second sniper game (up to now, ha-ho) and a stripped-down, much nimbler piece than iSniper — you’re shown a randomly chosen target (eg, bloke in blue peaked cap) and have to shoot as many of (him) as possible as decoy crowds mill around a pleasingly clear monochrome arena. The character design and general cartoonishness take the curse off (nobody even blinks as people around them bloodily explode) and it’s tricky from the start to fill your quota because everyone’s identical apart from their hats, most angles only give a glimpse of people as they amble briefly past open windows, etc, and the pedestrians are randomly generated so there’s no guarantee there’ll be a target hat available to puncture as you dart your gaze about, meaning your time bonus for a kill transforms into hopelessly filling a leaky bucket. So, unnecessarily tricky from the start, really. Hurdy ho. Quite possibly the only sniper game in existence today that marks failure with a pic of your bloke weeping against his gun in an alley.

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I loaded it, once, to take this screenshot.


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Quite literally the last visible moment for the rest of the game.

It’s silhouette bloke again. We’re trying for a Hellkid/Hook Shot vibe here as you grapple across stalactites above lava, but the awkward slide controls and clumsily dark graphics destroy the whole thing.

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That’s a spear, not my arrow, which is in fact reloading. Must mention one day how much I hate the iThing screenshot button combo.

Remember Orc Attack? (No. — Everyone.) Bowman Defence is the side-on version. (This isn’t helping. — Everyone.) Nearly sunk by the gimmicky controls (you counterintuitively drag from the target to your archer to fire and, because this doesn’t necessarily hit what with your arrows’ naturally curved flight, you end up trying to plan through an extra layer of finickiness) but recorked by the umpteen types of arrow and sinister black-clad anti-knights so you’re never complacently spitting default quarrels at the furthest yard.

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“I’m going to kill you.”

321 JUMP
Remember Astrob(Bang!) Oh no! (Dies.) Tilt to move your alarming plasticine mutant as it bounces unstoppably up an endless vertical array of random plats scattered with power-ups and beasties. I like this. Nice touch(tm): the screen wraps around horizontally.

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I mean, well, come along now, really.

Spot the difference against the clock. Stock pictures, wonky hotspots, can’t even be bothered telling you how many pics you have left in the set. Enterprisingly shoddy.

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“Wahey! I’m zinc.”

SILHOUETTE BLOKE. (Except he’s a robot this time.) Standard platter with clunky framerate that’s academically interesting as such a brazen Mario rip-off it’s a wonder the title track isn’t a sample of Shigs ringing up and going, “Er…”

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“Or, I could set the cat on them.”

Hang on. No, that’s deffo what it says. Hang on. Ahh, right, it’s the original version of the other iSniper, which means stock photo backgrounds, comically shattered perspective (you appear to be shooting the world’s tiniest grumps), sprites for the villains (which cheatily jump ahead when the walking blokes reverse, so a correct aim misses), none of the friendliness (you’re often reduced to pecking around for the last bloke like one of those hunt-the-pixel games) and even more repetition (each level is a static pic with teleporting waves of crims). Obviously then I much prefer it to the updated version; this is zippier and altogether more coin-oppy with none of the multiple-hit woundings and blether. (I didn’t even have to use the breathe-out sight-steadier.)

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“I can still see you, y’know.”

SILHOUETTE BLOOOOKE. I hope. Otherwise I’ve reached the stage of imagining him at every tOH MY WORD A CAT JUST WALKED INTO THE ROOM A REAL CAT IT TRANSPIRES THE BACK DOOR WAS OPEN AND THE CAT WAS CURIOUS BUT RAN OFF BEFORE I COULD GET IT A SAUCER OF MILK OR SOMETHINGurn. This time he’s in a serviceable Midnight Resistance clone that handles the whole rotatey-gun thing surprisingly well.

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The guides button switches on a visible hook trajectory, incidentally. It doesn’t help.

SILHOUETTE BLOOOOOOOOOKE. Terrible, incomprehensible vertical climber where you tilt to aim and tap to shoot your grappling hook while the screen rockets by and Silh Bloke does whatever he feels like anyway, ie fall off.

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Do you see that bloke behind me? Do you think the spikes will hurt him? DO YOU?

The defending bowman from Bowman Defence in rubbish Golden Axe, rubbishly. Your thumbs are all over the playing area, the game has a nasty habit of blocking you in with spikes in lieu of difficulty and it’s about three minutes before you’re being shot at from off the screen. (You can only advance the scrolling once everyone in the area is safely dead.) Od’s Knightyssey, more like. Eh? Eh? Eh, eh?

Right, I’ve had a glass of orange juice and lemonade and feel better now.

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Tragically, uncured patients just leave rather than collapsing dead, which would have been funnier. (Broom-sweeping mini-game!)

Lurchingly out of place silly-doctor sim that’s actually pretty good: you fumble patients through a production line of tests, diagnoses and prescriptions, with everything becoming agreeably frantic and involved by level four, before escalating into total mini-game insanity. Amusingly quaint plot where Ada has to meet daily fiscal targets by charging patients cash.

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“But I already got a pair of shoes.”

Those pesky F Colonials are at it again, so jump into your trusty Japanese aeroplane and save the day. An unusual view — third-person behind your plane, with the crims flying out of the screen at you — boosts an arcadey shooter with simple, crisp tilt controls that leads you in gently before filling the sky with bullets and wings. Couple of nice touches(tm): you can dip towards the sea to torpedo passing destroyers and, if non-fatally hit, you have a chance to recover by waggling your iThing for a liniment roll. Pretty tricky too, as you only have one (non-energy-bar) life per level. As AJP Taylor would say, “Hurrah for Pearl Harbour!” (Hurrah for P… oh. — AJP Taylor.)

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Twenty minutes to think of the funny title, eleven minutes to write the game.

SILHOUETTE B*L*O*K*E in a reverse 321 Jump, dropping from plat to plat as a spiked ball thunders closer overhead. I was quite enjoying this, except the absurdly insensitive tilt means anything beyond jiggering down the two central columns practically involves tipping the iThing place-losingly on its edge. Bah.

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The rude version of Trivial Pursuit, presumably.

Silhouette Bloke! In Spy Hunter! With an energy bar! Which doesn’t work at all because the danger is nebulous then suddenly you’re dead!

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“Pull over!” “No need, look at the sunny beaches.” Etc.

Unremarkably scruffy vertical racer (the countdown clock is called Fuel, for example, despite bearing no relation to your speed, and there’s no finish line, you just stop in the middle of the road and everyone else evaporates) with a couple of points of interest (you manually accelerate but auto-brake; scrapes crock your car with suspense-promoting visible damage or send you into a recoverable skid rather than immediately blow you up; the tilt action is nicely swerve-y, especially on the levels that evilly compress the track), a neat line in black humour (sample obstacle: bloke in manhole) and some tactics that spicily complement the driving even though you suspect they’re a side-effect of the lumpy programming (eg your rivals move at a constant speed, so if you’re about to hit someone, douse the accelerator and all visible cars bullet away leaving you pristinely safe for a negligible time cost). I’ve had quite a few goes of this.

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You can’t hide in the corners, the stat buttons get in the way. (Bah.)

Silhouette Bloke in a twin-sticky Alien Breed-ish arena shooter. Lots of beasties and guns, but curiously lifeless and thrill-free, like a CBBC Smash TV. Plus! another appearance for the fast, desperate action-useless energy bar. (The framerate’s also gooey.)

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I like the way the tank looks as if it’s trying to shuffle past without getting involved.

Blah, that’s an unsettling coincidence: I mentioned Op Wolf up there and HERE IT IS, and CLEARLY WRITTEN BY THE iSNIPER BODS. I don’t think I scrolled ahead, or at least DON’T REMEMBER. Anyway, this is a hilariously terrible version of the much-loved rubbish coin-op with you dragging your gunsight around as villains hurl themselves peevishly to the ground like so many FMV extras. I got to the end on my first go. Good bit: you gather ammo, etc, by shooting doves.

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“No, no, the black area’s the night sky: we’re upside-down on the inside of the horizon.”

The odysseying knight from Knight’s Odyssey in an Artillery / War 3 / Artillery 3 / Stone Sling / Artillery Duel / Tank Wars / Ballerburg / Gravity Wars / Gorillas / Scorched Earth / Scorched Tanks / Death Tank / Death Tank Zwei sort of thing. No online multi-player, but a perfectly acceptable pass-the-iThing mode and the usual computer opponent story. It’s pretty much the presentation that sets these games apart and Bowman Attack‘s is lovely, all sigils and cutouts with just the right amount of silliness not to smother the thoughtful blasty play.

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Incidentally, you clearly play a girl.

Delightful (single-player only) Pang clone with scribbly hand-drawn graphics, pretty much wrecked by the ill-suited energy bar. Programmers! There’s a reason the coin-ops you’re assiduously ripping off didn’t have energy bars, y’know.

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“Pfff! Money! What IS it like, ladies and gentlemen? Eh?”

Run a little bloke left and right to catch falling cash, avoiding penalty objects. The type of game someone you didn’t like very much would send you via The Face-Book with the title, “This isn’t very good, is it?” (It’s also bizarrely difficult in that, from the start, you have to catch at least £90,000 in a minute and a half, or in other words at least £1,000 a second. (The goal increases by £10,000 per level.) The denominations are £1, £10, £100 (in coins) and £10,000 (notes). There’s also a lottery ticket (random value, usually £500, though I’ve seen both £0 and £5m). In my unscientific estimation from playing a bunch of games, the most common rewards are the £100 and £10 coins; the £10,000 notes tend to appear every three or four seconds — sometimes in pairs, but because of their deceptive wafting descent you’ll almost certainly miss one at any given time. In short, unless you can consistently hit the banknotes you don’t have a chance. Couple that with the obstacles — an insta-kill, a bloke-slower and a controls-reverser — and if you hit any penalty in a round, or miss more than three randomly allocated and randomly spaced notes, you’re doomed. Maybe they should have put in an energy bar so you don’t notice. I have clearly played this game for longer than it took the programmer to write it, including double-checking 90,000 / 90 on this horrid calculator watch to prevent embarrassment.)

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Aw. Except in this screenshot, I’ve just died from a heart attack and the puppy is curiously licking my corpse’s face. (Not really.)

Typically polished false pet sim, which I’ve no idea why it counts as a game. Ooo heck. I’ve just remembered I have a Dogz dog I haven’t looked at since 1998. Well, he’s probably fine.

Thus the All-in-One Gamebox 35. I expect a lot of idiots are saying, “Clearly 35 games for 59p is unimpeachable value,” but just bunging more satsumas in a sock doesn’t make it the best sock if the satsumas are mulchy and the sock’s resultingly bent off your leg.

(Ironically, the iThing gaining folders means that playing a game from the compilation is significantly more of a hassle than just having the games separately: you have to boot Gamebox, scroll to find the one you want (there are nine games per screen, in no logical order; you can’t rearrange anything and the Favourites option is in fact an online vote), click that, click the resulting pic (which is a confirm, not a loading screen) then wait for the game itself to load. Commendably all the games link back to the central vault, but only from their title screens, so you typically have to quit through a couple of menu levels to reach the main board again — obv it’s easier to jab Home, except then you have to restart Gamebox from scratch. Hngh.)

Most of the games feel unfinished or demo-y. (Even as a fan of, say, Hired Gun, I can’t pretend it’s anything more than the same lottery shootout repeated forever.) It’s telling that the newest addition, Dino Cap, still sports the same flaws of flashy mechanics and bad design that pop up time and again in 35, as if the purpose of the compilation is to be the largest rather than the best. There’s a sense that the important thing is to fill the space with whatever’s passable, like a coverdisk for the 90s.

(I notice the chunkily well thought-through games that turn up, like Ancient War, Digital Heist, Ada’s Hosp and (AAARGHH) Neanderblock, are clearly by one-off contributors: from certain clues like distinctive menu layouts, plot blurb, explicit sequels and SILHOUETTE BLOOOOOOOOOKE I’d say that three groups — the iSniper, S Bloke and Knight bods — are behind at least 18 of the titles here.)

If Gamebox 35 were priced like a compilation, I’d recommend looking for the decent games separately — there’s no excuse for half-designed rubbish like Climber and Hell Flyer. But those crafty Triniti folk have undercut my principled stubbornness by bunging out the lot at 59p. The central vault loader is irritating, but you can always pretend it’s an unskippable boot-up company logo or something. I’d buy it for the couple of games I like, and in fact have. THE END WE MADE IT PLEASE KICK TO DEATH THE iTHING SCREENSHOT-TAKING BUTTON COMBO INVENTOR THANK YOU GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY.

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