Friday, May 29, 2015


Unplugged Dilintia: Skystones Promotional Game

You don't expect much from a free game that comes in a box of cereal, and of course I don't know a damned thing about Skylanders, so imagine my surprise when I found a really cool game in my box of Lucky Charms.

Oh, don't look at me like that.  I only bought it because I wanted to see what the game was.  And to eat the Lucky Charms.

It's a tile-placement game.  Players begin with a hand of five tiles and take turns placing them in a 3x3 grid.  Each tile has a different "strength" listed at each of its four borders, and if your tile shows a higher strength than its neighbors, you capture those tiles.  However, a tile that's already placed can't capture new tiles, so it's safe to place a weak tile next to a strong one.  There's enough strategy to it to keep it compelling, but the luck of the draw keeps it from become too rote.  There are four sets of tiles to collect, each with a different mix of creatures with different stats, and you can no doubt put them all together to create a single super-game.

It's an amazing game, especially for a promotional giveaway.  Every box comes with a self-contained package that gives you everything you need to play for hours, and all of the moving parts -- the tiles, complete game instructions, and even a coin to determine turn order -- fit in a box that's smaller than a Game Boy cartridge.  The back of the cereal box has a gameboard that you can cut out, but the game can be played without it when you're on the go or while you're waiting for the cereal to run out.  And the quality of the game is excellent -- the tiles come on nice, durable cardstock, thicker than playing cards, and every tile has cool character art on it.  It always tickles me to discover such a high-quality game that works so well that fits into such a tiny package.

I'm baffled that something like this is being limited to a cereal box promotion.  Even knowing that this is based on an existing Skylanders minigame (I thought it was a little odd that such a well-developed game would be made exclusively for General Mills), I'm surprised that nobody had the bright idea to make Skystones a physical collectible toy in its own right.  Why aren't these things being sold in packs at the check-out counter so kids can amass and play with them at school?  Until they come to their senses, you'll just have to choke down your pride and a few bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch if you want to try out this neat little gem.


Saturday, May 23, 2015


Cube Creator 3D

Cube Creator 3D is a scaled-down Minecraft clone for the 3DS.  The worlds are smaller, there are fewer kinds of enemies which are easier to deal with, there are fewer kinds of blocks to work with, there are fewer kinds of things to craft, and all of the systems in place are just generally easier to work with.

And that's pretty all right.

I never got into Minecraft.  Sure, I hopped on the bandwagon just around the time it was starting to catch fire, but I was hopeless at it.  I didn't know what to do.  I didn't know where to begin.  Even with a guide to surviving your first night in the game, I never got a toehold in my new world.  Everything I tried to make was blown up by creepers and I just kept dying all of the time.  Maybe I could have made some progress if I'd stuck to it, but I didn't find it compelling enough.  And besides, there's something that turns me off about having to read an entire wiki about a game just to understand it.

Cube Creator 3D is more the sort of experience I was looking for.  Borne of the 3DS's technical limitations, the game is much simpler and more approachable.  It's something that you can figure out just by sitting down and poking at it for an hour.  Even if you like the complexity of Minecraft, I think it's much more appropriate for a portable title to be something that you can operate without external references.

And the game is still remarkably satisfying.  Whether you're playing for the pleasure of hollowing out a mountain block by block in search of precious ores or you're building and exploring your own worlds in stereoscopic 3D, it's still a game that you can get lost in for hours.  Minecraft fans will no doubt be disappointed by the lack of multiplayer and the limited range of accents that you can build -- the only non-cube item in the game is a door -- but if you absolutely must have a voxel game on your 3DS, well... this is all we got.

I don't want to say that Minecraft is impossible to love because obviously lots of people have been having fun with it for years.  But if you're one of the people who liked the concept but hit the learning curve a little hard, this one's certainly worth checking out.  It may even inspire you to give Minecraft another go.  I know it did for me.


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