Flow Free: Bridges is a completely random smartphone game that I first became aware of because I saw a girl playing it on the subway and it looked like my kind of game. It's a free download, and apparently was first released as Flow Free on all the usual outlets (i.e. Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes). The version I played is also free, but is an expansion called Flow Free: Bridges, and is also available on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

As with most games of this genre, Flow Free: Bridges is very simple to pick up and play. The board consists of pairs of dots and your task is to connect them together without any of the paths overlapping. Flow Free: Bridges includes an extra wrinkle, which is in the form of bridges which can have a stream of color go through the bridge, as well as underneath it.

The game's simple but clean presentation is inviting, and the game held my attention for just about as long as a long subway ride. The game increases the difficulty by increasing the size of the board, although the puzzles using the smallest board size (5x5) are mind-numbingly easy. Although it's quite satisfying to complete a puzzle, especially the larger ones, the novelty wore off quickly. As with other puzzle games, like Picross and Snapdots, every puzzle in Flow Free: Bridges works exactly the same way, and so after you master the mechanics there are no surprises or much brain power involved. Picross and Snapdots at least had the benefit of a colorful presentation and each puzzle reveals a different image, but all the puzzles in Flow Free: Bridges look the same and I felt no motivation to complete very many of each difficulty level, i.e. board size. Puzzle games in general tend to be the equivalent of mental chewing gum, but without more variety, surprises, and a more-interesting presentation, this was a game that I ended up putting down almost as quickly as I picked it up. It seems like these mega popular free smartphone games are as disposable as I'd expected.

Cross these Flow Free: Bridges links:
- Blog of game's developer, Big Duck Games
- Review at CNET
- A few more reviews at Metacritic

WayForward has built up quite a reputation for fun, colorful games featuring female protagonists, and I've been meaning to play through one of their earliest games, Shantae for Game Boy Color. The game was one of the last releases on GBC and has the distinction of being one of the system's most expensive cartridges (Video Games Price Charting currently has it sitting at $255). It's also the first of a series that would see two more sequels, with a fourth entry on the way later this year.

The game appeared on the 3DS Virtual Console a couple of years ago, and it's just as well because without save states the game becomes quite tedious. The game's world feels very lively and Shantae (our heroic half-genie), her various animal transformations, and the supporting characters are all memorable, but the way that towns and dungeons are linked together is somewhat problematic. Those areas are supposed to be challenging platform sections, but the platforming is unremarkable and generally consists of the most basic jumping from platform to platform, with an instant death if you fall into a pit. The sections are overlong, and falling causes you to have to return to the beginning of them. The enemies are annoying because they tend to be overpowered and take too many hits to defeat, and in most cases it's easier to just avoid them altogether. Shantae can collect baby octopi in each dungeon to add the ability to warp to each town, but if you somehow weren't able to create a warp point, having to traverse through these areas more than once gets to be really boring. There are items you can buy to help alleviate some of the tedium, but the items in the game aren't super helpful in general and you'd have to grind a bit to earn enough money to buy them anyway.

Dungeons are pretty fun in general. Each of them introduces new ideas, although each starts to feel a bit repetitive about halfway through. There are some minigames in the towns, although there's one required racing sequence that's frustrating and kills the game's momentum because it requires numerous trials in order to completely memorize it and execute it perfectly. 

All in all this was an entertaining start to a series. The amount of detail and the full-fledged world is very impressive, especially considering it's a GBC title. I'm looking forward more to the other entries, which I suspect will smooth out some of the rough edges of Shantae's debut. I've already started in on the next entry, Risky's Revenge, so I expect to be reporting on that before too long.

Whip your hair with these Shantae links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- PDF of instruction manual
- Walkthrough at GameFAQs
- FAQ at the Shantae wiki
- Some of the original concept art from WayForward

I'm a pretty big fan of classic literature, so picking up 100 Classic Books for DS was a no-brainer, esp. since I don't have a tablet (and I'm not planning on getting one anytime soon). The "game" was released very late in the DS's life-cycle, but in the US it came out after the release of the DSi XL, and its larger screens are much more suited to it. The collection has a very good selection of out-of-copyright titles, with plenty of old favorites like Pride and Prejudice and works by Shakespeare and Dickens, as well as quite a few books I'd never heard of.

There were different books included for the UK vs. the US edition (the entry on Wikipedia has a complete list), but to me the US edition seems to have a bit more variety and a better mix of books geared towards younger readers (e.g. books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, etc.). The release has a few basic options, such as adding music or ambient backgrounds, such as beach or fireplace sounds. There were also an additional ten books available to download and the ability to submit your ratings to a global ranking of the books while the DS still had Wi-Fi support.

There's not much more to say about this. I definitely enjoyed the convenience of having a selection of books at my fingertips while away from home, although in general I still prefer reading physical books. There are options for a small and a large font, and the large font worked fine for me (although I can't imagine the small font working well on a regular-sized DS). Because of the DSi's back-lit screens the books are more suitable for reading in darkness as opposed to in bright light, but otherwise I didn't have any problems with it. It would've been great if they'd included an option for white text on a black background, though. These are definitely not definitive versions of the books, as there are some obvious typos and they lack sufficient footnotes, but for $20 when it was released and much less than that now this is still a pretty good deal for its target audience.

Classic 100 Classic Books links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- Apparently you unlock the credits by reading 10 books
- Review at GoNintendo
- Review at Tiny Cartridge
- Segment about the release on ye olde Nintendo Week (Remember that? Haha.)
- Cheesy video advert on Amazon
- Entry on Metacritic
- There's also a DS title called Junior Classic Books and Fairytales that's targeted to kids, but it seems like a lot of it overlaps with this title

I've gotten a bit behind, so to catch up I sat down with yet another Tetris game, this time Tetris: Axis for 3DS (even though I'd already played Tetris DX for Game Boy Color earlier this year). The game was released October 2, 2011 in North America, so just about six months after the 3DS's launch. For whatever reason, although it was developed by Hudson Soft, it was published by Nintendo in North America but by other companies in Japan and the EU.

Anyway, I hadn't realized that Hudson Soft had also developed Tetris Party for WiiWare, which was later released at retail as Tetris Party Deluxe, for Wii and DS. (There was also a stripped-down version for DSiware called Tetris Party Deluxe that I'd played a couple of years ago.) Following all that? It turns out that almost all of the extra modes in the 3DS game are repeats or slight variations of those originally seen in Tetris Party (for a complete run-down of the modes, check out the articles on Wikipedia for Tetris Party and Tetris: Axis).

I should've played Tetris Party first, but in any case I found the new-to-me extra modes to be pretty creative and much more enjoyable than I expected. I'm in a minority, but I don't feel like Nintendo's own Tetris DS is the pinnacle of the series, and although that game is more polished than this one, this has many more modes, most of which are pretty enjoyable. There's a fun variant where the well is narrower than normal, which, surprisingly, makes you have to look at the game in a new light. There's also a mode featuring the "Bombliss" Tetris variant, which is basically Tetris with bombs and was apparently first seen in NA in the game Tetris Blast for the original Game Boy. I'm sure I'll be playing that game eventually so I didn't spend much time with it here, but it looked like it would be fun.

This game also lets you tweak a slew of options for pretty much every mode, including selecting a stage to start on. It has some pointless glasses-free 3D effects and some useless AR modes and a slew of pointless achievements that apparently don't even unlock anything, and the aesthetics are, frankly, pretty mediocre and much more DS quality than 3DS (which is probably not surprising since they had already developed a DS version).

One place where Tetris DS has the edge is in the Vs. with Items mode. The items in this game are pretty gimmicky and require you to use the touchscreen and blow in the mic, etc., but what really breaks this mode is that there's one item that allows you to exchange your board with your opponent's. So if you have that item it's too easy to just dump a bunch of pieces into your board to make it impossible to get out of and then quickly switch your board with your opponent's. It's an easy and cheap tactic, but I'm usually not a fan of Tetris modes with items anyway.

All in all this was a pretty fun version of the classic game we all know and love. The lack of polish in the presentation brings it down, but all the extra modes (including local Vs. and single card download play) make this worthwhile, esp. if you don't already have Tetris Party Deluxe on Wii or DS.

Revolve around these Tetris: Axis links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- Apparently the game was removed from the eShop, presumably to make way for its successor, Tetris Ultimate by Ubisoft. But the Page for Tetris: Axis is still on Miiverse
- Entry on Metacritic
- List of achievements at GameFAQs

My previous post was on a game called Red Herring, a game that I started off enjoying but quickly got annoyed with. The game is by a company called Blue Ox Technologies, and was preceded by their other, much more famous game called 7 Little Words.

Again, the premise of 7 Little Words is simple, but quite addictive. 20 tiles appear at the bottom of the screen and consist of groups of two to four letters. There are seven clues with the number of letters indicated for each, and you just have to put together the tiles to spell out each clue. The tiles don't correspond to syllables, so it's a really great way of distilling crossword puzzles (which I usually get bored with less than a fifth of the way through) into something quicker and more focused. As with Red Herring the game's focus isn't on monetizing hints or turns, but instead requires you to pay for more puzzle packs, which again seems fair to me. Also like Red Herring, there's a daily free puzzle (with the past two dailies available for free as well), for those people who are content with just playing a bit at a time.

I found this game to be much more satisfying than Red Herring. Although some of the clues can be a little off ("gift wrap" is not one word), for the most part the game doesn't try to make itself too difficult. In most puzzles there's usually one or two harder clues, but through the process of elimination you can usually figure it out. There was one puzzle in particular that had a few too many obscure clues, but that was an exception. Anyone who's played the game probably remembers that one. It was the one that had, among other things, "Norwegian porridge" as a clue. Apparently a lot of people have resorted to looking that up since "Norwegian porridge 7 little words" shows up as #2 in Google's engine auto-complete (the answer, by the way, is "ROMMEGROT"). For the most part if you're really stuck you can brute force your way to a solution by just trying all the different combinations of tiles that have the right number of letters, but, of course, as with crossword puzzles you can always just look up the answer online if you want.

I played through almost the entire first puzzle pack, consisting of 50 free puzzles, and a fair number of the daily puzzles, before calling it quits. This is a game that I enjoyed quite a bit, but not one that I feel compelled to continue playing. Being able to compare times to complete with your friends would have kept me interested a little longer, but in any case I'll keep it on my phone and will probably pick it up every now and again.

One little link for 7 Little Words:
Official site: Includes the daily puzzle, which can be played online. The game is also available in British English, French, and Spanish.