A few years ago I'd played two puzzle games on Android, both by a developed called Blue Ox Technologies. The games were 7 Little Words and Red Herring, and the former was more about figuring out words based on crossword-puzzle-like clues, whereas the second was more about grouping words into Jeopardy-like categories.

Based on these games Amazon's recommendations suggested I try out the game Bonza, and it's easy to see why. The game, by Australian developer MiniMega, probably wasn't designed to be a combination of the two Blue Ox games, but its gameplay is reminiscent of (and superior) to both. Bonza is easy to pick up and understand. Like 7 Little Words you have a set of pieces of words to put together, but instead of individual clues like in a regular crossword, the words all connect to the puzzle's category. The words connect horizontally and vertically like a crossword, and each puzzle has a really nice pace where at first you're at a loss of where to begin (especially with the more cryptic clues), but as you figure out more and more words your momentum build up right until you slot in the last piece. The design is minimalistic (perhaps a little bit too much so as the game has only a few sound effects and lacks even background music), but it's satisfying to put together words even for the straightforward puzzles (e.g. colors).

The larger puzzles can be take quite a bit of brain power to solve, but the game offers up free hints given out just for watching an ad. The game offers up plenty of free puzzles as well as a daily free puzzle. You earn in-game coins from completing puzzles, and you can unlock additional packs from these coins once you've accrued enough.

Bonza was a pleasant surprise, and one of my favorite word-based smartphone games Ive come across thus far. It looks like it'll take me a good while to get through the free puzzles, and by then I wouldn't mind throwing some money at the developers for what is a wholly enjoyable word puzzle game. The game is available on the Apple Store, Google Play, and Amazon, so it should be easy to track down if you're interested.

I usually avoid unofficial fan-made spin-off titles, but my friend had Newer Super Mario Bros. on his Wii and we ended up 100%ing the game over quite a few sessions. The game doesn't require any hardware mods, which is a big plus. I haven't played many co-op games all the way through in general, and 4-player co-op has been a feature of the NSMB series since the second game (New Super Mario Bros. on Wii, which this game is based on). So that was fun in itself, but the game has become well known for a reason: it's really well done and has some great surprises.

Newer Super Mario Bros. came out before the fun Super Mario Maker on Wii U, but the concept is pretty much the same: making a bunch of new levels from familiar existing Mario elements and game mechanics. Unlike Mario Maker, though, Newer Super Mario Bros. also had a team of talented programmers and artists who created new elements and locales not found in the original Wii game. Some are from past games, such as the Hammer Bros. suit and the Angry Sun from Super Mario Bros. 3, and some are entirely original. A lot of the music is also taken from other Mario games, including spin-offs such as Mario Party.

As is more often the case than it should be, this fanmade game has more creativity than many of the Newer Super Mario Bros. games. Whereas that series has really stagnated after the Wii game and each iteration since seems almost identical to the previous one, there are plenty of fresh ideas in this game, including brand-new locales and level hazards, new boss fights, and fun variations on familiar enemies such as giant Goombas that cause the earth to shake whenever they take a step. The game also has several quality of life improvements, such as the ability to save at any time and a different color on the world map to indicate stages that have multiple exits.

The game is quite polished, and there were only a handful of times that a stage didn't feel quite like what a legit SMB stage would. We didn't encounter any bugs whatsoever, and although the brand-new assets don't match the visual quality of the originals, that doesn't detract from the overall experience. As fun as this game is, however, it did make me want to go back and revisit the original games, which I've been meaning to do for a while. I probably won't get to it any time soon, but one can hope. ;)

What? Another RPG already! I don't know why, but I've been playing a fair number of RPGs lately. Maybe the slower pace is more appealing to me in my advancing years, haha. Anyway, although I've gotten through the Paper Mario games at a decent rate, it's taken me a long time to get back to the second game in the Mario & Luigi series, called Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time and released for the DS at the end of 2005.

It's been many years since I'd played this game's predecessor, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, but even with the elapsed time the game felt overly familiar. Partners in Time makes use of the DS's extra buttons, and so instead of one button being used for Mario's attacks and one for Luigi's as in the first game, in this game the DS's added two face buttons (X and Y) are used for Baby Mario and Baby Luigi. The babies are a fun new addition, but most of the quartet's field moves are pretty much the same as in the previous game. The battle mechanics are pretty much the same as the previous game as well, although the special items you can use in battle (replacing the Bros. Attacks from the previous game) do make pretty good use of the fact there are four characters in your group. The game also makes pretty good use of the DS's two screens: at times each screen shows the two pairs of brothers in separate locations, and at other times one screen displays a map which is helpful for showing your progress through an area.

The story and characters have the same slapstick humor of the first game, although the game gets to feel quite repetitive by the time you've gotten the last of the bros' abilities. Additionally, as in the first game boss battles tend to drag on. I was pretty bored by the time I got near the end of the game and so I didn't quite finish it, but I'm looking forward to the next game, Bowser's Inside Story, which is regarded as a high point in the series. As usual, mariowiki.com is a great resource for info about the game and most other Mario-related topics.

SimCity is a highly regarded game that I've been trying to get motivated to spend more time with for ages. I have vague recollections of playing the game in a computer class in middle school as a pseudo-academic activity, but I didn't really remember anything about it. I played the SNES version, which was actually developed by Nintendo and adds fun Nintendo touches, like Bowser replacing Godzilla as a possible disaster, advice from "Dr. Wright" (an in-game rendering of actual SimCity creator Will Wright), regular unlockable gifts when hidden objectives are accomplished, and a Mario statue awarded for getting the highest city type (Megalopolis).

I know that plenty of people love this game, but even after playing it for several hours I still don't really see the appeal. The basic premise of the game is at its essence much like Conway's Game of Life, where the tiles you place succeed or fail based on what it's connected to and similar factors (e.g. how far away is the nearest police station, the balance of industrial vs. commercial vs. residential areas, etc.). Unlike Conway's Game, however, in SimCity you don't see the immediate effects of your decisions, and a lot of your time is spent just literally waiting for the next year to roll around so you can collect more money to build more stuff. I imagine with the infinite money cheat the game would be a bit more fun, but as it is I quickly got bored waiting for the months to tick by. You can use some of that time to peruse the plethora of charts and maps that help you track how your city is doing, but that gets pretty boring as well. Building up areas wasn't that fun to me either, as it seems like building a grid and just repeating patterns over and over again is the surest (and most mindless) way to getting the best score/population.

While I was waiting, I spent time reading the manual, which is extensive. It seems like neither the manual nor the game dive into the deeper mechanics of how the game works, which might have helped make things a bit more interesting, although I suppose you can figure out some of them through careful observation over extended periods of time playing the game. The game feels more like a piece of software than a game, although you can make your experience more game-like by choosing scenarios. Scenarios start you off with an already developed city and then a disaster strikes, and you're tasked with repairing the damage. This didn't appeal to me either, as there aren't really any rewards for success of penalties for failure.

I'm glad I finally can cross this one off my list, although this makes me a little warier of tackling other highly regarded games in the genre, such as the Civilization series. Those games seem to have more variables to control and things to do and a much wider range of events that occur, so I'll try to keep an open minded when I get around to trying those games out.

Plan your city with these SimCity links:
- PDF of the manual at replacementdocs.com
- Review of the Wii Virtual Console release at NintendoLife
- Soundtrack at vgmpf.com
- Extensive FAQ on GameFAQs, including the requirements for unlocking each gift
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Cool screenshot of someone's Megalopolis on Reddit

I know I just said something similar in my last post, but I can't believe it's already been almost six and a half years since I've picked up a Contra game. I ended up skipping ahead and trying out Contra Rebirth, which was part of a trio of Konami releases on WiiWare that revisited classic franchises. All three games seem to have gotten a positive reception, and Contra Rebirth definitely feels like a great homage to a classic series.

Contra Rebirth has all the great over-the-top run 'n gun action of the original games, and Contra super fans will probably recognize more of the references to previous games than I did. There are plenty of boss fights, and the first boss of the first game has another cameo in this game. Being able to hang from bars and climb up walls returns from previous games, and the game features a total of four playable characters (all play identically and two are unlockable) that will also be familiar to fans of the series.

I was thrown off by the fact you can't run and gun at the same time, although this isn't the first time a Contra game has gone with that design. There's no need for the Konami code since you can adjust the number of lives in the settings, and you get unlimited continues. The game only includes five stages, but on the normal difficulty it's still a decent challenge. There are three difficulty levels to start with, and beating the hard mode unlocks "nightmare" mode, which has an interesting mechanic. According to GameFAQs, in this mode "any enemy that you destroy will shoot a blue ring projectile in your direction, and the more enemies you kill, the more blue rings will spread all across the screen, which will make it harder to avoid the attacks."

WiiWare had some great games, and Contra Rebirth is definitely one of them, so much so that I would rank it at the top of my list of favorite WiiWare games. Contra games are fun in general and there's nothing like mowing down hordes of enemies with the spread gun with a buddy fighting alongside you. Of the Contra games I've played, Contra Rebirth is one of the best. It's colorful, full of action and fun, and has a nice set of options (and unlimited continues!).