November 24, 2017, 10:35 pm
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NOT JUST POKÉMON GO: 6 free games that made 2016 fun

For this year starter piece, I depended entirely on my consultants for the choices made. My children. Their ages range from 24 down to 10 years old. All the choices I believe are sophisticated and well thought of. Games have a tendency to be addictive and disparaging at times. 

Though disconnecting the player from the real world is deliberate, these choices, including Pokémon Go are well grounded and defensible.

When I say free here, I mean the games are not tied to my credit card. So unlike the Steam propelled games that regularly show up on the monthly bill, these games are also a form of financial liberation for parents.

I’d like to say that the criteria for selection are educational, engaging and entertaining but it is not. It is just plain entertainment, easy emancipation (from the drudgery of a bus ride or a boring wait at the doctor’s lounge) and must be available on the App Store, Google Play and the Windows Store. 

By the way, because these are free, ads pop up at the most inopportune times, and in the most disgusting of places (like the middle of the screen). My advise is just keep clicking the ads. Don’t let these 30 seconders get into the way of the fun. This is how games are, well, free. Let the ads run then rush to the bathroom or make a sandwich instead.

While Pokémon Go is officially not included in this countdown, let me just say that this app changed the game and how people to use their devices differently. Nintendo’s Wii made people move with games that emulated tennis, gold, running, exercising. Pokémon Go caused players to fall into manholes, ponds, hit cars, lampposts but also interact in the real world, covering great distances in finding the pocket monsters. In the process pissing off other humans (usually non players) by the seemingly obtuse angle the players walked—head down, eyes fixed to the screen and moving forward.

The game switched a dying company’s animé franchise and using a Google start-up, Niantic’s augmented reality idea Ingress, converted a then lifeless app into a success story that has clogged both the App Store and Google Play servers in the billions of downloads. 

In fact, on the first day the game was released, about 6 million copies of Pokémon GO were downloaded in US, New Zealand and Australia, with this ground-breaking number of downloads Niantic had to pause the game’s release in other countries due to server overload. The Philippines received the game two days later on July 7.

Pokémon Go seemed to have lost steam, and the craziness has turned to sanity for many. Bloomberg reports that Pokémon Go is starting to lose the battle for mobile mindshare, based on a report by Axiom Capital Management’s Senior Analyst Victor Anthony in Reuters. Nintendo does not directly benefit from the success of the game app. And I am not sure how successful will it be in 2017.

For me, Pokémon Go’s real success is how it connected the 14-year generation gap between my five children. Off the dinner table, you can hear my 10-year old Darrel discuss with his Kuyas and Ate his latest haul of the digital critters. This experience of “catchin ‘em all” is better than ever. 

Game No. 6: Hillclimb Racing (versions 1 and 2). It is the most irritating, intolerable, hair-pulling game. Play in on your mobile device and it hits you. In the neck. The sound of a cracking spine is disturbing. 

The game, by Fingersoft has frustrated over 500 million people worldwide. I’d like to say it teaches persistence and patience. But in a different way. The peristence not to be beaten by the surreal physics the game has. And the patience not to throw your device away in frustration. Version 2 adds two-dimensional graphics and a “green screen” background to the playing experience. But it is as frustrating as heck.

Why is it in this list? Simply because. It is fun.

Game No. 5: Bejeweled Stars. With all the invites to play Candy Crush Saga, I decided that it is a winner in a category of its own and cannot qualify for this list. Puzzle games, after all, should be puzzling and a bit frustrating. All these games are built on the same game play idea of Tetris, the idea to watch objects and fill spaced. 

So Electronic Arts (EA)’s Bejeweled Stars is the puzzle game to frustrate all puzzle games. Now it is shifts from the series’ classic gem-swapping design but is strangely familiar to Candy Crush.

Bejeweled Stars difficulty curve is gradual, less frustrating. Thus a more mature audience can play it without getting into a fit of anger or a heart attack. Senator Enrile should be happy with that because the previous Bejeweled’s gameplay was below his intellectual level. The game is built that at some point, the player must spend something (ranging from P10 to P50) but invest a little more patience and you won’t need your credit card at all.

Game No. 4: Asphalt Xtreme. My third son Deriq, who is a member of the UP Gamer’s Guild reintroduced me to a game we played when they were younger—Colin McRae 2 and Dirt 3 Racing. The problem is it costs some money to download (P54 and P99 respectively) so they are not qualified for this countdown. 

Gameloft’s Asphalt Xtreme on the other hand is free! It has the sized-down look and feel of the desktop or console games version. On a mobile device it is still as awesome though the game play itself is reduced. But not to worry, one day a VR version may come out with a Bluetooth controller and it will be even more impressive.

What is very much liked are the impressive graphics and forceful driving action.  

Game No. 3: Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes. It used to fill in every waking moment of my youngest son’s vacation time. He played Plants vs. Zombies so well that his classmates would ask him tips and techniques on how to battle the Zombies on attack mode.

PopCap’s still popular Plants vs. Zombies games has a new brilliant game play. Harbored as the “next epic battle between doom and bloom,” the Heroes version includes build a team of heroes with collectible electronic cards. 

The younger generation will understand the card game play. And the formula is effective in keeping the entertainment levels high. It retains the five-lane combat grid but adds unexpected special Zombie Tricks (which should be impossible considering the Zombies’ withered brains). 

Purchasing the card packs and starter bundles just makes things easier. Try plying through the whole game course then playing the strategies. It is more fun and costs nothing.

Game No. 2: Neko Atsume. If the games one plays is determined by one’s character, the there is no doubt why Hit-Point’s Neko Atsume my second son Diego’s favorite. The Japanese developer of this popular, free-to-play mobile game oversimplified caring. The objective of Neko Atsume is simply to care for virtual stray cats. At first I thought this was a mindless game but caring does not need a strategy, does it?

The more interaction is pleasant and rewarding literally. The more you care for and bond with the cats, the closer they become. Caring has its rewards—presents of gold or silver fish that can be traded for toys and food. These can be used to attract more cats—even rare ones. Update to the 2016 version of this game first released in 2014 and more rare cats will be available. 

The game play is adorable and cost nothing at all. Snap photos of your cats and create an album. Everything is socially sharable. And who would not want to share photos of cute cats.

Game No. 1: Minecraft. Minecraft changed my mind about my children lingering around the desktop for hours. It would be the virtual equivalent of packing up Lego blocks in the middle of building a tower. If no other toy like Lego or Meccano let loose my imagination, I see Minecraft unleash my children’s creativity. 

I’ve seen them spend countless hours modifying structures they build, chipping away at blocks, gathering the materials needed to complete the next house, barn, tower. The masterpieces of creativity are unregulated by the real world rules, but grounded on how the way the world works. So fascinating is Minecraft that Microsoft has been using it for sometime to teach programming. Indeed the fundamentals of programming are precisely like the building blocks of a flowchart. 

“Add this to build this. Take this away, change this,” Darrel told me.
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