Is the mobile gaming market oversaturated? From most angles, it certainly looks that way. Nevertheless, it remains a great avenue for aspiring game developers and depending on the game, can be rather profitable. Brisbane-based indie team Ghostbox are one of the newest to test the waters, releasing the aptly-named Ghostbox Double Combo. The combo consists of Cannon Courier and Knight Marshall and costs US$0.99, which in itself is a pretty good deal considering most standalone games cost that much. But price aside, what about the rest of the game? Press on to find out, dear reader.
The first game of the pair, Cannon Courier, is a little puzzle title that sees you navigating a blue, mustachioed mailman through a series of cannons in order to reach the mailbox in what seems to be the neighbourhood from hell. The catch of the game is that you don’t control the courier directly but rather activate the cannon he is in to get from point A to B. To make things more interesting, there are numerous cannons that move in different ways, such as in 90-degree intervals, in a semi-circle or counter-clockwise, turning it into an exercise in timing. Later levels also introduce multiple paths, some of which may actually improve the time taken to complete the course. Conversely, there are a few that can send you back a fair bit in the stage, forcing you to memorise which path not to take. These take a fair bit of brainpower as all the areas look the same, so the only way to remember how far into the stage you are is to remember the patterns of the cannons. Whether this was intentional or not is debatable, but it certainly extends playtime, albeit by a couple of minutes.
At its core, Cannon Courier is a lot of fun. Unfortunately though, it’s incredibly short and I have no doubt that this is what might disappoint people, especially when so many mobile games are built for longevity. The game does attempt to alleviate this somewhat by offering either Gold, Silver or Bronze medals depending on how quickly you complete a stage. This is tied to how much money you receive as a reward, but there isn’t much you can do with it, aside from purchasing costume additions for your little blue man. It would have been interesting to see elements like in-stage collectable items (think of something like the coins from the Mario series), which could encourage players to explore and replay stages.
The other game, Knight Marshall, is something very different and plays like an action-based version of Plants vs. Zombies. Playing as a knight, you must defend your castle (and yourself) from various spooks that appear. Controls are simple; by tapping on upper or lower half of the left side of the screen, you can make your knight move into one of the lanes to tackle the baddie heading your way. Tapping one of the three buttons on the right side of the screen performs an action for one of your abilities: a sword, a spell that summons vines and a shield. It isn’t just about tapping the buttons willy-nilly though, as different enemies can only be defeated with particular abilities. Using the shield is easy enough as it reflects projectiles, but there isn’t a lot of distinction about when to use the sword or the vine spell as they both seem to have the same reach, which does lead to a lot of unwarranted damage taken.
On that note, the castle and your character have two separate HP counters, which is something I quite liked as it can be employed strategically. For example, if you were getting swamped defending one particular lane, you might decide to let the castle take a hit before attempting to attack back. I also liked the tutorial, which is well done and has just the right learning curve and making the game feel challenging. Unlike Cannon Courier, Knight Marshall also doesn’t have an end point, making it more of a survival game. While there is enough variety in the enemies and the idea of having three different core weapons is good, the fun soon wears thin as their isn’t much incentive to keep playing. The game probably would have benefited from some kind of score-sharing integration, but that’s something that can be easily added with an update.
Audio-wise, both games are decent and I’m not afraid to say that I can recall the song played through the whole of Cannon Courier with startling ease. Graphically though, neither of the games are very impressive, with the character models looking rather blocky and fuzzy and the user interface quite unappealing (but totally functional). However, considering the fact that both games are student projects, the standard of the visuals of the game is quite understandable.
Overall, is a pretty good attempt at breaking into the cut-throat market of mobile games. The fact that Ghostbox decided to offer two games at the price of one is a great one and for more than just the reason of value for money, with the main example being that the longevity problems that Cannon Courier has is countered by the infinite replayability of Knight Marshall. The current reviews on the App Store and Google Play are a good indication that Ghostbox have something solid on their hands and hopefully this is more than enough encouragement to go out and do some great things.