The GU iOS Game of the Week -- Fix-It-Up Eighties: Meet Kate's Parents

The GU iOS Game of the Week -- Fix-It-Up Eighties: Meet Kate's Parents

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 25th Mar 2012

Fix-It-Up Eighties: Meet Kate's Parents

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Fix-It-Up Eighties: Meet Kate's Parents is the next title in the well-established series of Time Management games 'Fix-It-Up' created for mobile gaming platforms, though it should be noted that this offering in the series is restricted to just the iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 4, iPhone 4i, and the 3rd and 4th generations of the iPod touch -- which are the platforms that it was intended to be played upon -- but there is a version for iPad as well.

For this review we played the game using the iPad2 and its 2X magnifier, and it was perfectly playable and fun, so unofficially you can add the iPad to the list of playable platforms but the publisher does not do that. Meet Kate's Parents for the iPhone can be downloaded for free from Apple's App Store, but costs $2.99 to unlock the full game, and includes 7 Free Play Levels (full levels that can be played after you download and install the game without paying to unlock it), with 38 additional levels that are available after the game is unlocked for a total of 45 levels of play in 7 unique locations. The iPad version can be downloaded for free from the App Store, and costs $4.99 to fully unlock.

There are 10 types of cars (and a half-dozen different types of emergency vehicle that will need repairing), and to accomplish all of the tasks and duties you begin unlocking new resources practically from the first level, and are confronted with the need to expand the number of employees and to train them for the different more advanced duties in the game quickly from there as well. Part of the limiting factors of the progress mechanism for game play is the need to maintain an adequate supply of spare parts -- which are required to complete almost every task related to the cars on your lot from painting and repair to customization -- and enough employees to fully staff each activity.

Like most modern mobile games for the iOS platforms, Meet Kate's Parents includes support of the iPhone 4 Retina Display system, as well as the Game Center which means that gamers can not only unlock the interesting variety of trophies and achievements that are built into the game, but can then share the word of their success via the Game Center and social networks like Facebook (there is a one-button push option to post your newest accomplishment directly to your Facebook Wall), and the game fully supports the new multitasking capabilities that were introduced with the release of iOS 4 and above -- which is kind of cool.

In addition to achievements (specifically called Trophies in the game) that range from cleaning or selling a specific number of cars, hiring targeted numbers of workers and building a specific number of new buildings, and earning a variety of targeted amounts of money either in your bank or through the specific revenue streams that are part of your business model, the game is structured with support for a number of upgrades that can only be achieved through hard work and completing the various levels within the target parameters, which takes the form of the Diner (available directly from the main menu after you have completed the first level) in which many of the upgrades are applied.

This addition to the series is a retrospective adventure that fills in the gaps in history from the previous games, revealing Kate's origins and the characters of her parents --- Frank and Mary -- who are well-grounded and basically hardworking and honest people who operate a business in which they purchase, fix, paint, rent, and sell cars in seven exciting locations. They do this by performing some of the duties themselves, but they also have a staff of employees -- in fact keeping the businesses well-staffed is part of the challenge in this game -- and in addition to the general repairing of customer cars, they offer custom tailored car design and accessories for their customers, who have very specific needs and expectations that must be satisfied. When Kate arrives home she finds that the business is in a little trouble, and to solve the crisis she needs to help her parents to expand their businesses by hiring more employees, expand the variety of services that they offer, and even complete special tasks and objectives like building holiday-themed displays as well as the buildings that are used to provide special services -- a paint building, detailing and customization building, and the like.

In addition to all of that a uniform system of goals are included in game play as part of the primary mechanism, and it is these goals (call them missions if you like) that actually control when a level is completed. Some are as simple as fixing up and customizing the right cars to fill the parking spaces in order to ensure that the rental side of the business is uniformly earning a targeted amount of money, or purchasing and customizing a specific target number of taxi cabs, estate cars, or trucks, while others are as basic as reaching a specific dollar amount in profits, or in completing a specific target number of actions, like washing X number of automobiles, customizing X number, or painting X number. To complete these tasks though, the player will need to keep a steady stream of automobiles flowing through the facility, making their way from the repair garage to the paint booth, then the customization building and finally on the lot to be sold, with temporary stops in the main parking lot where they might get dirty and need to be washed, or get rented out to a customer.

The Time Management genre is a popular approach for mobile games as it provides the ideal mixture of gaming in small chunks, and in that respect seems to be ideally suited to mobile games -- with examples ranging from managing a restaurant, such as as the Stand O' Food series, spa and beauty salon games in which the gamer juggles multiple characters like Bear Spa being a classic example. There are games in the genre that focus upon education, farming (like the Farm Frenzy series), and even shopping -- but this one is focused upon automobiles and the servicing, cleaning, renting, and selling -- with a little modifications and pimping added to the mix -- which makes it a fairly complicated game to play even without the cliches and stereotypes that place it squarely in the 1980's (or tries to anyway). The point to this is that it is a very well-established genre in gaming, and particularly in mobile gaming, with an established and easy to measure quality system, making the process of reviewing games in the genre a fairly straight-forward and even easy one.

This title is part of a series of games called 'Fix-It-Up' that includes Fix-It-Up: World Tour, and Fix-It-Up: Kate's Adventure, being the third game in the series whose focus is the protagonist Kate, a young and attractive college-educated girl whose parents own an automobile lot that offers a variety of car services like repairs, customization, and painting, and also rents and sells cars, and occasionally offers fleet maintenance services to regular customers like taxi and limo services. The general focus of the game play mechanics in these games revolves around the need to deliver specific services while working within the limitations that are present, like having only so much room for parking cars, being able to sell them only one at a time, and the need to keep them clean and well-maintained so that they continuously serve as a source of income for the business.

If this sounds dead-easy you have probably not had much experience with the time management genre -- because the above only describes what is mostly the static element of game play -- and when you add in missions, quests, special actions and goals, and the series of objectives that are added as the game progresses, you can easily find yourself focusing upon half-a-dozen goals at any one time, while still needing to maintain the flow of the normal business actions that are the underlying mechanism in the game. Then there is the timer that is always ticking away in the background and that, naturally, has a significant impact on how well you score and how much money you make, that also serves as a way to ratchet-up the pressure and you will start to see why these games are challenging (and fun!).

A Little Hand's-on Gaming

Establishing the time in which the game is set is managed in a number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, from the loading screens that feature iconic objects like a Swatch, a Rubics Cube, an old-style tape-based answering machine, and imagery from post cards (who uses those anymore?!) and the distinctive quill pens from Arrow or Parker that for some odd reason became vogue in the 1980's -- and of course there is the very distinctive techno pop-music with which the game is scored that instantly causes any gamer who actually survived the 1980's (was there I mean) to experience flashbacks of Jan Hammer's New Wave and techno soundtracks from Miami Vice, and the short and punchy songs that had even people who knew they couldn't dance taking to the dance floor in large numbers (Ooh! Bad memory! Bad! Go away!).

The first impressions that formed as the game loaded -- and you should bear in mind that we have not played any of the previous games in the series so had no idea of just what to expect from it -- was partial shock from the massive hit of cheesiness that exploded on the screen as what can only be described as a retro-crafted old school series of animations presented themselves as the opening cut scene (CS) for the game. Picture in your mind the early episodes of Speed Racer that were originally voiced in Japanese with the English dubbing making no adjustments to the animation, so the mouths just sort of moved to their own tune regardless of what was being said, and you have a good mental picture of the CS's in this game... But before you frown, don't. It appears that the effect was absolutely intended -- and meant to reinforce the old-school retro feel of the game, which it does very well!

After that most of the dialogue for the transitions takes the form of text boxes on the screen, which is another effect very common in early computer games for the PC, Commodore C=64, and Apple -- and is nicely done here, reinforcing the retro feel and adding a bit to the character of the game itself. Cheesiness and all, the overall effect is a positive one, and by the time the game action actually begins we expected it to remain consistent with the retro approach of the opening, and it did!

As is the case with all good modern games the developers here eased us into the game play process by introducing the different mechanisms that are used a few at a time so as not to overwhelm us, and with each following level added a new mission, action, or detail so that as the game progressed so too did the complexity, until we were comfortably firing along doing six different things all at the same time, and finding the personal pace required to make that work. The ever-present timer in the lower-left corner is reinforced by the colored star to let you know that there are only so many minutes or seconds left for you to accomplish the goals that are listed by icon along the upper left side of the screen -- completing the goals within the time allotted being worth a much higher score than not -- but of course even if we missed getting it all done in the time available we could still complete each level, but at a lower score.

In between cameo appearances by 80's TV icons and the nearly endless stream of cars that stop in front of the business on the street for you to examine and, if you decide it is a good deal, purchase, the process of maintaining the flow between the repair rack, the paint shop, the customization center, and the parking lot, where cars temporarily join your rental fleet until you decide to sell them via the spots in front of the lot -- keeping the profits flowing so that you can expand the business, add employees, and maintain a ready supply of parts required for almost every action. In the midst of this, keeping an eye out for the special actions like buying and pimping taxi cabs or buying and flipping Estate Cars, a series of special goals will pop up with enough frequency to keep you on your toes pretty much throughout each play session.

For the most part the pace and the challenges are good -- as is the game itself -- but there are some downsides to it... One of the more obvious has to do with the genre -- this is a time management game, and the point is completing the actions and working towards the goals as quickly as you can, despite the fact that every now and then you will play a level where you want to spend some time building up the business, adding to your rental fleet, and just taking your time with play, which you really cannot do and expect to hit all of the marks and score well. Sigh. But considering that this is the only regret encountered in the game, that is actually a good thing.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Meet Kate's Parents is the fact that its play style is perfectly suited to playing in small chunks of time, with the average level easily completed in the five to ten minutes that most casual gamers tend to have to spend on this sort of game, with no downside to playing it in gaps of time. Treating each level as an individual gaming opportunity in no way adversely impacts the momentum in the game, which means that you can easily rotate between playing it in small chunks and playing in longer sessions without that changing your impression of the game -- which for us was overwhelmingly positive.

We give Fix-It-Up Eighties: Meet Kate's Parents a solid Two Thumbs Up!