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Daily iPhone App: Solara stands out from the clash of clones

Clash of Clans is one of the freemium sim titles making lots of money on the App Store, and so it's no surprise that the market has been flooded with clones lately; games where you build up a town Farmville-style, and then send troops from that town out into the world to complete quests. Solara is one of these: You use gold earned by building shops in town to create more buildings and unlock heroes, and then you can use those heroes to defeat monsters and earn more gold. But what sets Solara off from the rest of games like this on the App Store is its design and charm. This isn't just a generic freemium title. First time iOS developer Esper Labs has put plenty of heart into the different facilities you build and the heroes you level up, and that extra effort makes the game's familiar cycle shine.

Unfortunately, Solara still leans a bit too much towards the casual side for some hardcore fans -- personally, I'd like a little more action in the battles. As it is now, they essentially just play out without any input from the player, which can be frustrating when you've made a mistake lining up your team. Most of the depth comes from choosing your heroes to fight, which all have different skills and strengths. But it'd be nice to see a developer try to really make the periodic fights in these games actual tests of skill or game knowledge, rather than just animations (which are skippable, even) playing out as they go.

Still, Esper Labs is looking for that huge Clash of Clans audience, and that audience is completely fine with just letting the game play itself. If you haven't tried one of these games yet, or maybe have gotten tired of just playing CoC all the time, Solara's worth a look. It's a well-made game with a cycle that's just as addictive as always, and of course it's free to play. I do wish, however, that instead of just adding its design talent to the standard formula, Esper Labs had tried to add a little bit more.

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