Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iOS Gems! Today we’re taking a look at three new games: one is heavily based on the Infinity Blade series but features Marvel’s Hulk as the main character, the second is an attempt to bring aspects of Pokemon to iOS, and the final title is based on a popular TV game show.
None of the games this week was truly great, but Avengers Initiative and Little Masters both earned our general recommendation. Read on for the details.
The most straightforward way we can describe Marvel’s Unreal Engine-based Avengers Initiative ($7) is “reskinned Infinity Blade”—notably Infinity Blade, not Infinity Blade II—so there’s no need to belabor this review by repeating all of the features of Epic’s seminal 3-D one-on-one swipe-brawler. In short, you control Marvel’s famous green monster Hulk, who’s placed in modestly explorable 3-D environments with linear but lightly forking paths, tapping to move from point to point, fighting enemies along the way. Each enemy is effectively the same but for its body and life bar, requiring you to dodge attacks, then exploit weak points and stunned states by rapidly swiping or tapping. Marvel’s chief innovations on Epic’s formula are three in number: finishing moves that can be tap-activated to interrupt an Infinity Blade-style sequence of post-fight finishing swipes, step-away enemy attacks with “rage-” induced counter blows, and dramatically enhanced cinematics.
In truth, those cinematics—and Marvel’s choice of the Hulk—are the only real things that allow Avengers Initiative to stand on its own following the improvements found in Infinity Blade II. Fights are routinely interrupted by close-ups of the Hulk growling, pitching enemies through walls, and launching rage-fueled attacks that the game touts with on-screen praise. Because Hulk is an ogre, and his opponents are uniformly muscle-bound aliens, monsters, and robots, the game’s uneven and somewhat sluggish pacing aren’t as difficult to swallow as they might be for more lithe Avengers. Similarly, when Avengers Initiative repeats the now predictable Infinity Blade exploration premise of nestling treasure in backgrounds by scattering tappable ISO crystals as credits to purchase new powers and costumes, their presence helps to render tolerable Hulk’s plodding through less than thrilling environments.
While all of the graphics in Avengers Initiative are nicely detailed—even for Retina displays—and worthy of the Unreal Engine, they’re not quite up to Infinity Blade snuff in any way. Moreover, the game is solely built for the last two iPhones and iPads, with no support for earlier devices or iPod touches, yet sometimes suffers from frame drops and slowdown even on the latest devices. Respectably comic-epic music and audio samples do a competent job of keeping the energy level high.
Despite its very obvious flaws, Avengers Initiative is hard to dislike, though equally difficult to love. The intermissions, enemies, and levels are all formulaic but somewhat entertaining, much like the Hulk movies. And Marvel has made clear that this is the “first installment” of a series that will eventually add Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor as heroes, though it’s not yet clear whether their missions will be sold separately or bundled in for this game’s $7 asking price, a factor that might or might not enhance the title’s value going forward. On a related note, Avengers Initiative has no qualms about waving in-app purchases in your face: meager ISO crystals are dispensed as you walk and fight, but the game actively offers crystal packs and expensive costumes to encourage people to spend more money, a somewhat annoying cash grab. For the time being, we’d classify this as a good rather than a great start to what could be a big action franchise in the App Store; it’s solid enough to be generally recommendable as-is, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens with future installments before offering a more enthusiastic “grab this now” rating. iLounge Rating: B.
We’ve been waiting for a Pokemon-esque iOS title since the launch of the App Store, and while it’s clear that Nintendo won’t be moving any of its catalog away from its own platforms anytime soon, there are enough “inspired by” titles that a Pokemon-like game seemed inevitable. Riida.com’s Little Masters (Free) initially looks like just that title. Unfortunately, while some of the core concepts are similar, this freemium iPhone and iPod touch title didn’t quite live up to expectations as a wide-ranging RPG centered around battles between cute monsters. To be fair, Riida.com hasn’t directly made the Pokemon comparison itself, so we must evaluate the game on its own virtues. Since it’s free, the question isn’t whether Little Masters is worth your money, but rather whether it’s worth your time.
The game, which looks like something that would’ve been found on a later-generation Game Boy, begins with your unnamed character finding an egg outside his door containing a monster. Unfortunately, you never leave the front yard to explore the world—instead, it comes to you. Tapping on a bulletin board allows you to hire hunters to go find new monsters to fight. As time progresses, there are more hunters and higher level opponents. Winning matches sometime earns you eggs, which can be hatched in the barn attached to your house. Both hunting and hatching take time, but can be rushed along by spending gold coins which are earned through the game, or bought through in-app purchases; we would’ve appreciated push notifications to let us know when tasks have been completed. A mailbox can be tapped to bring up Game Center-powered multiplayer battles.
While the rest of the game is only somewhat like Pokemon, the battle system is almost identical. Each creature has its own type such as fire or dark, with strengths and weaknesses against the other types. A creature begins with only one attack move but gain more as it levels up by winning fights and earning experience points. If one of your battlers gets knocked out, you can substitute others from your five-strong team.
And that’s about it for the game. As time progresses and you strengthen your team, it does get a little tougher, but there’s no world to explore, and no characters to really interact with. For those reasons, it’s really not a Pokemon-caliber title. The graphics are bright, and the music’s sweet; just the game play is lacking. It’s fine for what it is, but we would like a lot more depth from the game. One odd aspect: the game requires a constant network connection, so iPod touch users will be limited in where they can play. If you just want something, anything, reminiscent of Pokemon on your iPhone, then go ahead and consider this one. Otherwise, wait for the inevitable next effort from Riida or another developer. iLounge Rating: B.
Activision Publishing’s iPad-, iPhone-, and iPod touch-universal Wipeout ($2) is based on the popular primetime ABC show of the same name—a game show based on competitors running through giant obstacle courses with plenty of juvenile humor thrown in. Your goal is to make it to the end without getting knocked off into the water. Players must try to beat the levels, split up over a number of episodes, as quickly as possible. There’s a standard play mode as well as time trials.
Wipeout has two in-app currencies: Ballsy Bucks and Smallsy Coins. The former can be purchased with real money and are used to unlock different characters and helmets that impart special abilities, while the latter are earned by completing levels, and are used to open up new levels, one of the more interesting aspects of the game. To play episode three, for example, it’s not enough to simply beat episode two. Instead, you must accumulate enough coins by replaying the levels and working on time trials.
The game’s four current episodes—place holders say two more are coming soon—are split into three levels. The first and third are simply speed runs where you can fall off the course as many times as necessary, while the middle only allows three attempts. Fall more than that and you have to start all the way back at the beginning of the episode or pay 1,000 coins to try again. Your avatar is controlled with swipe gestures at the bottom corners of the screen; the left side is used to move forward and back, while the right’s for jumps and dives. The obstacles are varied enough to be fun, although some including the show’s signature Big Balls make you rely more on luck than skill.
Although the cartoony three-dimensional graphics aren’t the best we’ve seen, they look good even on the third-generation iPad’s Retina display. There are occasional clipping issues where parts of your character’s body will move through the set, particularly when he or she falls. The surf-inspired soundtrack does get a bit tiring after a while, but matches what we’d expect from the show. In short, we were hoping to like Wipeout a little more than we actually did, finding it to be fun but not engrossing; we didn’t feel a strong pull to keep going. Perhaps with more levels, or at least a less convoluted system of moving to new episodes, it’d rate higher. As it is, it earns our limited recommendation. iLounge Rating: B-.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Horwitz. Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.