iOS Gems: Dark Sky, Nick Jr Draw & Play, Princess Fairy Tale Maker + Speedway Racers
Welcome to the second half of our latest edition of iOS Gems! Today, we’re taking very quick looks at a bunch of different apps and games, including several edutainment titles for kids, a few games, and a few useful apps for adults. The first piece looked at Bizzy Bear Builds A House, Color Splash Studio, Cuboid: 3D Puzzle Game, Display Recorder, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally, and Zombie Carnaval; this piece looks at five more titles.
Our top pick in this collection is Nick Jr Draw & Play HD from Nickelodeon, and Dark Sky also merited a strong general recommendation. Read on for all the details.
Traditional weather forecasting applications are a dime a dozen—free if you have an iPhone or iPod touch—so there needs to be a pretty good justification to spend even $1 for a weather app. Jackadam’s new Dark Sky ($4) might be a little expensive, but it delivers actual value: it focuses on tracking storm and rain activity for the next 24 hours, providing you with a colored weather radar, attractively presented text summary, and a sometimes animated precipitation graph. Using dewpoint and temperature information, the app can tell you in advance whether there will be rain within the next 3 hours, later in the day, overnight, or next morning, and will notify you within minutes if rain’s about to start. Unlike many weather apps, Dark Sky has separate and impressively designed interfaces for the iPad and iPhone/iPod touch, and though it’s designed to be a quick reference tool focused on your current location, it includes a show-off mode that takes you to a storm elsewhere so that you can see how everything works. While we’d like to see multi-city tracking and a lower price, what’s here is a very good start, and potentially worth the investment if you place a high value on staying dry at all times. iLounge Rating: B+.
Paralleling the still-great iPad kids’ art app Drawing Pad, Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr Draw & Play HD ($4) is a considerably deeper alternative for children—and particularly well-suited to fans of the channel’s cartoons. Leveraging Dora, Diego, and other Nickelodeon characters for everything from pre-drawn background artwork and e-cards to stickers and black-and-white coloring book pages, Draw & Play HD also lets kids sketch with distinctive chalk, crayon, marker, charcoal, pencils, paint, and spray paint tools, as well as adding animated fireworks, splattertops, magical effects, and bouncing balls to their art. Each of the numerous tools comes in multiple colors, and brushes in different sizes, providing young artists with remarkable control over their creations; better yet, voiceovers explain every tool, and how to use every bit of the interface. Grab Drawing Pad first if you’re looking for a simpler app for younger kids; Draw & Play HD is a big step up and equally worthy of its higher price. iLounge Rating: A.
With an impressively drawn and animated Duck Duck Moose introduction that’s fitting for the long-time maker of iOS edutainment apps, Princess Fairy Tale Maker ($2) has appeared as a streamlined drawing and sticker app for girls, complete with the developer’s classic touches—beautifully arranged storybook background music, clean artwork, and a fairly straightforward user interface. The “Fairytales” section of the app provides a collection of lightly animated, colored backgrounds that kids can decorate with crayons, colored pencils, and all sorts of stickers, while “Coloring” has a separate collection of black and white pages that can be tap-filled with flat colors, static patterns, animated patterns, and stickers. Each mode lets you record audio samples, save your creations, and save images to your photo library. While there’s nothing particularly new in this app’s UI, the artwork is universally solid, the tools are generally easy to use—with the exception of the non-pinch, no rotation sticker interface—and the princess/fairy tale theme will be appreciated by young girls and their parents. It’s a very cute little art program for kids. iLounge Rating: B.
We wanted to get excited about Crescent Moon Games’ impressively 3-D-rendered overhead driving title Slingshot Racing ($3), but the initially semi-interesting concept—control a racecar by grappling hooking around trackside pivot points—gets boring pretty quickly, despite the developer’s attempts to make the levels more than just simple competitive races. Some of the levels feature cog pickup challenges where you’re supposed to gather items by precisely pulling yourself towards one side of the track or the center at a given point; others are multi-car races, and others are time trials or sudden death pursuit challenges. Unfortunately, the deliberately indirect control scheme robs the levels of the fun they might have offered with conventional steering: as the game’s name implies, you have to tap over and over again to slingshot your car through the courses, attempting to retain momentum while letting go at the right time to avoid grappling into walls or other vehicles. Fans of Rocketcat Games’ Hook family of platforming games may find this to be a neat twist on that theme, but we missed the ability to enjoy conventional steering or acceleration, and found the upbeat but uninspired music too little to inspire continued play on its own. iLounge Rating: C+.
If you loved Sega’s classic arcade game Daytona USA, you’ll instantly recognize Lock Stock Games’ Speedway Racers ($2) as a direct clone—though a regrettably soulless one. Arguably Sega’s most famous racing title, Daytona placed players in control of a stock car that waged intense battles against a fleet of up to 39 competitors, and its arcade sequel upped the ante with considerably enhanced graphics and new tracks. Speedway Racers has borrowed quite a bit from Daytona, though it’s limited to eight cars at once and falls back visually to the first game’s graphic sophistication: the polygonal models and some of the tracks look suspiciously similar to ones in Sega’s mid-1990’s titles, albeit with less impressive textures, no special effects, and most of the distinguishing trackside details removed. What’s left are some generic rock background music, five tracks (and reverse versions) to speed through, and decent tilt-based controls that aren’t as satisfying as the best steering wheel or joypad alternatives Sega came up with. While none of what’s here is compelling enough to merit a $5 or $10 purchase, just enough of the original essence of Daytona has survived to justify a $2 asking price. Given the long shadow Daytona USA continues to cast on the industry, we wish Sega would follow this developer’s lead and create something better for iOS devices. iLounge Rating: B.
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