iPhone Gems: Bugs, Balloons, and Crystal Defenders
The flow of new iPhone games shows no sign of letting up, and though we’ve been playing a lot of them, we decided this week to focus on only four titles.
They range from a remake of a classic arcade game, to an iPhone version of a previously reviewed Click Wheel iPod game, a kid-friendly bug-squashing title, and a remake of a classic TI-83 programmable calculator game.
Griptonite Games has been on a roll with its remakes of classic Atari arcade games, and Centipede ($5) is no exception. The original arcade game had a tall screen with a trackball-controlled gunner at the bottom and waves of centipedes and bugs flowing from the top of the screen downwards. As the gunner, you tried to stop the bugs before they touched you; mushrooms littered the screen and absorbed your bullets.
On the iPhone, Centipede gets all of the expected upgrades: weapon power-ups, exploding enemies, obvious point bonuses, and plenty more going on at the same time on the screen. Griptonite has expanded the variety of bugs to include all sorts of different moving creatures, each distracting you from the goal of stopping the centipedes, and in some cases taking over entire stages in elimination challenges. Free the screen of spiders, for instance, and you’ll move on from one stage to a more traditional centipede-blasting stage. It breaks up the monotony of the original game, which is offered in classic form alongside the full-tilt Ultra mode and a less energetic but still updated Arcade mode.
If there’s any slight failing in Centipede, it’s that the developers decided—perhaps wisely—that the player shouldn’t have to keep hitting the fire button. There is none; the gunner keeps firing at all times. Given the nature of Centipede as a game, and especially the Ultra mode’s intensity, this makes sense, but it also relegates you to doing little more than fingering your gunner up and down, side to side to shoot and avoid getting zapped. There’s still enough here to keep players very entertained, though, and between the nicely updated graphics and sounds—including music—we suspect few people will complain. iLounge Rating: B+.
As we noted earlier this week, Square Enix has released both a $5 Click Wheel iPod title called Crystal Defenders and a same-named, $8 iPhone version with less than spectacular controls. A demo version called Crystal Defenders Lite (Free) has also appeared, allowing iPhone users to sample the title for themselves before making a purchase. Our advice would be to give the Lite version a shot.
Expanding on our Click Wheel review of the game, Crystal Defenders is part of the “tower defense” game genre in which you’re presented with a map, a collection of weapons, and a “tower” or map exit to defend. Then you’re given turns to set up or boost your weapons using money generated by defeating hordes of enemies who move from one side of the map towards your tower or exit. Every turn, the enemies get tougher and/or faster, so you need to keep building up your weaponry to stop them from breaching your defenses.
Crystal Defenders is a Final Fantasy-inspired tower defense game. Whereas the iPod version includes 200 maps, the iPhone one has 300, starting with the iPod’s stages and adding additional, more challenging ones—this is the only real justification for the higher price. Because of the Final Fantasy theme, you choose from a collection of different types of characters rather than just weapons, and place them on certain positions on the map that you’re allowed to populate. Crystal Defenders provides the road for the enemies to follow, as well as the enemies, and you need to just fill the sides of the road with heroic characters to defeat the waves of enemies. This pattern continues on and on as you level-up your characters and increase their numbers.
Though we’re not rating the iPhone version right now, Square’s design work on the title leaves something to be desired: it appears to have been designed for the iPod and sloppily ported to the iPhone, with the top half of the screen serving as the playfield and the bottom as an oversized, mediocre approximation of the iPod’s Click Wheel controller. As with the fourth-generation iPod nano, turning the iPhone or iPod touch on its side results in a reorientation of the graphics, but in this mode, you lose control over the game and can only watch passively as the waves of enemies get attacked by your heroes. Your control is a fast forwarding button, because apparently Square didn’t want to go through the effort to create a real touch-based interface for the game. Very disappointing.
That aside, the core gameplay and Final Fantasy themes here may be enough to draw fans of the series in, regardless. Give the demo a shot if the concept interests you.
Smart developers find ways to create family-friendly versions of games in potentially objectionable genres. Dreamhive Animation Studio’s Squish Squash ($4) is essentially a first-person shooting gallery game, minus the guns. There’s a piece of food on the ground, attracting bugs of various shapes, colors, and sizes to come and gnaw at it. You need to use your finger to squash the bugs before they finish eating the food, and they keep coming in waves.
Beating the bugs is fairly simple: every time one appears, you need to touch it to squash it. But between the different sizes and movement patterns of the bugs, you’ll need to really keep moving and making smart judgments: you need to hold down for a while to squash big bugs, hit the screen multiple times to get small, jumping ones, and clear out the rest with quick stabs. The guts of the big ones splatter and slow smaller ones down, too. It’s actually a good idea, helped by 100 levels and a very nice graphics engine: everything’s in nicely detailed and shaded 3-D, with art that generally looks like it could have come from Nintendo’s Pikmin series. Time-of-day lighting effects and comically fun music add to the appeal.
The only problem is the control. Using your finger to squash is most of the game, but moving around the environment—panning, zooming in and out, and so on—is another, helping you to get to the sources of the bugs and find ones that might be lingering around the garden locales. Unfortunately, the panning and zooming controls aren’t as elegantly or smoothly implemented as they could be, so trying to squash and move feels a bit off.
That issue won’t be a dealbreaker for younger players. This is a fun little title with a safe theme and very good graphics; with more types of bugs and better controls, a sequel could be even better. iLounge Rating: B.
The last of today’s titles is Up There ($2) by Veiled Games, a game that’s extremely simple and family-friendly. Up There is inspired by an old calculator game called Fall Down, where the screen was on a forced scroll and the player had to keep a character sliding through holes in platforms in order to avoid being squashed at the top of the screen.
Here, you control a balloon that escapes from a cage on the ground floor of a house. On a forced, quick, and continuous vertical scroll, it keeps moving upwards through holes in myriad platforms inside a house, then outside into the sky. Tilting the iPhone makes the balloon move left or right to go through the holes, and the game ends if you miss a hole and get squashed at the bottom of the screen by a platform. You’re scored on how long you survive, eventually floating off into the night sky.
Normally, the gameplay in Up There wouldn’t be anything worth writing about—it’s really simple—but Veiled Games has obviously put a lot of effort into creating interestingly stylized classical background art and a matching soundtrack that comes to life with the sound of an old-fashioned radio powering on. Ingenious? Amazing? No. But Up There is visually interesting, just challenging enough, and compelling while it lasts—a fitting $2 iPhone title. iLounge Rating: B.
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