iPhone Gems: Call of Duty, CrossFingers, Ghosts’n Goblins, Monopoly, Star Wars Trench Run | iLounge Article

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iPhone Gems: Call of Duty, CrossFingers, Ghosts’n Goblins, Monopoly, Star Wars Trench Run

Welcome to this week’s gaming edition of iPhone Gems, which we’ll describe as “the week we play catch-up” with a collection of significant new releases that appeared during vacation time this month. Five new titles are featured in Gems this week, including a first-person zombie shooter, a mostly third-person space shooter, an action puzzler, an action platformer, and a classic board game. They’re all noteworthy for one reason or another, as we’ll discuss below.

Our pick of the week is Mobigame’s budget-priced multi-touch puzzler CrossFingers. Read on for all the details.

Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies

 

Between the App Store’s ever-shifting prices and capacity for frequent upgrades, developers have spent the last year and a half trying to work out the right balance between charging fairly for their games and subsequently adding new features to entice additional features. Some have figured out how to do this, and others haven’t. An example of a company that hasn’t is Activision, which has just released Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies ($10), a promising first-person shooter that will be limited in initial appeal because of its high price, and then in subsequent value because of the shallowness of its gameplay.

 

You take control of a soldier whose building is being overrun by waves of Nazi zombies, and have the obvious task of shooting as many as possible to keep yourself alive and earning money for additional weapons and ammunition. Apart from using a familiar enough virtual joypad, virtual button, and swipe-for-head-turning control scheme to move around and shoot zombies, you find chalk weapon outlines on the walls to purchase additional guns, and need to continually reinforce wooden barricades near doors and windows to keep the attackers temporarily at bay. Wolves howl in the night, zombies let out their typical moans, and gunshots ring out as you hit the fire button. The controls manage to feel sluggish by comparison with titles such as Gameloft’s Modern Combat: Sandstorm, and apart from a less than totally smooth frame rate on pre-iPhone 3GS devices, there aren’t any major surprises in the aesthetics.

 

There’s only one building to defend in the $10 game - a surprise given the price - though Activision tries to stretch out its interest by forcing you to earn money to unlock its secrets, including a second floor with additional weapons and a filing cabinet scattered about; unlocking and going up to this floor essentially leaves all of the first floor’s doorways exposed so that the zombies can queue up to attack you en masse. Because of your need to replenish your ammunition, and to manage the zombie hordes coming up the staircase, you’ll either need to move between floors or accrue enough cash to buy and restock second-floor weapons. That’s it for single-player mode; three different multi-player cooperative modes are also included, but had glitches in our testing - Bluetooth supports two players but didn’t work properly, local Wi-Fi supports up to four players, and an online mode is supposed to allow multi-player networked play over Wi-Fi, but Activision hasn’t completed it yet.

 

Our general impression of Call of Duty is simple: rather than releasing this game with the sort of polish and depth it should have received for the asking price, Activision popped out a half-baked, pricey demo that would barely merit attention if it didn’t have the Call of Duty name going for it. In a particularly galling touch, the company has included an in-app purchasing scheme in hopes of cashing in on future updates: the game’s “Extras” section reveals that Activision plans to charge for additional levels, which might make sense in a $1 or $3 app but feels like highway robbery here. Skip Call of Duty until it drops significantly in price and fixes both its controls and multiplayer features. iLounge Rating: C-.

CrossFingers

 

Having released one of the very best iPhone titles of the past year in Edge, Mobigame has finally debuted a follow-up in the very different CrossFingers ($1), a 120-level puzzler which takes considerable advantage of the platform’s multi-touch functionality. In a nutshell, you’re presented with stage after stage of two-dimensional, single-screen “move the blocks” puzzles, and need to consider both fixed and moving obstacles in the process of dragging blocks from one place on the screen to another. The fixed obstacles are walls that have deliberately been sculpted to limit the blocks’ range of motion, and the moving obstacles are barrier blocks that need to be temporarily pushed aside to solve the puzzles. You complete a stage when all of the blocks have been positioned atop black holes in the floor.

 

Critically, the black holes match the shapes of the blocks you’re moving, and the blocks don’t disappear until all of the blocks have been assembled atop the holes. This means that you frequently need to push the blocks together, as in tangram games we’ve previously reviewed, and create larger shapes from the individual pieces. In later stages, you also need to hold one or two barriers open while moving blocks through, a challenge that explains the “CrossFingers” name—merely getting one block through a few barriers, then repeating the task, can be a real chore.

 

Where CrossFingers goes right is in its straightforward gameplay: levels are discrete, bite-sized tasks that can be completed with a little thought and practice in several-minute chunks. It’s let down by later level designs that sometimes err more on the side of busywork—hence the prior reference to “chore”—than fun, and many early levels that are too simple for words. With no music, simple graphics, and barely anything in the sound effects department, Mobigame never manages to reach the heights of style here that its prior game Edge accomplished within minutes of initial loading, but for the low price, CrossFingers is a neat little game, and worth checking out if the idea strikes you as interesting. iLounge Rating: B+.

Ghosts’n Goblins Gold Knights

 

We’re huge fans of Capcom’s various Ghosts’n Goblins and Ghouls’n Ghosts games—brutally challenging, stylish action-platform titles that helped to define game consoles such as the Sega Genesis, Super NES, and NEC SuperGrafx before hitting rougher waters in the 32-bit consoles, then resurging on the PlayStation Portable when its famed designer Tokuro Fujiwara returned for an updated outing. Unfortunately, the new iPhone and iPod touch game Ghosts’n Goblins Gold Knights ($3) is something close to an embarrassment to the series, and for whatever reason was pulled from the App Store after only a brief period of release. We review it here for reference, but we’re hoping that it’s getting fixed.

 

Virtually all of the games in this series have starred a knight named Arthur on a quest to rescue a princess, and progressed in a linear fashion through 2-D stages as Arthur runs, jumps, and pitches projectile weapons at various storybook monsters who fill dark and gloomy levels. The hallmarks of Ghosts’n Goblins titles have been secret treasure chests, many activated only by jumping in the correct place, and their contents: different weapons or evil magicians who transform you into an animal if they’re not shot or dodged quickly. Later games added double-jumps, multiple types of powered armor and special attacks, and the ability to fire weapons upwards rather than just left or right. Boss encounters were always dramatic, with huge menaces that needed to be hit in specific weak spots multiple times, and the quests generally started in graveyard-like settings before ending in hell-like flame stages and castles.

 

On a positive note, Ghosts’n Goblins Gold Knights has all of these features, and more. There’s now a second knight named Lancelot who adds the ability to kill some enemies by jumping on their heads like Super Mario, and unlike the sometimes evil levels of prior games, the stages here are extremely manageable, and aided by both multiple lives and multiple hit points before you lose your armor or upgraded gold armor. Familiar weapons from prior SNES- and post-SNES-era titles appear here, as do their powered-up forms that bring lightning strikes and other screen-blasting effects into play. You can decide for yourself whether the game’s easing of past, sometimes impenetrable difficulty levels is a good or bad thing; we’d argue that it’s right for this platform, given the iPhone’s target audience.

 

Unfortunately, just about everything else with Gold Knights is a mess. Even on the iPhone 3GS, the frame rate is sluggish, the graphics are otherwise sub-par, and the virtual controls are just not responsive enough, removing the precision and finesse that marked virtually every other title in the series. Rather than going with the beautifully detailed 2-D artwork that inspired almost slavish translation work on 16-bit consoles, Capcom here uses poorly textured 3-D art that looks as if it was generated for a pre-iPhone device, falling well short of the Sony PSP’s standards. Music and sound effects by comparison are entirely competent but uninspired, similar enough to older games in the series but without much punch. All of the aesthetic issues might be tolerable given the asking price if the gameplay felt right, but unlike the prior games, which punished poor play, Gold Knights feels as if the developers tried to compensate for obviously unresponsive virtual controls by bulking up your lifebar; astonishingly, they offer $1 in-app purchases of various types of invulnerability, in essence charging for access to Konami code-like benefits. At best, this is a decent attempt to resurrect a once beloved action series, but true fans will see this for what it is: another somewhat sloppy, mobile phone-quality rendition of a classic Capcom arcade game. iLounge Rating: C.

Monopoly

 

Price aside, we were excited when Electronic Arts released Monopoly Here & Now: The World Edition early this year, and between a price drop on that game and the newly-released title Monopoly ($3), fans of the classic real estate board game have a lot to love at this point. For those few people who are unfamiliar with the concept, Monopoly sees players roll dice to move a certain number of spaces on the perimeter of a square board, using money to purchase properties, create “monopolies” on same-colored properties, and develop buildings on them. Land on an opponent’s property and you’ll need to pay him fees; if he lands on your property, he’ll need to pay you. Whoever runs out of money first loses.

 

The new version of Monopoly is, in truth, the old version of Monopoly: it tosses aside the international properties, higher dollar amounts, and updated player pieces of the Here & Now version in favor of the classic board, prices, and rules—with small exceptions. By default, properties go up for auction if the first person to land on them doesn’t buy them outright, and EA includes other changeable house rules that can boost your initial cash, Pass Go salary, and initial slate of properties. There’s also a sophisticated property trading system that lets you aggressively swap cash and multiple properties with fellow players, negotiate alternatives, or decline bids. Wi-Fi and “pass ‘n play” multiplayer is available for up to four people, with two-player Bluetooth as a new option; three difficulty levels are available for those who want more aggressive single-player challenges.

 

Monopoly’s draw is simple: it’s a very competent rendition of the classic board game. But it feels as if it’s an aesthetically stripped-down version of the Here & Now release, downgraded with the old board, cards, and player pieces rather than given any additional gloss to make up for the muted colors. To the extent that both games can be had for the same price—and less than the $8 EA was originally asking for the first release—we’d pick Here & Now first any day of the week. But if you like the classic graphics or need Bluetooth as a multiplayer option, this version of Monopoly is a very solid release, and a good value. iLounge Rating: B.

Star Wars Trench Run

 

There have been exceptions, and notable ones, but as a rule, console and portable Star Wars games have seen more mediocre cash-in attempts than truly excellent releases. It’s no surprise, then, that Star Wars Trench Run ($5) from THQ Wireless is somewhat of a joke: an entire game built around the X-Wing attack on the Death Star from the original Star Wars movie, artificially segmented into five boring stages. But not for its aesthetics, which are a marked improvement on the aged vector arcade game but not on the myriad Factor 5-developed shooters, Trench Run would be a complete throwaway for this platform.

 

Trench Run’s five missions include “Dog Fight,” “Cannons,” “Obstacles,” “Darth Vader,” and “Exhaust Port,” which are essentially the phases that see your X-Wing fighter approach the Death Star and TIE Fighters, then the cannons and half-walls in its trench, then the trench with Darth Vader in pursuit, and of course, the all-but-secret exhaust port that’s vulnerable to torpedos. You steer the X-Wing primarily from a third-person behind-ship perspective, tilting the iPhone or iPod touch to line up TIE and cannon targets, hitting a square zone on the screen to fire lasers, and sometimes hitting another zone to slow down the action when necessary. THQ provides no calibration option, so the game is generally played on uncomfortable viewing angles with less than ideal tilting angles for steering; you can switch to an in-cockpit view which is flat and basically unremarkable. The game’s action consists of shooting enough targets to move on, dodging Darth Vader when he’s behind you, and avoiding smashing into walls or cannons.

 

What THQ gets mostly right, not surprisingly, is the art and audio. Voice samples are clear and plentiful, while little video clips and in-game textures predictably draw from the movie well enough to evoke the right classic moments from Star Wars: the triggering of the Death Star’s planet-destroying beam, the walls and cannons in the trench, and the explosions of the TIE Fighters all look as they should. None of these elements is particularly exciting—there’s not a moment when you’re going to be wowed by the realism of Trench Run if you’ve seen any of the console releases of the past 10 years—but they’re all true to the film. Unfortunately, the game is shallow, with only 15 minutes of linear gameplay to offer, and the controls are just plain unsatisfying. Even for serious Star Wars fans, this hardly seems worthy of a $5 asking price; it’s yet another footnote in the history of the once widely-respected movie series, and really needs some improvements in order to justify players’ dollars or attention. iLounge Rating: C-.

Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.

 

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Comments

1

Thanks for taking time to write about Trench Run.  I appreciate your comments about the graphics and audio - I spent many hours on touches like that.

But I spent even more time of the flight controls of the game and the experience.  The game is not a cheap knock off from a great movie as you’ve indicated.  It’s well executed and a tremendous game play for being on a PHONE.

I agree, you should have your opinion, but unfortunately, it sounds like you needed to review a few apps, read one of the other reviews of the game and nearly copied from those posts.  The game has more than 15 minutes of game play in it.  If you play on Jedi, there’s no way you can beat the game in 15 minutes.  Never mind the arcade levels which are impossible to beat.

I do appreciate good/honest reviews - even if they’re negative, but this sounds like you put this through the cookie cutter - a quick review at our expense no less.

I challenge you to play as Darth Vader or play with the Millennium Falcon and tell me that the games’ boring.  It’s hardly borying, the graphics are great ESPECIALLY given the device it’s released on.

Plus, the game has either 5 star ratings or one star.  The reason?  The 3G folks got hosed on a memory issue.  If APPLE would approve our 1.1 fix, all of those 1 stars would nearly be 4-5 easily.  We’re at the mercy of apple on this unfortunately.

Also, we’ve contacted a few people who purchased the 3G version and have given them the updated version.  All reactions were turned from 1 star to 5 star ratings.

I’d appreciate a more thorough review and I think your readers deserve better than copied reactions from another review.

Posted by John Grden on November 30, 2009 at 3:26 PM (CST)

2

John: We don’t read App Store (or other) reviews of apps before writing ours, and the very suggestion that we somehow ripped off someone else’s review just to knock your title is offensive. What you’re probably seeing in “other reviews of the game” is other people feeling the same way: that this is a decidedly mediocre Star Wars title with very little value for its asking price.

As TouchArcade has referenced our reviews in the past, we’ll reference one of theirs, which the comments show that you’ve already seen:

“Overall, the game feels like a series of mediocre mini-games tied together by scenes from the original movie. While there are multiple difficulty levels, none of the individual gaming components were particularly compelling, so once we had made it through the campaign mode on easy (a 10-20 minute endeavor), we weren’t sure what there was left to do. The endless arcade mode does offer some added distraction, but quickly grows old as you realize you are just playing those same levels at increasing difficulty.”

Some games just aren’t worth more thorough reviews. This is one of them. Sorry. Attacking the reviewer isn’t going to change that, and certainly doesn’t make us more interested in your future products.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 30, 2009 at 4:02 PM (CST)

3

First, I appreciate your time on all of this, I don’t want to waste it by any means.

Its simply i that I’ve read nearly the same block of responses in “negative” reviews and I want to challenge people to make sure we’re not just getting a bandwagon approach.

I do apologize though, if It sounded like an attack (which, reading back, it certainly did).  I was glad about the comments in terms of visuals and audio.  We’d put a ton of effort into what little budget we had.  Not to mention the enormous bounds you have to make to get a Lucas title released.

Maybe as a helpful side note: we ARE planning on adding levels to the game.  So along side the memory issue being fixed, new levels and ships being added, we could look forward to a followup review?

As for touch arcade, their review was ok, except, they lean towards heavy games like Brothers in arms.  We intentionally did a game where it was easy to get in, have fun, and compete on never ending arcade levels when the user had time to spare.  So, I can see where people who are looking to spend 30 minutes+ on their phone would be dissapointed, but the stats on game play, time spent and types of games did not point to the longer/more involved types - hence why the game is structured the way it is

However, allot of people have asked/suggested more levels and ships.  So along side the 2 I already put in for easter eggs, we’re adding another and adding 2 more levels that should be a nice addition for people who have purchased the game

Thanks again for your time,

John

Posted by John Grden on November 30, 2009 at 4:39 PM (CST)

4

Bad form gentlemen. A software developer and a reviewer having it out in the forums? I’m a huge fan of iLounge and as a former journalist, have to say they write some of the best tech reviews on the net. Personally, I liked this game. It’s about as close I’m going to get to the sit-down cabinet experience on a phone. But you both might consider taking this dispute private. Nothing good can come of it.

Posted by Bob Wardrop on December 1, 2009 at 10:19 PM (CST)

5

Bob, the comments are going to stand as they are, and there’s nothing more to the “dispute” to take private. We continue to think that this is a third-rate title and the developer continues to want to improve it in response to numerous complaints. That’s pretty much it. While it’s unfortunate to see apps released with problems, or developers blaming reviewers and/or customers for having overly high expectations, that’s unfortunately just part of the App Store experience these days. How gracefully, promptly, and thoroughly developers deal with such common issues has turned out to say as much about them as the quality of the initially shipping apps themselves.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 1, 2009 at 11:03 PM (CST)

6

No worries. I expect you to stick to your guns. The conversation just seemed to be getting personal. It was just a suggestion.

On another note, thanks for the review of Ghosts’n Goblins. I actually beat the original Genesis version and was wondering how they could possibly port such a difficult gaming experience onto the iPhone. I guess they didn’t. This is one good gaming memory I won’t have ruined by a bad port. Thanks for the heads up. I was wondering why the game was no longer available.

Posted by Bob Wardrop on December 1, 2009 at 11:39 PM (CST)

7

Bob: Control precision is the single biggest challenge developers such as Capcom are facing with titles such as Ghosts’n Goblins. Without a real joypad and buttons, so many games - even ones that would otherwise be spectacular on the platform - just don’t feel right.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 2, 2009 at 2:58 AM (CST)

8

I wasn’t going to buy trench run, but now I am, just to make up my own mind. Bad reviews can have that effect sometimes.

Posted by John Birmingham on December 2, 2009 at 8:16 AM (CST)

9

Actually, the auto-auctioning thing isn’t a house rule in the iPhone Monopoloy game: It’s the actual rule form the home game.

People tend to think of Monopoly as an hours-long game that can easily get bogged down. That’s because NO ONE PLAYS BY THE REAL RULES. There is no money in Free Parking. Someone will own a property after the first time it’s landed on—either by that person buying it, or someone winning it at auction.

Played by the actual rules, Monopoly is a game that wraps up in less than an hour.

Computerized versions usually allow people to add back in their house rules (that they may not even realize are house rules) that slow things down, but in my experience, once people try the real rules a few times, they vastly prefer them. Suddenly Monopoly becomes faster, strategic and playing your competitors is a big part of play.

Posted by Beau on December 7, 2009 at 12:22 PM (CST)

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