iPhone Gems: Must.Eat.Birds, Radial 50 + Orbitsu
True creativity is hard to find these days in the App Store, but on occasion, we come across releases that are different enough from what came before that we want to share them with you. Today, we’ve selected three new games plus two free lite versions, each bursting with colors and at least one novel, compelling idea.
Our top pick of the three titles is Radial 50, but Orbitsu is a less expensive, nice title as well, and the oddball Must.Eat.Birds. is also worth seeing—at least in pictures.
Of the three games, Must.Eat.Birds. ($1) by Mediatonic is at once the simplest and craziest—a slingshot game that uses deliberately bizarre art as a skin. Similar to the classic Konami game Pooyan, Must.Eat.Birds. has you try to defend food at a picnic at the bottom of the screen, using a swipe-controlled slingshot to launch a limited number of “Nomsters”—cockeyed, ball-shaped monsters—into the air to eat parachuting birds before they can ruin the picnic. All you do from stage to stage is pull back the slingshot and fire Nomsters at birds, grabbing a set number before you move on to the next challenge.
The formula is essentially style over substance: it’s not the gameplay that’s the star here, but rather the cartoony artwork and the amusement factor of seeing the Nomsters and birds get bigger and weirder. Mediatonic employs cute, Westerner-perceived, Japanese-style art and graphic design to impressive effect, with menu screens that deliberately overlay Japanese text with small black and white subtitle boxes; it also includes an upbeat audio track that loops repeatedly as you play. Though the levels are overcluttered visually, such that it’s too difficult to make out how many birds have landed and what’s totally going on in the background as you’re playing, what’s here is a neat, overambitious start.
Similarly, though the game may be simple in premise, it’s not as shallow as it could have been; the developer does evolve the gameplay as the nine stages progress. Fire two or more Nomsters at the right angles and you can get them to collide, creating a bigger, more powerful Nomster; birds start as simple one-hit enemies, then get mixed with two-hit ones with half-shells, and three-hit ones with full shells, as well as fatter looking versions. Standard gameplay is interrupted on occasion by “Maximum Bake,” a mode where the screen fills with both picnic cake and a huge number of birds that need to be eaten at once.
Ultimately, as expectations for $1 apps are low, it’s hard to criticize Must.Eat.Birds. for being simple, having repetitive music, or not making its swipe interface as responsive as it could be; changes would improve all of these elements, but would also raise the question of whether a higher price was warranted. Given that the game is “on sale for a limited time,” it remains to be seen whether Mediatonic will add more to the title to justify spending extra dollars, or leave what’s here as-is. For a buck, this is a cute little title, and worth seeing for fans of the absurd. iLounge Rating: B.
As we’ve noted before, Breakout is the most seminal of iPod and iPhone games, and everyone from Apple to Atari itself has released a version of the classic brick-breaking title over the years. Apple’s most recent remake, Vortex, is a freebie for buyers of current Click Wheel iPods, and now RoundThird Interactive has its own alternative called Radial 50 ($2). This 50-stage game is also available in a 3-stage free version called Radial 50 Lite.
Like Vortex, you control a paddle that bats a ball from the edge of a circular play area into its center, destroying bricks and acquiring power-ups along the way, but amongst its several twists, Radial 50’s objective isn’t merely to remove all of the bricks on screen or avoid missing the ball with your paddle. There’s a gem in the center of the board, shielded by layers of defenses, and the level ends when you hit the diamond regardless of whatever else may be left in the play area. Bricks can not only be reconstituted over time, but depending on the stage and the nature of the gem’s defense mechanisms, there may be an impenetrable metal shell on the gem, expanding layers of bricks, or other things you need to open before you can touch it; often times, hitting a white-colored brick will trigger one layer of the defenses; you just need to find a way to actually connect with that brick. Swiping up and down on the right side of the screen controls your paddle, with no need for firing buttons or other types of control; the action is not as complex as in 3D Brick Breaker Revolution, Vortex, or their pre-iPod conceptual predecessor Arkanoid.
On a positive note, Radial 50 is one of those odd sorts of games where just going with the flow and continuing to play seems to yield dividends regardless of whether you know exactly what you’re doing at a given moment. Power-ups and triggers are all housed in the same white-colored bricks with no indication of what will happen when you hit them, a flaw in the sense that the power-up is activated instantly, so you can be powered down with a paddle-shrinker as easily as you can be powered up with a paddle-booster. Yet RoundThird compensates for this by giving you a recharging life bar rather than the standard miss-and-die formula of virtually all similar games; you can miss the ball four times in a row before peril, and over time, the bar returns to prior strength to enable you to make more mistakes. The challenge is this: you have only one paddle to play through the whole game, so if you hope to see the 50th stage, you need to keep that life bar going. It’s a neat compromise.
The only other major issue with Radial 50 is that the graphics seem to have been designed on a larger display than the iPhone’s and iPod touch’s 3.5” screen, such that everything from the ball to starburst-like shattering effects seems really tiny, and when there are a lot of the effects on screen, the ball is tough to distinguish from whatever else is going on. Again, the lifebar comes in handy to help this, but the game feels as if it’s been designed around pixel-level collision detection and bricks, a major contrast with the bigger, chunkier blocks and balls in titles such as 3D Brick Breaker Revolution. Radial 50 is a little harder to see and master, but it’s still fun to play, and the colorful background art and nice music help considerably. Breakout fans should consider it a must-try in Lite form; whether you’ll have the interest or skill to play through the full title will be quickly apparent thereafter. iLounge Rating: B+.
If you’re a fan of Taito’s classic Puzzle Bobble/Bust a Move games, all it will take is a brief session with Flying Dino’s Orbitsu ($1) or Orbitsu Lite (Free) to make you wonder why the company never tried to expand through sequels into a space theme. The basic concept is the same: you launch colored balls at an existing matrix of balls, attempting to match three or more of the same color until the screen has been cleared. But here, the balls are constantly in motion, rotating around a central axis in space, and the shots you fire aren’t linear: they spin into position from the edges of the screen based on your chosen starting point and a shadow image that appears for targeting purposes. Timing and the strategy of where to fire from both come into play.
And as the over 200 levels progress, those challenges increase: initially, the rotation is all in one direction, but later, left-moving balls can shift right, then back again, and additional unmatchable “black hole” balls are added to the mix, along with universal matching rainbow balls and more colors just to make matches more difficult. A combination system enables you to make same-colored matches that dislodge mismatched balls, transforming them into charged, explosive items that can be triggered merely with two-ball contacts. And then there are the bonus levels, which let you defend a rotating matrix of balls against incoming “attacks” from a computerized player like yourself; you have to tap the balls before they connect with the matrix, and earn points for every success. Together, these little tweaks to the Bust a Move formula manage to keep the game feeling fresh overall, and improving from stage to stage.
If there are any flaws in Orbitsu, they’d be the extended series of taps required to get the game going on your first play, and the occasional issue with touching the screen to position each ball for its launch: you need to control virtually everything from the edges of the screen rather than touching its center, which X’s out the circular, rotating play area as an unnecessary warning that you can’t launch balls from there. These issues are made up for by the low price, huge number of levels, and a combination of nice graphics and chilled out music that present a slightly more mature, cool thematic alternative to the deliberately kiddie Bust a Move titles. While nothing in this title is breakthrough in concept or execution, Orbitsu is engaging while it lasts, and it lasts a lot longer than most of the $1 titles out there. iLounge Rating: B+.
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