iPhone + iPad Gems: 10 Pin Shuffle, Bit.Trip Beat HD, Deer Hunter, PBA Bowling 2, Skee-Ball HD, More
Welcome to this week’s edition of iPad and iPhone Gems, which we’re calling the “balls, boxing and bullets” game collection—a roundup of quick reviews including bowling, pong, hunting, and boxing games.
The best titles in this collection are Deer Hunter 3D for iPad, Deer Hunter: African Safari, and PBA Bowling 2. Read on for all the details.
We’ve been on a quest to find a really good bowling game for the iPad, and recently came across 10 Pin Shuffle (Bowling) ($4) from Digital Smoke as an option—a good one, though it’s not exactly bowling as the name would lead you to believe. You’re presented with a portrait mode lane, ten bowling pins, and flick controls that feel pretty close to right; better yet, this game runs equally well on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod as a universal release. But as the options and screenshots suggest, it’s really a combination of shuffleboard, bowling, and poker: the basic game mode gives you a shuffleboard puck to knock down pins, while a secondary mode is pure shuffleboard with multiple pucks in scoring zones, and a third mode rewards bowling pin knock-downs with poker cards—you can swap and draw more cards if you hit strikes or spares.
Though the modes may all sound a little unusual, they’re actually all pretty fun, and multiplayer is supported through swapping and wireless local networking. Audio is on the bare side, lacking for music but including puck, pin, and audience sound effects; the frame rate and physics are both totally solid, though the background art is fairly boring, with more attention paid to the wooden playing surface than the cavernous brick-walled place where you’re playing. If you’re expecting a standard game of bowling, you won’t find it here, but the alternate renditions Digital Smoke offers are all good enough to merit a general-level recommendation. iLounge Rating: B.
The closest thing to a real game of bowling you’ll find in this roundup is Concrete Software’s PBA Bowling 2 ($3), another universal application with iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch support. This game gives up a little of the speed and silky frame rate found in 10 Pin Shuffle, but provides you with multiple bowling alleys, customizable bowling balls, and the requisite 3-D camera motion to track each attempt at knocking down the ten bowling pins. It lacks for many of the fancy and occasionally funny touches added by Freeverse in its original Flick Sports Bowling, but doesn’t fall pray to the mistakes that company made in the more recent sequel Flick Bowling 2.
What’s impressive in PBA Bowling 2 is the fact that it takes the sport seriously enough to provide a reasonably accurate rendition, complete with differing ball weights, oil patterns on lanes, and controls that aren’t just toss-and-watch—there’s spin if you want to tilt the device to use it—but also lets you experiment with fun additions. In addition to numerous instantly available art patterns for the balls, unlockables can boost a ball’s weight, speed, and even gutter resistance, enabling you to literally bounce a ball off the gutters rather than falling into them, or zip shots down the lane at high speed. Better yet, you can have multiple customized balls and draw upon any of them from an on-screen queue, a really great feature that is uncommon in bowling titles.
These features are let down only by the game’s coarse ball textures, which never quite look realistic, and the plainless of the lanes, which despite supposedly being in different cities have only the most modest embellishments. In other words, PBA Bowling 2 succeeds in the gameplay department, but it’s let down a little by the aesthetics—we’d call the art competent rather than excellent. A free trial version called PBA Bowling Spare Challenge lets you see one of the lanes and take trick spare shots; we were impressed enough by what we saw there to take the plunge with the full version. iLounge Rating (Full): B+, (Spare): B.
Graveck had an App Store hit last year with 10 Balls 7 Cups, its early rendition of the arcade and carnival favorite Skee-Ball, which subsequently was acquired, renamed, and reskinned by Freeverse with the official Skee-Ball license. Now the game has been re-released for the iPad as Skee-Ball HD ($2), and though a lot has changed in this version, the title is seriously damaged by one of the worst in-app purchase systems we’ve yet seen—only if it’s considered apart from these purchases is it worth buying.
Once again, the core of Skee-Ball HD is a single-screen presentation of a miniature bowling lane with a set of numbered cups at the top, challenging you to aim for the higher and more challenging targets in order to score more points. You flick to roll a ball up the lane, and optionally tilt to give it some spin, the latter a feature that can be turned off if you want a more realistic Skee-Ball experience. Freeverse rewards you for hitting glowing targets by issuing stars, which temporarily increase your score multiplier by such considerable factors—dropping but persisting after each nine-ball game—that you’ll want to keep on playing over and over again. You earn tickets after every game, used for buying faux in-game prizes. As with the iPhone and iPod touch version, the balls and lane are rendered in 3-D, look pretty good, and offer slo-mo zoom effects on occasion; hitting a glowing target creates a starburst effect that’s particularly nice. That said, there’s little reason that this couldn’t have been a free universal upgrade to the original game, particularly given that Freeverse is treating the basic title as an opportunity to upsell new in-app purchases.
That’s where Skee-Ball HD goes off the rails: not only do you have to pay to unlock additional backgrounds and prizes, but after coughing up cash, you then have to earn enough tickets to have the right to actually use them. As bad as that is, the game compounds it by using a randomized system to only offer you a handful of ticket-acquired items at a time, hiding away options that you might be able to afford until you play again and get lucky enough to revisit the shop at the right moment. Consequently, you make your $1 purchase and get nothing except the eventual right to grab something you want, which after repeated fruitless visits to the store proves to be so frustratingly stupid that it destroys the fun and flow of the game. The levels aren’t brilliantly redesigned a la Ramp Champ, either, but rather just versions with different lane artwork. Judged strictly on its merits as a standalone game, Skee-Ball HD would merit a flat B rating for its asking price, but the awfulness of the in-app purchasing system brings it down a full letter grade; buy into this one only with caution. iLounge Rating: C.
Glu’s Deer Hunter 3D for iPad ($5) and Deer Hunter: African Safari ($5/$1) for the iPhone and iPod touch are hunting games, with the advantage of being amongst the more fully developed titles of their kind: you’re not just looking at flat photos and pointing a gun at a modestly animated picture, but rather moving within 3-D-rendered environments populated by believable polygonal renditions of animals.
Both titles have the same general structure, providing you with an overhead map of territory that needs to be scoured for animals by dragging around a GPS-like orb as a dawn-to-dusk clock ticks at the top of the screen. You need to bag a number of targets before the night comes, so when tracks appear on the map, you move quickly to meet them before they disappear, then shift into a first-person 3-D mode that lets you pan over a scene with one or more animals. In African Safari, you start by choosing from one of several shooting positions within the area; the iPad version just picks one position and lets you line up your shots.
Whether or not you’ll find either of the games to be satisfying depends as much upon your taste for hunting as on your belief that it’s really a sport. Neither title is going to win vegetarians over, as the gameplay consists mostly of moving a targeting reticule to a gently moving animal, steadying yourself so that you don’t bob too much, and either using a scope to zoom in or just taking your shot without it—the latter useful if you’re trying to bag a few targets at once, as becomes more useful and expected in later levels. Additional weapons are unlocked with solid play, including shotguns and bows; the iPad version doesn’t even start you with a scope in the earliest stage, but the iPhone one lets you swap between two weapons from the start.
As iffy as the content may be for some people, we’ll give Glu credit for doing a good job on both platforms. Control is fair and reasonably challenging due to the head bobbing, and though an even greater number of polygons could have been used to smooth out the artwork, what’s here is pretty nice. The iPad version benefits from noticeably superior resolution, nice weather effects, and believable animation, while the iPod and iPhone game’s African settings and varied animals are even more striking despite their coarser, pre-Retina Display lines. Audio is sparing in both versions but deliberately tense, with gunshot, ambient creaking noises, and animal effects used appropriately if not excitingly. For their $5 normal asking prices, these titles are both worthy of general-level recommendations; at the $1 discounted price African Safari is selling for, it’s a steal. iLounge Rating: B+.
Something about the pong genre seems to attract masochists, so if you’re in that crowd, you may enjoy Namco’s Bit.Trip Beat HD ($3)—yet another title from the once amazing PlayStation publisher that didn’t do anything for us. Bit.Trip Beat was originally released as a downloadable game for Nintendo’s Wii, placing you in control of a paddle tasked with moving up and down to deflect not just one square-shaped ball, but a series of different rectangular shapes that generally increase in speed and manueverability as a level goes on: you may bat back one, two, or even three projectiles at a time, occasionally aided by a paddle size increase or double paddle, then punished with a paddle size reduction. You control the paddle by swiping upwards and downwards anywhere on the screen, and suffer further punishments if you miss a series of projectiles: the colorful, occasionally interestingly polygonal-animated backgrounds fade to black and white as you go through a purgatory round.
In brief, Bit.Trip Beat is actually a good idea, riffing on Rez and other retro-themed games by using music as a hook: everything the paddle hits generates a note, and the notes create a chiptune song. But the execution is off, as removing your finger from the screen for even a split second can mess up the paddle’s position—control is completely essential for a game like this, and should be flawless—while the unforgiving game is designed to start you back at the beginning of its main level again and again rather than checkpointing and moving forward. Keep playing and you can unlock a couple of extra levels that are even more difficult; in-app purchases unlock further stages that are similarly brutal. If the allure of some moving background objects and simple music is enough to entice you, Bit.Trip Beat isn’t bad, but it could have really used a kinder, gentler approach. Additionally, the fact that Namco sells it in “HD” and non-HD versions, each for $3 with separate in-app purchases, is frankly insulting for a title of this kind. iLounge Rating: C.
We’re not huge fans of “HD” re-releases of titles that are basically unchanged from the iPhone and iPod touch originals, but we’re occasionally willing to make exceptions when significant differences between the 3.5” and 9.7” device screens really necessitate a second version. Glu’s Super KO Boxing 2 for iPad ($1) could have been one of those rarities, a title that was impressive when released last year as Super KO Boxing 2 for the iPhone and iPod touch, in part because of its hand-drawn artwork, and in part based on its wise use of Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! series as a gameplay inspiration.
Unfortunately, the iPad version is nothing more than the iPhone title upscaled—not redrawn, but literally just pixel-quadrupled—with the full screen used rather than borders around the iPhone art, and the controls shifted to be in a different location. Though there are surely other examples of such lazy porting work in the App Store, this is the first one we can recall, and it’s just not worthy of a purchase. It’s the rare game that you’ll be better off buying on the iPhone and iPod touch because of the greater compatibility, and lack of advantages on the iPad. The prior game still merits its B+ rating; this one is inexpensive, but falls well short of what iPad players would expect given the increased performance of the larger device’s hardware. iLounge Rating: C+.
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