Welcome to this week’s first gaming edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! Today’s collection of games includes three action-platformers of various stripes, as well as a sequel to a popular Electronic Arts racer.
Our top picks in the bunch are the 2.5-D robot platformers Cordy and Roboto, but EA’s Shift 2 Unleashed is also worth seeing if you’re a fan of the Need For Speed franchise. Read on for all the details.
Of the three platform games we’re reviewing today, SilverTree Media’s Cordy (Free/$5, version 1.51) is unquestionably the most impressive—so strong, in fact, that we repeatedly found ourselves thinking of just how far the iOS platform has come over the past few years. You take control of a happy little robot through a collection of 27 levels spread out across four primary worlds; rather than a full joystick, you have left and right movement buttons, plus a jump button and an action button that can be used to interact with different items in each level. Much of the game is spent running and jumping across flat and curved surfaces, gathering gears for points and battery cells to unlock an exit door found somewhere in the level. The gears are like Sonic the Hedgehog’s rings, only you aren’t constantly being attacked and forced to lose them; Cordy is more about the fun of exploration and the challenge of jumping, running, and later swinging through the levels, as well as moving puzzle pieces around to reach new areas.
We’d be lying if we said that Cordy’s gameplay was the single biggest contributor to our high recommendation—rather, it’s a seriously great graphics engine that starts out by merely teasing you with the prospect of further depth in the polygonally-rendered 2.5-D levels, then suddenly starts turning sharp corners by flipping entire background elements on 90-degree angles. What initially looks like a 16-bit-like mix of Sonic and the Ratchet and Clank games suddenly evolves into a visual experience surpassing what Sega itself was able to achieve with Sonic in the 32-bit generation, accompanied by upbeat, peppy background music that matches the game’s futuristic designs. There’s so much nice art in the levels that you’ll want to revisit them to catch details you missed the first time around; rewards for speed and item collection further incent you to replay them.
Cordy is a universal iOS game, compatible with everything from iPads to the third-generation and fourth-generation iPod touches and iPhones, and given the quality of the levels here, it easily earns the $5 asking price—four levels are offered as a free trial with the initial download. While it could stand to have even more content and deeper play mechanics, this is a great start to what will hopefully be a franchise, and roughly a million steps beyond where iOS robot platformers were only two years ago with Spy Bot Chronicles. Bravo, SilverTree Media. iLounge Rating: A.
On occasion, we will review a game largely to set the record straight after reading misleading claims, and that’s why we’re covering Requiem ($2, version 1.0.1) from Tribase Studios. In promoting this game in the App Store, the developer has evoked the name of Electronic Arts’ and DICE’s incredible console game Mirror’s Edge—a fully 3-D action platformer that was so visually and physically demanding that iOS devices could not have handled either its graphics or controls. We bought Requiem, we played Requiem, and sir, Requiem is no Mirror’s Edge; it is at most a very vague approximation with a completely different theme and graphical style.
The basic idea in Requiem is that a boy attempts to escape from the nightmarish pursuit of a raging bull by running, jumping, and crouching through increasingly abstract levels. Rather than giving you full head tilting control, Tribase Studios structures its levels as tunnels, littering your path with boxes to jump, platforms to land on, and staircases to climb. A meter in the upper left corner of the screen lets you know how close the bull is behind you—the game’s time pressure—and you’re given what amounts to a modestly left-right adjustable acceleration controller, plus separate sprint, jump, and crouch buttons. With no ability to look up, down, or off to your sides, you’re really just proceeding ever forwards in an effort to grab stars and other objects that are placed in front of you, hoping to find an end-of-stage unicorn who will fly you away from the bull.
While Requiem scores some real points from us by evolving its levels with neat twists—a corkscrewing path where jumpable boxes give way to ones you need to crouch under, and then others that float as platforms—there is far too much similarity from level to level, too little strategy and real action beyond just running and jumping, and overly looping music. No one who plays this game will seriously confuse it with the ambitious Mirror’s Edge, which felt as if it was developed by a large team as a triple-A franchise rather than by a small developer as an ambitious technology demo. All that saves Requiem from anonymity is its low asking price; at $2 and with universal iOS device support, it is a tantalizing show of what future 3-D platformers will be capable of, but nowhere near the end of the line. iLounge Rating: B-.
Considered in the same roundup as Cordy, Roboto ($3,* version 1.0) from Fenix Fire Entertainment comes in as a close second, despite the fact that it would have been the best robot platformer in the App Store only a year ago. Like Cordy, this is a 2.5-D action game with universal iOS support and fully polygonal backgrounds—here, 30 levels spread out over three similarly-themed worlds, plus four bonus games—and there’s no shortage of action to keep you entertained. Both games owe obvious debts of gratitude to Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog; Roboto even has power up- and coin-like gear-dispensing blocks to bop.
But despite their obvious similarities, Roboto is a very different game from Cordy: here, the balance is far more skewed towards multiple and precision jumps, with shooting and gravity shifting liberally mixed in as challenges. While the game’s look is friendlier and more cartoony than Cordy’s, you’re far more frequently faced with opportunities to die: the enemies you face will knock down your limited life bar if you don’t blast them with one of several selectable weapons, and you’ll be falling off of floating and moving platforms all the time due to poor timing. Roboto is armed with wall-climbing, hover-jumping, and double-jump abilities, but between the gravity flips and enemies, you’ll come to actually appreciate the mid-level checkpoints, and actually hunt for extra energy balls to keep yourself alive. While the joystick and button controls are easy to use, they’re not always ideally responsive, and the game’s also saddled with an awkward level selection system that needlessly complicates stage-to-stage transitions. These little issues could be remedied in a post-release update.
What’s unlikely to change much in Roboto are the art and music, which are pretty good rather than great. Given the ambition in Cordy’s graphics engine, which offers incredible 3-D depth and occasional background perspective shifts, Roboto’s cartoon-like characters, objects, and backgrounds are a couple of notches below—nice but not amazing. The rock soundtrack that plays throughout the game, along with 80’s style “gnarly” and “wipe out!” references, similarly feel more than a bit behind the times. But for a $3 game, Roboto is more than good enough to be worthy of a general recommendation; a sequel could easily be even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
Last up this week is Electronic Arts’ Shift 2 Unleashed for iPad ($7, version 1.0.2), the iPad-only sequel to 2009’s Need For Speed Shift. (A iPhone and iPod touch version is unfortunately sold separately for an additional $5.) On a positive note, Shift 2 Unleashed is very much what fans of the original game would expect from a follow-up, continuing to offer licensed cars—now 40, including uber-exotics—and a collection of different variations on real-world locations: Chicago, London, and Tokyo are now joined by Abu Dhabi, The Black Forest, and Rio de Janiero. Tracks are unlocked by successful completion of earlier tracks, while cars can be purchased either with earned in-game credits or In-App Purchase dollars—an additional $4 buys $2 million in credit, or enough to buy the most expensive vehicle in the game.
While the racing action is appropriately challenging, stepping up from early “follow the arrows” challenges with low-end cars to force you to upgrade both vehicle components and vehicles themselves, the experience feels somewhat dated, and background graphics that looked really impressive a year and a half ago now feel somewhat limited and recycled here. Even when you’re whipping around a track at top speeds in a Bugatti Veyron, playing with an iPad 2, the game doesn’t feel incredibly fast; classic Namco racers such as Ridge Racer did a better job of simulating speed with less impressive hardware. That said, the polygonal car models are respectably detailed, with soft-shaded, reflective bodies, and Shift 2 Unleashed tries to keep the energy and intensity level high, even when it seems to be chugging along a little. Turbo, drifting, and braking are still found in Shift 2, alongside the same color-stripping trick to signal collisions.
There’s more excitement to be found in the licensed angsty alt-rock soundtrack than in the on-track action, which lets cars joust with one another but only shows limited damage—even then, without the sorts of spectacular flips or flameouts seen in some of EA’s other racing titles. Additionally, should you opt to shell out the cash early for one of the game’s most impressive cars, you’ll need to realize that it may not be allowed to race on the lower vehicle-class tracks; this prevents people from paying their way through the career mode, but also takes away one of the strongest incentives to do an in-app purchase. It’s hard to imagine dropping a dollar or three of real-world currency to unlock a Ford Shelby or Mercedes SL 65, but the crazy Lamborghinis, a Pagani Zonda F, or Pagani Huayra might otherwise be appealing. You can use the cars you buy in single races, and in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth local multiplayer races; plus whatever career class you’re able to earn you way to.
Overall, Shift 2 Unleashed is a good rather than great racing game, made more exciting by the content EA has licensed than anything else. We’re not pleased about the needless iPad-only release of the title, which really should have been integrated into the iPod/iPhone version given the desire players will have to carry their In-App Purchases from device to device, but otherwise, this is a nice if uninspired sequel with enough new content for series fans to justify a purchase. iLounge Rating: B.